When working on identity design it’s important to know who you’re targeting so that you can create a solution that attracts the desired audience. But exactly how to approach this can often be subjective, but what if there was a more strategic way?
Enneagram Personalities is one fascinating approach. 9 personality types which are represented by the points of a geometric figure known as an enneagram, that can be used to explain how each type interacts with the world. To learn more Ian interviews brand stylist Shay Bocks, an expert on the topic.
In this episode we also discuss the benefits of productising your business, and the approach Shay took to sell her WordPress theme business.
Books & Resources Mentioned
- What is the Enneagram?
- Shay Bocks Website | Instagram | Facebook | Dribbble
- The Complete Enneagram by Beatrice Chestnut – Buy on Amazon US | Amazon UK
- The 9 Types of Leaders by Beatrice Chestnut – Buy on Amazon US | Amazon UK
- The Path Between Us by Suzanne Stabile – Buy on Amazon US | Amazon UK
- The E-Myth Revisited – Buy on Amazon US | Amazon UK
Shay Bocks Interview Transcription
Ian Paget: I understand that you’ve been studying Enneagram Personality Types that can be used in branding. It’s not a term I’ve heard of before and I’m not familiar with this, so could you let us know what that is and how you would then go about applying that to your branding work?
Shay Bocks: Sure. For someone who hasn’t ever heard of the Enneagram before, I’ll tell you that the Enneagram is simply a symbol. It’s kind of this mysterious symbol that philosophers have used for a long time to describe different processes in the world. There’s some legend that it comes from the Near East as well. We’re pretty sure it comes from the Near East, but legend says they used it in ancient Egypt or Babylon, but it was definitely used as a wisdom tool by the Sufis and esoteric Christianity for thousands of years.
Then in 1916, an Armenian philosopher named Gurdjieff brought it to the west, and he described it as a symbol of the inner dynamic of the cosmos, which sounds really floaty and out there, but it was a way of organising his understanding of the world through this symbol. And I know Pythagoras had his hands on the symbol at one point, and so it’s got this rich history for processes and creativity and just kind of explaining the world.
And then several decades later after Gurdjieff, a couple of psychologists, one in Bolivia and one in Chile, adapted his work and they applied a typology of archetypes to the symbol, and so this is now what the Enneagram has come to be known as is a personality typing system, but it hasn’t been that way always.
Like if anyone has worked with brand archetypes before, we know that this idea of archetypes comes from Jungean ideas that through our culture, and even in our cellular memory, there are specific archetypes that we all use to understand the world, like certain heroes or helpers and different things, and there have been others who have taken that archetype philosophy to branding and kind of penned down, like, you are the hero brand and so we’re going to design your brand based on that.
The Enneagram takes it a step further. The Enneagram says that we actually all understand our world through our specific archetypal wins, and there are essentially nine of these lenses or personality types, or even 27 if you count the sub-types of each personality type. So what I do is I apply this idea of the Enneagram, and all of these archetypal personalities to the work that I do, by looking at either the person behind the personal brand, or maybe the personality type of a company as a whole, and then also the type of person that they’re speaking to, so their ideal audience or user.
I’ve also started doing a bit of creativity coaching through the Enneagram, because the Enneagram’s very personal; however, you can apply it both ways, personally and in like a more corporate setting.
Ian Paget: This is a really great explanation. But I know since its official thing, business will definitely want to check out the diagram to properly understand it, so I’ll be sure to include an image in the show notes for this episode, so for anyone that’s not quite following along, make sure to check out the show notes to see an image of what we’re talking about.
So to expand on what you said, are you able to give an example of when you’ve used the Enneagram?
Shay Bocks: Okay, so I’ll give you an example of when we used the Enneagram in a recent project. I was working with a coaching organisation. Very well known. And they’re very familiar with the Enneagram and use it to type all of their employees, and they use it to work on teamwork and leadership and feedback and communication, but they hadn’t yet applied it to their branding. So when we were working on their brand website, one of the things that I asked was, “Well how do you see your company? Which personality type do you see your company as?” And they told me that they’re actually a mix of two different personality types. So we had fun talking about that and how the mix works.
