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Ep. 21 — Michelle Frechette on keeping your team connected, underrepresentation in tech and much more

Digital Agency Owners Podcast
Digital Agency Owners Podcast
Ep. 21 — Michelle Frechette on keeping your team connected, underrepresentation in tech and much more

On our latest episode of the GoWP Digital Agency Owners Podcast, we welcome Michelle Frechette, Director of Communication Engagements of Stellar WP at Liquid Web. We talk about keeping your team connected beyond metrics, how the WordPress community has helped her overcome the feeling of isolation, how the tech agencies are addressing mental health issues, the underrepresented database, and much more. 

Read the transcript:

Morayo: [00:00:00] Welcome everyone to the digital agency owners podcast, where we chat about business, life, and inspirations with noticed members of the WordPress community. I’m Morayo Orija, GoWP’s Director of Creative Services, and at GoWP, we create happiness. Happiness for digital agencies, and we help them become more profitable. Everybody likes that. Whether it’s joining in our incredibly valuable weekly happiness hour calls, or if you’re looking to grow your team with a developer, copywriter, designer, or project manager, we’ve got you covered.

We also have services like case studies, website maintenance, content edits, or page builds that you can completely outsource to our team. But today, we have a wonderful guest for our conversation, whom I’m thrilled to introduce you to. We have Michelle Frechette. Michelle is the Director of Community Engagements.

I’m so excited, Michelle, that I can’t get all my words out.

Michelle: [00:01:05] It happens to me all the time.

Morayo: [00:01:08] Michelle has been called the busiest woman in WordPress by Matt Mullenweg. And when you finish hearing her introduction, you’re going to believe everything I’m saying. Currently, she’s the Director of Community Engagements, like I was saying, at Stellar WP at Liquid Web, but in addition to her work at Stellar WP, Michelle is the podcast barista at WordPress Coffee, talk WP Coffee, talk co-founder of underrepresentedintech.com and creator of WP career pages, president of the board of the organization, bigorangeheart.org. She’s the director of community relations and contributor at post status co-host of WP motivate podcast. She’s also an author, business coach, frequent organizer, and speaker on WordPress.

And we’re going to talk about that a little bit at WordPress events. Michelle lives in upstate Rochester, where she’s an avid nature photographer. You can learn more about Michelle at MeetMichelleOnline. I just chopped up your introduction, but…

Michelle: [00:02:15] It’s all good.

Morayo: [00:02:16] I want to smoothly and warmly welcome you, Michelle.

Michelle: [00:02:21] Thank you.

Morayo: [00:02:21] Thank you for joining me for this conversation. There’s so much that you do. I’ve known you for about two years now, and it never ceases to amaze me the amazing projects, and initiatives that you’re a part of. But I have to ask you, Michelle, were you born with it?

Was it Maybelline, or where does this zest for life, the energy to give to different organizations, different projects, where does it come from?

Michelle: [00:02:51] If I told you I was the shy child that stayed in the back, always reading a book, you probably wouldn’t believe me, but it’s true. When I got to high school, I was encouraged to audition for a play, and it was a children’s theater, so I didn’t feel like that put out by it, like that challenged by it. I auditioned for Pinocchio and the Fire Eater, and I got the role of Pinocchio. I had long hair at the time, so up in a hat, and I stepped onto that stage talking about being Pinocchio on my way to school for my first day and how a Geppetto had made me, and I was like, “Look at that, people are watching and listening to what I’m saying, and they’re not even my words,” but it helped me overcome that fear of getting involved and talking to people.

And after that, I was like, “Wow, if I could say other people’s words, maybe I can say my own words, and people will want to hear what I have to say.” And throughout my career, I have gained so much from other people. I’ve learned so much from other people. I’ve benefited so much from the kindness and generosity of others.

And I have come into a position where I am available and able to help others to, and I’ve always felt that if you have the ability to help other people, then you have the responsibility to do that as well. And I don’t want to go to my grave someday where people said, “Gosh, she could have helped so many people and didn’t.”

So I want to go to my grave someday with she did so much to help the community and help other people. And so I live my life every day. Every day is not sunshine and roses, but I live my life every day thinking, “What can I do to make at least one moment for somebody else a better moment? And if we all did that, can you imagine what a better world it would be?”

Morayo: [00:04:36] It would be a much, much better world. And I bet you that’s the fountain that you pull your energy from. I am a big proponent of arts and how they make individuals grow and recognize the gifts within themselves. And so I think it’s beautiful that you reference that you started to blossom and you found your voice in that Pinocchio performance.

