Introducing Ken Elliott
Ken lives in Columbia, South Carolina, where he is a full-time webmaster at a law firm. He’s also a co-owner of BKreative Media Solutions, an agency that supports small and medium businesses with digital branding solutions. He’s a core organizer of his local WordPress meetup, which is on a bit of a hiatus to the COVID.
Preferred Pronouns | He/Him
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 146.
Tara: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Tara Claeys.
Liam: And I’m Liam Dempsey. Today we’re joined by Ken Elliot. Ken lives in Columbia, South Carolina, where he is a full-time webmaster at a law firm. He’s also a co-owner of BKreative Media Solutions, an agency that supports small and medium businesses with digital branding solutions. He’s a core organizer of his local WordPress meetup, which is on a bit of a hiatus to the COVID. Welcome, Ken.
Ken: Thank you. Thank you. I’m glad to be here.
Tara: We’re glad you’re here too. Thanks so much for joining us. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself?
Ken: Yes. Pretty much what I do is provide brand solutions to small and medium-sized businesses that are looking to kind of grow and scale for those companies that they don’t know where to get started with their actual online branding space. I provide them with kind of general solutions to get them going so they can kind of reach out to their audience.
Tara: So are you more of a front end web person than a designer? Or do you also…I see your T-shirt. I know no one else can see that see this. So tell us a little bit about your skillset when it comes to being a webmaster and also doing the branding that you do.
Ken: Yeah, absolutely. I started out doing web development pretty much we’ll say 22 years ago. So I learned how to build my first website. I was in AOL Chat Rooms, which was super popular 22 years ago. And then someone else was doing a website, they said, “I build websites.” I was like, “Well, if you build a website, so can I.” So I ended up making my first website using Microsoft Word, which was the only way I knew how to make a website at the time.
Then I also proceeded to learn how to go into the view source and grab code and go into the bookstore, looking at different resources at the bookstore on how to learn different coding. So you can kind of say I’m a bit of both. I learned HTML CSS before I entered college, and did not learn how to do PHP in databasing while I was in college. So I learned a lot of stuff pre WordPress—before I even learned what WordPress was.
Tara: Wow, that’s great. You’ve got a pretty thorough background there going back a long way. How did you get started in the branding aspect of things?
Ken: Well, what I ended up realizing was when I would build websites for some of my clients, they didn’t know what to do next. It was, “Here’s a website,” and it’s like, “Okay, thank you.” And then I guess they just assumed that the website would bring people to them. And so I was like, “Okay, so let me help guide you on how to reach your audience now that this website is here. Maybe you should put some more strategy into social media. Maybe you need some business cards and actually go and be in front of the actual audience that you need to reach out to. That way you could jump some business.” It’s not like the field of dreams with a website. It just doesn’t happen. You have to do the work to get people in.
Liam: That’s a tough lesson for a lot of businesses to learn. I mean, maybe less so in a COVID world where everybody really appreciate the online factor. But if you’re going back 20 some odd years, you know, if I have a website, isn’t that enough? Yeah, that’s a tough lesson. I want to talk a little bit just for old times’ sake about buying books about writing code and making websites because I think the three of us have probably all done that. There’s a certain nostalgia that you stirred up in me, Ken when you mentioned that. Share with us about the books you bought, and what did you get? What was that experience like?
Ken: I honestly wish I still had my books. I took them all in the office because it’s kind of like they are reminder of humble beginnings. So every time you look at the books, it’s like, “Wow, look at what I used to do 10, 20 years ago.” And then I look at how stuff is now where you could just easily go on Stack Overflow, or YouTube or whatever. You can just copy and paste code.
So when you get the books back in the day, you had to actually read through and actually do trial and error. “Okay, let me type it in. Let me figure out if this works with the actual solution that I’m trying to get it to do. And if it doesn’t, okay, well, maybe I need to go find another book.” So it could be a costly investment for us on the front end. But it’s almost that reminder of “Wow, look at these pages I had to flip through and actually read the code and figure out what actually will apply to my solution.”
Liam: Yeah, that’s definitely there. Right? “Am I reading it correctly? Did I missed something? Why isn’t this working and there’s nothing more on that page. I’ve checked the index and there’s…” Yeah, it’s a different world. It’s a different world.
