Fueling Your Business With Live Events with Tradeshow Bootcamp founder Katie Hunt

Fueling Your Business With Live Events with Tradeshow Bootcamp founder Katie Hunt
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The Nitty Gritty:

  • Why live events are where it’s at
  • How the sales and promotion cycle of a live event is different than other sales cycles
  • Why it’s important to add to your team to allow you to focus on the tasks in your wheelhouse

We dig into the nitty-gritty details of live events in this week’s episode of the Profit. Power. Pursuit. podcast with my guest Katie Hunt, founder of Tradeshow Bootcamp, a business dedicated to educating and supporting creative entrepreneurs and small businesses. Katie also hosts the Proof to Product podcast. She takes a lot of pride in the events her team creates, and on that podcast she shares a lot of wisdom about what it takes to create events that offer attendees a great experience for learning and having fun, too!

Live Events are Where It’s At

Introverts of Profit. Power. Pursuit., go to live events. It’s completely worth it.

— Tara Gentile

What was to become the live event known as Paper Camp began in 2011 as a teleconference, and the first in-person Paper Camp Conference happened in 2012 once Katie knew there was a demand for this type of curriculum. Katie wanted to build a strong community where people were not just learning something, but they were connecting with others and building strong relationships. She knew that would be much more impactful at live events. Events are a really powerful tool, and although they aren’t right for everyone’s business model, they are hugely successful in helping Katie build the community that she sought to create.

Organization, Sales and Promotion of a Live Event

There’s a lot more that goes into their decision making {to attend an event} than ‘can I afford this and do I want to go.’

— Katie Hunt

Katie and her team work 6 to 8 months in advance to prepare for their next live event. She suggests if you’re doing a live event for the first time, send a survey to your audience to determine the best time of year for them to attend a live event. In the podcast, Katie walks through the steps her team takes to organize a live event, but keeping it simple and streamlined for her attendees and speakers is always paramount.

Since a live event is a higher-level program and higher expense for attendees, it’s important to start the sales and promotion process early since there is a schedule you have to maintain and people need the time to prepare to be away from their families and businesses. As soon as they close registration on one Paper Camp, they begin sales for the next one; however, there are promotional spikes in a three-month period where most of the sales happen. Through the course of the sales cycle, Katie and her team are nurturing their audience through case studies, alumni stories and more to help potential attendees see how their life would change if they attended the event and give them a taste of what they will learn, who they will be engaged with and to highlight the speakers they will interact with and learn from.

Event Teams

You can grow your team organically and in small batches.

— Katie Hunt

Katie has a small, but mighty team of virtual independent contractors, several who are Boot Camp alumni, that take care of the event details so Katie is free to work on the content and higher-level stuff that’s in her wheelhouse. Hiring people to do the work that needs to get done strengthened the content that is offered at the events.

I hope you listen to the entire episode to hear more about Katie’s team, how she manages cash flow when she has fairly large expenses to cover, why she believes in paying herself consistently and how she has turned some of her live events into online courses.

If you liked what you heard on this episode, I invite you to subscribe to the Profit. Power. Pursuit. podcast on iTunes today! Every week I talk to small business owners who share some of the secrets to their success as they build their businesses.

Growing a Million Dollar Online Course Institution with School of Motion founder Joey Korenman

Growing a Million Dollar Online Course Institution with School of Motion founder Joey Korenman

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The Nitty Gritty:

  • How it’s possible even when you’re successful to change direction and create something that works better for your life
  • What signals of success let Joey know he was on to something
  • How building a team allows you to focus on what matters most to allow for company’s growth

A few years ago, School of Motion founder Joey Korenman, my guest on this week’s Profit. Power. Pursuit. podcast, had achieved what he thought would mean true business success and happiness. Instead he realized he was so busy climbing the mountain of success he thought he should be on, he forgot to summit the mountain of success he wanted to be on. We talk about the path Joey took to build a $1 million online course institution for motion designers in less than 3 years and some of the lessons he learned along the way.

If at first you don’t find happiness; try, try again

It was a little bit of strategy and a little bit of naivety.

– Joey Korenman

Joey seemed to be living the dream. He had opened his own studio with two business partners. His office was in the heart of downtown Boston with a client list that included ad agencies for some of America’s biggest brands. About two years in, a daily 3-hour commute, all-nighters and client pressure to perform regardless of what it did to his work/life balance, Joey looked up and realized he was depressed and needed to “figure out an escape hatch.”

When he started to consider the possibilities, he didn’t know his new business would be selling training. Joey started a blog (even though he knew nothing about digital marketing) to teach people motion design after seeing Greyscalegorilla, a business in his space, was blogging. At the time he built his website, he had no idea how he was going to make money. After a trial period developing and selling plug-ins for animation tools, Joey realized what he really wanted to do was teach.

The moment he knew he was on to something

If you can bring someone from their head space into yours they will follow you anywhere.

