This week’s Ask Me Anything expert is no stranger to the DSN+DEV+OKC community. In fact, you’ve seen her at every Meetup. Cara Bell, the organizer for DSN+DEV+OKC and the co-founder of Steed Interactive is this week’s subject of all of our burning questions.
Ask Me Anything is a weekly forum on our #ama Slack channel that gives the OKC creative community the opportunity to ask the featured guest questions about their creative and business-minded processes. From working with clients, their inspiration, favorite projects, and tricks of the trade, no question is off limits.
Cara Bell is a go-getter who plans big and keeps focused on the process. She challenges herself to ask the hard questions of how to keep OKC, the creative community, and her own business moving forward in the ever-changing world of technology, buyer demands and design trends.
Check out our one-hour conversation with Cara on topics like running a business with her husband, DSN+DEV+OKC, her pricing structure, and more.
I feel a little silly for doing my own #ama, but I figured we might come up with some good conversation if anything. ?
So to start, my name is Cara Bell—I host DSN+DEV+OKC with my husband @stephenjbell. If you haven’t been, you should go at least once. I’m always surprised at how social & easy going people can be on a Monday night.
I’m also a business owner with my husband – we own Steed Interactive and specialize in ecommerce strategy & marketing. When I talk to people outside the DSN+DEV circle, this is the baby I talk about (sry).
This year’s theme for my business has been more about strategy and focusing our efforts. We started out 2.5 years ago soon after we had twins, and were just taking whatever work came our way. Now we’re positioning ourselves as a small agency and narrowing our audience & our message. Our goal is to sell larger projects with ongoing revenue attached to those projects.
Eventually, I want to see the success of DSN+DEV be the success of my business. It’s a long-term ROI, but I believe together we can raise the perceived value design & digital in OKC, raise the number clients are willing to pay, learn how to price ourselves better (and not feel guilty about it), learn how to negotiate higher pay from employers and just be better advocates for each other.
With DSN+DEV, we’ve started small. I think a lot of the success of the group has been the laid back friendly atmosphere, the openness of our speakers, and the emphasis on becoming a more connected community. We consistently have 50+ people show up, and we have 100 active members on slack, and we have a ton of cheerleaders ?
I love the idea of doing bigger events in 2018, and I love the idea of all of you sharing more of your work, sharing more of your advice & experiences, and doing your own projects that become just as big. I think because all of us are helping each other out, OKC will be THE place to have a creative business or career in the next five years.
So! Feel free to ask me anything.
What have you learned the most from running your own business?
I learned hard that running a business is not doing whatever I wanted ? I’d say the first year was all about perfecting our craft and it wasn’t until later that we started working on the strategy of things. A lot of running a business is learning how to be the boss and owning your work and owning the client process – making sure your clients respect your point of view from the start to finish.
I learned that sales isn’t just a thing that happens at the very start, it’s something you do throughout your relationship with the client.
This is totally an unfair question, but is there a specific speaker from the last year of DSN DEV that has resonated the most with you, Cara?
So when I’m at the meetups, I’d say that I’m half there. I usually have to ask @stephenjbell how it went after and what he thought of the talk. What really gets me excited is the energy of the people there and it’s usually very easy to see how people connect with the speaker.
So along those lines, my favorite all time would have to be @elizabeth and @jordan’s meetup. They maybe talked for just 20 minutes total, but then there was a long Q&A after and it was very open and intimate.
What’s the work your most proud of looking back over the past two and a half years? Or maybe, what was your favorite project?
My favorite work is not my favorite project. I love the work we did for Aurora in the Plaza – it’s closer to the work we want to do. But my favorite project was the most recent one we kicked out the door for The Christian Chronicle. It’s maybe the first higher paying site we got and we get to do ongoing analytics for them so it’s cool to see the immediate return.
Aurora: Breakfast, Bar & Backyard – Oklahoma City
Aurora is a quaint breakfast shop located in the historic Plaza district near downtown Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
The Christian Chronicle
The Christian Chronicle is a newspaper committed to the highest journalistic standards and seeks to inform, inspire and unite Churches of Christ worldwide.
These are both really cool! Strong work!!! ?
Thanks! Also I should clarify my answer a little, I love the owners at Aurora and they were fun to work with, but new restaurant businesses have rollercoaster starts and we had zero control over the timeline ?
