This is the transcript of my conversation on @FromSourcePod with Maia Hariton. Maia is a web designer/developer specializing in Squarespace, Wordpress, and ShowIt websites. She started her career as a software engineer in 2014 because she wanted to make people’s lives easier. A year later, she decided to fill a creative void and dove into the design space. After a few years in design and code, she began collaborating with amazing people on really fun projects like web design and web development. She quit her corporate job 3 years ago and now runs her own business while traveling the world with her husband.
This has been edited for clarity.
Michelle: Maia, can you tell us about your current job and how long you've been doing it?
Maia: I've been a web designer and frontend developer for three years, working for myself.
Michelle: What does an average day look like for you?
Maia: I wake up around 10:00 AM. I like to sleep in most of the mornings. I then go through my emails fairly quickly to see if there's anything urgent I need to respond to, but I try not to tackle them as soon as I wake up. I take the time to have a good breakfast, take a shower, and then I tackle my emails, which are sometimes numerous and sometimes, I have no emails, which is great. Then I start working on either a project that I'm working on or start a new project. Usually just by looking at some inspiration images if I'm designing a new website or if there was a coding issue that was stuck on the last day, like the day before, then I would usually try to tackle it again with a fresher brain.
I usually work on that for two or three hours straight and then have lunch. And usually I kind of feel a bit, you know, the after lunch slump. So I take my time to get back to work. So I go on social media. I look again at emails very quickly, but I try not to answer any of them and go back either on the project that I was working on in the morning, but sometimes I like to switch it up and work on another project because my brain works better if I multitask during the day. And I try to stop at around 6 or 7:00 PM. It happens that I work after dinner. And that's probably not the best thing, but I'm actually pretty productive in the evening. And I could keep on working until 2:00 AM, but I try not to lately. And yeah, I guess that's the end of my day.
Michelle: Have you had a favorite long-term project?
Maia: I started filming tutorials, mostly for my clients, but now I've actually started publishing them on YouTube. Mostly how to design on Squarespace, which is a web design platform for non-techie people mostly and just teaching people how to set up their website, what do they have to think about? And so that's been a very cool project that I've been working on. If you search Maia on YouTube, you would find me. If not through my Instagram, you can find my YouTube.
Michelle: What was your biggest learning curve when moving from a day job to running your own business?
Maia: I think the whole setup and you get a lot of information from everywhere, you know, the taxes. Do you need to have an LLC? How do you pay your taxes, which is kind of mind boggling here. How do you get paid the best way? How not to get ripped off by people who are hiring you? So it's a whole—like decoding part, the designing part is actually the easiest part for me. It's more… am I doing things right in the business parts? That's probably the most daunting.
Michelle: Did you have any advisors? Did you go to any online resources that really helped you when trying to figure that out or was it trial by fire?
Maia: I think at first it was a lot of bloggers, Instagrammers, YouTubers that I was kind of either reaching out to or watching videos or reading blogs. A lot of people I reached out to kind of out of the blue, I guess you could call it a cold email. Just, hey, I'm starting a business in the same vein as your business, could you give me any advice? And at first, I was very shy about reaching out and a lot of people actually were very nice and gave me a ton of advice and jumped on the call with me which was amazing. And I felt also very overwhelmed by all of that information. So I think after two or three years, I have mastered it in some way, but there's always more to learn. Yeah, I guess cold emailing was the best one for me. Or on LinkedIn, you just look up people that are maybe in your circle that have started their own business or web design agency and just reach out to them and just be honest about what you need from them. Maybe also try to provide some value of your own, however you can.
Michelle: That's very encouraging that you kind of reached out to the community and they reached back and really helped to build you up.
Maia: Yeah. Yeah. And actually, I forgot to mention Tech Ladies. It's like a Facebook group that had started around the time that I started, and I've had a lot of support from them as well. Which I can expand on, but they've been really great.
Michelle: Can you tell us what you like about Tech Ladies? What they've helped you with? If people want to join Tech Ladies, that sort of thing.
