Kelsey Kreiling is the co-founder of Presence Agency, where she and her business partner Mallory Ulaszek have created Week of the Website – a weeklong website design process, helping non-profits, early stage businesses and hospitality groups launch their websites on Squarespace in just five days.
ARE YOUR CLIENTS HOLDING YOU BACK?
Every $100K freelancer knows how to overcome the 5 most common problem clients that eat up time, energy and profits – do you?
If not, learn how to overcome these toxic clients and get on the road to smaller headaches and larger profits! Sign up today for a free 5-part e-mail course.
Matching budget to functionality
Clients go in thinking Squarespace is DIY
– They can’t build what they envisioned
– They can’t even do that
More of a CMS choice than a diy tool
– Templates are good but limiting
70 websites in 1.5 years
– Speed is the sale
Acuity scheduling integrates w Squarespace
Working in hospitality
– Bars & restaurants
– Running a digital publication
– Opening new concepts; asked for help w web
– Knew what they were investing on websites ($2500 – $3500)
– Thought maybe Squarespace would satisfy this need at this budget
Mallory pitched Kelsey on redoing *her* hospitality groups websites
– Did a proposal
– First few sites were traditional agency-style; too process-heavy
* This was not working
* Almost walked away
– Visited Squarespace offices
* Cold e-mailed & asked to come talk
Changed to a repeatable consulting process to emphasize collaboration
– Proactive communication
– No sense of ownership; it’s not my site
– Client gets to watch & participate in the process
Clients come in with various levels of technical ability
– Everything done on google drive
– Daily emails
This repeatable consulting process isn’t for everyone
– we need a certain kind of client
How to get client for this repeatable consulting process?
Almost all referrals
– Via someone we already know
– Week Of The Website lite for existing sites
– Catch “Done With you” “Done With You” “Done For You” continuum
Squarespace specialist page listings
– Networked with other firms to handle overflow
Have to be careful about how much to grow and how much to take on
Framing cost vs investment
Helping the client understand their business
Scheduling & balance is important for building the right business for our lives
Chris: Welcome back to another episode of the $100K Freelancing Podcast. I’m your host, Christopher Hawkins, and today my cohost is Kelsey Kreiling of weekofthewebsite.com and presenceagency.com. Kelsey is the co-founder of Presence Agency, where she and her business partner, Mallory Ulaszek, have created Week of the Website, a week-long website design process, helping nonprofits, early stage business, and hospitality groups launch their websites on Squarespace in just five days. Kelsey, that sounds amazing. Welcome to the show.
Kelsey: Thanks, Chris. I am super excited to be here.
Chris: Okay, now, everybody listening, raise your hand if you didn’t know that a Squarespace consultant was a thing. I had no idea. That sounds really interesting.
Kelsey: I would not say that that is a super common thing yet, but it is a really fun thing to be. It’s fun to be on kind of the cutting edge of a way that a product is being used kind of differently in the industry. Our clients love it. We love using it. We love the Squarespace team. It’s really been a fun ride to get to use the product so much.
Chris: I may be a bit of a WordPress bigot, but I’m willing to say that if I asked most people, they would say, “Wait. Squarespace, that’s like for end-user mom and pop, DIY, don’t know what you’re doing and don’t want to spend any money customers.” How do they have money for a consultant if they’re using Squarespace? How does that whole thing work?
Kelsey: What we found is that our clients fall into a couple of different buckets. First, there’s people who have started using Squarespace, realized that they like it, but want something that looks better than what they can throw together on their own. The other bucket is people who have no idea what they want or need and just want us to build them the website, where, at that point, we talk to them about Squarespace. We talk to them about the reasons why we love it and really share with them the reasons why we think it’s good for clients like them.
When it came out, it was definitely more of that DIY, kind of like portfolio site, but over the last few years, they have worked so hard to build it into such a robust CMS: things like Acuity scheduling being able to be dropped into a page, like a scheduling widget, in three seconds. OpenTable can be fully integrated with the site. They have a pretty robust eCommerce section, where you can build a store with hundreds of products and multiple product types and variations.
We once built a website for a custom jewelry designer, where her products would have four different chain lengths and three different metals and four different sizes for the medallion, and then you would customize what it could say on it. It’s really remarkable how much they have grown and changed over the last two years, but mostly it’s super easy to use, right? It’s built for people to be able to create their own websites, which means for us, it’s built so that we can build a gorgeous website for a client who has a smaller budget than they would normally be able to spend on a designer and a developer.
Then we get to leave them with really great training and a ton of tools that are already built into the Squarespace product, so they can actually use and maintain that website on their own, which, for small businesses, who, as you mentioned, don’t have a huge budget; for nonprofits, who definitely can’t allocate a salary toward someone to just maintain their web presence or have a designer on retainer, we’re able to take them through a training of how to use their website, and then connect them with the Help Team at Squarespace, who really are on demand for most things, at least 12 hours a day, to help them maintain that website, once we’ve parted ways. In that sense, the build it yourself thing really becomes a gateway to awesome accessibility for clients, once they’ve actually bought a website from us.