– Joey Korenman

While blogging, Joey was honing his entrepreneurial skills and learning through resources from Pat Flynn, Tim Ferriss and Jaime Masters. He knew there was a need in his niche for an intent 6-week long course for intermediate motion designers where humans would review the work. The only problem? It would take 3 months to create the course he imagined; in the meantime, he had to keep paying the bills.

So, he took a bit of advice from Jaime and he decided to pre-sell a course (yes, a course he hadn’t even created). He sent an email (the email content is included as a case study in Pat Flynn’s book, Will It Fly?) out to a list of approximately 4,000 he built and very authentically told them he was going to build the animation course he wished he would have had coming up and he was going to explain more in a webinar. The webinar sold out in 5 minutes. At the end of the webinar the beta version of the course sold out in 5 minutes, and he made $5 grand in 5 minutes. These were clear signs Joey was onto something.

Building a team

Joey took it slow when building his team by first hiring a part-time contractor in part due to his fear of “having another mouth to feed.” However, every time he’s unable to focus on the work that he should do to build the company—content production and products—he realizes it’s time to hire another resource. Once the right person has joined the team in the right role, their collective productivity soars. And as Joey becomes better at learning to let go, he is finding ways to manage quality control in a different way rather than being involved in every aspect of the business. 

There’s a lot more in the full episode including a conversation about confidence and authenticity, customer acquisition and how Joey’s team is focused on creating systems that will catapult them to a $3 or $4 million-revenue company.

Become a subscriber of the Profit. Power. Pursuit. podcast on iTunes to get insights from today’s creative entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses, made money and found work/life balance.

Don’t Put Off Another Project Because You’re Not In The Right Seat


Wanna make a bet?

I bet you’ve held off on a project because you didn’t know how to make it happen.

You had a great idea, something that would really make a splash, really get your brand out there.

You could see the finished product (idea, book, offer, etc…) in all its glory.

And then…

You realized you had no idea how to make it happen.

  • How would you shoot the videos?
  • How would you get the new website up?
  • How would you edit the files?
  • How would you market the opportunity?

I’ll admit it: I feel pretty safe making this bet because I’ve been there, done that.

If I look back on the last 8 years, are there probably at least 15 times I could have changed the course of my business if I’d only been willing to step back and let someone else figure out the details.

This week on Profit. Power. Pursuit., I talked to Jenny Dopazo about a project like this, her web series The Fabricant Way.

She actually told me, “The one thing that was certain was that I wasn’t going to put myself in a position where I needed to learn how to do this. Me becoming a film person was not part of the vision.

Learning Is Your Job But It’s Not Your Only Job

As a small business owner, you’re constantly putting yourself in the position of having to learn how to do new things.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing–learning is part of entrepreneurship (and it’s one of the reasons I love it so much!).

But it can become the default setting: new idea equals something new to learn.

And when you’re overwhelmed, overloaded, and overscheduled, it means that the things that could really change the course of your business–like Jenny’s video series–often get left behind.

Jenny said that once she realized that becoming a “film person” wasn’t part of her vision for the project, she was able to get clear on what seat at the table she really wanted to be in.

Then, she could identify all the other “seats” she needed and find the right people to fill those roles.

Now, I understand that that in & of itself might sound intimidating. Maybe you’re not in a position to make that kind of investment or maybe you’re not connected to the right people.

But once you know how you want to position yourself in a project, you can start to get creative about making it happen: maybe you can trade services, maybe you can ask for introductions, maybe you can set up a revenue share, etc…

Don’t table a project just because YOU don’t know how to make it happen.

Get clear on your vision and your role in that vision–and then get creative about the rest.

Listen to this week’s episode & subscribe:

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Using a Video Series to Scratch Your Creative Itch with Jennifer Dopazo

Using a Video Series to Scratch Your Creative Itch with Jennifer Dopazo

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The Nitty Gritty:

  • How Jenny realized her business was running on “autopilot” (not in a good way) and decided to do something that would surround her with the people who inspire her
  • Why you need to get clear on what seat you want to sit in–and then determine what other chairs you need to fill in around you to make that happen
  • How Jenny used her focus on community to build the vision for the series–and how that’s helped her tie the video series back to her agency and bring in clients

Where do many small businesses drop the ball? They make something good, but never achieve greatness because they fail to be intentional about every aspect of a project.

But Jennifer Dopazo, owner and creative mastermind behind design and digital strategy firm Candelita, and my guest on this week’s episode of Profit. Power. Pursuit., isn’t like most business owners.

Every day her inbox filled up with projects that she completed on autopilot with no real excitement. She dabbled in all the tactics that the books and gurus said she should to build her business—blogs, social media, and more—but these efforts didn’t feel authentic or aligned with her company’s mission or vision. Although she got clients from these with efforts, they were clients that weren’t a good fit. Something was missing.

