035: From Freelance to Agency with Nicole Hanusek

In episode 35, we talk to Nicole Hanusek, who started out as a WordPress freelancer and has grown her business into a successful agency. We learn how she stopped building client websites and began building a team to manage websites instead.


About Nicole Hanusek:

In 1998, Nicole began her career with a web consulting company back in her hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. During this time, she learned everything about designing websites, coding HTML, and also a bit about PHP, managing projects, and creating proposals. Her learnings covered mostly everything one needs to know in order to run a successful web services-based company. She was able to use this knowledge, combine it with her love of helping people, add lots of creativity, finally giving rise to Smack Happy Design. The fruition of this new and exciting business adventure meant that Nicole could provide creative solutions to make happy, loyal clients.

Over the years, the number of happy clients continued to grow. Ongoing clients kept coming back with more needs. New clients were popping up from ongoing clients recommending her to others. Nicole needed to find teammates to help stay on top of it all. In 2014, Nicole began attending networking events with like-minded small business owners. She found a BNI chapter which lead to a multitude of growth experiences, including hiring a business coach. When networking events became more sparse, she used her free time to read many books—constantly trying to improve the business to make sure she would be able to treat her future team well.

By 2015 and 2016, Nicole was building her dream team, expanding her services, and gaining amazing clients. The team shares Nicole’s core values, vision, and mission. All of the unique, creative individuals at Smack Happy care about you, your business, and your customers. Everyone agrees that helping people is top priority.

Find Nicole Hanusek: Smack Happy Design | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn


Women in WP | WordPress Podcast
Women in WP | WordPress Podcast
035: From Freelance to Agency with Nicole Hanusek
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Show Notes

Nicole’s Red Flag List:

  • Coming to us with their own UI mockups, where we try to fit their idea into WP. This only works for a large project that is non-wp.
  •  Extending the sales meeting for talking too much, going over the allotted time. This means they don’t respect your time.
  • Not fully answering the questions in our questionnaire, saying “We can discuss further”. This means they won’t do their homework when you’re working together later.
  • Asking us for a lower price. Never discount your price. This means they don’t value you and you will constantly be struggling to prove your worth or the client will make you feel like you aren’t worth it.
  • Knowing they don’t have a lot of money or budget. (most solo entrepreneurs) This might be ok early on when you’re trying to establish a portfolio and credibility, but as time goes on skip these clients. You will give way more than you get.
  • Saying you know nothing about design and want our guidance. Or that you don’t have opinions about design. For some reason this usually means the opposite or can mean that they are so far into the void of not knowing what they want, they will never be able to make a decision.
  • When a potential client uses language that they “just want a simple website” – this most likely means they believe what we do is easy or quick. Either they don’t have experience or are deliberately trying to downplay what they need in order to keep costs at a minimum.
  • Clients who want everything ASAP or have unrealistic deadlines. If they want the first project done ASAP, they’ll likely want everything this way and expect you to deliver it no matter how you set the expectation.
  • Sometimes we hear about how they fired their last designer or had a bad experience. We should dig into that more. This might actually not have been the designer’s fault, it could be theirs. We should question what happened with the last designer.

This episode is sponsored by Malcare. Get a discount on an annual plan by going to malcare.com/womeninwp.

Malcare

Transcript

Speaker 1:
Welcome to Women in WP, a bimonthly podcast about women who blog, design, develop, and more in the WordPress community.
Angela:
Welcome to the show. I’m Angela Bowman.
Tracy:
I’m Tracy Apps.
Amy:
And I’m Amy Masson.
Angela:
Our guest today is Nicole Hanusek who builds marketing websites and custom websites for small businesses and entrepreneurs.
Nicole:
Hi.
Angela:
Welcome. We’d like to start off by asking each guest to tell us about their journey into WordPress. How did you get started?
Nicole:
So I started working at a web consulting company in 1998, which is way too long ago. And couple years into my career, I met a man who is now my husband, and he told me to check out WordPress for my blog. So I started blogging with WordPress. It must have been 2003-ish, I would think. And when I started freelancing and doing more work on my own outside of the companies I was working for, I used WordPress because it was so easy to work with. And when I started my business 12 years ago, WordPress was the one I chose to build websites with. And luckily, it took off and it was an excellent choice.
Amy:
Yeah. I think that’s been the path for a lot of people is that you were just looking for something to use and this one, oh, it’s easy for people to update their content because, back then, at least for me, it wasn’t a content management system. It was just a blogging platform.