Chris: Wow, okay. You’re kind of geeking out on this, and I love it. I love it. That’s a good sign. That’s a sign you’ve found something you’re passionate about. I think that’s beautiful. Gosh! I’m still so floored by the idea that there’s such a thing as a Squarespace consultant. That’s really cool! I certainly would not have predicted that there was money to be had in that particular niche. How many sites have you worked on?
Kelsey: I’m an administrator of 70 different websites at this point. We’ve been doing our Week of the Website process for just about a year and a half now, so it’s been a lot in a pretty short amount of time, but it’s been amazing. The variety of things that we work on from week to week is totally different. Last week it was a nonprofit. The week before that it was a fashion incubator. The week before that it was a hospitality group. Every week it’s something different, which is really fun.
Chris: How did you come to occupy this particular space? How did you even identify this as an area of opportunity?
Kelsey: Yeah. Before I started Presence Agency, with my business partner, Mallory Ulaszek, I worked for a hospitality group in Chicago here. They ran a bunch of different bars and restaurants around the city, and I was brought on to begin this digital publication for them. My day job … I traveled around the country. I visited different bars and restaurants, talked to them, interviewed their chefs and their bartenders, working with a video team, who made these really cool videos of them making their actual drinks and stuff. Because I was the person who knew about the Internet at this hospitality group, I got asked to help them put together landing pages or minimal websites for new properties that they were opening.
That was my first experience with Squarespace, and that was probably four to four and a half years ago now. That was my first experience with Squarespace. Then, as I worked with them, developing collateral and [inaudible 00:05:49] for their new projects, I was given access to information about what they expected to spend on websites, from the mind of a restaurateur, what they expected that to cost.
Those two pieces of information … Okay, we can build really simple websites using this stuff, and this is what people in this industry expect to pay for websites, and it was less than what anyone in the design industry would say that they charge for websites. There was an opportunity there. My business partner at the time had just come to me a week prior and said, “Hey, I’m looking to get out of the retail business.” She owned multiple boutiques around the city. She was like, “I would be interested in going into business with you.” She kind of like Jedi-minded me into doing it, but I’m happy she did.
A week after that, when we were still just discussing it … We didn’t have a name. We didn’t have a bank account. We had none of that. A friend of ours reached out and said, “Hey, I’ve seen what you’re doing for the hospitality group that you work at, with their websites. Do you know anyone, who is not you, because obviously you work for a competitor, but who has your same skillset that would be able to come and help us redo all of our websites?”
There was one person, who was managing all the websites for their properties, but they were spread over five different CMSs. They were really difficult to use and execute, and that was also something I was seeing, in the hospitality industry especially, was every time someone would open a new restaurant or bar, they would use a completely different backend for the website. Sometimes they were hospitality specific or not, and it was a mess for anyone who had to manage multiple sites. That was kind of the other component of thinking about this. Squarespace has the ability to have a one-manager account for … You can easily pop into multiple websites.
That was kind of when I realized, okay, this could be a really good product, specifically for this type of client. She said, “Hey, let us know if you know anyone who can do this.” I reached out to my business partner and was like, “This opportunity just kind of fell into my lap. What do you think? Should we try for this? Should we pitch this?”
We decided that it was really one of those “nothing ventured, nothing gained” kind of moments, put together a proposal for them, and they ended up becoming our first client. We didn’t end up redoing all of their websites then, but, at this point, they are still, to this day, our best client. We work with them probably four times a year on different projects. That was kind of the moment where we connected that we were able to do something unique.
At that point, we were doing just kind of like a classic agency structure. It was a project that took a couple weeks to get started. It took a couple months to build, and we didn’t like that. It was really frustrating. There was definitely some time before we hit on the Week of the Website process that we use now, but everything that happened at the beginning there really informed the decisions we eventually made to create this structure.
Chris: Just to go back a little bit, when you said that you were helping out with the websites for some of these restaurants because a lot of the folks in that industry do not have the requisite skills to set up a website-
Kelsey: It’s not the area that they work in, you know? It’s such a different industry, not one that they spend a ton of time doing web stuff in.
Chris: A lot of small to medium business owners, they try to expand into these kind of “Oh, I can just DIY it” type skill areas, and they don’t get great results. That’s a huge part of the reason why they turn to people like you and I. What was the average price point that those restaurants were looking to get a website for?
