It’s a lifestyle that many dream of; being able to travel and work remotely when and where you want; and that’s exactly what my guest in this episode, Suzanne Black, is fortunate to do. She’s a freelance web designer and savvy entrepreneur who has built up her web design business to support her life of traveling and working remotely. Operating out of her decked out, wi-fi enabled sprinter van, she frequently travels across Europe and all of the world while running and maintaining her business.
In this episode, not only does she open up about how she works remotely and balances work while traveling but also dives into the practical ways she gets clients remotely and focuses on customer care and customer experience which have become her best “sales” strategies.
For those of you who would love to travel and work all over the world, this episode will provide the perfect path for you to follow with learning how to get clients, manage and run your business and even for those of you, like myself, who are work-from-homers or are stuck in one spot, Suzanne lays out some absolute GEMS of advice for creating a life of freedom through good, organic referral principles and the power of customer care.
P.S. Here’s the exclusive pics of her sprinter van setup!
In this episode:
03:43 – Welcome to Suzanne
05:46 – A little background
09:17 – Wi-fi and a laptop
11:40 – Experience to niche
14:23 – Traveling
15:21 – Pivoting out of need
18:42 – 100% word of mouth
20:12 – Nurturing clients
22:02 – Creating lifetime work
23:28 – Setting boundaries
26:52 – Creating structure
28:28 – Using lock-down to build
31:11 – Use content collection time
35:44 – Managed attention & focus
36:26 – Use real answers on site
38:02 – Helping people
40:45 – Being an expert
43:51 – Domino effect
46:56 – Showing personality
47:54 – Explaining the process
51:18 – Client control & education
55:30 – Connect with Suzanne
56:49 – Work and travel tips
You can also view the full transcription of this episode below.
Connect with Suzanne:
Featured links mentioned:
Hey, everybody, welcome to the podcast. This is Episode 102. And in this one you’re going to be hearing from a very special guest because this is somebody who is a legit digital nomad. This is somebody who literally has a like decked out Sprinter van that has all of her gear and stuff so she can travel all around the world at times, and work remotely. This is Suzanne black, who has been a web design student of mine for a while and is a member of my web design club. And as I’ve seen her journey progress, I noticed that she was posting pictures all over the place. And it got us to talking and I can ask her about what her work situation looked like. And she let me know that she is a digital nomad, she does have a farm that she works from, which is actually in this interview, you’ll, you’ll see and hear her and her mainstay, but in a pre COVID world. And even now in a COVID world, she’s able to travel a lot, she was doing her work completely on the road remotely. And it was really, really cool. For those of you who are interested in traveling and doing work. So you can essentially have a life of freedom and basically work wherever and whenever you want. I think you’re gonna love this episode. And even for somebody like me, who you know, has a home office and work from home, it was still really cool to find out how she balances all that. Because for me personally, I’m fascinated by that. I wanted to know how the heck do you work from the road and work remotely and still balance your time doing all that. So we cover that and so much more in this episode.
Suzanne is a true professional. She also has a real big heart for clients. And you’re going to hear about the importance of customer care and importance and putting your customers first to create referrals. Because interestingly enough, one of the big questions about remote working is how you get clients if you’re working remotely and traveling. And as you’ll find out, Suzanne really took a very organic approach with social media, online groups, and referrals to one client at a time. So I think it’s gonna really empower you to do the same for those of you who want to travel and if you want to see her decked out Sprinter van, I’m gonna make sure the the post of the picture of her van is in the show notes for this episode. So just go to Josh Hall co/102. And you’ll be able to check out her van.
Now before we dive into this episode. As I mentioned, as we talked about in this episode, the importance of online community when you are a digital nomad and traveling is more important than ever, because you’re not going to have the opportunity to have co workers and a close set of colleagues that you regularly talk to. So having an online community is absolutely crucial if you’re going to be traveling and have some sort of remote lifestyle. And if that’s you, if you feel like you’re going it alone, I want to encourage you to join Suzanne and myself in my web design club. It’s a place where people like Suzanne, and so many more amazing web entrepreneurs are rallying around each other and we’re building each other up and we’re creating a support system for each other. So that sounds interesting. And if you like hearing from Suzanne, and you’d actually like to talk with her directly and be able to talk with me on an ongoing basis, I would love to welcome you into the web design club. You can go to Josh hall.co/web design club all one word for more information. And if you have any questions, just let me know. I’ll be happy to answer any questions you have. And without further ado, here’s Suzanne, get ready to be inspired, pumped. And I think you’re gonna love this fascinating conversation because I sure did. Let’s roll.
Suzanne, welcome to the podcast. It’s so great to have you on.
Thanks, Josh. It’s lovely to be here.
You are also my first Scottish accent. Yes. You’re gonna be the first I think we’re gonna have a couple more coming up. But you are the first so super cool to have you on.
Yeah, I’m lucky I don’t have a really broad accent. So hopefully everyone can understand me.
Yeah, yours yours I can understand. A colleague of ours Gill, who’s also in the web design club as you are who hers is a fierce Scottish accent and I know she listened to the podcast so hopefully she doesn’t take offense to that by hearing me say that but there is definitely a varying degree. I find the same thing with folks from the UK There are some people I can understand really well. And and others I’m like what the heck did you just say?
Yeah, and there’s all the dialects and things like that and slang words and so on. I’m in jail I think from Glasgow so you know, that’s quite a broad accent as well. And but yeah, all over the UK. There’s just such a variation in an accent, slang and dialects really. I guess it’s the same in the US as well.
I was just gonna say I’m sure it’s the same because I have a Midwestern accent which isn’t, to my knowledge at least it isn’t too Southern or Twiggy or anything like that, you know, it’s a fairly easy accent to understand. Now I have family in New Jersey and if you go out east, it’s a whole different world out there. Same thing, if you go south, it’s very hard to understand folks in the deep south. So I love that though. And that’s what that’s what’s so cool about this, this web design world is we’re all over the world. And we’re colleagues and we’re helping each other. So I’m super excited to have you on to share a little bit about your experience with being a world traveler, and a remote worker and somebody who has struck really good work life balance. So yeah, fair, we could just dive into them. Before we dive in here, Suzanne, can you just give everybody a snapshot of who you are and what you do with your business, Black Creative Media, which is a really cool site, by the way.