Nicole:
Right. Yeah. Very few people looked at it like, oh, I can make any website out of this. They all thought it had to be a blog. I’m like, no, no, no, no, no. We can make WordPress do anything. And I’d come across a lot of people who were really surprised by that at the time.
Tracy:
Yeah. When I first started, I want to say I think I had started, well, my first blog was in B2, which was the code base [inaudible 00:02:23] to become WordPress. But my first time when I was actually using WordPress, I knew nothing. And so I just hand-coded a site and then just took the guts and just stuck it in the middle. Now realizing, oh, well it does so much more than that. When I tell people about it now they think, oh, well that’s just what it is. No, it’s not.
Angela:
Yeah, I had that similar experience. I was just so desperate to get off of Dreamweaver and let people have something to edit with that I didn’t even have any preconceived notions of what you could or couldn’t do. I’m like, oh look, it makes webpages. Yeah. So tell us about your business. What was your business and how has it evolved?
Amy:
And how did you come up with your name?
Nicole:
Ah, yeah. We can start there because that’s fun. So I was still at my full-time job and I wanted to take the plunge to do freelancing full time, which was super scary. And I needed to come up with a name that was memorable, easy to spell, available, which is all very hard even in 2008. And I was thinking about it for roughly a month, just trying to come up with the name. And my coworker, who would often annoy me, was annoying me yet once again. And I thought, oh, I’m going to go smack happy on him. And I was like, wow, I wonder if that’s available. And it was.
Amy:
So your annoying coworker is how you ended up coming up with your business name?
Nicole:
Yes.
Amy:
Wow.
Tracy:
Do they know that?
Nicole:
He does not know that. I’ve told so many people the story. I doubt that it’s gotten back to him. I don’t know that anyone could make that connection, but yeah. I don’t think he knows.
Amy:
Do you think you owe him a commission now?
Nicole:
I might, because some people contact us just because of the name. The name stands out and they’re like, oh, I want to see what that one’s all about. So I probably should send him a gift or something.
Tracy:
That’s great. So you’ve been in business for 12 years. Is that correct?
Nicole:
Yes. That is correct.
Tracy:
That’s a huge feat. So how has it evolved from when you started to, and has your position changed since you started to now?
Nicole:
Oh yeah. Big time. Yeah, that is the biggest thing. So I mentioned the freelancer. I started out as a freelancer and I stayed that way for roughly five years. And then I got to this point where I was just stuck. I had too much work and I needed help. And so I started trying to find contractors to work with. And I did find one or two good people to work with, but I still felt stuck, like I needed something to change or to grow somehow. So I started networking and trying to find like-minded business people who might have also been stuck to see what they did to get out of it. And I ended up working with a business coach. And that was the best thing I possibly could have done because she turned my world upside down, and I had to make that mindset shift from being a freelancer to being a business owner, which was hard for me to do.
Amy:
So what was your process for that when you went, I mean, because I feel like we were on the same path doing websites for people and then suddenly, you just kicked open the door and came out like a force.
Nicole:
Yeah. I had to own the fact that I wanted and enjoyed to be a leader. When I was a little girl, I was told that I was bossy. And so I suppressed that need and desire to be a leader. And I had to redefine what it meant for me to make it okay to be the boss and to be a bossy person and to figure out what that meant for me. That I could be a loving and compassionate person and still tell, not tell people what to do, I don’t like to dictate. For me, it’s more of a conversation where we are trying to figure something out together and I’m just, I don’t want to just say, go do it like this. I want people who are going to figure it out on their own and bring their own expertise into it. So once I learned all of those things about myself, that was what really set me free.
Tracy:
And that’s a huge transformation and I can imagine it’s hard to strike that balance going from freelance to being that leader. And for me, it’s like I don’t trust people enough, and I should, because they’re really great and really smart people. How do you go about finding people? And even just changing your mindset from I have to do it all to letting go of some of those reigns. And how do you find the people that you feel comfortable in letting them show and do their thing?
Amy:
Yeah. I really want to know this too because I don’t trust people, anybody. So it is something I struggle with.
Tracy:
And you’re in business with your sister, so that says a lot.
Amy:
Yeah. This is one conversation we’ve had.
Nicole:
Yes. So I think one of things that a lot of business owners have in common is that we’re all control freaks. So it is really hard to let go of some of that. Yeah. So to build that trust, I have a couple of techniques that I use. My whole team is remote, so I can’t stand over anyone’s shoulder and see how they’re doing something. So when I start working with someone, we start with small projects and do a couple of tests. So if I have them coding something or designing something, I’ll give them something that I know, okay, if I’m doing this, I know it’s going to take this amount of time. And I know how I would tackle it. So that gives me something that I’ve done before I can now compare to how they’re going to do it.