And then I asked them, “Okay, so how about your customers? Who are they? Are they also the same type?” And what was interesting was that they weren’t. They were a completely separate type that’s not even connected to the type that they were identifying as, and so what we did is we kind of re-looked at their branding and how we were positioning them so that we could speak to the audience that they’re trying to reach.
I will also say, I’m going off on a rant here, but I’ll also say there was some research done about this, and I can send you the link to the research, but it said that using the Enneagram as a symbol, we identify with our own personality type, but we’re also connected to two other personality types through the dynamic movements, which are called Arrows. So say I’m a four, I’m also connected to one and two. And what this research study found was that our consumer behaviour follows our core personality type, but it also means that we’re going to be looking for brands that are in those other personality types that we’re connected to through our dynamic movement, so I’ll most likely be attracted to a four brand, or a one brand or a two brand, depending on if I’m stressed or if I’m in a stage of growth, or so forth.
The Enneagram symbol is about movement. It’s not about being holed into one specific type but about how you move through the symbol and your type, and so understanding that and how our customers move through the Enneagram helps us then to speak to them in ways that they need to hear through our branding.
Ian Paget: It sounds like a fascinating thing to be studying, and I’ll be sure to look into the research that you mentioned too, because when working on branding it’s important to know who you’re targeting, and by the sound of it this will be really helpful to help understand that better.
I’ve come across personality typing before, but not this specific approach, and I’d imagine it might be new to quite a few listeners too, so I want to make sure to channel some of the questions that they might have, and one that comes to mind: Once you’ve established the personality type of the business, what can you then do with that knowledge? Do you simply use the diagram to map out your ideal customer, or is there more to this to gain a better understanding?
Shay Bocks: The great thing about the Enneagram that I love is that it’s all about motivations and not necessarily about behaviour. For instance, going back to that example I was using for the coaching company that I worked with, they described themselves as a mix between three and seven, which are not connected on the Enneagram, but that’s how they saw their company. And what was interesting was that their customers were ones.
So just like a quick synopsis, the one is the reformer and they’re almost perfectionists, and threes are achievers, they’re kind of workaholics, they can be workaholics, but they’re really successful people. Now, all types can be successful, but threes are known for really striving for success. And then sevens are enthusiasts or adventurers. They’re really life of the party kind of people. So this brand described themselves as a mix of three and seven, so this really high-achieving, successful personality with the life of the party, fun kind of personality. But their clients were ones, who were perfectionists, reformers, very have to do things the right way kind of people.
So what we found is that one and seven actually have a dynamic movement, so ones tend to take on traits of seven when they are feeling secure or growing in a very specific way, maybe like healing something from their past, and so tapping into that seven personality type and knowing that that would actually serve their customers and clients well helped us then to take that approach to their website so that we were focusing on this kind of fun, bright, playful, positive take on their brand. Whereas before if they had just told me they were a three brand, I would have gone very, like, clean and to the point, focused on results kind of, and I would’ve taken a very different approach to that website. What we ended up with was something that’s really going to serve their brand so much better and their clients better. Does that help describe it?
Ian Paget: Yeah, it does. Like I mentioned earlier, as this is quite reliant on the diagram being seen to really make sense of it, I’ll be sure to include images in the show notes for this episode. So if you are listening and you’re not entirely following along, make sure to check that out.
But I totally understand how the information can be valuable from this. If each personality type links, you can predict the type of individual you would want to attract-
Shay Bocks: Absolutely.
Ian Paget: … or the reverse of that to create an identity that would attract a specific type of person. I could totally see how this would allow you to make more intelligent choices, not just in the identify but the overall business strategy too.
Shay Bocks: Absolutely. So this is completely strategic for branding, and I see people all the time who say, especially personal brands, they say, “I don’t know who my ideal audience is. I just want to serve everybody,” and they can’t narrow it down, and so I do feel like the Enneagram is a good place to start with that, understanding that certain people are going to be attracted to what you do and what you bring, and then kind of working backwards from there.
It would be a different position if you already have an established brand where you already have users that you can understand them better through surveys or asking good questions and stuff like that, but for people who are starting out and don’t know who their audience is yet, this would absolutely be a great way to start.
