Introducing Heather Steele
Heather is the founder and CEO of Blue Steel Solutions. Heather started her marketing agency 10 and a half years ago because she was tired of seeing great people fail just because they couldn’t clearly communicate their value.
Preferred Pronouns | She/Her
Tara: This is Hallway Chats, where we meet people who use WordPress.
Liam: We ask questions and our guests share their stories, ideas, and perspectives.
Tara: And now the conversation begins. This is Episode 144.
Liam: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Liam Dempsey.
Tara: And I’m Tara Claeys. Today we’re joined by Heather Steele. Heather is the founder and CEO of Blue Steel Solutions. Heather started her marketing agency 10 and a half years ago because she was tired of seeing great people fail just because they couldn’t clearly communicate their value. We’re glad you’re here. Thanks for joining us, Heather. How are you?
Heather: I’m great. Thanks, Tara. Thanks, Liam. I’m excited to be here.
Liam: And we’re so excited to have you here today. Very nice to meet you. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself, please?
Heather: Sure. I’m Heather Steele, as Tara said. I run an agency called Blue Steel Solutions. We help businesses create really great messaging for their websites and funnel programs that make people want to learn more about their business, helps drive leads for them, and ultimately grow their business.
Liam: What caught my attention when you were saying that…well, when Tara was saying, to be perfectly honest, that you started it 10 years ago when you were noticing and struggling at the fact that so many people were struggling with their messaging. I wonder what were you doing before you started your own business, where that particular issue around messaging came to your attention and was something that you decided you needed to fix.
Heather: I was actually working in house at a broker-dealer. So we were an independent broker-dealer that supported financial advisors who basically were running their own business, their own advisory services, but we provided some backend support to them. One of the things that we did was help them with some marketing. I would see a lot of people who came from a captive world, which is, if you think like Merrill Lynch, some of the ones where they’re direct employees, and they have lots of support, everything’s kind of handed to them and all they have to do is run their book of business, then suddenly, they go independent, and they’re a business owner, things are a lot different. They’re having to go out and generate their own leads and grow their business themselves instead of just focusing on kind of their day to day workload.
I would see people make this transition and it didn’t always go well. It was difficult. It was something that they really struggled with. Because you had people that were top performers that had always done really well and then all of a sudden, things aren’t working very well for them. I would see that there was other marketing companies who would kind of come in and just act like vultures and take advantage of these people, and charge them outrageous fees to give them very templated, cookie-cutter solutions that didn’t actually do anything to help them grow their business.
So now these people felt like, “Well, I’ve wasted my entire marketing budget, I’m still not getting anywhere with this business, and I’m starting to feel really like I just don’t know what I’m doing. Maybe I’m not as good at this whole running a business thing as I thought I would be.” So that was really what I was driven by when I started this company was to provide, not only great services but to help those people to see that it’s not that they’re doing something necessarily wrong with their business or they’re not great at what they do, they’re just not necessarily great at communicating their unique value. So that became the cornerstone for kind of everything that we do. Everything starts with that messaging, great content that makes people really want to learn more, that says, “I think you can solve my problems, and I need to learn more about that.” And then we build out from there for websites, landing pages, email campaigns, you know, everything that’s going to help them generate more leads for their business.
Tara: It’s so thorough what you’ve described. I love your approach and your enthusiasm about getting this messaging out there. Can you talk a little bit about how your business has grown and how you have transitioned into working with different types of clients and how they find you?
Heather: Yeah, definitely. I think I started kind of like everybody does, where it was, “Outsource your marketing department to me and I will figure out a way to do everything. Most of it’ll be done pretty well. Maybe not all of it, but it’ll get done.” Over the years, like everyone does, I kind of every year try to stop and look at okay, what am I delivering that’s helping my clients grow their business? What’s really standing out as something that’s actually helping them? And where can I be profitable and efficient with how I’m delivering those things? Also, where do I feel really confident? When I sit down to write the proposal, if I’m feeling really anxious, if I’m feeling nervous, if I’m feeling like maybe my pricing isn’t right, maybe I don’t really know enough about this approach or the solution, those are things I need to take out of my offering. So every year it’s it’s gotten more and more and more narrow as I look at those things and take away different offerings.
For example, for a long time, we did SEO, part of it in-house part of it with an agency that we outsource to. And every single time that I wrote one of those proposals, I felt really anxious because I didn’t quite feel like that was our best area that we were really strong there. So we took it away. And we’re able to focus more on the things that we do really well and then let the other work go to the people that specialize in those things.
