If you’re a small business owner, spending thousands of dollars on an effective website probably just isn’t in your budget. But if you think your only other option is wasting hours on some free but unprofessional, do-it-yourself monstrosity (or paying Crazy Cousin Larry to do it for you), then think again. Over the last 19 years, one company in Lebanon has provided professional websites and marketing services to their clients for a fraction of the cost of their competition, and has built a solid reputation for reliability and friendly customer service in the process.
Since 1998 David and his wife Teresa, owners of Castlewood Studios, have been helping small businesses grow by building and managing those businesses’ websites and marketing. “Our business is more than a business,” says Teresa, co-owner of Castlewood Studios, “It has become our ministry”.
Castlewood Studios first started off as a sideline business offering video production services. By day Teresa worked in engineering at the local electric cooperative while David, working at a scientific educational company, invented and designed scientific educational products. In their few off-hours, they taught themselves videography, sacrificing and investing to make their dream of running their own company a reality.
For 25 years David prayed to God three times a day for the chance to run his own business. “I was obsessed with being my own boss,” says David, “I knew it would be a slow learning process, but I was willing to put in the work and the time.” For twenty years David drove three hours a day and worked ten-hour days. After these long thirteen-hour work days, he would come home to work on the couple’s own sideline business, toiling until late each evening.
“For 25 years I kept an audio diary of all of the failures and successes, the stupid mistakes and the personal hardships that we were going through,” recalls David. “When we started out in business, I knew it wouldn’t be easy, so I documented everything in hopes of someday sharing what I learned with others to keep them from making those same mistakes. I thought that, if we ever made it, those recordings might make for a great how-to book.”
“There are moments on those tapes I was so discouraged that I was crying, ready to give up. There’s also times when we’d finally had a breakthrough or success, and I was super excited. I recorded our highs and lows alike. The plan was for us to someday take a long vacation after we were successful and listen to those tapes again,” David recalls. “But to be honest we never have – I can’t hardly bring myself to do it for some reason. I think it’s because I don’t like living in the past. Or maybe it is because some of those times were so hard, so emotionally painful that I don’t want to relive them again”.
Shortly after Castlewood’s founding, David and Teresa’s hard work finally began to pay off. Companies from California to New York would sell Missouri companies video packages to use as commercials on the Internet and/or television, then subcontract the actual work out to Castlewood. Around that time, Castlewood was also invited to provide video services at concerts for big-name artists like Confederate Railroad and Aaron Tippin. These opportunities helped David and Teresa’s fledgling company to gain credibility and valuable business contacts, and allowed them to meet with and learn from many small business owners across Missouri.
In the meantime, while the couple was working forty-hour-a-week jobs and running their video business, David was busy learning how to build websites and learning the many aspects of Internet marketing. “This was originally done for ourselves,” says David. “It was a way to market our own products in our spare time to supplement the video work. The funny thing is, when we’d go shoot video for these small businesses, time and time again they told us horror stories about paying unbelievable amounts of money for simple websites or even just domain names! I tried to help by showing the owners how to do it themselves, or how they could get the same services for a much more reasonable price somewhere else. I never tried to market any website services – I was just trying to offer helpful advice.”
Over time many different companies would ask the duo to take over their company’s websites and market their businesses on the Internet. “After a while, it finally sank in that maybe God was trying to speak to us and we were just oblivious to it,” commented Teresa. “And he definitely was. At the time, we couldn’t have foreseen the cheap video cameras and smartphones with fantastic video quality that would eventually chip away at our video business. Thank God we had been building up the website and marketing side of the business! Now it makes up 90% of our revenue”.
It wasn’t long after agreeing to build their first website that their client began seeing positive results. Seemingly before David and Teresa knew it, Castlewood’s name was getting passed along to other business owners also in need of websites. Like dominoes toppling, this series of “build a website, get referrals” started happening over and over again. Fast forward to today, and Castlewood Studios has grown from its humble beginnings to a company maintaining over 150 business websites nationwide. They also provide their clients with marketing services through Google and Facebook ad campaigns, email advertising, and other online marketing channels.
Over the years, more than one business owner has asked how Castlewood keeps their prices so affordable. “We really committed to keeping our costs down,” David reflects. As part of this cost-cutting mentality, fifteen years ago David and Teresa moved Castlewood out of its original location within Lebanon to an office close to their home, both as a way to keep their expenses down and to pass their savings along to their clients
“Even though other companies were charging thousands of dollars to build a website, our original goal was to price our services at $29 a month. That way, any small business could afford to compete with larger companies. But no matter what we did, we just couldn’t get it down that low. Finally, we found a way to offer custom websites and services for only $39 a month. Of course, doing so meant we didn’t recoup our investment until the sixteenth month, so we had to ask new clients for a two-year commitment. Still, this was (and is) a great bargain, especially when compared to other companies that charge far more while delivering far less value and personal service.”
Castlewood has had many employees that did not work out over the years, so David and Teresa basically gave up on hiring, instead deciding to just stay very small and only take on as many clients as they could effectively work for while maintaining a personal relationship with. Then, several years ago, Eric sent Castlewood an email asking to interview David and Teresa for a college business class.
“I was swamped with work and so I rejected the invitation,” David said. “A few days later, Eric sent another email. I politely turned him down again. About a month later he sent a third email asking to meet us and I accepted. He really wanted a job with us, but even though we were swamped, we were not in a position to hire at the time. Finally, I told him all we could afford to give him was twelve hours a week. Much to my surprise, he accepted, and started working for us while also working a second job.” Over time, as they acquired more clients, Castlewood was able to give him more and more hours until he was finally able to quit his second job. Today, Eric has been with Castlewood Studios for over four years, and is a big part of the business. “A lot of our clients have a good relationship with him”, says Teresa. “They’ll often call on him for advice and help”.
“I always tell people that the Internet is like the wild west – full of snake-oil salesmen and desperados,” David says with a grin, then turns serious. “There are thousands of scam artists out there using every trick in the book to sell useless, trendy fads that come and go, or outright lie and try to steal people’s money. Not to mention how quickly online marketing changes; you either have to work constantly just to keep up, or find someone you can trust to not take advantage of you.”
“We do our best to protect our clients. We test almost everything on our own websites first before suggesting or implementing them for our clients, including everything from website design changes to security measures to marketing concepts. We do this so we can offer knowledgeable advice to our clients and help them grow their businesses”.
“Almost all of our clients become like family to us,” says Teresa, “We feel as though we are in business together with our clients, and we do everything we can to help them market their business. If they don’t succeed, we know we won’t succeed. When they call, we help them with all kinds of things, from business advice to helping them determine if the telemarketing phone call they just received was a scam. These businesses range from very small one person businesses, many Mennonite and Amish businesses as well as large corporations. We consider each one a blessing from God.”
“Teresa and I have always been in this business more for the relationships than the money”, says David. “She has cried and prayed with clients going through tragedies. We’ve gone with them to their churches. We’ve even bought them presents when we heard that they really had an interest in something.” While there are other web design companies out there, chances are you won’t get a similar level of service anywhere else.
To find out more about the services Castlewood Studios offers, visit them online at CastlewoodStudios.com, or call (417)532-2329 and ask to speak to Teresa.