Short North Coffee House — Angie Meeker is the Chief Strategy Officer at Angie Meeker Designs, a boutique digital agency. She’s also the organizer of WordCamp Columbus and the co-organizer of the Columbus WordPress Meetup. She and her husband Robert work with their clients to increase their awareness, efficiency, and revenue through internet marketing.
Tell me about Angie Meeker Designs. What do you do? Who’s your ideal client?
Angie: If you were to ask me five months ago, I would have said, “I’m a freelancer.” We’re only now starting to embrace the idea that we’re a boutique digital agency. Our business is to help other businesses increase their revenue, efficiency, and awareness through internet marketing, whether that’s via their website, email marketing or social media.
As for our ideal client, we just started reading through “Book Yourself Solid” by Michael Port, which is a book that helps you decide who your ideal client is. A few days ago I would have said that our ideal client is any business or nonprofit that has good work to do and has the money to pay us, but that’s not really true. We have realized that the businesses we really want to be working with are ones that are in the travel industry. That would give us the opportunity to work with local businesses across the country. That feels like a really specific niche now that I say it, but that’s where we want to be heading.
Previously we’ve mostly worked with small business and nonprofits. Although in the past six months our clients have become larger and larger, which is where we are now.
What are the services that you are most excited about providing?
Angie: I get most excited about helping our clients with their content marketing because that’s what drives the most traffic to their site. It also helps them build the best relationships with their customers.
When we first started, we were just selling websites. We said, “We’ll build it. Whatever you need, we’ll build it.” And we trusted the client to know what they needed, which wasn’t always in the client’s best interest. We’ve transitioned to asking, “What do you need this work to return for you?,” because there’s got to be a hard number that they’re working towards. It may be revenue or any other goal that can be measured. We want to report back to say, “Due to our work, we’ve returned back to you two or three times your investment with us based on these measurements.” That moves the discussion away from cost and towards the true value of our services.
We want to work with clients who are willing to tell us, “Here’s where our business is now and here’s where we want it to be. What strategies can we put in place to get us there?” Instead of just, “I think I need a website,” or, “I think I need to be active on social networks.” The content marketing is the primary goal and driver of value, while our WordPress development services are truthfully just a really great tool for sharing that information and reaching that goal.
The content marketing is the primary goal and driver of value, while our WordPress development services are truthfully just a really great tool for sharing that information and reaching that goal.
Ultimately you want to provide the services that help your clients achieve their goals, even if your clients mistake the means for the ends. You’re the expert, even though some clients may not always recognize that.
Bob: The difference between a client whose goal is only a website is that those people aren’t looking for an expert. They’ve already found the solution and it’s just a website, so they think that they’re good to go.
What we really want is someone who tells us their goals and asks, “How can you help us? What do you have to offer?” And those are the clients that we’re most willing to partner with and provide our services to. Dealing with clients who have already decided what they want, when they’re mistaken about it, are often very difficult to work with. We’ve had a few of those.
So Bob recently joined full time? Quit his job and went all in with Angie Meeker Designs, right?
Angie: I felt like he didn’t care for his job in the first place and it’s okay to say that. There were aspects of it that he liked and aspects that he didn’t.
Bob: It’s fair to say that we made a judgement based on where I could make the most impact and money. I was in the position of working for a nonprofit and not being very well compensated for my work, so it wasn’t as difficult a decision as it might have been otherwise.
Angie and I had been discussing the future of the agency. She can of course keep doing what she’s been doing, but there’s a limit to what she can do herself. If we want to take the business further we need to analyze our processes, so that getting a client takes less time and working through a project becomes more efficient. Angie’s one person so she can’t necessarily give the one-on-one contact that some of our clients need.
One example of this is that Angie does the work, but when she’s busy it’s hard to communicate everything that’s being done to a client. So some clients get worried and frequently ask for updates, whether it’s a text, an email, or a phone call. Sometimes we even get all three over the course of a day. That makes it hard for her to focus on the task at hand, so we’re working on having systems in place to alleviate that.
Angie: Bob’s background is in public administration and that’s what he’s spent his career doing. He not only helps our own business, but now assists our our clients with their processes in a way that’s different than most digital agencies are able to do. We’re now able to make that connection between the design, marketing, and the business operations, which is very exciting to me.
Not only are your skill sets complimentary, but he also frees you up to do more of what you’re specialized in and like to do.