Liam: So I feel like I could talk proposals all day long but that’s not really the focus of our show. I want to ask you one question about taking SEO out and not necessarily that it’s SEO, but you’re taking out a service and freelancers growing their own businesses into businesses and small businesses. You know, those little services can be the hook that may be you make a couple 100 bucks on a 1000s of dollars project on, whatever that little service hook is, but it’s the decision making. “Well, if I can get it all at once, yeah. I’ll go with Heather. I’ll go with Tara. I’ll go with Liam, because it’s all in one.” How do you approach that psychologically when you know you’re risking sales? No, okay, probably, in retrospect, you’re going to do better because you’re not going to stress about SEO in your case. But how do you approach that? What does that decision process look like for you?
Heather: For me, one thing that makes it easier as I do have a great network. So over the years, you meet other people in this space. Especially in the WordPress community, I mean, it’s kind of like no other business community where everyone really does want to help each other. And there can be really great positive relationships. So anything that I’m not able to do, I can feel pretty comfortable that I could go to my network and find someone that can help fill that gap. And then we can do a really good job of integrating with and working well together.
At the end of the day, if that’s not the right fit for a client, if they really want everything under one roof, then I’m okay with letting that go. We’re at a point now where definitely there were hard times to do that. But over time as you grow and build a reputation and it just becomes easier to get leads and to get new customers, it became something that I was just really comfortable with saying, if the way I do business isn’t a good fit for you, then I’m not a good fit for you. And that’s fine. And I’ll help you even find someone who is a good fit. But I’m not going to continue to do things that either I don’t feel comfortable delivering or that you can get better from somewhere else.
Tara: It’s so liberating to be at a point where you can say that, right?
Tara: When you start out, that’s not where you start. That’s not where most people start out when they start their business. But it is such a great feeling to be able to say that. And it takes a lot of confidence to get there. And I know your business has grown to get to that point. What are your favorite and least favorite things to do in your business?
Heather: My least favorite, I’ll start with that, is actually writing proposals. I don’t know why. I just always found it to be a labor that is not fun for me. I don’t know. It’s very necessary but it’s not my favorite thing to do. I really love problem-solving. When someone has a unique issue, whether it be something that they need to do on their WordPress site or if it’s something that they’re just trying to accomplish in their business, trying to put the pieces together and problem solve is something that I just really enjoy. It can almost be to a point distracting for me, because, as you all know, Tara, if someone has a tricky problem, I’m like the first one to try to jump in and figure it out even if it’s not what I need to be doing that day.
Tara: Yes, you’re amazing that way. As a matter of fact, I have a very recent experience with that wonderfulness about you. Heather and I are in a business and WordPress slack group and she is very active there in helping people solve their problems. I don’t know how you fit it into your day to do that, but you’re like multi-talented and knowledgeable in so many different things that you’re a great resource and you’re nice to share your knowledge with everyone. Have you had mentors or people that have guided you as you’ve gotten to this point?
Heather: Definitely. No one that’s been kind of a stand in long term mentor but just people that, again, especially in WordPress, that are so open about their own businesses, their own experiences, and what they’ve learned from. I think one of the first early on people that I connected with that really helped me to learn the ropes of this was Carrie Dils. I mean, she was like an open book, gave me leads, helped me with problems. It’s just a really great person to be a sounding board and a friend in the space. I mean, there’s so many people like her too, that it might just be a brief interaction that we have that they dropped some little piece of knowledge that sticks around forever or those more long term relationships. There’s just too many to even name. I think it’s kind of the community as a whole has been a good mentor.
Tara: Thanks for mentioning Carrie. She’s actually been a longtime supporter of Hallway Chats, and one of our guests. So shout out to Carrie Dils.
Liam: Absolutely. She’s a fantastic person. I got a lot of time for her. I miss her podcast. I used to spend many, many an hour listening to…
Tara: Me too.
Liam: Boy, I can see the graphic, but I am struggling to come up with the name of…
Tara: Office Hours.
Liam: There you go. There you go.
Tara: So just said something about restarting it, which would be great. But she used to do it live and I would tune in live. I met some good friends there. I mean, some of my very first WordPress friends I met through the interaction on Carrie’s podcast.
Heather: So fun. She actually lived about 45 minutes from me for a very long time. Now she’s in California. I’ll forgive her for that. She was really good at connecting local people. She’s just an awesome person. I could talk about her all day.
