Studio Talk 5・Kath O'Malley

I met Kath in one of the Squarespace groups and I immediately loved her no-nonsense and helpful attitude. She is the perfect example of how you create a niche for yourself that is based on both your talents and your personal preferences. If you are looking for someone to support you in your Squarespace web design business look no further. She is super nice as well! 

Next Interview → Thursday, March 8, 2018: Meg Summerfield, Creator of Square Design Guild

Studio Talk 5・Kath O'Malley | Kerstin Martin Squarespace Studio

Kath is a Squarespace Web Designer Partner who works behind the scenes providing copywriting, editorial, tech and strategic support to stressed-out Squarespace web designers and other busy entrepreneurs. She helps her designer clients by freeing them from endless scope creep and constant content revisions so they can move on to new projects - doing what they do best: Design.

Kath loves to blog about Squarespace, how to write web copy and how to determine your web design processes. In August 2017, she started a free monthly 2-day workshop over on FB to help other entrepreneurs and web designers blog for their businesses - and to make time for her own blogging. If blogging for your biz is on your 2018 to do list - and you have a Squarespace website - you can learn more here.

Visit Kath’s website.

1) What is your professional background and how did you get into Squarespace web design?

I have two degrees - one in journalism (from waaaaay back) and another in education - professionally, I’m a teacher. I taught internationally for a long time - as an English teacher in junior high schools in Japan and as an Middle School teacher in Kuwait - teaching IT and Newspaper. Seems so long ago now. When I came back to Canada in 2012, the teaching scene in Toronto was hard to crack plus I had 2 small kiddlies still at home. My former spouse and I were moving every other year - which also made it hard for me to enter the public school system here in Canada - so I looked into how I could work online instead. I partnered with a friend to do online language teaching - and we made a WordPress website from scratch.

My friend and marketing wiz Jacqui Miyabayashi pointed out how great Squarespace was, so I set up my own website, learned the platform and became hooked. (Thanks Jacqui!!)

2) What was your safety net (e.g. a partner, another job, savings etc.) when you first started out and how did that help you?

During my ‘how to make a living online’ period, my former spouse made enough money for our family. I was saving as much as I could at that time too because I knew that if he ever lost his job, I wouldn’t be able to replace his income and Canada ain’t a cheap country.

In 2015, he was laid off and we decided to separate (we are amicable and co-parenting). He went back to school and I started freelancing. We could live on my income, our collective savings and we downsized - we shared a much smaller house (even though we were separated) and we moved closer to my family. Those decisions helped me being able to build and grow my business without too much financial stress. And I am so grateful to my parents and my sister!

Canada’s universal health care is also a safety net. One less financial thing to worry about.

3) How many websites did you design during your first year and how did your clients find you? Please share three sites you designed during that time.

So, I’m a bit different because I work WITH Squarespace web designers. At first, I billed myself as a VA (virtual assistant) but ended up niche-ing as a Squarespace Web Designer partner as I learned more about the platform and the overall web design process. I help designers who are at that stage in their business where they are super busy, have a long waitlist and are debating whether to build a team. My ‘superpowers’ are content wrangling, setting up systems that work for clients and designers, training (the teacher in me), writing and editing (the journalism grad in me) and just getting stuff done. I can strategize, implement and train - sometimes in the same day!

I’ve met my clients via IG, in person at networking events, referrals and in FB groups.

I’ve probably worked on between 50 and 60 Squarespace sites now. Through one of my partnerships, with Squarespace specialist Sarah Moon, we decided to create a Design in a Day offering which is a mix of done with you/done for you service and a mini-course. Here are some of the sites we’ve designed together:

Sweet Spot Content
Black Power Series
Aqua Floral Design

4) Do you have a niche market, or a speciality, or are you more of a generalist?

My niche market is busy Squarespace web designers who are at the stage in their business that they need someone on their team and by their side. The clients of the designers I work with are varied: non-profits, lawyers, journalists, academics, artists, service-based solopreneurs and small biz owners.

5) What are your five top tips for starting your own business?

1. Figure out what you’re good at, find out if there’s a market for your services and do that.

I guess that says it all. The other thing is figure out how best you work and what YOUR processes are. You’ll always be able to find those clients who want to work that way with you and it will make things easier all around for both you and your client(s).  