Maia: Yeah. I guess it's just a Facebook group like you have a lot of them on Facebook, but they have a couple of screening questions, but not that many. And it's mostly women in tech who can be working in different roles. It doesn't have to be a developer. It can be designer, it can be a marketing manager, but that work in that field. And they're very open to answering questions that you might have. And it's a bit of a give and take, right? Like you can just ask questions; you also have to provide answers if you know how to answer somebody's question. And I saw it at that point when I was starting almost as a support group of, if I have a question, I have someone to ask and they won't make fun of me, you know. I know it sounds a bit stupid, but I felt very intimidated by people who had it seemed like all figured out. So I was like, you know, try not to kill me, but this is the stupidest questions, everything. And it ended up not being a stupid question. It ended up being something that a lot of people were interested in. So I felt almost like I almost helped other people who might've been too shy to ask the question as well.
Michelle: Yeah. That’s definitely the benefit of asking questions in an open forum and being brave enough to ask those questions, that there are other people that are, you know, suffer the same kind of imposter syndrome and that kind of fear. I feel like it helps everyone to see those questions being answered. So that’s really cool.
Michelle: What is the most boring but essential part of your job?
Maia: Emails? I mean, I think that it's not glamorous. It's not fun. A lot of times, I feel like I'm repeating myself or I don't like to sell my services, I guess, and that's almost cringing sometimes for me. But I have to do it. It's not fun. And I actually in a way that I beat the system in that sense is I have almost canned answers or canned emails in my Gmail and in my notes when it starts to be the same type of questions, I just copy and paste and kind of personalize it to the person who's asking me.
Michelle: It sounds like you've built up a lot of structure to help yourself both with how you spend your day, how you interact with your clients to make it more of an easier process and less ad hoc.
Maia: Yeah. Yeah. It's all about the systems. To be honest, I think that's what's going to save your time and your brain. You could go insane by like repeating all the same things all the time. And the structure is needed, but to be honest, it does help me to sleep until noon if worked until 2 or 3:00 AM, or even if I watched the TV show, I'm not gonna lie, you know. And that's also I guess the plus side of working for yourself, that you can kind of restructure your day of how it works for you.
Michelle: Are there skills you find the most essential on a day to day basis?
Maia: People skills. That's a big one because I have a lot of clients just call me up kind of out of the blue, or they're very stressed out. Something broke on their websites or they call and send something, and they can be aggressive. I've learned not to take it personally because a lot of times it's just, you know, they're just very stressed out. And so trying to stay calm almost for them and try to think about the best way to respond is huge. And I used to be extremely shy in the beginning. And now you just kind of have to stand your ground and say the things that you have to say without being scared, I guess.
Michelle: Do you feel like you've lost a fear of losing clients because you're more confident in your skills and now you feel like you can push back a little more, but also help them with what they need?
Maia: Definitely. I think that it's better to have a good client that you kind of stood up to or that you feel comfortable working with than the client that you're almost afraid to talk to or email and feel like you're not valued properly. If they try to negotiate your rates at a rate that you would never charge anyone that. You definitely need to push back. And it will be great in the end. I know I understand that you need the money. You have to pay your bills. But you don't want to feel miserable working every day for that client because that's part of why I work for myself in the beginning.
Michelle: Are there any skills that you were advised to have, or you thought were necessary that you don't use at all?
Maia: I don't think so. I think that I do use a lot of skills that I didn't think I would need, but I do use all of the coding skills, all of design skills, all the social media skills that I didn't know I had either. So I think it's more… it depends on the days really, but I don't think there are any skills that I feel like I learned for nothing. Maybe algorithms, to be honest, because I'm not a backend developer and I've never… I've trained on them, I took classes on them and I've never felt like I needed them, but mostly because I don't work in the backend. So that's the biggest one.
Michelle: Makes sense. When you want to learn something new technically, how do you go about it?
Maia: I’ve learned that lynda.com and Treehouse are pretty good resources. If I'm not sure about where to learn something, I usually ask a community that is in that field. If, for example, social media is a whole other beast that I'm trying to tackle so I've reached out to a lot of, I guess, social media experts and even paid for consulting calls to try to learn from them and how to best learn it so that I don't watch 10 YouTube videos that will never teach me anything instead of someone pointing me to the right direction and be like, this is what you need to learn. It will only take you 15 minutes.