Liam: Heather, I want to ask you one of our signature questions. But before I get to that, I’m going to take a little Liberty here and ask you: given that you shared that you really like solving problems and problem-solving, and in an era of Zoom calls and Slacks and emails, and Twitter, and all the craziness in the world generally, how do you structure your day or time to be able to problem-solve beyond the quick fix that helps the client but doesn’t really move the project along? How do you get problem-solving time into your day?
Heather: That’s a great question. So my schedule is actually something that’s kind of an anomaly for people that know me. I only get about three dedicated work hours a day. I have a special needs child who’s here all but about those three hours a day and makes it very difficult to sit down and focus. So I learned a long time ago to be very good at time blocking. So I give myself basically 20-minute blocks for those three dedicated hours, which, you know, you guys are getting a couple of blocks today. I’m very good at structuring how I’m going to spend that time and – what is it? Is it that Graham’s theorem of every task will expand or contract to the time that you give it? So I’ve learned how to take, you know, if I’m going to write an article or blog post, it’s going to get done in 20 minutes. If I’m going to focus on a problem, I’m going to get myself 20 minutes. And hopefully, I can get it done in that time. If not, I’ll move it to a later time slot. But that’s helped a lot. Time blocking is something that works really well for me.
I’m a procrastinator big time so I need those very stringent guidelines on how to use my time too. And I’ve also just become really good at multitasking on the phone. So that’s something that I can use throughout the day when I’m running around, helping with my kiddo and, making sure he’s taken care of and not destroying the house. I can be on my phone and my Slack groups and chatting with people or making notes on my phone. I do a lot of my brainstorming. I use an app called Sphere that’s really nice for kind of visually storyboarding out content or ideas. I do a lot of that in kind of micro-moments on my phone as I can, and then use my time blocking hours to really dive in and get more deep work done.
Fortunately, I’ve been doing this long enough that most of what we offer to our clients is very structured. It’s very, almost productizes. If we’re going to do a funnel campaign, it’s not like we’re starting from scratch and saying, “Okay, well, what’s this funnel going to look like? What are these emails going to be? I don’t know.” No, we have a very succinct, structured approach to it. So it’s not that I’m needing the time to sit down and think up a brand new strategy. It’s really just kind of taking, okay, what are the building blocks that we always use in these kinds of projects and how are we going to put it together for this specific need?
Liam: Thank you for that. I want to be mindful of your time here. We’re grateful for the gift of it.
Heather: Oh, no…
Liam: No, I’m not saying that to be rude to you. I do mean it. Your time is a gift to us and to our listeners. So thank you for that. And now I will ask you one of our questions, and it’s about success. I wonder, how do you define success? Is that a personal definition of professional definition? Maybe you mix the two. How do you define success?
Heather: It’s definitely a mix of the two. I’ll be completely transparent that I’m very profit-oriented when it comes to my business. I feel like that’s a good indicator of success for me. As special needs parent, I have a child that’s going to need me for the rest of my life. They will need full-time support for the rest of his. So making sure that every minute that I put into my business pays back over and over and over again is super important. So I consider that to be something that is very closely tied to my personal success.
I also really just love influencing and helping others to get to a point where they feel confident in their business. And so anytime that I am able to share an experience or give advice or share something that I did horribly wrong so that someone can do it differently, I feel like that’s also a piece of my success. Anytime that someone tells me that something I shared or helped them with has helped them feel more confident in what they’re doing in their business, that’s the other half of it for me.
Tara: You know what I find – I don’t know the right word – fascinating, interesting inspiring is the combination of profit-driven business with the desire to be helpful and kind and good. I think a lot of times when you are driven by profit, it’s assumed that you are cold and that you are not also altruistic. As you’re describing that you are and I know that you are. So I’m wondering how that comes back around and how those things work together. Because sometimes I feel like if I want to be helpful and good I’m not making any money, right, I’m offering to help, and I’m not charging for that, or I’m not charging as much. So can you talk a little bit about that balance and how you work that out in your own mind and in your business?
Heather: Yeah, definitely. I used to be very bad about just giving. Give, give, give all the time. We would do workshops and webinars and give away our templates and eBooks. Every bit of knowledge was just given away. It became really apparent that when we did that, just gave and gave and gave and gave that people didn’t really appreciate or even understand the value of what we’re giving. So I had to kind of reel that back in and take more control over it. So I kind of consider now that anything I can give in like a bite-sized format is appropriate for me.