Tara: Tell us a little bit about WordPress and how you discovered WordPress and your history with it.
Ken: I’ll say I wasn’t searching for WordPress. I think it was more so WordPress found me in that moment because I was in a kind of a bit of a point where I was trying to build, like everybody, a quote-unquote, “social media network.” At this time, it was kind of like a nightlife website in which the PHP in a database would manage all of the details of the website. That way, you wouldn’t have to worry about going in and out and whatnot, having to change the code and all of that stuff.
And so I was trying to find an easier way to make updates to these websites without having to do a whole bunch of PHP coding. And so I realized that WordPress allowed for the ability to add content, make changes. You know, and it did all this stuff I already knew in PHP and MySQL. And so I just kind of got into it, tried it out, see how I liked it. Of course, I had to make some minor changes to it and the PHP to do exactly what I wanted to do. But that’s kind of was my entry into WordPress.
Liam: And then how about the WordPress community? Where did that come about?
Ken: Oh, wow. What’s funny was when I first was introduced to WordPress, it was 2010. And I was still kind of on the fence of “Okay, do I really like WordPress?” I feel like I’m cheating because there’s a part of you that wants to still do HTML hard code. You want to prove that yeah, I’m still the original. So I felt like WordPress is just kind of a cheapskate solution to web design.
But then, as I kind of continued to learn and appreciate what WordPress was providing, I was already a big user of one of the hosting providers out there. So they sent me an email in 2016, saying, “Hey, you should come to the WordCamp meetup in Atlanta,” which was my first WordCamp ever. And I went. Just to say the least, that was probably a life changing event for me.
Liam: Yeah, we hear that a lot. What caught your attention the most? What made the biggest impact on you that day?
Ken: Well, when I showed up that day, of course, like any conference, you’re kind of overwhelmed with all that’s going on. You’re just like, “Wow, there’s a lot here.” Especially if you’ve been to Atlanta, you know Atlanta is one of the larger ones in the nation. So you’re talking about a good 300, 400, or 500 people. So I was like, “Wow, I didn’t realize this place could fit 300, 400, or 500 people. And so when I walked in, I was like, “Wow, I’m a little bit overwhelmed.”
And then there was this one young lady, she walked up to me, I guess because she saw looked very puzzled. She was like, “Hey, you look like you’re a little bit lost.” I was like, “Yeah, I’m a little bit overwhelmed right now.” She’s like, “Hey, we don’t worry. This is where everything is at.” And she pointed me to “Okay, here’s the vendors. This is where the assessors are at.” As a matter of fact, she even took the time to escort me to where she was sitting out with a couple of other people from the WordPress community that she wanted to introduce me to.
So it was almost like there was this natural loving care. Just care of, “Hey, you’re a part of the community. Let me show you the people who are here, and let me help guide you around what is a WordCamp.”
Liam: That’s a great experience. That’s fantastic. Having been to Atlanta, I think I was there in 2018, it’s an enormous WordCamp spread over at least two and maybe like two and a half or three floors. There’s a lot to get overwhelmed by. I’m so delighted that you had such a welcoming experience.
And that then at some point led you to think about getting involved with being an organizer yourself. We shared earlier in our conversation that you help organize your local meetup. Tell us a little bit about that. How did you get involved with that?
Ken: So what I wanted to do was after kind of going to these amazing WordCamps in the region, I eventually was like, “It would be great if we have something like this in Columbia.” So I ended up kind of doing a little digging and I ended up reaching out to the original organizer of the one in Columbia. And I was asking her, “Hey, I see that you haven’t had a meet up in a little bit. Is it possible? Are you looking for help? Are you planning to have other meetups in the future?”
So what ended up happening was she kind of had to step back because she was just like all of us, we’re so busy with so much stuff. You can’t do everything at the same time. And being that she was the only organizer, she didn’t have anybody to help a sister. And I said, “Hey, well, I’ve been to numerous WordCamps and WordPress meetups. I will love to assist if you need some help with anything.” She says, “Sure, absolutely.”
So she added me on as a co-organizer. I think at this point, we haven’t had a meetup yet just because kind of COVID has put a lot of things to hold. But we would love the opportunity to do that. And that’s how I kind of got involved with the Colombia meetup for WordPress.
