Payge H. Kerman of Wink Digital on building an agency with personality

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Describe Wink Digital in a few words?

A marketing agency with personality.

What made you take the leap to start your own business?

I started Wink when I saw that there was a major hole in the market. When a client engages with an agency, especially for websites, they usually get one of two things: 

1. A templated site that was semi-customizable to them, but that still doesn’t feel exactly right. The benefit, though, is that they can, at least, make their own changes. -OR- 

2. A beautiful custom site that fits their brand like a glove, but doesn’t give the client any autonomy to manage their own content.

Wink, for me, is the brainchild of this gap in the market. I wanted to create and utilize technology where our clients could get the best of both: a stunning custom website -AND- autonomy to manage their own website once it is set live. This hole in the market is (hopefully) closing, largely due to our work. 

What was your background prior to starting your own business?

My personal agency background comes from the UX design and web design side. In the early parts of my career, I worked for an agency doing UX design, specifically for larger, corporate accounts. Though my heart was not always attached to the large projects in the same way it was to the smaller brands, I gained invaluable experience and expertise in analyzing user data and translating that into functional design elements. Towards the later part of my career before opening my own agency, I worked as a web director – this involved overseeing the creative and technical elements of the website design and development process.

Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

Believe it or not, I actually went to college with the hopes of becoming a neurosurgeon. However, after two semesters of chemistry, I realized that it wasn’t the right fit for me. I explored other majors and options until I found Technology, Arts, and Media (TAM) – this program is specifically designed for students who want to be involved in the art-side of computer science, like large-scale art installations, sensor-based robotics, game design/development, and more. This felt like a perfect fit for me – nerdy, but creative. But, I was always content working in agencies. I never felt like I needed to be an entrepreneur to be successful.

Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?

We sent out thousands of cold emails, and much to our success, they worked out beautifully!

We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?

I made a great decision for my business years ago, offering long payment plans, that ended up creating massive financial issues for my business today (read: $500k outstanding in A/R). Unfortunately, sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know until you take a chance. I took a chance on these payment plans, and although they kept my business afloat for years, they became more burdensome than beneficial in the long run. When my business started experiencing the financial impacts of this decision that I made before I knew better, I felt as though my value as a business owner was in question, and that my ability to make good decisions was gone. Now, we offer long payment plans, but we require higher deposit amounts and higher interest rates for those who choose to use them.

What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?

One of our proudest accomplishments is helping to launch a CBD extraction lab by providing comprehensive marketing services, including a website, branding, social media strategy, exhibition design, print marketing materials, email marketing, and sales sequences. This company, as a result, prevailed quickly as an industry leader and one that set the standard for the future of CBD marketing.

When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?

One of my favorite questions is one that my coworker, Isabelle, came up with. She always asks people for fun “If you were a piece of furniture, what would you be?” If people answer with “Couch” or “Chair”, you know they’re people that like to be seen and experienced by all. If someone answers with something like “A lamp”, you know that they care about their function more than being flashy. If someone answers “Rug”, you know they’re okay being walked all over.

My best hiring tip came from working with my business coach, Winn Clark. She mentioned that the first interview I do with candidates should be a group interview so that it a) doesn’t eat up mass amounts of time if I have to interview 20+ people, and b) so that I can weed out anyone immediately who gets intimidated by being outshined, or people who are not interested enough. This has been crucial in selecting the right candidate.

How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?

In the early parts of COVID-19, we thrived. Everyone needed to build strong, impressive websites in order to stay relevant. However, since the return of in-person shopping, we have certainly seen things slow down and people invest their money elsewhere.

What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?

If you had asked me this question before COVID-19, I would have given an entirely different answer. I would have probably mentioned revenue goals, team size, and more. Right now, my goals are:

1. Prepare financially for situations we can’t control. This involves growing our team sustainably, developing forecasting documents and savings goals, safety nets.

2. Expand our breadth of work, while ensuring the quality doesn’t suffer. When you expand services, there is often a “wobbly” effect that occurs: a period of time where your competency level does not meet your expectations, largely because your processes weren’t outlined well enough. My goal is to scale so efficiently that this “wobble” time disappears.

3. Continue fostering a company culture that values people over profit. We are a business and we do need money to survive, but things like mental health, time with family and friends, a fun and energizing workplace, and more, help our team understand that they are not just tools for our profit, they are essential figures of growth in a way that supports both their lifestyle and our goals.

How have you managed to stay grounded this year?

Podcasts, puppy snuggles, and making my bed every day. The little things in life 😉

What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?

I am marrying my first employee (who, since 2019, has been my business partner). We met on Upwork– ha!

What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?

1. I set my phone on “focus mode” and block programs like Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Tiktok, Fantasy Football, or anything else with push notifications that might distract me from staying on top of my tasks.

2. I give myself designated time to check the things that tempt me the most. If you don’t restrict them entirely, they become less novel.

3. I play very loud music in headphones (or I sit in a dark nightclub with loud music) to help myself focus on what’s in front of me instead of letting my mind wander and to prevent looking at my surroundings. For me, having over-stimulating surroundings tends to help me zero-in on what I need to accomplish.

4. (BONUS) Though everyone is different when it comes to what helps them focus, I’m a firm believer in time-blocking and teaching yourself to put away distractions voluntarily as a means of producing better, more valuable work.

What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?

It means that I get to be a resource for others looking to grow their business, and have a group of other successful women to turn to for resources when I’m looking for some answers.

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