#54 | Design Process Changes to Uplevel Your Business and Delight Your Clients

Sam Chlebowski speaks with web designer and business owner Samantha Mabe. In the episode, Samantha shares how she transitioned her web design process with clients from taking three months to just one week. Samantha details the customer insights that led her to make this decision and how she’s improved her onboarding process in ways that allow her to stick to a tighter timeframe without working 80 hours a week.

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Design Process Changes to Uplevel Your Business and Delight Your Clients | Designing Growth #54

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Episode transcript:

[00:00:00] Sam Chlebowski: Happy Thursday, everybody. Welcome back to Designing Growth, your host, Sam Chlebowskii here, and really excited to be joining you back again for another week. We have a fantastic guest joining us on the show. I know it’s been a couple of weeks since we’ve put out an episode. I’ve kind of been doing some things internally, revamping the podcast.

[00:00:20] Sam Chlebowski: I wanted to really focus on bringing on great guests, and that’s what leads us here today. so. 

[00:00:26] Sam Chlebowski: Samantha, founder of Lemon and the Sea, which is a website design business. How are you doing today?

[00:00:32] Samantha Mabe: I’m good. I’m excited to be here.

[00:00:33] Sam Chlebowski: And we were just chatting offline. I am here living in Denver now. Samantha, you mentioned you live in Richmond, but we are both originally from.

[00:00:42] Sam Chlebowski: Pittsburgh. I was born in Pittsburgh, raised there the first couple of years of my life. what brought you to Richmond?

[00:00:48] Samantha Mabe: My husband got a job teaching here after my sister connected him, so she was here and then my husband got a job in the same school district, so we moved, in about 2015.

[00:00:59] Sam Chlebowski: And the way that I understand it is you started your web design business right around that time. Is that correct?

[00:01:07] Samantha Mabe: Yeah, so I had a full time job. back in Pittsburgh where we were living and when we moved here I had applied to like a million graphic design jobs, never got a single interview and the company I left asked me to freelance for them and so I did that as I kind of found the world of online business and ended up just turning it into something that I do full time now.

[00:01:31] Sam Chlebowski: A couple episodes ago, I was talking with one of our guests and we were explaining that like, when you hear these stories of people who are entrepreneurs, the common narrative you’ll hear is like, I was always entrepreneurial growing up.

[00:01:45] Sam Chlebowski: I had lemonade stands or I sold baseball cards or I was doing all of these things. And what we had said is reality. That’s like. 5 percent of people who become entrepreneurs, maybe most of the time, it’s [00:02:00] from somebody who sees an opportunity or it’s out of a desire to want more flexibility to want to be kind of be their own boss.

[00:02:07] Sam Chlebowski: And I think that your story right there is a great example of that. So you started freelancing for the business that you had left. When did you kind of decide that? Maybe I should. Be seeking out more clients. Maybe it’s time to, get the paperwork in place, create a brand.

[00:02:23] Sam Chlebowski: How did that process come about for you?

[00:02:26] Samantha Mabe: Yeah. So my original idea was that I was going to do like a DIY blog, which at the time were super popular. And I discovered that living in an apartment doesn’t lend itself very well to DIY projects. I had put out to a couple of friends about some graphic design. I had my cousin hired me to do her website.

[00:02:46] Samantha Mabe: She’s a performer or she, And she was in New York at the time, so she needed a resume website. And so I did that and then I did some wedding invitations and. It was still that same year that I went to an accounting firm and I was like, okay, what do I need to do to have this be like a real thing so that I have all my tax stuff in order?

[00:03:06] Samantha Mabe: So we got it set up from there and once that was set and I figured out that I liked working from home and the flexibility of being able to work when I needed to and take time off when I needed I decided I was just going to find clients and I got into branding and then from there, I, specialized in websites.

[00:03:27] Samantha Mabe: So it was kind of a journey that I took over time, but once it got into it, I realized I did not ever want to go back to an office and work for somebody else.

[00:03:35] Sam Chlebowski: One of the pieces that you shared in there, I think, is a really good point of advice for somebody who is new to freelancing, or they’ve started their own business or looking how to get clients.

