In this episode you will hear the first of a series of WooBiz Chat events hosted by Maja Loncar and Robbie Adair. These are about the businesses wrapped around WooCommerce, whether it be agencies, whether it be plugins, whether it be freelancers.
Joining them are agency owners Andrew Behla from Behla Designer and Patrick Garman from Mindsize. The conversation is rich with insights and experiences. And if you are running an agency, large or small, I am sure you will find some golden nuggets throughout.
A Chat with Andrew and Patrick
Maja and Robbie talk with Andrew and Patrick about:
- What led their agency to Woo, why they picked it, and why they continue using it
- How are they dealing with the changes in the market due to current market disruptions
- What key differentiators they use between Woo and other eCommerce platforms
- What business tools they use to run and measure their business
- How they set your business expectations and new company goals
- What parameters they use for outside of working hours with their clients
- How they keep themselves and their team on top of all the technology changes with Woo
Connect with Andrew and Patrick
Bob: Hey everyone, BobWP here. And this is episode 125 of Do the Woo podcast. On this show, we're going to be tuning in to the first WooBiz Chat hosted by Maja and Robbie and their guests. And their guests for the very first time, Patrick from Mindsize and Andrew from Behla Design. Now they're going to be doing a round of question with them to help you learn what they've been doing in the agency space with WooCommerce.
You're going to learn what led them to Woo, why they picked them. You're going to hear more about how the disruptions from this last year or so has affected them. And also what business schools are using, how they set their business expectations and goals, and how they keep themselves and their team on top of everything that's... Let's get right into the show.
Robbie: Hello everyone. We're here today with our first episode of WooBiz Chat. Maja, and I will be your co-host today. And we're very excited to be part of the Do the Woo family of events And we're going to concentrate this podcast on business. The businesses wrapped around WooCommerce, whether it be agencies, whether it be plugins, whether it be freelancers, that's our intent here. And so we've got our first show. Maja, why don't you tell them about our guests today?
Maja: Oh, we have so many good news, especially for people who are looking to understand business around Woo. We have Patrick and Andrew with us. Patrick, can you tell us something about yourself?
Patrick: Sure. I'm the CEO of Mindsize. We're an ecommerce focused agency. We do a lot of WooCommerce and a lot of other platforms too. We've run some of the largest WooCommerce and other stores on planet. So we've run into a lot of problems other people haven't yet.
Robbie: Oh, can't wait to dig into those.
Maja: Exactly. And Andrew? Thank you very much for joining our show today. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Andrew: So my name is Andrew Behla and I run Behla Design and we've been running WooCommerce since it started and in business over 20 years, and started out with graphic design publishing business. And yeah, so we kind of have evolved into WordPress and WooCommerce, and I'm also the founder of the West Valley WordPress meetup group and also the Los Angeles WooCommerce meetup group. So we have regular events online now and have a good community of people come to events.
Robbie: Cool.Well, we're going to dive in and start asking you guys some questions here. The very first one is what led you to starting your agency to begin with? And then what brought Woo into the picture and is keeping it there?
Andrew: Sure. We, were actually... When Woo was WooThemes, I don't know if anyone remembers that before pre WooCommerce, we used Woo Canvas theme a lot and we became partners and orients with WooThemes and we just really liked the values of the company and the focus.
And then when WooThemes shifted to WooCommerce, it was a time when they were juggling both, but then they eventually went 100% into WooCommerce because it just took off like a rocket ship. We also, right from the beginning started using WooCommerce. We were using other solutions before that. Press the card, I think was one and different solutions, CC card. And so we'd been doing some ecommerce before that.
But when it became more about WordPress and WooCommerce, we jumped on right away and started using it, and also customizing it. And really from the ground floor, I started building our business around WooCommerce and it just started growing and growing and growing. And we just kept investing in that and focusing on those solutions. We also do WordPress and a lot of design and development, but WooCommerce has been the biggest growth from our business point.
Robbie: Nice. And I know I kind of asked the two part question there, and so I'm going to back you up because what I think is interesting to people is to just see, how did you even get into an agency? And I know you started your agency well before WooCommerce. So what led you to open an agency though?
Andrew: I did a lot of different nine to five jobs. I was working in publishing, magazine publishing, and then also a hardware software for desktop publishing and production work. And I was also instructor at UCLA and Santa Monica College, teaching digital imaging and printmaking.
I did a lot of fine art printing and a lot of those industries started to shrink, the work started to shrink. I, I think mostly what got me in wanting to do my own business was working for other people and then feeling like I didn't have control over the business or the growth and things I wanted to do for the business, I had to defer to the owner of the business.
So I wasn't the owner and I wanted to start my own business. And I tried a lot of different areas on that. I was doing color management consulting and printing and graphic design and a lot of print design. And then web, I think around probably 2000 or I kind of had a point where I was going more into web and started taking more courses on that.
