Improving The Business Side Of Web Design With Laura Elizabeth

Jennifer and Laura discuss being freelance web designers, working with clients, creating systems, mastering to-do lists, and improving the business of design.

Seeking Satisfaction 009 Laura Elizabeth
Seeking Satisfaction
Improving The Business Side Of Web Design With Laura Elizabeth

Show Notes

I met Laura Elizabeth at a business event back in 2018 and there were so many parallels between her experiences and mine as professional designers, that we just clicked and have stayed in touch ever since.

Laura is a talented designer and businesswoman who has been a guest expert for my business training and mentorship program for designers and developers, Profitable Project Plan. And over the years, I have delivered several webinars for her community as well. Every time, we have a blast, and recording her Seeking Satisfaction podcast episode was no different.

I love getting to talk shop with other designers, especially those like Laura, who are always working on their craft and finding ways to do business better and provide extraordinary client experiences.

In this episode, Laura and I cover everything from how she got started as a designer and made the transition from working a full-time job to becoming a full-time freelancer, to how she manages three product companies, being a new mom, and still finding time for her hobbies.

Laura Elizabeth And Baby
As A New Mom, Laura Elizabeth Relies On Systems And Structure More Than Ever.

We also talk about the realities of running a freelance design business or small agency, including:

  • The big mistake Laura made early in her career when she was a less experienced freelancer and what she would do differently now.
  • How her course Design Academy came to be and why everyone should learn the basic fundamentals of design.
  • Taming the overwhelm that comes with wearing all the hats by planning and scheduling your freelance workflow.
  • Why documented standard operating procedures (SOPs) are critical even for freelancers and solopreneurs.
  • How realistic, achievable to-do lists that can actually be completed can create momentum and help you be more productive.
  • The truth about what clients look for when hiring designers (hint: it’s not what you think) and easy ways to stand out and get hired as a freelancer.

Plus, we dive into the one thing that has made the biggest difference in the systematization of Laura’s business and the three ways it has helped her attract, manage, and retain clients. Other than our chat about to-do lists, this is probably my favorite part of our conversation because it’s the exact same approach I used to systematize my business back in late 2010/early 2011 — and it’s been game-changing in terms of the time it has saved me and the revenue it has generated!

I can’t wait for you to listen!

Mentioned Sites, Resources, And Tools:

Get To Know Laura Elizabeth

Laura Elizabeth
Laura Elizabeth Is A Designer Turned Product And Course Creator.

Laura Elizabeth is a designer and the founder of 3 products: Client Portal (a super simple way to store your clients’ deliverables), Design Academy (a design course for developers), and Project Pack (sets of templates and documents for freelancers and agencies). She loves helping creative businesses improve their workflows, project management skills, and design through both free and premium products.

You can connect with Laura on Twitter at @laurium.

Extra Minutes Training With Laura Elizabeth

To hear more from Laura and learn her process for systematizing projects, how to decide what to template and what not to template, and some tips on how to make your templates professional, comprehensive, and concise, check out the Seeking Satisfaction Extra Minutes Membership.

Seeking Satisfaction Extra Minutes 009 With Laura Elizabeth

Members receive Extra Minutes bonus training from Jennifer and podcast guests like Laura that provide valuable insights and lessons to help you build a better business for only $15/month.

Learn More

Conversation Transcript

Laura Elizabeth:

It’s honestly so mind-changing when you start working with freelancers and you realize that what your potential client is judging you on is not really what you think they’re judging you on. It’s not about you telling them, how great you are in your past projects — that might be a part of it, but it’s actually a smaller part of it than you think.

Jennifer Bourn

Welcome to Seeking Satisfaction, a podcast that encourages you to live inspired, embrace imperfection, and seek satisfaction. I am your host, Jennifer Bourn, freelance business mentor, course creator, and agency owner.

Today, I work with clients I love, do work that is fulfilling, and have the freedom to live the life of my choosing. But things weren’t always this rosy, which is why this show looks at the systems that power successful businesses and fulfilled lives going behind the scenes with entrepreneurs, freelancers, and professionals, to discover how they juggle work and life, clients and kids, handle stress, and tackle unexpected challenges.

If you’re seeking greater satisfaction in your work and your life, you’re in the right place.

Today, I am here with Laura Elizabeth, designer and founder of Client Portal: a super simple way to store your client’s deliverables, Design Academy: a design course for developers, and Project Pack, sets of templates and documents for freelancers and agencies.

Thank you for joining me, Laura.

Laura Elizabeth:

Thank you for having me.