If it’s I’m going to take 10 minutes and show you how I did something or I’m going to write a blog post or an article or share something on a podcast like this, but if it’s I’m going to complete a project for you, or I’m going to take on workload, that’s not the right fit for me. I’m never going to be the person that says, “Hey, nonprofit, I like what you do, I’m going to build you a website.” That’s not what’s right for me. But those kind of more bite-sized pieces that I can give to people and hopefully help them in that way, that fits really well with my schedule. It’s a good brain break when I can take that little moment and then it feels good.
Usually, it comes back around. People like people that are nice. So I get lots of referrals and help from the community I think because I’m willing to jump in and be helpful where I can. To me, it’s not giving away the whole farm because people won’t find value in that. They typically won’t appreciate it. But giving just small pieces here and there where I can and making it as meaningful as I can and not really expecting much out of it, it does come back around.
Liam: You spoke volumes there and I won’t try to recap it. You did a great job on that. Thank you. Then one thing I just want to go back to you shared that your profit-driven and then you went right into explaining your family situation and your son and that his needs are the drive behind the profit. I see that very much is a passionate or compassionate side of money. It’s not I need money so that I can live a lifestyle or be able to say I made X or I made Y this year, but it’s fulfilling a very real need that a parent has to want to provide for their child. That’s pretty impressive. I love that you’re just putting it out there that, you know, I have to make money and therefore I don’t give away a website to a nonprofit because…
Heather: I am the nonprofit.
Liam: No, I didn’t mean it like that. But I really liked the way that you qualified the why behind profit, because money is just a tool. The way that you described it made it very clear that you are a very loving parent. And I respect that a lot about you.
Heather: Thank you for that. And don’t get me wrong, like if I can do that and go to the beach a few times a year, then I’m going to do that.
Tara: There’s nothing wrong with that.
Liam: Ain’t nothing wrong with that. Ain’t nothing wrong with that.
Tara: Making money to enjoy your life is perfectly fine.
Heather: I think I’ve mentioned this to Tara before, but there’s not a whole lot of role models of people who have, I don’t want to say been Uber successful, but even just living a comfortable life with someone that they are going to care for forever. That requires a different lifestyle. Like what my husband and I have with my son, there’s not a whole lot of people that you can look to to say, “Okay, that’s how that works.” Part of what I would love to do is to be able to share with other families like this is one way that you might make it work to have what you need to take care of your children but also to be comfortable, to be able to work a 15 hour Work Week, and still meet everyone’s needs, and be able to be comfortable.
Because most special needs families barely get by. I mean, that’s just the way it is in our country. There’s not a lot of support. Therapies are very expensive or insurances, incredibly expensive. The school districts don’t supply our special advance, very, very special needs kids a whole lot. It also parents. So I think if I can figure out some ways to make this work and share those with other people, I would love to be able to do that and to be able to show other moms, especially that that diagnosis is not a life sentence of being broke and never having a purpose in your life outside of your children ever again. There’s other things you can do. It’s not going to look like the typical situation of most people’s workdays or most people’s businesses, but there are some things you can do that’ll make it work.
Liam: Thank you. Thank you very much for that.
Tara: I’m struggling with some words to reply to that because I find it overwhelmingly positive. Wonderful. That’s so hard to find I think when today, as well as when you’re in a situation where you do have a long-term care plan that you have to have for your child. Wow, hats off to you, Heather, to be able to face it with not only a positive attitude but a desire to help others to have a positive attitude and to have a positive life. So I think that’s just awesome. It’s amazing. Thank you so much for sharing that.
Heather: Thank you for letting me know.
Liam: You’re very welcome. You’re very welcome. Tell us a little bit about how you drifted into or jumped into or dove into the WordPress community.
Heather: I way, way backtrack. I always thought I wanted to be a veterinarian, so just go for pre-vet. And in my junior year of college, I had randomly gotten a job working in our technical writing lab on campus. I finally decided to admit that I really am not that good at math or science, which is pretty important to go into vet school. So I made a sharp right turn and decided to do technical writing for my focus. I started doing a lot of contract and freelance work while I was still in school just to kind of catch up because that’s what you have to do when you’re changing your major at the last minute.
I ended up with a job at Match.com randomly in their marketing department. I just really loved what they were doing. So I started kind of shifting gears and taking what I learned in technical writing, which I think is why messaging is so important to me because I’ve got a really strong foundation in communication and how to communicate to people in the way that works best for them. Anyway, took that right turn into marketing while I was still in school at the time finishing up the new degree that I was working on.