Ian Paget: It sounds really good. So in terms of working with potential clients using this diagram, how are you going about working out what those traits are? Do you just show them the diagram and talk through each one and literally just narrow down to which personality type or types that they see themselves as?
Shay Bocks: Well, yeah. The typing process is a bit more complex than that. There are certain questions we go through, there are kind of activities we do in order to nail down. A typical typing interview would be anywhere from an hour to three hours long, and this is kind of outside of the typical brand strategy discovery meeting, and so it’s something that I kind of package with specific clients. I don’t do it with every client, because that’s not the right move for a big client, but the ones that are interested in this, it’s something that we’ve been able to tap into early on during that early discovery, or before the discovery, and really nail down the personality type of the company.
I will say, most of the people who have come to me have an understanding of Enneagram already, so they have their suspicions about what they might be or what they might represent, and so we’re able to confirm that through a typing interview.
Ian Paget: It sounds quite interesting, because if your potential clients are already aware of this process, it almost seems like a USP for you, because I’m thinking now, like off the top of my head, there’s other ways that you can approach this personality typing, this just seems like another way of doing it.
But like you said, if your client’s already familiar with it and want to work with brand strategists that is familiar with this process and technique, that’s what would make you stand out from the others, because, like I said, it’s not something I’ve heard of. You’re actually the first person I’ve personally spoken to that take this approach to working out target audience and personality types.
Shay Bocks: Yeah, absolutely. I guess I live in a… You know how we live in little bubbles where we draw from other people the same things, and so we figure that it’s something very common. I know the founder of Dropbox uses the Enneagram, there’s certain very key people online who are using it more for personality and personal growth, and so when I got tapped into it several years ago, that’s what I was using it for. But like my friend said recently, once you start doing inner work you realise that inner work is all there is, and so it becomes kind of something you’re thinking about all the time, and it’s the way I see the world now. And so it has coloured my branding work for several years before even officially using it with clients is that I was thinking about these things before.
So, I do think that it can be used in our design work, even if we’re not outwardly using it as a typing system. But just an understanding of how our motivations and how our lenses that we use function, that really helps us to then be able to incarnate that kind of purpose behind a brand into something visual.
Ian Paget: You mentioned that there are questions and activities that you run through and it takes a number of hours to narrow down to what the business personality type would be. Would you be happy to share some of the activities that you’re doing with clients to help narrow down what that personality type looks like?
Shay Bocks: Sure. I would hate to be too confusing with it though because there’s so many intricacies of it. I will say it starts with a questionnaire. It starts with like a worksheet that people fill out and they answer certain questions about what their values are. If it’s a personal brand we get even more personal with it.
I really enjoy working with personal brands, so that’s something that I do a lot. I had one recently who was a play therapist, and I totally thought she would’ve been a seven, which is that enthusiast, adventurous type, and it turned out through our discovery that she was actually a four, which is the kind of where the individualists and more creative and moody types. I found that so exciting to uncover that in our discovery, and it really started with that worksheet where she filled out specific questions that asked her about her motivations and how she sees the world, and it actually provided her much more clarity in what she wanted to do with her business going forward.
I mean, she hired me for branding, but she actually ended up leaving with a much clearer picture of how she was going to handle her business going forward, what she was going to do to kind of transform it for herself in a way that felt more aligned to who she was.
So I’d say it starts with that worksheet and includes several conversations, and because I’ve done my Enneagram training and I’ve just been engulfed in this for years, I’m able to kind of pick up qualities about people that help me to determine what their type might be. However I will say that even though we go through this whole process, only an individual can determine type for themselves, so I wouldn’t be able to type you and say, “Oh, Ian, you’re a six.” Because you might look at that and say, “Look, that doesn’t sound like me at all,” even though it looks like to me that you are. So it’s a conversation. It’s back and forth between the client and myself and trying to figure this out together.
Ian Paget: I know a few weeks back I was at a training course where they did a really basic version of one of the personality types. I can’t remember what it’s called, but it’s the one where you come out as like an INTJ. I don’t know if you know what I mean.
Shay Bocks: Myers Briggs.
