Small Business Insights: Kingside Development
Photo courtesy of Kingside Development
Central Massachusetts is home to a thriving small business community. From one person shops operating out of their homes to companies with a few hundred employees and multiple locations, it’s a diverse and supportive group of creatively talented people who all have a story to tell. Each month this blog gives one of these businesses a chance to share their story to help others on the same path looking for some insider tips to grow their business.
This month we welcome Kingside Development.
Dustin Hopkins is the founder of Kingside Development, a top-rated website design and development agency in Worcester, MA. Their expertise is based on a holistic approach to providing lead generation, e-commerce, and brand strategy to their customers. Dustin is also the founder of Your Move Chess Club, creating an inviting and inclusive environment for chess enthusiasts around Central Massachusetts for players of all skill levels, from complete beginners to seasoned experts.
In this interview you’ll learn:
• How Dustin trusted his instincts to take a chance on the future of his career
• Why transparency can help you stand out among your competitors
• The importance of having tenacity to see your projects through from start to finish
1. What got you to where you are today?
I started my schooling in engineering at Quinsigamond Community College and joined the chess club. The next semester, they voted me president of the chess club and that’s where I met my wife. While I was there, I started working at UPS. A lot of things happened at once in that period. I went on to become a UPS district engineer and eventually just realized I hated the corporate lifestyle.
There was this one pivotal moment at UPS during the management incentive plan meeting—a meeting discussing how well the company did where you’d get a percentage as a bonus and everybody’s excited to hear what it’ll be. During the meeting the CEO announced that we didn’t do well, so nobody’s getting a bonus. Also, the shareholders believed that they were in the box business and not in the pension business and they were spending too much on that. So they actually halved everybody’s pension. That day, I watched some grown men who had given 20 years of their lives to this company freak out. That spooked me.
I thought, okay, yeah, maybe this isn’t a long-term spot. Maybe it’s not the gold watch when you retire kind of place that they’re selling it as. So I started a marketing business on the side. I quit school. I quit my bachelor’s and started teaching myself WordPress. I got my first live client website in 2016 and spread myself too thin. I was doing websites and social media and content and advertising and you know that trap that every marketer falls into where they’re a full-service agency.
But then I got lucky. I was doing the social media for Nu Kitchen in Worcester. The owner is such a great guy and his brothers are amazing to me too. They invested in this portable storage franchise called Mi-Box, and they wanted me to apply to run it.
They all had their own businesses and needed somebody to operate and grow them. So I did that for almost three years. I took them from zero—I wrote the check for the truck and everything—and grew them to $500k in annual revenue, with 100% occupancy on the boxes.
At that time Russ Mangsen of Namra Consulting reached out to ask if I still create websites. At that time I was doing maybe a couple a year to pay for vacations. He says, “I have this bigger one and something’s fishy.” Long story short, that guy got fired and sued for doing something really fishy in the backend of the site so they brought me on.
That was enough revenue at the time for me to make the transition from Mi-Box. The Nu Kitchen guys sold their franchise to be absorbed by another district because they didn’t really want anything to do with it anymore. It was a really good amicable split. I started working for this one website client and since then have been a full-time design development and SEO firm in Worcester since 2021.
2. How do you stay motivated to keep on your path?
I still am asking myself this question and I think that it’s changed over the years. I think initially my fuel was having to prove everyone wrong. You know, it was like it may have been this darker energy, but it was what helped. I had this chip on my shoulder and I just needed to show everybody I wasn’t a big loser. I quit a cushy engineering job and I had to actually make it work. Then eventually stuff starts to click and you stop resenting anybody else and you realize happiness comes from within.
And that fuel doesn’t really have as much juice as it did. I had to go through this period where I needed to change my motivations and I really didn’t know what it was going to be. I really had no idea what would bring me more fuel. Then I got married and that feels different. It feels a lot easier to get up and go to work.
Since getting married, I’ve been with Tatiana for ten years, I thought nothing was going to change. We’ve been together ten years probably nothing’s going to change. That was obviously naive of me to think. It is a big step and it is a thing that people have been doing for thousands of years.
There’s a reason why people do it. Now I feel this great motivation to get up and go to work and provide. We want to maybe have a family one day. It feels good to know that my efforts are building towards something like that.
3. What has been your most successful marketing strategy? What keeps people coming back for more?
The guys at Mi-Box want to be knocking on doors. They’re all pretty old-school. So I did. I knocked on doors and got nowhere. I came for digital marketing. So I kept pushing. I asked, “Hey, we’re starting to make a little bit of money. Can I spend it on digital marketing?”
They made me prove that it was producing a positive ROI. I had a Google sheet with impressions, click-through rate, lead generation, and close rate. I had to develop this whole system to prove it. I hired Russ to come out for a content day. He followed me around for a delivery, asked me questions, and helped me to produce eight-minute-long clips.
