Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in design services but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Ansley Fones, Co-Founder of Ansley Fones Web Design & Development, located in Jersey City, NJ, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Ansley Fones Web Design & Development is a small, woman-owned design and development studio creating bespoke WordPress websites for pretty much anyone who wants their website to stand apart. We work mostly with entrepreneurs, small businesses, and lifestyle bloggers who need their sites to rise above the noise and make a real impression. We believe letting a client's personality shine through is the way to attract their ideal audience, which is why we try to tailor our websites and the entire experience to their specific needs.
Staying on the forefront of fresh design (while not falling for fads that will quickly look outdated) is important to us, but we also want to ensure our sites are meeting the current best practices for performance, search, and accessibility. We also put a high priority on integrity. Honesty and transparency are just good business, Black Lives Matter, love is love, science is super real, and vaccines save lives.
Tell us about yourself
When I graduated college in 2009, the plan was to be a TV journalist.
The summer before I graduated, I interned at a station in my hometown (Memphis, TN). They "had a job all lined up" for me when I graduated. So I headed home to Tennessee. The station went on a hiring freeze. The job dried up. The plan was ruined. I had to find something else. So I evaluated my marketable skills, and the line item on my resume that seemed to get the most interest was that I knew Photoshop. In middle school, a friend of mine had given me a bootleg copy of the software on a burned CD, and I'd played around with it for hours as a kid.
A theater in Memphis hired me to work in their marketing department, making flyers and managing their WordPress blog. From there, I got headhunted by a local web development firm, and I started REALLY learning WordPress. Truth be told, I didn't much care for the websites we were creating there. We were working for a lot of professionals who wanted the same website: blocky, boring, and honestly pretty garish. A couple of years and a move to New York City later, I decided to go freelance. At first, I was doing a lot of websites for health coaches, which were mostly women. This was perfect for me. They were glad to be working with another woman who would listen to their ideas, their vision, and their aesthetic preferences and create something tailored to them. In the male-dominated industry of web development, this had to come by. I was allowed to stretch my design wings out of the masculine, blocky designs I'd gotten used to. From there, I started working with more life coaches, food bloggers, yoga teachers, and then hundreds more professionals and hobbyists who just wanted to have a piece of the internet that felt like it was theirs. And I like helping them build it.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
I think staying afloat for eleven years is pretty good! But for another answer: I had a client decide to retire last year and sell her business (and website). She'd been a client for almost 10 years. When she told me the news, she was so kind and grateful. She said that she couldn't have done this without me and that through her business, I'd helped so many women. It really struck me because if I helped so many women through her business... well, I've worked with hundreds of women-led businesses now. So that's a nice thought.
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?
The uncertainty. What if people don't want websites tomorrow? What if WordPress folds? What if the cash flow isn't right? What if I can't work for a while? I have two team members, and I always make sure they get paid first - what if there's not enough to go around? So you take it one day at a time, try to save in the good times to buffer the hard times. But I still worry. I guess few jobs have real security, though, so that's just life in late-stage capitalism, I guess.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Get a good website! Obviously that's self-serving, but really I do have a program specifically for start-ups called "Seedling." It's a fast-track, low-cost (but still custom) website. The details are on my website at ansleyfones.com/seedling.
- Charge what you're worth. Yes, at the beginning, you may need to deflate your prices to build a portfolio, but don't be afraid to raise your prices as soon as you are busy. Your time is all you have. If you are stretching yourself thin, you are undercharging. A friend of mine shared the best professional advice she's ever gotten with me: "charge the highest number you can say without laughing."
- Learn how to make contracts for your work and then use them. Make the clients actually read and sign them before you start. This took me years to actually do, and it makes a huge difference in the quality of my client relations. Having a contract doesn't mean you need to get litigious with your clients; it prevents conflicts by starting everyone out on the same page. Having a written scope of work to refer back to and a structured payment plan means there is less room for surprises. You don't want surprises, I promise.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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