Jennifer Bourn

Now, you are in charge of three products, mom to a 13-month-old baby girl, you moved from the US to the UK — and that’s where you’re from — and you still find some time to play piano and to sew.

Laura Elizabeth:


Jennifer Bourn

How do you manage to find time for all of that?

Laura Elizabeth And Family
Laura Elizabeth Keeps Family And Self-Care Time Front And Center When Defining What Success Looks Like.

Laura Elizabeth:

So, I have a pretty tight schedule. There are a lot of things, obviously, going on and when I had my daughter, I had to decide what was really important to me. And it turns out my hobbies, which are playing piano, doing sewing, a bit of gardening — all that kind of stuff — didn’t really feel optional for me.

So, I had to figure out a way to, be able to do that while I did everything else. So, what I did was I just became really good at scheduling my time.

I actually only work four days a week now, and I take one day when we have childcare. So we have childcare five days a week. I work for four days and then I take one day every week to just work on my hobbies. And I treat that as important as my day job and that’s really helpful because, it just makes me feel more like an actual person, even though I’m super busy.

That worked out well for me and it turns out the busier I am and the less time I have the more productive I actually end up being.

Jennifer Bourn

Isn’t that funny how that works?

Laura Elizabeth:

Yeah, I look back at my life, two years ago and I think what on earth was I doing all day?

I swear I’ve achieved more in my business, even though I’m less than I did two years ago, and I, can’t get over that. And, I was telling my mom this the other day, and she said to me, “Well, you know what they say if you need to get something done, ask a busy person.” So, I guess it’s not just me.

Jennifer Bourn

We say that to my daughter all the time because she gets asked to do everything by all the people in her network. And we joke that that is the case: There’s nobody better to get something done than someone who’s used to having to get a lot done in a short amount of time. And I love the fact that you’re really intentional about maintaining the space in your schedule for the hobbies and the things that you really enjoy doing beyond work.

I mean, scheduling that into your day and being really intentional about having childcare in place and setting aside a day to do that is so smart, because so many times we say, “Oh, I’ll do it on the weekend or I’ll do it here.” But if we don’t schedule that time, it often never happens.

Laura Elizabeth:

Yeah, exactly. And I think because my daughter’s so young at the minute, on the weekends, I really can’t sit at my sew machine and do anything there. I can’t play piano because every five seconds she’s trying to dive off something or, pick up something that she shouldn’t be picking up or just wanting to be held or whatever.

On weekends, I really can’t do anything. And also weekends I do wanna spend with just my family and completely switch off from everything.

So, the only thing I could really cut was a day of work. And you sort of feel guilty because you feel like you should be working five days a week, but honestly, I have not noticed a drop in productivity. In fact, I’ve noticed my productivity has just skyrocketed, so it’s something I wish I’d done sooner.

Jennifer Bourn:

Have you ever heard people say the work expands to fit the time? If you give yourself three hours to do something, it’s gonna take three hours. But if you say I only have two hours, I’m setting this timer. I have to be done. Miraculously, you’ll get it done in two.

Laura Elizabeth:

Yeah, exactly. It’s so true. And it’s sometimes it’s hard to set artificial deadlines because if you really don’t have any reason to say, “This has to be done in two hours,” then you might just find you kind of go, “Oh, well. It didn’t really need to be done two hours anyway. It’s fine.” And you know, it ends up taking you longer.

So, yeah, that’s another reason I’m glad I’ve got all these real deadlines. I’ve tried to do stuff like this in the past, and it is hard. You have to be so disciplined to set artificial deadlines and actually stick to them. So, you need to give yourself something that you actually have to go and do after this time’s up. Or maybe something that you really, really want to do and stick with it.

Jennifer Bourn

Having childcare come in because you have a nanny, five days a week, you also have that constraint of when they’re there and when they’re not

Laura Elizabeth:

Yeah, exactly. I’ve gotta get it done actually before starting cooking dinner, which is an hour before she goes home because I cannot cook and look after a baby at the same time.

When I look at the time, it took me a while to get used to the day being so short, or seemingly short. It’s not really that short to be honest, but you sort of get used to it and you learn what you can fit into your day.

And, I plan my days. I plan my weeks actually. Every Thursday, I plan for next week and I put a lot less on my to-do list than I think I can fit in because chances are that’s actually all I can get done. But it feels so good to finish everything on my to-do list, even if it’s less than I originally thought I would be able to get done than it is to put too much on your to-do list and then just feel awful like you’re behind because you can’t cross everything off.

So, every week I pretty much cross off everything on my to-do list. And so every week I feel like I’ve accomplished everything. Whereas before I would feel like I was behind constantly and that just made me feel bad. It was just a vicious cycle that I needed to cram in extra next week and it was just awful.