Kelsey: I think the general expectation when we talked to people was that it was going to be somewhere between $2500 and $3500, which, if you talk to anyone else in the design or development world, that’s hard to have a designer and then have someone develop the code for it or modify a template. That’s pretty limited. A lot of them ended up like, they would DIY it or they would find someone to do it for them for free, or they would end up finding funding for it somewhere else, but that was not their … They didn’t go into it saying, “I’m here to spend $10,000 per website.” That’s just not the way that restaurants … They just don’t have that kind of margins to be able to do that. I mean, most of them don’t. A lot of them are successful and can do that, and you can always tell. Kudos to them. There are some beautiful restaurant websites in the world. They think like small businesses. They work like small business, and especially when they’re starting, they’re beginning with investment capital that they have to be really conservative with it, because food and all that stuff, so … Anyway, it was different.
To me, that felt like a really underserved … There seemed to be a gap between having someone create like an amazing WordPress website for you and doing it yourself, and this CMS, beginning from templates that could be really easily modified and made beautiful with design and limited development time, seems to actually kind of fit into that space really beautifully.
Chris: Okay. Now, I know that the Week of the Website process you’re using right now, I know you didn’t jump immediately to that. Can you tell me a bit more about what your process looked like when you first started doing these sites for the restaurants?
Kelsey: You know, it was a really standard agency process. We would meet with the client. We would do a discovery meeting. We would develop concepts for them on Photoshop or present to them a static design, and we would go back and forth. They would say, “We like this. We don’t like this.” Then, once we had nailed down the design, we would start to build it and then they would give us feedback and, ultimately, it was long and slow, and I think a lot of people are comfortable with that, but my personality, both Mallory and I felt like it was just so long. It just dragged out, and it felt like people weren’t that happy. Even though we felt really good about the design, by the time it was done, people had sat with it for so long that they just weren’t excited anymore. They just wanted the project to be over.
Our business was kind of unique in that, within the same very short amount of time that we got hired to build that first website, we also got hired to produce this huge food festival in Chicago and, ultimately, ended up producing more of these festival type events in Chicago and Brooklyn and Miami, and so we were a little divided. We were only taking on a couple of these website projects at a time, because honestly, we just weren’t that excited about them. We happened to be in Brooklyn for a meeting with one of our other clients and just got kind of wild [inaudible 00:12:24] one day and reached out to Squarespace and said, “Hey, we’re going to be in Brooklyn. We’re going to be right by your office. Can we come in and talk to you about the product? Can we come and tell you about our experiences with it with our clients,” thinking we would never hear from them again.
They were like, “Yeah, sure. Come on by.” We sat down with Jeremy Schwartz, who really has taken the lead of all of their Squarespace specialist and developer programs, and they just sat with us, and they asked us questions about what we were doing. We talked to them, told them what we wanted to see, and they told us a little bit about what the future of Squarespace was going to look like for users like us.
In that meeting, hearing about other people doing things with Squarespace in a really unique way, we realized, oh, my God. We were playing by these rules that we thought we had to follow because this was how agencies do it, but this is a different product. This is a different process, and we can create something that feels fun for us to do. It feels exciting for us to do and also hits these other client needs that were really underserved by the way that we’d been doing it before.
I’m actually really grateful we got to do that, because at that moment, I really think back to that meeting, just opened our eyes to the possibility that there was a different way for us to work with clients and still build websites, because, candidly I was like, I don’t want to do this anymore. This isn’t fun. I don’t like it. It sucks. Leaving there, we were like, what if we just did this differently. What if we put some constraints on this, put some limitations on here, lower the price point, and make it fast. We can do this in a week if people are willing to work with us in a different way. I think back on that day very fondly, because it’s a very memorable marker in time of the way that we thought about our business changing.
Chris: Now, this is interesting for a number of reasons: number one, and not so much kind of the humorous, gee, I didn’t know there were Squarespace consultants way, but number one, that you identified this as an area of opportunity–you saw the gap; you saw that you’ve got people attempting to DIY things that they’re not particularly well suited for; number two, that they’ve got a certain budget that exists in an underserved market segment; and, number three, that your first thought went to “I can consult around this tool that satisfies both the skill gap and the budget gap.” I think there are a lot of freelancers out there, and maybe I’m coming from a developer bias, being a developer myself, but there are a lot of freelancers out there who would not have concluded, “I can consult around this tool.” They would have said, “I can build a restaurant CMS,” and they would have set out to do that. It would have been a SAS app or it would have been a WordPress theme or something like that.
You started out consultative. You didn’t start out as, “Well, first I was a developer, and then I was a consultant.” You were just doing this already, and you had already identified the opportunity when you launched your business. That’s really cool, because I don’t hear a whole ton of stories like that. That’s a beautiful thing. The way you realized that your process wasn’t working for you … Clearly, it was working for your clients, right? Because they were still hiring you, but you just weren’t enjoying it, and it sounds like you almost walked away, really.