That’s when I realized that it was not only about the type of work, or industry or market or you name it, but it also had to do with the person behind the project and how I could connect with them.

— Jennifer Dopazo

At this point, her client list included mostly big brands and corporations. Although corporations and independent business owners share many of the same struggles, Jennifer was intrigued by small business owners and their freedom to chart their own course without board approval and multiple meetings to get stakeholder buy-in.

I’m more compelled to work with people who want to build a business because they want a better life for their family.

— Jennifer Dopazo

She decided to step out of her creative comfort zone to find the connection she craved and to create something that would support the independent business owner. The idea for a video series started to form. She researched, developed a strategy, and reached out to other professionals who could make her vision come true. The result: The video web series The Fabricant Way.  

Not only does The Fabricant Way support the independent business owner and highlights them in their natural settings, this project allowed Jennifer to reconnect with her community and satisfied a creative itch that wasn’t being met.

With the End Goal in Mind: “It’s not about me. It’s about them.”

Jennifer was very intentional about the role she wanted to play in the video series.

The one thing that was certain was that I wasn’t going to put myself in a position where I needed to learn how to do this. Me becoming a film person was not part of the vision.

I decided to look around to find someone whose superpower was video.

— Jennifer Dopazo

She considered the needs of all stakeholders in the series. It started with her, but quickly she considered the needs of the entrepreneurs she interviewed, what the viewer would prefer, and how to offer different ways to use and consume the content she created. Her vision was focused.

Her focus reminded me of something Brian P. Moran said in his book, the 12 Week Year—vision is how you decide that what you want is a given and is in no way “fluffy.” There was no fluff about Jennifer’s end goal either: She had a very clear vision of what she wanted the web series to be. To achieve her vision, she got the “right people in the right seats to make it the best” it could be.

Take a listen to the full podcast where Jennifer and I explore her journey, how her thought process evolved, the similarities between independent business owners and the much larger corporate clients she’s worked for, how this new creative outlet supports her design business, and her continued commitment to her community.

Don’t miss an episode! Subscribe on iTunes to access all the Profit. Power. Pursuit. podcast episodes and learn from ambitious small business owners like you.

Growing an Agency with Aeolidia Founder Arianne Foulks

Growing an Agency with Aeolidia Founder Arianne Foulks on Profit. Power. Pursuit. with Tara Gentile

When I first started thinking about adding more people to the team, I was totally resistant to it, because I would not call myself a perfectionist, but I have a very high standard for the work that I’m doing, and people need so much stuff when they want to put together an ecommerce site.

— Arianne Foulks, Founder of Aeolidia

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Tara:  We’re working on a few special episodes featuring you, our listeners.  Have a question on time management, business and revenue models, expanding your audience, marketing your business, or building your team?  Here’s what you need to do:  Use your phone or computer to make a short audio recording of your question.  Include who you are, what you do, and where we can find you online.  Then attach the recording to an email, and send it to podcast@taragentile.com.  I’ll be answering your questions between November 29th and December 20th, and the deadline for submission is November 20th.  We’d also love to hear your success stories implementing lessons you learned from our guests, so send those along, too.  If we choose your question, we’ll give you a free CreativeLive class of your choice.

Tara:  Welcome to Profit. Power. Pursuit.  I’m your host, Tara Gentile, and together with my friends at CreativeLive, we talk to powerhouse small business owners about the nitty gritty details of running their businesses, making money, and pursuing what’s most important to them.  Each week, I deep dive with a thriving entrepreneur on topics like time management, team building, marketing, business models, and mindset.  Our goal each week is to expose you to something new that you can immediately apply to growing your own business.

This week, I sit down with Arianne Foulks, the captain and founder of Aeolidia, a web and graphic design studio that’s been working with creative, design-oriented shops since 2004.  Aeolidia serves those at early stages on their path with an informative blog and supportive community, and her agency builds fully custom ecommerce sites for established business at that tipping point where strategic design can be transformative and cause exponential growth.  Learn how Arianne decided to build an agency instead of going it alone at web design.  We talk about who she hired first, how her team works together, and both the first and last steps of any client project.

Arianne Foulks, welcome to Profit. Power. Pursuit.  Thank you so much for joining me today.

Arianne:  Thank you for having me, Tara.

Tara:  Absolutely.  So I’ve always looked to your agency as sort of a leader in web design for creative business.  You guys have been around for a long time, but everyone starts somewhere, right?  So how did Aeolidia get started?

Arianne:  Thank you.  We definitely did start somewhere.  We started very small and humble, and in fact, like, I’m always so busy keeping my nose in my own textbook, that I don’t even really notice how much word about us has spread, and I always get kind of surprised when people have heard of me.  But yeah, we started as just me sitting on my couch with my laptop.  I didn’t have a computer when I was growing up, so when I went away to college, and I had unlimited access to the computer lab, I found myself spending a ton of time in there, and I figured out how to make a website on GeoCities.