Michelle: [00:04:59] Yeah.

Morayo: [00:05:00] With your pigtails pulled up.

Michelle: [00:05:03] Exactly.

Morayo: [00:05:04] And now look at you, girl.

Michelle: [00:05:07] I know purple hair out there for the world to see.

Morayo: [00:05:10] And you are in many places around the world, even with, WordPress and through your current position as the director of community engagement, I remember when you stepped into that role about a year and a half ago, but can you talk a little bit about what you do with stellar WP?

What your day-to-day goals are in that role?

Michelle: [00:05:34] Sure. So the whole idea is that Stellar isn’t just sales of plugins, right? So Stellar is the plugins and themes. So basically the software division of Liquid Web, we’re not the hosting division, but we work, we’re within a hosting company, and our goal, obviously. We are a business is to make money, but it’s also to serve our community.

And so what ways can we do that and not only provide good software and good opportunities for people to grow their businesses through what we sell, but also how can we help people move their businesses forward move their projects, and their initiatives forward in a generous kind of way? And paying somebody to interact with the community. Turns out that’s a good way to be able to do that.

So my day-to-day includes, managing Facebook groups and commenting on Facebook groups, running social media opportunities, speaking at events coming on podcasts, being able to talk about Some of the things that we do there and just showing that we have just this whole amazing team of people who are creative and generous also, and how they interact with the community.

So yes, I am definitely a very public person. I’m on a lot of podcasts. I’m speaking at events, but I’m also the person that says to other people in the team Ooh, you should apply to speak at this event or, Ooh, you should get. Submit your story to HeroPress because I think that people want to know more about you.

And so what you don’t see about somebody who’s public like me is the encouragement of the rest of the team to get involved and do those things also.

Morayo: [00:07:02] And how large is your team at Stellar WP? Not Liquid Web.

Michelle: [00:07:06] Oh my gosh,

Morayo: [00:07:06] That’s massive. But

Michelle: [00:07:08] LiquidWeb has I think over 700 in place. Stellar, I think we’re about 230 right now, so somewhere around there. And that includes all of our developers, our marketing people, our affiliate teams, and everybody in between who’s working within all of our different projects. And one of the things I curate is a monthly newsletter, which is just internal to remind people who everybody else is, and some of the good work that we’re doing, especially working remotely like most of us do in our industry.

It’s very difficult to have those water cooler moments, if you will, right? Let, oh let’s just have a cup of coffee, right? You have to schedule that. You can’t just stop by somebody’s desk when I’m in New York and they’re in California, for example. So you have to be intentional. About how you share information and intentional about how you connect and without somebody there to remind you that we are an internal community and that we should have these opportunities to meet and these newsletters to share those, the good news that’s happening.

Those are the things that get lost and the details that get lost. And then you aren’t as philanthropic and you aren’t as out in the community because you’re not as connected to one another as you might be otherwise. Slack is wonderful. We communicate well that way, but it doesn’t necessarily build a community without somebody saying, Hey, let’s have a community.

And let’s, these are the things that we need to be talking about and the ways that we can celebrate one another.

Morayo: [00:08:26] And that community engagement position that you hold, is it just you, or do you have a team to assist you?

Michelle: [00:08:34] It’s just me. I am on the marketing team. So I do more than just the community aspect of it. So oftentimes I might write a blog post. I might set up events for people. I do the PR. If you’ve seen a press release come out from Steller, I probably wrote it or at least Sent it out to people.

Those kinds of things that I get to do that are not necessarily out in the public but are still part of the marketing team. And so I get to do all those kinds of things too. Our marketing team is big, but I’m the only person that actually does that community section of it. I’m not the person setting up events.

So when we’re sponsoring a WordCamp, I might go and be the person at the table, but somebody else is actually orchestrating all of that. So it’s definitely teamwork, I’m lucky that I get to be the person that’s the face of that in a lot of respects. But I just, yeah, I just adore it.

I like our team and I like being able to say I work for a team. That’s pretty awesome. And with some amazing people, incredibly talented people.

Morayo: [00:09:26] And so many things that you said about connecting to your team members, especially that so many teams are now remote and its impact on the company’s philanthropy, I guess happiness of the employees, and also, having a marketing team and having an individual like you to implement that is great to have, but do you have any ideas or thoughts to share with smaller agencies and businesses who also value the same things that Stellar or Liquid Web do value? They just don’t have the human resources.