Jennifer Bourn

The burden that sits on your shoulders, when you constantly feel behind — like you’re not doing enough, you’re not getting enough done, you can’t get ahead — that burden is really heavy.

We don’t start with the understanding that we can’t cram our day full of to-dos and set ourselves up for success. That’s something I had to learn too. Like, I would start out with these monster to-do lists and I don’t know what I was thinking! There’s no way I could get all of those things done in a day. And at the end of the day, when I didn’t, I would feel terrible. Like I didn’t get enough done and I wasn’t focused enough and I wasn’t productive enough.

And it really took a lot of time to come to that realization of not setting myself up for success by having unrealistic expectations of what I can get done, and not planning for unexpected things that show up. So I love the fact that you put less on your to-do list intentionally. Because when we leave some space, for those unexpected things, we’re not freaking out when they show up.

Have you found that by intentionally keeping your to-do lists achievable — I call them doable to-do lists — you have time to better handle those unexpected things or to better handle things that pop up that might be a priority that would’ve otherwise sent you into a tailspin?

Laura Elizabeth:

Yeah, definitely. So I actually do two things there. So, part of my weekly plan is Monday I dedicate to just admin. Monday is my admin day. So, throughout the week, when things crop up, if it can wait until Monday, which actually a lot of the time it can, I just write it on my pad of paper next to me. I forget about it.

If it’s, you know, I’m talking to a person, I might send an email saying, “Yep, I’ll do this on Monday.” And then I just forget about it. But obviously, not everything can wait until the following Monday. So sometimes if something is really important, and I think, “Okay, I need to get this done,” I have the space in my schedule to do those things and it not make me feel like I’m behind or I’m having to sacrifice something that I wanted to do. So yeah, it definitely works out well and I think another good thing about putting less on your to-do list, is it really makes you prioritize what you actually need to do.

So, I would say there’s like hundreds of things that I need to do in my business, but when I can only put five things on my to-do list for the week — which actually a lot of the time I have five things or maybe even less than that sometimes, that I want to do per week — I have to really decide which ones are the most important and which ones are just busy work or which ones can wait.

That’s just really helped me because now, every week, I’m crossing everything off my to-do list. I’m having enough time to either do extra stuff that I wanna fit in. So I’ve got another list for like little things that aren’t that important, but if I get time, I can do them and do any unexpected things that come up.

And I’ve only actually been doing this since January.

Jennifer Bourn

Oh, nice. So this is fairly new.

Laura Elizabeth:

It’s new and I’m just so excited about it that I tell everyone.

Jennifer Bourn: I like that you pointed out you have a backup to-do list of “would be nice to get to” things. Like, I keep two to-do lists but it’s a little bit different.

I have one that I call my master to-do list and it’s everything that I could possibly want to do. And then I keep my daily and each day I have one big thing, three little things, and then a couple of admin things.

I tackle one big thing first, then some medium-level things, and then the small stuff at the end of the day. But if I have extra time in there, I can go to this master list and I can kind of look at those same things that would be nice to get to.

And I love that you keep that list as well, because when we do find time, sometimes it’s, “What do I do?” And then we find ourselves scrolling, social, or doing things that don’t actually move us closer to our goals.

Laura Elizabeth:

Yeah, exactly. And I’m also really big on getting as much out of your head as possible so just write everything down. So, anytime you think of something you need to do, write it down. Whether it’s on your master list, whether you have another list for stuff that you’re gonna tackle on a certain day, just get it out of your head because then you can focus on, other things.

So I’m a massive list keeper. I’ve so many lists for everything and I just think it’s so useful.

Because like you say, when I actually have that free time, for example, today I need to plan what I’m going to do next week and I actually don’t know off the top of my head, I’m thinking, “What am I gonna do next week?” I know that I have a list that I can go to and I will very quickly figure out what I need to do next week. And that’s really nice because I’d say most have way too much to think about day to day.

Jennifer Bourn

That is 100% true and that’s especially true for freelancers. And I know you run, Design Academy, Client Portal… but you weren’t always a product owner. You started freelancing and for freelancers, we are often overburdened — too many clients, too many projects. We usually start freelancing, because we’re really good at what we do, not because we’re super great at knowing how to run a business.

So I’d love to know a little bit about your experience freelancing, because it was a little trial by fire for you, just like everybody else.

Laura Elizabeth:

Yeah, it was really difficult. So I started out actually working in an agency before I was a freelancer, and I was mostly doing print and advertising stuff. I actually love advertising. It’s such a great, thing to learn. You learn basically how to think, which is great.

