by Tim Jahn on August 10, 2010
Laura Roeder used to be a web designer. She first worked for an agency and then ventured off on her own. But after awhile, she felt trapped in the web design industry and felt she was reaching the ceiling.
Today, Laura coaches small businesses on how to become famous. Not famous like becoming the next Paris Hilton, but famous like becoming the trusted go-to source in their industry. For most, the business of making people famous isn’t exactly the logical next step after being a web designer.
Laura Roeder: I’m Laura Roeder. My website is lauraroeder.com. R-o-e-d-e-r. @LKR on twitter and my business is training small businesses how to market online. I specialize in social media marketing and I also have programs about creating a blog and creating a website.
Tim Jahn: Before you started your training, I call it your training program company, what were you doing?
Laura Roeder: I was doing web design for small businesses. So I was in Chicago. I just had what I call like a typical, boring web design business where I find small businesses that needed a website and I would design and develop a website for them.
Tim Jahn: And you say, “typical, boring company.” Why was that boring?
Laura Roeder: Because I got bored of just doing one thing. Like I had been a designer at an agency before I started my web design business; at an ad agency. And I didn’t like doing just design. Like, I loved marketing, I love all types of communication and doing just design was very limiting to me. And so that’s part of the reason I started a business because I could do more than just design; or it would be all the facets of running a business as well.
But I was still just a designer and developer and it was a business that had a very clear ceiling on it. Because I didn’t really want to start an agency. There’s only so much work that one person could do. So to me, it was, it got kind of boring and kind of limiting I guess.
Tim Jahn: How did you decide what type of business you were going to start?
Laura Roeder: Well, you know, when you know how to design websites, I feel like it’s an easy choice because it’s a no overhead business; which is fantastic. I think for anybody starting a business whenever you can start out with a service business, you know you look at 37signals how they used to services and then they evolved in a product. I think that’s a really smart model because the great thing about services is that money comes in right away.
When you do web design, like I already had a computer so I had pretty much all the tools that I needed. And as soon as I got my first client, I made money right. It’s standard in a lot of types of consulting that I used to take half up front and half at the end of the project. So it’s like you’re making money from day – as soon you can get a client, you’re making money.
Tim Jahn: So you’ve been kind of running your own thing for three years or so? What’s been your biggest lesson? I mean, I almost want to say just in that three years, just in terms of running your own business. I mean, there had to be something that stood out.
Laura Roeder: Yeah, I mean, there’s a lot of things you learn, obviously, running your own business because everything is new. I’m 26; I had worked a real job for like a year a half. I had never managed anyone; I had never – like I had been a designer. That’s a very limited job, you don’t really learn how to do that much when you’re a designer but design.
So I kind of had to learn everything from scratch which I think was a blessing in a lot of ways. Because I see a lot of my clients like very ingrained in the corporate world. And in my opinion, these really time wasting ways to do everything. You know, they think everything has to be very by the book and this is the process you follow.
And the blessing of not knowing what you’re doing is you just kind of do whatever you want and you do whatever makes sense as opposed to the way that things are supposed to be done. Like you talk to people the way that you want to be talked to as opposed to the way that marketing is supposed to be done. So I’ve learned a lot. I mean, one thing that just stands out immediately that always surprises me is you really have to sell people on the benefit of everything.
And I think a lot of people start their businesses, well, one, they’re like, “Oh, I’m good at this so people are going to come to me and people are somehow going to be able to see that I’m good at this.” But you have to remember that from an outside perspective, people don’t know anything about you. Like it really doesn’t matter how good your services are because no one gets to see that until they actually hire you and spend money.
And then I was starting out, I would do stuff like, oh, I’m having a free webinar. This is going to be great because I’m going to give all this great information and it’s going to be free. And when you’re starting out, you’re like, “Oh, of course people are going to sign up because it’s good and it’s free.” And its like, no, you really have to market everything you do and you really have to get out of your own world into your customer’s world and make them understand the value that you’re providing.
Tim Jahn: What would you say your number one piece of advice is for someone that was in a boring industry like you were, or like boring to yourself to kind of starting your own thing?
Laura Roeder: Something that I see a lot is that people don’t believe that they can do what they really want to do. Like I find that people often have this secret fantasy where they’re like, “Well, I’m doing web design. But what I really want to do is just design pet tags. Like I love the – honey do you call those pet tags like the little collars for the pets?”
They’re like, “I would love to design those. Those are what I really love.” They’re like, “But I couldn’t do that because it’s a small market and blah, blah, blah.” I find that people often have this secret fantasy of what they really want to do and they’re afraid to do it because they think it will limit their market, they think they couldn’t be successful at it.
And obviously there does have to be like a real market there. You can’t always just whip up anything out of thin air, right? Like there has to be demand for what you’re selling. But, people are afraid to specialize, or to go after what they really want. But that’s like the fastest way to be known as the expert. I mean, I was having lunch with a client yesterday who’s a Realtor and she’s like, “What I really want to do is specialize in just historical humps.” I’m like, “Great. That would be a great specialty.” Like she could very easily become known as the expert in historical humps in West Los Angeles.
But from her perspective its like, am I going to be able to pull it off, am I limiting myself too much. So I guess like, I mean, it’s kind of a bigger piece of advice. But like my one tip would be, give it a shot that thing that you really want to do, like that specialty that you really think would be fun or the way to serve people that maybe nobody else is doing that you have this idea for.
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