Thank you. So basically, potted history, I actually have been self employed for about 16 years. My background actually is in photography. And so I had I’ve had a photography business, doing weddings, portraits, commercial stuff. But I’ve always been very much into the technical side, I’ve built my first website, myself, I’ve always done a lot of my own tech and things like that. And I, you know, while I love photography now, or continue to run alongside my web business, I kind of found I was falling in about four or five years ago to people saying, Oh, you do web design stuff, Can Can you do me a site? Or can you help me out with that, and so on. And it was around about the same time that I was making the decision that I wanted to scale back a little bit on the wedding side, you know, 16 years of giving my weekends to someone else, kind of felt that you know, what I and also with the wedding industry, you know, you’ll find that you are and booking things in a diary like 12 months ahead. And for someone like me, who likes to be kind of spur in the moment, and yeah, I’m going to go off and do something, having that commitment that far ahead, was quite, you know, it’s lovely for cash flow. But actually, when it comes down to it, you know, you want to be able to, you know, off the cuff, just go and do something so that, that that’s where I started kind of going, you know what, and then actually, it came came about as well that about that same time, I started to get people asking me about web design stuff. I was quite burnt out, I’d spent, you know, 10 years really working so hard and creating this business. And I was about to turn 40. And I suddenly realized that there was nothing else in my life at that point, you know, I just thrown everything into being self employed. And, you know, I was three stone heavier than I currently am, which in terms of American, that’s like 45 pounds. No kidding. And I was unhealthy. And I was just so focused on the business. I think that’s where a lot of people go, you know, it’s like, you know, you throw everything into your business when you’re self employed. And I thought, you know, and then I had a couple of friends who had health scares, and I thought, you know what, this is crazy, I have to change things. Because, you know, the work life balance was just totally wrong. And so one of the first things and it’s slight, a slight aside, but it’s, I think it’s important, I created myself this 40 at 40 challenge, where every week, I had to do something that I’d never done before. That scared me or that I loved.
Oh, that’s cool.
Like I’ve abseiled off bridges, I took up rock climbing, I’d kind of I’d always been a skier, but for the you know, the previous you know, five or six years, I had a skiing holiday. So I just went and booked five months in the Alps and moved over there. And that’s where this sort of whole working remotely started to come from because I kind of went you know what I can with web design, if I go down this route, I live my life in a much different way to this really focused self employed business that I was working in before so that’s kind of where I came from. So yeah, I you know, I go and live in the Alps normally pre COVID
Yeah, I figured a lot of our conversation would be pre COVID and hopefully post COVID
I cannot let my business whether it is a photography business or the web design business, run my life so it’s very much I work to live not live to work. – Suzanne
Exactly so but the you know, the great joy of of web design is as long as you’ve got Wi Fi and a laptop, you can work anywhere and that’s that’s kind of where where I got to so I very much you know, changed my life about five years ago and just went You know what, I cannot let my business whether it is a photography business or the web design business, run my life so it’s very much I live to, you know, I work to live not live to work, you know?
Yeah, a couple of valuable points already. Suzanne, I mean, it sounds like you’ve been entrepreneurial you ran your own business but the work life balance that was obviously something that that hit you and I think that hits a lot of people and whether it’s a health scare or friends or family or you’re just you know burn out. I’m glad that you caught that In a good season of your life where you’re able to pivot, but it sounds like that was interesting that while you enjoyed that type of work with photography, it seems like the idea of web design number one, you there was a need there, people were asking about it, which there is a little tip for everybody. If somebody keeps on asking you about stuff, it might be time to look into that and start offering if it’s something you feel comfortable. But it sounds like web design just suited your lifestyle and or what you wanted to do, which is really, really cool. Now, were you doing web design like, did you offer web design as a part of your photography stuff for brides? Okay, so did you do a clear cut? Like, I’m done with photography? I’m going into web design, or was there was there a merge at all? Or did you make a pretty clean…
I’m still doing photography, you know? Well, I haven’t shot a wedding all year, because obviously COVID. But, you know, still my space that I’m working from, I’m talking to you from is I live in our family farm in Scotland. So I’ve got all this wonderful space outside, but I’ve got a big log cabin with shooting space, and, you know, a great office that I can work from. So I do, I do both, I still shoot and, and actually from from a web design point of view, it’s great because I cannot offer a one stop service, I can do pack shots, I can do the whole thing. You know, to you know, I can go in and do headshots for people I can offer, you know, an all in service, which is great. But, you know, it wasn’t that I kind of went photography’s gone. I’m now a web designer, I think there’s a nice synergy between the two of them. They work really well together. But my clients from photography, we’re never going to be my web design clients. I actually target photographers, as my web design clients, because I know what they need for a website.
Gotcha. That’s genius. That’s a great way to go. That’s kind of I know, we talked before in the club about going niche and kind of appealing to certain type of people, which is, that’s great. Now, with the wedding stuff, did you because I’m sure your business was booming with wedding clients. I know, you know, we’re talking pre COVID? How did you manage web design and balance that as well? Did you just start? Do you start charging a lot more for weddings and just limit your clientele? or How did you balance the two.
So I mean, I don’t know if the same as in the US. But you know, here there, there is much more about, you know, a wedding season. So it’s like, you know, April to October really is the season when I’d be out shooting weddings. And then naturally, I found from December through to March, the wedding in Scotland, and the weather in Scotland is not that great, you know, unless you’re into your skiing and stuff. So it really is a time that there’s not really a massive wedding industry. And and so what I started doing was actually four months of the year when I was taking some downtime from weddings is when I would do my web design stuff. And that seemed to fit really, really nicely. And so it meant that I could just pick and choose and say right, I’m going to do some website stuff. And then when I was busy with weddings, I would maybe do one or two, you know, over the over that period. You know, I could flip the switch back and forth quite easily.
