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In this episode of Ecoffee with Experts, Matt Fraser interviewed Jason Bass, the founder and owner of Jason Hunter Design. Jason revealed his key strategies for recruiting fresh talent along with some top tips for creating a positive and productive work environment that helps retain employees. Must-watch for aspiring entrepreneurs.
I don’t just hire people because I think I need an extra set of hands. I want to invest in somebody who is going to help my company grow.
A pleasure to be here.
Wow. My goodness, I’m proud to say that I’m still best friends with all of the people that I was best friends with in college. As a person, I really haven’t changed that much. I was kind of known for being inspirational, motivating and just positive all the time. And I will say I allowed life to beat me up just a little bit, it’s a little bit harder for me to go back to those positive, optimistic views all the time. But I do center myself and get myself back there and I’m able to support the people around me in that way. I don’t know that I’ve changed all that much, to be honest. We’ll certainly talk about a lot of things that have changed in my life between then and now, I’m sure, and things that have directly affected me.
I can tell you that I knew from a really young age, actually, I’ll tell you that I was very young going through my garage, probably spending time in the attic as a kid working for who knows what gems you’d find and I came up on my mother’s portfolio from her college experience where she went for graphic design. I remember seeing some of the stuff that she had done and thinking, wow, this is really cool and that really inspired me to go in the direction of art in general. Graphic design specifically. In my senior year of high school, I can remember the one hallway where it was like Home EC and Graphic Design and the two art rooms and everything. I don’t know what you call that wing but I spent my entire senior year going from the art room to the drafting room to the graphic designer room. I discovered that in the design room there was a darkroom for photography development. They allowed me to open that, it had been closed for God knows how long. So, I got this incredible education, in my senior year of high school of all these different types of art mediums. And when I went to art college, you mentioned I graduated from Rutgers, but there’s an art school of the Arts within Rutgers and I left there with a BFA. My concentration was on graphic design. As you mentioned, I stumbled upon Websites for Dummies Book at Barnes and Noble late one night, and that was literally the beginning of what later became my career. I got paid by a friend to build them a website, and when I looked at the cheque, I thought, I can actually make a business out of this. So, I went to the bank. They laughed at me because I wanted to open a business banking account without having actually created a business yet. Luckily, Rutgers is in the county seat. So, I walked around the corner, went upstairs to the clerk’s office, and started Jason Hunter Design. Hunter, by the way, is my middle name. At the ripe age of like 20 years old, I thought, well, I got a seat bigger than I am. So, I’ll add another name, people will think I’m a partner or something. But it’s me. I’m Jason Hunter Bass, Hunter is my middle name. Starting out as a young business owner, I didn’t really have faith that this was going to be life-sustaining. So, I did other things, I had other jobs. And one of those jobs was working for another design agency and because of my newfound passion for web design, that’s pretty much what I handled for them. I have the utmost respect for the man who hired me. But I learned a lot about how not to run a business in that time. And I have taken those lessons with me. To pay the bills, I worked as a high school substitute teacher and that led me to become a full-time teacher. I absolutely loved being a high school art teacher. I still have room in my heart for some of those kids, but it was exhausting to go to school, you had to be there probably at 7:30 am in the morning. I would get home by 2:30 or 3:00 pm in the afternoon, and then I’d be on the computer doing the web design business until 2:00-3:00 am in the morning, to only repeat it every day Monday to Friday. Not to mention, I was also in my early twenties and wanted to have fun with my friends, so weekends were filled. So, that wasn’t sustainable. I needed to make a choice. So, I decided to resign from teaching and pursue my business full-time. And my goodness, that was back in probably 2003 at this point. Approaching the 20-year mark.
Yeah. Now as a business owner, a lot of the things that I thought I was learning not to do are things that are. Well, let’s put it this way. My desk was in the basement of his home, 20 years ago that was a faux pas. Today, it’s like, commonplace, not a big deal. But at the time, it felt very uncomfortable. His kid was in a playpen in the same room where I’m sitting at my desk doing work.