[00:03:45] Sam Chlebowski: And the thing that you did that I think is a really great tip for anybody else is leveraging your personal network, leveraging the people around you. There’s oftentimes way more people that you think that have the need for [00:04:00] Specific services. And if you think of like, Hey, do I know anybody who owns a business?

[00:04:04] Sam Chlebowski: do I know anybody who might have needs for these services that I’m offering starting there? If you can provide them with a really great end product, a really great experience along the way. They’re going to be super likely to refer people to you. It’s

[00:04:20] Samantha Mabe: Yeah, and I think what was so great in that stage was that my aunt, who had reached out to me about doing The website she I was like, yeah, I can do it. You know, it’s I can do it for free I’m just sitting at home and she was like no you run a business. I am going to pay you It wasn’t a ton of money, but it really put me in that mindset of even when it’s somebody that you know Your time is valuable what you’re giving them is valuable.

[00:04:45] Samantha Mabe: And so you need to charge them which was very different than Something that I was used to and you know people expecting. Okay. You just have this talent for design and you can just do it for free because we’re friends, but I had a lot of people at the very beginning that were like, no, you deserve to be paid for the work that you’re doing.

[00:05:03] Samantha Mabe: And that really helped me to get started and get into that mindset going forward in my business.

[00:05:09] Sam Chlebowski: That’s something that can be a really tough hurdle. for people to overcome. it seems like there is a Natural tendency especially with website design related work of people who are reaching out to you still in that network who are like, oh yeah, they can do this real quick for me.

[00:05:28] Sam Chlebowski: It’ll take 3 seconds to put this website or this brand guide together for me. That was something that I saw Early on in my college days and at that time I was okay with doing some free work. Just like to build a portfolio for myself and then I actually ended up just going to work for a web design agency so I I didn’t really have to overcome that hurdle so much But I know it’s something that can be really challenging like they want to call in a favor Basically, but there’s a difference between that because it’s your time.

[00:05:58] Sam Chlebowski: It’s what you’re doing to support yourself.[00:06:00] And I think that the sooner that you can overcome that and start, kind of drawing a line in the sand and saying, Hey, I have to charge you for this. The better. I think it’s even more fortunate if you have people along the way who can help you overcome that hurdle and say like, no, I’m going to pay you for this.

[00:06:14] Sam Chlebowski: one thing that I know that you’d share before the episode is you have changed your design process. It used to be about three months, and now it takes one week. Can you tell me why you transitioned to this sort of condensed timeframe for design? How it’s impacted you and your business, but then also your clients?

[00:06:36] Samantha Mabe: The reason that I changed was really twofold. So one, having a long drawn out process for my clients tends to lead to an even longer process. So I might say it’s going to be three months. But because they know they’ve got all this time, they would delay and it can end up being six months or a year before we actually launch, which is not great for them and it’s not great for me because I don’t get my final payments.

[00:07:00] Samantha Mabe: I don’t get the stuff for my portfolio and it’s just always in my brain. And the second reason that I started it was that after we moved here and I had my business for a couple of years, we had our son. And I wanted to be able to spend time with him every week. And so I knew that I could not always be on call for my clients.

[00:07:20] Samantha Mabe: I needed to have dedicated time when I was working and dedicated time when I was off. And creating a one week process allows me to say, Okay, I know exactly what I need to do each day of the week. My big work day that I’m doing most of the development is on Fridays. I know he has childcare all day. And then the rest of the time, like, I take every Wednesday afternoon off, and we go explore parks, or find something to do for an adventure, and I never have to worry that a client is expecting something then, because they know in my process, like, Wednesday afternoons, I’m not doing anything.

[00:07:55] Sam Chlebowski: That is a phenomenal pivot my opinion, because it’s [00:08:00] something that we did at Brighter Vision, which was that web design agency I briefly mentioned. it wasn’t always quite a week, but we basically said that, hey, we will get you a first draft of your new website within a week once you provide us all of the

[00:08:15] Samantha Mabe: Mm hmm. 

[00:08:15] Sam Chlebowski: And we were very clear about like, if we don’t get this stuff from you.