That’s pretty cool. Yeah, and I, I know I did the same thing similarly with logo design and branding, because I merged the two eventually I did let that go. But there was a lot of good. And I like the word you use synergy because it often brought a lot of people in with print design that then wanted a website. So it’s pretty cool how you worked out. I mean, I generally advise against running to essentially different businesses at the same time for too long, just because eventually, it’s probably going to come to the point where you, you gotta decide you’re going to be a photographer or a web designer. But as long as you’re feeling balanced, then by all means, keep it going. And if there’s synergies there, that’s awesome. So that’s really great to hear. Suzanne, I guess I didn’t realize that you were still doing the photography stuff. I know it’s different with COVID. But as much as you’re doing and how that you know, blends in and kind of leads them to web design, which is really cool. I want to talk about travel. Because he that’s one reason like we talked about already that you one reason you love web design is because it gave you unlike shooting a wedding somewhere it gave you the ability to work you said earlier, where and when you want as long as you get the work done, as long as you have Wi Fi you’re good. Have you always traveled that much or did getting into web design allow you to start traveling as much as you as your you and your family have.
Oh, I’ve I’ve always traveled like, you know, when I left university, I went off on my own for eight months and traveled through Australia and New Zealand and South Africans Zimbabwe have been back to Africa a couple of times I’ve been in Thailand, I’ve actually shot a wedding in Thailand. And interestingly enough, and I went to Taiwan a couple of years ago. haven’t done a massive amount in the US have been to Phoenix. That’s about it. I was on a photography convention there. But yeah, my next plan was to travel through South America. So as soon as we’re allowed, that’ll be me off going Argentina some of those areas. I really keen to see.
While you’re on this side of the world come up to Columbus, Ohio, and then we’ll take you out for a coffee or something. Now, did you so you traveled a lot, with web design, though? Did you feel like you had even more of an opportunity to do that, since your income wasn’t solely based on being there doing, you know, photography?
Yeah, I mean, it’s really interesting, because where I was, like, you know, I say, I started dabbling in the web design world about five years ago and started doing, you know, it was normally for other photographers going, Oh, you did your website, can you help me do your website, you know, and, you know, I had a chat with Melissa, she said, Look, you know, you really should be pushing your way down this route. Because, you know, you have that double skill of, you know, a lot of people aren’t as creative and technically, you know, be able to do the two things, and I work a lot with them, you know, creating automations and using systems and with their, their websites, you know, using things like Active Campaign and linking all the different bits with that. So, you know, said you’ve got a skill there, you know, you should be you should be using it. And, and that’s when I started kind of going, right, okay, I need to take this a little bit more seriously, and then find your courses. So, you know, that was great, and started working on on that. And I kind of set myself this plan that must have been about the summer of summer of 2019, I’d kind of said, right, I want to have a three year plan, whereby I move out of weddings, I’m doing some photography, but the bulk of my business is going to be coming from web design, that was my plan. And then we all know things change quite quickly.
Then COVID hit.
Yeah, cuz I remember when I joined the club, and you you checked in with me and said, Look, you know, I just wanted to see how you were, you know, how are you doing for the year and I’m like, Oh, my God, you know, I kind of started the year not being a web design, like I’d kind of launched the business, but I was kind of not there. And, you know, if you’d asked me in February, what I was going to be doing, I would be like, well, I’ll just be slowly building the business. But you know, as soon as COVID hit overnight, I lost 80% of my income for the year for from from my weddings, you know, that was gone. That was not coming back. So I really had to pivot quite quickly and think what can I do? Well, I have to I have to go in all in with web design stuff. And, and I’ve been really, really lucky. But yeah, I’ve I’ve worked my way through, and I’m way above where I would have imagined in my three years.
Well, I remember you told me you were like, oddly enough, COVID was like the best thing that ever happened to me because it forced you, number one to really get going on web design. Whereas you probably would have you know what you did in a year, in 2020, you probably would have taken three years or longer to get to because you had to you had to do it. But you were very proactive to I mean, you said you were lucky, I would have to disagree with you, Suzanne, and I don’t think luck had anything to do with it. I think you worked your butt off and you deserved every ounce of success that you have. I mean, you you pivoted quickly, and but you’re a go getter, too, you didn’t. I could tell and even you know, when we were going through my courses, I could tell you were somebody who wasn’t like, Oh, woe is me, I just lost 80% of my income. You’re like, Alright, here’s a chance. Here’s the you know, luckily, you already started it, here’s my chance to dive in and do it. So that’s really cool. Now, how did you particularly because I know your clients are all over right? from web design? I mean, being that you work remotely? Did it really all stem from the photography? Or were you reaching out to local businesses and online groups? Where did some of these other clients come from when you really launched your web design side of things?
If you treat people, right, you probably don’t need to advertise because your customers will advertise for you. – Suzanne
So interestingly, I still don’t have a portfolio on my website. And I think I mentioned this to you. 100% has been word of mouth 100% of the work has been word of mouth. And it started with photographers, you know, people I knew saying, I need a new website, and they would part you know, Melissa has been great at you know, referring work to me as well. And but each of those people have passed on someone else. And you know, that I think is the really, really important thing. And I 100% believe that the most important business tool you can have is is customer care. And if you treat people, right, you probably don’t need to advertise because your customers will advertise for you.
That’s great. Yeah, what a great lesson.
You know, and I think that’s, and yes, I absolutely will need to, you know, when I’m scaling things at that, you know, start doing, you know, email lists and various various other forms of marketing, but I do believe that the most important thing you can do is treat your customers right. And I do think you know, I it does worry me Sometimes when I see in Facebook groups and things, the way that some people talk about their customers, and I think you know, that’s a really you know, if that’s your attitude, when you’re talking to your peers about your customers, how do they feel when you’re actually talking to them? If you’re not nurturing them as your best source of business, you know?