And then when they give me the results, we talk through it. I also think about what the process was like. Did they ask me questions? Did they take my instructions well? Did they get creative with it on their own? And then for code, I can look at their code and evaluate how they did it and if I like the way they did it. And for design, I mean, similar. Design is just so subjective. So for that, you just got to make your own decisions on that one. But I just start small. And if that little project worked out well, then we do another one and get a little bigger. And I keep an eye on the time tracking initially too to make sure that we are all still on the same page with regard to that. That’s where I start.
Amy:
And how many people do you have on your team now?
Nicole:
There are 10 of us.
Amy:
Wow. And are they exclusively working with you or are they on their own as well?
Nicole:
It’s a mix. Some people are employed by me and just work for me. Some still have their own clients, and some are contractors who are not employees. But I treat everyone the same. I don’t make any distinction with regard to that.
Angela:
Are they on any kind of salary or are they just working hourly for you or do you have a retainer with them?
Nicole:
Everyone is hourly.
Angela:
And do you guarantee a set number of hours or is it just sometimes you’ll have work for them, sometimes you won’t, and you just pull them in as you need them?
Nicole:
I don’t guarantee any specific number of hours. However, each team member has carved out their role and their place at Smack Happy. I don’t dictate when you work or how much you work. And because everyone has come in as freelancers, a lot of freelancers they’re great at their job, but they hate the selling part. And so that’s what I do now. I’m the one selling us and they’re the ones doing the work. So I think because everyone came in from that freelance mindset, they’re good at managing their own hours and setting their own times. So they’ve carved out, like Danielle, she does roughly 20 hours per week and that’s what she’s comfortable with because she has a little boy and her life, so. She could work more if she wanted to. We definitely have the work. But they also know that it fluctuates because that’s the nature of our business.
Tracy:
I think that’s really great. Being someone I’ve always done freelance stuff, I started doing freelance 20 years ago or something like that. And then, working every so often in corporate world and then realizing that not everyone is like that. They’re like, oh, I was waiting for instructions or I didn’t know how to do it. And I’m like, but you just figure it out or there was a need here and whatever. And I didn’t realize that. And I think that’s a really a good point because freelancers, we are used to that. And also, I like that you have that freedom to be able to, so you can get the best people and say, because, oh, I’m really good, but I have these restrictions. I think that’s really great. And it sounds like you’ve built a really great team too from that.
Nicole:
Yeah. They all seem really happy. And I think gratitude is one of the big things that I promote. So I’m always telling them about how much I appreciate them and they give that back to me too. So I think that they’re pretty happy with the setup.
Tracy:
Because you said you’re all remote, how do you keep that team to feel like a cohesive team? Do you have any tricks for that?
Nicole:
Yeah. We use Slack of course, for communicating. And we do three team meetings per week. We do one big company meeting on Monday where we talk about what’s going on, talk about wins and celebrations, what we have coming up. And then we do a little standup portion where we talk about what we did last week, what we’ll be doing this week, and if we have any impediments. And then on Wednesdays and Fridays, we would have the same standup meetings just to stay connected.
Amy:
That’s a lot of meetings. Have you tried different numbers of meetings and found that the three was the ideal spot? Or how did you come up with that number?
Nicole:
I don’t like having meetings, and the stand-ups, they’re pretty short. They’re usually 15 to 20 minutes. They don’t go on too long. So because of that, it didn’t feel like it was too much. When the country went into lockdown, we cut out the Wednesday and Friday one temporarily, but then we created a Friday happy hour in its place. So we are still connecting on Fridays, but just winding down and not talking about work, and just being together and playing games and laughing, which has been extremely helpful.
Angela:
I was just going to say, are you involved in any bigger community things in the WordPress community or any of your team members involved in any WordPress community activities? Do they go to meetups, WordCamps, anything like that?
Nicole:
A couple of team members have definitely attended various WordCamps, but we aren’t heavily involved in the community. I do some networking, and I think most of my team are introverts, so they don’t like to get out too much. And I’m an introvert at heart too, but I can go out and I can talk to people.
Amy:
So what I feel like I am is an extroverted introvert. So I like to get out and talk to people, but then I like to go back to my hole and be alone. So if I do a weekend away with a group of people, I’ll have to separate myself for an hour and just go sit in a room by myself. But then, I crave that togetherness, that being together. And so when we go to the … that’s what’s hard for me about the WordCamps all being canceled, these are my people and I’m not going to see any of them, and the virtual is just, it’s not the same.
Nicole:
I agree. A hundred percent. Yeah. Life’s going to be a little hard for a while.
