WCBC Review interviews Ellie McBride of Calibrated Concepts, a Squarespace web design agency.

In this episode we discuss the myth of DIY business, setting up systems, and using tools to help your business run smoothly.

Ellie McBride can be found at her Calibrated Concepts website, on Instagram, and on Facebook.
Check out her Capable Collective FB group.

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Calibrated Concepts

Cardinal:  Hello. And welcome back to WCBC review where we put the spotlight on small businesses. Today we are interviewing Ellie McBride of Calibrated Concepts. How are you today Ellie?

Ellie: I'm great. How are you?

Cardinal: I am fantastic. We're getting a little taste of sunshine here in the Pacific Northwest, which is always greatly appreciated.

Ellie: Definitely.

Cardinal:  So what exactly is Calibrated Concepts?

Ellie:  Ah, good question. It is my business, which is essentially me and I design and build custom Squarespace websites.

For small businesses. I typically work with solo entrepreneurs usually women identifying and non-binary folks. And it's a lot of fun. I love helping people to create this gorgeous platform that really functions for them so that they can communicate their brand and their services they're offering in a really consistent way.

And that also means, and I like to do a lot of background work and integrations and systems for them, so that there's booking software and things like that that makes their life and their customer's life a lot easier. And that all came about because I I moved. So I moved from Oregon to Northern Ireland and I thought, Oh, I need a remote job.

I need to be, I needed to be able to go home more. I need to have flexibility. And so I was like, what do I know how to do? And so I started up as a virtual assistant. Which I loved. And that very quickly niched down into being a tech virtual assistant, helping with those booking softwares and integrations and automations in the background, helping people set up systems to make their business easier.

And then I found is that essentially it was exhausting. You hook up every day with too many other people's to do lists. So as much as I enjoyed my work, I wanted to work for the same people in a much more project-based short term burst. So I decided to start doing websites.

Cardinal: Right on. And how long have you been doing that?

Ellie: So Calibrated Concepts was founded about three years ago. I started working exclusively on websites about six months ago.

Cardinal: Nice. What was the toughest part about opening that up for yourself?

Ellie: Oh yeah. So the toughest part was doing it in a country where I didn't know a single soul, like aside from my husband and his family. So doing it, you know, Starting a business when you have your friends and family around you, like maybe they're not your ideal client, but they can sort of start getting the word out and sort of things like that.

And you can maybe have a couple of projects that help build your portfolio, even if that you do on like cheaper or free or those types of things. And I didn't really have those opportunities here because I didn't know. So, yeah, it was a lot of networking at first, Northern Ireland is more than any place I've ever been a word of mouth place. People don't care about having, and this is funny to say, but people don't really care about having really pretty websites. They don't really care about having really slick systems or anything because everything here happens by word of mouth. And I care about pretty websites. And as the world gets more global, actually the pandemic, everybody suddenly cared about having an efficent website.

But. Overall. I really want my web, my business, both of them to be more global. Hmm.

Cardinal: Yeah. And you're in the perfect position to do that. That's called the worldwide web for a reason.

Ellie:  Yeah, definitely.

Cardinal: So, what was your main form of networking? Would you go to, is there like an Irish BNI or what?

Ellie: Yeah. So networking groups, there's quite a lot of them Northern Ireland, Belfast in general is quite entrepreneurial.

It's almost like infectious here. Everybody is doing something. It seems. I'm a part of a group called women in business. I'm in a group and some lean in circles here. As well as. There's some Facebook groups and stuff. And some of those have like in-person meetings as well. And I think one of the most important ones I joined was actually a paid membership.

It's not exclusive to Northern Ireland, but a lot of the people are from here and it's called Assembly. And it is a combination of networking and coaching and all this. I dunno, it's a beautiful membership. And it's just been a really good place to be.

Cardinal: That's really cool. Yeah. So if you had to start over from day one, is there anything that you would've done differently?

Ellie: Oh, outsource sooner, which is so funny to say, because I was pitching outsourcing and I, and I am a big believer in it, but I had a lot of mindset issues around finding the money first, as opposed to outsourcing and letting myself use that as a motivation, the finding the money. And I'm getting better at it.

I've this year. I, it, one of my big goals is just to outsource as much as I can within reason. Hmm.