What ways might they incorporate those same values even more?

Michelle: [00:10:15] Whether you’re using, I think it’s Microsoft Teams or you’re using Slack or whatever your communication tool is for within your organization, create a Slack room or channel or I don’t know what the other ones use, but a channel that’s just for goofing off. You’re not going to call it the Goothing Off Channel. We call it the Water Cooler.

So we have the Stellar Water Cooler. Don’t leave it something generic like general or something really boring like that. Make sure that people understand this is where they can go to share a fun meme. This is where they could say, hey, we, my first grandbaby was just born, or we got a new dog, or Look at my new car, or Hey, I built this really cool Lego, right?

Like we have the ability to share just the silly things. But they’re not silly because that’s what makes us humans. Those are the things that connect us as human beings, one to the other. To say, I got a new dog, I wish I have cats. But anyway, even just post a picture of my cat in there and say, look how silly she is, and she’s 19 pounds laying on the floor on her back with all four feet up saying, pet my butt, pet my tummy. It seems silly, but that’s those are the human things that we are. It’s not about marketing at that point. It’s not about software. It’s not about a bug or somebody replying with weirdness on Twitter or whatever it is, right?

 At that point, it’s about we’re a team of people and we connect with one another and we have human experiences that we can share with one another that would happen if we were all in the same office. Because you’d see my bulletin board with my travel pictures and my cats and everything else but we don’t have that same experience because we don’t have virtual bulletin boards in our workspaces, right?

But we can have that opportunity to create that common break room type feeling in an async way, if we use the tools that we have to encourage that, do I want somebody in our team to be posting in there all day, every day? Of course not, but you wouldn’t sit in the break room all day, every day either.

So it’s just the opportunity to like, do a drive-by. Hey, everybody look at my new, whatever check out my cat or my dog or whatever, and be able to just be people with one another.

Morayo: [00:12:15] And what I really like about that is the human side of what you said, but also it gives humans an opportunity to be seen by other humans, especially because we are so distributed now and we know from studies and we know from the existence of an organization like Big Orange Heart, which we’ll dive into in just a little bit that this disconnection that we are experiencing around the world right now, it’s having serious quantifiable effects on mental health, loneliness, and so finding ways to keep a team feeling connected beyond metrics that you’re measuring for the company, I think is very valuable. I think that’s something that you’ve mastered.

Michelle: [00:13:02] I try, but it’s not something that you accomplish and walk away from, right? It’s a continual process. And you continue to raise your goal to make sure that people are continually engaged, and it’s not just I did that check off the list, right? Yeah.

Morayo: [00:13:14] And that would feel disingenuous, to some people.

Michelle: [00:13:17] Absolutely. Think of it as a garden, right? Like we tend our gardens because we want things to grow. We have to encourage relationships with our people the same way, our teams.

Morayo: [00:13:28] Never true a word spoken, Michelle. Thinking about the words that you’ve spoken, I know that you recently returned from Thailand. You were one of the speakers that WordCamp Asia. Do you want to address that and talk about your experiences there?

Michelle: [00:13:43] Yeah. So plane trips aside because those are brutal to fly across the world. My experiences at WordCamp Asia were far exceeded my expectations. I didn’t know how wonderful it could be. I expected good things and my mind was just blown. The team that organized WordCamp Asia was just top. They thought of everything. It was the most physically accessible event that I’ve ever attended. There wasn’t anything I couldn’t access with my mobility issues. Everything was just truly phenomenal, and the attendees, everybody, it was amazing.

And if you have the opportunity to go to WordCamp, any WordCamp, take it, because those opportunities, those experiences are, and connecting with like-minded people. I was married for 13 years and that person that I was married to was not a WordPress person. They consider themselves a tech person, but they were in no way tangentially even to what the WordPress community is and I would come home and be able to talk about what happens in WordPress.

And it’s like hearing somebody, let’s say he was an insurance and I’d be like listening to him sell another insurance policy, I’m sure it was boring to him. And we couldn’t bond over my work experiences but you get to go to a WordCamp and those kinds of things. And people are speaking your language, right?

Like they get excited for you about the things that you’re doing, and they get excited to meet new people. I get excited to meet new people. I love making WordPress friends around the world. And finally being able to meet some of the people that I’ve been online friends with for years, but never had to have the opportunity to be in the same physical space was just like, I cried more than once happy tears when I was there because it was such an amazing experience.

Morayo: [00:15:21] Oh, wow. Wow. Who doesn’t want to go to an event now after hearing that?