Yes. Oh, my gosh, I couldn’t agree with you more. We, I think that’s why you and I are on the same level. Suzanne, particularly with customer care. I don’t know if you saw this, but I, I did a podcast A while back on whether you should be Facebook friends with your clients, and I posted that and my Divi web designers Facebook group, and an overwhelming majority of people said never, you know, never be friends with my clients. And it was just like, like you just said, the tone switched on how they viewed their clients. And I’m not saying that you need to be friends with every one of your clients. But I am friends with most of my web design clients, and they’re still very near and dear to my heart, like the customer care was key. And it was interesting, because a lot of the people I saw say that are the same people are saying, hey, I need clients, how do you get work? You just said it. If you focus and hone in on customer care above anything, that’s the beauty because you don’t have to hustle. You don’t have to kill yourself with marketing go one client at a time, make an amazing experience. Fine tune it as you go along. And then before you know it, you’ve got a couple dozen amazing lifetime clients. If you do it right, that should be enough to support yourself in most countries. So I love that mindset. I totally backed you up on that. I love that you have that. Now, did you learn that from the photography side of things? Or did you have to learn that pretty quickly with web design that there was a new, you know, a new opportunity for more value and stuff like that?
I think I think license came from the photography business. Because the way I looked at it, you know, if I shot someone’s wedding, I want there to be their photographer for life. I want to photograph their babies, I want to photograph their family. You know, I had clients,
That’s what I was gonna ask is like, well, if you get married, hopefully that’s only one job. Hope. Hopefully, you don’t have to keep on doing their next wedding. So yeah, did you do like a family photographer type?
It’s like, it’s like the photographers version of a maintenance plan. You want to be that, you know, you want to be that photographer that they you know, they then they just immediately think we’re having a family event, we get some you know, and that’s, that’s what I was like, you know, and I have clients that I photographed their kids from babies, and then suddenly, you know, I’m getting a message going, Yeah, I just bought his first car. And I’m like, No way, you know. But I’ve retained them all the way through. And I think I just took that mindset into the, into the web design business, because it’s the way I’ve always worked. I think it’s the way I think as well. And, you know, it’s interesting, we do differ slightly in the Facebook thing. I’m like, No, no client is sliding into my DMS. But I do make myself very available to them, I actually use slack as my comms for clients. And they know they can get me any time that I’m at my desk. But what I love about slack is you can actually switch off your notifications at seven o’clock in the evening, too late in the morning. And, and not have. Because I just feel like it’s back to that whole work life balance thing of I really, I don’t want a client messaging me at 10 o’clock at night, you know that slipping into my personal time. And I think as self employed people, we have to be really careful to set boundaries, because I am totally available for my clients with caveats. Because yes, I am. I am there. But I have to have a life as well. And that’s that whole work life balance thing, if you’re answering Facebook messages at one in the morning, because a client’s you know, and I you know, I’ve heard people say, Oh, yeah, I’ve got this passive aggressive message from someone that they’ve messaged me at two in the morning. And then at seven in the morning, they just have a question mark message, because you haven’t responded straightaway. And I never want to get into that situation. So I’ve always been very, this is how you communicate with me. You know, just because I want to manage expectations, I think is the right way to do it. And you know, it’s great.
Yeah, and I’ve talked a lot about that too, with boundaries and setting constraints. And I probably should say, going back to the Facebook thing, being friends with clients is, I don’t mean that you’re available 24 seven, but even even people do reach out to you, you don’t have to reach out to them on that time you let them know, like, hey, I’d love to answer this. But we need to do it in slack or in Basecamp or wherever we’re managing on you know, and I get back to you on these these time, this time or these hours, you know, barring some like, you know, website problem or something. So yeah, that that is huge, but I thought it was interesting. It was just the idea that like the tone of web designers changed the thoughts of clients being more than just a payment and I think that’s very dangerous when you when you care whether it’s web design or photography, like you mentioned, you became that photographer for that family that is just a whole nother level of lifetime type of client and it really does. Just take Take the stress out of hustling and, and getting new clients all the time, which is what’s really cool is I was interested to see how you balance remotely working. And I want to talk about that next here. But that’s great to hear that you had that approach. Because really, I mean, we can talk about all the strategies in the world with getting clients. But if you don’t care about them, and offer more value to them, it almost doesn’t matter. Because what’s the sense of getting one client and then doing a terrible job and then never getting referrals from them, you’re gonna have to keep on getting new clients over and over. So that’s such a better way to go. I love to hear that Melissa Love was a great resource for you, too. She’s been on the podcast before I actually want to have her on, again, to talk about photography, web design kind of stuff, because I know it’s still really a big booming type of industry there photography and web design. But that’s great. So you’re running your web design, business, things explode, pretty big in, in, in the COVID era for you. But I know you still travelled a little bit last year, and you guys have like this total kick ass Sprinter van, right? I remember seeing cuz, and I think I told you in the web design club, when you posted that I used to customize those when I worked on a, I used to work at a at a tour bus customizing shop, and a lot of what we would get in with was the sprinters. And the majority of the guys working at the shop are all fat and overweight. So they couldn’t like get into these sprinters. So inevitably, they were like a little Josh, get over here getting into this cabinet. And I’d you know, I’d be stuck up in a cabinet helping getting light fixtures up there, you know, fabricating stuff, so I have a lot of experience with sprinters. So I have, you know, I can understand the the awesomeness with that. So yeah, how did How did you know really remote working? Like, I guess more The question is, how do you do remote working? And how do you balance that because like you just mentioned work life balance is a big part a part of your, your mindset? How do you balance all that working remotely?
I think I think is just being structured and having a plan, you know, and just because you’re traveling doesn’t mean you’re on holiday. And and I think that was your was the interesting thing is, you know, with my my time in France, and so on, like, all my friends just thought I was on a five month ski trip. And I’m like, no. So basically, I because there was an hour’s difference between France and the UK, I would be on first left, I would ski for an hour and a half, I would be back at my desk, but 930 UK time in the morning, normal day. So I was still doing stuff that I want to do. But you know, managing it within a timetable that I was still available to my clients in the normal time. So you can do all these things. Or, you know, I would say that, you know, wasn’t available on a Wednesday afternoon, and I would have a full day away or something like that. But I think it’s just making sure you have a plan. So you know, again, with the van, I think that was a real I only bought it this summer because I was I if I can’t go to the continent, if I can’t go over to Europe, I have to be able to travel in the UK itself. So I sold my car and I bought this van. And then it’s kitted out with a 4g router and WiFi modem. So it’s basically set up as a mini mobile office. So I can literally go and sit beside a lock in Scotland. And as long as I’ve got 4G connection, and my laptop, it’s got a laser battery, I could work all day.
