Ever wanted the chance to talk with a web design freelancer who’s been in the game for over 10 years?
To learn from what they went through, how they grew their business and how they got through the inevitable highs and lows of being a web biz owner?
You’ll get all of that and more in this episode of the podcast where one of the founding members of Web Designer Pro, Sandy Burns, a Canadian based web designer and owner of sandfire.ca, shares her incredible story of hitting the 10 year mark in web design.
In this convo, she shares:
- The highs and lows of her 10 year web design journey including how she almost gave it all up
- What tool kept her in the game when she was headed to a meeting to tell everyone she was going to quit web design
- How she battled breast cancer and kept her business afloat
- Her lessons and advice as to whether you should tell clients if you’re having a tough time personally
- How scaling with a small team helped her get through that tough time
- How she’s embracing her new identity after breast loss and finding a new passion for others on that journey
And much, much more.
Sandy is not only an amazing website designer with a keen sense for conversion based copywriting and UX but has also become a savvy, client-focused web biz owner who is a great example to follow if you want to have a freedom, lifestyle based web design business.
Her approach to customer experience, client relationships and easy-going, one step at a time business building is a true mark of sustainability in web design.
If you make it to 10 years as a web designer and you’re not burned out, you love your clients, you love the small team you brought around out and you’re more inspired than ever to keep chugging along…that is SUCCESS in my book!
And that’s exactly why I’m so excited that Sandy agreed to come on the podcast and share her incredible journey with you.
Enjoy my friend!
PS. Sandy is writing a book about her experience with breast loss as a recent cancer survivor, if you or someone you know might be interested in that, you can sign up for her book waitlist on her website at sandfire.ca
In this episode:
00:00 – Introduction
03:11 – Sandy’s Journey
12:29 – Discovering the Power of Divi
16:42 – Divi’s Impact
24:13 – Business Growth and Strategic Partnerships
29:23 – Network and Scale
36:21 – Scaling a Business
48:23 – Scaling’s Impact on Growth
1:00:03 – Managing Clients During Health Crisis
1:07:54 – Scaling Business Through Cancer
1:16:20 – Journey Through Cancer and Business Growth
1:21:01 – Journey of Growth and Inspiration
Connect with Sandy:
Episode #298 Full Transcription
I would not go back to being a freelancer. I love working with Alexis. I love having that help and not being alone, like I said, because we are design styles complement each other and she brings a different flair and different ideas. It just ups the level of the work that my business puts out. That’s the thing I’ve really had to wrap my head around is that it’s not the work that I’m putting out, it’s the work that my business is putting out. I’ve had to separate myself from my business. That, I think, was one of the hardest mindset shifts I had to go through with all of this. Welcome to the Web Design Business podcast, with your host, josh Hall, helping you build a web design business that gives you freedom and a lifestyle you love.
Hello friend, great to have you here for this episode of the Web Design Business, because you are in for a treat on this episode. My guest, sandy Burns, is an OG student of mine actually one of my first students and a founding member of my community, web Designer Pro, and she recently crossed the 10-year mark in her Web Design Business. I personally think that if somebody hits 10 years in an industry and they still love what they do, they love their business, they love their clients and they love the people they work with, I think that deserves an in-depth discussion on what they’ve done to get to this point and to hear about their journey. Now, sandy, her journey was not all rainbows and butterflies and sunshine. She has gone through a lot in her 10 years as a Web Designer, including in this interview. She’s going to open up about the highs and lows of building her Web Design Business and how she actually almost gave it up. You’re going to find out about what tool kept her in the game when she was literally on the way to a meeting to say she was done with Web Design. And then, most importantly, in this interview, you’re going to hear about how Sandy battled cancer and kept her business afloat during the time while she got diagnosed with cancer and then eventually having breast loss, and how she had to cope with that and keep her business afloat. Her lessons on whether or not you should tell clients if you’re going through a tough time personally, and what I’m really really excited about for Sandy now that she’s on the other end of this wild recent journey through cancer as a cancer survivor and breast loss, but now she’s scaling a small team that helped her get through this time and she is just on an amazing trajectory and a really really exciting next chapter for her personally and for her business. So, needless to say, for all those reasons, I’m so excited to bring Sandy on to share with you about this journey to help you whether you’re early in the game and you’re looking for some inspiration for somebody who’s done it right to get to 10 years, or whether you’re more established and you just I don’t know, maybe you need to hear something like this to help you look at your business and see what you can do to do what Sandy has done to really make a wonderful web design business that works for her, works for her family and has given her the freedom and lifestyle that she loves with web design. She’s just doing an amazing job. I’m so excited that she agreed to come on to the podcast here Now before we dive in. As I mentioned, she is not only a breast cancer survivor but she lost her breast and she’s really passionate about sharing some of her journey through that and helping others. So if you are interested in getting some more resources on that, sandy is actually writing a book. She is writing a book about her journey with breast loss and battling cancer. So if you or somebody you know might be interested in this, you can go to her website at sandfireca. She is a Canadian web designer, sandfireca. She’s got a waitlist for her upcoming book so you’ll hear more about it in the chat here, but I wanted to make sure I mentioned that so you can go to her website and, if you’re interested, be in the waitlist for her upcoming book. Sandy is just awesome. I’m going to stop talking because I want you to meet her and hear this incredible journey 10 years of web design, battling cancer, falling in love with scaling and much more. Here is my student and just amazing all around person and web designer, sandy Burns. Sandy, it is so good to see you. It was better seeing you in person. I had such a good time actually finally meeting you after all these years, so I’m so excited to chat today. Thank you so much for taking some time to hang out.
Yeah, no problem. Thank you so much for having me.
You. I don’t even know where to start because you were an early student. I actually looked today. You signed on. I think my maintenance plan course, right, was the first course you joined, which was back in like January 2019. I saw, so I just wanted to start by saying it has been honestly an honor to see your journey progress over the past almost five years now. You know, in five years and then meeting, meeting in WordCamp we just that was one of the coolest things ever, just meeting you and some of the other web designer pros and the stuff you were saying. I was like dang it, why didn’t we record this? It’s so good. So we’re going to probably just rehash the same conversation we had, but yeah, I just want to say it’s been so cool to see you, see your journey, progress and 10 years. Right, You’re here to hit the 10 year mark.
Yeah, 10 years as of this past August, and I can’t believe it. It’s been an interesting 10 years, for sure.
That is an amazing feat. I mean I know the stat. I don’t know what the stats are for web design, but small businesses generally, I mean it’s a very low percentage that make it past a couple years, even lower that make it to three to five years and very low that make its 10 years. So that is an accomplishment in itself. Sandy, that’s amazing.
Thanks, yeah, I hadn’t thought about it that way, but yeah, I just, I don’t know. I just keep going with it and hoping that it just, you know, gets easier and, and you know, gets better as we go along.
So well, I feel like it has for you from what I’ve seen. So I so many things to dive into here because you have just an incredible story and you’re you’re an example that I show off in my business course and a lot of other resources is like such a well designed site that’s personal and converts well. But backing up, how did I forget, how did you actually get into web design?
OK, so, backing up a little bit further from that, my first career was in journalism. So after high school I took a print journalism course at a college in Ottawa and then worked as a journalist for a number of years and then got married, had my two daughters and it was to stay at home mom for a few years and then got divorced. And then when my younger daughter started school, I’m like, ok, I need to get back into the workforce. But I didn’t want to go back into journalism, but I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. But there was something about web design that was really intriguing and you know, I thought, ok, I wonder if I can make a goal of this. But I didn’t know how, I didn’t know what the starting point was. So I actually went back to the same college where I took journalism and I took a program called Interactive Multimedia and it was a two year program that was condensed down to one. So it was crazy busy, but it it was everything to do with multimedia. Ok. So there was a website. Design was like sort of the bulk of it, so like HTML, css, php and my SQL database, which was boring. But I got through that and you know we’d learned all about how WordPress. You know all the PHP files that make up WordPress and how to create a child theme and all that kind of stuff. But we also learned things like in design, photoshop, illustrator, flash, because this was back in 2013.
Yeah, rit, rit, rit.
Motion graphics video editing like everything right, and it was funny because I was taking the video editing course going there is no way I’m ever going to use video. And now you’ve got me using video all the time, so right.
And I know what I was. We were just chatting before we hit record. Like your video game has up tremendously, even for the last time we talk, like you’re on it sitting looms, declines and discovery calls and stuff. So that’s really cool. I think it’s common to. Especially back in those days it did seem like multimedia. I don’t know if people still call it multimedia or if it’s different.
I haven’t really looked at the program since I graduated so I don’t know if it’s changed names or not, but it was an incredible program.
You know, and that’s what led you into WordPress, yeah.
