As business owners try to get back to their pre-pandemic routines, many of them wisely used their time during lockdown to invest in a website. Having an online presence gave them the ability to sell their products and continue generating some much-needed revenue. While the shutters were down and the lights switched off; customers simply swapped a real shopping basket for a virtual one.
A domain name is a unique address that every single website is given and usually ends with either the popular ‘.COM’ or a ‘.IE’ (for Ireland). When a domain name is typed into a web browser, it will take you directly to the website’s front door. More than 33,000 domain names ending with an Irish. IE have been registered so far this year. However, building a website for a business requires some very detailed planning and expertise, it is definitely not something for the faint-hearted amongst us to try out. But when designed well, a website can become a brilliant marketing tool that complements the traditional bricks and mortar shopping experience.
I recently chatted with entrepreneur, Patrick Fox, who set up a new digital agency called Design Den (www.designden.ie) in November 2020. He crystallised perfectly what a website is: “Think of a website as an online business card for your business that will never fade. A well-designed and marketed website will sell your tangible products or services to real customers here in Ireland or overseas on a 24/7 basis. A website could be the most profitable thing you invest in.”
Ballykeeran and Big Screen
Patrick’s family home is in the small village of Ballykeeran, Athlone, where he grew up as one of eight children. “We lived in the countryside and I loved the sense of adventure as a child. I’d always be out walking through fields, climbing trees and exploring new areas as much as I could.”
After attending Athlone Community College, Patrick went to the National University of Ireland, Galway (NUI Galway) where he obtained a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature followed by a Master’s degree in Screenwriting. I was curious about why he chose a Master’s in screenwriting: “I’ve always loved films, and the course gave me an understanding of how screenwriters use narrative theory and structure. I have always been fascinated by French New Wave and film noir cinema. ‘Shoot the Piano Player’, a 1960 French New Wave crime drama film directed by François Truffaut jolts you away from the usual Hollywood movies made at that time. Also, ‘Double Indemnity’, a 1944 psychological thriller, is a great example of film noir. It has that cynical lead character who doesn’t get his own way. Throw in a private detective like Philip Marlowe into either of these styles of movie-making, and you have me hooked!”
Teaching in Korea
Patrick was living in Galway while he attended NUIG, but was unsure about moving back home to Athlone after he completed his courses in May 2012. He explained, “I knew that I would probably end up here [In Athlone] for a very long time, but didn’t want to do that straight away. I didn’t like to be comfortable, to be honest. I knew that I wanted to do something different. Not only that, but I wanted to broaden my horizons and be independent. So, I took that to a pretty major extreme. I had a keen interest in Asian culture from watching Japanese, Korean and Hong Kong movies and decided to travel and explore those places first.”
Patrick did some research and heard about the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme, which would allow him to travel to Japan and teach English over there. Instead, though, he opted for South Korea because their programme covered his return flights and his accommodation costs.
“I left Ireland in September 2012 for South Korea. I started teaching English to children aged from about five to thirteen at a private school, called a ‘Hag wan’ in Seoul. I was working every day from 3 pm till 10.30 pm.”
Travelling and Return
“My family wouldn’t have really gone on holidays abroad, so going to South Korea was a gigantic step. I did feel bad sometimes when I was teaching kids at 9:30 pm. You could see that the children were tired, and they just wanted to fall asleep there on the desk!” He stayed in South Korea for three years and followed that with trips to Thailand and Cambodia. Then he switched to teaching English online as he continued to travel across Canada and Europe. Just before coming back home to Athlone in 2019, Patrick lived in Madrid for two years. I asked him what it was like coming back to Ireland after being away for several years. “I left when I was 22 and would see people in Athlone that I went to school with, and would wonder whether they would still recognise me. It was very weird at first because I had missed those formative years.”
Covid-19 to Design Den
When Patrick came back to Athlone in 2019, he began teaching English to foreign students in the Shannon Academy.
When Covid-19 arrived, foreign students stopped coming to Ireland and Patrick subsequently lost his teaching role. Undeterred, he decided to test all the skills he had been acquiring since about 2015 in web development, graphic design, motion graphics and digital marketing. He started as a freelancer to provide those services from Athlone before formalising it all under the Design Den brand.
“I launched Design Den in November 2020 and got my first web design client in December 2020. She is a local lady who runs a life skills training company. For her website, I used WordPress together with WooCommerce for the e-commerce element, so that she could sell straight from her website.”
The Future is Bright
Patrick believes that business owners should opt to have their own website and not rely on social media platforms. “A website that you have built, is yours. With social media platforms, e.g., Facebook, they can take anything down of yours without any warning. You might have spent hours maintaining a page for your business that could be gone in a second. But your website is all you, it’s all your content. You can put anything you want up there to a certain degree.”
He wants the whole experience of hiring a digital agency like Design Den to be hassle-free. “When I have all the information, I will go away; write up and then send back a proposal of what I’m going to do. If that’s OK, then I will get started on it. It takes about two months from start to finish. Less or more, depending on the amount of work involved, and the functionality needed.”
Patrick has lots of ideas for the future and is a very level-headed young man. He wants to position Design Den as a go-to resource for small businesses. Also, he wants to teach people how to use different technologies – probably the teacher in him. He has an army of freelancers with different technical skills that he can call upon as needed. But, way down the line, he wants to weave back into the world of filmmaking, and write a successful screenplay or two!
This article was published in the Westmeath Independent 07/07/21.