Human was founded in 2013 by Rachael Yaeger and Michael Ray, a producer and creative technologist.
We started as a thoughtful development shop for good design which remains at our core today.
We're now a team of seven and our capabilities range from research, strategy, naming, messaging, branding, art direction, content creation (photo, video, copy) to UX, digital design and our roots in development.
In This Conversation We Discuss: (50 Characters)
- [00:00] Intro
- [01:39] History of Human
- [05:36] Being an “anti-agency”
- [07:29] Keeping the team small
- [09:47] How to approach Ecom websites
- [12:57] Sponsor: Gorgias gorgias.link/honest
- [13:45] Going against the grain
- [15:28] Which came first, content or website?
- [16:35] Sponsor: Klaviyo klaviyo.com
- [17:14] Setting the client’s expectations
- [18:47] Rachael breaking down amazing content
- [20:30] Negotiating price with clients
- [21:55] The importance of content on websites
- [22:46] Correlating content and ROI
- [23:15] Justifying content production
- [24:53] Synergy between the agency and client
- [26:00] Sponsor: Postscript postscript.io/install
- [26:30] How to be a good client
- [32:10] Where to find Rachael
- Rachael’s Instagram: @rachaelyaeger
- Rachael’s LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/rachael-yaeger-b8539140
- Human’s Website: human-nyc.com
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For some reason, clients are really stingy when it comes to content. And I think it's because they don't really understand it.
Welcome to Honest Ecommerce, where we're dedicated to cutting through the BS and finding actionable advice for online store owners.
I'm your host Chase Clymer, and I believe running an online business does not have to be complicated or a guessing game.
If you're struggling with scaling your sales, Electric Eye is here to help. To apply to work with us visit electriceye.io/connect to learn more. Now let's get on with the show.
Hey everybody. Welcome back to another episode of Honest Ecommerce. I'm your host Chase Clymer.
She comes from an agency called Human Or maybe an anti-agency. We might get into that a bit here in a second.
Her and her co-founder, Michael Ray, started way back in 2013 and they are a creative and technology studio. They're producing awesome stuff.
Welcome to the show, Rachael.
(laughs) Thanks for having me. Chase. I'm so excited to talk with you.
Oh yes. We've been talking already for 10 minutes before this. We've got a good group going.
(laughs) I know. I was nervous. I wouldn't say enough. And then I just found myself really opening up to you. So I'm excited to be here.
We're just... I don't know. We're like, essentially the same agencies in different cities. we definitely have a lot of the same value.
So it's easy to talk to people that you... I don't know. I'm drawing a blank on the word I want here. The coffee hasn't kicked in yet.
I mean, like-minded individuals. (laughs)
That sounds good. That sounds good. Awesome. So let's go way back to the beginning. 2013, you guys start a shop.
And you had mentioned this earlier, just like us with our agency, we don't have a traditional agency background. And you stumbled into creating what's now Human. So let's just talk about that history a bit.
Yeah. So just feel free to cut me off if I'm being boring. But my monologue here is that my background is in marketing and I fell into project management. I had started at an agency called Gin Lane. And at the time, there were only 5 of us.
So it was really like, okay, these designer people design things. And these developer people build things. And these things are websites and clients pay us for them. And I just organically got the lay of the land.
And I think what was cool about Gin Lane was curating the right kinds of clients to work with. And then it was just a bunch of people trying to do good work for each other and the clients.
So as a team, really early on in my career, I saw how important it was to be in the trenches together. Because you're not just shipping something for a paycheck, you're shipping something to make your buddies proud.
So I met Michael, my co-founder and a dear friend of mine now, yeah, way back like over 10 years ago, and we were on all of our same projects together. And what I loved about Michael was like his empathy and compassion and he never made me feel stupid.
I think, especially back in like, 2009, when the web was super nebulous, and clients thought some elf in a dark corner was like cranking out code. And no one really understood it.
Michael was just like, "Ask anything you want." trying to find the value... Make people see the value in his work. He was so good at that really early on.
So when we started human, it was really this one foot in front of the other interesting opportunity to do the things we wanted to do in our own way.
And I think, you know, both of us don't have a ton of like, large corporate experience. I know Mike was at Code and Theory for a little bit, but I never went to Apple or Google or I never worked at a large agency. So I'm very much homegrown.