Liam: I love that. I love that. Just, you know, “Hey, this is a great community. I had a great experience. I’m engaging with that community. We’re not doing anything locally. Can I help address that?” Fantastic. And then of course, you know, COVID changes everything. It changes everything. Tara, I’m going to share the mic a little bit. Now I’m going to keep hogging, apparently. Tara and I are waving at each other back and forth.
Tara: I think you’re probably going to do what I was just going to do. So keep going. You’re on a roll.
Liam: All right. So I was going to ask one more question before we got to anything else. Did you want me to jump into something specific, Tara? All right. Ken, you work full time at a law firm as a webmaster, and then you have this additional project or this additional business, I’m sorry, it’s more than just a project, on top of that. What’s your experience of “I’ve got this full-time job. I’m doing stuff I presumably like because I’m working there full time. It’s not fulfilling everything that I need or want. I’m going to do something else.” Can you just explain a little bit about kind of the intellectual emotional impetus behind starting BKreative?
Ken: Yeah. My business partner was the one who approached me about BKreative. So really, when I started my full time a little over 10 years ago, it was the idea, “Okay, full time, I got to make some money because I have a student loan. I got to take care of my student loans, which of course, is what everybody’s mindset is when you come out of college.
But then also, my business partner approached me honestly, either before or after I got the full-time job saying, “Hey, I see that you do websites. I do graphics. I would love the opportunity for us to kind of collaborate on this project and maybe build something.” And so really, I’m full-time in my business, but my co-partner has been kind of married hip to hip because we’ve been doing it the same amount of time. So kind of emotionally, I think both of them supply a need, where my full time I’m taking…
I think you do both of them kind of together. So like with your full time, you take some of the business aspects of what you learn from the full time and you apply to your actual business. And you take all the coding from actually what you do as a business and you could apply some of those different techniques and strategies to the actual coding that you’re doing in a full-time.
Liam: Did you know your business partner before you were approached to join. Obviously, you probably knew who they were but was it a close friend, longtime associate, something like that? So it was a kind of a natural fit it sounds like.
Ken: We ended up actually knowing each other from a part-time job at a grocery store that we worked at. We were both baggers. He knew I actually did web design. I didn’t know too much about him doing graphic design at that point. But I guess, you know, through Facebook, because we kind of connected on Facebook or whatnot, he’s like, “Oh, yeah, I see that you do some graphic work. I do some web work. Maybe we should consider doing this project together.”
Because I think he was doing like a website for his church and he understood the graphics. But of course, he’d understand the website aspect. So he reached out to me and said, “Hey, can you help with the website portion of it and I do the graphics?” I was like, “Sure, absolutely.” So that’s how we ended up kind of growing into BKreative Media Solutions now.
Tara: Great. Good story. Thanks for sharing that. I’m going to pivot to a question that we ask all of our guests, which is about success. So I want to ask you what you consider a definition of success that you work with in your life and how you implement it in your life or how you view it.
Ken: So when I first started out, I mean, you are right out of college. That’s even before, you know, success is all about how much you make, money, how much is in the bank account, all that stuff. I think now I’m kind of at a juncture, especially with the pandemic, it has given me time to do a little self-discovery and figuring out exactly what is most important for me in my life. So I tell people this all the time now, especially this year, if success is what actually makes me happy, what do I feel like? What are the things that I do that truly make me happy in life? And then along with that, what can I offer to someone else to make them happy? Which is the purpose.
So I want to make sure that my passion, that what I do that help fulfill me also helps someone else fulfill their purpose in life. I think that’s what truly makes me happy. So when I do websites, websites are solely to help a small business or medium-sized business to grow, and hopefully, put them in a position where they can help someone else with their passion and their purpose. I think that’s what I kind of title success as is helping someone else to help someone else.
Tara: I like that. I mean, it’s a win-win all around then when you feel good about what you’re doing. So when you are selecting businesses to work with, are they certain types of businesses that you’re helping? Or is there a broad range?