[00:08:19] Sam Chlebowski: You’re not going to get this within a week. sticking to that really helped us, at that business schedule things out, know, and understand our workloads. And it also made the client a lot happier because they ultimately would get their website a lot sooner. And it sounds like the reason why you did this pivot within your business is you’ve realized a lot of those same benefits from shortening that timeframe.

[00:08:42] Samantha Mabe: Yeah. And I think when our clients come to us for website design, they’re ready to launch. Like, they’re like, okay, I realize I need this. I know there’s going to be some pieces, but I’m ready to get it out there. They don’t always realize all the work that goes in up front, and that’s where, you know, we have to make sure we have those processes in place and get the content.

[00:09:00] Samantha Mabe: But, they don’t want to wait six months to announce their new website to the world. so having a one week process has really benefited my clients, and it’s why a lot of people come to me, is because they know, okay, once I get that date scheduled, usually they can get their content together in two weeks, So it’s less than a month from the time that like we have our initial conversation to their website launch and they can start sharing it with people and seeing the benefits.

[00:09:26] Samantha Mabe: And that has impacted their business. And it’s a whole lot easier for them to dedicate a week than a month to a process where they’re going back and forth.

[00:09:36] Sam Chlebowski: When you are working with that sort of condensed time frame, the onboarding process becomes much, much more important. And I would say it can make or break your ability to kind of stick to those, timelines that you set up.

[00:09:51] Sam Chlebowski: What did you have to do? And maybe what are you doing with your onboarding process to make sure that you can get the things that you need from [00:10:00] clients within the window that you need those things? What does that look like?

[00:10:04] Samantha Mabe: I use Dubsado for a couple of questionnaires where I get their information about their current website, what they’re looking to have on their new website, all their login information kind of stuff, and then I have a document in Google Drive that they can fill out with content if they’re not working with a copywriter.

[00:10:24] Samantha Mabe: And then I also have like a checklist that they go through, so you need to submit your content, you need to answer this questionnaire, you need to get me your logo files and your colors, and then what I have found is I can make the process easier for my clients if I go and create a bank of stock images for them, because that was always a huge hang up, and I was like, I can just go pull some from a stock image platform, it’s included in their process, and so I use kind of tools on my end that I took on some of the workload and then I have a very specific checklist for them to work through and My clients also know that if they don’t get stuff turned in to me on time Then we’re going to delay the project and so that is pretty motivating for them to make sure okay I’ve got all this stuff.

[00:11:10] Samantha Mabe: I’ve got an outline. I kind of know what I need to do Let’s get it in and get it done.

[00:11:14] Sam Chlebowski: and The fact that you’ve identified those roadblocks, I think Speaks to a lot of the success that you’ve experienced because that was one thing that I saw. The content was a big roadblock for many clients and also the images were a big roadblock because a lot of times, if we would go pick images for them, they wouldn’t be super happy with the content piece.

[00:11:35] Sam Chlebowski: We had like stock versions of that, but they wanted a little bit of personalization. what does your content look like? And how are you helping with that within that Google drive? Folder? Because I think this is something really useful for other designers out there to know.

[00:11:48] Samantha Mabe: So what I did was I basically went through a In my process, I’m going to design four pages. I’m going to do the home, about, services, contact. What do all of those pages [00:12:00] need? And I laid that out so each one has like, this is what this page is about. Here are the common sections that you would need.

[00:12:06] Samantha Mabe: Here are some examples. And some resources, if you want to learn more, obviously I’m not a copywriter, so I’m sending them like, go listen to this podcast interview that somebody did, or go read this blog that can help you write a better headline and all they have to do is walk through and kind of fill in that section by section so that when I go through it, I’m seeing, okay, they have a headline here, let me put it where it needs to go.

[00:12:29] Samantha Mabe: They have this mission statement, let me put that where it needs to go. And then If they do work with a copywriter and things change up a little bit, usually the copywriters kind of lay it out so that I know the order things are supposed to be in. But I wanted to give people that experience when they weren’t going to hire somebody else.

[00:12:47] Samantha Mabe: About 50 percent of my clients don’t work with a copywriter, they want to do it themselves, and so I knew I had to give them a very easy way to get that content to me.