So it just kind of evolved organically and more... I would look at work, other people's work or other websites, and think, I think I could do a little bit better than that. And kind of it started off really simply, and then just started building websites. And then eventually getting into the agency model, I realized I couldn't do everything myself.
I wanted to have more of a work-life balance. And I realized that if I'm going to scale this or grow or have a life besides working, I need to bring in other people on my team and lean on other people to grow the business. And that was sort of the impetus to start Behla Design and have more of an agency model versus just myself as a solopreneur.
Robbie: Awesome, all right. Now we're going to toss it over to you since you tossed it back to him.
Patrick: I've got a kind of a multi-tiered stories that happened here. I found Woo around like version 1.1. So my now wife, then girlfriend wanted to sell some stuff online. I, being the loving person I am, went and tried to find the best ways to sell online.
Tried one platform after another. Eventually found WooCommerce, which did everything I needed except for local delivery, cash on delivery type options. So I built them. I built those little features as plugins first. Tried to contact Woo and say, hey, it was WooThemes at the time, let's sell these. They were looking for extensions to sell.
The response I got was something to the effect of these are so simple we couldn't charge for them if we tried. So that led to my first ever open-source contribution, contributed into WooCommerce core. And then later went on to build other extensions that led to ultimately working at Woo for a couple of years. Left Woo, worked in the agency world for a little bit.
And then I ended up just by happenstance to start working with a company directly who went on to be one of the largest WooCommerce stores that had existed. It was difficult to find information about scaling about performance. We were solving problems that no one had experienced yet let alone even thought about how to solve, which led to a lot of conference talks and GitHub issues and GitHub comments and all sorts of things coming from that.
This was all before Mindsize had existed. So I had built this reputation around scaling WooCommerce, and we had sales days where we took in 100,000 orders in a single day, making millions of dollars a day on WooCommerce when people thought you'd be lucky if you make $1 million a year on the platform.
At a certain point though, solo, you can't get the projects that an agency can. So while I may have the expertise to do something solo, I don't have a team. I don't have the number of people to do large projects. That led Mindsize. Joining the agency as a partner and then growing the company to handle the large projects that we do.
And now we've done projects for a number of very large corporations, very large sites which was very fun during COVI as you can imagine with ecommerce growth.
Robbie: And how long have you been with Mindsize.
Patrick: Mindsize as an agency's about four, four and a half years old. I started January, 2017.
Robbie: All right. Maja, you want to ask them our next question?
Maja: I love amazing stories. And what you just actually told us are two different beginnings, totally successful. So I think in business, nobody should copy each other. Everybody has their own path of success, right? On the topic of this business, I mean, especially nowadays, the markets are compacting at some point and then obviously shrinking and then exploding.
So we are in some explosion of online business, and I'm sure it's a pressure on not only for the clients who need to actually move to this type of business, but it's a pressure on agencies who actually are helping them out on this way of their success, right? And the ecommerce. So I'm thinking now, how do you guys deal with these different market conditions?
Patrick: Right now or at least for the past year and a half, I mean, specializing in ecommerce was great for us because I mean, there's two sides of it right now, right? There's people who already were selling online and there's people who now have to start selling online. So a lot of digital transformation going on.
And the people that were already selling the, what we've heard the most is I'm selling a lot more, my sales are skyrocketing. How do I better support my customers? How do I better handle all this? How do I keep my site online? Because they've seen a lot of scalability performance problems. Number one recommendation I have for most people is try and build it right the first time so you don't have to come back and rebuild it.
We hear a lot of “Patrick, Mindsize help us, our site's slow". Let's avoid that to begin with. But overall, our approach in all our client's sites has been mostly the same where we try and serve the customer. We're not trying to meet a requirement. We're not trying to meet a deadline. We're trying to make sure that ultimately our customer's customer is taken care of.
Especially during COVID, everyone's trying to buy online. Everyone's just trying to get by. We work with grocery chains in trying to sell groceries right now online. So how do we make sure those customers can effectively and easily buy online without too many struggles? Digital transformation has been an entirely different process too, but it's all similar.
How do we make sure that customers are taken care of at the end of the day? Which for us in ecommerce, at least, it's a lot easier to quantify that. If you're not any commerce necessarily, it's harder to say, okay, our brochure site is serving customers. But ecommerce has been a bit easier, but that's been our route.
Robbie: And you guys are still seeing, I mean, well the pandemic's not over, you're still seeing these effects, right? The same increases that we saw six months ago, eight months ago, they're still occurring currently.
Patrick: It's definitely still growing. And there are customers now returning back to stores. They feel okay going to the stores. They are vaccinated. They go into the store and they feel safe to do so. Stores are allowing more people in, but we also have trained a lot of people to shop online. And for a lot of people, that convenience is a huge deal. So now with store support and the convenience, some of them will forever stay shopping online.