I know you posted a picture in the club. Are you cool if I take that and put it in the show notes episode so everyone can see it. It’s so cool. Yeah, that’s that’s like it’s becoming really popular, people are getting these vans and decking them out. And that’s the beautiful thing about web design, you can absolutely do that. And I love that idea of having still somewhat of a schedule and a plan. Because, as I’m sure you know, anybody who travels, realizes that time just disappears when you’re traveling and doing stuff. So I could see that being very dangerous if you don’t have a plan, because you could absolutely go on a five month vacation and get no work done. But if you have a plan to balance those, that’s, it’s really cool to hear how that works for you.
But it’s interesting, because as well, people have been saying to me, you know, you know, we’re in lockdown. And I know a lot of people that have kind of gone, you know what, I’m just gonna take this as downtime. And I’m like, I’m just gonna work as much as I can, you know, even on my business just now. So that when I’m available to travel, I actually want to have a little bit of downtime to be able to do stuff that I enjoy. So I might, you know, over the summer, if we’ve escaped, and, you know, work part time for a couple of months and do it that way. So it’s, and then this is the other great thing about web design is because you’re generally working with a couple of clients at a time. I generally say right, you know, this is a start date, I’m going to start working with you. So if I say I want to actually not take a client on and me I can do that. You’ve got that flexibility to see right actually my diary. I mean, I’m currently seeing people I can’t take anyone on to till May at the moment because I’ve got I’ve got clients booked in but also I’ve structured Taemin because I want to do your SEO course I’ve not got that yet. It’s been sitting in it, you know. And after Michelle’s amazing q&a the other day, that was just that was just mind blowing. Oh, my gosh, my next focus. So you know.
Yeah, that that’s a girl, well, first of all great mindset to have been able to schedule that out. And yeah, you’re referencing, Michelle, my SEO gal who’s in the web design club and did a monthly presentation on keyword research. I’m actually going to have her on the podcast coming up here really soon to talk about the basics of keyword research, because obviously, the presentation was very in depth and visual, but we can at least scratch the service here on the podcast. So good to have her on. Because Yeah, that was oh, my gosh, how amazing but but yeah, that’s really great to hear how you’re able to balance all that and your game plan for being able to kind of schedule that work. Now, one practical question on that is because I always, I and I typically advise against saying I can’t take a new projects on for a couple months, just because most clients are not going to wait that long. Have you found that to be true? Or not to be true? Have you found clients being respectful of saying, okay, I can start in a couple months? What does that look like for you?
So for me, I do it in a slightly sneaky way. Because I know that I need that time, but we both know, how bad clients are at getting content together. So I kind of play on the Okay, you know, I am looking to, you know, I generally have an eight week time. But that’s for when I start your build, but I don’t start your bills, until I have all your content. And you’re gonna need that time to get together. Have you got photography done? Do you need a branding set? You know, do you need copywriter, you know, all these things are not going to happen tomorrow. So I actually use that time to give me buffer time. But actually, the client is doing stuff in that time. So they’re still feeling like they’re part of the process. But I don’t have to actually do any work until they’ve got all that together. So I just find for me, that works really well, because you’re not pushing them away. But you’ve got that that lead time there.
Yeah. And I think it was a thread in the club where somebody was asking about whether they should stop being available during certain times or booked out a couple months. And my advice was similar to what you do their own. I hate to say a sneaky way. But I think that is a good way to phrase it because you can absolutely space and stagger projects just by saying, you know, because I want people to get that first payment in. But you can, you can definitely adjust the deadline on projects and give clients room, particularly depending on the brand and the company to get their their house in order before before you get going on the project is what you said is absolutely true. And this is what almost everyone finds out. The Content Collection process is generally one of the hardest in web design. And sometimes clients need to be guided through that. And they also need the time for that. Because a lot of clients I glanced at the past that would start on a project. And then two weeks later, they’d be like, Hey, how are things coming along, and I’m like, Well, it looks like a blank screen right now, because you haven’t given me anything. So generally, and I didn’t say that to them, but that was just what was going through my head, you do have to give clients that time, which can absolutely allow you to have some time to work that in with your current schedule. Or if you want to travel like I imagine, if you book a couple new projects, and you know, they’re gonna need some time, then what a great time to go out and ski for a couple weeks or take a whole week off if you want. And just you know, check in one day a week with clients like you can absolutely have a very balanced life of freedom and get a lot of time away while still keeping tabs on things and still have the business move forward. Would you agree?
100% and that’s where, I you know, I’m a massive fan of automation in the business as well. You know, I I’m like, there’s so many tools that you can link up to your website or your business in general, so that they’re answering emails or doing stuff for you, or taking a lot of the heavy, heavy lifting out your admin side of things that just make your life you know, so much easier. And the more you can add automations and, you know, be able to take the day to day, and repetition of your business frees you up to do other stuff, you know, and I think I think that’s a really important lesson I learned in my other business that you know, the more that you can and free yourself from, you know, the daily stuff, the better. You can support your clients and actually, you know that that’s a really key part of it as well. So you know, and I think it’s, if I if I had to sum up the things that I feel are kind of important that when it’s coming to the whole sort of client care stuff, it’s about to you know, giving them value, but making them feel like you’re there for them, but not always, you know, but it was really interesting one of my clients Today I was I was chatting to today and we’re just putting her on our maintenance plan could have just finished the build. And said, I just wanted to say you all the way through this have made me feel like I’m your only client. And that I could ask you anything. And I thought that is amazing, because that’s what I want my clients to feel like that I’m just focusing on them and no one else. And I was like, that’s great, because that that means I’ve, I’ve done it properly. I’ve had other things on I’ve had, you know, I’ve been doing this, that and the next thing I had, you know, a few days out last week, because we got the most amazing snow in Scotland and I went ski touring around the farm, and you know, just had a little bit of a play. But all that time, she felt I was the only person you know, I was her only client, you know, so it was just like really focusing your attention in a managed way is is and you can do that no matter where you’re sitting, you know, if I’m sitting in my office here, or I’m sitting in my van somewhere, you know, as long as you’re responding in an in a professional way and keeping it keeping it. You know, keeping your business ticking over is probably the right word. When you need certain points, then then absolutely, it can all be done remotely.