Kelsey: I’m a designer. I went to fashion school. I think that thinking about it from the perspective of developing around a tool … I needed other tools to let me build things for people. My fiance, Zack, is a software developer, so he does what appears to be wizard magic to me. I knew that that wasn’t a skill that I had available to me, right? I couldn’t build a CMS. It would have not been worth my time to try and come up with a template I could sell. The real magic behind our process? It has, candidly, nothing to do with Squarespace.
At the end of the day, what we discovered when we started creating this Week of the Website process, which … We start on Monday. We shoot to be completed with the site on Friday. Leading up to the engagement with the client, they get a discovery survey, which I get to look at in advance. My whole goal is to get into their head. When they tell me what they want, what do they really want? When they state their objectives, what is really the most important purpose of this website? What we do for them is that we create this process that is so focused on understanding their needs and making it as easy for them as possible that we jokingly say, “Our product is the process.”
Ultimately, Squarespace is the tool that we use to execute that vision, but we do daily conference calls with them, where they can see my screen, and if they want a color to be different, we just make it different in front of them. That was what we realized we really loved was being able to connect with these clients, to very quickly try to synthesize and understand what it was that they were trying to achieve, try to connect them with some visual information so that they could show us, “Okay, I want it to look like this,” and then lead them through this really, really hyper-collaborative process, so that by Friday they had a website that they were super excited about, they were really proud of, and they had been watching me kind of build in front of them for five days, so that, once they went through the training, they actually had been seeing someone do the things that they were going to need to do to update and market their website in the future.
It just ends up creating this really connected experience with the client, because they have been a part of it. I don’t go away and design things and then show it to them. From the afternoon of their first day on Monday, they have a live link to this site in process, and they can check up on it at any point. They can peek in. We have a way for them to share feedback with us, and that was what we ended up realizing we were really, really good at, was leading people through this kind of project management flow that we, to be honest with you, apply to all different kinds of projects now. Week of the Website is the thing we do most often, but we use this ideology in any production projects we do, any other work outside of Week of the Website, and that was kind of like the coolest part, was discovering what this process allowed us to actually do with our clients.
Chris: I like hearing about the process, because you already had the opportunity figured out. Like I said, clearly the clients were happy to hire you, but you weren’t happy with the process. The process that you changed to clearly made you happy. Do you notice that the clients are even happier with the new process or were they just okay to begin with, and they’re still okay now, and they don’t really care about the process?
Kelsey: Oh, no, they love it. They love it! You know what? It makes me so happy, because, at the end of the week, they’re kind of blown away. They’re like, “This has been so nice.” People say this to Mallory and I, and we don’t really understand what it means. They’re like, “You’re so nice to work with. You’re so easy to work with.” Mallory and I always laugh at that, because all we do is communicate really well with our clients. We talk to them constantly. We answer their requests. We make changes that they ask for, because I don’t have any ego attached to these websites. I want them to be beautiful. I want them to be really functional. I want people to be happy with them, but I do at least one of these a week, so if someone wants a different color button, they can have a different color button.
I’m not coming in as a designer that’s like, “Well, this really changes my design paradigm.” We are in the game of making people happy, giving them the website that they want, not the website that we want. We always tell people, “Look, I want you to be happy more than I want to be right.” I don’t have any sense of ownership over these once we leave them, because there’s someone coming the next week. I think that that makes clients feel so heard, that they don’t have to worry about arguing with me over typefaces. Of course, I’m going to give them a great design, and I’m going to encourage them to stick to that great design, but ultimately it’s not mine. I think that thinking is not always the way that people approach this process.
Like I said, there are designers who are incredible and amazing, and that is what they do, but that’s not what we do. That makes clients really excited, because they’re just like, “Oh, okay. I wanted this fixed and you fixed it. Great.” We just don’t have time to sit around. The best clients are the ones who are really engaged with the process. A lot of our clients come back. A ton of our clients send us referrals, even unasked, afterwards because, I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I hope you can hear that when I talk about this, it’s like a parent talking about their child, because it’s such a cool thing to see these clients be happy with it. When we finished, it was like, “Great. The website’s finished. Thank you so much for being done with this.” Now, it’s like, “Wow, this is really fun. I had a great time. It’s so cool to see things happen collaboratively. It feels like such an iterative process. It feels like such a connected process. I love it. I can’t believe I built a website any other way.” That makes us really happy!
Chris: With a process like this, I’m wondering how you handle communication. You mentioned that you’re very proactive with communication. You stay on top of it. Are you using any kind of a project management system? Do you try to shoehorn your clients into anything process-wise there? Are you just swapping emails? What’s the marching orders for that?