Ian Paget: Yeah, the Myers Briggs test, and I was really surprised, even from a basic perspective. One of the questions I was really surprised by because… I can’t remember what the letters was, whether it was like an N or a J, but if you was an N, you’re more creative, and if you was a J, you’re more strategic. And I’m a graphic designer. I’ve been doing it for, like, 10 years, and I was really surprised. I wasn’t on the right side. I was more strategic, and it got me thinking, actually, when I work on projects, I do like to work on more structurally… I do like to think more about how people work and how people use things, and I do like to look at the strategy, and for me I prioritise that over the creativity. And it was just really surprising for me. It was like, “Oh, actually, this is interesting for me and it’s useful knowing this information.”
So for personal branding, I really see the value of these, you know, understanding your personality type, and when you do understand that you can, like in your brand identity, you can bring out some of those characteristics and the aesthetics of how you look at how you’re portraying yourself.
So it sounds like a really useful exercise from a strategy point of view to really understand who you are, really understand the type of personalities that you would work well with, the type of people that you should ideally be targeting so that you get the best connections and relationships with those people. I really see the value in it now I’ve spent some time understanding how it works.
Shay Bocks: Absolutely. What you just described is showing how understanding a personality type helps you bring those gifts that you have to the forefront and to understand that not everyone sees the world the same way, and that’s a really good thing, because we all have our own little take on it, and so I think that’s what I really, really enjoy about any personality typing system.
I will say that, like with you, you saw yourself as more creative and the test labels you as strategic, but strategy is totally a form of creativity.
Ian Paget: Yeah, I understand. To be honest, it was a really basic version and there was only five questions, and I was like 50/50, but I got three one one and two on the other. So I’m wondering if with a more complex analysis, which side I would fall on.
But I just found it really interesting, and it really made me start thinking maybe I am more strategic minded than creative. And like you said, even though strategy is a very creative exercise, I think it meant more you’re more focused on the way that things work and should be working. You see the bigger picture, as opposed to the intricate, finer details of certain components.
Shay Bocks: Right. Oh, and what you’re describing is such a gold nugget too, because I think with any of these systems, it’s not just finding out what you are and labelling yourself, but it’s more about what you do with it, and so you kind of opening yourself up and seeing, oh, the strategy side of me actually has a real place here, I’m sure that you are making decisions from a different place now and kind of thinking more in a vain that includes that strategic side of yourself.
Ian Paget: Yeah, well it helps you to think more long-term as well, because you consider things that you might not have previously considered because you’ve put yourself in a bubble, you know?
Shay Bocks: Absolutely.
Ian Paget: Cool. Well I think that makes sense what the Enneagram personality types are, and I think we’ve given enough for listeners to go and look into that themselves further. Are there any books that you would recommend that people read so that they could learn more about Enneagram personality types if they wanted to?
Shay Bocks: Absolutely. One of my teachers is Beatrice Chestnut, and she has two books, one called The Complete Enneagram, which is more like a personal venture into the Enneagram, and then she has another one called The 9 Types of Leaders, and that’s definitely going to be helpful for anyone in a business setting, maybe leading teams or working with others and just kind of raising our emotional IQ there to see others for who they are.
And then another kind of personal book is The Path Between Us by Suzanne Stabile. It’s a really easy read and it’s conversational and fun, so that’s a good intro into the Enneagram if anyone is interested.
Ian Paget: That’s fantastic. Thank you.
I’ve looked on your website, which is really nice and clean and elegant. I really like your style. But one thing that really jumped out at me was, looking through it, is that you have a really productised service offering, or business. You can go on your site, you can see that you offer three fixed priced services with a fixed product that you get at the end of it.
I’d just love to know, what’s the reason why you’ve taken that approach rather than going fully bespoke and doing value-based pricing for each particular client?
Shay Bocks: Absolutely. Well thank you for that kind compliment, but also I am such a fan of productised services, one because it offers me the opportunity to have predictable processes, and for me that’s super important.
There’s this philosophy in Montessori education. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Montessori, but my kids go to Montessori school, and when they go to learn something new, the only thing that changes in what they’re learning, or it changes in the material that they’re using, is the one task that they’re learning how to do. And so if they’re learning their letters, all of the letters are on pink boards and they don’t change it unless it’s a vowel. That’s a different story. But they have this control of error that helps the child to learn exactly what the one specific goal is for that activity, and they don’t have every letter on a different colour or different shapes and all kinds of different things.
