December Feature: Beth Whelan of Oxygen Consulting Incorporated
Beth Whelan and I met at a cozy coffee shop in New Brighton just off Silver Lake Road and north of 694. The smell of espresso filled the air and delicious looking dessert bars sat on the counter just begging to be eaten. Once I grabbed my Americano and a chocolate bar with coconut flakes, I sat down at our table, ready to get started.
Beth’s company designs websites from the ground up, so I asked her to tell me how she got into web design, and if she’d always had it in mind for a career. “Not at first,” Beth said, beginning the conversation. “My degree is in International Business and French and I have masters in Business and Community and leadership. When I graduated from the University of Saint Thomas, I worked at an ad agency and later an IT services firm that sold software. Next I moved to an agency that focused on website design and development.”
Beth explained that her family moved to England for a couple of years (something which peaked my interest and made a note to ask more about later) so when they came back, it was a perfect time for her to start a business. “I only work in WordPress,” Beth explained, “And I also have a designer, a branding partner, an SEO partner and two technical teams I work on projects with. But,” she said with a smile, “Sometimes I build the site myself.”
Websites have come a long way since the early 2000s when Beth first started building for companies, and it was interesting to hear just how much in the industry has changed. For instance, when the internet first came into prominence, it was common to build very large, very specific websites for companies, which meant it was difficult for small and medium-sized businesses to afford an online presence. “Now it’s realistic for small businesses and nonprofits,” Beth said, “And now we build websites for mobile, something that wasn’t even a thought back then.”
I asked Beth to tell me why she only works with WordPress, opposed to some of the other platforms like Wix or Square Space. Beth nodded and sipped the tea she was drinking. “Approximately 28% of websites are WordPress, so there’s a couple of benefits to that. If I win the lottery and move to the South of France,” she said with a smirk, “There are WordPress developers out there. It’s very inexpensive to run, and on the whole, extremely flexible. Weebly, Wix, that’s fine, but it’s difficult to incorporate SEO and some key functions into that type of site. WordPress has significant support in the IT community and plenty of plugins which provide flexibility and great tools for sites.”
Beth also told me that for clients in the mid-size range, doing a custom build on another platform can be difficult for the client in the long run. There are also potential security issues that come with some of the platforms. “Very large companies use WordPress, so you know it’s stable. And,” she said thinking a moment, “Sometimes it’s about what you learn and you’re comfortable with. I know others who like Square Space, but I just prefer WordPress.”
Building a website seems intimidating, so I asked Beth to walk me through the process, and give a little insight into what it’s like working with her. “When a client comes to me,” Beth started, “They either don’t have a website at all or it’s a website that was built a long time ago. We sit down, have coffee, and chat. If they already have a website, I want to know what works and what doesn’t work. I like to understand how their organization works and what their needs are so that I can make recommendations for their site. So it’s really about strategy. And of course, we talk about budget so we can figure out if they need a small simple site to get started or if they’re up and running and need something larger.”
Beth also has strategy meetings with her clients and eventually brings the designer in on the process as needed. Sometimes her clients will get a new logo or rebrand, and sometimes that step isn’t necessary. Then the website is built, reviewed and tested before launch. “For the simpler sites, we’ll base the design on a template,” Beth said. “When you build in WordPress, the website can grow with their business.”
In addition to building websites, Beth also has monthly contracts where she helps clients with content management, or building add-ons the customer wasn’t ready for when the site launched. “Maybe the client is ready to start blogging, or maybe they want to add an events calendar. I can help them add what they need, and for more complicated updates, we can do it in phases.”
Beth is also a big believer in giving her clients the power to change or update their website. “For my clients, the domain is in their name, the hosting is in their name. I want people to work with me because they want to, not because I have their domain name hostage,” Beth said with conviction.
I nodded appreciatively and then recounted to Beth someone I know whose WordPress website is so unbelievably complicated, it’s difficult to update. The website feels like it was designed that way on purpose. Beth understood exactly what I was saying and explained a lot of websites used to be designed that way. “Thankfully that’s changing,” she said.
Switching gears, I asked Beth to tell me more about her family’s move to England, which caused her to grin. “So my husband and I had just sold our house and he came home one day and said, ‘Sooo…what do think about moving to England?’ We had an 18-month-old and a three-year-old. I said, ‘Everything is in storage, so why not?’ It was really that fast of a decision.”
I inched forward in my seat just a little, loving Beth’s sense of adventure and willingness to immediately move her family to a different country. I told her that most people wouldn’t have said yes right away. “It was pretty neat,” she said with a smile. “Both my kids came home with strong English accents. While we were there, we did every possible trip we could. When we first moved there my husband came home and said he had to take a trip to France, and would be leaving in a day. I was a bit jealous. I wanted to be ordered to France. Ha!”
Some of the places Beth and her family went to in Europe included Cyprus, Malta, Ireland, and Paris.They also traveled throughout England. Beth told me that a lot of their trips were over the weekend, and in addition to doing sightseeing trips, she planned activities suited for the kids. “We did Disneyland in Paris,” Beth said. “A lot of people were upset, but, that’s the age my kids were at. So we did the Louvre, but we did things that they would enjoy too.”
Beth’s stories about traveling overseas awakened my love of travel, and we spent some time talking about the places we’d been and our upcoming trips. “I love to travel,” Beth said. “I did a semester abroad in the South of France and Mexico, so traveling is kind of what we do. We take about two trips a year, and we’re talking about going to New York or Florida for spring break. We’re always trying to figure out our next adventure. Going back to Europe is our goal, but it’s not an easy task to coordinate now that the kids are older.”
Like many entrepreneurs, Beth loves the freedom having her own business affords, so she can be present in the moments with her family and work with people she enjoys. “I’ve been able to employ other people because I own a business,” Beth said. “And that feels really empowering. I also feel that way about my business, I feel that I can give my clients something that matters. Some of them have had hard experiences, so it’s neat to give them a website they’re proud of. And on the personal side, it’s flexible. I’m a morning person so I can work at 5 am, but then I can drop my son off or pick my daughter up. It’s about balancing family and work. Showing my kids that you can balance a career and family is rewarding. That’s the highest value of doing what I do.”
Beth also talked about the different clients she gets to work with, and how she is learning new things every day because of them. She loves working with nonprofits and being able to help businesses build a website that works for their needs. Beth’s whole approach is about helping clients understand the process of building a website, but not overwhelming them with techy details. “Getting a new website isn’t something you do all the time,” Beth told me. “It’s not like something you learn and then repeat, and on top of that there’s a lot of components. I usually compare it to a house. I say the domain is your address, hosting is the plot of land, WordPress is the foundation and plugins are like the features you want in your bathroom. That’s something everyone can relate to.”
I had a lot of fun talking with Beth and walked away with the sense that she’s exactly the type of person you’d want to build your website. Not only does she have her ducks in a row, but she’s extremely personable and down to earth. It was a pleasure to meet her, and I’m sure many people who’ve met her feel the same way I do.
If you’d like to contact Beth you can reach her at 612 615 1312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.