Kelsey: The most important thing for us to remember is that our clients come to us with all levels of Internet proficiency, but most of them, they’re not super Internet savvy people. We definitely ask them to use Google with us. We do everything through Drive. It allows them to upload photos really simply, to use a collaborative document with us for changes and notes. We do daily emails to them, and then we use UberConference to do screen share calls, where they can see my screen, and we can talk about what we’re looking at. We also use Calendly to schedule. We use a little bit of technology to get the to go through this flow with us in project management, but that’s kind of it.
I’ve worked on a lot of different project management software and tools, and I think that works for me, but our whole ethos is meeting the client where they are. As simple as we can keep it, that’s kind of our focus. It’s like, what’s the easiest way for this client to get me the content? Because, I don’t want them to be sitting there going like, “I don’t know how to use Basecamp,” while they’re holding onto all the photos I need.
Chris: Right, right. Okay, I want to back up just a little bit. You mentioned that you send a discovery … What did you call it? Discovery, not document; you said questionnaire? Survey?
Kelsey: Survey. Yeah, we send them a survey that they fill out. It’s got all different kinds of questions on it: everything from what’s your objective to what are some websites you like or don’t like? We try to keep it pretty simple. Then we talk through all those answers. In that conversation, that really helps us understand what they’re looking for, what their perspective is, that kind of thing. It’s just really to get them … It’s less so for us to get the answers and more so to get them thinking about the kind of things that we’re going to ask them about during our first call on Monday.
Chris: I do in-person discovery sessions over here at my consultancy. I know a lot of people do that. There’s sometimes a very, very lightweight intake questionnaire. I’m trying to think right now if I could actually take my initial intake questionnaire and just run with it and start a whole project, and I’m thinking, no. We kind of need that agency style first kickoff meeting to do it. You sound like you’ve figured out a way to kind of dovetail that discovery survey right into hitting the ground running with a really collaborative project. That’s cool!
Kelsey: Yeah. Our clients, they are all around the world. We have a lot of clients that are here in Chicago, but I would say, on any given day, that we wouldn’t be able to predict where they are. Sometimes that can get a little tricky with time zones. We worked with someone in Hawaii a couple months ago, and that was a little bit challenging, but we don’t really have the luxury to be able to go in and sit with them, though that is an offering that we’re in the process of putting together, is kind of like an in-office week-long bootcamp, where we really have that level of connectedness with their team, because I think that some people might really like that. The way that it exists now, it’s all over the computer and it’s all over the phone, so we kind of need that survey to do a little bit of that heavy lifting for us, so that we can get into a really good conversation once we start on Monday.
Chris: Okay, okay. I want to shift gears here, so instead of talking about what you do when you have a client, I want to back way upstream and talk about how are you getting leads and closing deals? What does that process look like? How are you marketing yourself? What kind of places and via what mediums are you putting Week of the Website and/or Presence Agency out there, and how do you identify the places where you need to be in order to be in front of your ideal client?
Kelsey: The first thing for me to note for you is that this is not the right process for everyone. It’s a very personality specific thing. There’s a couple things that we need our clients to be. We need them to be flexible. We need them to be able to make choices. We need them to be kind, because I have to talk to them every day for a week. There’s a lot of pre-vetting that has to happen from our end before we choose to work with a client.
We really focus on very person-to-person based marketing. We’re almost entirely referral based, and we love that, because that means people are typically coming to us via someone else that we know and have worked with. A lot of our clients are very kind to refer us to other people in their industry who need assistance. We always love those, because it also gives us something to start talking about at the beginning, as we get to know each other.
The other thing that we do is we often teach workshops or classes on how to build your own Squarespace site, which sounds a little bit counterintuitive, like why would we teach people how to do what we are trying to convince them to hire us to do. The reality is this person is not my client, but if I teach them the basics of how to get in there and understand the tool and start really building it out themselves, it is very possible that if they get tired and frustrated and realize that it’s not quite as easy as it looks in the Super Bowl commercials, they already have someone to turn to, who is able to help them through that process. We actually created an entirely new offering called Week of the Website Lite for people like that, who already have a Squarespace website, but who want us to come in and, over three days, help push it across the finish line to look like a professional did it for them or to help them answer specific technical questions that they’re struggling with.
Chris: You know, I think that’s smart, that you’re catching them. You’re catching them at the very start of the do it yourself, do it with you, do it for you continuum. I think that’s a solid strategy. I do similar things myself with educational marketing around here, where you tell a client, “Oh, so you want to go from A to B? Great. Here’s how you do it.”
Let’s be honest, you know very well most of them will not be able to do it. They’ll make some improvements. Maybe they’ll be happy with that. That’s fine. Maybe you never hear from them, but the ones that are really serious, the ones that undertook to DIY it, not so much because they want to DIY it, but because they’re serious about getting to that place … The ones that are serious, those are the ones that end up calling, in my experience. I wonder if that’s the same with you.
