Welcome to the inaugural post of a brand new feature called “Winning Wednesdays”. Each week, we will be featuring an interview with a new entrepreneur from the greater Makeness community [so that means our clients, our readers, our colleagues, and members of the Makeness Insider community] who are doing one thing in their business really, really well. It will not include their whole life’s story. It will be a close examination of how they totally fucking rock at one single area. Topics we will probably cover will include things like design [duh.], client experience, copywriting, marketing tactics, etc…
I will be hand-picking the stories we publish. Some will be invited, and some will be submitted. Each will include both their words and mine about what makes their thing so great and why you should sit up straight and pay attention.
So, YOU ARE INVITED…
But without further ado, let’s read all about Ms. Poulin…
I have no idea how Marie Poulin and I connected. Like most Internet friendships, she just appeared one day in one of my streams. And we became fast friends. Marie is a brilliant, quality-driven, highly ethical web designer and brand strategist who works at the very upper end of what solo-designers can charge for what we do. She works exclusively with established businesses and pioneers who understand the value of deep, comprehensive, high-touch design. And here’s the kicker, ALL of her work comes from referrals and she is regularly turning business away.
This is not a market one cracks easily. And Marie would be the first to tell you that she didn’t just birth her business into $10k+ website-making….
[Look for my comments in italics in brackets below. The rest is all Marie.]
Makeness: So, What is the ONE thing you know that you have nailed in your business? Be specific.
I’ve been able to build my business 100% by referrals. By being “in demand,” and having my clients (and online friends/influencers) do the legwork for me, I’ve been able to command premium rates.
This has allowed me to work on fewer projects at a time, and in a more in-depth way, which reinforces really strong client relationships. This often results in existing clients finding more ways to work with me, or referring new people to me.
This has allowed me to be very selective with clients. I don’t take on anyone that I am not certain will be an excellent fit for my working style, since these are the people that spread the word about me well after launch!
[I love this. Understanding your working style and the personalities you gel with can be so SO key in making sure you don’t wind up wanting to run over your client with your car at some point (or vice-versa)].
Makeness: Tell us about all the things you tried that relate to this that DIDN’T work?
There were times that I would say yes to any project that came in, because I thought I would earn more money. What ends up happening is you burn yourself out, and stretch yourself too thin. You can only make a few of your projects great while the others suffer… and so you end up choosing where to focus your energy (which can’t be everywhere at once!). You just can’t give 110% to every client when you are juggling 10+ web design/development/branding projects at one time (especially when you do each part of the project!)
I have taken on projects that didn’t quite sit right with me (gut feeling was off), and that NEVER works. I use my intuition to guide every single client selection I make!
I have tried working at reduced/favour rates, and that just never works. In my experience, the clients who ask for discounts or try to negotiate are not ready for what I offer, and tend to be the biggest pain in the a** anyway.
I have tried to partner with a project manager before, and I would say that it did not work for me. I love the client interaction process, and it’s a big part of what I do: Listening. Very carefully. Hearing my clients fully, and reading between the lines. I have a ton of empathy, and don’t like to be so removed from that process.
I was told early in my career NOT to get personal with clients, and that’s total BS. It doesn’t work for me at all. We get involved. It get’s messy. And I’m totally ok with that, in fact, it makes me more invested in their thing. I legitimately care very much about everyone whose project I touch, and their success matters to me. A LOT. So yeah I tried being all overly “pro-fesh” (I am a professional, but I’m not traditional) and that just doesn’t work for me.
[“I am a professional, but I’m not traditional.” I think I want a tattoo of that.]
Makeness: What was the catalyst for getting your thing to work really, really well?
I had one project that went so terribly wrong, it made me reevaluate EVERYTHING in my business. My systems, processes, mindset, my ideal client… I committed to learning how to be the absolute BEST business to work with. I learned. I got business coaching. I surrounded myself with successful people. I stepped up my systems. I built an incredible support network.
[I think humility is one of our most underrated strengths. As ‘pro’s we are told over and over to be these robotic perfectionists who exude total confidence. But true confidence comes in when you can admit that you totally blew it and then dig into learning how to not blow it again. It’s a massive mind-shift, but is a fundamental difference between those who are begging for work and those who have it. Being a victim of a bad client experience is so counterproductive. Having the courage to really examine how YOU made that happen and what to do better next time – that’s where the winning happens.]
