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Business Strategy Session with Sandy Burns sandfire.ca

Sandy
Well, it’s so nice to meet you anyway.

Adela Mei
You too. So I had a little look at your website and a little think through some of the things you put in your email. So what we can do is literally just dive right in. Tell me a little bit about your business. And then the call is really, I mean, we have half an hour, so we can’t solve the world’s problems or anything in half an hour, but we can often unpack a couple of things. Maybe if it was specific to do with growing your business, or a social media strategy, or scaling your business, those kinds of things. And then we just see what we can come up with in half an hour. If that sounds that sounds okay to you. It’s really like a three hour conversation. But I like to challenge myself to put myself on a hot seat and say, Okay, you got me for half an hour. Let’s see what we can uncover. So is that what you were expecting?

Sandy
I guess so. To be honest, I’m not really sure what I’m expecting. I just thought, well, this sounds interesting, and I really liked the presentation you did for Josh there. So I wondered if you can help me with anything here. So I figured I’d give this a try.

Adela Mei
Okay, well, let’s dive in. And, yeah, tell me a little bit about your business. And let’s see how we can help you with some digital strategy today.

Sandy
Okay, and I knew you were gonna start off with that question. Okay, so my business is called Sandfire Design, as you know, and it’s a play on my name. It’s just me, I’m a solopreneur, I work from an office in my basement. I’ve been doing this since 2013. But I’ve really, I’m almost embarrassed to say this, but I’ve really only taken my business really seriously, for the last maybe two or three years. Like up until then it was sort of a, let’s see how, let’s see where I can go with this. But I was still kind of working contracts with, you know, some other businesses and stuff like that. But then a couple years ago, I decided, no, I really enjoy this, and I’m getting a client base, I really want to start building this, you know.

The majority of what I do is website design, I’d say at least 80% of my work, and my income is building websites, whether it’s brand new websites, or redesigning one that’s really ancient, you know. But the rest of it, I do a lot of other little things, too. So, my first career was in journalism. So I’ve taken a lot of the writing and editing skills from that and sort of injected it into the web design stuff. Because a lot of it translates, right, you know, in terms of hierarchy of information, and that kind of thing. So, my clients love that I can do all the website content for them, they don’t have to worry about anything, but just giving me like, point form, whatever kind of information they want. And then I will mold that into something readable for their website.

I also have a couple of clients who get me to edit newsletters, blogs, website content, that kind of thing, which I really enjoy. And a huge part of what I do too, that I’m trying to grow even more, is my hosting & maintenance plans, because of course, recurring income is wonderful. And I also have a service that I think a lot of other website designers kind of veer away from and I couldn’t understand why. Is where if you have a WordPress website that you don’t necessarily want changed, but you want content updated, or you’re having a little problem, something’s not showing properly, whatever, then I’ll go in and figure it out for them and do that, you know what I mean? So it’s like, website, I forget exactly what I call it on my website, but you would have seen that, fixing your website problems, basically, which can get a little tedious sometimes, but it’s also really interesting to see how other designers have put things together and how other page builders work and that kind of thing. So yeah, that’s my business in a nutshell. So I do a lot of stuff, but most of it is website, and that’s where my passion is too.

Adela Mei
Okay, awesome. With the the web tinkering, is that only people on your maintenance plan or that’s like, anybody.

Sandy
No, so what happens there is, most of those clients actually come from this one guy that I work with. So he, I call him a colleague, he runs his own business. He does Google Analytics and Google ads, that kind of thing. He specializes in that. But he will get clients where he’ll call me up and say, you know, Sandy, I can’t get this telephone link in the header to click to call, you know, can you go in and fix that for me, for the client, or something like that, but he’ll also send clients my way who need a little bit more in depth work on their site. So a lot of them come through that. And like I said, I don’t mind, but it’s not something I advertised as heavily as the websites and, the hosting and maintenance, that kind of thing.

Adela Mei
Because you mentioned about not being sure about like the direction you might want your business to go in, or grow in. So where does, tis is what is coming to me, does that fit in to business.

Sandy
It’s so funny because right now I feel like I’m very much in that hamster wheel where I’m just I’m so busy. I’ve got so many websites on my plate right now that I’m just constantly trying to catch up and constantly trying to, I’m pushing deadlines back because I can’t meet them in time, and then I’m so tired of saying to like writing an email to a client that says, I’m so sorry for the delay in getting this done. Or thank you so much for your patience. Like, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written those words. And it’s just like, Oh, I just wish I could say, hey, guess what, I’ve got it done ahead of time.