Cardinal: What kind of things do you outsource content writing or,

Ellie: yeah, I have a virtual assistant and he's been with me for almost a year and a half. He's based in Morocco and he does a lot of my client onboarding and he does a lot of customer care for me.

And those types of things. And then I have just, I have outsourced in the past, obviously I've had, I paid for some coaching around my own self and my business. I've also paid for diversity coaching for my community that I want to, that I'm in the process of building. So learning from others. So it's not just outsourcing actual physical stuff, but sometimes learning from the people who know way better than you.

As well as at the moment I have just hired a podcast editor and I have hired a different virtual assistant who is going to be doing educational content for my Instagram, because I have no problem being like, here's my podcast. Here's a lengthy story about my life, but doing the like carousels and stuff that are really important in the current thing I just don't want to do I write the blog posts, they can take that data.

That's great. I just cannot, which is so funny because I like all those skills are right up my alley. I just find it draining. Yeah,

Cardinal: and that's totally fair. I say this all the time, I find myself repeating myself, but you know, so many small business owners because we want to work for ourselves. We think that we're the only person who works on our business, but it absolutely not only does it not have to be that way, but it really shouldn't.

Ellie: Absolutely.

It shouldn't be. I think that there's this myth that goes around the internet. Solo entrepreneurs or solopreneurs or small business owners or whatever you want to call it. There's a million names. That they do it alone. And that they're, you know, you see these success stories and it sort of looks like they've managed all of this by themselves, but if you were to ask them, they're, they definitely don't.

And even on my podcast, that's one of the questions I ask every single guest is what help do you have in your business? Because even if you're not hiring and outsourcing you have other help. So helps I didn't mention because they're not necessarily business-related; in a non pandemic time, we pay someone to come clean our house for a couple of hours a month.

And it's just like the deep cleaning stuff that gets like and having my house all clean at once is magic [laughs]. I also paid for therapy and  as a solo entrepreneur or an entrepreneur in general, like it is hard. Business is hard, and having help through that, that was through the first and the kind of like the middle of the pandemic.

Cause I had some extra life stuff dumped on me. And that was just a lot to handle. I've got an amazing husband who is also entrepreneurial and pushes me in the right place. And some groups that I'm, like I said, I was a part of. So I have all these helps. And I thoroughly believe we should all be talking more about how we do it, because

even if you're not paying for help, you have help and you should have help. Yeah.

Yeah. Yeah. Big believer in that, I used to work as a social media manager for a YouTube star and I had to leave that job for several reasons. One of them was I was posting as her every day, doing that sort of educational content and really doing.

Very in-depth posts and, you know, putting them out every single day, grew her following from like 5,000 to 25,000. And people were always like, Oh, a YouTuber. How do you do it? How do you keep up with all of this? I was like, well, you give your Last Pass information to your VA who also edits your videos for you and answers the comments

and stuff.

I did some social media management, mostly Instagram based, but it was the same thing me going in and doing hashtag research and finding people and doing community engagement and replying to comments and going in and finding other things and like, Doing their reach for them expanding their reach. But it was also for me, like, again, same reason that I don't do it.

I'm trying not to do it as much for myself. It was really exhausting for me to try and speak at other people's voices and manage all of that. It was really hard. So while I manage, I don't ever think I want anybody else to pretend to be me on my social media. Because I love having that connection with my community.

Instead I have chosen just to really focus on Instagram as opposed to having all of them places.

Cardinal: Hmm. That's fair. And do you have any kids or anything, do you get help with?

Ellie:  Do not I have chosen to be child-free. I am from a very small rural town in Oregon. And when I, and I don't think I, it genuinely did not occur to me that I didn't have to have kids until I was about 17.

And they remember the time that it did this from that second, I knew I did not want children. 

I think they're great for other people. Like, I'm happy to be the cool auntie I have got, I have a goddaughter.

She's great. I have like my best friend here that lives across the street has a four month old. Like I'm happy to babysit, but I don't want them for myself.

Cardinal: Yeah, that's totally fair. I was just going to say that a lot of solo entrepreneurs are also moms. Or, or dads or parents in general. And I think that just, as you were saying, there's sort of this facade of like, Oh, we do it all ourselves.

I think that there's a lot of shame as a parent, like getting help for that part of your life as well, but so many opportunities to get help and everybody wins. Great people. It's fine.