Tara:  Nice.

Arianne:  Which will be hilarious to anybody as old as I am.  And I spent a lot of time designing a website for my zine and redesigning it and redesigning and redesigning it, because it was fun, and eventually, my friends noticed that I had a skill there, and they wanted websites for their band or their record label.  Most of the people that I helped out at the start were in the music business somehow, and of course, they were not loaded with riches or anything like that, so I ended up doing a lot of websites as favors, or just for fun, or maybe as a trade or something like that.  And then eventually, I had a friend who had an ecommerce shop, which I had no experience with ecommerce, yet, but she wanted me to help her make it look better.  So I came in and helped her figure out this new ecommerce software, which I’d never heard of, and I was like, oh, look at all this, it’s HTML, which I know, but there’s also this PHP and all this crazy stuff, but I figured it out and we made her website, and it looked pretty darn good, and from that one project, I got introduced to kind of this world of pre-Etsy handcrafters.  They had a little community going, and I think it was the year before Etsy began that I really started working on projects with crafters.  And so before Etsy, there was no easy way to get a website up online.  You had to actually get web hosting and know how to use ftp and upload all these files to your server, and you had to, if you wanted to change anything, you had to know HTML or CSS or PHP, so you know, they couldn’t really just pop up a website like you can nowadays.  They needed somebody technical to be able to help them, so I was quite busy for quite a while in this little niche that, you know, had a need that wasn’t really being served.  So yeah, I was super busy with a bunch of crafters, and it was all word of mouth.  I wasn’t trying to advertise or find new clients or anything like that.  In fact, I was often turning away people when they asked me, because I was just too darn busy, because it was just me.

Tara:  Yeah.  And were you operating under the Aeolidia brand then?  Or was that something that kind of came along later?

Arianne:  I was.  I think I had a couple different names as I was transitioning from hobby to more of a business, but when we, when I started doing sites for crafters, we were … I was Aeolidia back then, yeah.

Tara:  Got ya.  All right, well, that’s a really good segue into my next question, then, which is about, you know, how lots of web designers really, they choose to go it on their own, or they think that that’s kind of their only option.  Either they’re working with, you know, a developer, or they’re doing even everything, you know, development-wise themselves.  How did you make the decision to build out an agency and start working with more and more people to produce the sites that you wanted to produce?

Arianne:  Right.  Well, that’s very complimentary that you called it decision.  I was not making any strategic decisions back then.  It’s something that just kind of happened.  So, in fact, when I first started thinking about adding more people to the team, I was totally resistant to it, because I knew I didn’t want to become just like the boss, and I wasn’t doing any creative fun work anymore, and I was like, nope, nope, that’s never going to happen, I don’t want to do anything like that.  But at the same time, I would not call myself a perfectionist, but I have a very high standard for the work that I’m doing, and people need so much stuff when they want to put together an ecommerce site.  So, you know, I would just dig in there and get going, but they would come to me and they wouldn’t have a logo, and so I’d have to like try and just type their name in a nice font, and I eventually ended up learning how to design logos myself, because people needed them so often.  People needed product photography, and I’m not a photographer, but I didn’t know any photographers to refer them to, and I didn’t really like the idea of referring people to a third party, because it was totally out of my control.  I didn’t know if the quality was going to be high.  I didn’t know if the product they brought back to me was going to work for the website.  The whole thing just felt very uncomfortable. 

So I ended up actually bringing on people to do all these different services that it turns out my clients just kept needing that would pop up as a surprise.  Eventually, we ended up adding people to do all of those things in house, so we could, you know, be in charge of the whole project, and know what was going to happen with all the parts and know we were going to get something that was up to our standards.  So you know, it all ended up being in house, and I was so worried about losing the work that I had to do sitting there and designing websites, but let me tell you right now, I am thankful every day that I don’t need to sit down at Photoshop looking at that blank white screen and try to figure out what to make for somebody.  I don’t regret it at all, now that I see how it worked out.

Tara:  Yeah.  And I love that you talk about the reason that you brought people in house, the reason you, you know, wanted to bring other people in period is because you had this need, you know, you’re a bit of a perfectionist, maybe even a bit of a control freak, and so I love thinking about going the agency route as being a way to appease your perfectionism and control freakness, because I think a lot of times, perfectionists kind of isolate themselves, and I love your solution much better.

Arianne:  Well, the best part is, it turns out everybody I’ve hired along the way has ended up being much better than I ever was at all the things I was trying to do by myself, which I love and is the best thing about running Aeolidia.

Tara:  Yes.  Amen to that.  Okay, so who was your first hire?