Ken: I’m very particular in regards to I want to make sure that they know exactly where they see themselves let’s say 5, 10 years from now. It’s not just “Hey, I woke up this morning. I want a website.” “Oh, okay. Tell me more about what this website is going to be about.” And then, “Okay, well, where do you see this business going in five years?” And they can tell you. I like to have people and organizations that could easily rattle off, “Okay, this is my company’s mission. This is the vision. This is the audience. This is who we’re trying to strive to go after.”
That way, when it’s time for us to build a website for whatever their goal is, we can just say, “Okay, understanding what your goal is, this is how we should lay out the website and workflow it this way so that you can reach the desired audience that you’re trying to capture.”
Liam: Can I ask you a kind of a business workflow logistics question?
Liam: How do you engage with your clients, your BKreative Media clients if you’re 40 hours a week in somebody’s law firm? Does your business partner lead on that? Is it mostly email? Because you’ve established a flow that I think a lot of our listeners would like to emulate in some way, and I just wondered a little bit how you manage that.
Ken: I’ll say this. A lot of our clientele comes from word of mouth. And so when word of mouth is really good, it’s easy to get business. You don’t have to worry about, “Okay, well, let me put something on Facebook to find some leads,” or “let me cold call people who might be websites.” You just rely on your clientele to do it for you.
So if you could do one really good website and ask that person, “Hey, do you know two or three other people who could use our services?” And then hopefully, maybe you can ask them for a virtual introduction, or “hey, can I get their number so I can call them and get in touch with them?” that makes it a whole lot easier instead of doing so much of the, “Okay, who’s going to be the next lead? Who’s going to be next person? I got to go here to search actively for this.” It makes that process a whole lot easier.
Liam: Yeah, I like that. And I want to ask you about that. Because it’s one thing to ask a client with whom you’ve worked for the last few months, “Hey, can you give me a recommendation?” And then they might even say, “Yeah, I’ll introduce you to these three other folks.” What’s that first phone call like? How do you deal with that? I mean, if you’re used to email, if you’re good at text message, and all sudden, it’s a phone call, and “hey, hire me because I’m good” or “hire us because we’re good,” That’s a different kind of conversation that can be a challenge. Have you done that? And what has worked for you?
Ken: Actually, phone calls are better for me. Here’s the thing about phone calls. Because during that time, just like any face to face, like when you’re hearing people’s voice, you kind of get an idea of their passion for their project. So when you hear my voice saying, “Hey, I would love to do your website. I’m interested in your actual project. If you would, can I get your email, all this information, and I’ll send you this questionnaire and we can go ahead and get started on your project, start kind of figuring out if we want to do it,” that type of stuff. I mean, they’ll get an idea, okay, this individual is truly invested in what we’re trying to do and then they’re more inclined to actually…
Because you know how email or text is. I’ll come back to it when I want to come back it. Necessarily, you can put your phone on the side, you can never… But for most people, when they get a phone call, they’re going to pick up the phone because in most cases the phone either vibrates or rings and it lights up. So you can’t help but pay attention. With a text or email, you can choose if you want to answer it or not.
Tara: Yeah, I’m looking at your website now and your phone number is very prominent. So I imagine you’re encouraging people to call you. And that makes a lot of sense. Do you find that the people who call you are good leads, they’re ready to be in the market to hire? Are they kind of – what do they call it? What do they call it when you’re checking the tires? What do they call it?
Ken: Kick the tires.
Tara: Kicking the tires.
Ken: I’ll tell you. It depends on who they are in kind of what they’re looking for. So we use our website not so much as a lead magnet, but more as a reinforcement of what we’ve already talked about prior to. So when a lot of people, we talk to them on a phone, you say, “Hey, we heard what you wanted, we’re interested in helping. Have you taken a look at our website?” In most cases, they have.
So we say, “Hey, take a look at our website. Let us know what you think. If you love what we do, which I’m pretty sure you will, just give us a call. We’d love to chat with you.” Or we’ll say, “Hey, we’ll shoot you an email with our questionnaire. You can fill out the questionnaire.” And hopefully, between those two items, they’ll follow back up with us.
And if they don’t follow back up, I give more week. I’ll come back in a week. “Hey, just wanted to see what’s going on. I know you’re busy, life is busy, so I want to make sure that you’re still interested in that website.” And then if they are, they’ll most likely finish the questionnaire. If not, then we might try another couple of weeks to say, “Hey, hope you didn’t forget about us. I know life is hard. We just want to make sure that you’re still interested in the website.” So it’s just kind of the repeat process of making sure that they’re still interested.