So I graduated at the end of that eight months with honors and I have to brag about that because it’s the only time in my life I’ve ever gotten honors and immediately started my my website business, sandfire Design, out of my home. But I and I got my first client right away, because I live in a really really, really small town about an hour southeast of Ottawa, which is in Ontario, canada, and it’s a very tight knit community and I know a lot of people here. So as soon as, like, I was already a customer for this client who became my first client essentially. So I told them you know, I was taking website design and all this stuff. And they’re like, oh, when you’re done, we really need a new website. And I’m like, yeah, I know you do so. So, yeah, they were my first client out of the box and I sat down to do their site and I went, oh my God, now what? Because, even though I know the fundamentals of website design and I knew how I wanted to design the site, I didn’t have my tools in place, I didn’t have my SOPs, I didn’t have like a business set up, because my thinking was just I’m just going to freelance and work for myself and that’s how it’s going to be. You know, that’s that was my plan and, yes, I didn’t really have anything beyond that. So the first first site, and actually the first three years, I struggled with crippling imposter syndrome.
So common to. I mean, I experienced that as well, as you know. It’s like you get into web design, you’re just excited to build websites and be a freelancer, but then you’re like, oh, I have a business. Even if I don’t want to have a business and I plan to get a job eventually or something, I still have a business right now, even if it’s a side hustle. You have a side hustle business. So that’s a really good point. How did you get by? Before we met and before we started joining some of my courses Were you, did you do any other trainings or courses or did you just kind of fumble through, figuring out invoices and project management and all that stuff?
Well, before I took this interactive multimedia course, I took a couple of weekend and evening courses just in, like graphical user interface and HTML, just to kind of I guess metaphorically dip my toe in the digital water to see if this is what I wanted to do. And obviously it was because I went into that course, but then, yeah it was. So I didn’t really take much in the way of courses after I graduated. I was really just kind of fumbling my way through, you know, and the worst part was I didn’t I’d never even heard of imposter syndrome, so I didn’t know that what I was experiencing was something that a lot of people experience. I just felt like the biggest fraud. And why are people paying me to do websites? Because I don’t know what I’m doing? You know what I mean.
Very common as well, because I don’t even think the term imposter syndrome. I don’t know when that was talked about in the broader sense, but I, like I suffered from that too and I didn’t know what it was called. I just thought I was, yeah, like an outcast. It was like, well, I didn’t come from this world. Who am I to be designing a site and figuring this out? So it’s funny, like I mean, I’ve talked to hundreds of web designers now who felt that. So I guarantee like 99 percent of web designers were all feeling the exact same thing. So they’re all, unknowingly not in community together, together back then, feeling the exact same thing. So on the business side of things, you, you know, kind of fumbled your way in, I’m sure, invoicing, project management you just probably one project at a time, I imagine. Now. But I want to lead this to a really interesting point in your journey, because I did not know this until we got to meet up at WordCamp this year. But you told me you got to a point where you almost gave it up completely. So take us through that little section. Like what happened you became a website freelancer and then what led to you almost completely giving it up?
Okay, so, yeah, after three years. So we’re talking, we’re now in January 2016. Okay, and I’ve been fumbling my way through for three years and I really felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere in terms of getting better and quicker at doing websites and I really wasn’t making that much money. I was actually doing some contract work a little bit on the side, like in more sort of graphic design kind of stuff, and yeah, so I finally the other part of it, too, was that every time I got a new client, I knew what I wanted to do in terms of designing a website, but again, I didn’t have the tools in place, right. So I would spend longer than I care, to admit, looking through theme forest and trying to find a theme that, as closely as possible, resembled what I wanted to do, and then getting that theme and then see assessing the heck out of it for like a week or two and trying to get that design down and you know it. Just it wasn’t getting me anywhere.
You’re giving me flashbacks, by the way. I know, I know I didn’t do the exact same thing at the exact same time. Yeah, we just didn’t know each other.
Exactly Like PTSD coming forward here right. But anyway, yeah. So January 2016,. I finally reached that breaking point You’ve talked about that in your podcast before where you reached this breaking point of, like that’s it, I’m a fraud, I can’t do this anymore, I’m not getting where I give up. So I I thought, okay, I’m going to give up my business. I don’t know what I’m going to do, I’ll figure that out, but I just I can’t do this anymore. So and it was a Wednesday that I came to this conclusion and I noticed, because that night there was an Ottawa bird press meetup group in Ottawa and obviously and I I had gone to many of the meetings over the previous three years, I had made some friends there and they had helped me a lot with my client sites over those years so I thought, okay, I owe it to my friends there to show up tonight. Let them know I’m, you know, I’m not going to do this anymore. I thank them for everything and all that kind of stuff. So I it’s downtown Ottawa. So by the time I found a parking spot and got into the meeting, they were just about to start, so I didn’t have a chance to talk to anybody. So I sat down and the two people who run the meetup, got in front and they’re like, okay, the person that we had scheduled to talk tonight had a family emergency and couldn’t make it, so instead we’re going to demonstrate this new theme that we’ve come across and it’s called Divi. And they proceeded to demonstrate Divi and my jaw hit the floor. I was like, oh my God, there’s. I’d never seen a page builder before. So I mean, to be fair, it could have been anyone, but it just happened to be Divi that I came across, right, and they started talking about how, with the sections and the rows and here’s all the modules, but then with each of these, you can adjust the spacing and the background and all these different things. And this was back in 2016, when they didn’t have all the features that they have now, and I was just like, oh my God, this is what I’ve been looking for. Like, so yeah, I think that night I went home and I started sort of playing around with Divi and I think it was the next day I bought my lifetime membership and I haven’t looked back since.
Oh, that’s so amazing, sandy. That’s so cool. Like it just shows the power of if you find a tool or something that you just really jive with, it can turn things around immediately. It really can bring new life for you as a web designer and as a creative. I just talked with Dave Foy, who I think will be the episode before this one, and he is a Bricks guy and he just fell in love with Bricks and the way he talked about Bricks reminded me of how I felt about Divi and how you felt about that. It’s like, oh my gosh, the sky is the limit, especially, like you said, back in 2016. I don’t even think Elementor existed yet. It could be wrong. There’s a few other ones that may have been in their infancy, but Divi is really like the first visual page builder that that took off. The ones previous to that were rough. There was like visual composer, which was a builder, but it was janky. So I agree it was like it was very similar. I mean, I remember tinking around with Theme Force themes and just being so frustrated at doing that and then, finally, when, when, when Divi came around and I started enjoying it, I did not look back from there. So it’s so cool to see that I mean elegant themes needs to hear about this. You’re probably going to get a call from them to be their success story, because what a testament. Like you, almost gave web design up and then did like Divi saved you.
That means business 100%. It did so, yeah, and, like I said, so, from then it’s it’s really funny because what happened was so I got Divi and I started, you know, doing websites and that, and then, of course, I was able to do websites quicker. And then, as I got them done quicker, my business started to get busier. So it’s it’s kind of like it went hand in hand as I got my tools in place and I got better at what I was doing, I got more clients and things started to pick up.
You know. That’s a good point too. I love that you said that, because clients can sense whether you are enjoying what you do. Like if you go into a meeting and you’re pumped about talking about the design and what you could do and you show them things, that’s contagious in the best of ways, whereas if you’re super stressed out and you hate the tools that you use and they can just sense like this person is burned out, are they really like is the success of my business going to be with this person? That comes through when you’re, when you’re selling and when you’re meeting people. So I’m sure that was contagious for people to see. Like your, your new fire for Divi and websites and your business.
You know I hadn’t thought about that, but yeah, you’re probably right.
You know it really do. I mean, and it doesn’t even if you had a pretty good face. You know, like a poker face, clients, this they can sense it, just like we smell. You know we can sense bullshit a mile away. Now it’s the same thing. They can also sense your energy and how you’re really feeling about stuff. And I found that with sales, like what the big shift for me personally this year was with Web designer pro, that became the main thing for me versus my one off courses. And then I think people could sense, like, as I talk about my one off courses, like yeah, you can go that route, but I’d really I want you to come into pro because that’s where you’re going to get the results. So I I’ve noticed, like my students sensing that too. I think the same thing in sales as well. Now, speaking of me, I can’t help but bring up one of the funniest things you told me in person, which was that you could not stand me. You saw, I’m calling myself out, calling us out on this, because I just I, you know, I just know you as, like the first time we met, you were a super fan, basically with the Divi resources. So I didn’t know that initially didn’t feel that way. So I am totally open, sandy, to hearing what how you found me and then what your initial take was.
Oh my god. Well, I wouldn’t say that I couldn’t stand you. What it was. Oh my god, what it was, was that okay? So I was learning Divi, right, so never 20 early 2016. So I’m learning Divi and figuring things out and then, of course, as I’m, you know, doing client studies, I’m like, okay, how do I do this? And, divi, how do I do that? I would Google it and then your face would show up at the top of all these searches. And now this is before. I understood about familiarity and, you know, putting your face on things to to get that recognition and all that stuff. So my, my sort of reaction to that was who the heck does this guy think he is putting his face on all these? I thought it was a little bit you know, I don’t know almost narcissistic in a way. It was just like she just let your shining mug on everything. So I was avoiding your videos for a bit because of that. And then I finally I came across something where it’s like, well, I’ve got to watch this video because nobody else is answering this question. And then so I watched it and I’m like, oh my god, okay, this guy knows what he’s talking about. And not only that, but you got to the point really quickly, so you answered the question rather than going through. I’m Josh and this is all about me, and you know all this kind of stuff. Like you were just very succinct that way and I really appreciated that. So then after that I actually searched out your videos and then from there found out about your Facebook group and then joined that, and then from there found out about your maintenance plan course, and you know, it just kind of evolved after that.