Robbie: I definitely think you're right with that. A lot of people I talk to tell me that.
Patrick: Yeah, we've seen it on all our clients sites for sure.
Robbie: And Andrew, you guys are seeing the same kind of market trends I'm assuming?
Andrew: Definitely, we've seen in the last year and a half, a lot of growth. I don't know if I put up percentage, 100%, maybe the number of leads and possible opportunities to help clients. Sometimes, it's several weeks, it's definitely been an uptick and we're also seeing past clients.
We have a lot of clients that we've worked with over the years and they're coming back and they want to improve their site. I remember we have a cologne company and they were so grateful that they did all the work to improve their site before COVID hit. And they said that's the only way they got through their business was being online because all the retail stores were shut down.
So it's just really satisfying to hear stories like that, success stories, where companies have invested and wanted to improve their online presence and usability, like with Patrick's thinking through all the way through the customer and their experience and how to make it easier.
We have another client who sells plants, Paradise Nursery, and they sell all kinds of fruit trees and we help them with custom solutions for dropshipping and kind of tying into third party vendors that they ship bare root, the plants as a bare root in January. So we were able to create a solution for them where they could expand their current local business to be nationwide basically and compete with some of these bigger companies.
So it's really interesting to see how smaller businesses are trying to leverage their online presence and also functionality of their website, and different ways of selling through different channels. We've also had a lot of clients want to redo their store, their theme and their look and feel because it's either outdated or it doesn't work well.
Oftentimes it's been developed and it might be their first or second version of the store, but it could definitely be improved. So we've done quite a number of theme conversions and redesigns. And that's really satisfying to see in the end because it's like they have a new look and feel for their store, for their customers and how we can improve on that.
And so, yeah, it's definitely been a lot of growth in that area and sometimes hard to keep up with all the demands and the requests. So we're always doing our best to meet the client wherever they want to be. And there's always room for improvement and growth. And in any business you're always kind of fine tuning and tweaking and helping them wherever they are and sort of landing wherever we can, and supporting them and expanding.
And then offering ideas on how we can improve the store. And it could be as simple as UI UX, putting the shop and the products first and foremost as things that I think... When you're in doing with a lot of WooCommerce sites, you start to see the patterns and what works and what doesn't work, what makes the shop successful, what doesn't.
But for a store owner, they're so focused on running their business that they often don't have the foresight or knowledge of, okay, what can we do to make this better? And how can we leverage what we have and improve on it? So we come in and help give ideas and collaborate with them, and work on growing their business together.
And by getting small successes and they can start building and getting more sales and some customers are coming as a mom and pop. They're just starting off and they're a local business, and they're trying to figure out how to sell something new and others are multi-million a year. So it's a pretty wide range, but at the end of the day, we're all selling something online. So, that's the common thread.
Robbie: Got you. Yeah, I know. I will say though, when the pandemic started, that first month, I swear, it was every client that was like, can you please put this message on my site or this message on my site? Because they were just like, just put something up while we figure out what we're doing.
And then it was like, okay, you put the message up, now what are we doing? So, yeah, that's what this year has been like, or a year and a half. Since you guys are both Woo focused or Woo centered, and I think one of you did mention you use other ecommerce as well. But if you're Woo focused though, what are the key differentiators that you're using whenever you are talking to your clients, when you're saying versus Shopify, BigCommerce, Magento, those kinds of things?
Patrick: All of them are tools, we're all trying to get a job done. So different jobs require different tools. WooCommerce and Shopify are usually the two being compared. BigCommerce is kind of a trailing third and Magento isn't as often in the conversations, unless the client's bringing it up. There's a mixed bag of opinions about the Magento space.
So I'm going to conveniently ignore that one being asked about. But Shopify and WooCommerce, it's most easily compared to Apple or Apple and Android, or iPhone, Android. Shopify is the iPhone of the world. It's very polished. It's very slick. It's very new and fancy and it's a black box. If you try and go outside that black box, you're going to run into a lot of problems.
We've run Shopify plus sites and we run very large WooCommerce sites. So we see a bit of this. How do we do this in Shopify? Well, you can't easily. You can find ways to make it work, but the customer experience isn't going to be as good. I have built a feature in WooCommerce to clone orders for replacements. You ship a product, it breaks when it gets there.
You want to just quickly send a customer a new product right away. Spent an afternoon in WooCommerce, made a check box and it's done. To build the same thing in Shopify, you either go use an app or we custom built a solution and host an entire application for this that then loads the order through the API, check the item again, and then resubmit back through the API.
So all that takes a week to build versus an afternoon. At the same time, Shopify is going to scale and you're not ever going to have to deal with updates. You don't have to deal with core updates. It's just going to work. Cost-wise you have both sides of the spectrum, yelling at each other, that you're more expensive.