So I have taken this approach in my business where I really want to standardise and create a control of error for myself, because I want each project I take on to be so unique in the outcome of what I’m providing to people, that having predictable processes that I take them through in order to get to that unique one of a kind brand has to be standardised. Now that’s just me and my personality type. Everyone else might not feel the same way, but for me it works.
I also figured out, years ago, I actually owned a WordPress theme business for a while, and at the same time I was doing branding and website design, and we found out that people were coming to us for the same thing over and over and over and over again. So instead of having to do a proposal and then sending a contract and pricing it out differently for every client, we decided to just pick one price and a very standardised process that I took every client through, and it eventually got to the point where I could actually hand that off to my junior designer and they did all of the design. We ran things so smoothly that we were doing several of these a week where we were creating a small logo and customising WordPress theme for a decent price. It was much lower for them than going to like a boutique agency, but it was enough for us that it was very profitable.
That actually was kind of my entry into productised services. But once I realised how well that worked, I realised that I needed to be doing that for everything I do. And that’s not to say that I don’t take on other projects that don’t sit within those buckets. I certainly do. But it helps provide a framework.
So if somebody’s coming to me and saying, “Hey, I need a logo” And instead of going, “Well I have to sit down and do a discovery with you and figure out what you need,” I can say, “Oh, I have this package on my website, this is the price, this is what you get,” and it’s super simple to get them to agree because most of the time they don’t even know what they need. So the fact that I’m able to package that up for them and know ahead of time how long it’s going to take me and what else going to be involved without having to think through it and create a proposal, is really beneficial for both sides.
Ian Paget: It sounds really good. I know personally I’ve always favoured productised services as well, because you can create template emails, template processes, you know what happens and when, you just know how everything works and it’s a very well oiled machine. But when you take the bespoke route and you come out with a price each time based on value, which I totally understand the value in it, but it’s a lot harder to do that and it’s significantly easier to have a system where you just run from A to Z and the process is done.
So I think with anything like logo design and branding, you are able to do that, and I totally understand. Especially if you’ve got a team as well, I totally understand why you’d want to take that route.
Shay Bocks: Absolutely. I feel like a lot of designers get to a point where they go, “Okay, I need to grow, but I can’t take on anymore work, and I’m so busy, but I can’t raise my rates any higher. They’re pretty high already and they’re not sure what to do next.
I think this idea of productised service and making things very predictable is a way not only to save them their sanity but also to give them the opportunity to pass that on to someone else and kind of take things off their plate, but still it’s their process. They’re still providing value to their client through this incredible experience and knowledge that they’ve put into this one product.
Ian Paget: It also works nicely with the book The E-Myth Revisited, which is a book I read a number of years ago. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that book, but…
Shay Bocks: Oh, yes. Absolutely.
Ian Paget: It’s a fantastic book, and for listeners that haven’t read it, it’s been a number of years since I’ve read it, but the general gist of it that most people that run their own business, they do it because they’ve worked in a role that they’ve loved for years and they go out on their own, start their own thing and then they just burn out, get worn out and then quit everything and then go back.
The primary reason for that is because they’re working in their business rather than on their business, and it runs through working on systems and processes so that you can basically take anyone and plonk them in a chair, give them these processes and anyone can basically take over, and that means that you can build a business where you can hire reasonably talented people. They don’t have to be the best people in the world, but they can take your processes and run with it. That’s how companies like McDonald’s have been thriving, because they built all these systems that they can just replicate and clone.
Even though graphic design, it’s a little bit more bespoke and it’s more involved, we can still take a lot of those systems and processes and build a business around it, and productising in this way, one of the amazing advantages is that you can eventually sell your business too, because it’s not all about you. You are selling the processes, the systems and everything that goes behind it, so that’s the real value of productising at the end of the day.
Shay Bocks: Absolutely, yes. I couldn’t agree with that more.
Ian Paget: Yeah, fantastic. I wanted to ask you about one of your other services that I thought was a cool idea. You have one service called Transformation in a Day, and, like I said, it’s not a service I’ve seen anyone else do, so I’d kind of love to know, what’s the idea behind Transformation in a Day, and how does that work for you?