Absolutely. We’re just getting into that. He’s been onboard since March, but honestly over the summer he spent most of his time with our daughter Nila, which is fantastic since it’s been a long time since he’s been able to spend that much time with her.
Now that school has started, we’re looking at our systems to make everything more efficient. For so long I’ve done everything: marketing, selling, designing, building, follow up, maintenance, all of it. If we’re going to grow we need to put systems in place so that some of the work can be passed off. The next project will probably be the first one where we actually hire a designer and a developer instead of having me do that work, which is a big deal for us as a company.
How long have you been working as Angie Meeker Designs?
I’ve been doing it since 2008, although in the past year and a half I can say, “Wow, this is a business,” instead of a very profitable hobby.
Bob: The date I use is August, 2008.
Angie: Yeah. That’s when we started. I don’t know why you said August.
Bob: Because that’s an accurate date, that’s when you had your first job.
Angie: I used to be a youth pastor and right after we got married we moved to Northern Iraq, in Kurdistan, where Bob was working. When we came back, I decided I didn’t want to work in the church anymore. So, I asked myself, “What skills do I have from working in the church?” I had some website skills that I learned on the job, of course looking back I’m embarrassed…
Hey all of us have terrible websites in our past.
So website work is what I started doing to make a little money. Our daughter was less than a year old, so I wanted to be home with her. At the time I thought, “I’ll just figure out how to advertise on Craigslist and I’ll get some clients that way.” And I did. The first site I did was for $200 and I thought that was a big deal! It was for a barbecue company that’s still around and they still have that same website, which does exactly what they need it to do, although perhaps I should approach them about a redesign soon.
You’re a lot more skilled now, so I bet you could charge more than $200!
Hopefully they would give me barbecue again too!
Bob: At first Angie did a lot of bartering for her work, so we got all sorts of cool stuff.
Angie: We got catering and even a garden installed in our backyard, although we don’t do that anymore…
Bob: …unless somebody had something really good.
Angie: It would need to be something really good because we don’t do that anymore. Anyway, that’s what we did. I’ve only ever used WordPress, which put us on the path that we’re on now. I went to WordCamp Columbus in 2009 and thought, “Oh my gosh, look at all this cool stuff I can do.”
So you’ve really grown a lot with WordPress.
I have, even though I’m not a developer. I still can’t build anything from scratch. You know what I mean? But I don’t have to.
I went to WordCamp Columbus in 2009 and thought, “Oh my gosh, look at all this cool stuff I can do.
You don’t need to.
Most clients don’t care if you can, at least not the clients that I work with. They don’t care that it’s WordPress or that it wasn’t hand coded. They only want to be able to update it themselves, with the confidence that it works and helps them reach their goals.
How did you become involved with the WordPress meetups?
I organized the 2011 WordCamp in Columbus after the previous organizers bowed out. I didn’t want it to go away because it had been so valuable to me. I had experience in event planning from my work with the church, so I volunteered to organize it and thought, “If it flops, so what?” At least I tried to keep it going. The previous year it wasn’t really focused on WordPress, so I wanted to fix that and keep it only about WordPress.
The WordPress Foundation would prefer that a city not have a WordCamp unless a local meetup already exists. Columbus didn’t have one, so we inadvertently did it backwards. After that first WordCamp we started the meetup and I’ve just kept doing it since then. It’s always been interesting since we have novices, developers, designers, and business owners who come. It’s really a diverse group, although we’re still working on making it welcoming and interesting to as many people as possible.
Also, back to WordCamp, the past couple years it’s just been Bob and me, although Dave and John helped one year too. This was the first year that I had to find speakers for both days of camp. It’s a risk to the event if I’m the only one organizing it, so after this year, I asked for help from the Foundation to help cover roles and organize speakers. People responded overwhelmingly well to it, so I now have help so that I’m not trying to doing everything.
It must be a lot of work to organize and run a WordCamp.
It will be better next year than what it was this year because it’s got all these great people involved with it, who are excited about it. WordCamp is one of my favorite things that I do, so I am looking forward to it.
Tell me about Your Crime Site.
One of our clients is the Central Ohio Crime Stoppers, for whom we developed a website several years ago. After their site debuted they started to get phone calls from other Crime Stopper organizations that wanted a similar site. This was right after I learned about WordPress Multisite, which was exactly what I needed to start spinning off websites.