So, yeah. And I’ve been caught in that wheel for, like I said, probably a good couple of years, at least. Now this year I have focused more on my business a bit in the sense where I’ve written out my processes, and I’ve written out my entire checklists, from start to finish of websites, and I’m starting to work on email templates so that I’m not writing the same thing over and over. So I’ve really put the focus on that for the last couple of months, just because I see the value in that now. But I guess, I don’t know where else to go from there. And I’ve been thinking for months, is it time to hire, not hire, but contract somebody. I don’t want to get into staff and payroll, I definitely do not have the income to afford to hire somebody full time. But the shift is, am I at the point now, where I should be looking at contracting out some of this design work? But I don’t know if that’s really what I want to do, because I contract out for graphic design, and for the Google Analytics and stuff with these two people that I work with. But those aren’t things that I do. So it’s a lot easier. When it’s something that I do, and that I love, it’s a lot harder to wrap your head around that.

Adela Mei
Yes, for sure, it makes absolute sense. So my, and this is just what’s coming as you’re talking the tinkering. Do you track time? I mean, a lot of people we’ve been talking about this the last few weeks, actually, when we actually start to track our time and really look with our eyes, how much time you spent on certain tasks, and how much income it generated, how much profit it generated, but also how much you’re enjoying it, it can actually be quite eye opening. So the first thing I’m gonna suggest is start tracking your time. And there’s lots of apps you can get on your browser, like I use Harvest.

Sandy
Yeah, I actually just got [app] on my computer. I downloaded that a little while ago. But I have to keep remembering to turn it back on because somehow it turns itself off.

Adela Mei
We all say the same thing. It’s the discipline, you’ve got to remember to turn it on to get it righ figures out of it. But my sense would be, say you were faced with a choice. And just please take what resonates and leave everything else, if it’s not landing well with you. If you can identify the things that maybe you can drop off the list of tasks, because they’re not really where your passion is, where the energy is, if you have a vision, and I’m a very visual person, imagine your business on the horizon, how you want it to look, everything in your sort of trajectory is aiming for that. That can really help see, okay, maybe the tinkering isn’t helping me get to there.

So for example, if you drop the tinkering off, how much more time would you have to focus on your web design? Would that reduce the amount of emails going out saying, I’m really sorry, it’s going to be another week. Sometimes we can get really distracted in all of the things, because we feel busy and I’m a task taker. I’m a recovering task ticker. It can feel good going, I’m doing this, I’m doing this, dum dum dum. But actually, the bigger projects tend to get delayed. And maybe that’s one thing that’s happening, because it’s a quick win to go with the low hanging fruit. Oh, I’ll fix this. I’ll do this. I feel good. I saved the world this week. Oh no, I didn’t finish the website for my client. And that’s the important work. How does that kind of feel?

Sandy
You’re absolutely right, because there’s been weeks where I will literally spend the entire week on what I call the little projects, the other projects, like not the big website projects, but just the little fixes here and there. This person needs their e newsletter done and this that. And then all of a sudden, again, it’s going to be another week for these, big website projects that I’m working on. And yeah, yeah, definitely. And I tend to over, or I guess it would be underestimate the amount of time something’s going to take. So it’s like, oh, I should be able to get this and this and this done this morning, and then it’s two o’clock in the afternoon, and I’m still on task two out a four that I expected to be done before lunch. And its like oh, my God. So, I’m sure a lot of people are in that boat.

Adela Mei
We’re all in that boat. And I think once you start really seeing it, and then it’s like, once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it, you can’t pretend to yourself anymore. No, I’m not doing that. It’s like, no, I wrote it down, you know, I tracked my time, I can see all of these things. And say, if you mentioned, a colleague, gave you a lot of these referrals, so I would, my sense is, as a white label arrangement, that’s fine. But that’s between you and them. So maybe you’re kind of on call to help them with their clients.

Whether that’s actually a part of your core business yourself would be something I would sit with. And just really question, is this really what I want to do? It isn’t always about the money. It isn’t always about the profitability. But if doing those things, and you know, you’re not the only person that does it, don’t worry, but if doing those things is actually distracting you from the big project, it’s like, hmm, why are you doing that? Are you nervous about finishing? Are you avoiding something? Are you, I mean, it could be all sorts of things. But it seems to be a very common human condition, to go for the low hanging fruit, so we get a sense of achievement much quicker. But the big projects suffer, like the really big project being, our life’s work, our life’s purpose, suffer because we’re tinkering.