Amy:
Yeah. And I know … sorry, Angela. I know they’re doing WordCamp US virtually, and they’re doing WordCamp Europe virtually, and we’re supposed to be in either of those, but I don’t even know how interested I am in doing it virtually.
Tracy:
I feel the same on that. I feel that, yeah that community. And I mean, I feel like it’s different and it’s interesting and I don’t really know why, but, see, in a conference versus a meeting, I’ve worked with distributed teams and I actually really like those check in meetings. I like doing that multiple times a week because it does feel like, oh, I’m not just sitting here by myself working, it feels like that. I don’t know what it is. It’s something different about the virtual conferences or something. I don’t know.
Amy:
Well, it’s different when you’re at home and there’s other people. Your real life is moving around you like my whole family’s here, and I’ve got people coming in and out of the door and going to get snacks. When I go to a WordCamp that’s somewhere, I get to leave my family life behind me and just be nerd Amy for a little bit. And you can’t really do that on a virtual conference because my real life is here with me all the time.
Nicole:
But even if you can step away into a private room, let’s say you could go out into your backyard, there’s still all the distractions of your computer as well like little notifications popping up or if the speaker is boring, you might check your email. So it’s just way too easy to step aside from the interaction and focus.
Tracy:
As you say that, I realized I forgot to turn off notifications.
Amy:
It’s okay. It’s pandemic times. All the rules are off. So whatever happens happens people. That’s our new reality.
Angela:
Speaking of that, how has your business been impacted? Has it been impacted? Have your clients been impacted? And how have you been helping them through that process?
Nicole:
Yeah. This has been really interesting and strange. All of the food and event related clients were extremely impacted. We had one business that did the escape rooms and they just closed down completely. I think they might have been suffering before this started and they just gave up. And some of the food ones are, they’re finding ways to work through it by doing takeout and delivery and things of that nature. And some of the other event ones, they’ve just put everything on hold for now or they’re trying to figure out how to do things virtually, which brings me to the flip side of all the businesses who are still going and trying to pivot and trying to figure out how to do things virtually. So because of that, we are still surprisingly busy because we have to help these people figure out how to navigate the online world. And I think that’s just going to continue to increase throughout the summer as everyone is trying to make it by.
Angela:
Are there any specific solutions you’ve helped people implement that you’d like to share with us?
Nicole:
Sure. Setting up an e-commerce store, that’s a no brainer. It’s an obvious one. But for some other people who provide services, we’ve helped set up virtual meetings where you could schedule a meeting, set up the payment for that, and just having a landing page and process for doing things virtually, which they didn’t have before because everything was just in person. It was so easy. Just go and meet up. So we’ve had people who just had no idea how to even start with the whole virtual end of things that we’ve been able to guide and set up.
Tracy:
I was just reading a bunch of articles about what the new norm of offices and public spaces is going to be. And it’s going to require a lot more of this kind of planning and technology to be able to do this. I’m wondering if you’ve done any brainstorming with your team or have any ideas of thinking it’s like, well just like what we were saying before like, well WordPress can do pretty much anything. We can make it do all these different things. Have you thought on ways that we can say like, oh, well we can reposition this and make it into this? Have you done any of the brainstorming at all?
Nicole:
Oh yeah. We have definitely done it, several brainstorming sessions with some of our clients who are having a harder time. There’s one in particular who would put together retreats for women and travel to far away places and do workshops with them in these far away places. And so we are trying to figure out how can she still do that for people virtually because we are all stuck at home and we’re tired of being stuck at home. Is there some way that she could still take us out of this space in a creative way where we’re just getting out of our mind or getting out of the mold and she can still do those workshops, but maybe they’re just centered around something else? For example, there are 2,500 art museums that are available now online and you could totally set up a session where you’re taking someone through an art museum and talking about the art or trying to get them to get creative about the art and what they’re seeing or thinking, so that’s one example.
Tracy:
Wasn’t there a Twitter account of someone who was, I want to say in the parks or something? He was an older gentleman and didn’t know anything about social media. And so he was tweeting, it was an email or a phone call or something like that. It was really great. And he’s like, okay, well, so today … and it just went viral. People just loved him. That kind of stuff, it’s cute. I love it.
Angela:
I think it was the security guard at the Cowboy Museum.
Tracy:
That’s probably it.
Angela:
And he was put in charge of their Twitter account, and he was just-
Tracy:
He’s like, I don’t know what Twitter is.