But it’s such a great story just because I do. It’s funny. It comes by nature with having a personal brand to sometimes, but my face is all over my website still. But the reason and for anyone who does something like I do with any sort of education, or even for web designers making like training videos and stuff that’s that point is so funny because it does look super douchey to have your face on everything. But what I recognize and what I learned early on was like if somebody random sees a video and then there’s just a bunch of options to choose from on YouTube, but there’s one with somebody you know, like smiling, like this is who you’re going to learn from your much live, live you’re much more likely to get a click on that video. That’s what I learned. So while, yeah, my website it totally looks like Josh’s head Josh’s head, josh’s head it’s more about like the legs that grow on the other places of the Internet.
So yeah, I just didn’t.
To that point. I mean there’s plenty of marketers that I’ve learned from who I was like, oh, this person again, I just don’t jive with this style. But then when you do really get to know their stuff, you end up finding out like, yeah, it’s kind of, some of that stuff is just a way to get somebody through the door. So I just love that point. That was so funny because I was like, yeah, I totally get it, like I was not offended by that at all because I could totally. I have my face on my microphone still, but it’s because the podcast but yeah. So, needless to say, what an honor it’s been to have come into your journey at that point, because it sounds like the Divi resources that I put on the early days help you with learning Divi. But then you become a business owner because you’re already what you know, maybe four or five or I guess by the time you join my course is you were about five years into your journey, yeah. So, yeah, what was? What was that? Like? I imagine you get to a place where you’re pretty good at building websites, but what made you take seriously the business side of your business?
Honestly, I mean so, even in 2016, 2017, as my business was getting busier and busier, I was still very much in the freelance mindset, right. So it was still and you’ve admitted to doing this too, so I will confess as well I was doing invoices by PDF, you know, designing them individually, like you know. I just I didn’t have all the business stuff in place right like it, you know, and the SOP is all that kind of stuff, so it was still just sort of on a client by client, you know, taking everything as it comes kind of thing, and just getting busier and trying to, you know, still fumble my way through. But but at least now I have my tools in place. And and the thing about Divi, too, was that, you know, in addition to your tutorials and all these other things you can do with it, there was this growing number of third party plugins that you could buy and utilize in the Divi theme, and it was just so when I started coming coming across those is like okay, wow, this is amazing, I can take what’s already super amazing and build on that you know, and then so you’re building.
Did you start, like raising your rates because I imagine, like you said, you’re getting quicker, you’re building better and better websites, did you? What was the business side of things like then? I guess I’m kind of curious, like when did you become a serious, you know, business owner with your, with your business?
That’s I’m trying to remember now, because I mean, the biggest shift happened when I started scaling, but we’ll get to that. I started raising my rates. I think I want to say 2017, I’m not sure exactly. I work really closely with this guy in Ottawa who does Google ads and that kind of thing and he sent me a lot of work and he kept saying, sandy, you need to raise your rates. Like, oh my god, you’re pressing yourself way too low. So it’s like, ok, fine, I will raise my rates.
How often have you heard that the past few years?
from you just about every time we talk. But it’s true, I mean I was, I was pressing myself far too low, but it was still part of that imposter syndrome of like, well, who’s going to pay me more when I’m still learning and figuring things out. Even though I I was getting better, I still didn’t feel like a 100% like a business owner and I wasn’t taking it 100% seriously, like I took this really really slowly, you know, like getting into that business mindset.
And did you have a maintenance plan or any sort of recurring income before?
going At that time.
No, okay. So yeah, because I look back, I was trying to remember what course you joined first and it was the my maintenance plan course. So you started building maintenance, building recurring income, and then I mean, what’s, what’s really cool about Web Designer Pro and having a community is now I’m able to like communicate with you and others in the community and actually track your progress and see how things are going, whereas back in those days I saw your name come through but I didn’t know who Sandy was, or I mean, I did recognize you in the Facebook group, so that was a little bit different. But in most cases I’m like I have no idea how are things going where your business is, what’s going on. So I really didn’t know where you were in your business until I started the membership and then you were an early adopter, that you were one of the founding members, and so that’s when I really saw you take those strides. And even since then, sandy, my goodness, I mean we’ll get to this. But yeah, you’re scaling. You’re at a place where you admittedly said, before we started recording you’re, you’re so busy that you almost don’t want to make your website more conversion because you gotta figure out how to take it on right now. What an amazing place to be in and and yeah, you’re 10 years into it and you’ve been working at this every week, every month for years. But you really got your play at your business to a place where it was like sustainable, especially with recurring income and all that. So what was? Did you do anything different in the way of services other than websites and maintenance during those years between, like the 171819. 2020 time frame, or what did you just focus on? Websites and maintenance?
Earlier on, in the first few years, and I can’t remember when I stopped this, but I was offering I wasn’t calling it graphic design because of I I’m not trained as a graphic designer per se I was calling it print design and it was doing things like postcards and posters and stuff like that but it became something like with your story, where it was too much and it just wasn’t what I wanted to do. I really wanted to focus on the websites, especially after I found Divi. So I dropped that. And I can’t remember what year I dropped that, but it was, I want to say 2017 or 2018, I’m not sure. And then, yeah, it was I Guess it was 2019 that I got into the maintenance right, because that’s when I took your cars. Yep, yeah beginning of 19 yeah okay, yeah, so that must have been when I started with hosting and maintenance. So I started offering hosting with this Internet company in Ottawa that you know they’re an internet service provider but they also do hosting. And a guy who works there you know, he’s a friend of mine, he’s, he’s been there for years, so he’s he kept encouraging me like, hey, sandy, you should really set up a server with us and start hosting. And I’m like, oh, I don’t know if I’m ready for that. And then I took your course and I’m like, okay, let’s do this, you know. And then just side note from that my, my main contact for the hosting is Like he was my main contact for the for the first couple of years and then he’s now my boyfriend. Yeah, so he’s he manages my server for me and he’s he really helps me a lot with with all of that.
You know, you knew automatically he’s a patient guy if he deals with databases and people stuff, right?
Absolutely. Yeah, no, he’s, he’s definitely got a good boyfriend character.
There we go, developers and like any. If you can find an email delivery Deliverability expert, excuse me, you’re gonna. You’re never gonna find somebody more patient and chill than that.
Oh, absolutely every. Every time I have a client question like a quest, a client asked me about email stuff, it’s like go ask him Like I don’t know. You know I don’t, I don’t know enough about the email stuff, but he’s really good at helping with that, and that was that was four years ago that we started dating, so it’s been a while now that you know that he’s been helping me with all this.
Yeah, oh, that’s so cool. And then, before we get to a couple big points in your journey, one thing I did want to hone in on that I almost forgot about but I wanted to dive into this is that person you mentioned, the Google ads guy. Yeah, where did you? Cuz you said he was a big time referral source for you. I was curious about where you’re getting a lot of your clients for him personally. Like, did you guys meet at a Like a networking group or a workshop or a meetup, or how did you make that connection?
Honourable bird camp.
God, we we actually Think was last year. We tried to remember what year it was that we met. I Want to say it was 2015 or 2016. It was one of those two, but anyway, he did a talk about Google ads and I went to see that or no, actually Sorry, it was the analytics and I went to watch it. And then I went out to him afterwards and asked him a couple questions and he asked me what do you do? And we’ve got chatting and they give him my business card and then a couple weeks later he called me and he said hey, could you help me with that? You know some website stuff and some editing and I’m like gassher. And then from there it’s just kind of evolved. And you know he, he sends me a ton of work. But, honestly, the bulk of my clients come through referrals because, again, I live in a really, really small town, so people talk right. So, like you know, I’ll do a website for this person and I’ve literally seen, you know, I got your name from so-and-so, and then the next person I got your name from, this person who had already got my name from this person. It’s like this referral train is just, you know it. It goes strong in small communities.
It’s a beautiful model and I know it fits your style too. Like I know, you prefer to be more personable and one-on-one, and because most of your clients are local right, or have you worked with people abroad or elsewhere.
I do have clients in other parts of Canada, in the US, but yeah, I would say the majority of them are local and I love that because, you know, I get to visit them in person a lot of the time and really get to know them and their business. And yeah, it’s like you said, I mean, that’s that’s how I’ve always, you know, wanted to run my business. Was just that that personal touch, you know. Yeah.
I love that you’re building your business your way and that you’re running your business your way and Scaling your way, which sounds like a good course, name coming up. But one thing I did want to highlight there. This is very timely because we just recently had on Anshin, who is the co-host of the page builder summit, who’s a new member of Web Designer Pro, and something she shared about her journey as a professional web designer is Her marketing strategy for getting clients was largely meetups in WordPress groups. So you would think, well, why would I go to a WordPress meetup with other web designers? How’s that going to lead the clients? Sandy, what you just said is exactly it. You meet with somebody who does something that can help you and you can help them and they become a referral source. So everyone listening to this, I don’t want us to miss over how important this is as far as a lead Strategy and I cover this in the business course but it’s great to pull out in this circumstance, which is when you want to find leads and get clients, go to WordPress groups. If you’re a WordPress or go to web design meetups, those people become referral sources too. So I love that that. I mean, this is just a case day like a prime example of that actually working, and I’m sure you didn’t meet him and think, okay, here’s a guy who could be my referral source. No, you just you know good complimentary services. Next thing, you know you’re both helping each other out and you’re getting leads from it. So I’m so glad you mentioned that. It’s such an important tip for getting clients that most people don’t think about.