Kelsey: Definitely, and not only are they serious, but they also have a familiarity with it that they have a respect for the work that we’re about to do for them, on their behalf, and the speed with which we’ll do it, because that’s what we always say, right? It’s like, “You can build your own website.” Anyone can build a Squarespace site. Anyone. I can teach anyone to build a Squarespace site. The question is how long will it take them and how difficult is it to lead yourself through that process of pulling together the information that you want?
We do a lot of actual content strategizing with them throughout the week. We help them think about what sections do you need? What should be on this page? Those are kind of the intangibles that we offer to people that they can’t get just from one workshop session with us. The other thing that we do is Squarespace has a specialist’s page that they have not updated in years. It is still online, and half of the companies who are on that list are not in business anymore or they are so inundated with requests from being one of the few companies that responds to people on the Squarespace Specialist’s page that they just have too much stuff.
What we did four or five months ago, I think, is we reached out to everyone on that list and said, “Hey, we do this thing. We would love if you will send us clients that you don’t have time for or who have too small of a budget for it or they have too quick of a turnaround time, and, if you do that, we’ll send you a referral [inaudible 00:29:56].” We have developed an amazing, amazing relationship with specifically these two other agencies on the West Coast. One is called The Beauty Shop, run by this amazing woman named Jen, who we ended up working on [inaudible 00:30:14] projects together, and then another studio, called Raygun.
They’d send us projects that aren’t a good fit for them, and it’s been amazing because it has allowed us to also connect more with that community. We’re a part of Jen’s group of designers who do nonprofit work throughout the year. We’re one of her pro bono partners, and that has been both great for us, in terms of finding business and referrals that is essentially pre-cleared by another agency, as well. Then also having this other feel good part of being part of a larger community that has had a marked difference in our experience with referrals, but also just as general company happiness.
Chris: Your game is relationships. That’s your entire game, if you’re doing almost all referrals to get work. I’ve heard some people say that if the only way you get work is referrals, then you’re basically leaving your business up to luck. I do not agree with that, speaking as somebody who has invested a lot of time into making and nurturing relationships in order to maintain a steady stream of referral work myself. I don’t think that’s luck at all. I think that is … I hate to use the word “exploiting.” Please understand the context in which I’m using it. I think that that is simply exploiting one’s own efforts at building a network.
I know people who are doing very healthy, six-figure, solo consultancies all off of referrals, all off of relationships, all off of, as you say, person-to-person marketing. That kind of thing is incredibly powerful. I think a lot of the freelancers, who maybe come from the hardcore geeky or technical backgrounds–maybe they’re a little shy or introverted, maybe they’ve just been hard-sold on the golden age of content marketing–they’re maybe not getting out there and doing the person-to-person stuff that really makes money fall from the sky. It’s really interesting to hear about how this is your primary game plan, because it’s huge, and it’s the very oldest and, in my opinion, most effective way of doing business, and yet a lot of us get so caught up in automation when it’s way too early to automate anything, when it’s way to early to be mounting a massive content campaign, that we overlook how much money there is in that person-to-person activities.
Kelsey: Yeah, I’m really lucky to be a part of some awesome masterminds with people who are so, so, so good at content marketing, so good at social media, so good at using all of these other techniques to sell their services. You know, there’s definitely things that … I’m going to honest with you. Could we be doing more of that? Absolutely, but the reality is we’re two people, and we have to be very careful about the speed at which we grow, because we can only do so much, and we can only have certain kinds of clients, which it is a very big pool, granted, but it really doesn’t necessarily behoove me to draw in some random person from the Internet, who may not be a good fit for our business.
Do I see the potential for using some more of those automated techniques in the future? Absolutely, but I also think that that is an upcoming stage of our business. Frankly, we always want more business, like I never am going to be like, “You know what? We’ve got too much business. This is a real problem for me.” That’s never going to be a problem for me, but I think that that is still, as we look to the future of our business, that’s definitely something that we see potential for. In the meantime, the quality of and the experience of developing new business from referrals, it also helps us have a connection with those clients in a way that is really helpful.
It’s also nice to know a little bit about what you’re getting before you go into it. Honestly, being able to talk to people about what our process is, because it is so different … It’s hard for people to just read our website and be like, “Oh, I get it.” Its hard for people, without hearing what it’s actually like to spend that week with us, to go like, “Okay, I definitely want to do this.” It’s not cheap. It’s $3000 for a week, and that includes training.
A lot of people might be hearing this podcast going like, “That’s really cheap,” but you also have to understand that it’s a different client. It’s a different perspective. It’s a different mindset, and to them it feels huge. We have to be able to share with them why it’s right or why it fits for them, when they’re looking at Squarespace going, “Oh, I can build this for $18 a month,” and then we go, “Well, it’ll be $3000 if you want to work with us.” They’ve got to get that. They have to understand what the difference between those two things is. That means that when we do things on a referral basis or person-to-person or education based, they can see that it’s not just a website you’re paying for. It’s this whole guided process, where we’re going to help you understand not just what your website’s going to look like at the end of the day, but how it functions, how it works, how you get it to the domain. How do you edit it and use it afterwards? It’s a whole lot more than that. That’s hard to convey sometimes, with some of the more automated marketing methods.
