Q&A with Web Designer and Entrepreneur, Charlotte O'Hara
Charlotte O’Hara designs and develops beautiful websites for small professional businesses. As an avid technical writer, she has written countless articles about web design, development, tech tips, and tutorials, etc. Charlotte also created a popular free course that teaches anyone how to build and launch a website from scratch. Outside of work, you'll find her at the beach, on a patio, or hiking in the mountains near Vancouver BC.
Can you tell our readers about your background?
I did a BA in European Studies at university but spent most of my free time tinkering online so when I graduated and was looking for my first job, I ended up putting those self-taught skills to use and started working at a software company. I spent four and a half years there and loved learning and building the product and seeing how it impacted our client's businesses. I decided that I wanted to take some time off to go traveling so I went on a solo tour around South East Asia and ended up moving to a totally new city upon my return. I then worked at a startup before starting my own web design and development business, which I still run today. I absolutely love it.
What inspired you to start your business?
I was inspired to start my business because I wanted to be more creative and in control of my income. I already knew that I did well in flexible and remote work situations, and knowing that I could do that full-time if I had my own business was a major incentive, too. I had learned so much working at various companies and felt that I had a lot to offer and figured that if it didn't work out, I could always get another traditional job. You're only young once and I wanted to give the entrepreneurial lifestyle a try while I still could!
Where is your business based?
I live in Vancouver but can work from anywhere that has wi-fi. I do not have a location dependent business.
How did you start your business? What were the first steps you took?
I started my business by finding my first few paying clients and once I had those, I set up my business as a sole proprietor. I then set up a new bank account to keep my business and personal finances separate. After that, I built a website and started an email list for my business. I then realized that I would have to figure out how to get more clients so I created systems and started marketing my services. Once I started getting booked out, I refined my offerings and started creating digital products to add an extra income stream.
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness for your business?
I would say that building my email list has been one of the best ways of raising awareness for my business. When people land on my website, they are prompted to join my newsletter and most of my business comes from my subscribers. I try to funnel people from social media or "real life" events to my email newsletter because that helps build the relationship and ultimately converts them to clients. I also attend local tech events and write for several publications.
What have been your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?
One of my biggest challenges was figuring out the finances of running a business. It took me a long time to learn about taxes, accounting, invoicing, and building different revenue streams. I asked a lot of questions and picked the brains of people who had been in the business longer than I had whenever I felt super stuck. I also paid professionals who could fill in the gaps (like an accountant!) and it was definitely money well spent.
How do you stay focused?
I am a huge believer in vision boards and I have one above my workspace that I look at whenever I feel uninspired. It keeps me focused on my goals and helps me to get through all my tasks because I have the "end game" in mind. I also love the Pomodoro method and a great playlist to keep me on task.
How do you differentiate your business from the competition?
I make a point of adding a human element to my business and that sets it apart. As a web designer/developer, many people think that my industry is full of technical jargon and that it is inaccessible to the regular person. I try really hard to make sure everyone understands the process and is involved in every step of the project. I also have no problem pitching my services to businesses who could benefit from my work, so that helps set me apart. Finally, I love to send a handwritten follow-up note after each project wraps up, thanking my clients for their business.
What has been your most effective marketing strategy to grow your business?
Without a doubt, the most effective marketing strategy that I've used to grow my business has been to start an email list. Almost all of my business comes from my subscribers. I have opt-ins on my website and prompt all visitors to sign up. Social media is helpful but it doesn't convert nearly as well.
What's your best piece of advice for aspiring and new entrepreneurs?
Start already! If you have an idea, test it out and give it a shot. You can Google the answer to any question you might have and there are so many resources available that can help you start a business. When you're ready to take it to the next level, you will have to make investments in your business, but it will be worth it and ultimately pay for itself.
What's your favorite app, blog, and book? Why?
Fave app: Instagram and Slack. Blog: I read a lot of cooking blogs (e.g., Minimalist Baker, Oh She Glows, Pinch of Yum) and tech publications. Book: I like the $100 Startup, 4-Hour Work Week (original, I know!) and a good thriller
What's your favorite business tool or resource? Why?
Google and Youtube have the answer to any question I have and I wouldn't be able to run my business without them! Otherwise, I love my local Small Business resource center because they have so many tools, workshops, and coaching services available.
Who are your business role models? Why?
I am hugely inspired by Amber Venz-Box, Emily Weiss, Hillary Kerr, and Lewis Howes.
What do you have planned for the next six months?
In the next six months, I'm going to launch two new digital products, complete a bunch of exciting client projects, and dive deeper into video content for my website and YouTube channel. I'm also going to travel and work remotely for a few months over the winter!
How can our readers connect with you?
You can visit my website (www.charlotteohara.ca) and sign up for my newsletter or connect with me on Twitter (@lottieohara).