Absolutely yeah, because I mean my my reason for going up to him was just to ask him a couple of questions, right, and then we just got chatting after that. But I mean that’s a really good point, because not everybody who’s at WordCamps and meetup like you know Are other web designers who are looking for the same thing. You are. A lot of them are people who are doing different things that complement the web design. You know realm kind of thing right? So he does analytics and Google ads and that kind of thing, and that’s separate from what I do. But it’s complimentary in that we can refer work to each other, you know, and that’s that’s the big part of it too. I find that networking in and Just kind of getting people in your circle who have complimentary services and then they become referral partners, I mean that’s a huge way to Like. It’s a very good way to grow your business and get new clients. I also work really closely with a local graphic designer who is absolutely incredible. She did my logo a few years ago, but she doesn’t do. She used to do websites and she decided to get out of it. So I got all of her website clients and I’ve been sending a lot of my clients to her for graphic work.
And very timely after you got out of doing graphic and print work. So exactly yeah, actually coincided.
It was the same time. It’s like well, now that I’m working with a graphic designer, I don’t need to do this stuff anymore. I don’t like it anyway.
So in my networking group we had what was called core groups, which was Basically a level back from the networking group as a whole. Meaning like our networking group was people in different industries, so they’re realtors and insurance agents and, yeah, they may refer people to me, but they’re not gonna like you know, like they’re not gonna be a partner style relationship. Whereas my video guy was in there, I’m my SEO guy, who ended up doing a lot of SEO work for me. He was in there. We had a graphic designer and digital marketer at one point. They were all very similar to web design services in the way of like referrals, because if somebody goes to an insurance agent, they’re they may not be like, hey, I need a website too. They’re like, yeah, that’s unrelated, but if somebody gets a video done and they’re like, okay, we want to put our video on our website, and then the video guy is like, oh, you should talk to my web guy, josh, he’s awesome. That’s what really helped group my business too within the networking group. So that sounds very similar. It’s like that, that core group idea of, like you said, people who have ancillary services. So yet another great tactic that works. It has worked for years, it works right now and it will continue to work for a very long time. So I love, love, love that approach. So I’ve seen your business do like leaps and bounds since joining what it was formerly the club. Now it’s web designer pro. So that was really cool. And then I remember you were very, very resistant to the idea of scaling and I understand like and this is the creative’s curse because you feel proud of your work and I remember you and I talking about this, Like how do I trust somebody else to do work when it’s my company, my name’s on it? And I kind of gave you, I just, I think I almost give you like a heads up, like I’m pretty sure, with your trajectory, you are going to need to scale, unless you’re gonna work 90 hours a week or you really really raise your rates and go super premium. See you, I think, just started scaling and then life, you know, really took a wild turn for you. Well, you know, whatever you feel like sharing on that, sandy totally opened it to to your journey. But yeah, what, what? What happened basically when you started scaling?
and I’m an open book when it comes to everything that I’ve gone through here, so you can ask me anything about that. Do you want to start with the scaling and my hesitation for that?
Yeah, I think that led right into your cancer story, so yeah, exactly so Okay.
So yeah, thanks for getting busier and busier and busier. And I consistently had at least a dozen or more website projects on my plate at any given time, in addition to a whole bunch of client work, and you know all that kind of stuff. And so it was. I started 2021, already behind in, you know, like, with projects that I had hoped to get done the year before and just didn’t happen, and and then I think it was 20, think it was July of 2021, whenever I Reached out to you in the, in the pro there, and asked, like, okay, so tell me again, you know what, what was the reason why you finally decided to start scaling? Cuz I had a feeling you were gonna tell me, oh, my god, you need to start scaling, but I guess it kind of needed to hear it over and over, because I I knew that I needed to, but at the same time, I really really, really didn’t want to, you know. So you had me on a couple of hot seats and I asked you some questions, and you know and, but again, like I take things fairly slowly, you know, especially when it comes to like a huge shift like this, so it took me. You know the rest of that year to like I was going back and forth. Like one day I’d be like, okay, this is it, I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna start scaling. And then the next day I was like, no, no, no, I got this, I don’t need to scale, I can totally manage this on my own. And then what? What ended up being the catalyst for me was a couple days before Christmas of 2021. I already had a full plate right. I had all these website projects on my plate, I had all this other stuff to do, and then I had sent out a proposal for a fairly large site and I got a yes on it. And I’m like, yay, I think it was the next day or the day after a client that I had done his website a few years ago. He emailed me and he runs a retirement center and he’s like, hey, sandy, just giving you a heads up that I’m gonna be opening a second location, so I’m gonna need a website for that next year and I’m gonna need a website for the, for the parent brand. And so it’s like, okay, three websites on top of everything else in the span of a couple days. I can’t do this on my own anymore, like that was the straw that broke the camel’s back, like it’s just I. I need to scale, I can’t, I can’t keep flip-flopping on this.
So you, like me, were forced into it, because I remember very vividly having like 23 projects in base camp and I’m like Into my daughter was just be about to be born. I was like, okay, I literally, yeah, I can’t, I literally can’t, I literally I like turned my business off and work a hundred hours a week. So I gave you some tips on that, which so timely because I’m working on my scaling course, which I’m super excited. I mean, really like your, your, your situation is a case study of Of how to scale your way. What did you do at first, though? Well, because that’s the question is like okay, do I like get an office and hire and and obviously we know that’s that’s not the way you have to go but what did you do over the first steps that worked for you with scaling?
Well, honestly, the very first step. And you, you talked about this. Sorry if you hear noise in the background my cat is very. We’ve had a lot of puppies and cats on recently, so yeah, he, he likes to come in sometimes and and just me out, and he’s doing that now, so I apologize for the noise in the background, that’s right. But yeah, so the very first Step and all of this and you talked about this a lot whenever we first started talking about it Was the mindset shift, because before I could even start looking for designers, I needed to get myself into the right mindset, away from the freelance Sort of mindset of it and into the, you know, taking my business seriously and growing it and, you know, looking at things differently that way. You know, by this point I had, you know, an invoicing system and all that, but I still didn’t have all my SOPs in place. I still did like I had my web design process because I had taken your process course and I had, you know, taken that and altered it. So that was essentially the only SOP that I had. But I really had to Adjust how I looked at my business and how I was approaching everything, not only from my perspective but looking at it from how my clients would view it as well. You know, and I had a lot of concerns, as you know, and some of them were I look, looking back now I realized these were obstacles that I was putting in my own way, things like it sounds stupid now, but I had myself convinced that it was a one-way street, that if I start scaling, I could never go back to being a freelancer, which is ridiculous. It’s my business, I can do what I want, you know. But now that I’ve scaled I don’t want to go back to being a freelancer. It’s actually working it well, but we’ll get that. Get to that in a second. The other one of the other concerns that I had is just like what you mentioned a second ago, where my clients are reaching out to me. They want me, like they want to work with me, right, and, especially, being in a small town, they know me or they know somebody who’s worked with me already. So I was really, really concerned about what are they gonna say and how are they gonna react when I tell them Okay, I’m gonna get my designer to work on this for you, you know. And so at first I hid that from them. I just kind of pretended that I was doing the work. But then, when life took a turn, like we took what we’re gonna talk about, I made my designers client-facing and it’s actually worked out extremely well and none of my clients have had even flinched at, you know, being told oh yeah, my designer is gonna be working on this for you, you know, it’s amazing. Yeah.