[00:12:57] Sam Chlebowski: Yeah, it’s also a really good realization About understanding who your customers are and the things that they need and the things that they expect, that client expectation piece. If you can understand what most of your customers are going to expect coming into the process and you can build your process around that, it makes it a lot easier for them on the way.

[00:13:17] Sam Chlebowski: And I mean, I heard it right there with you saying that. 50 percent of your clients when they come to you, you know that they are going to write the content themselves. So the question is then how can you make it easy for them to do that? And providing them resources and examples of content and these key pages on the website is really smart of you.

[00:13:38] Samantha Mabe: Thank you. Yeah, it took a long time to kind of hone in on what people needed and how to get them that information in the best way possible, but I think it’s been working pretty well for people, and it’s something that’s always evolving and changing, and that’s why I like doing it in like a Google Doc, where I can make a change, and then…

[00:13:56] Samantha Mabe: I can give that to the next client so that I’m not having to [00:14:00] rewrite questionnaires every time.

[00:14:01] Sam Chlebowski: Yeah. With your one week website design services, how do you price that? Is it a little bit different for every type of client you work with depending on their needs? Or is it kind of like a standard package between clients?

[00:14:14] Samantha Mabe: I start with a standard package, so it’s those four pages that I mentioned, and then a blog set up, and that is like my one week process price that’s right now it’s 3, 500, and then if they want additional pages, we’ll add on a half day or another day. Because we’ve already done all the pre work and so I’d price that out based on whatever else they might need.

[00:14:37] Samantha Mabe: But I still try to set aside very dedicated time to do that work so that it doesn’t continue to drag the project on.

[00:14:45] Sam Chlebowski: And do you provide ongoing support after the website is live? Is that like an additional option or do you kind of refer out for that? How does that work?

[00:14:55] Samantha Mabe: What I do is I have 30 days of built in support. So if they’ve got questions, if they want to go in and edit themselves. I have a couple of clients who have me kind of on retainer for updates. But most of my clients will come back to me. Every six months or every year when they need to refresh some stuff, and then we just do, okay We’re gonna set aside a half a day or we’re gonna set aside a day And we’re gonna knock it all out at once.

[00:15:20] Samantha Mabe: That tends to work better For my clients because they’re not making updates all the time They just need somebody in their corner that knows what they’re doing to Go through that whole checklist that they’ve built over time and get it done that You know they can trust and that it’ll be finished quickly

[00:15:37] Sam Chlebowski: And once again, that really speaks to understanding your customers You have that 30 day window where you know there’s typically a lot of changes after the website goes live a lot of people kind of holding the door on their way out to say one more thing but.

[00:15:50] Sam Chlebowski: Then they will oftentimes come back six months later and want to spend a half day updating things on the website. Is that something that you tell them about, when their [00:16:00] website goes live? Do you explicitly say, like, hey, many of my clients want to make updates six months down the road, and we can always schedule this kind of time to do that uh, and make these edits to your website and revisions all at once?

[00:16:13] Sam Chlebowski: Is that something you communicate?

[00:16:14] Samantha Mabe: It is. So when I had my workflows set up, the woman who helped me actually built in like emails that go out at three months, at six months, at a year that are just reminders of, Hey, we can make updates at these times. So it’s all automated. I don’t have to do anything, but they are getting reminders to say this is something that we can do together.

[00:16:37] Sam Chlebowski: That is so smart one, it keeps your clients happy. They have some thoughts that they’ve been having about their websites for a couple months. Boom, your email is right there Oh, great time to update this.

[00:16:48] Sam Chlebowski: And then number two, it’s a really nice way to be able to have additional income or upsells coming in. Throughout the year in addition to the packages that you’re offering. 

[00:17:01] Samantha Mabe: Yeah, and it’s nice because I love the customers that I work with and I know their websites And so it’s really easy to go in and change. I tried out retainer packages I tried out like let’s just have me work on stuff every month and that didn’t work for them or me but this way I’m still the first person they reach out to when they need updates and I know that it’s going to be done, It’s going to be easy for me to still go in and change and I think as a designer, that was kind of finding the fit for me and my clients in the way that we need to work.