Arianne:  So I was thinking about this.  My first hire was actually a small troop of illustrators, because I just loved illustration so much, personally, and when I was sitting there with that blank, white Photoshop page, I really wanted to have something awesome to start with, and I hated having to have a very text-heavy site or just sticking with my clients’ awful photography or going to some terrible clip art or stock photography site, which back then, there were not a lot of options, and it was really kind of terrible.  So I just reached out to a few illustrators.  They weren’t, some of them weren’t even doing client work.  Some of them were just illustrators that were doing it as a creative hobby, and I asked them if they would like to be paid to make illustrations for my clients, and that worked out really nicely.  And even though I was working with maybe, I don’t know, at some point, we had … we had a lot of illustrators at one point, and things have gotten a lot more sleek and clean and modern lately, but you know, I would have maybe five different illustrators and me, but people would tell me back then that they knew it was an Aeolidia site before they even scrolled to the bottom and saw our credit, just because I think we were doing something there that you didn’t see a lot on the internet at that time, and our sites looked a lot more creative and illustrated and arty and interesting than people were used to seeing, so that was really awesome.

Tara:  Yes.

Arianne:  But, you know, that didn’t feel like, I didn’t feel like a studio at that point.  I felt like I was just making websites and I had a couple helpers.  I did bring my friend, and my best friend from college had been doing web design and development, and when she moved up to Seattle, I was like, you know, I’m turning away clients left and right.  I think it would make a lot of sense if we just worked together on this, and then you could do some and I could do some, and maybe I wouldn’t have to say no so often.  And so we both ended up working together.  She managed her own projects.  I mostly just kind of got people started and took care of the money part of it, but we were basically two freelancers who happened to be working together.  And then I also brought my husband in.  He had been doing this really boring cubicle-style office job, and I think I just wanted to save him from the cube.  I was like hey, you know, you could learn MySQL and PHP and help us with these databases and we can all work together. 

So that still didn’t feel like I was building an agency.  That felt like we were maybe like a mom and pop shop kind of thing, like a little family business.  I think the big change happened when a designer who I admired reach out to me to ask if she could work with us.  And this seemed, I mean, already, I had hired some people, but this seemed super foreign to me when she said this, and I was like what?  Hire somebody?  That’s crazy.  I don’t know if we should do that.  I mean, how would we keep control of what’s going on?  Will it still look like an Aeolidia site?  Like it all just seemed fraught with peril, but I was pregnant with my first child, and I knew that I had no idea what was going to happen to my schedule after he was born.  So it seemed like a really good time to just go for it and see how it worked out.  So we hired her, and it was awesome.  It was the best.  I was able to just like fade into the background with a baby for a while.  She was designing sites, my husband was developing them, my friend, Shoshanna, who’d been working with me all along was taking care of her own clients, and it was really a great way for the business to keep afloat while I basically could hardly do anything.  So I think that was our big tipping point where it began to be more of an agency.

Tara:  Yeah, I love that.  And so now, is … are … are … is the group that you have, are they a mix of, like, W2 employees and contractors?  Or is it one way or the other?

Arianne:  So all of our workers that provide a service are contract workers, so they’re all either freelancers or they have their own small studio.  My only employee is my project manager, Sam, and she takes care of all the project management stuff that I started having to do when we brought more people onto the team.  Other than that, everybody who works for me, you know, we all live in different places.  We have a designer in Australia, we’ve got a developer in Canada, we have people all over the United States.  My one employee, Sam, is actually in San Jose while I’m in Seattle, so we all work remotely as a, just kind of a magical team.

Tara:  Nice.  I love that.  I love that.  Sounds like you’re super-flexible.  Is flexibility important to you?

Arianne:  Yeah, it totally is.  I … I always think if I had to go back to like a regular job and lose my flexibility, I don’t even know if I’m employable anymore.

Tara:  That’s great.  That’s great.  So you mentioned earlier that you’re really glad you don’t have to stare at the white, scary Photoshop screen anymore, and so that makes me curious how you’re actually spending your time in your business.  What role are you personally, or have you personally taken on with the agency?

Arianne:  So it’s super-interesting to me, because when I was resisting the role that I have now, I was not fully imagining what I would actually be doing.  I just pictured myself bossing people around all day long, which I totally don’t do.  I hardly ever boss anybody around.  I spend most of my day doing content creation and marketing type stuff, because finding work for 19 people is a lot more work than finding work for yourself or maybe three people.  So I write for the blog a lot, I do our social media.  I’m the mastermind of thinking of what new things we need to be doing or how we need to change our process or what we should be working on next or what our clients need, all that kind of thing.  I’m the tricky situation smoother-outer.  Whenever anything weird comes up, I get to pop in there and unruffle everybody’s feathers and figure out good solutions.  And all that kind of problem-solving stuff is what I love doing, and I’m way better at problem-solving than I ever was at designing a website, so I’m really glad I’m doing what I do now.  And I do still have the blank page problem, because I write for the blog a lot, so I sit there in front of the blank WordPress screen, but that is a lot less intimidating to me.

Tara:  That’s awesome.  So it sounds like it’s sort of a, like, dual CEO/CMO role.