Michelle: [00:15:26] I hope they do. I think one of the things when you think about attending your first WordCamp, whether it’s a local camp of 120 people or WordCamp Asia of 2,000 people, it’s easy to think, I don’t, I won’t fit in, I won’t belong, nobody knows me. I’m just going to be like in my own little bubble all day. And it’s easy to discourage yourself from attending those kinds of events. I’m here to tell you that there are people who will say, Oh, what do you do with WordPress and engage you in conversations. The only way that you will be in your own bubble all day is if you force yourself to stay in your own bubble all day. Because this community is the kind of community that wants to engage with you.

Sit at a table by yourself at lunch and within five minutes, you are not sitting at a table by yourself. Everybody else is going, Oh, can I sit here? I purposely do that. I know so many people, I could go to any WordCamp and sit with friends. I don’t need to sit with friends. I see those people all the time, whether online or whatever.

I go to WordCamps to meet new people. And so I will sit at a table with people I don’t know and get to know people. And there are other people like me that will do that so that you don’t have to put yourself in an uncomfortable situation and you will still be involved in the community.

Morayo: [00:16:33] And how many WordCamp events have you attended, would you say?

Michelle: [00:16:38] I’m looking at my badges. I’m going to guess probably if we include the online events of over the pandemic, probably close to 60-word camps I’ve been to and spoken like more than 40 times. So I have a lot of experience and I know that people think that there’s this like WordPress celebrity status that some people have. Oh, Michelle’s everywhere. She must be unapproachable. No, I am not. DM me on Twitter. My DMs are open. I respond to them. Come up to me at WordCamp, and say, can I tag along with you all day? And I’ll be like, yeah you carry my bag. Okay, I won’t really do that because I have a backpack and I know how to use it.

But the truth is I want to make new friends and others are too. And there are definitely people who are more introverted, even if they are big names in the community and may not be as out there as I am and looking to make new friends, even they want to be your friend if you will approach them.

Find your comfort zone and reach out to the people that you know will be warm and welcoming to you. And I promise you that you will have a foothold in the community.

Morayo: [00:17:37] You heard it here from Michelle and I have to say kudos to the WordCamp Asia organizers. You said that you didn’t feel that you had a difficult time getting around. Kudos to them, because, I think it was Beth Hannon that I was talking to about accessibility. I’m so sensitive to it after seeing family members and colleagues who do have challenges of various degrees physically.

And, them as human beings being treated like an afterthought in public spaces or in jobs or in things like that. So kudos to the organizers for making it a warm and welcoming experience for everyone.

Michelle: [00:18:19] Absolutely.

Morayo: [00:18:21] Speaking on along those same lines, I know that you spoke about mental health. Do you want to do this?

 This is a topic that you know a lot about as the president of Big Orange Heart with which, if you’re listening to this episode and aren’t familiar with Big Orange Heart Michelle and I both encourage you to go over to bigorangeheart.o rg and find out more about it. You can talk about Big Orange Heart or talk about specifically, what you addressed at WordCamp.

Michelle: [00:18:51] Yeah. So I talked a little bit about how our community can help reduce some of the anxiety that happens for us, especially having, if you work alone and work remotely like a lot of people in the WordPress community do. One of the things that Big Word Chart does is our goal is to reduce the feelings of isolation that happen with remote work.

And I talked about that when I talked at WordCamp Asia one of the things that’s happened to me, and this is one of my favorite WordPress stories if I can go ahead and share it with you, is I was leaving a bad marriage and I, as somebody with physical disabilities, did not know how I was going to move my belongings from our marital home to my new apartment.

And I was out of town for a WordCamp, and I just posted on Facebook that I’m moving on July 25th. If anybody has the ability to help me move, bring your car, bring your muscles to my house at 5 p. m. on the 25th, I could use all the help I can get. And I didn’t know who was going to be there and who wasn’t.

So yeah, definitely some people messaged me for the address and things like that. But 18 people that day showed up to help me move three of them were people I had gone to high school with and hadn’t seen in years. One of them was my brother and all the rest were from our local WordPress meetup.

Morayo: [00:20:15] Oh, wow.

Michelle: [00:20:16] Amazing.

Amazing. And when I, when they moved me into my new apartment, two of the women from the WordPress community I had ordered pizza. Of course, you have to order pizza for the friends that move you. I ordered pizza and beverages and I said, Oh, I don’t have any plates. And so they said we’ll run over to the local store.