With working from home because of COVID and everything, it was uncomfortable at the time. Then we moved into an actual office space, which I think he did to satisfy the employees that he had brought on. And I don’t think that he was financially ready for that and we wouldn’t get paid. So, it would be Friday, payday and we’d be waiting for our cheques and his wife would be running errands and not making it in before it was 5:00 and we’d all want to go home, so we’d have to wait until possibly Monday to get our cheques. And then, you know, finally, he started being a little bit more honest with us about the money coming in and that was more acceptable than just these excuses that his wife couldn’t make it in time. So, I never really got to learn much from him, from a client-facing perspective. I never really got to see how he interacted with clients. I was just essentially given these projects to execute. Whether it’s a good thing or not, I went there to learn from him and I never really got a whole lot of direction from him. There was no process in place for anything. So, I see now as a business owner how important those things are and I knew that I didn’t want to hire somebody or I wouldn’t want to lead anybody without having things in place. So, I would like to think that I learned a lot about what not to do from that experience.
Absolutely no training. Books probably that I had read. I’ve got a very Rich dad. Poor dad, life upbringing. That book really meant a lot to me. It resonated a lot with me and I absolutely love my two dads for a lot of the same reasons and all the different reasons. And, you know, as the book coined the term poor dad, we were never poor, but he made decisions with money that were poor. So, I and then the other dad was an investor and learned how to make money from our money. I literally have that rich dad, poor dad mentality. So, I tend to think of things as investments. I think from a comfort factor, I wouldn’t spend a dollar unless I had $2 in the bank and I’m less likely to spend that $1 because I want $2 in the bank. So, that being said, when I’m ready to take on a new employee, I like to know that I’ve got double their salary available because I want to make sure that we don’t find ourselves in a position where if all the work dries up, that I can’t live up to my commitment to them. So, that’s sort of one piece of it. The other piece of it is, as your business grows and you start to understand the value of things, the amount of money that you can charge for something should leave plenty of money to make sure that all the people who are involved are eating right, that we’re all getting paid enough to survive and then we started expanding our service offerings to things that offer more residual income and things of that nature. I wouldn’t say that I have a formula or a process in place, although, I really do like to think of it in terms of security and just make sure that I’ve got padding before I go in the mix. I just need to feel confident that I can live up to my promises to them.
But I do think that thinking of things in terms of investments, that’s really the key. I don’t just hire people because I think I need an extra set of hands; I want to invest in somebody who is going to help my company grow. The very first person I ever hired, ironically, worked with me in my basement. I didn’t have kids at the time, so it felt a little different. But he Googled my business or he Googled Web design, found me knocked on my resident’s front door and said, is there a Web design company here? And I said, as a matter of fact, yes, he was also self-taught and he wanted to work. And when he wanted to, he could work from my basement, but otherwise, he could work from his house, which happened to be around the corner. And the first time I hired a project manager was the point when I realized that I had too many projects to keep track of everything and I was dropping them all and that was not okay. Still to this day, I do not feel comfortable taking money from a client unless they can feel the value right away. So, a maintenance client gets a report every month that shows exactly what we did to keep their site safe and secure. An SEO client results in a form of a beautiful report. They don’t just pay me and wonder if they’re working for us this month. So, when I hire people, I hire people strategically to make sure that all of the things that we’re offering are being taken care of in a timely manner. Today, I’ve got two project managers who oversee, you know, the director of operations. That person is also responsible for sales both inside and outside. So, she’s got a lot on her plate at the moment and our next growth would probably be to separate those two roles. I can see taking on more project managers as the number of projects we have increased. But we’ve got a lead SEO, we’ve got a lead social media person, and digital paid ads. We’ve got people who are at the head of all of these different departments, and then that director of operations is who just makes sure everybody is communicating and everything is moving along. But it’s really investing in the people who are going to help our company grow.