And I think that intuition has brought us to where we are. And I think I've always... I tried to be diligent about doing post-mortems with our clients to figure out what we could have done better and where we're lacking.
And I think I have a lot of self consciousness about like, "Oh, we are not as buttoned up as other people may be."
But then after I work with people, the feedback is usually like, "Whoa! Everything was super heartfelt." And like, "This is a really complicated process and you guys did bring your best."
And I think being in the field --and you can probably attest to this too-- there is really no right way to do anything. And I think with a larger agency, [like] what we were talking about before, I think, that there is probably a lot of cohesion, and consistency, and time tracking.
And what I mean by buttoned up is like "We have 3 and a half hours left on this PDP. And any further revisions will require an agency rate of $400 an hour." And I feel like that [is] really almost like robotic.
Roboticism could come with a larger shop. But I think, I don't know... I feel like I just never wanted clients to feel like I was like funneling them into a process that we do over and over and over again, and churning out work.
I feel like we do everything on such a per project basis. And all of our projects are direct results of our founders. So, if our founder is really trusting and brings the right things to the table, well then that project is going to go super smoothly. And we just end up jamming and creating really good work.
And I think scoping a project is all about protecting ourselves and the client. But I also have always wanted to leave enough wiggle room to have a playground and let mistakes be made, in a good way. If something doesn't feel right, it's just... It shouldn't matter, that we're only on that, we're on our last round of revision scope-wise.
It's a fine line, because you want to really make something that you're both proud of, but inevitably, yeah, I just feel like there's a dance of "Yeah. We're at this many hours what feels fair for both of us." So it's largely conversation based. And I really love that about our work. And I think, of course, it has its downside.
I always talk to my friend, John, about this. But you wouldn't go into a chef's kitchen and say, "Hey, this is how I want to cook my... This is how I want you to cook my meal." You'd go into a restaurant, and you'd be like, "Oh, I heard these guys make great food. I'm really excited to be here and let them do their thing".
But if you have an allergy, or you definitely want a specific meal, you would be heard at that restaurant. So I feel like yeah, a lot of conversation-based and to our little convo, I think in that way, we almost built the anti-agency agency, because I just didn't want to do things so strictly.
And I just imagined, this madman, madman-style where you have some big founders, and then you have a slew of art directors and creative directors and then you have account directors, and then project managers, and then this whole layer.
And then you have the intern in the corner. So I was just like, "I don't want to have these layers and layers and layers. I just want to put small teams together who are really good at what they do and then hopefully get clients that value that work and see what we can make."
So yeah. Humans, we're going on 7 years and we're slowly growing the team. Knock on wood, we've never... We've kept the whole team intact. And I think I don't want to jinx myself in that sense. But like, Sasha is a designer developer, and we've worked together for over 6 years. He has been there with Mike since day 1.
And then Rinaldi, we've worked together for over 3 years. And then Pam's been there for 2 years and Raleigh and we just hired another designer.
And I think another thing we're trying to do really differently is not only keep our team small, but just like be really, really careful about hiring, instead of seeing a project come in and then hire because this project would afford us.
It's more like, we don't try to hire. We really like... We never think about hiring and we never... Yeah, I think in that way, it's just allowed us to like build a really, really good team because it's not something that we put a lot of emphasis on.
It's almost like we may put out a site at some point, I think about it a lot. But we've never had a website because we never wanted those traditional case studies and people pointing to things on our site being like, "Oh, I want that." And then it's like, well, you can't have that because that's another person.
I think that showing your work too much boxes you in. And I think... Something that I was talking to my friends, Grace and Rog, they have a studio called Decade. They do really, really great branding work.
But I think what's also important for like clients to understand is, when you're on the internet, and you see something, there were probably a bunch of different people that worked on that.
And I feel like I think it's really important to clearly articulate what portions of which project you had a hand in. And now we're more like a holistic studio.
And we do cover a lot of moving parts. But yeah, I think I just didn't want a list like, "Oh, we dropped the new Stojo site."
Because for Stojo. we only did like the rebrand, the art direction, the content creation. And then our friends Sam and Kevin did the design and the development.
So I think giving credit in our industry and community is really important. And yeah, anyways, monologue aside (laughs) what else do we have Chase?
