January flew by in a flurry and with that we celebrated the first official month of Quill Collective, a new online community space for designers and creatives to create meaningful connections and learn from each other. It’s easily been my favorite part of the year so far. Part of the Collective includes bringing on guest speakers to share their insight and wisdom with all the members. Last week, we had the honor of bringing on Stefani of December Oak to chat about her extensive career in web design, her love for systems, and the educational offerings she’s bringing to life in 2021.
Q: Share with us how you got your start in the web design world?
A: I’ve been designing websites since the early 2000’s and started diving in and learning code. I never considered it a “career” and always viewed building websites as something fun to do in my free time. After bouncing around many different jobs, 2014 proved to be even more of a difficult year than 2020 for me both personally and professionally. I had health issues which resulted in me being in a coma. My business was born from this altering life experience and from appreciating the chance we’re given in this life. After recovering, I jumped right into business ownership and haven’t looked back. My first website was $300, coded from scratch. Since then, I’ve learned so much and the business has evolved and grown ever since.
Q: How have you remained passionate about web design after running your business for over 7 years?
A: From the start, I’ve always been so excited about the idea of merging design, beauty, and art with interactivity. The user experience portion definitely hooked me in initially. The great thing about web design is that it’s always evolving and adapting! Even all these years in, I’m always learning something new about websites. The fact that it’s an ever-changing and fast-moving industry keeps it super fresh and fun for me. You’re never not a student as a web designer and I stay motivated to learn new ways to bring brands to life so others can experience them.
Q: Throughout your business, you’ve become passionate about systems and how they can help grow your business. What’s your #1 tip for people who feel lost when it comes to systems?
A: Systems and automation are something I’m obsessed with and have definitely helped me to scale my business. A lot of people think systems have to be these huge machines, but the truth is a system can be as small as automating one small task. I always suggest people to start with automating your email inbox. I easily get to inbox zero every day, and I achieve that through a simple system and having canned email templates for the most common email topics ready to go. I can easily edit them and customize them to each conversation, but it provides me with the starting point and saves time. I also highly recommend batching tasks, like your social media content. I started implementing this routine last fall and while it took time to build up my speed, so give yourself grace at the beginning, but I can now take one day to batch a month’s worth of content and feel so much more prepared and productive.
Q: Share with us why you love to work in Shopify and Showit with clients?
A: While we expanded to offer a few other platforms, Showit and Shopify are two of my favorites for the ease of use for the client once we finish the project. Shopify is so well-rounded — from the dashboard to the tools and analytics you can implement for things like the abandoned cart tool, all of these capabilities help us see real data and understand what to change for a better website strategy.
Showit is amazing because of how easy it is for creatives to adapt to the platform post-project. From my WordPress days, I know first-hand what goes into creating a site there and while you can create amazing, custom websites you truly need a team member who understands code to constantly monitor and update the site. My approach is all about empowering clients to feel educated about their site and have the ability to to make changes as they grow and evolve. That combined with the WordPress blogging capabilities, makes it a win-win for not only clients but also designers. Designers who are passionate about user experience and bringing websites to life but maybe aren’t strong at coding can really shine on Showit.
Q: What’s something that surprised you throughout your journey as a small business owner?
A: The biggest thing is I thought I would have a moment, that career milestone, where I would feel like I arrived. I thought I would hit a time where I would stabilize and say, “this is it! This is how my business is going to be now that it hit certain milestones and is successful”. And the truth is, the business is always changing so much and in ways I didn’t anticipate. I’ve learned that it’s all about going with the flow and adapting, not so much having such a strict plan.
I’m very open and will be the first to share how I felt like I was bleeding money during the first years of my business. I wasn’t profiting much and felt like something just wasn’t working. After getting a mentor, another tip I’d recommend for folks trying to grow, and seeking education and guidance from people who’ve been where you want to go, I was able to streamline and skip mistakes by learning from others.
Q: I feel like right now everyone in the design space is talking about super high packages, and making it seem like the rite of passage for “making it” as a designer, but this isn’t always the most profitable or efficient way to run a business. This year I started implementing VIP days and it’s absolutely my most profitable offer.
A: I’ve also noticed that too with designers, that magic 10K number and I’m here to say that not every client has a 10K problem to solve! I think that’s getting distorted in the creative industry, that in order to feel more legitimate as a creative and small business owner you need to charge 5 figures and up. It’s absolutely one of those things where you need to dig deep into the client’s problems and if that means a 4K solution that’s more than fine! The true disservice is upselling them on stuff they don’t really need and spending more of your time on the project when you could serve other clients. You don’t have to give them all the bells and whistles if they’re not ready for them.
Q: What would be your advice for someone who doesn’t want to do branding and web design but is just interested in specializing in one of them?
A: I actually used to offer both and it was when I struggled most in my business. Branding is incredibly important and I love it. I can do it, but I came to the point where I recognized that creating the brand and the visuals wasn’t where my heart was at. It was making me stressed because I knew that my passion was more geared towards the web design portion of the project, and it felt like a disconnect. Once I made this realization, I decided to drop branding (something that was not done at all at the time!) and began to partner with these talented designers where they create the branding and I take over for the website portion.
I have a slack group with some of the designers I work with the most and we call it “The Water Cooler” because it’s like in the corporate world where you all meet at the water cooler and share connections. I really value these relationships because I feel like collaboration could be taken to the next level in our industry. Everything is viewed as so transactional, if I refer someone I need a kickback. And my viewpoint flips that; if the client is getting to work with an amazing brand designer AND an amazing web designer, it’s a win-win for everyone and plays to the strengths of creatives.
Q: Can you share more about your educational offerings for 2021?
A: I pre-launched my Showit Course, which initially was going to be just teaching the basics to other designers, but has evolved into a more in-depth course that also walks through website strategy and how to implement it. After the pre-launch and expanding the course, I’ll be launching this again in April. Additionally, I’ll be offering a course all about how I developed my processes around web design come in June. This course on processes also dives into personality tests like the Enneagram and the Meyers-Briggs test to better understand what works for you and your unique personality.
I’ll also be launching more educational offers, and mostly informing people through my monthly newsletter! I’m planning on doing monthly lives on unique topics, which will be announced to the email list. I have two freebies, one on strategy and one on systems, and with any of these you’re added to the email list to be alerted of all the amazing things coming down the pipeline.
Q: Where else can folks find you and connect with you?
If you’ve been loving these interviews, be sure to join Quill Collective to stay up-to-date on all the guest speakers we have lined up, to join the interviews live, and be a part of a collaborative community of creatives!