2. #communityovercompetition

Don’t be afraid to promote other people who do the same work as you. Whenever I feel that twinge of jealousy or anxiety (OMG, they’re a competitor), I take a deep breath, admire what they do and, if I’m able - i.e. if someone reaches out to ask me to do work that’s not in my wheelhouse - I recommend them. When you see other designers and Squarespace experts as part of a community of service providers helping business owners develop a stellar online presence - rather than as competitors - it opens up opportunities for growth.

When I met one of my regular clients - Heather Pinay of Authentically - at a local networking event - we both thought - eeek, a competitor! But after about a month, we met again and realized we had parallel skills and should probably work together, which we did. We now host regular in-person workshops and classes which are fun and help small local businesses market online.

3. See others as potential partners, not as people to exploit for the lowest rate possible.

For longer term working relationships, figure out ways to work with others where you’re all being paid fairly for the hard work you do. Recognize that implementation and getting the work done is just as important as the visioning and the strategy - whether it’s you doing the implementing or you finding someone to do it for you.

I’m not an ‘economist’ but I do think partnering and fairly divvying up the revenue/profits is the way forward, especially in the gig economy - which, if the stats are true - is growing exponentially. Don’t haggle the rates of the people you want to work with. I’m lucky, the clients I work with don’t haggle and exploit. They see how we all benefit when we value each other’s work - and that includes the clients receiving the final product - they benefit too!

And while I’m on my soapbox, I think it’s also important to pay high rates to the people who may clean your home, watch your children, take care of your aging parents, etc (so that you CAN run your business). Recognize that care workers are part of your team too and also that they are business owners. It can be hard at first to get your mind around paying higher rates for jobs you may think are ‘low level and low skill,’ but - as someone who does a fair amount of copywriting - I like to think in terms of ‘benefits’ and ‘benefits of benefits.’ A clean house is a benefit. Peace of mind is a benefit of the benefit of a clean house. I could go on and on…. The person who gives you these benefits (by cleaning your house) deserves to be paid well, don’t you think? It’s a huge mindset shift.

**Note - I’m not quite in a position to hire a cleaner at the rates I want to pay them, so for now, it’s me and the kids keeping the home clean. There is no ‘peace of mind!’ ARGH! ;)

4. Share what you learn - freely  - with the DIYers of the world.

Blog, post on social media, make YouTube videos, help people in FB groups, answer your emails. Share what you learn, tell your secrets. It’s not going to prevent you from getting clients and work. If anything, the more you share, the more it will help you get clients.

Indeed, one of my clients decided to work with me because I ‘shared’ a Squarespace trick on my website - it demonstrated to her that I actually knew what I was doing.

Also - as a former teacher - nothing consolidates your own learning than teaching / sharing what you learn!

5. Do the math.

Every now and again, I look at full time jobs - I have periods where I would love a steady paycheque, supplemental health benefits and the whole shebang. But, the reality is, child care is expensive and you can’t beat the flexibility of working for yourself. When my kids have a day off school or are sick, I can still work (unless they’re REALLY sick). I don’t lose income because I need to find a babysitter. I don’t have to deal with the rush to get to work on time after the morning school rush which, frankly, is EXHAUSTING! Oh to live in a country with school lunches!

It’s hard to put a price on that flexibility, but when I look at jobs with ‘lowish’ salaries - with inflexible hours, 2 week’s vacation and often the requirement to work evenings & weekends (which for me equals paying for a babysitter) and what I make on my own  - the math shows that I’m making the right financial decision for our situation right now. When my kids are older, I may reevaluate, but for now, this works well.

On the topic of doing the math, don’t think you are a ‘failing biz owner’ if you do take a part or full time job. If you need to do it for peace of mind and to build some savings, do it. I have a part time job at a bakery - it’s once a week. It’s a ‘steady’ payment. It gets me off the computer and I get to meet customers and hear their stories (which I think is important when your main work is helping small biz owners plan, write and edit copy for their websites.)

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Studio Talk 5・Kath O'Malley | Kerstin Martin Squarespace Studio