Oh no no. I was taking notes the whole time for follow up questions. So it's great. So what we talked about before this a little bit, which is talking about how the process might work if you're a small business and you've got your initial traction.
Obviously over on our side, we do a lot of work in Ecommerce, I know that you guys do some work in Ecommerce as well. So one thing that you mentioned is the process is a little bit wild on some of these projects, because there's a lot of moving parts.
And that's something that we find all the time with these Ecommerce projects is Ecommerce is probably the most difficult website to build, other than like some crazy custom SaaS product. You know what I mean? It's like, you have to be agile to make these things work.
Yeah. I feel like I'm working on embracing that. I was so hard on myself for like, years about being like, "We have to figure out a process. We need to have a formula. There needs to be a flow and the right way to do things." And everyone throws around "best in class". [Like] "We want to be best in class, it's in our scope. We create best in class."
And now I'm trying to think like, "What does that mean?" Because there's really like... I think now because Ecom sites especially... But the internet is now a "best in class" world. Like it's so... It's not really a novelty.
The internet is just another world to build internet homes on. The internet is... Now everyone's figured it out.
You can use the Universe App, you can use Webflow, you can drop a proof of concept on your own and like... I think it's exciting because where we sit now is like doing things different. Like why does the mini cart have to slide out from the right hand side, just because it always has?
Or right now I'm having conversations with clients that are like, generally a homepage has 7 to 9 sections. And they flow as in like, intro to the brand, value propositions, product introductions, how it works, reviews, testimonials, and then maybe like a jump to our ingredients page or a secondary supporting editorial.
I feel like we now actually know the gist of "good Ecom". And no, I think it's the coolest, best, most innovative, thoughtful stuff out there doesn't follow that anymore.
I think it's actually looking at the client, and the brand, and the product, and saying, "Okay. Well, who's the end user?" And like, "What do they need to know?" And "How can we make this journey?"
Because we all know what we're doing now, especially for them. I think the next wave of stuff shouldn't look so similar to what's already out there. And I think there is validity and doing things a certain way. You want people to be able to check out easily.
So there is a sticky nav that says "Get started." or "Buy now." which makes sense. Like I'm not totally trying to go against the grain and be crazy, but I think we're finding this new excitement.
And do we have to do things the way that we've always done them? And I think that's really special.
Let's be honest today. All of your customers are going to have questions.
What are you doing to manage all those questions? Do you have a help desk for your business?
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I would argue that what you're saying like going against the grain and essentially going more into a design-oriented Ecommerce experience. That definitely works.
But you have to have a brand that supports it. If you're a new brand, you don't have much existing sales, the further you go against a typical Ecommerce journey, I would argue, is probably being detrimental to the growth of your brand at that point.
But like once you've got like sales going and you've got a community behind you and your brand is really solid, then you can start to take some risks. And those risks sometimes pay off.
But clients a lot of times don't have an in-house dev team. And we really try not to have any retainer or any maintenance clients because we want to build something that we can then empower the client to manage, and run, and update, and utilize themselves.
We place a lot of emphasis internally on making things as editable as possible so clients aren't so beholden to us.
So I do think there is that fine line of like "Let's do something really authentic to this brand but let's be responsible about it and make sure that they can maintain it."
And I do think, a lot of clients, if they're coming to us, maybe for an Ecom portion of the project, I think 3 months is a really good sweet spot of being like, "We're going to spend 4 to 5 weeks cranking out a homepage, a shop all page, a product page, a mini cart, a cart page, and about page and FAQ page." And we can do that easily together.
I think something that I want to talk to clients about more and incredibly way earlier than I'm trying to work on doing is also the content. Like what came first the content or the website?
And I think a lot of clients, they're not lazy, but they're like, "Oh, well, we don't know what to create until it's designed." And I'm trying to make people more aware of, like, what we design depends on the story that we're telling.
And we don't have that story until we discuss like video animation, photo, copywriting... I feel like right now really pressing a client to invest or do the work of coming to the table with that already done. Also, we'll drive what the entire experience looks like.
Because if they have money for some really cool animations and like we might get fancy on the front-end. But if we really are only working with like a slew of product photography, and then limited copy, well then that's going to be more straightforward.
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So we get hit up all the time and people will send us a laundry list of websites. First of all, these are sites that probably have hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in them. And it's like, "Hey, let's set some expectations here. I know that's not your budget."