Yeah, you can also schedule out the quick updates and notifications on projects, whether you do that manually or you can automate those a lot of times you can schedule it in your email to, to go out at the end of the day on Friday, just let clients know, hey, I’m working on this. Can I step into my coaching shoes for you real quick, Suzanne, because I want to I want to want to put my coaching shoes on and tell you to do something here. If you’re willing, what you just said that that client said it should absolutely be on your homepage, I would highly recommend taking that snippet. Get the headshot and make that a little review step on your homepage because that is gold. Like that’s such a great response. That’s also a little hidden trick for everybody on how to get testimonials, is when you get a real answer like that. There’s your here’s your little snippet. There’s your testimonial. So I would love to see that on your homepage, because that’s…
My whole site is getting revamped soon. And I’m going to have some case studies out there finally.
There you go. Yeah, perfect. Perfect. Well, a lot of good lessons. so far. Suzanne, I mean, that’s really great to hear how you take in what you did previously in another life of just being a photographer, and then use that to continue to do that. But then bring in web design, you realize web design would give you more of the lifestyle you love. But COVID, even though it hit you were still able to pivot really well. And you focused on customer care and utilize your network, which is really cool. Now, did you do any other? I know you didn’t really mark it or anything like that, because it’s all referral based. But did you do anything else to get clients while you were working remotely? Or did you just rely on referrals in your previous network? like did you join any type of online groups or anything like that that helped? Or was it strictly organic.
And one of the things which I’m sure if you get Melissa, back in, she’s got a great community called the Marketing Fix. And, you know, there’s a few other Facebook communities that I was members of. And I just kind of it was a tip Melissa gave me, you know, a couple years ago is just showed up in there and was helpful. And the more you help people, the more people would have messaged you and go actually, you know, thanks for that or taking five minutes just to help them on. Why was my dv menu not working? or Why is this not working out? You know, which, you know, you don’t have to spend hours doing it. But if you’re seen as that helpful person in a community, when they need a new website, or they decided to go in and leap into something like, you know, rebuilding some landing pages or whatever, you’re the person that’s going to be in their head because you help them in the group. So as much as you know, I say that, you know, I don’t spend a lot of time you know, befriending clients in Facebook, I am in a lot of Facebook groups, a lot of Facebook groups, and I just, if I see someone asking a question, and I know the answer, I’ll just answer it, you know, so I think being that friendly, helpful person has definitely, definitely paid off.
Have you chatted too much with Christian?
No, I really want to hook up with Christian more, because he’s just Yeah, he seems to be everywhere.
The reason I mentioned that is I interviewed him a couple of weeks ago, his episode will come out after this one here pretty soon. But he essentially built an entire white label business, working in Brazil, but working with no one who like no companies in Brazil, he works with entirely folks in the US and UK in the way he built that was just what you said. He started a Facebook groups and was helpful. And by just helping out one step at a time. He built a name for himself and that’s how he built his white label business up that’s how he came across my feed and then he came through one of my my business course and then that’s how I got to know him and know his business and now he’s one of our lead designers for InTransit and he has a whole white label business. Notice that he runs again from you know, he lives in Brazil and doesn’t work with anybody in his area. So that’s like one of the most valuable lessons for anybody who wants to get clients abroad. Because let’s face it, if you’re going to work remotely, you have to get creative with those type of strategies. And I think the the few points you’ve laid out so far on that are key, use your personal network, no matter where that is to customer care, keep in touch with them and take really good care of your clients make an amazing experience, and getting involved with some of these groups, both for free and premium, that can really be great referral sources, and maybe they’re not clients directly, but they can be part of your network has that helped you out as well, with really surrounding yourself with a network of people online that can? Maybe not, they may not be your clients, but they might have clients that could use you? Right?
And I think definitely, I think as well, as you know, which we touched on areas is the photography niche for me, you know, works really well, because I was already known as a photographer. And what a lot of people love in unlike, you know, the photography, Facebook groups, people are recommending me because they’re like, Oh, yeah, Suzanne, you know, she, she knows what a photographer needs from a website. So they don’t, they already feel like they don’t have to explain. We want big images, you know, which every web designer goes, Oh, my God. Yeah, and but I know how to optimize images. And I know how to make a photography site fast. Because, you know, you’re always going to get with a photographer, and they want loads of images on there. And then of course, you start looking at the page load speed and going things, you know, so, you know, that’s where I feel like, I’m already a step ahead, because there’s that trust element. They feel that I’ll get what they want. They understand. So that’s, that’s been a really good thing, because I can kind of play on my past experience. But networking in these groups, they kind of go Oh, yeah, Suzanna, or you know, you need to get in touch with Suzanne, or, you know, I’m already talking about photography stuff. And then someone will say something about web design. And I’m like, okay, I can help you on that as well. And they’re like, Oh, perfect, you know? Yeah.
How did you I should have asked this question earlier, when you brought in web design with your photography clients, how did you go about that? Did you do like a big email blast? letting everybody know that? Hey, I’m now doing websites as well? Or did you just do it very organically, just one by one, as you were working with families?
