In an increasingly virtual landscape, more and more businesses are ditching their physical locations and shifting to remote operations. Web design startup, Wicky Design, proves just how possible going fully remote can be and is setting an example for other small businesses to follow suit.
Wicky Design was founded by Mark Crowell and Barbara DiLisio, a husband and wife team that is passionate about web design. They identified a need to change the relationship between web designers and small businesses.
They had heard too many horror stories of small business owners who had struggled with web designers that took too long to complete projects, who were non-communicative, or who simply did not create the desired web design. Mark and Barbara wanted to solve this issue and created a streamlined process to get websites up and running in weeks with ease, and thus, Wicky Design was born.
Prior to starting Wicky Design, both Mark and Barbara worked with web design, but in very different spaces. While Barbara's role was similar to what she does now, working with several small businesses on design and brand strategy, Mark worked in the corporate world, holding various positions, from 3D Animator to project manager, at the large engineering firm AECOM.
In 2014, the pair started Wicky Design as a side project to their respective full-time positions. Soon after, Barbara quit her job to focus full-time on Wicky Design. In 2018, Mark left his corporate position of 15 years to fully commit to Wicky Design as well.
“It was just time to go out on our own. We had been basically doing what we do now for other companies, and it was time to do it for ourselves,” Barbara said, in regards to committing full-time to Wicky Design.
“Being able to pivot and change what you want to do, it’s freedom basically because especially in a corporate environment, you’re stuck to one job, one responsibility, sometimes, for some people, their whole lives,” Mark added. “I think this is one of the biggest opportunities where we can just pivot and do whatever we want, which is fun.”
In 2019, they decided to take their business fully remote and became digital nomads, selling their house along with most of their belongings.
Discover how this husband and wife team have navigated their journey of taking Wicky Design fully remote, the tools they use, and how they truly have tested the art of pivoting their business.
What made you both decide to go fully remote?
Barbara DiLisio: I think it was just the right time to do it. There was no reason why we couldn’t, and we both like to travel a lot so it was an opportunity to do a lot of traveling by working remote. We had everything set up in a way that there was no reason that we couldn’t have done it. It was an easy decision. We could stay here or we could travel, so why not travel?
Mark Crowell: We’re based out of the Philadelphia area, and we would have some clients we would meet up with, but we found that the majority of our clients weren’t local-based at all. A lot of things have changed. You don’t really need to be tied to a physical location anymore. In a lot of industries, it doesn’t matter really, so we just ran the numbers and figured, Hey, let’s do it for a while and see what happens.
What were the biggest challenges of being a digital nomad and running your remote business?
Leily Zhu: You were able to move fully remote 7-8 months before COVID started. Was the transition not as difficult since you didn’t have to move from a set office space back to a completely virtual environment, the way many people did?
Barbara DiLisio: Probably the hardest thing was figuring out some of the logistics, like the mail, figuring out how to do that, and figuring out car registrations and stuff like that where you have to have an address, so actually your service [VirtualPostMail] helped us quite a bit with or all that stuff.
What were the biggest challenges of being a digital nomad and running your remote business?
Barbara DiLisio: Scheduling was the hardest, especially because of the different time zones when you’re traveling. One week, we’re in Eastern, and then the next we’re in Central so we have to make sure our calendars reflect Central time so we’re not taking calls like 7:00 AM.
Mark Crowell: We would have what they call “Travel Days” where we would be on the road for the whole day. We had to learn how to schedule around that, and then any other “Wild Cards.”
The Wicky Design team learned how to expect the unexpected, which is an essential lesson when starting a business. Not only did they have to navigate changes in their business structure, but they also dealt with unexpected elements of nature.
Mark Crowell: While we were on the road, we drove through blizzards, tornados, hail, a little bit of everything, so you got to kind of figure that in because that’s not something you have to worry about when you’re sitting in an office. We almost got stranded in Denver. It was a blizzard that came out of nowhere, and we didn’t know that was happening. Luckily, we pulled up right where we needed to go and locked in. We left buffer room around that because you never know, randomly what could happen.
Did you find any solutions to the scheduling issue, a certain method that really helped you stay on track for that?
Barbara DiLisio: We started using Dubsado, we have a scheduler in there that helped a ton because we basically just give people a link to that, and they would schedule a time that was good for them to talk, and then it would automatically convert it to whatever timezone we were in. As soon as we would log into it, it would recognize that we were in a different timezone, and then it would update the times for us. That was really helpful because otherwise, I don’t know how we would have done it. It would have been way too confusing. We should have been doing this from day one. It’s so great because it puts all the information in there, and it keeps track of any time somebody schedules. You don’t have to hunt for their phone number or email. It’s really useful.
Mark Crowell: We only started doing that [Dubsado] halfway through. We signed up for the CRM halfway through our journey. We were like, ‘Why didn’t we do this years ago?’.
You mentioned Dubsado as one of the tools you like to use, but do you have any other favorite remote tools?