And then secondly, the one thing they all have in common is beautiful photography, amazing videography, copy that was tailor made for the brand. And I go" Yeah, we can make a site look just like that, if you have content that looks just like that." That's the thing.
Because again, it's like best practices, all that jazz. The best in class, whatever. It's like you make a site that works that is speedy and quick on Ecommerce.
If you work with an agency that's been around for a couple years, they probably have something that's going to be great for you. But what's going to separate a good looking site from a bad looking site is going to come down to the content at that point.
Yeah. That's exactly what I'm saying. It would be interesting actually, to break apart... I mean, I tried to do it in my early conversations like "Here are all of the components that like... Here's the ingredients to making a really good brand in business."
And I try to explain even like the ops, logistics, marketing, the engine that's going to keep running. And then down to communicating the vision and investing in photo and video. For some reason, clients are really stingy when it comes to content and I think, it's because they don't really understand it.
So yeah, having those conversations around like, "Oh. We really... You really like this site. Look how amazing their content is." So let me break apart content for you. They probably worked with a world-class or best in class, whatever.
A really good art director to communicate that ownable and recognizable style for that brand. And then they hand-selected the right photographer or videographer to work with that could realize their vision.
And then there was casting. Look how much these people mirror the end-user that they want.
And then context. Look at the location. The scouting like... Really, I don't know. Trying to break down what goes into creating that magic for a client, I think sort of helps.
I think I also may overwhelm clients by being too... Like, "This is everything that goes into this." And then they're like, "Oh, well, we only have $20,000." And I'm like, "I think it could be interesting to publish something one day, if we could get the forces together."
That's like this case study and like this is truly the amount of cost and these were like all the things that went into it. Just so clients could really understand like, "Oh, that's why that cost $100k. Here's what it's built on. Here's the team that worked on it. And here's everything that went into it."
Because the more clients understand, I think, the more they will invest. I've also heard from clients that right now, they feel like they are getting quoted really high. So they also sometimes...
Like a couple of them were like, "Oh, we came to you with a lower number because we've gotten such high quotes. We just didn't want to have the wool pulled over our eyes, kind of thing."
And I was like, I think the whole negotiating side of our work is also really complicated. Because you can look on stocks, see, you can make a $20k site. Like I'm not saying, that's not possible by any means you can make a beautiful $20k site.
But I think, pricing things so it's fair enough, where our team has payroll and an office... And I'm not charging too much, but charging enough where you can work with the right people and get that really cool photographer that's going to make us look different.
Yeah. I don't know, Chase. Have you run into that? Just like really communicating...
It's during... We like having on... Not onboarding brief. This is even before a proposal. We have a brief form and it has a question in there. Verbatim, [it] says, "Do you have in the pipeline produced... Will you be producing content for this project?" And then like, "If so, where is it?" Like, "Let me see what's going on?" It's like...
...right first from the get go. And then I start talking about that. And you know what, as you were talking about getting the forces together, talking about the investment that goes into these amazing websites, all these DTC brands that are now getting VC-backed.
It's like the investments behind those things are insane. I would love to pull some of these brands apart in the sense of like, "Let's just recreate those websites with garbage content and show people the difference."
Yeah. We used to say it at Gin Lane and I still say it to clients today is like, websites are just gray boxes without content. And that's interesting too, how responsive some clients are versus others over on wireframing.
Because some clients can really walk you through. “Oh. Here's the intent of each section. And then I want to be able to talk about this. And I want to show that…”
And other clients are like, "I cannot imagine this thing until we start having some like swipe or placeholder imagery."
So maybe that also comes from again, back to the thesis of "Websites are a reflection of their founders." It's really about how much that founder can bring into the project, if they've got that vision, or if they're gonna trust us to establish that vision, I think.
Oh yeah. So I do want to go back to before. You were saying, some people push back against content, investing in content because they can't... It's not easy to draw a straight line between content and ROI.
Just like investing in a brand, it's hard for people to draw that line in their head. But if you're like, "Facebook ads get 5 times ROI."
They're like, "Cool, I'm gonna dump all my money there." And then they don't realize that they're actually burning money, because they haven't made those investments in those other avenues to make people actually care.
