Q&A: The Journey of Starting a Business in Web Development and Design

Alli Bernskoetter
Alli Bernskoetter (Photo courtesy of Alli Bernskoetter.)

Some things have a great impact on your life.

Alli Bernskoetter has worked in the public sphere for over 12 years. During that time she worked as a Spanish teacher and a librarian. However, during COVID-19 she was diagnosed with Complex PTSD, and working in the public sphere became difficult and unhealthy. Since web development and design has always been an interest of hers, she created her own business – Designing from Scratch, LLC – doing just that.

Bernskoetter sat down with InBetween417 to share about her experience and offer some advice to others.

What led you to founding Designing from Scratch, LLC?

Throughout my time in schools, and especially the last high school library job I had up in Kansas City, and in the Kansas City Public Library, I started to do more and more graphic design for marketing purposes. I was doing graphic design all the time, especially during COVID, when we switched to all virtual programming at the public library. And so I was doing lots of images for social media, and I just remembered how much I loved doing that. and I’m like, “oh, yeah, I’m good at this, I forgot about this”. So fast forward, we moved back to Springfield from Kansas City in the fall, And I started to take some classes on Coursera…So I wanted to switch to this field, but I knew that I needed a lot of practice with real people and real companies. I decided to start helping small businesses and small companies to do that.

Going into this business, my goal was not to have a business forever. It was not to build an empire. It was to be open minded about what my outcome is, I started the business to learn. I feel like what it is, is kind of a project based learning class that I’m getting paid a little bit for. You know, I’m not making great money yet. I don’t have a ton of jobs, but I’m learning a lot. Right now business is kind of starting to pick up. I’m learning a lot from not only my classes, but also from other web developers, as I’m going to networking events and meeting people in the community…and I’m really open minded about where this leads, it could be that this is for my life right now, [as I’m] healing from these health issues. But it also could be that eventually I’ll be ready to work full time for like an advertising agency.

What legal protections did you take?

I’m really good friends with a lawyer who helps small businesses and he was like, you know, to really protect yourself you want to do this right, even if you only do this for six months, it’s smart to go ahead and set up an LLC. So I did. He helped me to do all the paperwork for that. And it’s smart to go ahead and keep all your business things, all your expenses, separate from your personal expenses, it just protects you as an individual.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I set up office at efactory, and that helps me to get out of the house and have my desk and all my Wi Fi and everything set up outside of my house, I’m a mom, and I have two pets, and getting out of the house really helps me to focus. And it also helps me to, you know, just put on grownup clothes and look like an adult. But my favorite thing about it is that there’s a lot of entrepreneurs here.

So, usually I work with at least one client, meeting with them either on Zoom or in person. I also typically will do some website work. Right now I don’t have a paid project that I’m working on, so what I’m doing instead is I am learning how to use a new theme and page builder called Gutenberg on WordPress. And I’m doing that by just redesigning my own website. And so that helps me to extend my skills while I’m waiting. I [also] do a lot of networking. Once or twice a week I’ll go to some sort of networking event.

What is the Importance of networking?

I didn’t really understand what networking was before I started in business, but my first day here at efactory, someone invited me to a women’s networking group. Ever since then I’ve realized how helpful it is to get out in the community and talk to other business owners. To see how I can help them and how they can help me. So it’s kind of nice, because the goal is to promote local businesses to those in your circle.

[Additionally,] they actually were able to share with me some of their process for their business. Some lessons, they’ve learned the hard way. Because I don’t have business training…I’m not only learning my industry, but I’m learning how to be a business and how to do sales and how to do all the things. And so they’re able to give me some industry specific information.

How did you learn the necessary skills for this profession?