Angela:
He kept spelling out the word hashtag, but their number of likes and retweets exponentially increased to the tens of thousands because this guy was just so authentically clueless about how social media worked, but he was also super, super authentic. And I loved what you said about the virtual tour of the museums because I’ve been doing that with my family and friends and it’s been … that’s something I miss right now is museums. And it’s like, well, let’s just virtually visit all the museums around the world.
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Are there any plugins that you particularly are finding useful for people for either notifications or landing pages or eCommerce? Give us what you love right now and it’s helping you help others.
Nicole:
Yeah. Our absolute favorite is Beaver Builder because it’s one of those WYSIWYG editors, what you see is what you get. And it really is what you see is what you get because you edit the page and it looks exactly like it will when it’s live. So when I hand that over to a client, it’s so easy for them to get it and make edits. And it’s just fantastic because we build all of our sites with Beaver Builder.
Amy:
Well, I’m also a Beaver Builder girl.
Nicole:
You might have been the one who told me about it.
Amy:
I think it was. What I find is that I have two types of clients. Either the ones that love it and go in whole hog, and the ones that just literally can’t do it. And so I have to set up custom post types so that they can just fill in the blanks with their text and then it gets imported into the layout that I’ve created in Beaver Builder. And there’s not a lot of in-between for me. I always think, oh, it’s so easy. And then I’ll have a client that just cannot figure it out.
Nicole:
Yeah. That’ll definitely happen. I feel like, for me, the divide is those who will take it and run with it because they’re either inspired or they actually have the time to do those things or those who just don’t have the time, they don’t want to do it, they don’t want to think about it. That’s why they hired us because we’re the experts, so they’d rather just pay us to do it. So I feel like that is more my divide.
Amy:
Do all of your team members use Beaver Builder, and did they before they came to you or was that something that you had to give them?
Nicole:
Most of them had not used it before coming to us. So we taught it to them.
Tracy:
And I wanted to know, do you have a certain industry or niche that you’ve found yourself in? If so, how have you gotten there, or if not, what have you found works?
Nicole:
I’ve refused to choose a niche because I like the variety of work.
Tracy:
I’m like that. I’m totally like that.
Nicole:
Yeah. But if I had to choose commonalities, I think a lot of our clients are service-based, provide services in some way. And we tend to do really well with that model because it’s very similar to our model so we can really help them get their processes honed in because of that.
Amy:
And are your team members, are they designers, developers, are they both? What’s your mix like?
Nicole:
So I started as a one who does both. So I tend to hire people who do both. So a lot of my earlier people were a mix. But then I did eventually hire some who were more design or more development, but they do have just a little bit of overlap. So I really like working with people who, at least, have a design eye. Unlikely that I will hire someone that’s just all code and no design experience whatsoever.
Amy:
And now that you have this big team working for your company, how much time are you yourself spending working on websites, if any at all?
Nicole:
Very little, very, very little. Yeah. I usually come in when the team is stuck on something, or to provide some art direction, or if it’s just some small little thing that a new prospect needs and like, ah, I could whip that out in an hour. I’ll just do it.
Amy:
Well. So, I’m just very small agency with myself and my sister and a few employees. And I know Angela and Tracy are similar. So how do you go about doing onboarding and delegating work with such a big team?
Nicole:
Good question. So I’m all about process and recording the processes as you’re doing the work. So we have this huge repository of how we do things. And we use Workast for our project management. It ties into Slack with your task lists. So I have templates in there for onboarding that will take someone through the whole process. A little welcome letter, here are all the tools we use, here are the videos to show you how to do things. And the most recent person we hired, she’s one of those serious go-getters. She just whipped through it and she would be like, I have a question for you. And then 10 minutes later she’s like, nope, answered it myself. And then she kept doing that. She just kept finding all of the answers because it’s all set up in there if you actually just look for it. So it’s all about the process. In recording a video, just use Zoom and record it while you’re doing it. So you’re getting the work done and you’re documenting it at the same time.
Tracy:
That’s good advice because that’s always my problem. That’s one reason why I’ve never really had the desire to go, when I do freelance stuff, I pretty much just do myself, sometimes subcontract, but most of the time, but it’s because I’m not a process person, or I’m a process person, but it’s all over the place, so it depends on that. But I really like that of Zoom and then, what were the tools you said you used again?
Nicole:
Workast. It ties into Slack, so you can just do slash to do and create a task.
Tracy:
I’m going to go take a look at that because that’s really, really cool. Nice.
Nicole:
Yeah.
Angela:
Do you spell that W-O-R-K?
Nicole:
A-S-T.