Yes, very organically, because I kind of initially when I started doing it, just almost saw it as a helping out. Someone I knew, you know, I’m gonna charge them a little bit, but not really. And in all honesty, it was it was February last year is when I started really launching the business and three weeks later, boom you know. So it’s like, I have I literally launched the business in COVID. So it’s been all done in, like, normally, I would be network person, or maybe try and going run businesses locally, I haven’t been able to do that whole, the whole thing has had to be done. And on a web based networking, Facebook, that sort of, which actually shows how much you can do with in free in person networking.
Sure, no, great point. And so this episode is gonna come out mid March. So it’ll be probably just after a year that you really went for it. So congrats on that. Suzanne. That’s, that’s awesome. Did you do anything else though? Because you pivoted, you had to pivot. You said before you lost 80% of your income with photography. What did you just like, get more involved with the groups? Did you have more time to start doing more organic stuff like that to really help build your business? Or did it just so happened that everyone who knew you did web design came to you when COVID hit?
So what I found was very quickly, and a lot of photographers in the businesses were going, Oh, we, they were in the same position as me, they lost. So how are we going to, we need to get an online store going. So we’re gonna need to do some courses. So actually, I do a lot of work with LMS lifter and WooCommerce and stuff. So I build quite a lot of membership courses and sites. And so I found that just naturally that that was what was happening. And and I started I, you know, I did a photographer site in January. She was a member of a photography group that does baby photography. And she mentioned, you know, someone had came up in a post and said, Oh, I’m looking for a new website. Who did yours, Fiona? Oh, Suzanne, right. Okay, good. So that led to another two, two bookings then, and there was another person I know that does Facebook courses, and she recommended to a client of hers and who was a personal trainer, can I do a membership site because obviously gyms had shut down. Could I do that. So we’ve built this big membership site based on, she’s got about 400 Vimeo videos, and it’s all locked down with WP fusion and laughter itself. It was a, it was a beast to me, but it was amazing. She’s referred me to another two trainers. So it’s like, it’s been a very organic and client referral thing, and I think it just comes back to this, you know, it just comes back to the way I treat people, because I think they naturally want to help, you know, it’s been really interesting. And, and another key part of it is making sure that I’m building up my maintenance plan at the same time. So I’m keeping the connection with those clients. So it means that I think as well, when they are talking to other people, I’m still front and front and center in their mind, because we chat every month on the maintenance calls. So that’s been that’s been super valuable.
Yeah. What a great just practical case study of just going one client at a time organic referral type of growth, that’s the best. I mean,
I have had 00 budget budget for marketing this year zero, I have not spent a penny on an ad fair, I have not spent a penny on anything. And I will look over but you know that that to me proves that you can build a business from sheer networking, and being there turning up you know.
And and customer first, right that customer experience because it sounds like with you, it’s a very organic process the entire way through, I know you’re a great communicator. So is that something you really honed in on when you started going into web design was like the onboarding, the The, the, during the phase, the process with collecting content, and then offboarding as well?
I think I’m very personal with clients and that I want them to know who I am as a person. So everyone knows, like, I jokingly say, you know, I’ve been out walking the dog up doing this. And I did say to my mom the other day, and maybe getting two personal phone calls, because every single client that I’ve finished a website for has sent me a gift of a bottle of gin, because I always want to finish their site go right, I’m going to have a big glass of gin, you know, to celebrate.
I obviously talk about gin far too much. But you know, I do think all the way through I, I want them to feel special, you know, when I’m talking to and back to that client today, seeing I felt like I was your only, you know, clients. I want to empower my clients as well. So I always tell them all the way through that, you know, my goal is for you to never need me again. But equally I want them you know, so I’m very much and explaining the process. When we go through things when we have handovers I record or you know, zooms we have I have a library of looms that I do for people. And and I think that’s key because I think there’s a horrible, and I think it’s it’s quite a historic thing know that that web designers were were seen as people that would kind of, you know, befuddled people with the with the you know, the technical and all this stuff and so on. And, you know, I found that it’s been a lot of, you know, business startups or smaller, you know, photography, businesses and things like that. And they’re a bit scared about the whole website thing, they’ve maybe never had one before. Yeah, or they’ve had a really bad experience with a web designer that has taken them for a lot of money and not provided them with the thing that they wanted, which, you know, is a really sad thing.
Or a lot of times clients feel trapped, if they’re like, panicking thing, and I need to rely on my designer for everything. Yeah. Yeah,
And, you know, I’ve had a few this year where, and this is back to this whole Customer Care thing. And it just, it just blows my mind that people are doing this, that, you know, they don’t even own their own domain. You know, they don’t, you know, they’re locked into hosting that they can, you know, the designers lock that in as part of their whole build. And that, you know, when they try and leave, they can’t get out or they won’t lose, you know, I had one guy that wasn’t going to release the client’s domain name. And I was like, Oh, it’s just not good. So, you know, I think there’s an element of people come into the whole process slightly scared, and when they meet me, and I try and reassure them that, you know, I start by saying, you have to go and buy your domain name, I’m going to tell you how to do it. There’s a loom Here you go, go and watch this. But you have to have the power, you have to have the control because it’s your business. It’s your site, and you have to, you know, if you want me to do all the maintenance and stuff, that’s absolutely fine. But I want you to understand what we’re doing and why. So if I’m suggesting a plugin, I’m going to explain exactly why we’re doing it. Now. You may not care about I think it’s really important that people are part of the process.
Well, you’re, you’re also hitting on a very, very valuable point, which is empowering and educating clients in the beginning. The cool thing about this is it actually works to our strengths as web designers to have more control. Because while I agree, you definitely want the client to feel like they’re not locked into something that can never change. You also don’t want them going to buy a cheap GoDaddy hosting plan, and you’re like, Ah, crap, by the way, didn’t mean for you to buy it, you know, you don’t really have the options. But the really cool thing about this is if you empower them, and you let them know what’s involved, I have found a lot of clients are like, you know what, Josh, we like you, we trust you, we just, we want you to handle it. And that’s the best because then you don’t have to sell then you don’t have to feel like you’re locking somebody in. They don’t need to feel like they’re trapped. They just like, you know what, I trust you Suzanne, I like you. And then you know, a lot of them and even even if they want to run their website, do do updates occasionally, will often start doing it. And then two months later, they’re back. You know what, let’s just add an extra hour a month as a retainer for quick updates. You know, there’s a lot of power in that too. But again, it goes into that customer care and empowerment, and having that different approach from instead of being salesy teaching, and educating and there’s so much power, and I love that you have that mindset.