Mark Crowell: Wave is for accounting. It’s fully online. You don’t have to go to banks and do all that stuff. We can invoice all our clients from there, we can do all of our expenses through there, taxes, pretty much all the accounting there. I think they just started doing checking, so if you want, you can be fully integrated into this one platform. You don’t have to have a standalone bank or anything like that.
Barbara DiLisio: There’s an app too, so you can do it on your phone if you have to. It’ll notify you if somebody paid your invoice or if you want to put in any expenses, you can scan the receipts through the app. It’s really cool. It’s all free. It's really great software.
“VirtualPostMail was probably one of my favorites because some clients would still send us checks, which wasn’t ideal. When we were on the road, and I’d get a check, what I loved about the service was, you guys [VirtualPostMail] would just deposit it for us. I used that several times, and that’s saved my butt.” - Mark
Mark Crowell: I couldn’t send that check to where I was because we were on the road sometimes, and we would only be in places for a couple of days, maybe a week. I didn’t want checks to be floating around, trying to find me everywhere so that was a really good service.
Barbara DiLisio: Just the fact that you guys [VirtualPostMail] scans the mail, and if it is junk mail, you just shred it so we’re not getting a bunch of stuff that we don’t need, it was really useful. We still use [the check depositing feature] now that we’re home. People sometimes still send us checks, and then we’ll just deposit it, and in a couple of days we get it. It’s awesome.
I know you have lowered your travel since COVID-19 started, but have there been any other challenges that have arisen since the pandemic happened? Has it made changes to how Wicky Design operates?
Barbara DiLisio: We’re trying to focus more on education, so instead of travel, because that was a big part of our business - talking about our remote work. Since we aren’t doing that as much anymore, we shifted into doing more videos on educating and helping small business owners get websites that really work for them and get a better online presence because you don’t know what’s going to happen. This pandemic clearly let everybody know that a lot of things aren’t guaranteed. If you can have something online and in-person, or have a storefront and an online presence, it’s the way I think everybody should go now.
Mark Crowell: These past few months have been probably our busiest months ever. We’ve been in this business almost 7 years, and since the pandemic, that’s the busiest we’ve ever been. I think people are taking it a lot more seriously now - the online business and online websites - which is mainly what we do, there’s a lot more demand now.
What was the biggest challenge you ran into navigating the COVID-19 pandemic?
Barbara DiLisio: Just finding time to fit everything in and the challenges of being in lockdown, the uncertainty of it all. It was pretty stressful for the first couple of months. We literally came back, and we didn’t have a home so we had to figure all of that out. When we went remote, we fully committed.
If you had one piece of advice for someone trying to launch their remote business, what would it be?
“I would say plan for things to go as unplanned. It’s going to happen, and you just have to be okay with it because there’s nothing you can do.” - Barbara
Barbara DiLisio: Don’t plan too far in advance. If you have everything written out, it’s never going to go as planned. We had no idea we were going to be in a pandemic. When we first started, we were thinking, Should we plan exactly where we’re going to go? We kind of started going down that route, and we realized, maybe we should take it a month or two at a time versus a whole year because things happen. I would say, don’t try to be so regimented. Be more flexible and go with the flow because you want to enjoy it. You don’t want to be so stressed about everything having to go to plan.
Mark Crowell: That’s the one thing I can tell you. You can plan, plan, plan, but it will never go the way you want. We did loose planning, and pretty much nothing lined up. There would be issues along the way. My advice would be to just do it. Just try it. You could even do a trial run. If you want to see if you even like it, just try it for a week or two, a month, and then go from there. We knew we were going to like it, so we just jumped in. We did a little trial, but I recommend just trying to do a month to see if you do get homesick.
Barbara DiLisio: Rent an Airbnb for a few weeks, and see if you can handle doing it.
Mark Crowell: The one thing you can plan is your work schedule. Stick to some sort of schedule. Don’t think just because you’re working remotely that you can work overnight one night and the next day work in the morning. At least for us, we kept almost a 9 to 5 when we’re doing this.
Leily Zhu: I feel like everyone is always telling you to have a plan, so it’s very interesting that your advice is “Don’t plan.”
Mark Crowell: If you do that, you’re never going to get started. Trust me, you’ll never get started because there are too many things to think of, which is very overwhelming.
Barbara DiLisio: There is so much information you could look at, and people have done this, they’ll tell you one thing. All of that advice is great, but at the end of the day, your experience isn’t going to be the exact same as theirs. You just have to do what feels right for you.
Lessons Learned from Wicky Design
As you can see, the journey for the husband and wife team has been far from smooth sailing. They’ve had run-ins with natural disasters, were forced to halt their nomadic lifestyle because of the pandemic, and must continue to pivot and alter the way Wicky Design operates to stay current with what is happening in the world. That’s what the startup life is all about. It may not always be easy, but Mark and Barbara have shown that it’s worth the effort when you’re pursuing your passions.
Your experience won’t be the same as theirs or anyone else’s. However, their advice still applies. If you want to create a startup or pivot your business, then do it. You just need to do what feels right for you and take that leap!