Student Spotlight on Stefani Harris
Today we’d like to introduce you to Stefani Harris of The Creative Solutions Project.
Stefani is smart, savvy, and sincere. One of the things we admire about Stefani is her ability to get into messy code, clean it up, and make it easy for her clients to maintain. She’s not afraid to jump into a complicated project that’s gone off the rails and sprinkle her magic coding skills to breathe new life into it. How awesome is that?
Let’s get to know Stefani!
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Play and cuddle with my 4 Shih Tzus, enjoy delicious food and wine with friends, and practice and teach Yoga! I also REALLY love my job, so I tend to work even in my “spare time”
What inspires you?
Stories about people who have overcome a variety of challenges in their lives definitely inspire and motivate me! Also, people who just GO FOR IT! People who take action and aren’t afraid to put themselves out there!
What’s an accomplishment from your past that not many people know about?
Hmm, this is a tough one. I was wrongfully terminated from a job and turned that situation into something wonderful – the opportunity to learn something new and start my own business!
Tell us a little about your journey to be a web designer..how did that happen?
Ahhh… I love this part!
I always felt like the one who was working the hardest in my previous jobs. I was focused, motivated, and a major go-getter. I dreamed of starting my own business one day but wasn’t certain what it would be. Computer-related tasks were always fun and interesting to me – even the tedious ones that no one else enjoyed. Sooo….here’s how it all went down…
When I finally landed what I thought was an amazing job that made me so happy, I found myself 1.5 years into it in a very bad situation. I was wrongfully terminated and was humiliated, devastated and utterly embarrassed. How could I have given all that I had given and done all that I had done and ended up in such a horrific situation? It was truly wrongful and did take legal action. The legal action ended positively and in my favor.
I had been teaching yoga and fitness classes on the side for many years and contemplated doing it full time. I was concerned about the financial risks and the fact that it was a “physical career.” So, out of fear and sticking with what’s comfortable, I took a traditional job for the steady paycheck. From day 2, I was miserable…and lasted a whopping 4 months! During that time, I plotted my escape and worked the spreadsheets to see how I could actually teach classes and make a living. As soon as I exited that awful working experience, I set out to teach…and teach…and teach. BUT, it wasn’t enough! Not enough money nor enough fulfillment!
So, I took my long-time desire to do something from the comfort of my own home while sitting at the computer with my dogs by my side…and I enrolled in a virtual assistant training program. The idea came to me when I was talking with a friend about what I could do that was computer-related. So, I thought of the word, “virtual,” Googled it, and voila…what a huge industry.
Long story short (ha – not really) – I started taking the VA class…then finally took some graphic design classes (which was something I always wanted to do) and then that led me to embark on Web Design. After enrolling in the Girl’s Guide to Web Design (now WDBS), my life has never been the same! WDBS is what helped me truly have my own business doing what I love, from the comfort of my own home.
What kinds of projects really interest you?
I enjoy fixing or cleaning up “website messes.” In other words, when someone (the client or a previous developer) has produced something that is not working the way it should, I love to go in and fix it. This could mean tweaking a few existing elements on the current site or even re-doing the entire site. The ultimate goal is to make the client feel ecstatic and proud of their online home and for them to know that they can easily maintain it themselves moving forward.
I also enjoy creating fresh, new designs for clients who have never had a website or are in need of a makeover. AND, I LOVE teaching (i.e. teaching a new web designer some tricks and tips, reviewing a client’s site with them and showing them how to manage it, etc.). It’s a nerdy high!!
Who do you work best with?
People who are kind, thoughtful and respectful. People who value the work that I do and understand the benefits of working with a professional vs. trying to struggle and DIY. People who trust me, my process and my skills and experience. This is definitely a work in progress…and probably always will be because the most challenging aspects of this business (or being a business owner in general) is fine-tuning your policies, procedures, ideal clients, systems, ability to say no when your gut tells you something or someone isn’t the right fit, etc.
What do your clients value in what you do for them?
I provide clear instructions and information along the way and when we close out the project. This way, the client isn’t left wondering what type of website they have, how to login to their hosting account, or what to do when/if there is a problem. I hold their hand along the way and then set them up for success when we say our goodbyes.
What’s the best compliment you’ve received to date about your work?
I feel lucky that I’ve had a few compliments that can rank up there as the best! I’ve been told I’m a “web angel” and I’ve been told that I truly know how to take someone’s vision and bring it to life while adding in extra special details, ideas, and features along the way.
How did that compliment shift how you see yourself in your business?
Both of those (as well as others) have boosted my confidence and helped me realize that what I am doing really DOES make a difference and is more than just a “job.”
What advice would you give to someone just starting out in web design?
(1) Try not to focus on the “why” so much. Sometimes things are just coded or accomplished a certain way and it’s not worth struggling with trying to understand why it’s done that way. Sometimes you just need to grab some code, stick it in, and move on with your day!
(2) You can’t do it all! There’s TOO much out there in the webby world to even consider trying to learn it all. Programming languages, themes, plugins, you name it – it’s overwhelming…and it’s better to prioritize what you really want and need to learn in order to do your job and be successful. Pick one very flexible and customizable theme or framework (like Thesis) and stick with it. You’ll become an expert in it and your job will be easier…plus, you’ll be able to provide better, clearer information and services to your clients.
We LOVE that you’ve been a huge supporter of WDBS since it began and have been a part of our world for a lot longer than that. What is it that you love about our community?
I truly feel like this is a sisterhood! We support each other – we listen, advise, console, assist, partner with, and cheer on our fellow Web Designer Beauty School members. The Support School community helps me feel less alone in this big web world and this sometimes-lonely solopreneur world.
How has what we offer in WDBS/WDSS impacted your business?
It’s like having your own support department that you can call upon in times of need – whether it’s a technical challenge or a client issue or anything else that comes up. Knowing that you have that kind of support is priceless! I’ve also made amazing business relationships and friendships, which have turned into business-related partnerships.
What’s coming up next for you? Are there any projects you’d like to share with us?
I have partnered up with my friend and fellow web designer/developer, Janet Hoover with Blue Tail Designs, to create The Essential Website! We are excited to offer this affordable, professional solution for people who aren’t quite ready for a full-blown custom website. Client will be able to choose from 4 layouts that we have developed, and we’ll plug in their content, colors, fonts, and images throughout the site. We’ll also have a private, members-only area for our clients to access tutorials and resources. It’s going to be an awesome adventure, and we’re so excited to be able to offer this alternative to custom web design.