They went over to the store. I tried to give them money. They wouldn’t take the money. They came back with plates, napkins and cups and towels because they saw that I didn’t have any towels unpacked yet and sheets for my new bed because I didn’t have a bed that size before and before everybody left that day, I had a bed I could sleep in and ability to take a shower in the morning because I had towels and sheets on my bed.

That is what our community is about. It’s not just about, oh, you have a problem with your website, I can help you with that. Or I know people who can help you with that. But it’s actually showing up and being there for each other and I get teary when I think about it.

But I talk about that when I talk about who our community is and how The WordPress community has helped me overcome those feelings of isolation, overcome those feelings of imposter syndrome, overcome those feelings of not belonging. Because you look at me and don’t think that I could ever have those dealings because I do so much in the community.

But I didn’t start where I am like I started in the same place that a lot of people do and not having those connections and building those relationships over time. It’s not Hey, look what I got the WordPress community to do for me. They made me like, no, it’s not that at all. It’s that there’s a community here who support each other in more ways than just code.

Morayo: [00:21:47] And behind every job title is a human being, but, and that’s, Every time I talk to you, it’s, that was a beautiful story, by the way, I don’t think I ever knew that about your experience, but I feel like every time I do talk to you, you make me feel, a little bit better every time about society, about human relationships, because I gotta tell you, reading the daily headlines doesn’t make me feel that way. Kind of, you lose hope fast and you are constantly a reminder, intentionally or not, about what we all are capable of.

It’s funny, the next question I was going to ask you was, how would you grade the tech community’s acknowledgment and approach to mental health? You answered it. At least in the WordPress corner, that story was pretty, Indicative of the WordPress community. How would you grade the tech community at large? Are agency businesses getting better at addressing their employees’ needs or contractors’ needs?

Michelle: [00:22:53] I think overall, yes. I think the bottom line is that companies do need to make a profit in order to pay your salary. And if you peace out for a great, like three, four months, which has happened, they can only do so much. to keep you. So there, there are breaking points to this and there are limitations.

But the vast majority and I’m not saying that because of any specific incident. I just am saying, generally speaking, we can’t expect that every employer can do absolutely everything to help you. However, I will say that the vast majority of employers I have had the opportunity to talk to about Big Orange Heart do have safe spaces available within their corporation, whether it’s through HR, whether it’s through other supervisors. So if you’re not comfortable talking to your supervisor, you can talk to somebody else about mental health issues or issues within your company that are affecting you and being able to avail of the resources that are out there for mental health situations.

One thing that I will mention too is mental health first aid is absolutely something that everybody, every company should have somebody within their organization that is a mental health first aider, that is a safe person for people to be able to go to. And Recently I took a course and I can, I’ll provide you the details so you can put them in the show notes if you’d like because I don’t remember it off the top of my head, but there’s a free mental health first aid course available online here in the United States.

 I’m fairly sure it extends beyond our borders, but it doesn’t cost you anything to be able to get that mental health first aid or certification so that you can be, or somebody within your organization can be a resource, recognize when somebody is struggling with their mental health and help them get to the resources that they need to be able to be here another day.

Morayo: [00:24:35] In addition to Big Orange Heart I work with a mental health America, Illinois, and the board members over there are always promoting well, some board members are always promoting getting mental health first, getting certified to deliver that support. And I’ve heard it. I’ve heard you talk about it and I’ve never gotten certified, but I am going to commit on this podcast that I’m going to do it.

Michelle: [00:25:00] Good.

Morayo: [00:25:00] You’ve inspired me to finally do it.

Michelle: [00:25:03] It’s eight hours. So it’s time that you could be doing other things and it was broken down. The course I took is broken down over to Saturday mornings. And I’m not a morning person so but I had to get up earlier than usual. But you could take the course, it was through Zoom.

I could turn my camera off if I felt self-conscious, and I will tell you that I listen better when my hands are busy so I use the Big Orange Heart coloring book that we created for mental health and I colored several pages through that course that I could focus better and pay attention and not be distracted by all those other things that can distract you.

And so it’s well worth it. Like I said, when I took it, it was a free course offered online because mental health matters, and the people in your life matter.

Morayo: [00:25:46] Absolutely. And Michelle was saying earlier that she is a big encourager of others, and that’s certainly true. I joined GoWP about two and a half years ago. And just very quickly, my background, I didn’t know anything about WordPress. In fact, when Brad Morrison asked me to join GoWP, I can’t remember the actress’s name, but Butterfly something, but I told him, I don’t know anything about computers, Brad

Michelle: [00:26:17] Butterfly McQueen.