Michelle: There’s a lot of different reasons online, especially for technical skills. Have you found pay for consulting gives a better return on investment?
Maia: I think so because the professional consultant is an expert in their field so they know exactly what I would need to learn and where to learn it. It is an investment for sure. And there are a ton of resources that are free out there, but if you value your time at some point, you can learn how to code in a year, or you can learn how to go in six months. It really depends on your goals really.
Michelle: It sounds like it's really helped you reduce the amount of time you spent learning because you got very focused, very personal information when you were doing it.
Maia: Yeah, exactly. I mean, I used to read and watch everything that would come at me and I haven't counted the hours, but I'm pretty sure it's quite a bit when I could have been doing something else or even just sleeping, you know.
Michelle: The best activity.
Maia: It's my favorite. That's why I keep on mentioning it.
Michelle: Being a founder, are you planning to grow your team?
Maia: I have hired in the past and I do have some people that I reached out to regularly. Even for things that I know how to do, but I know they'll do it so much faster than I will. And I guess it is a repetitive theme for me of saving time and trying to optimize my time. But it's vital almost. I think I would like to have maybe one person that would handle my social media and maybe like a graphic designer because those are the two things that are sucking up my time sometimes and I'm not always enjoying doing.
Michelle: Have you thought about how you plan to find the right people?
Maia: To be honest, Instagram? I feel like I'm always on it and you can, even more so if I'm hiring someone for social media, I kind of want to see how they handle their own presence, I guess. And someone that I can connect with on a personal level more than a professional level because I'll probably be interacting with that person on a weekly basis. And maybe I'll ask around some people that I see are doing great and I know they have a team, you know, how did you go about in hiring your person?
Michelle: When you're mentoring or people ask you for questions, what's the number one question people ask you?
Maia: Well, I've been traveling around the world for the past three years. So a lot of people ask me, how did you get to that? How do you handle work and traveling and remote contact with your clients? So that's the biggest question.
Michelle: How do you handle when you travel and you're kind of outside that routine and everything's a little less structured?
Maia: Well, I try to have morning and evening routines very similar wherever I am. It could be just scrolling through Instagram in the morning and reading the evening, but just know that those two things are happening. I also try to time block my days wherever I am. So if we're traveling, it's usually half a day visiting and half a day working kind of intensively. And that's why I always refer to time management and how to best optimize your time. It’s just if you can work very efficiently for five hours, you have the rest of the day to visit, to do whatever else you want, basically.
Michelle: Can you tell me about what you'd like to do next? Maybe more about growing your business?
Maia: Maybe hire one or two people that could help me out. That's the first one. The second one would probably try to reach out to higher paying clients or bigger companies to be more of a constant, maybe not employee, but contractor with them so that I have constant work and I don't have to worry about getting more business, which is always the worry for our founders.
Michelle: If you don't mind, if our listeners want to reach out, where can they find you on social media?
Maia: On Instagram, I’m way too much on it, but it's @maia_hariton and I'll probably respond within a day.
Michelle: Are there any other technical organizations that you enjoy being a part of that you'd like to recommend to our audience?
Maia: It's definitely Women Who Code. Even if you're a newbie, even if you're a very seasoned developer or you're just very interested in that field, I would definitely recommend going to their meetups. I believe it's free. And they do algorithm classes. They do all kinds of different classes in tech in many cities around the U.S. I don't know if it's worldwide, but maybe. And it's been very supportive. A lot of people there have different levels so you would feel comfortable anyway. And I even volunteered to teach algorithms even though I hated it. Mostly to motivate myself to learn them. So if I was able to go in front of tons of people to teach them something that I wasn't comfortable in, I'm pretty sure you would love it.
Michelle: Awesome. I can add that I'm actually a part of Women Who Code. They do have chapters all over the world and I really like their newsletter. So definitely sign up for that. Has lots of information in it about conferences and jobs and cool things that other women are doing at tech. So I can also recommend that.
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