Shay Bocks: Sure. I actually picked this idea up from some copywriter friends of mine who were doing day rates for copywriting, and I thought, “Well that’s pretty interesting. That’s super cool that you just kind of get in and out and you take over and change your client’s world in a day, and then you move on and they have everything they need.”
Now, I can’t do like a full brand in a day or a full website in a day, that would be crazy, but what I have been able to do is do landing pages in a day, or we had one client who we had just done their branding and everything, and now they needed some booth graphics for a conference they were going to, and so I was able to do that through this service, and there are so many different things.
I didn’t want to pinpoint exactly one thing that I could do for a day rate, but I wanted to leave it open and say we can kind of take on anything you need. Well, let me rephrase that. Not anything you need, but certain things can fit within a seven to eight-hour range and we can do it highly focused and really nail things down during that time. So this might be a landing page, it might be some kind of event graphics, I’ve done brand strategy before, so the piece of branding before getting to the visual logo and all of that we can do that in a day.
So it just kind of gives some flexibility for the clients who maybe don’t need one of my productised services, but it’s still enough of a framework that I could say, “Okay, just book your day and we’ll take care of that on this day.”
Ian Paget: I like that you’ve done that, because it feels like you’ve tailored your services to your potential audiences. You’ve got the logo design and brand identity as one service, and then the logo and brand identity alongside like a web design, and both of those are quite involved. On your website you’ve even included the amount of time committed to it, so just the logo design on its own is like a three-week commitment for the client. So they’re quite involved, they’re quite high-end services that require a lot of time for both you and your client.
But this Transformation in a Day, it’s like an entry point to work with you so people could see what it’s like working with you and if they don’t need all of that done but just a small piece of it. I think it’s a really clever idea and I can imagine some people listening to this might borrow the idea.
Shay Bocks: Please do. I think it’d be awesome to see more of it.
Ian Paget: Another thing I wanted to ask you about, and it was through reading your blog posts, because you have a couple of really nice easy-to-read blogs on your site, and there was one point in one of them where I was surprised to hear that you are currently working on 50 to 60% pro bono work. I assume it’s work for charities?
Shay Bocks: It’s partially charity, it’s partially just other causes that I really believe in.
Ian Paget: Yeah, so charities and causes. One of the main reasons why I found this surprising is because in the graphic design communities online, something that I see a lot of people doing is these 30-day challenges, or they do all these things to build up their portfolio, but one thing that I’m always pushing on them is like this is just fill for your portfolio. It’s not going to get you any clients because it’s just meaningless work that doesn’t really add any value. There’s no client involved, so you’re not getting used to working with a client. There’s no in-depth insight behind the work, so you can’t even write a case study, and again it’s not real work so it’s never going to be used, and as a potential client you see that. It’s just, what is this? It just seems like a waste of time. So I always try to encourage people when they’re trying to do portfolio fillers, so whether that’s students or people that want to work on a new area, I always encourage them to go and look for a charity or a good cause that they want to get involved with.
But some pushback I’ve had, and I’ve tried to do it myself as well, it’s really hard to actually find someone that obviously needs the help. So I was just wondering, how are you going about finding those charities or finding those causes and reaching out to them and providing that help?
Shay Bocks: I love that you recommend that, because I think that is a great way to fill your portfolio, and I would just add one caveat that it should be organisations that align with your values and that really match up with the kind of client that you want to work with in the future, because there are so many good charities out there that could use our help, but if it’s not something that you would want to take on repeat work for, it’s probably not portfolio material. But I love that you’re going that direction with it.
I know for me, the only way I was able to do this, because I wasn’t always able to do this, but I did, I sold a WordPress theme agency a couple of years ago using those productised services, that was really good for that, and so I was in this kind of shift where I was in a very niche market before where I was working almost exclusively with food bloggers. It was very profitable and it was a good niche for me to be in and aligned with a lot of values, but I got burnt out on it after several years of doing it. I think that’s probably one of the downsides of niching down.
However, I got to this point where when I sold the business, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to do that anymore, that I wanted to work with food bloggers. Not to say that I don’t, I do still work with food bloggers, but I needed some kind of injection of a different creative path for me, and so what I did was I connected with organisations that I was already familiar with that I truly believed in their mission and had some kind of personal connection to.
