Meet DSS Alumni who have majorly levelled up their business and confidence.
Laurie McConnell, Bigpacific Creative
Tell us a bit about you! Who are you, and what do you do?
I’m a Digital Strategist and Web/Marketing professional and I’ve been working in the digital space since 1997. I also own & run a regional portal also in existence for 17 years. I help businesses and organizations identify where they’re at with their digital strategy, audit for performance against goals, and set new goals and implement new strategies to meet their objectives. I’m a cheerleader, enthusiast, client lover, and am always honest and direct… and like to have a lot of fun while I’m at it.
Where were you before DSS?
A web designer struggling to prove my value and relevance in a world of automated software and shrinking budgets.
Working in a bit of chaos and worrying too much about billables and taking projects that weren’t a fit to ‘make money’.
Why did you sign up for DSS?
Mostly the impulse came from wanting to be in a peer group of people who want to next-gen their own design & strategy businesses. I wanted to be around professionals modeling where I want to go, and benefit from all the combined hours of work and experience from both you as the group leader but from all the other awesome folks in this club. Systems are also a huge gap for me and I was spending way too much time evaluating software and workflows and wanted to cut to the chase by learning from you and my peers.
Can you describe the DSS experience?
Supportive, but not too touchy-feely new age supportive which kind of drives me bonkers. I start to get grumpy with a feed of endless inspirational quotes. I want useful feedback, some laughs, some ‘I’ve been there, it doesn’t last forever, and here’s what I did to change direction and outcomes’. The leverage in a group like this can not be overstated. I’ve been able to refer clients to others in the group who would better serve what would be poor fits for me, and I’ve been referred some clients in return.
Mostly it feels PROFESSIONAL. I think of it as being akin to being in a guild – it ups my game, holds me accountable, and introduces me to a whole lot of ‘what’s possible and doable’.
Can you describe the people in DSS (including instructor + fellow students)?
Well, what can one say about Marie without sounding fawning? She just ROCKS. She’s very honest, she goes right out on the line for her DSSers, she’s excellent at making connections between people, she’s transparent about what she’s learning so we can see that self and business-improvement activities are a process not a destination. She’s a gorgeous person inside and out, and very careful about who’s in the DSS space. She protects the group conscience and potential and that’s a huge benefit (we’ve all been a part of a group that has been hijacked by one or two bombastics or red herring experts and it’s so refreshing to never have to deal with that).
Marie is that unique blend of person who has the chops and the knowledge, and is constantly furthering her own education and networking to benefit clients, but is also a person of deep integrity who finds her purpose in supporting others to grow professionally and personally. Perhaps her greatest strength is that she has been where many designers are – wondering why client relationships aren’t as rich as they should be, why specific problems crop up repetitively with different clients, and how we as the leaders of the process can change our tools, approaches and interactions for the satisfaction of both client and service provider.
The other DSSers are frighteningly competent! I jest, but there is a lot of power in this group. Members are generous with their time and are happy to share what’s working – including tools and processes that most competitively-obsessed business owners would never divulge. It’s refreshing, that’s what. There’s some great senses of humour in a few of the folks, and that adds a levity that takes the edge off solo entrepreneurship.
What’s interesting about DSS is that I know a few of the people from other Facebook design-related groups. And where other groups have albeit fun but highly cynical tones often peppered with frustrated swearing and memes,
DSS always takes the high road and brings out the best in each of us.
What were some of your breakthroughs?
Moving into a digital strategy role is the biggest. It’s what I have been doing for clients since I started, but I called it ‘web design’ and got lumped in with everyone else only doing design, where I constantly had to fight against being a commodity in a constant queue of cattle calls quoting web projects. I had someone say in the real world that I have to call it web design and marketing because the average person doesn’t get ‘digital strategy’, but I have learned through my new intake processes, marketing, positioning and work that digital strategy IS where things already are, and I want to be in the front of that vanguard and not waiting until the market is so saturated it’s just been coopted into another meaningless buzz word.
I now bill at two or three times the rates I was at before because I’m not quoting by the hour anymore, but by value.
I’m quoting on a much more realistic set of hours that gives way more room and accounts for profit, taxes, rainy day funds etc. I think I’m moving into a whole new strata of work in the second half of 2015.
Another breakthrough was deciding what to do with my old design company brand, Bad Dog Design. This happened on a retreat weekend in Vancouver, in casual conversation with another DSSer. I had chewed the problem over for about five years, and then someone in the group asked what I’d do if it all burned to the ground and I had to start over. I had never let myself think that way before and I just took the emotional plunge and envisioned it, and *poof* the path was clear as day. I’m now on the other side of that process with Bigpacific Creative Digital Strategy & Web Design and feel a thousand times more aligned.
What are your takeaways from working with us?
Don’t second guess yourself or apologize for your self-perceived lack of… whatever.
Women especially give away far too much power and we need to step into our roles like we mean it, own our strengths and our weaknesses, welcome challenges and setbacks as learning experiences, be compassionate with others while maintaining healthy boundaries, and invest into myself while still being responsible for the bottom line.
What was your favorite part of the DSS experience?
Fixing my processes and thinking! Having access to tools and reviews of applications and methods to save my own dillydallying on ‘research’. And the awesome peer group.
I have watched my DSS peers grow exponentially, and heard their voices change from harried and worried about everything from sideways contracts and fear of financial setbacks to purposeful crafters of their own destinies, and I’ve seen the difference to their bottom lines and their personal health and relationships with others both in and outside of their businesses.
How have you applied the strategies you’ve learned?
I am a Digital Strategist today. I take a leadership role when asked to join a project, and ‘own’ my work.
I bill at a much higher amount and just landed my highest project fee ever of 7-9k.
I have set healthy minimums on all of the new client relationships I engage in, which weeds out all the low-money/ridiculous expectation clients in a seamless way.
How do you feel right now?
I feel re-engaged with my business and like I’m on a better footing. I’m not where I want to be yet, but I know I am moving in the right direction. The DSS program is a dovetail to another program I work in with a general coach. I wondered if I needed the two programs and almost didn’t do DSS because my other group has systems and fundamentals as well, but they’re more generalist in nature for the variety of businesses and disciplines in that program, and very localized to my area. DSS is unique in that it’s for digital professionals, so generally coaching just can’t offer what DSS does.
What’s next for you?
I plan to go through the entire course again as I had more time for some pieces than others due to life’s interruptions. I want to further streamline my processes and significantly improve my client experience cycle. I also want to move into more writing about digital strategy for small businesses, doing public speaking, and combining my love for storytelling into my day job.
This time next year I will be more than adequately funded via my work, have financial and time room to invest further into my business development and will have some time to play in emerging technologies to fuel my imagination – a critical piece I bring to all of my relationships.
What would you say if you were recommending DSS to a friend?
Get out of your own echo chamber and into a setting where you can really grow as a business owner and professional. Be where the innovation is happening and where you can benefit from all of the expensive mistakes we have all suffered through in the past, and get on a fast track for meaningful and pivotal change in your business.
Digital Strategy School is the best investment you can make for your design business.