Arianne:  Yeah, I guess so.  I would eventually like some help with the marketing, because a lot of it is a drag to me.  Like, I love doing the blogging, and I love talking one-on-one with business owners and solving people’s problems.  In fact, I spent a lot of time kind of doing free consulting work for people, just because if somebody puts a really interesting question in my inbox, I cannot resist getting in there and figuring out how to crack that nut.

Tara:  Yup.

Arianne:  So sometimes, I’ll just go and I’ll help people out, but then what I do is I turn it into a blog post that is super helpful for other people in the business.  So it all works out, but yeah, it’s all fun for me to just sort of figure out how to make things better for Aeolidia and for our clients and other small business owners.

Tara:  Perfect.  Cool.  So you’ve started talking about this a little bit, but I want to drill down into it a little bit more, too, and that is how have you decided to add people to your team?  It sounds like some of them have presented themselves to you, some of it’s been by need.  When you’re looking at your business right now and thinking about those new directions, or you know, maybe new services that you want to add for clients, how are you thinking about who you’re going to bring into the business, too?

Arianne:  Right.  So I have become a lot more strategic about this in recent years, but in the olden days, I used to just kind of add people if somebody asked and I thought that they would be an amazing fit or if I saw somebody online where I just loved their design work and I thought they’d be perfect, and we also spent some time trying to figure out to balance our team, because for a website project, you need a web designer and a web developer, and we didn’t want one group of people being super busy while the other was kind of sitting around twiddling their thumbs looking for work. 

So we would do that kind of thing or maybe replace people as they left, but now we have a more businessy type way of figuring this out.  So we have a certain amount of projects that we would like to be working on each month, and we’ve actually finally gone through the numbers and figured out how we stay profitable, and so we’ve just figured out how many projects each person can do, and that tends to be different for each different worker, and then we plan our team based on that.  So if we know that want to be doing 12 or 14 projects in one of our two-month blocks, we look at who we’re going to have then and how many they can do, and if it looks like we don’t have enough manpower, then I can go out and try to find somebody else to add to the team, and that is what we have been doing recently.  And right now, we, it feels like we’re at just the perfect size, because we’ve recently added a couple designers to the team to replace some designers who are out on maternity leave, and I think we should be set for a while.

Tara:  Nice.  Awesome.  How do your team members work together?  Are they talking to each other?  Does everything go through the project manager?  How does that work?

Arianne:  So we have used Basecamp ever since it existed, I think, to talk to our clients.  I was thinking the other day, I was doing something before Basecamp where I just had like a bunch of tasks written out into a text document, and I seriously have no idea how I used to ever get any work done.  But now we have wonderful tools, so we use Basecamp with our clients, but the thing that’s been huge for us internally is we started using Slack when Slack started existing, and that is a tool that lets us all chat with each other with no clients ever involved.  Like we definitely had a couple of mistakes in the early years where we think we were sending a private message on Basecamp and the client would get it, so now, you know, we’ve got our internal team on the internal software with no clients on it and we can all just sit there and chat with each other, and that has been huge not only for just organizing projects, but it has really made our team feel like a cohesive team of people that all actually work together, whereas I think before everybody kind of felt like freelancer that was just doing their own job, and the project manager would be popping in to ask them about it, and you know, we would be emailing back and forth on Basecamp to ask each other questions, but now with Slack, we have a way to all, you know, make jokes and share random stuff we like on the internet and figure out ways to do stuff better and have little chats where we improve things, which has been so awesome, and I feel like we’re much more of a team now.

Tara:  I love it.  I love Slack for all the same reasons.  It brings … it brings people together.  It brings the team together.  It creates a culture, and it’s, obviously, it’s just great for communicating, too.  So that’s …

Arianne:  Totally.

Tara:  Yeah, so that’s super helpful.  Okay, so can you walk us through what happens internally after you’ve signed a new client?  What are the … what are the first steps there?  How do you get started working on that new project?

Arianne:  Yes.  And I am very happy with what we’re doing now.  We spent the last year kind of building this out, and it’s all working so well.  So we used to just take on a project willy-nilly whenever the client was ready.  We’re like, okay, here we go, let’s get started.  And it was chaos.  And now we have kind of switched to a block system.  So in the block system, we have two-month blocks throughout the year.  We have five this year.  I think next we’re going to try to make it six.  And each client project is going to take at least one block, or maybe two, possibly three.  So if you’re doing a logo and a website, that ends up being three blocks, because we do two months on the logo, two on the website design, and two on the website development.  So before the block starts, we have a phase that we call Phase 0, and we like that to be about a month long, although we can get away with less, sometimes, but a month gives us lots of time to get everything done.  So what we have been doing, we used to just kind of collect content from clients as we worked, and if they didn’t have photos, for instance, we would use placeholders, and it was hard to do our best work. 