Well, I really don’t care if you have a whole lot of experience in the industry. I want you to be the kind of person that is not only looking at filling the role that I have but also thinking about how you could enhance the business. So, I want people who are going to bring new, fresh ideas to the table. I’m actually just thinking about an interview, a quarterly review that I just did with my latest hire and I have a series of questions that I like to ask them every three months. And one of them is, what goals do you want to achieve between now and the next time we meet? And further, then that, what are some personal growth areas that you would like to explore? Because I want to know how I can support that. If they’re interested in cryptocurrency, then I want to see if I can put them into a course where they learn about cryptocurrency, because that’s going to help our business and how we communicate with our clients. So, it’s that go-getter, self-starter. That’s the kind of person that I’m really looking for. I can understand again, going back to my Richard Kiyosaki reference, I understand the cashflow quadrant that there are people who are in this world to be employees and there are people in this world who are built to be business owners and investors. They’re typically very different types of people and I’m looking for people who resonate with entrepreneurs but don’t necessarily have the desire to go off on their own. But I will tell you, at least twice, two of my people have gone off on their own, and I’ve done nothing but support them in that endeavor and hope for the absolute best success for them. And if we ever find ourselves bidding against the same projects, I mean, that would just be an exciting moment for me to see they’ve got this far.
I definitely do not. I really believe that this is a cultural thing. A cultural topic. I think for me, the business culture that we have within Jason Hunter Design is more supportive of the people than it is around. It’s less money focused. I think it’s really, it’s more supportive of the people, you know, in this quarterly review that I just mentioned, the ones that I’ve done with my other employees, I really want to know from them where they feel our roadblocks are, what I personally could be doing differently to make it easier for them to work with me. And the feedback is consistent, I absolutely love my job. I have no complaints whatsoever. I love the people that we work with. I even love the clients that we take on. And I’m disappointed by those answers because I really want constructive criticism. But at the same time, I’m so flattered that we’ve built this culture, that’s how my people feel. Now, that’s not to say that they haven’t asked for compensation raises. And honestly, I’m happy to give them if I feel like they have helped the business grow financially, I want to share in that. Yeah, it’s sometimes it’s appropriate, and sometimes it’s not.
I do things for clients and for employees that I feel pay attention to the details and really make them feel rewarded. So, for instance, when a client signs on with us, we send them a customized welcome box in the mail. They scan a QR code and it brings them into the digital part of our process and asks them some personal questions, like their birthday or their work. And we send them little trinkets and things just to let them know where we’re thinking of them. But I can’t just do it for clients, so I do that for the employees too. Like just a random Wednesday box will arrive to just say, you’re doing a great job and I appreciate you. Or if we have a team meeting, you know, taking them out to lunch. Doing things that I don’t think every other place of employment does or thinks about. And I think I like being recognized in those ways.
If I’m being perfectly honest, I don’t want to spend money and invest in somebody who isn’t certain they want to work with us. So, sending it as a presale doesn’t feels like a bet to me. The reason that my people feel like we have really good clients is that they choose to work with us because they’ve learned enough about us that they have made a decision that we’re the ones that they want to do the job. And I want to reward them for that, for seeing who we are costing us. So that’s where that comes into play and it is very much appreciated. I just did a talk on this a couple of weeks ago, but it’s really all part of our branding, including typically what I send in the box is a vanilla-scented candle. Does a web design company have a brand scent? Probably not. But I think it’s important to have somebody now associate a vanilla smell with the exceptional experience they get working with us. So, yeah, it’s a little subconscious play in there.