So I’m kind of picky because I’ve come from education and libraries about where I get my information. And Coursera offers a lot of options that are by vetted and qualified people, [such as] college professors who are teaching this at the college level. The different thing about the courses, though, is that you have to be self motivated in order to take them. You sign up for the classes, you do the assignments, and usually it’s peers, giving feedback to other peers about the projects that you do. So you don’t receive credit. Although sometimes there are certifications, you can get like through Google, if you complete the course. And then I think there’s some testing requirements that you complete.

What I did with Coursera was I looked at some university graphic design program course requirements and some of the objectives that you would learn. Then I looked at Coursera’s course catalog and looked up similar courses. That way I knew I would have a basic foundation and backbone for my work as I’m going into it. And for me, as a teacher, it felt good to be able to say, “Okay, I feel somewhat prepared”.

How have you promoted your business?

I think since my business is primarily local, and with local customers, the best way that I have learned to do this is through referrals and through knowing people who need help. This is where the networking comes in. I also have a Facebook page. I have a website. And there’s lots of things that I put on there to be helpful, but those have not paid off too much yet. Honestly, the best thing is been getting referrals from customers. I also make sure that I do a really, really good job, and make sure my customers are happy, and then they will refer people that they know in their circles to me.

Something cool at the efactory are these mentorship meetings that you get as part of your membership. I did a mentorship meeting with somebody from Revel Advertising, and he used to do exactly what I’m doing as his business. So, I was able to ask him, like, what’s the best way to connect with clients who need your help? And he’s like, literally networking, go to as many networking things as you can. That is the best way to meet people who need your help.

How did you decide what to charge for your work?

One thing I do is I look at other businesses and what they’re charging, what they’re offering versus what I’m offering…and what I would consider paying myself for an hourly basis. And so that’s kind of a big part of it. Some of it has to do with just trying it and seeing if it works. But what I’ve generally heard is most people charge too little, not too much at first. So I think that I’m okay with that for now because I’m learning. And hopefully, the more I do this, the more I’ll get a feel for the value I’m providing my customers, how to make it affordable for them, but also pay myself for the expertise and the time that I’m spending offering the work to clients.

What advice would you offer to students or others changing their career path?

I think I would give different advice to college grads than I would to people jumping into a different profession. To the college grads, I would say that believing in themselves and in their capabilities is important, and a lot of times they’re going to have opportunities that I won’t have [with] some of these big companies. So, I say for new grads, if your degree is in, you know, graphic design or etc., start big. Apply to some of those junior positions [or] apply to some of those intern positions at some of those name brands.

However, for those who are restarting their career, I would say that if you’ve been in a field for a while, and you’re bored, and you’ve already explored whether jumping to a different company or organization within the same field would be rewarding or not, it’s not too late. Whether you’re in your 30s, like I’m in my 30s, or 40s, or 50s, or 60s, I don’t think we’re in an environment anymore, where you have to work in an industry for 30 to 40 years and then retire, I think it’s much more common to jump around. But if you do that, try to reduce your living expenses as much as possible before, that way you’re not depending on a certain amount every month. I’m lucky, I’ve got a hubby who is helping. His regular income is helping, but also when we moved back [to Springfield], we decided to rent and live more cheaply so that we could do some things like this. So a lot of it was kind of intentional planning on our part.

Do you have any other thoughts you would like to add?

I guess I would just say that a lot of people want to jump ship from working from a big company to doing a small business because they like the romantic idea of making your own schedule and all of that. But before you assume that having your own schedule is all roses and flowers, think about your own motivation…there are struggles. I don’t, you know, I get my health insurance through my husband, and things like that, that come with full time employment, like, those are really nice. So you kind of have to balance your own life situation and your own needs. For me, my health needs, made it to where me having a flexible schedule is helpful. I’m able to take a day off if I need to rest, or do some extra therapy, or whatever, that I wouldn’t be able to do as easily if I was working like a nine to five, 40 hour a week job. But I guess just it’s hard both ways. I think you choose your hard. Working full time, nine to five, is hard. Having your own company, but lots of flexibility is hard. So choose your hard. There’s not a right answer that works for everyone.

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