I also think that’s a fine way to go, especially initially, like when you are Bringing new people into a business, even if it’s just occasionally One page on a website, like I do recommend, and it’s what I did as well that you’re still the person, but you get work done. Like clients don’t care if the work gets done and it gets done faster, sooner than expected Awesome, it’s a win-win. So they care about yeah, yeah, they care about speed, they don’t care about how many hours you personally are working and like, if you tell yourself like they’re your client, like I killed myself on this site, worked 80 hours, they don’t care. I mean they care in some way. But if you’re like, yeah, we got this done, you know really quick, they’re like that’s awesome. I don’t, you know, that’s what I want to hear. So it’s a great way to go. The lesson there is, yeah, like be the the client-facing person at first, especially, but start to chip away at getting those things done. And then, yeah, as you find somebody who can communicate well and you feel like, okay, they could talk to a client and they already know your style and they’re a different person than you, but they know the Mission and vision of the, of the brand, that’s when they can start. They are talking client-facing as well, and then they can just kind of go from there. But you did, you did it right saying do you started small. What did you practically do? Were you hiring or are you Offloading and delegating like parts of website builds or whole website builds?
so, um, so after we did the hot seats in Web Designer Pro, a few people in the club there reached out by private message and just said hey, you know, if you’re looking for subcontractors, I’d love to help you out, I’d love to work with you. So I started contacting a few of those people in January and just saying like okay, I’m ready, you know, and you know, I’d get on a call with them and just kind of get to know them a little bit. And then, you know, obviously, look at their websites, look at the portfolio, because it was important to me that whoever I worked with had a similar design style to me, so that you know it was going to enhance my, you know the work that my business was doing and not alter it drastically you know, that’s great. So, yeah, I started working with a couple of people in the spring and then in I think it was May, I got that five figure website. So I brought Abby on from the club to help me out with that and it’s turned into a bit of a nightmare. It’s still going on and don’t even ask me about it. But so I brought her on and she helped me out with a few other things too. She’s been great. But what really changed everything was when Alexis from the club reached out. And I’ll just say this right now the reason I hired from the club was because the great thing about Web Designer Pro is that when you’re in there and you’re, you know you’re reading people’s posts, you can really get a sense of who they are. You know as a person, their personality, where they are in their journey, based on, like, what they’re helping other people with and what questions they’re asking and that kind of stuff. So, you know, when people were reaching out to me, I already kind of had an idea of who they were and who I felt like I could work with and that kind of thing, because I was part of it too, like I wanted to make sure that I could actually work with this person, you know. So yeah, alexis reached out in, I want to say March of that year and I’m like, yes, absolutely, because I just had a feeling we would get along and, as you saw at WordCamp, like we are awesome friends.
Now she’s amazing, you know inside and out, she’s just it’s been who would love to work with Alexis?
She’s just like a warm spirit yeah. Exactly.
It can’t be a bad mood hanging out with Alexis. No, exactly.
Like, honestly, we get on Zoom Pelzin, we purposely, you know, add like half an hour or whatever just for chit chat, because we just, you know, because we know that we got to like just chat for a little bit and laugh about stuff before we can talk about the business stuff. So no, she’s been really great to work with. So, yeah, what it looked like it’s so funny because it’s kind of one of these, what I had in mind, the plan that I had, did not. It’s not how it worked out, because when I brought Alexis on and I had her, you know, sign the NDA and you know, I’m like, okay, I’ve got all these websites on my plate. I’m like, when I get this particular it was a bed and breakfast website that I really wanted her to start on and I said, okay, when I get the homepage done because it was like three quarters of the way done and get an inside page done, I’ll pass it off to you and you can finish it off for me. She’s like, okay, sounds good. So then, about three weeks later, this client, the bed and breakfast client is like, hey, how’s it going with my website? I hadn’t been able to even touch it because I’ve been so busy with all these other things. So I said to Alexis okay, I hate to do this to you, but can you just pick up from where I’m at with the homepage, three quarters of the way done, and just take it from there? And so she’s like yeah, of course. So we got on a Zoom call explained of all about this client, because it’s kind of a unique setting and then she took it and I think it was a week or so later she sent me a Zoom video of going through not Zoom video, sorry a Zoom video of everything that she had done on the homepage and was like okay, I added this because I noticed you did this and blah, blah, blah. And she had some suggestions and stuff. And I’m sitting there and I was just blown away and that was the first time I realized, okay, this scaling thing is going to work. And then after that it was like okay, like, her design style complements mine so well. But that was the first website that we collaborated on. So she sent me that video and then I sent her some messages back saying, okay, this looks great, what if we do this and this and this section? And then she did that and then that made the website design that much better, and that was when we realized that, when we worked together, the designs like. It takes it from the level that I was at and just ups the quality of the work that my business is putting out essentially, yeah.
I mean, gosh, it’s such a great testament to scaling, but you didn’t do it at a stressful level. It was low risk at first, but you get to a point where you can have somebody else put their flair on a project and their skill set and I imagine there’s things that Alexis does better than you and that you do better than her and it works out. It evens out really well, I think. Most importantly, though, aside from the mindset change, which is phase one for sure, like you mentioned, phase two is kind of like the tactile stuff getting going. But what I’ve found in my journey with scaling and I’m curious if you felt this too is business feels different when you’re not alone. Yes, Do you feel that too? When suddenly, like wow, it’s not all on my shoulders, now I have help 100%, and that’s one thing that I didn’t expect.
It sounds silly, but yeah, it was just like. Up until that point, like I said, I was a freelancer, I was doing this alone and I thought that I would be perfectly happy just working for myself, by myself, for my entire web design career, basically. But then when I was forced to scale and I started working, especially with Alexis like I had a couple other designers too, but I’m really going to hone on Alexis because she’s like my main one Now, that was when I like I told her this so many times too is that I it? How do I put this? It’s so nice to not be alone anymore. It’s so nice to be able to bounce things off of somebody else who is also a designer, who understands all of the ins and outs of putting together a website, and, like you know, we’ll bounce things off of each other when it comes to you know, what font do you think I should use? Or do these colors work? Or you know, like she’ll, she’ll ask me opinions on websites that she’s doing for her own clients, and I’ll ask her, for you know, her opinion on stuff that I’m not having her work on, but just to just to bounce it off of somebody else. You know, and you know, and obviously the websites that she does for me, that we’re both working on together, are, you know, there’s so much better than I ever could have done alone, because she, she’s an amazing designer but she, like you said, brings a flair that I there’s things that she’ll do in her designs that I’m like that’s brilliant. Why, why didn’t I think of this?
Yeah, I found that too with Jonathan. He was my, my lead designer back then. Yeah, he would do some stuff. I’m like, oh, that’s yeah. How the heck did I not think about that? That’s great. And then he ended up exceeding me on the design front. And then I just started, and you’ll probably get to this point if you’re not already there where it’s like, yeah, I’m just going to let them do the design fully, I just you get to, the trust gets there, and once they know your systems and processes and styles, it’s like, unless you still want to be the creative director which that’s the beautiful thing about scaling, now that you can do it whatever you want to do, like if you still want to be in the weeds or you want to design the homepage, but then somebody else does the rest of the website, that’s a great way to go. So I I’d so cool, sandy, seeing you as a fan of scaling, just because you’re such a like. You’re like a parallel version of me, where you really hasn’t yet to scale. You liked being a soloist, you liked being a freelancer. It was the business is personal, because it’s your thing. But, yeah, you get overwhelmed and then. But then suddenly, once you scale and and look, not all scaling is rainbow and butterflies. Like I know, you’ve had a couple situations where it is tricky sometimes, where either things don’t work out or projects delay, or or you get used to being like managing people in some way, but man, it’s awesome. I mean, how has it helped you? I guess kind of a two-part question I was wondering how it’s helped you with time to be able to, like, grow your business and focus on show. The next thing we’ll dive into is your cancer story, but also, before we get to that, your bandwidth. How has it helped? Has it helped you feel like just yeah, like your mental bandwidth, your load, has it helped out with that?
Absolutely, because at this point and I really didn’t think I’d be reaching the point as quickly as I did that you just talked about where I’ve got Alexis doing entire websites for me. You know, I truly thought that for the first few years it was going to be I’ll start the site and then you just pick up where I leave off, kind of thing. But no, like she’s, she’s done several complete website builds for me now and you know, it’s been great and the clients are super impressed and everything too. And of course, I have her client facing now, but we’ll get into that in a second. But but yeah, in terms of bandwidth, like it. So before I started scaling, you know, when I was first reaching out to you, it was a case where I was actually starting to tell clients okay, I can’t even I didn’t word it like this. So basically I said that I have a waiting list, you know, and that I won’t be able to get to this until, you know, a couple of months down the road, kind of thing, just because I’m so swamped. And you know, yeah, there’s a few clients who are like, well, I kind of want it quicker than that, you know. So now I don’t have to worry about. You know, saying no to clients because now it’s like okay, alexis, what do you have on your plate? Can you take on another one right now? You know because, yeah, because projects can essentially get done twice as fast because there’s two people working on them. You know good point.
Yeah, that is something that you almost don’t factor in initially. With scaling is it’s like yeah, you might be taking less of a cut of the project, but if you raise your rates accordingly, you can still make a lot of profit. But also you can take more on if you want to and still have bandwidth because you’re able to. Instead of doing 100 hours on a project yourself, you might do 30 and then or whatever it is. I mean that’s a big project. But even if it’s like 30 hours on a project, you could, you could do 10 instead of 30. Imagine that you could have. You could take on way more in a week doing 10 hours on a project than 30. So, absolutely, oh, it’s so cool. So cancer this is where what was so wild about this was. It’s like I remember probably too early to tell you this, but I think I was like thank goodness you scaled, because like, what if you hadn’t? I mean I know we talked about that in pro, but yeah, take us through that diagnosis. And I mean I know cancer happens fast. This is timely for me. My aunt actually just passed away recently. Like I know, life changes so fast when that happens.
So sorry, Josh.
