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Building a Platform to Monetize Communities With Directus

By John Daniels on March 17, 2023

Self-proclaimed “jack of all trades” Bryant Gillespie worked in the sign and print industry for roughly 15 years prior to joining Directus as Developer Advocate, doing everything from running a physical sign and print shop to creating software used by sign and print shops.

We also encouraged him to share some lessons learned with the Directus community. (You can view the full interview here.)

“I spent 7 years there working directly with 400+ sign shops and print shops on improving their pricing and workflow,” Bryant said.

During that time, he had plenty of exposure with various platforms for building applications and digital experiences.

“I used to be really heavy into Airtable, which is a great tool,” he recalled. “But I had a client whose table kept getting more and more complex. We needed to be able to send an artwork proof to them online and enable them to pay for an order.” That would require a full-blown website.

“With so many moving pieces, we rapidly started hitting the limits of Airtable,” he said. “There are some API rate limits that impact how you call their API and what you can do with it.” Additionally, the pricing structure was cost-prohibitive.

“At the time, Airtable’s enterprise plan was around $3000 per month, which was beyond our budget,” he said. “So I started looking for other options.”

Finding Directus

Bryant considered hiring a developer or enlisting the help of an agency. Then, through the grapevine, he discovered Directus.

“It was right around the time Directus 9 was launching,” Bryant said. “The idea of being able to layer on top of his SQL database and generate APIs immediately, plus the ability to leverage the no-code app for building out the project was intriguing.”

Although Bryant didn’t end up using Directus for the client after all, it opened his eyes up to other possibilities. He created a digital platform, Better Sign Shop, to help sign and print shop owners create better experiences for their customers with marketing, automation and systems.

“We had created a variety of resources to help shop owners run their businesses better, as well as a podcast, a large Facebook group, and online training resources,” he said. “With Directus, we were able to bring everything together onto a single platform.”

A Dedicated Platform for Sign and Print Shop Owners

At Better Sign Shop, sign and print shop owners can create and organize processes and policies, connect with other shop owners through a growing community, access training and resources, and learn from subject matter experts and other shop owners during Mastermind calls.

Most of the platform’s users, according to Bryant, are smaller mom-and-pop businesses with fewer than 20 employees.

Directus provides Bryant with a ton of flexibility in terms of what types of resources he can provide via Better Sign Shop. The no-code app makes it easy to add video input, whether it’s a Vimeo or YouTube resource or add modules to the training curriculum. They’ve even created a calculator to help visitors price orders or determine operating expenses.

“The speed at which I can put something together is the craziest part of this whole thing for me,” he said. “I’m not a professional developer – I’m self-taught. But Directus makes everything really easy. It probably took me 10 or 15 minutes to put together two collections of card,” Bryant said.

“Without Directus, I would either have spent months trying to learn how to do it, or paid someone thousands of dollars a week to develop it for me.”

Getting Use Out of The Full Range of Features

Bryant uses the full range of features Directus offers, including white labeling, roles and permissions, Directus Flows, Mapbox, and Flows.

He also appreciates Directus Insights, which provides a dashboard for a look at various metrics about the product.

“I can quickly see the total number of accounts, how many people have published their shop listing within our community, and other key data,” said Bryant. “Without Directus, I would have to export the data and create a pivot table and charts inside Google Sheets to get the same insights, which would be a pain. Directus makes it super simple.”

Bryant makes use of Directus Flows to automate tasks that would otherwise have to be performed manually.

“We have a Flow set up that sends an address to Mapbox and determines the latitude and longitude to create geolocation data anytime that listing is updated,” he said. “So if someone goes in and changes an address, the platform stores the location correctly.”

Another Flow generates thumbnail images automatically when a podcast recording or Mastermind call is posted to the site, and another Flow pings Bryant on Slack when a new user creates an account.

“I didn’t have to create any custom code or perform any manual tasks to set up these Flows,” Bryant said.

Support from a Thriving Community

Bryant emphasized that the Directus documentation has been extremely helpful as he continues to build out the Better Sign Shop platform.

“I've seen a lot of great improvements on the documentation recently,” he said. “And the Directus community on Discord is very helpful and willing to share their experience.”

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