And at the end of the day, you're going to be within the same margin of error. Maybe in your specific use case, WooCommerce or Shopify would be more expensive for what you need, but WooCommerce is free, but you have to pay for hosting. Shopify, you pay for the hosting and basically hosting is a little bit more expensive there.
But WordPress, you have plugins, a lot of free ones, some paid ones, and they are generally cheaper than the same apps we've run on Shopify. So if you think of $5 a month app on Shopify, that's what? $6 a year, that same plugin maybe free on WordPress. Subscriptions in WordPress, I think the plugin's $250 a year.
I don't know if there's a discount or not for renewing, but then Shopify, if you look at the monthly cost, you're around 300 to $450 a year. So it all ends up being a wash at the end of the day, cost-wise anyways. So you really need to look at what you're selling, how you're trying to sell it, what your goals are now and a year from now, and decide which platform is going to be best suited for you.
Robbie: I love your simple explanation though, Patrick, of iPhone versus Android. Love it. I love that, that's great.
Patrick: I come from a family of very not tech savvy people, to put it politely. And from a very young age, like 10, 12 years old, my mom handed off all tech support to me. I got really good at explaining technology to people who didn't understand it and the best way to do that, I've found as analogies. I've been doing that for family, for clients. They may not understand Shopify versus WooCommerce, but they do understand iPhone versus Android.
Robbie: Absolutely. Andrew, what about yourself?
Andrew: So I think you didn't mention Squarespace. I know that's not as popular, but we built a site on ecommerce, a couple on Squarespace. And I think it comes back to the owner. Some clients and some businesses, they might be on their second, third, fourth iteration of a site, how established they are, what kind of support they have internally.
Who's going to run the store? I think that becomes a big factor and how much support are they going to need? And I think there's definitely a learning curve for both platforms, any platform really. I would say with WordPress and WooCommerce, it's maybe not as user-friendly as some of the other platforms like Shopify and Squarespace.
Magento, we rarely, if ever get a request for that. It seems like there's fewer and fewer. And from what I've heard, it's more expensive to hire developers for that. It's been interesting, we've had some clients come from Shopify to WooCommerce and some go from WooCommerce to Shopify. One was a shirt manufacturer that was really, really growing aggressively and they were very successful.
They really were pushing the envelope on everything WooCommerce could do, and it stretched us to our max technically in a lot of levels and really kind of forced us to grow in really great ways. And it was challenging and it was no fault of our work or WooCommerce. They just decided to go to Shopify and they love it.
They said they... I think some of the challenges with WooCommerce, especially in the early, this is several years back now, updates were breaking functionality, the site, the theme updates. There's definitely more maintenance in terms of responsibility put back on the owner or the developer, or whoever's going to manage that site, keeping plugins up to date, making sure template overrides their okay themes.
Especially early on, there would be updates for WooCommerce and things would break and it would be like, you never want to do that on your live site, of course. But there was a lot of maintenance that as a store owner, store owner's like, well, how... I think some of them were exasperated and felt like, why do I have to keep paying for these fixes?
And it's like, is this going to stop or is this just going to be never ending? I think it's gotten better over the last couple of years, but as far as maintenance goes and having a platform, we don't have to worry about it. I think Shopify fits into that category. WooCommerce is definitely more extendable and customizable like Patrick said, and it's just an open blank slate. You could get to all the code.
You can customize whatever you want. So I think that's a big plus. And also I've heard from some Shopify owners that the monthly fees on the plugins, it's not only yearly, it's monthly you're paying a subscription. And they can really add up when you start adding more custom functionality.
So I think going back to which one to suggest that if they're really, really small and they're just selling a simple product, really just a couple of shirts, something like Squarespace works really well. To be honest, I'm not saying I'm not going to recommend WooCommerce, but sometimes the fit isn't there for WooCommerce site where you have that added layer of maintenance and cost and development, and also managing the shops.
So I think it depends on the situation, but of course we love WooCommerce and use that for almost everything. But also qualify that, if it's a first store especially, there's a lot more handholding let's say and wrapping them up and there's a lot to learn.
And I think in running any ecommerce business, when you're dealing with shipping and taxes and payment gateways and all these variables and how to leverage them, there's so many details that I think a store owner on the surface it's like anybody can sell online, but can you have a successful business selling online and can you grow it and expand it? I think that's another level that business owners might not always consider.
And while we've started a lot of stores, we can't say that all of them have been successful. There's a small percentage that really take off and grow and do the deeper work of the marketing and the sales and growing their business, which that's endless. And it's really something that's on the store owner.
And I think a lot of store owners don't maybe consider all of that when they're starting a store, and the challenges of it and the competition that's out there.
Patrick: It takes more than just having a good product.
Robbie: It really does.