Morayo: [00:26:19] McQueen.

That’s right. I don’t know anything about computers because I have a nonprofit arts background. And but when I did take him up on his offer and joined the company. I was surprised at how warm the community was. And Michelle was one of the individuals who I met pretty early on. And I don’t remember how much longer, a few months, maybe a year into my role at GoWP, I get an email from her, or I think you were trying, you sent a different couple of different emails to me or to Emily at GoWP.

Michelle: [00:26:56] You’re not easy to find at first, but I tracked you down.

Morayo: [00:27:02] And she told me about a great opportunity to get involved with Big Orange Heart and to join their board. I had turned a certain age and wanted to get more involved with the community, and she told me about this community. I didn’t think I had anything to contribute, but I think the desire to tell others about mental health is very important to mental health at Big Orange Hearts. A couple of the things that I really value, of course, are the word fest activities, but probably even more than word fest. I think the life groups. I think that’s really awesome. Do you, as president of Big Orange Heart, what, as you look back over the years of your involvement,t what events, what services do you value the most personally?

Michelle: [00:27:49] For me, I would say, and things are morphing and changing as we’re coming out of that pandemic mindset, but for me, it was the first WordFest that we offered. And Being a global organization like Big Orange Heart, we are now centered in the United States. That is where our business operates, but we are a global organization and we wanted to create an online event that could meet people in whatever time zone was their work time or their They’re on time.

And so we created a 24-hour event with 24 hours of speakers, two tracks with interviews, and sessions about WordPress, and about mental health, and interviewing people in the community. And I’ll tell you, it felt being part of, Oh, it was being part of something big and being part of something bigger than you could imagine.

And it filled a need during, 2020, when we were deep into pandemic and lockdown and scared, like we were all scared about what’s happening with our world. Can I even walk outside? I remember during lockdown needing to get out of my one-bedroom apartment because I was going cabin fever stir crazy.

And I got out and I got in my car with my cameras and I drove to a local, it’s about an hour and a half away wildlife refuge where I love to take wildlife pictures, and I felt like I was doing something illegal by not being in my apartment.

Morayo: [00:29:17] You were.

Michelle: [00:29:18] I wasn’t with other people. I was definitely more than six feet away from anybody.

It wasn’t illegal to travel by yourself in your vehicle, but it felt like it was right because we were locked down and it’s just like it felt like a post apocalyptic like those movies that we watch. I was like the Hunger Games Katniss is coming out to take me down right. But having an event that was online, not only where there sessions and things that people could avail themselves of, but also these really amazing networking rooms where people could get on a Zoom call.

It wasn’t work-related. They weren’t necessarily people you knew, but there was probably somebody that you knew in the room and just be able to laugh and spend time with one another in a way that was open and embracing, and safe. I think that for me was one of those quintessential moments and quintessential events that allowed me to feel like I was really part of something bigger.

Morayo: [00:30:14] And it was, I think it was a very amazing event and I give you complete adoration for stepping forward and I cannot imagine what goes into, I know that there were a hundred, I don’t know the exact number, but hundreds of volunteers that helped pull it off but…

Michelle: [00:30:34] It was Herculean, and really, I have to give so much credit to Dan Mabee, who is the director at Big Orange Heart, because he pulled off all the tech that went behind it and together we rallied all the volunteers and co-organizers that we needed to make that event happen. And we have a Discord channel that’s open throughout the entire event for the volunteers and the organizers, and it felt like being backstage at the Oscars because, yeah.

 You press the button that puts you live and you’re like, I need somebody on camera one. It was, that’s how it felt. It’s by the way, I heard, just silly little things that also helped us bond as the Big Orange Heart group. And yeah, it was just, it was phenomenal.

I think if there are things that are listed in my obituary someday I’m not fatalistic but I think about what do you show with your life while you’re here. I don’t believe in bucket list I do believe in living lists and I the things that I want to do I’m vibrant and alive in this world.

And at the end of the day, when I lay my head down on the pillow, what have I contributed to that other people will be like, that was an amazing event. They don’t have to know that I was part of it, but did it inspire? Did it reach them? Did it help them? And that’s what’s important.

Morayo: [00:31:43] So I hope if you’re listening, you see why I feel better about the human race after talking to Michelle Frechette. Just listen to the woman.

Michelle: [00:31:52] You’re too kind.

Morayo: [00:31:53] No, I’m serious. You’re just an amazing human being. You’re an amazing human being because there are still some ills and shortcomings in our society.