[00:17:33] Sam Chlebowski: I can see that it makes so much sense. With how your clients work and how you want to structure your business that kind of workflow really benefits both of you. With your marketing, we talked about kind of the early days. I would love to talk about what you do now What does that breakdown of marketing efforts look like? Are you all referrals? are you doing anything outside of that to market your business? what are the things that are, driving, new [00:18:00] clients in the door?

[00:18:01] Samantha Mabe: So I am mostly referral based. That’s where I get most of my clients. So I really try to maintain those relationships. I also concentrate on email marketing and I’ve really gotten into LinkedIn because that’s where my clients are. So I’m trying to put my efforts in those places. And then I use something like Instagram, occasionally Facebook.

[00:18:25] Samantha Mabe: That’s really more connecting with. referral partners for me is like connecting with other business owners who might eventually send me somebody or who we can just be friends and have chats. Like that is not where I’m finding clients, but it’s more of a fun platform for me to be on.

[00:18:40] Sam Chlebowski: And LinkedIn to that is cool because that’s not a place that I think anybody on this show that I’ve spoken with has really narrowed down into. I think that LinkedIn is in my opinion, one of the best social platforms. Maybe it’s like the entrepreneur in me who thinks that way, but I love the way that LinkedIn is a little bit less of like the Wild West, I think they’ve done a good job controlling kind of the posts that are promoted and the people that you’re connecting with I see it as a huge opportunity for a lot of entrepreneurs, depending on the industry and the types of businesses that you are working with, with your LinkedIn strategy, are you posting? Are you doing like outreach to people? What are the kind of things that you’re doing there to drive new leads, new customers?

[00:19:26] Samantha Mabe: what I’ve been doing so far is making sure that I post at least a couple of times a week. I’ve experimented with some video and then just some images and text, and I haven’t done a ton of outreach other than just connecting with people and sort of building those connections. I did just find out about, setting up a LinkedIn newsletter the other day.

[00:19:46] Samantha Mabe: So I went through and I did that to invite people to do that for getting news for me. And then my next phase is really going to be now that I have these connections, now that I have this content that they can check out, let’s actually find a way to build [00:20:00] relationships and build one on one conversations with people.

[00:20:02] Sam Chlebowski: It’s that whole idea of. Giver’s game and if you are providing valuable information up front, people are going to be attracted to that and people are going to have you come to mind when they are looking for a website without having to like hard sell somebody who doesn’t want a website what type of content are you including in your newsletters 

[00:20:21] Samantha Mabe: So, most of them are kind of one tip for website design and conversion, so I’ll go through and I’ll kind of explain why we do something in website design, maybe a way that they can apply that to their own website, and kind of leave it at that. Occasionally, I will also talk about just business in general because my clients are business owners and so it’s nice to share kind of what I’m learning about running a business or people that I’ve connected with that they might like to connect with as well.

[00:20:50] Sam Chlebowski: I love how you’ve shaped that content strategy because something that I have Believed a lot in, especially since starting this business, motion. io is having a unique content perspective. having something that you can kind of plant your flag in and say, Hey, this is what I stand for.

[00:21:08] Sam Chlebowski: Because I was looking through your blog a little bit earlier, I asked the question for the audience, but one of the things that I saw there and you just touched on it is. Creating a website that converts and it seems like you have really build yourself in some ways as the expert on that topic and you are able to expand from that one topic in a bunch of different ways.

[00:21:27] Sam Chlebowski: here’s how you could improve your home page. Here’s how design plays into conversions. Here’s things with SEO and copy and that was immediately clear to me Looking through your blog post. So kudos to you. I think that is just amazing.

[00:21:42] Samantha Mabe: I struggled so much with how much do you share when I offer a service and people could go and design their own website. So how much do I share like a step by step tutorial versus just tell them kind of the overall strategy and let them see if they want to figure it out. But what I’ve come [00:22:00] to realize is that the people who are going to DIY are going to DIY and the people who don’t want to do it.

[00:22:05] Samantha Mabe: are going to find me and they’re going to realize, okay, you know what you’re doing. I’m going to hire you. And I’m not going to be able to convince somebody to hire me who wants to try it all themselves. And so I have learned not to be afraid of giving kind of those tips of, okay, this is what it would look like if you updated your buttons on your website, because it’s going to help somebody and it’s still going to showcase what I know and how I help my own clients.