Maja: Yes. Thank you both Patrick and Andrew on this amazing approach to business, because really you need to have some business skills rather than technical only. At some point you will need to steer this ship in some direction, right? You'll be responsible for some people as well at the same time.
Robbie: You were talking about one of the things, Andrew you were talking about, which is that it used to break things with WooCommerce, and I totally get that. And I do think things are better, but do you think that partially things are better just because things have changed with like our hosting companies have gotten much better about making it easy to do staging sites and test out differently?
I don't even think people we even thought about doing that. I just feel like that's helped things along.
Andrew: Yeah, definitely the hosting and the staging and the ease of use. We like to use WPEngine for hosting and we have up to three environments, live production and staging and spinning off a site into that is made a lot easier. I think WooCommerce has matured a lot over the years.
They put so many more resources into it and the community has grown. I think this whole, all of WooCommerce has grown together. We've all helped each other so much. And all the Woo conferences, WooConf, I miss seeing them. I think I saw Patrick at WooConf and he spoke for Mindsized on scalability. Is that right, Patrick?
Patrick: Yeah, I did. I think that was actually right before Mindsize started 2016 in Austin.
Andrew: That's right, in Austin. So I really like seeing his talk and it was very impressive. I was like, wow, this guy's really doing some serious work. And I was impressed with their agency and the work they were doing. And going to those events and seeing what effort and what kind of resources are being put into WooCommerce is I think that's really helped us stability and the growth and, yeah.
So I think it's gotten a lot better. And I would say updating WooCommerce probably won't break your site. In the early days, you didn't know. You push that button, what's going to happen? But still at the same rate, we're always cautious I think probably from some PTSD of the early days of like, I don't know if this is going to work. And putting it on raging is always the first choice and testing it, of course first.
Patrick: There's definitely some maturity in this space now. If you think of how young WooCommerce is compared to every other platform that's out there. I mean, it just sort of showed up out of nowhere, immediately started taking market share and just blowing up. And as part of that, there's always growing pains.
Sometimes they made some decisions that definitely broke some stuff. I recommended some decisions that definitely broke some stuff. I've made contributions to core that ended up not being so great. My biggest recommendation, if you want to see the level of maturity that's there now, is to get involved in the WooCommerce community, in the slacks.
There's a regular community chats that get together and discuss things. You could see the actual discussion and the balance of, hey, there's this really cool thing that we could do, but how do we fit this into all the updates that are coming out? It's going to potentially break stores. How do we do this?
It's a struggle for someone like myself, where I know there's things that we really should have at WooCommerce core, and I keep pushing for them. But I also know that as soon as we do that one thing, something's going to break. My biggest ask for WooCommerce is to have multiple statuses on orders and multiple payments on orders.
So if you think of an order, it has one status right now, it has one payment. It's paid or it's not. It's shipped or it's not. But if you then compare it to Shopify, Shopify has a financial status, a fulfillment status. You have multiple fulfillment, you have multiple payments.
And that type of feature, I think, is one of the last things to really make WooCommerce be able to do just about anything. You can still do it now. There's some workarounds, but that feature as powerful as it is, is it worth breaking almost everyone's payment integration at the same time?
Andrew: Are you talking about split payments, Patrick? Doing like the credit cards on the same checkout?
Patrick: Yeah. Right now you have an order and it's a paid order or not. I don't even know if there's a lot of tracking on whether the transaction details, it's all handled the gateway specific. And we're going down a rabbit hole, of course, but my idea of how we handle it is having a transactional model and the order.
Order has a balance or a total. And then the transactions have, okay, if this one transaction was $20, maybe the total was $30. So we still have $10 left and we can add another $10 transaction in there. Same thing for refunds. You can add and take away just like anything. It's a basic math at that point.
Robbie: I know we've talked a lot about WooCommerce, but now I really kind of want to focus in a little more about business. And so business tools that you use in your business, both the tool sets that you're using, especially these days, because we're remote and all that. So what kind of business tools are you using to run your every day?
And then also what tools do you use to measure? Because we all know we have to measure, right? Or how do we even know how we're doing in our business? So what are the tools that you guys can think of that are like highly important in your businesses?
Andrew: Just to start with, invoicing. Fresh books is what we use for invoicing and that lets us track hourly projects and also fixed rate projects. Also allows us to work with people on our teams to work on projects and track time towards those projects that we can rebuild towards the project with the client. So that's been a really central tool for our solution.
We use Proposify for proposals. It's a company out of Nova Scotia, Canada, and we just have used them for years now and kept with them. We also use the Google docs of course, is huge. We use that all the time. We use slack for communication. We use ASANA for project managing. That's the glue that holds our business together for internal communication, survive without that.