Um, but I was working in an agency around the time that the internet became a real thing and every business was wanting a website. And because I was the youngest person in the agency, I was probably the most tech-savvy. Even though I didn’t actually know an awful lot about web design. I ended up becoming their resident web designer.

The way I started freelancing was that I needed to learn web design to actually take it to my agency job.

So, I learned by freelancing, took it to my agency job, ended up preferring freelancing because I wanted to work from home in my pajamas — don’t work in my pajamas anymore, but that was the drawback then — and I ended up making the switch full time.

But like you said, the biggest problem I had with freelancing, was just managing everything else that was going on. When I worked at the agency, all I had to do was fulfill a design brief. So I just had to design all day and I loved it because I love design.

We had someone who did finances. We had someone who did outreach. We had someone who did project management. All that stuff was taken care of. I didn’t have to think about any of it.

Then as a freelancer, I had to like do essentially what was my full-time job plus about four or five other people’s full-time jobs in the same amount of hours. And it honestly still baffles me to this day, how we as freelancers, manage to do that because it’s so much. How do you actually get time to work?

And I really struggled because I had multiple clients and then new ones were coming in and I felt like I was giving everyone a really bad experience because I was trying to focus on the client work. I also knew that I needed more clients to come in because at some point these projects were going to finish. I knew I needed to do things like follow up with past clients because every bit of freelancing advice is, you know, get referrals, follow up, do this, do that.

And I was like, well, when?

Jennifer Bourn

Like, that’s great advice, but I don’t when or how or where to fit that in.

Laura Elizabeth:

I was like, is everyone just outsourcing the actual work? And I know some people do, which is fine, but that wasn’t something I wanted to do. I wanted to do the work. So, I had to figure out how to do all these other parts of the business.

That’s when systems really became something that was really important to me, and I first started by templating out a lot of the emails that I sent now and again.

You know, I wanted to weed out the time-wasting clients first off. That was my most important thing. There’s nothing worse than getting on a call with someone, doing a proposal, finding out their budget was like $50 or, you know, we’ll do posts about you on social media. It’s just the worst. So that was my first job. Okay. I wanna write an email about qualifying my client, what do I need to ask them?

Then the next email. Okay. If they pass that test, what’s the next step? Can I write out that? And I sort of did this slowly and I used various tools to help me make this faster. Then I found that was really helpful, so I started systemizing other things like documents that I was using over and over again.

Basically, anything I could do to make it so I could just spend three seconds firing off some fantastic deliverable or fantastic reply that gave my clients the same experience that they would’ve had when I was working at the agency with the people who were focused on project management, while still just being me, a solo freelancer.

Jennifer Bourn

I love that you started with email because that is the exact same thing that I started with when I realized I also was not providing the client experience that I wanted my clients to have.

I couldn’t keep doing things the way I was doing them. I spent a good, solid, six months documenting every single thing I did every single day to look for those repetitive things that I was doing over and over and what was really being a time suck. Getting a handle on canned emails and templates and things that I could rely on to speed that up was one of the first things that I looked at.

So, I know you started there and then started looking at other areas of your business to template and to start creating efficiencies. What else did that inspire you to rethink across your business?

Laura Elizabeth:

Quite a lot of things. So once I started templating my emails, I started to think about the possibility of potentially one day hiring an assistant, I sort of knew that was going to be the next step, because I actually think that pretty much every freelancer can benefit at some point from hiring an assistant.

So, I actually started to think of it in the way of what could I get that person to do to justify however many hours — I was hoping for full time, but you know, however many hours I would want them to do. So, I just thought of all these things in the business that could be listed out step-by-step.

Can I, you know, make this into an SOP, which is a standard operating procedure, basically a Google doc with bullet points. And it was little things like, preparing an invoice and sending it, and maybe like accounting things or stuff like that. And I basically created a folder in Google drive full of these, documents.

And that was useful for me as well, because I find that unless you’re doing something constantly every day, it’s hard to remember all the little steps that you need to get something done.

So, every month I’d do my accounting and there would be always these little things that I needed to do or how to filter out my expenses that I could always figure out every time, but I’d always have to Google it and remember. So, you know, I’d list out all that stuff. So I ended up having just a folder to help me, so I didn’t have to think as much.

Jennifer Bourn

I like that you started with documentation and identifying the standard operating procedures. How you wanted things to run in your business. So then you could set up that person that you’re finding to help you for success.

It is really hard when you just think, “I’m overwhelmed. I need help,” and a lot of people say, “Go get a virtual assistant. Get a VA.” And they say, “I don’t know what I would have them do, or I don’t know how to tell them how I want things done.”