Yeah. Exactly. And I'm like, "Well, what are you placing those... What did those Facebook ads look like?" Like, "You still need assets there." And I feel bad because I was talking to a strategist, and copywriter, and a dear friend of mine that we work with frequently, Emma.
Sometimes it's like, because a client knows that they themselves can type on a keyboard, they don't place value on copywriting because they're like, "Oh, I can do it."
But then when push comes to shove and we're like, "Hey, could we get a first pass at the homepage copy?" They're like, "Uh... No... could you write it?" And I'm like, "This is the convo that we were having when we were scoping this."
Because I think like... Or they'll say like, "Oh, I have a friend that can take photos for me." And I'm like, "That's all well and good. But your friend who takes cool photos of their baby or like a squirrel in the yard is not the right person for this project." So I think...
Yeah. Sussing out that content combo is my new, I don't know, goal.
You gotta put it on the list of questions that you ask during those calls. Just going [with] like "Typing on a keyboard, I can do it myself", I wrote the copy for the new Electric Eye site. It took me...
...3 months and over 40 hours of my time to do it. I'm not a copywriter by trade, but I really wanted to get across what the agency does. And it took me forever.
And now we're investing in the Honest Ecommerce site and there's gonna be some cool stuff coming out. Maybe it'll be out by the time this podcast launches. And I just immediately hired someone. (laughs)
Yeah. And I think there has to be synergy. I also... At Human. I always directly introduce... I think a selling point of ours is you will work with the team that we've curated for you.
So I will ensure there's synergy between that copywriter and the client. Because if there's not, I don't want to force them to work together and I think that's a cool thing about us.
We'll hand pick the like right team for the... We always say like "The right people on the right projects on the right platforms." And I think that does go a long way.
Because if a client works with an art director and they're really excited about their vision, then they will be more trusting when that art director says "We're gonna work with this photographer, and they have an $8K day rate, and they need 2 assistants and we charge a production fee..."
It makes those conversations easier, I think, once a client gets to know the team member. But yeah. What came first, the content or the website? I think the content convo, at least.
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It's definitely... It's a chicken or the egg situation. So let's shift gears here and give some advice to the listeners. If they want to be a good client, if they want to have a good project, they want to have a good experience with their agency partner.
What do those clients have in common?
This is like my dream question and I'm finding it so hard to answer. (laughs) I think recently, I'll think of a specific client. And I don't think she'd mind naming her but the founder of Bass. It's an at-home, blood and saliva testing kit.
Anyways, let's take her for example. She was extraordinarily trusting and really decisive. So I think being respectful in the sense that like, you don't want to waste your agency's time. It's okay to not know what you don't know. That's why we're here. It's because we build websites and you make this incredible product.
So we're coming together to make a home for it and make other people fall in love with it. And I totally respect that when clients are like, "I'm not a designer or a developer." And I'm like, "'m not either. (laughs)" So we're in this together. And we're really excited to make something awesome for you.
But I think I have a lot of respect.. And like I think... Again, with the restaurant analogy, you wouldn't go in somewhere and then say like, "Hey, I want to try everything on your menu." And "Did you ever think about putting sage in the spaghetti?" And "Instead of rye bread, do you think you could go build me a sourdough?"
I think sometimes clients don't realize just like how off the wall they're being and I'm like "This? You would never do this in any other industry." And I think, because they don't sit... I mean, it would be a client's dream to sit right next to the designer and (laughs)
Oh my gosh.
Sometimes I am guilty. Mike and Pam, our designers, and Sash probably are like... I am really guilty of this. I will put a client and make them as involved in the process as my team will allow.
Because I feel like they get to see the level of effort that's going into what they're creating. Because sometimes when you show a client like early designs, or a staging link or something, they all of a sudden have this like autonomy feeling where they're like, "Oh. Let's change this, shift this, move this".
Because they, for some reason, think it's really easy, and they can't see the thought and the like the 10,000 hours that our team member has that allowed them to make that swift decision.
So anyways, I think clients that are like, really trusting and really appreciative and really decisive where they can come in, they can order from the menu like an adult, they can appreciate the meal, they can have good conversations.
And this level of awareness is just so helpful. And I think it's like, we're a custom shop, but we're also experts at what we do so you can't just tell us what to do.