Angela:
A-S-T. Okay. We’re going to put that in the show notes and I’m totally going to check that out too. Do you find your workers end up working together on projects? Do they communicate with each other or are you just communicating with them? Or do you just turn it over to a group of people and it’s like, okay, you guys, this is your project, the three of you, or however many, work it out and go for it? Are you doing any project management of it like timelines and scheduling, or are they handling the project management as well?
Nicole:
So I have two project managers and, again, because everyone comes from freelancing, they all have a little bit of project management experience. And again, so I’m all about process, which means that for new projects, there’s onboarding for the clients, there’s documentation on how to get the project started and the steps that we go through to create a website. And because we’re all creating everything in the same way, it makes it really easy for anyone to just jump into the project and take over for someone. But typically, we start a project off with a project manager, a designer, and a developer, or that could be the same person. So there’ll be at least two or three people on a team and they just take it and run with it.
Amy:
And how do you delegate who gets which project?
Nicole:
Some of it’s based on personality. I know that there are some people out there that Danielle will not like to work with, and my other project manager, Jessica, doesn’t mind, and vice versa. Or if one of them has more experience in a certain area, they might get the project based on that. Or if they showed a lot of interest when we were first talking about the project. So based on a combination of things.
Tracy:
Are you thinking that you want to grow further than, larger than your 10 or are you happy at that level right now?
Nicole:
I am happy with the way things are, but if we did need to grow, I would definitely be okay with that.
Amy:
And so when you’re working with all these 10 people and everybody’s remote, how much people management do you have to do?
Nicole:
Not a whole lot. One of the things that business coach, one of the pieces of advice she gave me early on was to hire for attitude and the skills can be learned. So I tend to hire fairly positive people who are all about helping each other. And that’s one of our core values. So I think because of that, it’s just amazing to see how much everyone supports each other and how little drama we’ve had, I think, because of that.
Amy:
Well, now that you’ve said that, have you had any drama?
Nicole:
Oh, yeah.
Amy:
I know you said you’ve had little, but have you had some?
Nicole:
Yeah-
Amy:
And I have drama, and it’s just me and my sister, so.
Nicole:
Yeah. Well that makes a lot of sense. I mean, of course there’s going to be drama for that. But, yeah there have been things that have popped up now and then. We had a contractor once who was, how shall I put this? He was a little showy. He had purple hair. I mean, I’ve got purple tints in my hair, but he had purple hair and piercings and he was very extroverted, right? Love talking, love just being out there. And he posted a somewhat inappropriate picture of his outfit for the weekend. And I had a couple people come to me about that. And I was like, I think I’m going to need you … you can post pictures of yourself, but just make sure it’s from here up, from the chest, chest above nipples up, because nobody on the team wants to see your nipples.
Amy:
So was he posting them in Slack or on Instagram?
Nicole:
Yeah. In Slack, in the general channel.
Amy:
They were in the work area, not just in social media.
Nicole:
Yes. Yes.
Amy:
Well, now, let me pivot and ask about your social media presence. Do you do a lot in social media and do you delegate that to your team?
Nicole:
I delegate that to the team, so it’s happening. And I don’t really know what they’re doing, but it’s happening. It’s happening. Too old for that stuff.
Amy:
How do you delegate, who is doing what, and how are you making sure that it gets done?
Nicole:
So my number, if any Star Trek fans, my number one is Danielle. I just trust her, so she has free reign over it. We’re both goofy. There’s a bit of a goofy, fun vibe. And she sometimes takes the social media in a really fun direction. Yeah, I don’t check her work or anything. I’m pretty sure it’s out there. I know she hasn’t been doing it as much for the last couple weeks because we’re all feeling a little weird about what’s happening in the world, so she’s taking a little break, which is perfectly fine, but pretty sure she’s mostly putting good stuff out.
Angela:
I think Amy and I are probably both dumbstruck like, wow. So what does Nicole do all day?
Amy:
Yeah. You’ve said everybody works independently. They work really well. They’re all just managing everything on their own and they don’t need managed and they’re doing the social media. And so, what do you do now that you’re not building the websites?
Nicole:
I am networking. Most of my time is spent getting out, meeting people to try to find us good clients.
Amy:
And what are your tricks?
Nicole:
Well, I was in BNI for a while, which worked pretty well for a while, and that’s how I found my business coach, and that’s how I got comfortable doing stuff like speaking to people in a situation like this. There’s no way I could have done this five years ago. My face would’ve been super red and I would’ve been talking way weirder than I talk, super awkward. But yes, so BNI for a while, and I quit that last summer. And now I’ve joined one called ProVisors, which is like BNI, but more established businesses that have been around for 10 years or more. There’s another one called Centricity that I just joined that’s all virtual. Even before the lockdown, they were all virtual. So I’m actually meeting people in other states now.