Did you find that taking the time to define how you wanted things to work in your business, ended up not only saving you time, but ended up making it easier to get the help that you needed?

Laura Elizabeth:

Yeah, pretty much because I had a couple of failed experiences trying to hire an assistant. And it was exactly what you said. I sort of expected them to come in and basically be a consultant. And, frankly, I wasn’t paying enough for them to be a consultant. So, I needed to give them everything that they needed in order to help me in my business.

So yeah, it definitely helped. And just having everything written down like you mentioned earlier. It just helps you see: What are these repeating things that can be templated? What are these repeating things that I do over and over again?

Now I’m sort of on the other side of it. I do products and I hire a lot of freelancers. I can tell who has these things in place and who doesn’t. And I will only really work with — unless I know them personally — I’ll only really work with someone who I can tell has got real emails that they have templated that they haven’t just written, quickly from scratch. That’s really important to me because that shows me that they’re a professional that shows me that they’ve done this before.

And you wouldn’t honestly believe how few freelancers do that. I’ve attempted to hire many and so many won’t actually follow up after the call to say, “It was great speaking to you. Here are the next steps,” or here’s like a summary or something.

And, I look back at my freelancing days. I don’t know if I did that either, to be honest.

But as a client, you really, really want someone to follow up with you after a call. You don’t wanna be chasing them. You want to feel like they can sort of, I guess, hold your hand a little bit and take you through their process. So that’s another way I tend to actually weed out freelancers who I don’t want to work with.

  • Will they follow up with me after they’ve done the call?
  • How quickly will they follow up with me?
  • Am I getting the sense that this is part of their process that they can lead me through?

It’s honestly crazy how few freelancers do that. And I think it’s such a quick win. It’s something that anyone can do, and it will probably set you apart more than you think it will.

Jennifer Bourn

I use the example of going to a restaurant.

I have some food allergies, which sometimes can make ordering a little bit stressful. When I order and the server doesn’t write my order down, I have stress. I want you to write it down so I know it’s gonna be done right. I know you’re not going to forget something. And then also when they don’t repeat back the order, that also creates a lot of stress for me.

And that is the same in business, right? When you don’t take notes during a meeting, that causes clients stress.

If I’m looking at hiring a freelancer, a subcontractor, a somebody, and we’re talking and they’re taking no notes, I have so much stress about that. I know that’s somebody I’m not going to work well with.

And I definitely know I didn’t do those things when I first started. I joke all the time. I’m like, I dispense all of the advice because I did it all wrong first, and then I had to learn how to do it better.

Laura Elizabeth:

Yeah, exactly. It’s honestly so mind-changing when you start working with freelancers and you realize that what your potential client is judging you on is not really what you think they’re judging you on. It’s not about you telling them, you know, how great you are in your past projects — and you know, that might be a part of it, but it’s actually a smaller part of it than you think.

They’re looking at things like, for example, like you said:

  • Are they taking notes?
  • Are they repeating back?
  • Are they listening to what I say?
  • Are they following up?
  • Are they telling me how this works?

And those are things that are so easy to do, but so overlooked, because I think as freelancers, we tend to just be thinking about our work and do they like the type of design that I’m doing, or what kind of designs do they like, rather than thinking about what they’re actually saying and how what you are saying and doing is changing what they think about you.

And I wish I could go back and do it again. Um, and I feel like I would just be… just 50 times better because having gone through that experience of being a freelancer and now hiring freelancers, I know what, someone who’s hiring, somebody else needs. And that’s just to feel confident in you.

You are investing a lot of money, so you want to feel like you’re investing it in the right person. And often the qualities that you need are things like organizational skills, communication skills, and of course, your trade is important. But I would say it’s not as important as you think it is when they’re trying to make a decision between you and someone else.

Jennifer Bourn

There is so much focus for freelancers on building a great portfolio, A lot of people get caught up in:

  • My portfolio has to be perfect before I go out and get clients.
  • My work has to be at a certain level or I have to have my website all dialed in.

And the truth of the matter is one or two really good projects or case studies that showcase the quality of work that you deliver and what you’re capable of can get you by if you deliver a great client experience.

Laura Elizabeth:

Yeah. Do they feel like you care more about what they want to achieve rather than what you want to achieve?

Something I struggled with when I was a freelancer — and I think maybe designers are more prone to this — is I cared more at the beginning about how a project was going to look in my portfolio rather than necessarily what the client was asking for.