But it’s interesting, I, you know, I’ve got one client that at the moment I’m doing a build for and, and, you know, she’s asked if I’ll do the hosting and maintenance. And I’m like, yeah, it’s not problematic, you know, that that’s an obvious add on. And the whole reason she’s come to me is because her existing, and web designer won’t later edit our site. I’m like, okay, that’s an interesting concept. And she said, Yeah, but he basically said to me, that, Oh, well, you won’t do it anyway. So you know, I’ll just, you know, I’ll just keep you in my, you know, as you’d like, it was it was the attitudes that made you go, you know, said, I probably won’t end up doing any edits, and I’ll get you to do it. But telling me, I’m not allowed on my own website, just felt wrong. And I thought, gosh, that’s, and it’s back to this whole how you treat your clients thing. I thought, you know, he’s lost a client, yeah. By talking down to them or talking in a way that they felt really uncomfortable with. So yeah,
That’s a great lesson. Yeah. And a lot of times, like, I know, in that situation, I had, this is a great topic, because this is a very common question I see across everyone who’s doing web design, it’s like, how much control do I want to get my client, inevitably, you’ll get the clients who will go in and just destroy your design, I’ve had that happen a number of times. But at the same time, you don’t want to be that designer, like you just talked about that makes the client feel like they’re stupid, and they have zero control. So I know, just as a practical example, what helped me is I would tell clients, like I can absolutely, you know, give you access to do this, here’s some training, I would recommend, or, you know, I would do want to just give you some warnings about some stuff that might happen. And just remember, we’re always able to help you with this, because this is what we do. And sometimes I’d even gone to the point where I would like save a section or save an old design. And if a client went in there and added three paragraphs where we initially had this beautiful design, you could show them the before and after, say, okay, you know, I saw you went in here and edit this. And, you know, this is what it looks like. But this is what ours would look like this is, you know, I would recommend going about it this way. And here’s why. And then all of a sudden, you can be the person they trust for those little updates and stuff. And it’s a much better way to go about it than that, that douchey designer who was talking down to your client.
It’s treating them like a human being and not just a source of your invoice at the end of the month. – Suzanne
And I think it’s all about giving people choices as well, because I’ve kind of said to them, you know, what, what do you feel that you want to change? You know, if they’re on a maintenance plan with me, I’m going to be doing plugin, you know, and all that sort of stuff. Is it just you want to go in and tweak some wording and stuff? Do I just give you added editor access? Is that would that make you more comfortable and it’s you know, you can if you give them the options to not having you know, full access of all the admin and they just delete, you know, whatever. And, but as long as you’re giving your client choices and not making the decisions for them, you can freeze it in a way that the actual Yeah, you know, I just I don’t want to see all that backend stuff. I just want to be able to access but it’s treating them like a human being and not just a source of your invoice at the end of the month.
Yeah, yeah, that’s great. Well said, well, Suzanne, this has been awesome. Oh my gosh, we’ve had some really cool topics in here between you know, using your past experience with photography, pivoting when when you had to but really rocking out doing it, you know, customer care, organic leads, traveling, working remotely scheduling your projects. I love how we, you know, we kind of wrapped up with talking about how you’re actually literally working with clients and the mindset shift behind that because, again, the most common question most people ask and I could do a podcast episode on how to get clients it would be the most popular episode. What wouldn’t be as popular is an episode with Customer Care. But that should be the most popular because that’s what truly matters the most. And I love seeing what you’ve done. You know, this is the first time we’ve got the chat in person I, you know, you’ve been a student, you’re in my membership I’ve ever seen you and I’ve watched your stuff. But I guess I didn’t really realize how far into this you were with the customer experience side of things. So this is awesome. Suzanne, I really appreciate you being transparent about everything you’ve learned done. I have one more question for you. But in the meantime, where do you want people to go to check out check you out and check your website out?
So yes, www dot black Creative Media dot code at UK is my website. And I’m hopefully gonna get a chance to get some work in there in the next couple of months. But yeah, it sounds it sounds a bit. I will say I’m just too busy with clients. But yeah, that’s that. That’s where I go. And I do have Facebook and Instagram, but they have not been updated for ages. So I need to get my yeah.
Yeah, that’s all right. I mean, what’s working for you right now is working for you. And you don’t need to bother with, you know, coming up with social media campaigns and stuff. So by golly, I say, if you’re having more free time to ski and travel and do the stuff you want to do, by all means, keep on doing it. That’s awesome. Any Yeah, you know what, when, when any of my students say my website isn’t real great, because I’ve been swamped. That’s one of my favorite things to hear. So no worries on that your website’s still super nice. I know you’ve got some tweaks you want to make. I hope I see that little testimonial snippet on there, because I think that will be great. But it still looks it still looks great. So you’re good. I would like to ask you as we wrap up here. For somebody who wants to do web design and travel, what is maybe just one piece of advice, what’s one of the most important things you would recommend somebody Think about it, you know, before traveling and working remotely while doing web design?
I would I would say think about how are you going to find your leads from your way and it comes back to that networking thing. And I think for me, the niche thing is so important being an expert in the area that you want to work in means that you can be seen in social media groups and things like that, that that is absolutely the way I would go go into social media groups be seen as an expert, and then people are going to be much more likely to to contact you when they need the help.
Yeah, great point. There it is. That was very concise, and well said I couldn’t agree more. Suzanne, thanks so much for coming on. This was a blast. I’m so excited to see. I mean, you had one heck of a year in 2020. I can’t wait to see how 2021 ends up for you.
Yeah, fingers crossed to get some traveling as well.
Yes, yes. I want to see those ski pictures in those van pictures for sure. Awesome. All right. So Suzanne, thanks for coming on.