[00:22:29] Sam Chlebowski: Oh my gosh. What you just said hits me in like a really big way. I used to have a line. In my conversations with new clients who were thinking about working with us and it wouldn’t happen all the time, but they would ask, couldn’t I just design this myself? And my answer would always be yes, of course you could.

[00:22:47] Sam Chlebowski: But what’s your time worth? We were working with mental health therapists they bill 150 an hour to 300 an hour. And I would say, is it worth your time? When you could be making 150 an hour, 300 an hour, seeing a client, is it worth your time to pull yourself away from that and build your website?

[00:23:06] Sam Chlebowski: If you think it is no problem, here’s a lot of great resources. You can go build your own site. If you. Would rather somebody else do it for you, take care of the design, make sure it looks good right up front. It’s optimized for the search engines, optimized for conversions. That is going to be a better investment 

[00:23:23] Sam Chlebowski: it’s exactly like you said, at the end of the day, you cannot convince somebody who wants to DIY it. But there will always be people who want somebody to take care of that and I think that the sooner that you recognize that, the better off you’ll be.

[00:23:36] Sam Chlebowski: And your business is proof of that.

[00:23:37] Samantha Mabe: Yeah. Definitely.

[00:23:39] Sam Chlebowski: So with that, thank you so much for this amazing chat here today, Samantha, it’s been really great taking a deep dive into your business. And I think that this episode in particular is just shockful, for tips of somebody thinking about starting a website business, going down that path, becoming an entrepreneur, and you almost laid [00:24:00] out like this perfect roadmap for that.

[00:24:01] Sam Chlebowski: So thank you so much. Two final questions. I will ask to wrap things up here. First question, business one. Second question is going to be a fun one for my first question. If people want to learn more about you and the work that you’re doing, where should they go to find you?

[00:24:15] Samantha Mabe: You can go to my website at lemonandthesea. com.

[00:24:18] Sam Chlebowski: And we will put a link to that in the show notes of this episode. And finally, for our fun one to wrap things up here, one for each category. What is the best thing? you have read, watched, and listened to in this past year. And it doesn’t have to be business related. It could be anything. It could be a great movie.

[00:24:36] Sam Chlebowski: You saw.

[00:24:37] Samantha Mabe: I just finally got from my library Tress of the Emerald Sea, which is a Brandon Sanderson book, it’s the first one of his I’ve read, and I’ve heard it’s a little bit different, but I’m really liking it. listened to, I have been listening to a lot of Taylor Swift and watched, we actually just went to watch the Eras Tour movie at the drive in theater with my sister in law.

[00:25:00] Samantha Mabe: So I have been listening in preparation for that and it was a really cool experience to get to see that kind of open air, really concert feel and get to do that. So I really loved being able to kind of see all of that and see how Her journey has evolved. I’ve been following her since she started.

[00:25:15] Samantha Mabe: So it was great to kind of see all of that come together.

[00:25:18] Sam Chlebowski: Amazing. Amazing. We have been listening to a lot of Taylor Swift here at my house as well. My wife loves Taylor Swift also the first thing you shared Brandon Sanderson, looks like it’s sci fi and fantasy. This has me really piqued. I have been, admittedly, on like a huge sci fi kick. I Exhausted all of the good sci fi movies and shows and I have been just like ripping through Sci fi books on audiobook.

[00:25:45] Sam Chlebowski: I’m reading a book called Hyperion right now, which is like it’s a little bit older, but I’m like loving it So I think I have to check out some of Brandon’s books this it looks really cool

[00:25:56] Samantha Mabe: Yes, they are really good. My husband has, and brother in law, have been reading them [00:26:00] forever, and I finally was like, okay, I’ll try one out, and we’ll see, and it’s really good.

[00:26:04] Sam Chlebowski: Samantha, thank you again so much for joining us on this episode of Designing Growth. with that, Chilbowski. Hope everybody out there has a great week and see you next Thursday.

[00:26:15] Sam Chlebowski: Have fun. Good luck and go crush it. Take care, everybody. Bye bye.

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