I wanted to create designs that were really cool and edgy and really trendy — that would get me my dream clients that I wanted. And I was thinking too much about myself and not necessarily listening to what the client was saying. Or, I was saying something like, “I’m the expert in design here, you are not the expert. You don’t know.”

But the client knows a lot more than you think and the client knows their customer base. They know their audience, they know their industry, they know their business. You can learn so much from, their input.

I wish I was a little bit less egotistical, I suppose. Um, maybe insecure. I’m not really sure.

I just wish that I listened more to what my clients were telling me and saw my clients more as someone on my level, rather than getting offended, you know, if they didn’t like something and then going onto these freelancing Facebook groups and then complaining about my clients from hell. Because another thing that I’ve learned is that a lot of the time clients from hell aren’t actually clients from hell, it’s just a communication problem. And it’s sometimes just as much your fault than it is theirs. Again, that’s just my personal experience,

Jennifer Bourn

I think that’s so relatable though. And I think it may be all designers.

Almost all designers I talk to have had to go through that. You come out of design school and you have all these notions of what it means to do good design. And we come out with these big egos and It is easy when you’re in those early years and you don’t quite have the experience and the understanding yet to say, “My clients are so dumb. How can they not understand this? How can they make that change? It’s ruining everything!”

I mean, there’s that entire website dedicated to clients from hell, and I do think that’s a sign of inexperience. And I was guilty of the same thing. I remember having those conversations and venting and doing that I love that you pointed out that sometimes it’s not the client that’s the problem. It’s you that’s the problem. Right?

If a client is making design changes, you don’t understand, maybe you didn’t explain the strategy and the design thinking of why you did it the way you did it. Because when clients understand that things have a purpose there’s a reason behind the design, they question things a lot less. You get stronger buy-in. And that is something that is hard to learn. There aren’t a lot of opportunities to learn that other than trial by fire. Right? And that’s the hard part of growing, I think, a creative business.

Laura Elizabeth:

Yeah, I actually do take on freelancing projects on the side now and again as well. And one thing that I do now is that when my client asks for a change, and I have an aversion to it, I try to ask myself why and I try to really think about what they’re asking me and say, “Okay, how can I rework this so both of us are happy?”

You know, maybe they want something and there’s legitimate reason design-wise, why this wouldn’t work. Instead of just saying no, figure out why they’re asking for this change and saying, “Okay, so you are looking for this. The reason we can’t do it like that is because of this. But how about we try something like this.” And then it becomes more of a collaboration — you’re working with your clients.

And since I’ve started doing that, the quality of my work, I think, has improved so much. It’s more effective. And a lot of the time actually, my clients have come up with changes, and I’ve thought about them and done them, and it’s actually been better than what I’ve done. So it’s quite humbling to realize that yeah, not clients, aren’t stupid.

Jennifer Bourn

They’re not. And I really like that you pointed out they are the experts in their business, and their clients, their audience. And I love that you mentioned really looking at the why behind an ask and understanding:

  • Why are you asking this?
  • Where is this request coming from?
  • What’s the goal here?

And then collaborating to figure out the best approach, instead of just saying, “No, I can’t do that. No, that won’t work.”

When you come at it from a collaborative point of saying, “Here’s is my concern. What about this? Let’s talk about it. Let’s discuss it,” your clients are so much happier.

And do you find too that they take a little bit more ownership over that and have a little more pride in what you create together?

Laura Elizabeth:

Yeah, definitely. It feels more like we’re on the same level and we are both on the same team and we’re both trying to solve a certain goal.

So, it actually makes it easier to disagree with each other as well. Because we’ve built that trust that actually, it’s not about my taste versus your taste, it’s about this common goal that we have, which is whatever the project goal is. We’re on the same team and any disagreement that we might have is for the good of the project.

Jennifer Bourn

I think that’s fantastic. I mean, sometimes we forget that we are in the business of client services, right?

When you’re freelancing, when you’re running a service-based business, you get so caught up in: I have to have these systems, these processes, this deliverable, my portfolio, marketing, accounting, and all the things that you have to do to run your business, that sometimes we can lose sight of the fact that the crux of the business is service. It is a partnership. It is collaboration. It is working together toward a common goal that everybody’s happy with and that achieves a specific result.

Now, that’s the difference between art and design, right? Design solves a problem in a beautiful way.

You have a course that helps developers learn the basic principles of design. Tell me a little bit about that course.

Laura Elizabeth:

Yeah. So, when I was freelancing, my biggest client base or the most people that would get in touch with me were developers and they wanted a designer for their side project. They usually couldn’t actually afford to hire me because it was just a side project. They maybe had a full-time job and it just wasn’t really feasible.