And that one’s really neat because the guy who runs it, he breaks people out into sessions and asks very thought-provoking questions that help people with their businesses. And so I’ve been getting tons of value out of that one. So those are some of the big ones. And then those, each of these things that meet once a week or once a month, you always end up with one-to-ones out of those with people. So lots of meetings, lots and lots of meetings.
Tracy:
So being in this business for as long as you have, especially for someone starting out, because I have made these mistakes, what are your red flags when it comes to a client?
Nicole:
Let me pull up my document. We actually started a document for this because we’re like, okay, we have to figure this out.
Amy:
Oh, you gave me something once I think a few years ago that I printed up that had a scale to judge clients on.
Nicole:
Oh yeah. That one was a little different. I can share this one with you guys.
Amy:
We could put in the show notes.
Nicole:
Yeah. Yeah. But some of the things like if the prospect, if we’ve set aside an hour to talk and if they end up talking to me for an hour and a half, no. That means they don’t respect my time, and every time we meet, they’re going to go over, they’re going to take up tons of time, and they obviously like to talk a lot and they just want to hear themselves. So no, we will not work with someone who goes over that time limit. There are a couple of other things too that are dead giveaways. I think when someone says I’m not a designer, that’s-
Tracy:
Oh yeah. And then it usually adds but, and then I’m like, oh, this is going to be bad.
Amy:
What about the I don’t know what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it?
Nicole:
That’s also one. Yep. That is a bad sign.
Tracy:
This just bring back PTSD.
Nicole:
I know, right? Yes.
Amy:
Yeah. So we’re going to need to include this in the show notes. Nicole’s tips for turning off, turning away clients.
Nicole:
Yes.
Amy:
And with 10 team members, how many projects are you taking at a time?
Nicole:
Well, I don’t really look at it like that because we mostly will turn down clients because of this red flag list, not because of availability. We usually have enough availability to take on whatever projects are coming our way. So that hasn’t been a reason really for us to turn anything down, at least not for a while.
Amy:
But I assume that you’re able to handle a lot more projects than the smaller agencies that only have a few people.
Nicole:
Yeah. I mean, we probably have, I want to say 30 active projects roughly maybe.
Amy:
Wow.
Nicole:
Give or take.
Amy:
And when you’re finishing up on the projects and you’re after, they’re closed, sites launched, what happens after that? I know you offer support plans, but what about who’s maintaining and who’s offering the support, who’s running all that aspect of your business?
Nicole:
So we do try to get most of our clients onto a care plan and we run those. We use ManageWP to help maintain. Most of our sites are hosted on WP engine. So with those two tools, a lot of the security and backups and all that is covered. So our project managers, it’s up to them to continue to stay in touch with the clients. So we try to check in with the care plan clients at least once a month to make sure that, see if they have anything going on, anything coming up. And then even if our clients don’t sign on for a care plan, we still keep in touch because we’re all about building the relationship. We don’t ever set it and forget it or leave anyone behind. We’re always trying to check up on people.
Amy:
I think that’s really good advice. And I think I find it really hard to maintain that level of follow-up as a very small company with a lot of clients because I’m just, at least for the last few weeks, it’s like I’m getting hit with a baseball bat every day and I can’t even keep up with the stuff that’s coming in. But for this pandemic, what I feel like right now is that I have, all of my existing clients need a lot of work and that’s kept me very busy, but I’m seeing a decrease in the number of inquiries for new projects that are coming in. Have you noticed that at all?
Nicole:
Yes and no, because I have been ramping up my networking, so that’s offsetting anyone who would just find me online. Those have definitely decreased. But because I’m meeting so many people and trying to build more connections with referral partners, for example, there’s this Bay Area IT group that’s all IT people, and I’m the only web designer in there. And people ask their IT people about websites and they don’t do websites. So this has been a fantastic connection for me. You guys need an IT group in your area that you can go to and be the only web designer. You, guys, it’s like magic.
Tracy:
It’s funny because you say that because I like speaking at conferences and stuff, but if I wanted to get it into a niche of, let’s say, life coaches, their websites are awful. I should go and speak at a life coach conference about social media or anything like that. Yeah, so that’s actually really good advice. And I found actually that’s where I met Angela when the [inaudible 00:43:54] which was mostly developer area, very developer heavy. And I mean, yes I do development. I’ve been coding since ’96, but I’m more of a designer. And so they’re like, oh you do design, you do UX? Oh, we need to talk. I think that’s really great putting yourself into those spaces where you can can fit I think is a really, really good advice for anyone starting or wanting to grow their business for sure.