Basically, we host the crime sites and ensure that they’re kept up-to-date. Either the client manages their content or we add and update it for them, for a fee. We also offer event registration and management options.
Our one big feature that distinguishes us from other competitors in the crime site space is that we put every crime on its own page, so it can have a unique URL. It’s much easier for visitors to search the site and pass around the links, which helps with the ultimate goal of showcasing the faces of the criminals, so they can be captured.
It’s a nice side project, although we go back and forth between wanting to focus on it and wanting to kill it.
Bob: What’s funny is that one of us will say, “I think it’s time we need to find someone else to manage this.” And then we’ll change our minds and say, “No, look at all potential it has!” And then time will pass and the other person will say, “I think we’re done here,” but by then the other one of us will reply, “No, there’s still more opportunity!”
It has a lot of potential for Crime Stoppers and for us.
Angie: It has. It’s something that we don’t take advantage of.
So it comes down to what’s the best use of your time? That’s probably constantly inyour thoughts.
It is, yeah. The thing about Your Crime Site is that it’s this whole little ecosystem that would allow me to do all the things that I really like to do. I like teaching, so it’s an opportunity for me to help this entire little niche to learn how they can better market themselves online. But at the same time, it doesn’t yet meet all the criteria of what we really want to do. We haven’t killed it yet because it’s still doing what it needs to do for the couple of organizations that have it. It’ll stick around for a while more, I think.
Cool. What’s the Eight Hour Business Makeover?
Unfortunately that’s a project that’s been killed. I think it’s a really great idea and I had good feedback for it, but it’s just not a good fit for the businesses that would actually need the lessons contained within it. It was meant to be was an introduction to the pillars of internet marketing, to see how each area is connected. The participants would receive a workbook with exercises so that they could begin executing in each area of study. The problem was that the work involved would require more time, and assistance, than could be fit into a one or two day conference.
I’ve thought about making it an online course, so that it’s not crammed into such a short period of time. But the businesses that I’ve worked with don’t yet understand how to use those, or aren’t willing to do the work to put themselves through each one of those areas. So I decided the course work isn’t a good match for the client. I let the domain expire, although killing a project doesn’t mean that you can’t come back to it.
Tell me about the Freelancers Conference.
I’m always learning new things from running my business, which I make sure to share with others. As a result, I often have people coming up to me who ask, “When are you going to do a conference that helps us learn everything you know about contracts, onboarding, pricing, or even how to pick clients?” It has happened enough times that I finally decided that we’re going to do it.
So, next March we’re going to put on the Freelancers Conference, which will be focused on all the aforementioned topics and more. It won’t be specific to the WordPress community, since all sorts of small business people need to learn how to position themselves in their respective markets. We’ve asked the community what they want to learn about and now we’re finding the best speakers to cover those topics. I’m really excited about it. It will be a nonprofit event, the tickets will be affordable, and it will be held over two days.
I’m telling the speakers, “Don’t just bring an inspirational message about pricing or some talk about how you grew your team.” I want them to bring something more practical, something that our attendees can leave with, which will help them take the next step in their careers. It will be almost a workshop since it will be so hands-on. As soon as I mentioned it, I had people saying, “Let me know if I can help. I want to come speak. I’ll bring my team in to help.”
What’s a typical work day for you?
We get up and take our daughter to school, so we don’t get back from that until about 9:30 AM. After that we start our work day. We don’t have a particular structure to our day, but we work until 2:30 to 3:00 PM and then we pick Nila up. And then I try really hard to stop working until she goes to bed, which is around 8:00 PM. In the past we would go pick Nila up from school and then I would go straight back to work until dinner, after which we would put her to bed and I’d still be working. It was just awful.
So you’re trying for a better work and life balance?
Exactly that. From 9:30 AM until 3:00 PM is not a very long time. A lot of freelancers think, “Oh, I’m going to work 40 hours a week for myself,” but that’s not true, at least in billable hours. The reality is that you probably have about 20 hours of the week when you’re doing work that directly relates to a client project. We’ve obviously moved away from this, but work that I could bill a client for, instead of work where I’m researching or doing administration. As we’ve learned to price our work better, it’s freed up a little bit of time.
Bob: Yeah we don’t have typical work days. Angie works every day from when Nila leaves for school, until she gets back home. Once Nila goes to bed, Angie is often back working.