I often actually got hired by the companies that they worked for, but they’d come back to me and say, Hey, can you also do this side project? And then they, you know, it just wouldn’t work out. So I sort of thought, okay, there’s a big gap for developers who want to be good enough at design to be able to ship something that they’re proud of, but don’t actually want to turn themselves into designers.

That’s who I originally made the course for. It’s actually, it’s changed now. We, I get a lot more, people who are not developers who are maybe even aspiring designers and want that kind of starting point without all the fluff

Jennifer Bourn

Well, I could see that same content being really helpful for DIY, right. People building their own sites that wanna do better design on their own sites, people who want to learn design.

Laura Elizabeth:

And I actually have quite a lot of virtual assistants who want to be able to do more design things for their clients. So, maybe their clients want ads, making something in Canva, and they want to know how to make it look good but they don’t, they’re not trying to turn themselves into a designer.

So the course is just how to get your designs so they look good. I’m not going to teach you how to go too crazy and how to keep up with all the different trends. I just want to give you the skills to make you something that’s gonna look good.

And what I really like about that is that it’s a skill that you can take with you forever. So, once you know the fundamental principles of why certain things work and why certain things don’t, it’s something that you can just keep expanding on.

Design doesn’t change.

And the way I talk about it with developers is, you know, frameworks change. The web development world changes constantly and you’re always having to relearn things. But if you spend the time learning this you’ll know it forever and you just keep improving every time you do it.

So, I think it’s really good for almost any business owner, really, to be able to design something because you’re always going to need something — whether it’s a featured image for a blog post, whether it’s a Facebook ad, whether it’s a flyer, you’re just always going to need to put something together.

Jennifer Bourn

Someone said to me in college, “Every single thing you see was designed by someone. Someone chose that typeface, that color, that layout. It might not be what you think is good design, but someone intentionally designed it, chose for it to look that way, felt like it was good enough to put out into the world, and then did.”

So, understanding the fundamentals of good design carries through in everything that you do.

And that notion that everything was intentionally designed by someone. Regardless of how good you think it is, has stuck with me

Laura Elizabeth:

Yeah, that’s an interesting way of putting it. So basically everyone already is a designer. They might not be what you or I would consider good, but everyone designs daily — whether it’s food or you open up a Google doc or a spreadsheet and you bold the headings, you might change the background, the color of the cells to be green or something. That’s a choice. And then, like you say, at some point they’re happy enough with it to put it out there. Yeah. That’s really interesting.

Jennifer Bourn

That has just stuck with me throughout my whole career.

So, really understanding the fundamentals of design transcends every aspect of really what people do in their jobs because you’re deciding how that document is going to look, you’re formatting it, you’re doing those things.

Your products are for freelancers, right? Client portal, Project Pack. They help people do better business.

It was the same thing with Profitable Project Plan for me.

Profitable Project Plan doesn’t teach you how to write code or how to get in Photoshop or Sketch or Figma and do design. It teaches you about the business processes and the standard operating procedures and the client experiences and all of those things.

And you’re walking a really similar route that I am in that you also have training and education for freelancers to help them do better business and learn how to be more efficient and more productive. You’ve got a free ebook and an email course for Client Portal that teaches people about systems and processes.

Tell us a little bit about that free course.

Laura Elizabeth:

Yeah, so it was originally a course and now I made it into an ebook with basically a, uh, the TLDR of the ebook as a course. So, there was quite a lot of information that I wanted to get out because it takes you through, um, how to start thinking about systemizing, your business, how to plan out your whole client experience, how to pick out the bits that you can template.

So, I turned it into an ebook and added a bunch of worksheets and stuff just to make it a little bit easier. And then the course, you know, every day or so I’ll just give you the bullet points of the most important takeaways from the ebook, because I know my own experience of downloading eBooks…

Jennifer Bourn

We have the best intentions.

Laura Elizabeth:

Yeah, like this weekend, I’m gonna, I’m gonna read it, I’m gonna turn everything off, and I’m gonna really focus and do it. And then the weekend happens and then it doesn’t happen.

And I didn’t want it to be something that was just always on someone’s to-do list. I wanted to give them the actionable parts that they could do if they’re time-strapped and hopefully they’ll then go back when they have time and look at the ebook.

So that’s why it’s sort of an ebook slash course. that basically takes you through everything from, templating your emails and the different tools that I use, and templating deliverables and all that fun stuff.

Jennifer Bourn

Well, and I love that you’re walking people through kind of how you think about it.