Ellie: Yeah. Almost all of my clients would be 10 to 20 years older than me and almost all of my clients have kids. And I would say I have people that I know during this pandemic really struggled with like the moral ethics slash of like having childcare so they can run their businesses, but they had to run their businesses to put food on the table and it's it's it, it has been tough.

Cardinal: Yeah, for sure. Speaking about tough, what has been the toughest part about having a business? During this pandemic time of 20 20 and 2021,

Ellie: My bandwidth. I've been very, very fortunate. I haven't really lost clients or income. In some ways, like I said, this pandemic has helped me. It's made a lot of people realize how important.

Having a digital presences. But that said, I am like your textbook overachiever. Like to the point where it's probably detrimental for me sometimes. And I really put a lot of my. What's the worst, not self esteem, but I guess my cell phone boss, the phrase self-worth yes. On how much I achieve and I have not had the mental and emotional energy to achieve anywhere near what I usually do.

I'm assuming you're the

Cardinal: same.

You're just speaking words straight out of my heart right now.

Ellie: So yeah, so I've been really fortunate. And so I know that that has a. It's a problem for sure. But it's also like, I'm lucky in the sense that not the start of the pandemic, I guess, but about six months ago, when I pivoted my business model, I can run my entire business in under three days a week. I have the space to run a podcast and stuff that I don't have to do that I want to do. So that's like, I know I'm lucky and that I've, but some of it's been quite intentional as well to create that space for myself, because while it wasn't for a pandemic, it was to be able to travel home more often.

I've been really intentional about simplifying my business so that I have that space.

Cardinal: That's really great. That is a good. Tough piece to have, because at least it's just only yourself standing in your way, basically.

Ellie: Yeah. Like I've had to really be kind to myself. I've had to really allow myself to be okay with not doing like the bunches of webinars and workshops and things that I'm constantly running and not really growing my, reach my audience in the way that I normally would be pushing to do.

And just kind of keeping it more at the core of my business this year.

Cardinal: Yeah, everything goes in cycles. Anyway, the springtime of growth will come again. I think that there's a Taoist proverb that's " springtime will come and the grass will grow on its own". I hold on to that for dear life sometimes

Ellie: Funnily enough, this season of my podcast, which the first episode was released today is all about living. And working with your natural rhythms. And the episode of my podcast that was released today was about living and working seasonally with a guest named Rachel Martin who's like an outdoor specialist, essentially.

Cardinal: That is so cool. I'm all about that. Humans try to separate ourselves from nature and it's all in the illusion.

Ellie: Definitely.

Cardinal: So if a customer had to choose between Calibrated Concepts and three other businesses, why would they choose yours?

Ellie: The answer for this is really easy to me. And it's essentially one, my turnaround time is faster than most web designers. By a lot.. My pricing is usually lower than most web designers.

And it's not because I'm not pricing myself fairly it's because I'm using the Squarespace platform. So it's not entirely from scratch. Even though I add a lot of code and customization to things, which makes it really accessible for people. And the reason I've chosen Squarespace's because then people can edit the websites themselves after, which is another bit, one of my big points. And the final, big point of why people work with me is because I'm a lot more organized than a lot of design type people. Like I just, I make the system, my onboarding system. I actually ran a whole workshop for this, for my community last night. My client care process and my onboarding system is like, perfect. Well, no, obviously actually perfect, but it is so good and I'm constantly fine tuning it when I realize, Oh, actually that thing didn't quite work.

And I actually have an assessment as a part of it and people get to rate it, tell me what they love, what they hated and I can fix it as I go.

Cardinal: Very cool. What do you use for that? Have you built your own? It's just site Typeform. Nice. Yeah. We like to use notion it's been. Oh, do you have words about Notion?

Ellie: Actually. I wish I could love Notion. Notion to me the only like it's, it's so cool because it can do so much. But my thing about Notion is the same reason I always hated Minecraft. It's there are not enough. There's not enough structure. You can do too many things. And it's too open-ended like I get a little overwhelmed with those types of situations.

Cardinal: That's fair. That's fair.  And that's just the same reason why I loved Minecraft because it's so open-ended.

Ellie: Yeah. I mean, I think that's what personalities, like, we all have our things, right?

Cardinal: Yeah. My partner is working on building out our system in Notion right now. And. Having it also be a platform where we can onboard and train people when we start hiring as well. It's really, really a little endless, you're right.