Amy:
And that’s something I have thought about doing. I go to the WordCamps and I talk to my nerd friends, and that’s where my happy place is. But I’ve never been super comfortable speaking at them. But I feel like if I went to a pool vendor conference, I could give a talk to all these pool companies and tell them everything they need to do with their website, and I would feel-
Tracy:
I don’t get pool vendors is the example you came up with in Indiana.
Amy:
Well, here’s the thing. I’m a pool owner and I’ve done a lot of pool vendor websites. So I feel like this is a niche, niche, niche, niche. I can’t even say the word. Niche. That would be a way for me to network, but I haven’t found where they’re meeting and how to get in on that, but-
Tracy:
Maybe they need some networking. They need some technology people to create that.
Amy:
Well, their websites are all terrible.
Tracy:
Well, there you go.
Amy:
So, Nicole, I know that you’ve been doing this for a long time and you have built this huge business, but you’ve never been to a WordCamp. Have you thought about before the pandemic changing that?
Nicole:
Yes. I have it on my calendar and I was planning on going this year finally. And of course, now, it’s going to be virtual, but yes I do plan on going. My issue is that I’ve never found the way to get the notifications about when it’s launched. I noticed because I subscribed to this 2021, that I had subscribed to the 2016 one, but I never got any emails about it. I just never got notifications, which …
Tracy:
Yeah. That’s a good point. Because I found that I subscribe to the Google calendar, which is dangerous because then especially when I want to travel, I’d be like, oh Costa Rica. I like to go to Costa Rica. And look, I have nothing on my calendar that weekend. It is one of those things you have to actively check, that’s for sure, to see, because I also like to submit a talk. So then if I go in, I can write that off as a business trip.
Amy:
Well, you’re in California. So I think you guys have a lot of different WordCamps there that you could be going to. I mean, I like the big ones just because there’s more people there. And Indiana does not host WordCamps. But you are in a place that does, so you have a lot more opportunities. But I think that a lot of people would really benefit from hearing your story and what you’ve done with your business and how they can grow because a lot of the people that come to those are the people that are just starting out like you did as a freelancer.
Nicole:
See, that never occurs to me that’s why I should be going and that I could be talking and telling people. People know stuff, right? It doesn’t occur to me that I might know more than them that can help them. So thanks for that. That’s eye opening.
Amy:
Yeah. No, I really think because I’ve followed your story this whole time and I think that there’s so much that you’ve done that could be useful, I mean, I’ve learned from you too, to other people. I know when I went to my very first WordCamp in 2013, and I’d never gone to one before. The stuff I learned about just running a business and working with clients was stuff that I don’t think I would’ve gotten anywhere else. And it totally changed. I don’t think my business would be where it is today if I hadn’t gone to that one WordCamp. Now I also feel there’s a diminishing return each time I go. So now, it’s more about networking and talking to my friends and less about learning new skills. But I feel like that you could really give back to the newer WordPress community members.
Nicole:
Yeah. That is an excellent advice, Amy. I think I will. Let me make a note of that because I should definitely be doing that.
Angela:
I think so too. And a lot of the WordCamps have agency business tracks and the talk you could give on your processes and how you’ve positioned yourself in the business owner and delegate, it’s just you have a wealth of information that even those of us who’ve been doing this for many, many years haven’t figured out. But I also think there’s a personality type there too that could be teased out with this. The fact that you have to be in front of so many people all week, really networking and all of that. Someone could have leadership skills, but they just don’t want to be out there that much or they don’t really want to be the boss. You have to want to be the boss. Some people can be a leader, but they may not want to be the boss. It’s an interesting combination of both skills and personality that makes someone succeed in that role that you’ve succeeded in. And so, you’ve done a good job and there may be other people who would be so inspired.
Nicole:
Yeah. Thank you.
Amy:
Well, it’s been so awesome having you on the show today. Before we go, can you tell everybody where they can find you online?
Nicole:
Sure. My business website is smackhappy.com. I also have some art work out there if anyone wants to see what I do in my spare time. It’s nicolehanusekart.com. We’re on social media, but like I said, I don’t know what those things are so you can find them on my websites. I am on Instagram. I do Instagram. @smackhappyd and @nicolehanusekart.
Tracy:
I’m going to check on the art because, apparently, the way I respond to a pandemic is I buy as much art, so if you sell any art …
Nicole:
All right. Yes.
Tracy:
I’ll probably, I’ll buy some.
Nicole:
I do have an Etsy account, so …
Tracy:
Excellent.
Amy:
Now we know what Tracy’s doing tonight.
Speaker 1:
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