Sandy
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. You know, and I was just thinking about this this morning, and thinking about how I’d like to be able to take on larger website projects, right, like medium sized businesses, ones that have more pages, where it’s more challenging to come up with the menu structure, and unique design and that kind of thing. But I also don’t want to ignore the small businesses, right, I’m in a very rural area. So most of my local clients are very small mom and pop kind of shops, right. So I don’t know, but I don’t know that I can do both and grow if I stay alone with this. So you know, yeah, I don’t know.

Adela Mei
Because you’re asking these questions, it feels like you’re ready to grow because you’re starting to look at things and think, I want to grow, I want to have bigger projects. But I’m already behind with these, and I’ve got all of this, how am I going to fit it all in.

So an exercise I suggested, I don’t know if you saw my other sessions, and I do this myself is, again, because I’m very visual, big piece of paper, colored pencils, draw a big circle. And literally everything that you want to stay in your business, you put in the middle. And these are genuinely the things you’re really passionate about. So I’ve heard you say, you love the web design. The things that you’re not really sure, actually, those go on the outside of the circle. And we can really overthink this sometimes it’s in our nature. But if you just really go with, this feels good. I feel lit up when I do this, those tasks go in the circle. Everything else goes outside. And that doesn’t mean you have to scrap it all now and stop doing it. It just means, so your eyes can see Oh, wow, these are the things, my core business. Those are the things that I’m a little bit. Hmm I can take it or leave it.

Sandy
Right.

Adela Mei
And then that informs, Okay, let’s see, I’m going to take some steps to reduce these things, increase these things. Create more space for the things that you want to do. So it does involve dropping some things off before you can bring new things in.

Sandy
Right.

Adela Mei
Does that make sense?

Sandy
It does make sense. And actually, yeah, as you’re saying that I’m kind of thinking of the tasks that I do, and you’re right, if I had that circle, and it was visual in front of me, I would probably put those website fixes on the outside of that circle, because it does take up a lot more time to just figure the website out before I can even start doing any changes, right. And a lot of times I have to go back to the client and say this isn’t possible because there’s so much custom code, and blah, blah, blah, like just because of the way the site’s set up and yeah, so maybe that is something to drop so I can focus on what I really like to do. So, yeah.

Explaining that it feels like this kind of curiosity of almost like, oh, let me just see if I can fix this. But that 15 minutes or that half an hour, are you being paid for that?

Yeah, most of the time.

Adela Mei
You are for most of the time. Okay.

Sandy
Yeah. I mean, it’s it. Yeah, it depends on the exact scenario if I’m given a certain amount, like if the client says, Okay, my budget is this much, and it’s going to take me an hour just to figure out how this website is put together, then, it’s not something I’m very good at coming back and saying, Yeah, so you know, what, it took a little bit longer than expected, I’m more just the person of like, Okay, well, this is what we agreed to so this is what I’m going to invoice you for. So I’m too much of a people pleaser. I’m way too much of a people pleaser sometimes.

Adela Mei
Does that feel like something you want to move forward with to grow your business?

Sandy
No. No, I definitely want to get paid for every minute that I’m working for sure. So yeah,

Adela Mei
I mean, there’s a lot of different you know, I jest a little, there’s a lot of different ways to do things. But if say those clients were on your maintenance plan, then you could package a certain amount of hours for updates, absolutely fine. But when you get to your limit, then you need to be disciplined and time track and go, okay, this actually is gonna take me over. So we’ll move on to an hourly rate. And I think we may find that those things become less important to the clients, once you start mentioning, it’s gone over the hour, or you’re going to actually have to bull another hour, suddenly, they may not need those tweaks done.

Sandy
Yeah.

Adela Mei
That’s just something to maybe consider.

Sandy
That’s true, too. I have seen that. Yeah.

Adela Mei
With your existing clients it’s finding that way, maybe, and a lot of us have this, maybe we’ve been used to doing these little extra things. But as our business grows, we start realizing as I think you’re realizing, we actually can’t keep doing all the little extra things for all the clients.

Sandy
Yes.