And I will talk about some next. You and Allie Nimmins, you started an initiative and podcast to address underrepresentation in the tech field. Tell us a little more about that for those who aren’t familiar with it.

Michelle: [00:32:20] So Allie and I separately were constantly being approached by people who wanted to make their events more diverse. And so they would, people would come to me and say, we’ve only had white people apply to speak at this WordCamp. Do you know any Black people we could ask? I’m like, okay, first of all, rude.

I just need a brown face in my stage. That’s the wrong reason to approach diversity. The right end results, but the reason. So Ali and I started talking to each other about; should we create a spreadsheet that she and I could reference to people that we knew who are underrepresented who we knew spoke in the community.

And we literally started that and like a week into Oh, should we add this person? We add that person. We thought, why are we, it felt like gatekeeping, right? So we were creating a resource, but it wasn’t really making available every single underrepresented person that wanted to be approached to speak at an event or find a job or be on a podcast, et cetera.

It was only the people that we could think of that we knew. And the world is bigger than the people that Allie and I know and think of. And so we started to think about creating a database that people could opt into. And underrepresentedintech.com became that database. And there are almost 200, I think there are 200 people in that database right now, who are interested in being on your podcast, writing for your blog, speaking at your event, or looking for a full-time or part-time job.

And they are underrepresented folks. Now there will be white men that you will see in that database and you think, what’s a white guy doing in the database? But you don’t know if they’re disabled. You don’t know if they’re part of the LGBTQ community or neurodivergent. There are lots of reasons that somebody could be underrepresented.

And every person that’s in that database, we have vetted them. You will never see, unless you see a photo and I see a brown face and figure, oh, that’s why they’re underrepresented. You don’t know what their underrepresented status is because we don’t broadcast that. That’s your business. We just want to make sure that everybody we allow into the database has been vetted as somebody who is part of an underrepresented group.

And so if you find somebody on there and you want them to speak at your event, by all means, know that they come from an underrepresented background.

Morayo: [00:34:27] But you know what? And that’s really awesome. And I love that you don’t label the underrepresented, underrepresented, that’s a hard word to say.

Speaking as a black woman Nothing sucks more than going to an event or being invited to sit at a table and being asked to only speak on black-related issues.

I’m like whoa. I’m so much more than that. And honestly, I don’t think about my blackness day in, day out. I’m sorry that you do.

Michelle: [00:34:56] You don’t?

Morayo: [00:34:57] I’m like, actually I set my timer to remind myself every day. Hey girl, you’re black. And it goes

Michelle: [00:35:03] Oh. For her. Yeah.

Morayo: [00:35:04] Ding ding, black time, but it’s true actually to this is I was joking with Michelle before we started recording how we can get the same generational references.

I’m going to pull one out now, a gen X reference. There was an episode of The Cosby show many moons ago, young people when Claire Huxtable was known and beloved by all. Who’s on the show? She’s a very successful lawyer. If you don’t know the Cosby show, shame on you. But I remember clearly an episode where she was invited to speak on a panel probably similar to the McLaughlin hour in the eighties and the men just kept her at arm’s distance the whole entire time, and then at the end of the show, they turned to her to ask her the one pointed question about the black community, and she and Claire Huxtable Fashion put them in their place, educated them and the viewers, and I always think of that moment when tokenism, I guess is invoked.

So you and Allie, you have created this resource and you have a podcast where you address very thought provoking conversation starting topics. What do you and Allie both, what do you consider ultimately to be a success for this project? What does it look like for you?

Michelle: [00:36:30] So our tagline is what our success goal is, which is representation without tokenization. So we want to see underrepresented folks on boards. We want to see underrepresented folks creating podcasts and guesting on podcasts. We want to see underrepresented folks on stages at events speaking about their There’s their area of specialization.

I don’t want to see a black man on stage talking about what it’s like to be black in WordPress. I want to see a black man on stage and WordPress talking about the code that he created and the marketing initiatives that he does, whatever it is, that is his area of expertise. Can I be an expert on being a white person because I was born in white skin?

That’s the same thing as saying to somebody, Oh, we want you to talk because you’re a black person and you’re an expert on blackness. That just doesn’t make sense, right? Yes, there are people who have studied and are PhDs in underrepresented communities. Those are the people that should be asked to speak on those topics, not Claire Huxwell because she’s Black.