Angie: Not every night.
Bob: But when you do it’s until 10:00 PM. And then there’s weekends…
Angie: No, I don’t work through the weekends anymore.
Bob: Yes, you do.
Angie: No, I don’t.
Angie: Yeah, but I’m trying not to do that anymore. On Tuesday afternoon we go to Nila’s school and do a reading group because the kids really need the help. If anyone reading this wants to help, let us know.
Bob: If you’re out there, reading this.
Angie: On Friday at noon I meet with a group of folks online for a business mastermind. That’s really the only structure to our week at this point.
Do you work at home?
Sometimes if I really need to get work done, I’ll go somewhere else, but mostly I just work at home. Bob has an office upstairs and I have one downstairs. I know there are benefits to coworking, but at the same time I don’t want to spend the money on the space. Even if we were a small agency, I wouldn’t want us to move into a space. Instead I’d want us to be working online, from wherever we wanted to work. It’s just us, so we work from home.
How do you spend your free time?
Angie: We spend it with Nila.
Bob: Yeah, although unfortunately my one hobby has become binge watching television, when I’m not with Nila or doing work.
Angie: He does, not me. I’m trying to introduce Nila to things that she otherwise wouldn’t be introduced to. Like going fishing.
How’d that go? I saw your tweet about that.
Bob: It was fun. We fell in the river.
Angie: So, not me. Bob and Nila.
You’re here now, which is good.
Bob: Right. We survived.
You didn’t drift down into the Ohio.
Angie: I was on the dock and they were on the ramp, which was covered in algae. Nila slipped and then Bob slipped, so I then turn around and they’re both yelling, “We’re gonna die!” They didn’t, but for a moment they really had me. They couldn’t stand up for awhile because it was so slippery.
Bob: I would like to say two things. One, I never wanted to go to the boat dock in the first place. I said it was a bad idea.
Angie: He did.
Bob: And I tried everything to get us to go somewhere else. Secondly, we had been playing and Nila slid in and couldn’t get out because it was so slick. Angie thinks it’s funny because she didn’t see Nila’s face when she realized that she couldn’t get up, so she was sliding into the river. I had to grab her. I knew that I could swim and I’d be fine, but I also realized that I couldn’t stand up either because it was too slippery. This all happened in the space of several seconds. Angie thinks it’s funny because she wasn’t traumatized like I was.
Angie: Well, also, Bob’s a city kid. So it was humorous to me. He didn’t want to go in the first place, but we went and then he falls in the river. It was funny. Sort of.
Did you catch any fish?
Angie: Yeah, we went in the late afternoon and our side of the river was too sunny. All the fish were on the other side. Nila still had fun, which was the point.
Most weekends we’re doing something together because we’re really strict about her bedtime. I know it sounds weird in response to this question. We’ve always put her to bed around 7:30 PM, which is early, so by the time we’re done with homework, make dinner, and put her to bed, the night’s over.
Bob: And neither one of us is very crafty to take up a craft.
Angie: In this part you can just write, “boring.” Anyway...
What about your goals for the remainder of this year?
Angie: My goal is to have another $35,000 in revenue before the end of this year. A less tangible goal is to position ourselves so that next year we’re able to work with more of our ideal clients. This represents a huge shift in how we’re marketing ourselves, so we need to figure out how to reach these businesses. The other goal of mine is to really knock the Freelancers Conference out of the park because I’d like to do more events like that.
Bob: My goal is to have all our new systems identified, mapped out, and working, which I don’t think will take until the end of the year.
Angie: I think it will.
Bob: It might.
Angie: I haven’t needed that sort of stuff yet, but we need to get them in place or we won’t be able to grow beyond where we are right now.
Bob: I want a client from the Caribbean by the end of the year.
Angie: There you go, go do it, Bob.
Bob: That’s what we call a goal.
You never know, right?
Bob: If we can get to one of the French speaking islands in the Caribbean, then we can bring Nila, since she’s learning French at school. We’ll go for practice, so it’s not just for my own enjoyment.
All you need is one client. Do a good job and then with word of mouth referrals...
Angie: Yeah that’s true. I had someone email me a couple months ago and ask me the ways that I’ve advertised our business. And I responded that we hadn’t done any advertising at all.
That speaks really well for the work you do.
Bob: I think so.
Angie: I hope so. We have to stop before we say something silly.