Adela Mei
Because there’s only so many hours in the day, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to work every day for 10 hours, it’s not, I really don’t want to do that. So it helps us to be more disciplined with those little extra tasks, and the little extra time, to then say, okay, just be clear in communication from now on with things, so that clients get to kind of be trained to a different way of working if they’re like, so if you have clients who were used to massive generosity, then they don’t suddenly feel this shock that you suddenly abandon them or something.

Sandy
Yeah.

Adela Mei
There’s a way to do things, slowly phasing out certain things, and then phase in, like your new way of doing things. So people just don’t, they don’t really notice. It’s not like Sandy suddenly changed her personality or something. Do you know what I mean?

Sandy
Yeah, no, and that’s exactly where I’m at is, no longer doing all these little things that I know I’m not going to get paid for, because I want my business to grow and make more money. And it’s a matter of the client finding the person who kind of vibes with them. Right.

Adela Mei
Yeah, absolutely. And I think that kind of integrity piece is one of those differentiators. And when we’re talking about scaling a business, that’s something I would always bear in mind. How are you scaling? And what do you mean by scaling? And how do you maintain your integrity that you’ve built this business, you’re the person that people trust. So when you’re scaling, to just be aware, you need to maintain that same level of integrity.

Sandy
And you’ve hit the nail on the head in terms of why I’m so nervous to contract out the design work, and grow and scale in that way, because I don’t want to lose that integrity and that reputation that I’ve built. I mean, people are coming to me because they’ve seen my work, and they want me to build a website. So I’m personalizing it, but maybe they just want a website. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s me or somebody else as long as it works, right. So I don’t know, I have a tendency to get in my own way sometimes.

Adela Mei
We can all do that.

Sandy
So I don’t know if I’m hesitant to scale because I’m in my own way, or if I’m hesitant to scale because there’s a reason, there’s an actual reason I should be paying attention to that maybe I shouldn’t. Do you know what I mean? That’s kind of where I’ve been stuck for the last several months.Is it time? or you know, I’m very risk adverse. So that plays into it as well.

Adela Mei
I wonder if, where I would start with is, if you feel to do that exercise, because what I’m hearing you say is you already kind of behind with some projects. So scaling right now, how does that feel to you?

[Laughing]

Adela Mei
It might add to a sense of overwhelm., I would get clarity fast. And I always believe this, you have to create space first for things to come in. So get clear on the things that you really want to do and start maybe just reducing the time on the other things and then just start setting your sights on – Okay, I’m ready to work with a bigger project, be really clear about what the kind of project you want to work on, the kind of clients that you want to work with, and take it from there. If that makes sense. It’s almost like visioning first like – this is my ideal client. I’ve been doing this for a few years, I’m ready to sort of step up into a slightly different way of doing business. And now I’m going to take that next step and start start from there. Does that make sense?

Sandy
Yeah, it does. Definitely. Yeah.

I was concerned that the issues I’m facing in my business weren’t something you would be able to weigh in on and that I would be wasting your time. I was pleasantly surprised when this wasn’t the case.

The key thing you said that I think I really needed to hear was that I can grow and I don’t need to take everything with me. I’ve been caught in a hamster wheel of my own design because I don’t want to say no to people, but as a result, I end up doing work that doesn’t drive me and isn’t the best use of my time.

Like most women, I just want to be everything to everyone, but that’s not possible. It’s ok to set boundaries and say no. And I realize now that in order to grow, I need to lighten the load.

The more I can clearly define my services and pricing tiers, the easier it will be to scale and grow. I’d rather offer only a few services and do them extremely well than offer a huge range of things and do a mediocre job. I have built my reputation on quality, integrity and honesty and I feel those are the key elements I need to carry with me, no matter what.

I absolutely would recommend a digital strategy session. You’re basically like a digital business therapist. You excel at mirroring issues back in such a way that make an entrepreneur see for themselves what they’re doing wrong or what they can improve on, but without making them feel like a failure for doing that. For me, just hearing things in a slightly different wording than what’s in my head can be enough to get me thinking in a different direction, and that’s exactly what happened here. I was already putting more focus on my business procedures and policies this year, so reconsidering my service offerings and restructuring how those are marketed came at exactly the right time.

Thankyou again so much for taking the time to talk with me about all this. I really feel like you understand who I am and what drives me in my business.

Sandy Burns

Owner, Sandfire Design

Podcasts

Digital Strategy is Key to Growing Your Business

Tips for Starting a Freelance Web Design Business