It lets us put projects together and assign tasks, people on our team. We also use help scout for front-facing for client communication. So that sits on top of Gmail. So we have a dedicated Gmail email address for projects that Behla Design. And then that goes out to all our clients. So that becomes our tool for clients.
And also internally for project managing to see where tickets are. That's sort of like a ticketing system. And then as far as tracking business goes, I'm really grateful that my wife and business partner has a background in finance. She worked in payroll and accounting for many years at a marketing company for dentists.
And she is the mastermind behind all of the financials. And that helps so much because she's a wizard in Excel and pivot tables and all these things that I have no idea, but she runs reports and is able to really give a lot of detailed data on how the business is doing and where we're at, and also helping with project managing and other aspects.
But yeah, I'd say using Excel is a huge tool for us on our side, and we have a great accountant that we work with and who helps us with our business and has helped make a lot of great suggestions on our business and growing. And one suggestion he made years ago was becoming an S-corp and how to structure that and make it work for the business.
And so we've had a lot of great advice and support on that from our accounting side with our current account, who's really more than accountant. I would say he's kind of been a business coach in our corner on that level too.
Robbie: Cool. And your team, you said you use slack for communications as well. Your team, was it remote before pandemic or just past pandemic?
Andrew: All been distributed the whole way through. So it's funny when people ask, how has your work changed? It's like, we're doing the same thing. We're kind of ready and set up. And so nothing's changed on that level with distributed communication and asynchronous communication. So that's stayed the same really.
Robbie: Patrick, what about you guys? What do y'all use?
Patrick: Ultimately, everything boils down to a spreadsheet and that's how we or at least I run Mindsize. I mean, from the hours we build to the money coming in to the money going out, everything's a spreadsheet. And having every single bank transaction in a huge spreadsheets can be filterable in any way you need it.
That's how I think though. So I'm a very numbers and data oriented guy, and being able to filter and manipulate data is what I do best, which is why Mindsize is good at what we do. So getting our finances ultimately organized was critical for that. Beyond that though, the day-to-day of the business we used a variety of tools.
I mean, I'm sure we're all on slack all day long. We use Zoom for all our calls. We actually have Zoom and the Zoom phone. So all our phone calls go through Zoom as well. Our accounting's in QuickBooks. So that's been fun converting from Xero and QuickBooks, but our product management's all been in a tool called Teamwork.
And I won't say guy love it, but it does what I need. Things I wish could be better. But it also has multiple tools in it. That's the thing I do like about it. I mean, it's got the project management CRM, which I don't think we're actually using right now and more importantly support. So we're kicking off a support team.
We have support plans now and for maintenance. And our support and one feature of Teamwork in our projects and another feature of Teamwork with all the hours tracking across all of it synchronized. It's been critical. If someone contacts us in support and we know we need to create a ticket from an email, we can create a ticket from it.
I'm in the process of trialing a handful of different tools for proposals and for contracts. And I still haven't found one that really does what I want, but we don't get tied to a specific tool. We trial, we iterate, we see what works, see what doesn't. I mean, when you have four clients and two of them sign a contract in one tool and the other two sign a completely different tools, they never know the difference.
For us, we just all get our invoicing in QuickBooks. But the most important thing for me really is more qualitative than quantitative. We have very open and transparent relationships with all our clients. We communicate regularly. We give them feedback they don't always want to hear. And they give us feedback we don't always want to hear.
But the best way I can gauge aside from whether we're profitable is that communication with clients. But those conversations are very telling and you can get a feel for whether things are going well. And when you know they're not, you're just trying to get ahead of it and make changes.
Robbie: I agree. Client communication is key. And Andrew, you said you guys are primarily using Help Scout, which I like that tool as well by the way. You're using that as your communication. Patrick, are you just using the Teamwork support as your client communication? And are either of you using slack with your clients as well?
Patrick: We deal with slack.
Andrew: We don't.
Andrew: Yeah, I think I do like email to get things written up. We'll get on a call. I also use Calendly, I want to mention, for setting up client calls and Zoom as needed. We've used Teamworks, but that's more of the client if they request that. We use Google voice for our voicemail and business phone.
And that's really great because it can route to any device. But I really wanted to have somewhat of a work-life balance in terms of I don't give clients my mobile phone number. I want them to call a business line and texting, sometimes they'll text the Google voice because nowadays everyone texts any number and expects a text back.
I don't know, maybe I'm more old school in this way. I just don't like to do business through texts or chat with a client because it feels like they have you at any moment at any time where they can just text you. And I want to have some bit of separation there too.
When I'm at work, I'm at work and I'll use these tools, but when I'm not, I don't want to get business calls on my mobile phone or texts. That's just me. I'm not saying I don't want to communicate with clients, but having all devices and everything, I like to shut some of that down sometimes.
Patrick: The key there is making sure they know how much more they're paying after hours. Clients definitely have my cell number and they know how to get ahold of us, but they also know that there is a premium in it after hours.