And it was just very, very effective.
When it comes to the website business it’s all been referrals. I’ve done almost zero marketing. Not that I don’t like to, but in our style of business, it’s very focused on the work. And so I needed to be very focused on what I was producing for quality of work before I spent any other time or money on marketing. All of it needs to be improving my craft and making sure that when I do market, I have a very clear offer. I know exactly how long things take. I know exactly the level of website I can consistently produce for what industries.
I’m hoping to do some marketing in quarter one of next year. The plan was to focus a lot on high-quality sites for a while. That gets tough because I’m constantly trying to book new work and there’s no floor to my cash flow.
Since I got back from my honeymoon, I had this epiphany, I need some monthly income, and I need some recurring revenue. So that was what I hit hard as soon as I got back. I went from 0 to 10 recurring revenue clients doing SEO. Now that’s what I’m doing is focusing on a couple of builds, making sure my recurring revenue clients are set and our systems are fine-tuned. Then I’m launching a new rebrand in December and in January we’re doing a new marketing strategy. I don’t really know exactly what that’s going to be yet.
4. How do you set yourself apart from others in your industry?
I think almost everybody who builds websites uses WordPress and will use a template and then will use less expensive overseas labor to fulfill that. And they do hardly any work with the client. I see a lot of people like that. I see a lot of marketing agencies or people that say the word SEO that doesn’t do anything for somebody else and say, “Oh, no, I’m okay. I don’t need SEO. I’ve been paying this guy a thousand bucks a month and he’s handling my SEO”
I don’t see any work through their site that would tell me that they’d been doing anything for the entire relationship. What I think I do differently in my industry is have a lot of transparency. I’m always doing weekly check-ins and reviews on the site, I’m doing a screen share, and making edits live with them.
It’s not like everything is in this hidden box or hidden machine where like I go back into my dungeon and code, and then I present something. We can do this together, collaboratively, and transparently and I hope that process is different than some other people in our industry. And I hope people can appreciate that transparency.
5. What is the best advice you’ve received when starting out?
Don’t give up and don’t fuck anybody over. I don’t think there’s really much more than that.
It was a very new world for me entering local business coming from the corporate world. I really thought there wouldn’t be much difference. A lot of people in the corporate world also think it’s not that different. They think, “Oh I could be a manager or I could get promoted or I could quit and buy a business. I know enough about business. I’ll just go do that.”
It was very different when I entered it. At first, you walk into a networking meeting, you know, young and green, and it’s really overwhelming. You think everybody is this professional business owner who’s been around forever because, in relation, it is forever compared to your first month. After a while people drop away and you hear kind of what happened and you realize, wow, okay, if you just play well in the sandbox with everyone, you make sure that you do right in all of your dealings, and when things get hard, you don’t give up, eventually, things work out.
It can be really tough to see that when you go through down months. I was just talking about the down months in the middle of the summer. It’s tough to remind yourself of that when you’re in it, but eventually, those ups and downs level out and it just gets more exciting from there.
6. Is there a local business, organization, or person that inspires your work? How do they inspire you?
Brandon Herbal is in Ohio and a really great designer. He has a company called Bones Co. He’s just really great. I like his minimal style and he inspires me creatively.
Someone local? It’s got to be Russ. Anytime recently I feel like I really expected things to turn around sooner he is able to instill patience and gratitude almost any time I call him. He’s almost got a superpower with that stuff. He’s always long-term, he’s always hungry. I can always call him up and he can always revitalize that fire.
7. What do you enjoy most about being located in the Worcester/Central Mass area?
Tatiana and I almost bought a house in Providence, Rhode Island, and then she lost her job. We had the offer accepted. She lost her job. We had to give it up. It was kind of sad. We just loved Providence. There was like this zhuzh there, you know, there was some kind of something else, something drawing us there.
I was in New York a few weeks ago and I felt, you know, there’s something there, too. And coming back and talking about this with Tatiana, I feel like we’re missing something in Worcester. I feel like there’s something missing. So what I like most about it is the potential.
I think it’s got the right ingredients. I think it’s an underdog city. I think it’s got some money coming into it right now. I at least see on the community building side there are these pockets of things happening independently around the city which are cool. I think that if there was enough communication and community bridging the gaps between those, I think we’d have something really special.
We’ve got more schools per capita than anywhere. There’s a lot of creativity. There’s a lot of young creative energy here that I don’t think we’re utilizing well. I mean, so many young creative professionals come here for their schooling and then leave the Worcester Central Mass area. I think whatever that missing thing is, if it was here I think we’d have something special. It’d be really cool to watch that. That’s what excites me the most is the potential.
• To learn more about Kingside Development visit kingsidedevelopment.dev
• You can also connect with Dustin on LinkedIn here.
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