It’s one of the things when we’re moving through Profitable Project Plan and we’re moving through the lessons — it’s a 10-month commitment, a year-long thing — there’s really this understanding of I’m going to walk you through what has worked in my business, and I’m going to share how I thought through these issues, and then you can pick and choose what you pull from, the things you learn from me, the nuggets that you get from other people.

There’s no one right way to do business. There’s no one right way to manage and create client experiences.

If you had to go back to the very beginning, and you were that freelancer again, and you could take one tip from all this training that you’re putting together, what would you tell your overwhelmed, freelancing self?

Laura Elizabeth:

It would be to pre-write the emails definitely 100%.

Jennifer Bourn

I love it.

Laura Elizabeth:

Emails, for qualifying clients, emails for onboarding clients, and emails for aftercare. And that to me solves three problems.

  • It helps you get more clients by giving them a really good experience upfront and setting yourself apart from every other freelancer who does not do this.
  • It helps you focus on your work so you can actually work more or have more free time.
  • It helps you do those things that you need to be doing to generate more business in the future like aftercare, referrals, repeat projects, all that stuff.

So just pre-writing emails, once you’ve done it, it takes like three seconds to send off an email, asking your past client, if there’s anything else you can help with and it could generate tens of thousands of dollars in work.

Just definitely pre-write your emails.

Jennifer Bourn

The aftercare — the outbound client care — and then the onboarding of bringing clients up to speed and helping them really be prepared to be a great client… both of those have yielded such huge gains across my business. Onboarding helps entire projects run smoothly and sets us both up for success.

But that outbound client care?

Not enough people pay attention to that because it yields so much repeat business from clients, and those are your best leads — people who have already had a great experience already love you and can come back for additional work — those are your easiest sales to close.

Laura Elizabeth:

Yeah, and nobody or almost nobody does it. It’s such an easy, quick win. It’s one of those, like, I wanna just shake the monitor in front of me and say, do this because there’s just no reason not to.

Jennifer Bourn

100%. Now I have a couple of questions for you as we wrap up.

What tool have you discovered or what trick do you wish you had learned earlier?

Laura Elizabeth:

Well, aside from prewriting and pretemplating my emails, I’d probably pick a tool. I use Help Scout to manage my emails, and that has things built in like, saved replies. You can pre-fill their names. If you don’t need Help Scout, I would say Text Expander does a similar thing and it’s all about just making, writing really good emails, easier.

Jennifer Bourn

I love it.

And what do you do to make sure that you set yourself up to have a great day, or when things maybe don’t go according to plan, that you stay in that positive headspace where you can be creative and get your work done?

Laura Elizabeth:

I pretty much focus on my to-do list. So, as I mentioned earlier, I don’t have much on my to-do list, but everything on there is very, very doable with time to spare. And it’s all something that I should be able to achieve unless something catastrophic happened. There’s really no way I wouldn’t achieve that on my to-do list. That just makes me feel good every day like I’m doing exactly what I need to be doing.

Jennifer Bourn

That’s so fantastic. That positive momentum really carries through and I think helps you get even more done, and stay motivated, and feel really great about the progress that you’re making.

Laura Elizabeth:

Yeah, exactly. It just feels so good to feel like I’m moving forward.

Sometimes I feel like I’m moving forward slower than I would like, or maybe slower than other people, but I’m actually not. I’m always going forward. I’m not just spinning my wheels, which before I did these themed weeks with my to-do lists, I always felt like I was just treading water constantly. Just trying to keep up now. I feel like I’m going forwards, which is amazing.

Jennifer Bourn

That is a fantastic place to wrap up because I think that’s so relatable — that idea of treading water and moving beyond that to really be intentional about your day. That’s one of the things I think I’ve really appreciated throughout our conversation is how intentional you are about your time and how you spend your day and really set yourself up for success and set yourself up to feel great about what you’re doing.

For people who want to learn more about you, stay in touch, go check out your products, give us the rundown of where people can find you online.

Laura Elizabeth:

So, you can see everything that I do on, and then if you wanted to check out the ebook on systemizing, you can find that at Otherwise, I’m fairly active on Twitter. My handle’s @laurium, which is L A U R I U M — and yeah, that’s me.

Jennifer Bourn

Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for being here and joining me for a conversation about your journey around Seeking Satisfaction.

Laura Elizabeth:

Thank you.

Jennifer Bourn

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If you would like to hear more from Laura and learn her process for systematizing projects, how to decide what to template and what not to template, and some tips on how to make your templates professional, comprehensive, and concise, check out the Seeking Satisfaction Extra Minutes Membership.

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Until next time, may you live inspired, embrace imperfection, seek satisfaction, and have a fabulous day.