So there’s one charity here locally that they provide services for terminally ill children and their families. Not health services, but just care for them. You know, this is the end of their life and they’re trying to make the best of it for them. So I’ve been able to work with them on an event that they hold every year. There’s a school that I work with who’s doing a lot of good work in the community and I was personally connected to them, and then also a podcast that really helped me in someway, like it truly, deeply helped me in a lot of ways, and somehow through the magic of online connections, got connected with the people behind the podcast and just started doing work for them.
The reason why these are all pro bono work instead of charging them, for me, it’s not because they don’t have the money for it or I needed work for my portfolio, it was because I really wanted this kind of injection of creativity in my work. I needed a change of pace, and I wanted it to be through projects that I felt deeply connected to who I was, and so I jumped into those. I didn’t want to be limited by hourly rates, or I could do this many hours a month or something like that, I just wanted to be able to go wild with it and go as intense as I want to go or kind of back off if I need to, if I needed protect my time a little bit, and I didn’t want anything I did for them to be limited by budget.
So those projects have actually just continued. I’ve just continued working with the same ones, and it’s something that’s really been fulfilling for me personally. But then a couple of them have actually also been added to my portfolio, even if it wasn’t my purpose in doing it. It was something that really worked out well. I don’t know that I’m getting new projects from those, but it’s definitely allowed me to think differently about the kinds of clients I take on and how I view my own creativity in my work.
Ian Paget: One thing I’m quite curious about is, in terms of this idea that I’ve mentioned about to the community, one of the push-backs I get is, when people reach out to them they’ve already got some internal team, or they’ve already got someone that they work with. How did you go about building that relationship with them to do the work? Do you just give them a call and say, “I can help you with your brand identity or your website.” Is that all you’re doing, just physically approaching them, or is there more to it?
Shay Bocks: I think in all three of these cases, they reached out to me.
Ian Paget: Oh, okay.
Shay Bocks: They were willing to pay a small amount and it ended up that I… Like I said, I didn’t want to be limited by budget, and so I took them on pro bono. So I can’t say that I found a cause and when after it, it was just in the circles and communities I’m in, they had a need and I was able to fill it. I think that’s all it was in my particular case.
Ian Paget: Yeah. Personally, every charity that I’ve ever worked with, they’ve actually reached out to me as well and they’ve been happy to pay, and I’ve done it either for free or a reduced rate.
Shay Bocks: That’s wonderful.
Ian Paget: And I don’t know many people that have actually gone out and physically approached people, so I was curious to know if there was some special approach that you took.
But I guess for anyone that did want to potentially work with a charity, I think just giving them a call or reaching out to them by email or sending them a letter, or whatever, I don’t see any reason why that wouldn’t work anyway, especially if they really do need help with parts of their business. Because at the end of the day, they are a business or a company, like any other company, where they just happen to be a charity off the back of that, so how you would approach any other business is probably how you would go about approaching a charity if you really did want to do some pro bono work for them.
Shay Bocks: Absolutely, and I think in most cases they’re going to be so thrilled that you’re willing to help and they’ll take you up on it, I think.
Ian Paget: Yeah, absolutely. Now there’s one last question I wanted to ask you and it’s potentially a fairly big one, so bear with me with this. You’ve mentioned briefly throughout this conversation about your previous business. So what was it? It was called Feast. I think it was called Feast?
Shay Bocks: It was, yes, Feast.
Ian Paget: So you founded Feast, you built it up by creating different themes, and then you eventually got to a point where you decided that you wanted to sell that business and start something new. You share your whole story on your website, which it’s a very honest, transparent story. It’s hard to read in times. I can tell that you went through a hard time to get to that point, and I’ll link to that in the show notes because I’m not sure if we’ve got time to go through the whole story. But one area that I was really interested in, and we’ve touched on this earlier with productising, is you created a productised business and then you was able to eventually sell it.
So, I’m quite interested to hear your story of how you did actually go about selling your business, like working out how much it cost, finding someone that would buy it and then actually transferring that over to them. Is there some insight that you could share as to how you approached that?