And it has kind of taken a months because it is so big.

Ellie: Yeah. So I, I have a lot of systems I use in my business. The ones that I cannot live without would be FreshBooks. And I use that for my accounting for for my time tracking for tracking the time of my team as well. And some, some team management in there as well.

I use Asana that is my home on base for everything. And I will use either Descript or loom to record video tutorials of how I do things and put them in there for my team. So we have these documented systems that never change or, you know, very rarely change. Yeah. So obviously FreshBooks Asana, Squarespace, and Canva.

Like you can't live without those.

Cardinal: Oh my God. Canva is I use that for everything.  Oh, well gosh, I could talk systems with you all day, but

you should get in touch with that. About, about that later. Cause total systems nerd here. Anyway, if you had to look six months a year in the future, where would you want your business to be?

Ellie: This business, sort of where it's at? I have one long-term client that I am an online business manager for that I'm lovingly letting go.

We've worked together for years and It's just the last piece to simplify and as much as I love her and I love her business and I love her work. It's the last thing that makes it harder to just pick up and move to the U S for six weeks or whatever. So that's one big one. And the other thing would be to have my other business, the Capable Collective be a little more.

Of an actual business or some kind right now, it's really a really tight knit Facebook community and a podcast. And at some stage, I don't know what I want to do with it, but it will likely be tool based and helping. I've got this idea of tinkering around with something called the tools prescription and helping people solve their tools, issues in their business.

Cardinal: Very cool. So you would like to sort of diversify then?

Ellie: Yeah. Well, I want to simplify my one business. And so the, the, the key Calibrated Concepts is my like money-making business, at least right now. And the Capable Collective is my passion. It is helping women feel like they are capable in tech. That is this idea of pulling back the curtain of all the nitty gritty behind the scenes mechanics of business, and showing people that you don't have to go down like a giant Google rabbit hole, or watch too many YouTube videos and get lost and overwhelmed that you can fall back on this thing that humankind, especially womenkind, are really good at, which is community and getting the answers from the collective.

So I'm really passionate about that. But I don't entirely a hundred percent know where it wants to go yet.

It's still, Hmm,

Cardinal: that's fair. So we are nearing the end of the interview. And one question that I like to wrap up with for everybody is if you had a brand new, fresh business owner in front of you, what advice would you give them?

Ellie: Ooh,

I'd say don't stress it. Like, and I, and I think what I mean by that is I feel like there's so much pressure. And the first year of business is sort of the same for everybody and we sort of fight and we want to jump to like, Getting to where it's good, where it seems easy, where it feels a little more streamlined where we feel like we know what we want to do.

And we're more in our niche, and we know who our people are and all of those things, but that first year of business or so, or however long, it takes you is really essential to getting there. And I think that that discomfort and the trying all the things and not knowing exactly who your clients are and working with different types of people and trying a few different services is.

Like the weeds of it, is so important and I think it can be so easy to overlook and just kind of enjoy that ride.

Cardinal: That's great. Some good advice. So advice that I could probably follow myself a little bit,

right. Ellie, it's been so great talking to you. Where can people find Calibrated Concepts?

Ellie: Sure. So, like I said, I mostly hang out on Instagram. I don't actually use the Calibrated Concepts handle anymore because I'm bringing in some bits of the Capable Collective intuitive as well.  My handle is at Ellie Mae McBride and you can find me over my website. I have a great blog with some YouTube videos and things in there. I also have a free community for women and nonbinary people who are looking for some help around tech and systems in their business. So that's kind of what I do.

And I know we didn't quite touch on it and I don't know where you want to tie this in, in the video. But so I do live in Northern Ireland and I am from Oregon. And I'm looking to move back. Yeah, I can't wait! But the second, this pandemic is over. I am coming home for like six to eight weeks and working.

Cardinal: When the weather is nice. I see.

Ellie: It was like as much as it's been at the stage 19 months since I've seen my parents, my best friend my kids' sibling. My little brother, like anybody that knows and loves me beyond my husband, really like be, I have friends here and I have my in-laws and they're all great.

But there's a difference for the people who like, know you deep. Right? So anyway, I am beyond impatient to get back.

Cardinal: Well, I'm sure Oregon misses you too. All right, Ellie. Thank you again so much for coming on the WCBC review and I hope that all your business dreams come true. Thank you. Bye bye.

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