Well, I, you know her battle was a few years, so it was. It was kind of expected, but it does seem like, even like a close friend of mine, jason Grasia, who’s coming back up on the podcast. I’m going to master mine with him. He has a wild cancer story and he’s a survivor, just like you. But the point is, no matter what it is, even what I’ve been through with my daughter, any sort of health issues or medical issues they come fast and you almost need to be somewhat prepared for if something happens, if I need to take a month or two or three completely off or largely off, what’s the plan of action? So, thank goodness you scaled, yeah, would you?
mind just sharing Exactly so. So I started scaling, like I said, at the beginning of 2022. No, when was it now?
I think 22,. Right, yeah, I think 22. Yes, that’s right 22 is when you started. Just started scaling, I believe, and then because it was pretty early on 22. It was.
Yeah, so okay, I asked you beforehand if I could do a little PSA about how this, how the diagnosis, came about. So still good to do that.
Well, totally, absolutely.
Okay, so, as women, we are trained to look for a lump. Okay, so, by definition, this is something small, round, hard, with clearly defined edges. What I found was not a lump. What I found was really just a mass of tissue that was denser than the rest. Okay, and because it didn’t fit the definition of what we were trained to look for, it didn’t ring any alarm bells when I first came across this, so I don’t know whether it was months or a year or more, like I honestly can’t remember when I first found it, because it didn’t register as anything to be worried about. So in July of 2022, I noticed that this mass of dense tissue was significantly larger than it had been before. It was like almost, it was probably at least half my breast. At that point, it was in on the left side and I thought you know, I’m taking my daughter to the doctor anyway. I might as well ask her about this while I’m there. So, dr Xammy, she’s like well, it’s probably nothing, but I’ll send you for a mammogram just in case, and I should. I should mention to that there’s no breast cancer in my family whatsoever, and I was 44 at the time, and in Ontario, the annual screenings don’t start until 50. Now they’ve recently just changed that they’re going to change it for next year they just came out with that announcement a couple of weeks ago but that they’re changing it to 40. But you know, at the time the screenings didn’t start until 50. So I wasn’t on the radar at all for any kind of breast cancer. So I had no, it wasn’t even on my mind. Okay, so I’m like okay, you know, go for the mammogram, turn into about 20, and then cross the hall for an ultrasound. Oh, your lymph nodes are swollen. We’re going to send you to Ottawa for biopsy, because I was getting the mammograms done at my local hospital here. So I went to Ottawa, got the biopsy done and again wasn’t thinking anything was wrong, right. And then they call me up and they’re like okay, I want you to come in for an MRI. I’m like, wow, you guys are being very thorough. Okay, sure. So I go in for an MRI. And I got registered and the guy asked me have you signed up for my chart? And that’s an online patient portal? And I said no, not yet. And he’s like, okay, well, I’ll send you the email with the link and you can set it up. So I’m sitting there in the waiting room and I create my account and I log into the portal for the first time and I’m like okay, you can see, you know upcoming visits, isn’t that?
Test results. You can see results, I know, I know you can see test results. I know it’s just oh well with my daughter. Brea. Yeah, it’s like. Oh, the dread of the test results.
So I’m like oh, test results Interesting, Okay. Oh, there’s the test results of my biopsy. Oh, what’s metastatic carcinoma? So I Googled it.
Oh no Cancer.
Cancer. I’m like oh my God, I have breast cancer and that’s how I found out.
So you didn’t know. A doctor didn’t call you first. You found out, no, so this.
The MRI was on a Wednesday night at the end of August and the following Tuesday was when I had an appointment with my surgeon and that’s when I was supposed to be told you have breast cancer. So I found out in the waiting room of you know for my MRI. But at the time it was devastating, obviously, because nobody wants to find out that they have cancer, especially when it’s not even remotely on the radar. But in hindsight it actually ended up being a bit of a silver lining to find out that way, because by the time I went to see my surgeon the following week I had had the better part of a week to kind of reel from this you know, and process it and come up with my questions for her. So when she came in the room, the first thing I said to her was I know what’s cancer? And she said okay, good, because normally when I say that word, people just tune out and it’s like okay. So instead we were able to have a good conversation and ask her a bunch of questions and figure out the game plan like okay, what happens now? You know?
Wow, gosh, yeah, and I remember, I think you, I think you messaged me in pro like the day of, or day after maybe it was really early and then, yeah, I didn’t know what to say. I was just like, oh my gosh, and I’m so sorry, keeping posted anything we can do to help, and I think I even said like, thank goodness you got some help at this point so you can focus on this and the business can keep chugging along. So I don’t want to like you know, the thing is, I didn’t want to like take this right back to business, but it’s such an important thing because now suddenly you’re trying to run your business and deal with with this diagnosis and then who knows what’s next. What did you do at this point? Did you let Alexis know? We can talk about the client side of things too. What was the game plan for the business when all this came down?
Yeah, I thought a lot about that. One of the first things I did was I got onto a Zoom call with Alexis and the other two designers that I was working with and said and told them what was going on. I said I need you guys more than ever. They’re like we’re here for you whatever you need. Then Alexis messaged me afterwards and she said hey, just so you know, I have a background as a VA. If you need anything on the administrative side with client-facing stuff, I can do this for you. I’m like, oh my God, I hadn’t even thought about that For the first few weeks or so. After I found out. Your headspace just goes into a totally different zone. You can’t think straight. I swear I probably cried nonstop for three weeks. You have to go through this whole process. I hadn’t even thought about very much on the business side and the client side when she said that. I’m like, yeah, you know what that would be really helpful, let’s talk about it. We got on another Zoom call, just her and I, and worked out what could she do and what would I need and how would this work and all that stuff. We set it up on a monthly retainer thing. I was paying her for a certain number of hours every month and then she would handle some client work, handle emails, whatever I needed. Basically, I was still the front line. But anything that I couldn’t handle or I just couldn’t put my mind into it, or whatever, I would just forward to her and she would manage it Then, as far as the clients go, that’s why I actually posted in Pro when I think I asked you privately as well okay, how do I handle this? Do I tell the clients or do I hide this from them? I never dealt with something like this before. I didn’t know what to do. You and everybody in Pro was like, yeah, be open about this, it’s going to be fine. I sent out a MailChimp newsletter to my best clients. I just selected the ones that I wanted to share this with off the top.
Probably the ones you’re working with currently, the ones I was working with currently and the?
A clients. Essentially, I just said, okay, this is what’s going on. I sent it at 9 o’clock at night and within minutes, several of my clients emailed me back and said oh my God, I’m so sorry to hear this. Let me know what you need, all this stuff. The client I mentioned earlier, who has a retirement home he’s a doctor he emailed me and he’s like if you ever have any questions throughout this whole thing or any weird symptoms that you want to get it, get some feedback on or whatever, don’t hesitate to reach out. I’m like, oh my God, I’ve got the best clients. They were amazing. Then, as other clients came up over the next few months and who didn’t know what was going on, and I was open and honest with them and they were like same thing. Oh my God, I’m so sorry, but part of it, too, was that I was in that email and in all of my dealings with the clients, I’ve kept reiterating I have a designer who I’m working with. She’s going to take care of things. Your work is not going to be put on hold. Things are still going to get done. The maintenance is still going to get done, all of this stuff, knowing when they knew that they were going to be taken care of, then they reacted appropriately. That way they were much more likely to be very helpful and patient and all that stuff.
Yeah, I think most clients, even just for a pure soloist or freelancer, most clients are going to be understanding. But if you have a business to run and your website is a big part of that business, at some point it’s got to keep running. Stuff needs done. So that’s where the best circumstances, where you have which is, a team in place behind you the next best is like a community behind you that you could quickly have somebody to help out. But then you’re trying to scale and teach somebody while you’re going through a health situation. So this is such an amazing testament, sandy, to where you were even early on with scaling. Alexis and Abby, I think, justin too, at one point, I think was all pro members right.
Yeah, all of them are members.
So, yeah, you already had that level of trust and all that in there while you went through this. And, yeah, I agree, I think letting clients know and just being totally transparent number one people are people Most. Everyone’s going to be understanding of that and they’ll work with you and if there’s a team to support them, yeah, it’s all good. I experienced that when Brea, when she was born and was in the NICU for 56 days, like caught us by complete surprise. That length of stay and I found it incredibly hard to work. I was working at a coffee shop across from the hospital, as much as I could, and I just told all my same thing, told all my clients what’s going on, giving them updates. One situation I don’t know if you know this or if I talked about this, but one situation was borderline awkward because it was the biggest project I’d ever done at 15K and we had just started. I got the deposit right before Brea was born and then everything happened and we were like a month delayed on even the version one of the project. And I just told him like he was a really great guy, really great client, and I just let him know what was happening. I showed him a picture of Brea. We made it at a coffee shop and I said, listen, I’m so sorry. I said you know we’re still in the thick of it, but I’ve got some subcontractors, we’re making this a priority now and I’m going to do what I can. And he was really cool. And he was cool with things being delayed. It was something where, like, yeah, they wanted to get the website going but they even paid the second installment before I had barely anything done on the next iteration. They just do. The situation was real for me and my family and another testimist is just an amazing client Like they. You know they did not have to pay me an additional because I did five grand up front, five in the middle and five at the end and he paid. So he paid me 10 grand within the two months of starting barely having any progress and that really helped us during that time, along with the maintenance plan with me and my family, you know, going through that. Anyway, I say that to say tell your clients if you’re going through something, most people will be cool and better yet if you can have somebody behind you to help, you’re good. You know you’re really good from there. But then for you, you know you go through all your treatments, so what are the next phase of your cancer story look like as you’re scaling and running your business?