I probably have a bunch of things I could list. Well, let me say that, for a long time since I’ve had employees, I’ve got this incredible team. I’ve had a hard time thinking of Jason Hunter Design as me being the face of the company because we really are an incredible team. But I’ve spent a lot on building a brand that I’m not willing to let go of. So, I don’t want to rebrand as something that is more generic. It is me and I can honor and respect that people feel comfortable with me. So, I do think that I am a big part of why people choose to work with me and what makes me unique is that I have a heart for service and authentic connection with people. I just think that the energy that I bring builds community in unique ways, that people just crave. So, I mentioned to you offline here, I do a lot of things for entrepreneurs. There are a lot of events that I organize. We’re bringing people together to just be supportive of one another. And I’m not saying that I actually get a ton of business through those groups, that’s actually not what happens, and that’s not the point. But I think it helps the outside world to see the kind of heart that I have and I think that’s what attracts people. Then I think it really is a matter of the experience that people have with us and that turns into referrals and leads. I think the experience that you have with us is not just about getting little trinkets in the mail. The experience that you have with working with Jason Hunter Design, is that we care about you as a client and we want to communicate with you on a regular basis. Communication is a huge, huge issue with our competitors, from what I hear. They just don’t deliver on the things that we do. So, we have a process. I’m sure that I pick this up from somewhere, but I just don’t remember who to give credit to. I call it ECEM, every client, every Monday. On Monday the project manager’s only job is to go down their roster of projects and to personally connect with each client, giving them an update on where their projects are at and if they have to put their tail between their legs and say, I’m sorry, I don’t have anything to share with you, but this is our plan for the next week. Then that’s what that call will entail. It gives the client an opportunity to request a follow-up meeting where they can spend more time going through anything that’s on their mind. But I don’t think I don’t know of any of my competitors that are that devoted to the client during the process, that it’s not just about coming up with a product to hand them and say, congratulations, here it is. Go off on your own. We want a partner to hold their hand, to be with them all the way throughout. As they grow, we grow. The more we can do for them, the bigger they grow and that just in turn helps us grow too.
I think 110%. The answer is yes. Another thing I’ll say, which kind of plays into it is we don’t believe in contracts. Certainly, we have an agreement. I want you to sign the agreement so that you understand what my responsibilities are, and what your responsibilities are. We don’t believe in contracts. So, that means that if you’re signing up for one of our ongoing services, like our website care plan or SEO or social media or digital paid ads, or any of the things that are monthly recurring type services you can cancel at any time. Do you know how many people actually cancel?
Yes, not very many and most of those that don’t cancel, the ones you stick around are not only sticking around, but they’re doubling down because they see the value and they want to put more into it knowing that they can get even more out. So, it absolutely works. Clients love to have open communication and they love to feel the results of their investments with us.
There are lots of schools that I invested in on an annual basis. So, when I am allowed to come and go, I’m taking a big risk. It’s a lot of energy and manpower to have our teams get in line to serve these clients. So, if they leave, you know, especially after a short while, that really is a huge inconvenience. But it is a risk because, again, our clients are the people who trust us and they’re the kinds of people that we want to be working with. So, we will always show up and do our best. And we’re always going to be transparent and forthright with anything that’s going on so that you know what to expect. I’m very happily married, but I think contracts are just a way of keeping people putting money in your pocket. It’s a guarantee that they’re not going to go anywhere or that they’re going to have to jump through a lot of hoops to break away. That doesn’t feel good. Like even in marriage, you shouldn’t stay there if you don’t feel good about it.
No one is going to feel good about that.
I feel like this was when I was in college. So, TiVo had come out. They failed and I can’t really explain why, but that was revolutionary where you could pause television, rewind, and fast forward. I mean that just didn’t that technology didn’t exist and it got me thinking that even at that point, 20 years ago, at some point we would be able to watch television and click on an article of clothing that an actor was wearing and a specific scene and buy it right then and there. I wasn’t entertained by trying to figure out how to make that happen. But I think Instagram shopping is probably the closest that we’ve come to that now because you can actually shop off of media. So, we’re pretty close. I still think it would be cool to select a shirt and have the algorithm find the shirt rather than a marketer being the one to say, here’s this item for sale. I don’t know, I just think that’s cool. If somebody is listening and they decide to build it out, just give me credit for it. And I think that you’re right, I actually have a big problem with that, though. For a minute I really wanted to get into the metaverse and I thought like, what could I do? You know, I’m a community guy, can I build a mall? And all of my clients have a little vendor booth so that we can all be in this space. It’s like something I can offer them? I could design them avatars and I could do all this stuff and it didn’t feel exciting to me. It felt daunting and exhausting. When I stepped back and looked at what it meant to me is that you’re creating yet another opportunity for people to create false identities and that’s not authentic to me. I have a big problem with that. I am a very big believer in authenticity and I think that when you put on an avatar to represent you, you’re right away, putting that out the window. And as a father, I’m worried about that. As a marketer, I guess it’s exciting to think about, you know, marketing things to people who are in that space. But I kind of have a big problem with the whole concept. I don’t know, there are lots of positive things, as you can put other people in a room and literally be working on building a car or operating like you can look a lot in this virtual room. That’s an experience that just belongs over here, I don’t think that it’s the way of the future and that everybody should be thinking about how to get in on it. It’s not where I want to be. I don’t want people to be stuck in their houses with VR goggles on. I want them to be in rooms shaking hands, making connections, and giving hugs. That’s what matters.