Tara: Yeah, yeah. It’s like the consummate sales process, making sure you follow up with those leads and all that. So sounds like it’s a good process that you have in place. Ken, I want to ask you about underrepresented in tech, which is how we found you. I know that’s a new initiative by Allie Nimmons and I think Michelle Frechette. I really love what they’re doing. And so I want to ask how you found out about that, and what it’s meant for you if you’ve heard from other people. Talk a little bit about that, if you would.
Ken: Yeah, absolutely. I want to say that Michelle and Allie actually reached out to me, which they’re awesome. I’ll just go ahead and give them…
Tara: Yes, they are.
Ken: I’ll give them as much kudos as possible. Haven’t chatted with them because I hadn’t been on Twitter as much. I’ve been on Clubhouse.
Tara: Oh, my gosh. Have you? Okay, I have that too but I haven’t gone down that rabbit hole yet.
Ken: Yeah, stay away from that rabbit hole because you can spend a ton of time on there. So make sure you put limits on that. But when I am on Twitter, I would reach out to them out again. And a lot of times, I’ll just reach out to them in messengers just to say, “Hey, how you doing? Just making sure you are good.” Checking in because I like to check in with everybody.
But they ended up reaching out to me and saying, “Hey, we have this new initiative, we want you to test it out and see how you like it because we want to help underrepresented communities to be recognized in spaces where we all feel we should be in.” Anyway, it should be equal in that aspect. So the big thing was, “Hey, test it out. Let us know what you think. Let us know if the workflow is good. Is it something that you would use? Of course, I said yes because it is something I’d use. But anytime, anything I could use to help, actually, for the betterment of an underrepresented community, I am willing to help as much as possible.
Liam: Yeah, we’re so glad that you did. We’re delighted that you’re here. Ken, you and I had chatted in advance of this call. And one of the challenges that we have with Hallway Chat because we don’t want it to just be the Tara and Liam friends show is we don’t know who we don’t know. And because the WordPress community is global as well as it is local, it’s tough, especially with no more WordCamps. We can’t meet you in the hallway at WordCamp Atlanta, at least not in the immediately foreseeable future.
That the kind of tool like underrepresented in tech affords podcast folks and other people who really do want to step outside of their own circles and engage with people who are hugely valuable in every sense of the word, it’s great. So we’re delighted that you were on there. We’re delighted to have found you and we’re so delighted to be spending time with you today.
Ken: Thank you. I appreciate it.
Tara: Yeah, it’s a great website. I was introduced to a lot of people that I hadn’t heard of and was happy to read about their skill set and what they’re doing and looking for. How do you know Allie and Michelle? Have you met them in person at WordCamp or just from online?
Ken: Most of the people I meet are online, which is really funny. And kind of is, you know, hindsight 2020. I regret it now. But I wish I would have went down to Miami in 2020. If I’d have known that would have been the last major WordCamp pre-pandemic, I would have been right there. I didn’t go into Greenville. And I’ve met a lot of people in Greenville doing the same thing.
What’s really funny for me is I do a lot of conversations in the hallway, which is exactly like I’ll go into sessions. But then I’m so excited to catch up with all of my peers or friends in the WordPress community. I think I’ll spend 75% of my time in the hallway talking with everybody who I haven’t seen in so long, just catching up making sure they’re good, to make sure they’re well. So I’ll love to introduce myself to people.
So when I see them online, I try to make sure, “Hey, when I see you, and hopefully, post-pandemic, two, three years, hopefully, that’s when we’ll be back together, but hopefully when I see them again, I can like, hey, a big hug. Maybe hopefully we can do a hug. We’ll see.
Tara: Yeah, I know. I know.
Liam: Ken, hallways and WordCamps are a great place to get advice. And I’m going to use that to segue into our second signature question. And it’s around advice. And it’s what advice have you been given or have you read or have you picked up from someone else and successfully implemented in your life? What’s the best bit of advice that you’ve heard or received and worked into your life?