Okay. So, and I mean you made a really good point there and that’s why you know, going back to what we talked about before, with me running my business in a very personal, you know one-on-one kind of way with my clients because, yeah, having that relationship in place was crucial to you know, when I shared this with them, that you know they already knew that I cared about them, that I had that relationship, that trust built up. So when I told them this, they’re like oh my God, take all the time you need, you know, for good kind of thing, right, so, yeah, so, basically, about three weeks or so after I met with the surgeon, I well, it was a couple of weeks I met my oncologist and then the week after I started chemo and I had eight rounds of chemo. So that took me through the fall and the last run was at the beginning of January of this year, and throughout all of that I basically put a Lexis client facing on nearly all of my websites. At that point I’m just like, just you know, I was still doing what I could, but it was really important to me that I was able to just step away from the business after each round of chemo and just take the time that I needed to focus on feeling better you know because chemo knocks everything out of you. It’s really, really difficult. I say that it was actually easier than I expected, but I was expecting to be, you know, sick with flu, like sometimes kind of thing, for four months straight, and that wasn’t the case. But it was after each round it was like three or four days of, you know, nausea and brain fog and fatigue and everything else. But then after that I would start to feel a little bit better and then I would have about a week or so in between each treatment, because they were every two weeks where I felt better enough that I could actually work. So that’s when I would say to my designers okay, I’m not my desk today. What do you guys need? You know, do you need any help, do you have any questions, or that kind of stuff. So they got used to just kind of watching for me to be ready to, you know, to help them out and that kind of thing. And then you know and I would do what I can. But but yeah, they were especially LXS, like they were absolutely instrumental in keeping my business going through all of this.
Gosh, amazing Sandy. I mean it’s just an incredible story. I’m so happy that you are where you are now with recovery and that things worked out, and I mean I would imagine there was a dip in revenue, but it seems like things are still hopping and businesses thriving, despite going through months. How long was the cancer journey for you Was like a year or so.
Yeah, it was just under a year, so it was September of last year until June this year.
Was like all like everything right, and yeah, there was a dip in revenue, but I figured, as long as I was making enough to, you know, pay the bills and pay the subcontractors and stuff, I wasn’t looking to really grow or, you know, hit that six figure mark or anything like that, because you know, obviously health takes precedence, right?
So Well and luckily, you had such a client pool built up. By this point too, it’s like you really didn’t need to even worry about new clients or Legion, which that’s not kind of your style. Anyway, you’re only based mostly based off of referrals and current clients. So the cool thing about that, too, is, as people know, you’re going through stuff in a weird way. It’s like it sounds terrible and it’s an amazing time to upsell additional services because you’re like, you know, this is what we’re going through, but we’re still getting your projects done. And then you know, if you’re looking to do more things, we could roll it out during this time and you have the team behind you. So, like, I’m sure there’s a lot of clients who are like, yes, I want to support you, we can do anything to support, just like the one for me. I mean they, I didn’t even ask them to do the second deposit, they did it for me, they just gave it to me. So, yeah, kind of the same thing. I mean people. I think people are awesome when, when it comes down to that kind of situation, typically, I mean there’s always a bad apple somewhere, but when you surround yourself with good people and good clients, that’s amazing. So your story is incredible as far as how you made it.
And this is a huge part of it too is that I have never wanted to grow my business to where it’s an agency with full-time employees and all this kind of stuff, because I, like you you’ve talked about this in your podcast a lot, you know staying away from the sort of corporate side of things right Like I, can’t stand corporate anything right Like I, I need to be one-on-one, have that personal relationship with, with anybody that I’m working with and you know clients and contractors and all that stuff and you know, but having that, that, those relationships in place, it’s like you said, like it, just it it made it a lot better. And yeah, you know, revenue did dip a little bit, like I said, but it also, when I had Alexis working on these projects for me, it actually freed me up to do some other things on my business that I never well, not never, but I wouldn’t have gotten to nearly as quickly. So, for instance, I read Profit First in the fall while I was going through chemo and that was a game changer. So I I spent a few days just restructuring how I manage all the business finances and like it’s just been total game changer since I did that. And then the guy that we talked about, that I worked with, who sends me referrals. He sent me a referral for this, for this guy who he does. It’s it’s like one of these companies where you buy the coffee machine and you put it in, like you set it up, set it up in an office and do a coffee service, right. So I did that. And then they’re like, oh, we have a whole bunch of these people. Can you do a template site and sell it for you know this much money kind of thing? And I’m like, yeah, I can do that. So I took that website, turned it into a template and I’ve sold it to I don’t even know like at least a dozen or more at this point.
So now I have this.
I hadn’t told you about that, but yeah, I have a template site now. And then there’s actually another client, too, that the website turned into a template for other people in that field as well. So so that all happened while I was going through this. And then there was some other stuff too, just like little things that I was working on on my business while Alexis was working in my business.
You, know what I mean. Yeah, great point, great point, and you were kind of forced into that situation during all that. But that’s something that’s a good reminder for people to do. When you’re scaling because you are going to free up your time, it’s interesting and I don’t know if you found this, but with scaling it’s like there’s more time initially because you’re creating systems and maybe doing a little more calls or project management, but it tends to even out and then the pendulum swings. When suddenly they’re kind of off on their own and you have more time, it’s like, oh my gosh, I can do whatever I want to do for the rest of this time while someone’s working on the project. So it’s a perfect time to take the business side of things to the next level and solidify your systems and all that work on the business, like you said.
Yeah Well, and what’s funny too, is that. So when I started all of this, or like when I started scaling and going into the cancer treatments, I had one system for my questionnaires and I was using another thing for my contracts and anything that had to be signed, and then I had another platform that I was using for invoices, and so everything was kind of all over the place, but it was working right. And then Alexis was like why don’t you just put everything into Topsado? Because it does all of that stuff for you and it’s very similar to 17 hats, but a better price scale for smaller businesses like mine kind of thing. So I started looking into Topsado, but because Alexis already uses it, she’s like well, I can transfer all this stuff for you, and so that became part of the admin work that she did for me. She took all of my contracts and set them up in there. She took all of my questionnaires and set them up in there and she basically got all of this stuff set up for me, so that I had to do the minimal stuff on my side to just finish it and get it all ready. And now everything is confined into one platform and it’s so much easier and it’s so much quicker to handle everything. And yeah, so you don’t necessarily need to have all these things in place before if you end up working with somebody who can actually help you set them up. So that works out really well for me that way.
Oh, that’s so amazing, sandy. So what a beautiful story on how you got the diagnosis but had a pretty quick action plan for it and worked your way through it with the team and then let your clients know and they just kind of chipped away, knowing there’d be a little bit of a revenue loss, but not dramatic, not enough to put you out of business or anything, but you’re able to get through that season. I’m kind of curious since this year I mean really we’re talking in November, so it’s only been five months since the end of your last treatment but what’s it been like? Now I feel like you’re on the other side of scaling and business changes and cancer. So what are the last few months been like? I mean, we can put a cap on what’s next for you, but what has the past few months been like for you?
It’s still busy and it’s really great to be back at this full swing. I’m continuing to work with Alexis. Like I said, she’s been doing entire was it builds for me, which has been absolutely amazing. Now I’m on a couple of drugs to prevent a recurrence and side effects are not always fun from that, but at least I’d rather have side effects than worse news.
But yeah, I’m at the point now and I said this to you when we met at WordCamp that I would not go back to being freelancer. I love working with Alexis, I love having that help and not being alone. And, yeah, like I said, because we are design, styles complement each other and she brings a different flair and different ideas. It just ups the level of the work that my business puts out. And that’s the thing I’ve really had to wrap my head around is that it’s not the work that I’m putting out, it’s the work that my business is putting out. I’ve had to separate myself from my business and that, I think, was one of the hardest sort of mindset shifts I had to go through with all of this.
That is well said. I had to separate myself from my business. That is very well said, sandy. It’s so true. When you scale, it’s like it becomes bigger than just you, really, yeah, and honestly I don’t know if you’ve seen this, but that helped me with boundaries and communication and I didn’t take things as personally, like if a client didn’t like his side, I’m like before it just crushed me. I’m like, oh, how could they not like it? Whereas when I started scaling, it’s like all right, so you didn’t like it. Let’s look, what did we miss here? How did we miss the mark? Then let’s fix it. I don’t know if you found that, but I found that it was like it just made business less personal, which actually worked when it came to boundaries and feedback, revisions and stuff like that.
Yeah, absolutely yeah.
Oh, that’s so cool, sandy. So you’re really in a new chapter in your business and in your life and everything. So, first off, where can people go to connect with you and find you? And I have one final question for you.
Oh, ok, well, I just I wanted I do want to talk about the other, like there was the chemo, but then that wasn’t the all of the treatments that I went through, did you?
want to talk about that. Yeah, yeah, yeah, totally yeah, I didn’t really. Yeah, I wasn’t sure how deep that went.