Chris: Yeah, I agree. I agree. You bring up an interesting point. I’ve had meetings with restaurant owners locally in my town here, who would get a $3000 quote and would probably tell you to your face, “I will never make that $3000 back from this website. There’s no way I’m spending that money.”
Number one, he would be wrong. The right website would bring in way more than $3000 worth of business within a very short amount of time, but it’s the perspective. It’s not so much the correct or incorrect … It’s the perspective. I find that, on the scale of businesses that have those $2500 or $3000 budgets, they tend to view technical expenditures as pure cost, not as investment. Is that one of the filters that you referred to earlier, when you said you have to pick very particular kinds of clients? Do you find that that’s a constant problem in your attempts to educate prospects in the marketplace about how to view that $3000 expenditure?
Kelsey: Well, all of our pricing is super public. It’s right up on our website. I mean, we think of this as kind of a productized service, so, in that vein, it’s a little bit self-selecting, right? Because someone reaches out to us and they say, “Hey, we want to build a website with you. Can you tell us about your pricing?” We go, “Here you go. Here’s the website.”
It’s a little bit self-selecting in that, those people who may be completely price averse, usually if it’s not a person-to-person contact, they’re not making it past that door. For people who get into the conversations with us and still question that pricing, we talk to them about all of those intangible benefits. One of the pieces of feedback that we get from a lot of our clients that I think we’re the most proud of is, “This process has really helped me have a fuller understanding of my business.” Even though that is another intangible thing that … A restaurant is not going to be like, “Wow, I’m glad I spent this amount of money that I feel as if I will never get back, because now I have a fuller understanding of my business.”
That’s not really going to work on a restaurateur, because that’s a money question, in general. That is a whole slew of other factors that need to come into alignment for them to be a right customer, but for people who are starting a business, for people who are realigning a nonprofit, who are trying to build something new or redesign something existing, that ability to go through this process with us and have us ask them questions, not like, “Do you like this color?” But what do you want your clients to understand when you’re talking about X in this section? What do you want them to do once they read this paragraph? What’s the expectation of what comes next? I think that that’s one thing that we probably don’t do as good of a job selling to people is that we’re not just here to put blocks on a page for them and push things around. Anyone can do that.
What we’re actually helping them do is understand their business, have a vision of how clients see them, have a real clear understanding of what message they’re putting forward, and that, especially for small businesses and nonprofits, is really valuable, because we can look at this and go like, “Hey, just looking at this as a user, I think you want me to donate money here, but there’s no button for me to donate.” Those types of things, like helping them understand that value … When we can have a conversation with them, that worry, that question kind of, in a lot of cases, goes away. In a sense, yes, it is one of those filters that we are using, because the price is on the website, but, for me, if someone comes to the table, and they are feeling as if that value doesn’t line up with their expectations, I don’t worry too much about that, because usually by Wednesday, they are seeing just what it is they’re actually getting from the process and they get a website, to boot.
The price … We don’t worry about people who don’t book us at that price, because if they don’t think that that’s an appropriate price, chances are there’s going to be no price that feels right to them. If you’re looking for someone to build you a website, I don’t think that $2000 is going to feel better than three, just thinking about it in general. We always say, if we lose someone on price, that’s okay, because they are now dropping themselves down into this category where they’re going to build their own website, probably in the same way that these agencies who send us these smaller projects don’t worry about losing a $3000 client, because their typical client is 12, something like that. It’s just a matter of mindset.
Chris: Something you said earlier struck a chord with me about being very careful how much work you take on, being a team of two. That is so true. Over here, it’s a team of three. I always tell people, no matter how well-oiled your team is, one bad project, one project too many, one project that goes unexpectedly sideways, can completely swamp a small agency. Now, mine is a little weird. There’s a core group of three of us, but I’m plugging mercenaries in and out of projects, depending on skillset and what not, so it may fluctuate, but that’s really true stuff.
It’s good that you’ve got this approach. It’s good that you’re so tailored, because I’ve seen freelancers just keep stuffing coal in the firebox, so to speak, and next thing you know, it’s all out of control. Having these filters in place, kind of deciding ahead of time, these are the kind of clients I want and not those, rather than simply taking anybody who waves a check, that’s where the real power is. The power in freelancing is not so much the ability to set our own hours or any of that other stuff, and it’s not even the ability to choose our own clients. The real power is in being able to say no. No, I won’t do that work. That’s powerful, and that’s healthy, I think. I’m really glad to hear that you’ve got that as part of your vision for the business, that that’s actually a concern and it’s something that you take into account. That’s good.