From a marketing perspective, there are going to be people hanging out in those rooms. Then you want to be there to talk to those people, to get in front of them. That’s essentially what marketing is all about, is just getting in front of the right people and getting very accustomed to the third-party cookie where we could advertise to people that we didn’t know. But I think actually in some weird way, the first-party cookie is much more valuable, and be it, the wave of the future of the internet is in personalization. Allowing the experience to be personalized and customized to that unique user. That to me feels much more authentic now. It’s all programmed, so it’s not like I’m hand-delivering you something that I think is going to interest you. But you know, I’m a subscriber of one of those box food services I’ve gone through. I’m not going to name them because I think they’re all great. But I went from one to another to another and the reason I skipped I mean, I’m talking about years of commitment to one of them, and then I skipped it and left because my own diet changed. I couldn’t go in and program it to my new diet. So, every time I’d have to go in and take my meals, I was seeing options that I can’t have. That’s really frustrating. So, I switched to a company that does do that and that’s exactly the point. What I mean by the wave of the future is personalization, right? Giving customers a way to make their experience personalized, and customized for them is going to mean a whole lot more than just sending out an ad to a million people who might have visited a similar website at some point.To me, that’s throwing a lot of spaghetti while hoping something successfully could have played a penny in front of you because a penny is what you prefer instead of spaghetti.
People I don’t think know how easy it is to do that.
So easy, so easy to do. We just customized a membership program for a local restaurant that when you fill out the initial three questions name, phone number, and email. Even a phone number is not required, just email it to tell us that you’re interested in the membership. The next screen says Welcome Matt, let us tell you about why our membership is so valuable. And then it takes them through a nice list where they can see all the benefits that you get from the membership. And then at the bottom is where it wants you to choose. You know, enter more information about yourself. You’re essentially applying for membership; you have to be approved. But that little tiny bit of customization where it says Welcome Matt before it explains why it should be important to you to join as a member. A little psychological trigger, I don’t want to call it a trigger or a game. It just triggers as people love hearing their own name when they read it, in their head, they are hearing.
Yes. It’s so easy and I don’t think enough marketers are thinking about that now and how they can use it. The businesses that hire us certainly have no data. They don’t know what to be thinking about it. So that’s what I love the most. I sit and listen to entrepreneurs talk weekly about their businesses, and I love hearing about their passion. When we asked them how their marketing business is generally, they have no idea what to do. They think they know what they need to do, but they don’t really know. And when you really break it down and get into it and talk about all the different ways that you can relate to somebody to make them understand what it is that you have to offer and how it’s going to affect their lives. There are so many things and it’s funny that you got that from a sales course. I’ve never taken a sales course, and yet you still as knowing some of the basics like people. There is a statistic, people just love to hear their name. The more times you take somebody’s name, it’s going to make them more comfortable. So, why should that be any different if they’re visiting your website?
Sure. Jason Hunter Design is the name of the company you can find us at Jasonhunterdesign.com. You can find us on Facebook and Instagram at Jason Hunter Design. And honestly, you have multiple ways of getting in touch with us, if your first touchpoint is any one of those three places.
Yeah, that’s a little bit harder to give you an address for. But if you’re searching for Jason Hunter design, you’ll find the company or me.
Great. Appreciate that.
Matt. It was a lot of fun. Thank you
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