Shay Bocks: Absolutely. When I decided to sell, I hadn’t realised that I had actually built a business that was worth selling. I thought I was just hustling along and doing what I needed to do and growing my agency. I had a few employees at that point and we were doing really well, but me, personally, it felt like a pull for something deeper and that need wasn’t being met by the business.
So I kind of streamlined things and I actually went through a broker who handles sales, but, oh, to back up a little bit, I had gone to a conference and one of the speakers was there talking about how to position your company to be able to sell it. As he was going through it, I’m like, “Okay, okay, that’s interesting, that’s interesting,” and by the end of it I was kind of waiting for the punchline, like, okay, what do I need to do to get to the point where I can sell my business? And I realised I had actually already built the business that was worth selling, and it was through productised services and having a product, it was a digital product, and just having good branding recognition and several factors.
So I kind of gave myself six months after that to really think about it and decide if it was something I needed to do, because this was my baby for so long. And then I did finally reach out to a broker, and there are a few brokers online that you can get in touch with and they handle the entire process for you, up to a certain point. So, they are the ones who helped me value my company. It actually came in in a much higher value than I was expecting, but those numbers are going to be different for every business, depending on what your assets are, what your history is, how long you’ve been in business, what kind of following you have and all of that. Then once they valued my business, we put together this whole kit of information. It felt really intrusive, to be honest. Like they were asking for all kinds of stuff: bank statements and crazy, crazy stuff.
But then they put it out there and they actually vetted potential buyers. We had several buyers that we had interviews with. They managed the offer that the buyers were making, and we eventually met with one who seemed like a perfect fit, who offered above even asking price and was ready to get something started. Then we both engaged our lawyers, so you have the broker, and then you have the lawyer as well. That’s important. And then we took about three months to really nail down a contract that worked well for both of us.
So, it’s by no means a quick process, it’s something that takes a lot of time and dedication, but then once we were both comfortable with the contract and signed it, with an online business it was literally just a matter of giving him a document with certain information and drop-boxing him files and then giving him passwords to things, and it was that easy to hand over the business to him. Because obviously our lawyers handled all the legal stuff, like the business-y side of things.
So then it’s been two years since I’ve sold it and I’m still, like I’ve never had one regret in selling it. He’s done such a good job with the business and it’s been in good hands, and I’ve had the creative freedom that I really was craving back then, and I now have it. I feel like it was one of the best decisions I could’ve made.
Ian Paget: It’s nice to think that as a graphic designer, or a web developer, or basically anyone listening to this podcast, that they could build an asset that they eventually sell on to someone in the way that you have.
One of the main reasons why I wanted to bring it up is because in this podcast we have spoken about productising services and everything like that, and I think doing that, you basically are priming yourself to have a business that you could eventually sell if you wanted to. So I think it’s nice to know that that option is there for people, and I think it’s good that you’ve been able to share a little bit of the insight as to how that happened, so I’m glad it all worked out really well for you and-
Shay Bocks: Thank you.
Ian Paget: … it’s exciting that you’ve been able to move onto everything that you’re doing now with the branding and the strategy and, you know, or the personality types and stuff like that. It sounds like an exciting time for you.
Shay Bocks: It is, absolutely. Thank you for… I don’t get to sit and talk about all these things very often, so I appreciate the opportunity to just kind of let it all out. Thank you.
Ian Paget: Yeah, you’re very welcome. And I actually think that’s probably a good point to wrap up the interview as well, because it’s a positive ending and hopefully it’s inspired people that if they have built an asset that they’re not enjoying, they’ve got the option to sell it and start doing something new that’s exciting for them. So, you never know, someone out there might listen to this and be inspired by what you’ve done.
Shay Bocks: Well, and I’ve actually seen it happening so much more lately, people who have created a course or some kind of maintenance monthly service or something. All of those companies are selling to someone else, because they built it up and then they’re ready to move on to something else and someone else is ready to take it on for them. So I love that we have that kind of ecosystem online.
Ian Paget: Yeah, it’s really good.
Well, Shay, it’s been really great to chat with you. Thank you so much for sharing all the different insights into different areas with us, and it’s been really good to chat with you.
Shay Bocks: Thank you, I appreciate it so much.
Ian Paget: You’re very welcome.
Thank you to the sponsor, FreshBooks
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