Almost immediately after taking a step back to really focus on my OWN business, and what I really loved and wanted to do more of, the right work flowed in. It took a lot of experimentation over the years, but I made some really great decisions about who to work with, and those people became some of my loudest supporters. Natalie MacNeil from She Takes on the World was one of my best experiences. I never felt so in tune and respected in my project process, and we have gone on to collaborate on future projects.
It helps to get your work in front of the eyes of people you admire.
Makeness: How do you know it’s working?
Clients that send me notes/tweets/messages of gratitude and love. Gifts. Repeat work. Referrals. Income that allows me to work on my own side projects.
[Seriously. I saw on Facebook the other day that one of Marie’s clients sent her payment in CHOCOLATE. A giant box of incredible, artisan chocolate. If anyone needs my address, you just let me know.]
Makeness: What influenced the direction you took ‘the thing’?
A lot of reading, learning, and asking questions. I started working for other successful business owners, and I would just observe from others what worked and what didn’t.
[LEARN FROM YOUR CLIENTS. Holy shit that’s huge. I learn so much from my people. Every day.]
I started to realize that there was room in the market for everyone, and after enough successful projects, compliments and praise, I realized that I was doing great work that was in high demand. There was room for a higher price point, so I just started taking more risks with my proposals, and it paid off.
Price tells a story, and I wanted to make sure people knew what to expect when working with me (aka, I don’t cut corners).
[Read that last sentence again. And again. And again.]
Makeness: What advice would you give to others who feel like their ‘thing’ isn’t working?
Step back and ask yourself if you’re working with the right people. Do you even know who your “right people” are?
I personally spent many MANY (oh too many) late evenings and weekends honing my craft, reading, learning, and studying. I also spent a painful amount of time undercharging and not understanding my value. That got enough buzz going that by the time people were referred to me, I could start slowly experimenting with raising my rates with each project.
In time I built up the confidence to approach people just to talk. Talk to people you look up to. Ask questions. Get involved in your community. Be helpful to others. You have to make yourself visible to the people you want to work with.
These things don’t happen overnight, and you have to be willing to experiment, and adapt if things aren’t going right.
My personal philosophy is that I am willing to do whatever it takes. No challenge is too great, no task “beneath” me on the journey to my success. I’m willing to hustle and make sacrifices, and I really do believe that my time in the trenches, learning as I go, has enabled me to be where I am today.
Other experiments in client acquisition? Twitter. I sent a few strategic tweets that resulted in my biggest contracts I’ve ever signed on. Be willing to reach out and make connections. You can’t do it alone, and you don’t have to!
Be willing to change, adapt, and learn.
Being a good listener is such a huge part of success. Sometimes in business I hear people asking the wrong questions: Why aren’t people signing up for my services? Why won’t people pay my prices, etc. The toughest thing to do is start seeing the world through the eyes of your clients/customers. Where are they hurting? What would make their lives easier? Don’t guess, but really be willing to ask, and listen carefully. This advice could translate all the way to your portfolio and website. GO through your entire site as though you are your ideal client. What would they want/need to read about you that would say, “heck yes, I need you!”? Your business isn’t really about you, even if you’re a “solopreneur.” Start seeing your business as a service for others, and ask yourself what you can do for others, instead of what they can do for you. It’s a small shift in perspective that brings big results.
Other things that really helped me take things to the next level were: expanding my community (getting out of your own bubble), surrounding myself with successful (and supportive) people, business coaching, and just always being willing to learn.
Makeness: Anything else you think people should know about you or your business [as it relates to this topic]?
I promise I still don’t have it all figured out. Everything in my business is a work in progress, and I’ve accepted that. There is no one formula, and the same approach doesn’t always work every time. Be willing to adapt and do things in a way that feels right in your hut (heart + gut)
Makeness: What are you currently promoting in your business?
My partner and I have started a new company which will involve the development of an application, as well as a suite of online resources for helping small business teach courses online. As a stepping stone on the way toward our greater goals, I am producing my own online course which is currently in the early stages of Beta testing. It’s Digital Strategy for Designers, and it will live here: http://digitalstrategyschool.
Makeness: How would you like readers to reach out to you?
Are you TOTALLY WINNING at something? Tell us all about it and see your very own story here.
Please note: I have turned off comments on the blog because I have found that we have far more lively conversation inside the Makeness Insider Community on Facebook. If you would like to join us there, consider this your cordial invitation.