Kelsey: Our life was a huge part of the way that we thought about setting this up. We live and die by our calendar, because we schedule everything. When someone books a week with us, they don’t just book a nebulous time in the future. They book an actual date, and that is so great for Mallory and I, because we’re able to see that schedule come together. She is incredibly good about knowing how much I can take on. Even if I’m like, “No, no, no. Just throw it on the pile. We can do it.” She’ll be like, “No, we need a break. You have to take a floating week.”
She works with me on every project. She does so much of the project management that really helps us succeed. She does 99% of the sales, which is hugely helpful for me. She also really has a good vision for our growth and how fast we should do it. I tend to push us probably faster than we need to go, but it’s really amazing to work with someone who has had businesses grow very quickly before and knows how difficult that can be.
We knew what kind of life we wanted to have when we started this business. I knew there was no way that I could keep working for someone else. I just didn’t know what needed to happen next. I didn’t know what I needed to do, and she wanted the same thing. We are huge travelers, both of us. We love to travel. Her husband and my fiance, we all are always like, “Where can we go? When can we go?”
Sometimes we’re doing these projects from other cities. As long as it has WiFi, that’s okay. We were just in Mexico for my bachelorette party. We were driving through the jungle to Puerto Vallarta Airport, while we were doing one of our discovery calls, and it was awesome. That project was great. We had an awesome time. The client was excited and happy.
We really decided early on that our work needed to support the lives that we wanted to live, because if both of us were only focused on making money, we would be doing this very differently, but our lifestyle, our happiness, the kind of time that we want to spend on this earth is important to us, just as important as building a million websites, and a huge part of that is scheduling and balance. We’re probably getting close to the point where we should start training someone else on how to do this process with us, because I think it is something that can be taught to people. It has to be the right person. It has to be the right type of personality, but we don’t want to rush to that yet. We don’t want to get too much on our plates before we’re ready. We don’t have expectations of being a billion dollar company, because we don’t want the pressure of a billion dollar company, though we would not mind the shopping, just as a point of reference.
Kelsey: Wouldn’t mind it at all.
Chris: Yah, I’m with you there. I’m with you there. I hate to use the term “lifestyle business.” My company’s been referred to as that. I know there are some people that use that label proudly, but I find that it’s usually used as a term … It’s like a condescending, “Oh, what a nice little lifestyle business you have there,” but, you know what? There are a whole lot of us who have businesses designed around our lifestyles, who are taking home a couple hundred grand a year and saying thank you for it and living a fine old time, thank you very much.
Kelsey: Let’s be very clear. Having a lifestyle, even having that sentence in your head, is incredibly privileged. To be able to be the kind of person, who’s like, “I have a lifestyle business” … I don’t mind that. I’m proud of that. You know who has a great lifestyle? Gwyneth Paltrow. She has a lifestyle brand. I’ve worked in all different kinds of companies. I’ve worked for a digital agency, a restaurant group. We have both come from a lot of different industries prior to this, and I think that both of us are incredibly grateful to have a lifestyle business.
We have been close to people who have gone through being a part of some of the biggest tech companies in the world, and I’ve got to tell you, the houses are nicer, but I’ve got to say that we have a lot of flexibility. We have a lot of freedom. Could our lifestyle always be better? Sure. Am I going to retire tomorrow? Absolutely not. No way. Not where I want to be yet, but I think that even to consider having a lifestyle is a huge amount of privilege that we have to be aware of, like we have to understand it is a gift that we have to earn for ourselves every day, but I don’t mind being that at all. I don’t mind that.
Chris: I’m sure that that’s probably got something to do with the VC funded crowd, like, “Oh, nice lifestyle business. We’re going to be scaling up to a billion.” Yeah, I try to stay away from that, because some folks don’t take too kindly to it, but I like hearing your thoughts on it. I think your thoughts are super, super healthy on the topic. That’s good stuff. We are right about at time, and that’s actually a really cool thing to finish with, that expression of gratitude for the kind of business you have and what you’re able to do with it. That’s good stuff. I think a lot of us probably don’t stop to think about that, and it’s probably healthy to do so.
We can find you on Twitter as KelseyLK, and then we can find you online at weekofthewebsite.com. Where else can the listeners go to keep up with you and your projects online?
Kelsey: We have a Presence Agency Facebook page and Presence Agency Instagram, where we also post, not as often as we should. Those are going to be the two: weekofthewebsite.com if you’re interested in learning more about the product; always open to talking to people on Twitter. Anywhere. We’re all over the Internet.
Chris: Beautiful. All right. Kelsey, thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate you sharing your story. I find it all very interesting and informative. I’m sure the listeners will, too. Thank you.
Kelsey: Yeah, thank you so much, Chris. Have a great afternoon.
Chris: You, too.