I get it! So sad I missed the rest of this convo. Got stuck in some meetings! ?
How do you price your work? Be it actual design services or consulting? What’s the benchmark? Is there one?
We’re working our way towards value based pricing for small-med sized businesses. The trick is finding the clients that see the value in what we do before we sell it to them. If I’m going to make them $1,000,000 over the next year, I want 10% of that.
We aren’t there yet. Right now we price based on what the client knows they can afford – typically 1-2% of their total revenue towards digital marketing, although some clients aren’t ready for that even. We’d like to work our way to value based pricing within the next year, but we’re getting some systems set in place first (like an editorial process and a sales funnel)
We keep raising our minimum. We put a ton of work into our projects, including a lot of consulting up front so the challenge is just finding the clients who are sold from the beginning and can afford a higher price point.
What sparked creating DSN+DEV? Has it achieved what you hoped for? If not, what do you want see come from it?
Initial spark was me & Stephen wanting to grow our business, but we were work from home parents and we needed to get to know people so we could collaborate more on projects. My goal at first was to just have a cool meetup. My second goal, which was realized after I realized the first event was a success, was to start building a community. I love that we have a cool event every month but it would not be the same without the community behind it. I think events come and go, but the community is what’s going to stick around for a long time.
Are most of your client’s websites hand coded from scratch or do you mostly use a platform like WordPress?
Both. We have a scratch theme @stephenjbell starts with and we custom build on top of that. We primarily work with WordPress, but don’t let it lock us in. With our focus on ecommerce, we have to consider the platform that’s right for the client, so we’ll likely be stepping away from WordPress more often in the future.
We find that most pre-built templates slow us down and slow our clients down, so it was never appealing. I built the dsndevokc.com website with a theme + child theme and it wasn’t my favorite thing to do ?
We try to do things as “hand coded” as possible, but we don’t completely reinvent the wheel on things that WordPress and plugins already do well (event calendar, contact forms, ecommerce, etc.). When a contractor builds a custom kitchen, they don’t build you a dishwasher. ?
What is your favorite part about Steed?
I am my favorite and worst client ?
I love the strategy of raising prices and getting in front of the right people and sales funnels and finding the right message – but it’s a slow process and constantly evolving.
What is the best and worst thing about working with @stephenjbell every day? ?
Lol. We run on different wave lengths as far as business goes. I am very much a visionary always talking about what’s next and how we should take big steps to get there. And he’s more “practical”. This is both the good and the bad maybe ? We keep each other in check.
Before we started business together I thought we knew how to communicate just fine, but there was definitely a learning curve. We had always been nice about each other’s work, we hadn’t really struggled with anything together – owning a creative business working along side another creative is tricky and being married to that person just adds a whole other layer. Our communication is much improved now.
What do you think makes Steed different from the other firms in the OKC metro?
I don’t think our business is that different. We price differently than the larger older agencies, we have more energy/bandwidth to focus on our clients, we have a good process.
Outwardly we focus our message to consumer brands ready-to-scale for ecommerce, and we have a process that’s very defined so that they know exactly what they get from the start. This helps us sell ecommerce. But inwardly, I think we all struggle with a lot of the same issues. I love studying some of the agencies who’ve grown large in recent years to watch how they’ve handled growth and how they handle their clients and I think we’ve seen a lot of what we don’t want to do and a little of what we’d like to do.
What has surprised you the most from hosting the DSN+DEV group?
The talkativeness after surprised me. I’ve never been to an event that was this social, except maybe church ? I think the social aspect surprises a lot of people. The willingness to participate has also surprised me, I love when people suggest ideas since they don’t always occur to me and sometimes I’m “in it” instead of able to look at the whole picture.
Time for one more? Where do you see steed in 5yrs? What’s the ultimate goal?
@stephenjbell and I have different thoughts on this, but I see 5-8 employees by 5 years, ideally making 250,000/employee. Still figuring out if that’s possible here in OK ? We’re building to sell. I don’t have an answer for what I want to be doing in 10 years, but I’m up for something different.
Every Tuesday morning at 10:00 am. If you want to listen in or ask your own questions, get your slack invite here: dsndevokc.com/join-our-slack
Who would you like featured for our next AMA?