Andrew: How do you structure that Patrick? Is there a different rate on the weekends or after 10 o'clock?
Patrick: Depends on the client and depends on how much we'll meet and how high touch they are. It ranges from two to 5x our normal hourly rate. I mean, they have all the ways to communicate. That doesn't mean we always reply. So when they send something and say, hey, can you change this button to a different color at 9:00 PM at night in slack, we just don't respond to that or handle it until the next morning.
But the most important thing for us is especially with ecommerce, I mean, we've got stores if they go down, we're talking thousands of dollars per minute or hour. There was a site that I worked on that was literally our measure of success on black Friday was how many thousands of dollars per minute are we making?
And we couldn't really measure the server. We knew the server was struggling. We knew the database was struggling. The best way I could track our stability was actually running database queries that would say here's how much we made the past minute. And we could gauge our service stability by profit or sales rather.
But because of situations like that, a phone call at midnight saying our site's down could mean a lot of money lost. So we've got to` make sure that they have a way to get ahold of us.
Robbie: Yeah, specially the size stores you're describing there,
Maja: Really nice as I already have a couple of ideas. Actually Andrew, maybe you can record a couple of messages and depending on the hour of the call, you can just forward the call to number two and then they get, if you would like for this to be done now here's the pricing.
Robbie: Andrew, I'm at dinner right now. So if you would like to contact me, that'll be three times our normal rate. Thank you. Please press one to accept.
Andrew: Well, I think some of those have reduced because we got... For a couple of years we did, we were offering hosting to clients and that backfired in a pretty major way. So I just decided early on, we're not going to be a hosting company. I think it's gotten a lot better, a lot more stable now.
If I were to do it again, I know it would be a lot easier, but I don't want to be about to go to Yosemite and I'm at the last rest stop and I'm on the phone with the client and their site went down.
Maja: Actually gave me a great introduction to what I want to ask you. And this is like, do you guys have... I mean, you guys are now already at the point where you build something valuable, which can really grow. So what is the goal that you're setting for yourself?
Patrick: Peace and calm.
Andrew: I like that.
Patrick: That's the goal, right? We do allow people to contact us. We have people reach out, but the goal is to build things in a way that they don't need to. I want to, as the lead architect of all our projects and as the business owner, be able to step away, go on vacation for a week and trust that things are going to run.
And as we grow, there's a fair amount of risk with that too. I mean, we got companies about a dozen in size, our monthly payroll's in the six figures, benefits on top of that. Something goes wrong, things go wrong quickly. Having the ability to have peace and I guess the level of confidence that things are running smoothly is the goal.
How you get there as a whole other story. Let me think some on the expectations. Andrew, if you answer your part and circle back I might have some expectations ideas for you.
Andrew: Early on, it was a lot about growth. And when you build a successful team and you have clients and things are going well, there's that next thought that, okay, now let's scale this. Now, why can't we grow this? And I think that's been one of the biggest challenges as far as expectations and thinking that, well, we can just do more of the same and grow it.
But we found that it's a lot of work to scale and maybe that's not what we want in the business. And we don't want to take on more and more and more. And so it's a challenge because as new work's coming in, it's hard to say, no, but then again, is this the right fit for our business? And also is this a company we want to work with?
I think expectations go back to what quality you want to have in life and the work-life balance, which for many years was challenging because working till 12, one or two in the morning every night for years on end, gets old, right? And you want to get back to a normal routine and have your life back.
So I feel like we can take our foot off the gas pedal a little bit. It's not flooring it, with giving us some time to reflect more and be more purposeful. And I think for us, our expectation's that we really want to build long-term relationships with clients and be of value to them and help their business grow and be there when they need it and also offer advice when I need it.
I think there's a lot more we could do of course, with adjusting work. And there's a lot of probably money left on the table with not driving that and getting more involved with expectations with clients and what they want to do with their business.
Because there's such a day-to-day whirlwind and just the day-to-day projects and long-term projects that take up the course of the day, are pretty... It's a strong current or a force keeping up. As far as creating company goals, it's been more organic in terms of keeping busy, taking on projects we want to work with, making sure they're profitable, making sure that they're working for us not just in terms of time that we're putting into, but the energy exchange between the client and making sure it's reciprocal.
That it's going both ways and the value is there on both sides. So I really like what Patrick said. Yeah, having peace and calm is I think something that resonates with me. I think at some point it's like, okay, do you want to have more stress? Or do you want to live life and travel more and have more of your own life outside of business as well? So all of these are factors
Robbie: And I think quite honestly, you guys just like everyone else in this, in our sector, we've experienced this last year and a half has been probably one of the busiest. Even if we look back in our whole company history, this has been extremely stressful and busy this pandemic. Both of you are like, I just want some rest, peace, quiet.