Ken: Wow. I feel like it’s hard because I know sometimes they’ll say, especially in tech, that you should always be changing and you should always be kind of in a pivoting position where you’re always able to receive whatever or learn whatever because nothing stays constant. So always be in a place where you can always change.
But even for me recently, I think the one I’ve kind of picked up on more now is being empathetic and being compassionate. Always be because you never know when someone just needs a can word, or just needs an ear to listen to. So just sitting there, hearing what they’re saying. Sometimes, “I understand, I agree, I feel your pain.”
And really, that’s what customers want a lot of time because they don’t know what they want until you tell them what they want. So they have this big idea in their head but the idea hasn’t been conceptualized enough for them to understand, “Okay, this is how this will look.” And so they come to us with the idea of “okay, can you tell me what this big idea in my head is? And can you help express it to me?
So my job is to listen intently and hopefully, based on what they’re giving me… Because, you know, sometimes you can’t get in their heads. Their minds are always larger than what they’re saying. And so I’m trying to get as much out of them from their words so I can actually piece together what they need done. So I think compassion and empathy, just understanding what the issue is and kind of understand what their pain points are, figure out what they’re trying to really accomplish helps you to understand what the overall goal and what their real purpose is.
Tara: That’s good advice. I think it applies to so much these days. I think a lot of us don’t take the time to listen or think about where someone else is coming from. And it gets us in a lot of the troubles that we see happening around us today. So it applies to business as a client service company, and it applies to being a human being in the world. So I appreciate your sharing that on both levels. Thanks so much.
Liam: Yeah, I couldn’t agree with you more than an active commitment to empathy is… It’s never going to go wrong for you. You might not get what you want out of this relationship or that relationship, but that may just be because the other side of the equation. And giving people the time and trying to see their point of view, even if you don’t agree with it is I think always a worthwhile endeavor. I get that. Thank you for sharing that. I appreciate that.
Liam: Ken, we have just a few minutes left in our time together. It’s hard to believe that 30 minutes is almost gone. I wanted to ask you—you seem a very positive person and clearly you’re empathetic—what’s one really good thing that has come out of just COVID world for you? Obviously, maybe not unbalanced, you would want it in light of all the tragedy and toughness that’s happened. But what’s one good thing that’s happened for you either personally or professionally?
Ken: I think it goes back to, like I said, last year. I had my mind made up on so many things that I wanted to accomplish in 2020. It’s just like, “Yay, new decade, new year, we’re going to do so many amazing things in 2020.” And you’re so excited about it. But then you realize, when the pandemic actually hit, “Oh, my goodness. It wasn’t meant to be.”
So it gave me an opportunity to, as I mentioned earlier, rediscover what is really my purpose. What’s really the reason why I’m here? Why am I here? Who am I supposed to be serving? Who am I supposed to be taking care of? Who am I supposed to be helping to grow and build in their life so that…? Sometimes you know how we are, especially in social media. We always want to be in the limelight. We want to be first and we want to be seen, and we want to have a million followers. Oh, Whoop-de-doo for a million followers.
But how are you impacting those millions? I would rather impact 50, 100 people and have them really appreciate what I’m offering to them and doing for them as a service than to impact without a million people who don’t even know what I do on a day to day basis. I think that’s really important is to be in a position where you’ll always be of service to somebody. And I think that was the most important thing from the pandemic is to remember it’s not about me; it’s about how I’m helping those around me. I think that’s just super important.
Tara: That’s excellent. What an excellent wrap up to this conversation. Thank you for sharing that and inspiring others to take the same approach and the same view of the pandemic and of moving forward out of it, too. So thank you so much, Ken. It’s really been a pleasure to have you on Hallway Chats today. Thank you so much for joining us. Where can people find you online?
Ken: You can find me under my handle @Kennethspeaks on Twitter, Instagram. You can probably find me on Facebook as well and on LinkedIn if you want to follow me there. But I’m using Twitter more than any of them. That’s pretty much the big ones. We’ll see if Kenneth Speaks gets a website in the future. We’ll see. Not sure. I have a couple of website projects, personal brand projects that must be. So we’ll see what happens.
Tara: Great. Thanks again for joining us.
Ken: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
Liam: Thanks, Ken. What a pleasure.
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