So, yeah, I finished chemo at the beginning of January and then I the that mass that I talked about hadn’t shrunk at all with the chemo. It just became slightly less dense. So, my surgeon was like OK, you need a mastectomy. So I’m like OK, you know what? At this point, I had known for a few months, at that point, that this was a very strong possibility and I had talked to women who had had reconstruction. I talked to women who didn’t. I, you know, I did a lot of thinking and you know, mulling it over every time I thought about reconstruction. I felt this no, from deep inside, like it just was not for me. All the power to women who do. You know that you have to do what’s right for you, but for me it was just like I just don’t want to go that route. So I said to my surgeon OK, if that’s the case, take them both and pull me flat, you know. And that’s what she did and I have absolutely no regrets about it.
And was that towards the tail end? That was that, like that was in February of this year?
So a month or so after chemo ended, and then the two lymph nodes that she took out during that surgery were both positive. So in April I went back into surgery to have more lymph nodes removed because they want to get clear margins right. So so they took out a couple more and one of them was positive and one of them was clear. So that’s good. And then in May and June I had 15 rounds of radiation.
Yeah, my gosh, I can’t imagine yeah, I mean what that takes out of you. Like you said yeah, yeah, oh yeah. So that was the last round, right? The?
radiation, finished the treatments as far as active treatments go and I mean I won’t even get into the number of scans and everything else that I’ve gone through but like, as far as the treatments go, that’s, that’s what I went through and, like I said, now I’m on a couple of drugs to prevent a recurrence because it was a fairly aggressive cancer. So they want to make sure that you know it doesn’t come back.
So so moving forward? What’s, yeah, what’s what’s? Do you have a vision Moving forward? Are you in kind of in the phase of figuring out a vision for you and your business? Are you just going to? Is the plan to just kind of keep things as is and just kind of take it one slow step at a time? I mean, it’s all, it’s all fine, like you really do whatever you want now because you’re a new person, you’re a new, you have a new mindset. You’re a business owner now, which is really cool. That’s one of the coolest things I’ve seen. You are, I mean, you, you’re a judo, right?
Did you do?
OK, did you just see.
Yeah, so you’ve been a badass. Now You’re like not only can you kick someone’s ass, but you also be cancer. So it’s like you are an ultimate force. Sandy, your business.
So, yeah, I got a tattoo as well to I don’t know if you can see that I know? Yeah it’s, it’s my kickboxing gloves with the pink ribbon and it says fight like a girl.
Oh, that’s awesome. I’m going to watch on YouTube. Yes, check that out, that’s awesome. So, yeah, what’s next for you? I mean, you are like, you know you’re. I was going to say you’re on fire. It matches perfectly with your, with your website, sandfire, but that’s awesome. What’s the vision? You’re 10 years in. You’ve gone through an incredible journey. Now, yeah, what’s the vision for you? Moving forward?
You know what I I don’t know how to answer that, because the thing is is that you know it’s it’s one thing to say OK, in a year from now I see myself here, five years from now I see myself here. But these last two years have taught me that you can have the best plans in the world and things are still going to happen. You know, like, cancer was never part of the plan. It’s never part of anybody’s plan. Scaling wasn’t part of the plan, but now not scaling is just not an option, like I, just I you know I’m not going back kind of thing but yeah, I mean my plan right now is just to continue with where I’m at. I’m not really looking to take on anybody else right now because you know it’s, it’s working out really well with just Alexis and I at this point. But I mean I’m not, you know, saying no to that, you know, in the future, because you just don’t know, like you know. So if it gets to the point where I do want to take on somebody else, then great. You know I’ve got this whole slew of people in Web Designer Pro, who, who I can look at, and they’re all awesome in there. So but yeah, I mean my plan right now is just to kind of keep going and just see what opportunities come about and make the best of those.
I think that’s great, especially after the year you’ve been through in the past couple of years altogether and the cool thing is like relating into the end of the year or new year. It’s always a fun time to kind of cast a vision. But vision could be as simple as raising your rates and proving your processes and just continuing to circle back around to current and past clients. You really, at that point, at this point now, it’s like what a time to be able to circle around and I mean, who knows, maybe there’s, maybe there are some groups online and in person with cancer survivors who maybe that’s I don’t know, that’s a passion to tell people out through that. But I’ve thought about that as a as a dad was a girl with special needs and what we’ve went through, like I had thoroughly considered writing a NICU book one day on how the heck to get through the NICU experience. So I found like new passions. So I don’t know, I just wonder, when anyone goes through a life altering event, which you certainly have, new passions always emerge. So I’m excited to you know, I’ve been to a part, I’ve been a part of your journey and I’ve seen you progress the last five years. Now I’m really excited to see the next five years, cause I think you know who knows what what? what’s going to happen next five years? But I think you’re in a great spot. It’s, it’s, yeah, it’s. You don’t need an exact vision or plan at this point, but it’s got to. I imagine it’s got to be pretty cool. I’m catching you. You know fairly, you just crossed through the light of the end of the tunnel, so now it’s like okay, there’s open spaces, what do we do here? So I’m really excited, sandy, I’m sad for you. I’d again been a pleasure and an honor being a part of your journey so far and I’m really excited to continue to be a part of your journey here, moving forward. And and that’s one reason I’m doing my scaling course and I’m going to open up some more intensive coaching options for those who want it in pro soon, just because folks like yourself you know like we got you here, now it’s time to get you there. So I’m excited to hopefully serve you better too, as you’re kind of in the next stages.
Yeah, and I am actually. I’ve started writing a book about my cancer experience as well, just in case it helps other women who are going through this, you know.
Oh, that’s amazing. Any want to share anything more than that on that? Or or is it available for purchase one day, you think, or is it just a little past?
If I, if I’m able to get it written. It’s all in my head right now and I started it, but you know, and I’ve got some ideas for how I want it to to play out, but but yeah, really, it’s more just to empower women who who do want to go flat like this, that it is a very valid and healthy option because you know the surgeons really push the reconstruction and you know that’s not the best thing for everybody. You know and I do belong to a number of groups on Facebook, a couple of flat groups in a breast cancer group, and there’s an unbelievable number of women who had reconstruction and then explained it to flat because they were just done with. You know everything that comes with that.
So it’s amazing. Oh, that’s awesome, sandy, where, if anyone’s interested in knowing more about that or maybe you know being a potential reader of that should they go to your website, your Facebook. Where should they go to contact you or connect with you?
Your website or Facebook is probably good. Yeah, if they want to reach out either of those places, you can. You can reach me for sure. Okay, but yeah, if they, if they fill out the contact form on the website, then I can just kind of keep them you know in a in a pile there that you know when this book does get written, then I can reach out and see if they’re still interested.
Yeah, might be time for a wait list, just to see who’s interested, because I’m sure that’s such an amazing passion topic that I love that you’re you’re started on that, so that’s so cool, sandy. Yeah, we’ll, we’ll link this, of course, but it’s sandfireca, and then everyone can go there and you can go down to the, to the bottom, and your emails there or your Facebook so they can connect with you there. Sandy, thank you for being an open book and being transparent about not only your journey and scaling, but cancer. This is like three episodes in one. We could talk about a 10-year journey, we could talk about scaling and talk about building and running your business through cancer. So this has been awesome. Thank you so much for your time and, again, what a joy to see you get to this point. I’m pumped for the next phase.
Thank you so much. This has been a lot of fun.
All right, Sandy, until next time. We’ll definitely do a round two, but this is good. This is like three in one, so thanks again.
Yeah, no problem, thank you.
Woo, tough to top that one. My friends, what a journey. What a 10 years so far Web design. This is just one chapter for Sandy. I think you probably agree with me in saying that she has a very, very exciting new chapter that has started in a very exciting future ahead of her as she continues to be a business owner, and all that she’s learned through and gone through in the past 10 years. I can’t wait to see what she does next. So I really hope this was some encouragement and some help for you and your journey, no matter where you are in web design. Again, as we talked about Sandy having been through a recent battle with cancer and breast loss, she is really passionate about helping others by sharing what she’s experienced through this and how she got through it. So, first of all, make sure to check her website out sandfireca just for her inspiration, to see what she’s up to on design and with her business and what’s working from her. But she will have the waitlist there for her upcoming book, so make sure to sign up for that again if you or somebody you know might be interested in that. Sandy even said it’ll probably she told me it’ll probably light a fire under me to get this book going, and she’ll probably give you some updates as she gets it closer to release. So make sure to go to her website, sandfireca, to connect with her and sign up for that. I hope you enjoyed this one, friends. Leave us a comment. Go to joshallco 298. Let Sandy know what you thought about this interview and the takeaways that you may have got from her journey and her experience. I told Sandy I’d make sure to relay any feedback her way. So go to joshallco 298. Leave us a comment. I will be looking at those and then I’ll let Sandy know to check those out too. She may even reply to you. If you have any questions or want to connect with her. Joshallco 298 to leave her reply. All right, friends, I hope you enjoyed this one and I will see you on the next episode as we inch closer to the big three. Oh, oh.