Maja: That fear for missing out. It's very bad to be curious these days because so many things will come your way and people are really exhausted. So I really hope that some mind, as Patrick said, that some peace of mind will come true.
Robbie: And Patrick, did you have anything else you wanted to add on that before we go to the last question?
Patrick: In Mindsize, like I said in the beginning, there's that four and a half years old now. It's gone through transitions and transformations in that time. We grew really fast. And in typical fashion of everything I do, broke a lot of things along the way finding out what worked and didn't.
In April of last year, I came to owning the entire company. And end of last year became the CEO of the company. And the thing I've learned from one of our biggest past mistakes was not having clear expectations internally for the rest of the team. And what that leads to is you have this expectation in your head, whether you tell someone or not, and if someone doesn't meet that, you are going to not be happy.
You're going to be frustrated. You're going to potentially take that out on them when they didn't know any better. So one of the biggest things we tried to do starting after I took over everything was actually setting these expectations that didn't exist before. And in some ways the company is not as flexible as it was before.
It's not as open. It's not as kind of wild west of how things are run. But with that said, last year was our most profitable year ever. I mean, we ended the year and we're now doing a onus at the end of every year based on the profits. And the total cost of the bonuses we gave the entire company was $80,000, money we just gave to the rest of the employees.
And that profit didn't exist in the years before because we weren't organized enough. So by getting all organized together, bringing everything in, it's allowed us to be a better company, be more efficient, spend our time on things that mattered more. Ultimately be more profitable so that we can take that money and take care of our employees.
At the end of the day, beyond our customers, customers trying to take care of our employees too, and making it a place that they like to work. They know what they're doing when they work, want to stay with us for a while out.
Robbie: Awesome. Yes, I definitely agree. Clear communication internally is the only way you'll ever have clear communication externally with your clients and everything, because if you don't know what's going on inside of your company and your team, how are you going to be able to actually talk to that client about their project?
So I definitely agree 100% with that. And that leads us kind of just talking about the team and internal choices too. It's our last question that we'll have for you guys. So we get you out of here in our hour. And that is how do you keep yourself, so yourself as a business owner, and then also your team on top of the technology and all the changes going on over this time?
Because I mean, just like we've been so busy, so as WooCommerce and there's been a lot of changes over this year and a half. And so how do you guys keep your team and yourself up-to-date?
Andrew: Yeah, that's a good question. I subscribe to a lot of blogs and definitely WP Tavern is a great one. And yeah, so I think there's also a lot more meetups happening online. In the past we would go to conferences like WooConf and that was really helpful to meet other agency owners.
I also went to a Mastermind conference that was a smaller one down in Atlanta that Jonathan from Coolblueweb put together. And that was really great because it was all agency owners and it was just owners from all over the world Germany, Netherlands, Sweden.
So it was really interesting to meet agency owners from other places in the world and find out how they run their agency and also being part of WooCommerce, and the Woo experts program. And being part of that slack channel and meeting other Woo experts has really helped us. So we just pass along as much information to our team so we're all up on the latest trends and current development and design and UI UX.
So we try and stay on top of that as much as we can with all the resources we have. But in the past, it's been a lot of conferences and going to events and meeting people. And I think that's probably been as an agency owner meeting other agency owners and learning from them. And that's always interesting to me. So it's great to hear Patrick and everything he's been sharing and really enjoyed this talk as well.
Robbie: Awesome, great. We hope we become one of those resources that you guys are looking towards.
Robbie: Patrick, how about yourself?
Patrick: In the WooCommerce space at least we're generally at the cutting edge. So we're helping figure out some of the things that need to be done to then continue to share them. And I can say that the way we share them is typically on our blog in conferences and meetups and a lot in the WooCommerce slack. So we're trying to be active in the community. My entire career is based on community.
Everything I've learned from the community, I then build on top of it, I'm trying to re-share a lot of that back. But being active in the space like Andrew said, going to meetups, going to conferences, seeing what other people are saying, learning from it yourself and then re-sharing that with what else you've learned on top of it. That's how we all continue to grow together. So we try and do that across the board.
Robbie: Good deal. Well, guys, I really appreciate you joining us today and sharing this time. I know everybody's busy and time is precious. So really appreciate you guys coming on and sharing with us about your business and your choices in business.
It's really important to other business owners out there I feel like. And even just down to the WooCommerce developers, I think it's important to everyone to know how it's being utilized out there.
Bob: Wow, that was filled with a lot. I want to thank Patrick and Andrew for joining Maja and Robbie for this conversation. And do check out their websites. Patrick is at mindsize.com and Andrew is at Behla Design. That's B-H-L-Adesign.com. Of course, the best way to stay on top of Do the Woo is go to dothewoo.io/subscribe, or of course, subscribing in your favorite pod app. So until the next time, keep on doing the woo.
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