Now, we insist on having everything totally ready for us before design begins.  So Sam works with our client to gather content, so that would be like product descriptions, whatever they want to write on the home page, what the about page is going to say, all their photography, their preferences, feature requests, that all happens during Phase 0, and that is also when we bring in our copywriter to create content for them or edit what they’ve got, and our product photographer to take their beautiful hero shots for the front page of their website and all their product shots, and so all that time is mostly, you know, the designer and developer relaxing and Sam is in there with the client digging everything together.  At the end of Phase 0, when we have everything ready, we all get together in Slack for an internal project planning meeting, and this has been wonderful.  We used to just kind of go by whatever the proposal said and then work out any kinks as they happened.  Now, we try to work out all the kinds before they happen, which is a much better way of doing it.  So now, we look at both what the client has given us and all the content, and we check out their goals and their objectives and first, we look through the proposal and make sure that we didn’t put in anything that was unnecessary or didn’t leave out anything that is going to be really helpful.  So sometimes, we make some adjustments to scope right there at the start with the client’s agreement, and then we spend some time just kind of making our rough plan for how we’re going to do things, and we try to pinpoint any possible problems that might come up or like unusual requests or things that we don’t often do, and we try to make a plan for how that’s going to work and what’s going to happen, and during this time, we also tend to show the client either a wireframe of what we’re planning for their site, or we will give them some information, like for example, we often end up editing and adjusting a client’s category list.  So they’ll give us this list of like maybe 18 product categories, and we help them whittle it down and reorganize it and make it make sense to their customer.

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Tara:  Is the average project that you’re doing average?  Like, do the projects look very similar or is there a lot of disparity between the different types of projects that you’re taking on? 

Arianne:  They do look very similar, and the reason is because we only do ecommerce projects right now, so we don’t do informational sites or service-based businesses, we only do product-based businesses, and if you want somebody to shop online, there are a certain about of expectations that your customer has from shopping on Amazon and other big sites.  They’re expecting the cart to be in a certain place, they’re expecting the login link to be in a certain place, they know kind of what an add-to-cart button looks like.  So you have a lot of constraints when you’re designing for ecommerce, which actually turns out to be wonderful, because you’re not reinventing the wheel each time.  So most of our client projects are very similar.  Like, they’re so similar, in fact, that we just kind of go through a checklist when we’re making a proposal of which things to include and not include.  We don’t have to come up with new crazy things very often.  We usually have a flat rate or a set price for each type of feature we’re adding.  Yeah, so things, you know, we get to put our own spin on it and our own details, and there’s usually not a lot of wild variation going on.

Tara:  Got you.  That’s … that’s really interesting, and I love the … I love the hyperfocus that you have on who your target client is, and how that not only makes it probably easier to find new clients, but also has streamlined your process so that it’s as efficient as possible for you, and I think that should be a huge takeaway for anybody, whether they’re running a web design agency, or you know, any kind of business that they’re doing, I think that kind of hyperfocus on who you’re selling to really has ripple effects through your entire business strategy, so that’s awesome.  Do you mind if I ask you what your average project fee is?

Arianne:  So we have kind of a minimum and maximum right now.

Tara:  Okay.

Arianne:  So most of our clients that come in … So we have a starting at price and then we just add on features that they need to it.  So some clients want a blog and some don’t.  Some clients have a bunch of informational pages.  Some need to add things like downloadable products and stuff like that.  So our starting at price for a custom Shopify site is $14,000, and we have had projects go up to $25,000 and $30,000, but that’s usually when we’re adding in completely separate services like marketing and SEO and stuff like that on top of what we normally do.

Tara:  Great.  Awesome.  That’s super helpful.  I think fees for web design, well, one, are all over the place, and two, people never know what to expect, and I just, I love hearing, you know, what people are charging.  I think that’s really helpful.

Arianne:  Right.  And they’re totally all over the place, because there’s so many different things you can get.

Tara:  Right.

Arianne:  Because if you want to set up a shop on Shopify, you could do it over the weekend for $0 by getting a theme from the theme store, and that is probably going to work for you, though it might not be the best.  The clients we work with have been in business for a while, and they have seen success and things are working for them, but they feel like it could be working better, so when we come in, we are not starting with any kind of framework or theme or anything.  We are starting from scratch based on their goals, based on their objectives.  We’ve been huge on return on investment lately, and figuring out what’s actually going to help the client make money, not just make a pretty website.  So yeah, there’s a big difference in services there.

Tara:  Perfect.  Absolutely perfect.  Okay.  So we’ve talked about the beginning of the process.  Now, can you walk us through what happens when you’re completing with a client?  What are … what are those last few steps where someone’s working with you, you’re finishing up this site, what does that look like?