I think Chase, you've probably seen this, but there's this meme or image that was floating around that was like, "We build you a website: $10,000. You design and build your own website: $100,000." (laughs)
Because it's like, when a client is so-hands on, it can be such a detriment. And I think yeah... Anyways, trust, healthy conversations, I think... Like I said, bringing the right things to the table, I think that's like a helpful attitude.
I'll try to always think of how we can set our clients up for success, like reminding them "Hey guys, could you just make sure all consolidated feedback is aggregated for Tuesday, because we're going to review it together and then we're going to present the next round.
And we don't want to take like 10 steps forward and 20 steps backwards." Or whatever that thing is. So I do try to have empathy. And I do try to think, "Okay. If they don't know this industry, what do they need to know to be able to work with us really well."
But I think as human beings like the right, the best clients are just like... They're hyped to work with you and that really flows through the project. Because they're able to say like, "Oh cool. I never thought about red. Let's go with that."
And then they'll stick with their decision. They'll see it through. And it just feels like we're all in this together in it. I don't know. I feel like sometimes clients feel like they need to make it harder than it has to be. It doesn't need to be super serious.
And sometimes there can just be this energy in the room. And I'm like, this is also supposed to be really fun. You're paying a good amount of money to create these digital products and if we're not having fun, what are we all doing here?
So mine's more emotional in that sense, whereas I just want to work with the right team.
And I think clients understanding where they're asking for too much where they're taking advantage, I think it would be helpful for clients to really refer to the scope and really talk to us about what they're getting and what can be expected.
If I don't know something, it's like, "How can I hold this tennis racket?" Trying to ask some questions. I think clients should ask way more questions about how they can help us during the project.
Because it's not just like handing us a bunch of money in a bag and then we're shipping a website. It is such an intimate relationship for like 3 to 6 to 8 months.
Awesome. So people are picking up what you're putting down, how do they get a hold of you?
It's so interesting. It's like the luckiest thing in the world. I think true, good marketing is that word of mouth and that's how we built our business.
I remember, very early on, Michael was like, "Let's not talk shit and let's always remember, there's more than enough work to go around for everyone." Because I think in our industry, it can be really competitive. It's like, "Oh. Ready did that branding?" Or like, "Oh, did you see this site drop?"
There's such design Twitter ego stuff happening all the time. And I think we were just like, "Hey, we're 2 human beings that like working together. We'd be lucky if we got some clients."
And I think we've just really snowballed in the best way year after year, getting better and better and better. I remember we were working with Rebecca Zhou, like 4 to 5 years ago. And we seriously like, got to work with Care/of.
We got to work with Diane Von Furstenberg and then we got to work with Sustained Natural, back to back. 3 amazing clients. And I was like, Oh, this is like a pivotal moment. It's really exciting for us. And so yeah, word of mouth. I feel like what happens, or what usually the story is like, someone saw our work.
And then they were friends with whomever on the client team. And they're like, "Oh, who did your launch site?" And they'll be like, "Oh, Human. You can email info@human or rachael@human."
And usually, it's just that really organic, "someone that's worked with us before" kind of story, which is pretty cool. I think that's another reason why we haven't put in effort into our own website.
It's because I'm like, "Man, we're so lucky to have enough work always that we don't have a lot to go work on our own site." So I think that's nice. And then I also like the word of mouth because it's almost like a filter.
Because I know that... Oh, someone that... Again, the trust just seems to be everything. So obviously, someone is going to trust that we'll do a good job because we were essentially set up on a date through a mutual friend. So I think that, knock on wood, works really well for us.
Oh, absolutely. I can't agree anymore. Referrals are definitely the lifeblood of most service businesses. That's amazing. Rachael, thanks so much for coming on the show. Is there anything I forgot to ask you that you want to leave before we go?
Oh my gosh. I can talk to you forever. Um no... We also do Likeminds Camp. So hopefully that'll be up and running. I think the question I get most often is like, " What things outside of Human are we working on?"
So Likeminds is definitely one of those things that we do. But yeah. That was about it. Chase, this was awesome! I want to interview you now.
Oh gosh. Next time I will flip the script. I'll link to Likeminds and all the other cool stuff that you sent over to me in the show notes. Thank you so much.
Aww. I hope you have a good one.
I cannot thank our guests enough for coming on the show and sharing their journey and knowledge with us today. We've got a lot to think about and potentially add to our businesses. Links and more information will be available in the show notes as well.
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