We had a group project that it required us to build a website. The guy in my group that took on that part of the task, he built it on Joomla. And I was like, “Wow, I’ve been using Dreamweaver to kind of mess around and do some little sites on the side. This seems a whole lot better.” So I started using Joomla just doing kind of freelance sites and sites for myself, kind of fun stuff. I did one for a company that I worked for. So when I actually started my business, I was still using Joomla. The first couple of sites that I did for Blue Steele were Joomla sites.
I had a client who had the requirement of using WordPress. So it was like, “Well, it can’t be that hard. It’s like a blog software. And I’ll check it out.” The first time that I went to just look up something, you know, when you’re doing any kind of development work, you get stuck, you go to Google, and you’re like, “How you bla, bla, bla, bla, bla.” And I found these communities that actually had help in English, which most of the Joomla community I think at that time was just not English speakers. It was very hard for me to find help from people that actually spoke English. And it just was this amazing community of people that wanted to help each other, that would answer questions. The platform was honestly much simpler and easier. Joomla had just gone from like their 1.0, and then 1.5, and then 2.0 and it was like he had to rebuild the site every single time. So WordPress just seemed like such a better solution. So I made a switch and just said, “You know what? I’m not going back to Joomla. I’m just going to use WordPress until I find something better.” That was probably nine years ago.
Tara: I’m gonna switch to another question that we ask all of our guests in a second but…well, I’ll just switch to it now. And maybe it will relate a little bit to what you’re describing with your experience with WordPress community. Can you share some advice with us that you’ve received and that you’ve implemented that’s helped you in your personal or professional development?
Heather: Oh, man, picking one thing is hard. I think instead of something that’s helped me kind of along the way, because I just can’t really think of anything off top my head, I heard something recently that just made so much sense and was so simple that I wish I had thought about it sooner. But I heard a guy, his name is Hal Runkel. He’s actually like a parenting expert, but he was on a business podcast. He was talking about leadership.
He was talking about how anytime you’re going into a confrontation or a potential confrontation, that your only job is to have the lowest heart rate in the room. He says this from the standpoint really of parenting, which obviously hits home for me quite a bit, because my heart rate gets pretty high a lot of the times. But even just from the standpoint of those difficult conversations with clients, negotiating with clients, writing a proposal, sending stuff off for review, like all these situations that I find myself feeling anxious and nervous about, just that idea that if my only job, the only thing I’m focusing on is making sure I have the lowest heart rate in the room, I am the calmness, steadiest person, that’s going to drive trust, that’s going to drive respect, and that’s going to keep me from feeling exhausted at the end of the day. That’s something that I wish I had heard a long, long, long time ago because it’s so common sense. But it’s something that I think I’ll try to remind myself of every day.
Tara: Yeah. How do you control that? Do you have a tech technique, like breathing or how do you keep your heart rate down?
Heather: I don’t know, vodka. To me, it’s more of a just I can tell myself like, “Hey, chill out. You’re overreacting. Calm down.”
Tara: Yeah, the mentality.
Heather: I like to think what’s the absolute worst thing that can happen? They could cuss me out, they could scream at me, they could hate what I’ve done, they could think I’m too expensive. And all that’s gonna do is make me either decide they’re not a good fit for me, or it’s gonna make me make my approach better next time. Not a whole lot worse can happen. When I can put that mindset to it, it is pretty easy to just kind of, “You know, okay, whatever. We’re gonna do this and it’ll go well. And if it doesn’t, the next one will.”
Tara: Yeah, cool. Thank you.
Liam: That’s a really good approach. Just maintaining inner calm, inner peace, and giving yourself the space to answer and respond in ways that you’re going to be happy with the next morning or the next evening or whatever it is. Thank you so much for sharing that.
We are running out of time here, surprisingly. I didn’t realize how quickly this half-hour has gone. Heather, before we say goodbye to you all, thank you for joining us today. And ask you to share where people can find you online, please.
Tara: Great. Thanks again, Heather. Really appreciate your joining us and so glad that we’re able to share your story here on Hallway Chats today. Have a great day.
Heather: You too.
Liam: Thanks, Heather. Bye for now.
Heather: Thanks, y’all.
Tara: If you like what we’re doing here – meeting new people in our WordPress community – we invite you to tell others about it. We’re on iTunes and at hallwaychats.com.
Liam: Better yet, ask your WordPress friends and colleagues to join us on the show. Encourage them to complete the “Be on the show” form on our site, to tell us about themselves.