Arianne:  So the last thing we do is testing.  We have a browser tester on staff who goes through and looks at each website we’ve designed on every reasonable platform.  So she’s in there looking on the iPad and the iPhone and on Android and different browsers and Macs and PCs, and she sends this whole crazy report back to the developer to get everything fixed up, and then when we like it on our end, we send it to the client to do their user testing, because we found over the years when you don’t have the website owner go through the entire checkout process, they come back two months later surprised by something that they’ve never seen before, or they didn’t realize their shipping was working that way or something like that, so we have our clients go through the site as a customer, and we have them complete checkout and use the different payment methods, try the different shipping methods, make sure the order emails they get all make sense.  You know, we want them to see everything their customer’s going to see, so they have a chance to customize it if needed and change it if they don’t think it’s going to work and all that good stuff.  And then we are ready to launch their site, and then after launch, we spent some time to prepare them and our team for their six-month checkup, which is something we started doing this last year, where we launch them on their way and they get to set sail, and then we meet back up with them after six months to see if they’re on the path to achieving their goal and how it’s going, what’s working, what hasn’t been working, and we’re available at that point to do some updates or changes to the site if needed, and we try to make that very stats and sales-based, so we’re not just, you know, changing the blue to a lighter blue for fun, but doing something that’s actually going to be effective for them.  And then it’s just we have a week in between ending a block and starting a new block, and during that week, we do a lot of internal marketing type stuff, like the designer makes some graphics for the portfolio and blog posts, and I plan out what we’re going to blog about for each client, and we get their testimonial, and we see if they’ll send us the print work we designed for them so we can take photos and all that good stuff.

Tara:  Cool.  Very, very cool.  Are there any trends that you see coming in web design or in ecommerce?

Arianne:  Oh my goodness.  It’s so hard to know, like, what is going to be an important thing to do and what is going to be a silly trend that nobody’s going to care about in a little while.  But you know, we keep our eye out, and it’s actually really good, Shopify has got a really good blog for following along and seeing what is happening with ecommerce, because they really are trying to stay ahead of the curve.  In fact, we went to the Shopify partner conference just for their developers and designers and experts, and they were demonstrating virtual reality shopping, where you put on like the headgear and the gloves and you’re walking around in a store and grabbing things off the shelves, and I have no plans to start doing anything like that for Aeolidia clients yet, but it’s definitely interesting to look at.  We, personally, have been seeing a lot more video on websites, which is nice.  Like you can do video on product pages to just make people really understand what it’s going to be like to have the product, or like a video of your brick and mortar shop, or whatever your process, whatever’s special on the home page to get people interested, so that is something we’ve been looking at.  Mostly, we try to stick to what we know works and not get too wild, because if you get super experimental with somebody’s product-based business, you could be costing them money, so we try to stick to what we know is working at the time.

Tara:  Cool.  Awesome.  All right, last question for today.  What’s next for you and Aeolidia?

Arianne:  What’s next?  So I am working with one of my developers on building kind of a members area on the Aeolidia site, which is just something for our newsletter subscribers.  It’s free.  It’s something that exists right now, but it’s a total mess, because it … it made sense when I had three things for them, but now that I have tons of things for them, it’s just getting confusing.  So I’ve been making a lot of content upgrades for my blog posts where there’s maybe some more information or like a guide you could use or a workbook or a video to watch and all that kind of good stuff.  So I’ve been saving that stuff in a members area for people who subscribe to my newsletter.  It doesn’t cost anything, just your email address, but that is kind of just, I just keep adding to it, and it’s been going totally crazy, so I’m trying to turn it into an actual nice resource area for somebody who is either starting or growing a small creative business can use all the info we’ve put together over the years to really make some good next steps for themselves.  So we’re working at that, tapping away at it.  I am also speaking at the State of Making summit, which is something the Academy of Handmade is putting on, and we’re going to be talking about what changes we have seen in the industry over the last year, and I am pretty excited about that, and other than that, I’m just kind of sitting back hear and any time I see things that are not perfect in our process, I am sneaking in there and improving them, and making it better for everybody.

Tara:  Awesome, awesome, awesome.  Well, that’s a perfect place to leave it.  Arianne Foulks, thank you so much for talking with me today.

Arianne:  Thank you, it’s been fun.

Tara:  Find out more about Arianne Foulks and Aeolidia at Aeolidia.com

Next week, I talk with Jill Knouse, who gave up a lucrative career in the financial field to become a certified yoga instructor and massage therapist.  Jill and I talk about creating an innovative business model in a saturated field, and we jam about collaboration, creating events people love, and testing new ideas.

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That’s it for this week’s episode of Profit. Power. Pursuit.  You can download other episodes of this podcast and subscribe in the iTunes store.  If you enjoy what you heard, we appreciate your reviews and recommendations, because they help us reach as many emerging entrepreneurs as possible.

This episode was produced by Michael Karsh at CreativeLive.  Our audio engineer was Chris Stow.  Daniel Peterson wrote our theme song and also edited this episode.  Tune in every week for new interviews that give you the inside scoop on how successful small businesses run and grow.