She should be asked to speak on law because she’s a lawyer. And that’s the whole idea. So what we want to see is we want to see inclusion. We want to see it. So there’s an acronym DEIB, right? It stands for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. And sometimes people forget about that B part of DEIB.

It’s not enough to just be diverse, that you’ve hired underrepresented folks and you can point to them and say, look, we have a person in a wheelchair. Look, that woman is, 85 years old, whatever. It’s not enough to say we have an Asian guy that works downstairs. Like you can’t just say those things and be truly an organization that values inclusion.

So inclusion is absolute. What I say is the minimal part of it, right? So we’re actually inviting people because of their qualifications but in respect to the fact that they also have different backgrounds, different experiences and what I talked to WordCamp Phoenix a few weeks ago about this, about belonging and WordPress. In the 50s, 60s, and 70s, do you know who they tried to sell vacuum cleaners to? Because it wasn’t women, it was men. They tried to sell vacuum cleaners as the romantic gift you should buy your wife to put under the Christmas tree or put a bow on for Valentine’s Day.

You cannot get women to buy vacuum cleaners if you market them to men, you have to have women on that marketing team that says you want to sell a vacuum cleaner. Show me how good it picks up the cereal that the kids ground into the carpet. Show me how it picks up the kitty litter that the cat couldn’t manage to keep in the litter box. Those are the kinds of things.

And so bringing those life experiences, if you want to sell to more than the people that look and act and feel like you, you need to include people that don’t look and act, and feel like you. And so your marketing needs to reflect that your products need to reflect that and your sales are going to go up if you are more inclusive and that’s where the belonging part comes.

It’s not just enough to have people on your team. You can point to the need to have equity in there and then have that feeling of belonging. They need to have the buy-in and understand that they’re there to actually contribute, not just to look good and not just to help you fulfill a quota. And so when you have the whole DEIB together, you have created an organization that can really move forward in a way you never could have imagined before, because now you have the ability to hear from people who come from different walks of life, different experiences.

I know. From my black friends that their black grandmothers are way different than my Swedish white grandmother was right and so they have different backgrounds and different upbringings and different family-oriented values and we all have good family values I’m not saying we don’t but they’re different, we have experiences that lead us to different paths, and you have to be able to include all of those to have a truly rich environment that can thrive for everybody.

Morayo: [00:40:22] No lies detected. That’s for sure. I love that. And I wish, and I hope after listening to this podcast, that more people who hear what Michelle was saying, will have courage to have conversations, in an organic, authentic way to explore the differences that you might have from the people who want to join your team, who you want to invite to have conversations, who you want to help belong to help feel belonged.

I was going to go somewhere with this, but I totally lost.

Michelle: [00:40:59] Let me jump in then. I’m gonna rescue you. We need to do more than that. We need to create safe spaces for people too. So right now there is Black Press. So if you are somebody with a black or brown face, you can go to blackpress.com. You can join that group. There’s a special Slack where you as a black person or an ally.

So I’m in blackpress.com and though I’m the whitest girl I know because I’m an ally and I want to bring opportunities and share opportunities with peopled there. At the end of my talk in Phoenix several people came up to me independent of one another and said, Is there a safe place for the LGBTQ community in WordPress?

And while I’m sure that there are back channels where some people are connecting with others, there was no openly safe space. And so we are now creating lgbtqpress.com. And we have created a Slack channel for the LGBTQ community so that there is a safe space. Big Orange Heart is a safe space for mental health and mental health issues and things that we deal with there.

Black Press is a safe space for black and brown folks and not just African American because we know that it’s not all about America, and creating safe spaces for people. So if you are in an underserved group and you don’t feel that there’s a safe space for you and you don’t have the ability or the confidence to create that yourself, reach out to other people. Reach out to people like me and Allie and we’ll hook you up with people who I know can help you do that too, because the goal is to create safety in WordPress, and safety allows people to then move forward into that belonging as well.

Morayo: [00:42:26] Awesome. Awesome. And we can include those in the show notes and I’ll include that at the end of our podcast. Thank you so much, Michelle, for sharing them.

Michelle: [00:42:36] Of course.

Morayo: [00:42:37] And in addition to the superwoman role that Michelle plays in the world and in the WordPress community, she’s also an author, and she has a book, A Good Firm Handshake.

In the book, I don’t want you to give away your book, but I want the listeners to.

Michelle: [00:42:58] It’s ok. It is on Amazon.

Morayo: [00:43:02] You can go to Amazon and find that and listeners can purchase it. But in the book, you teach the reader how to make small steps that lead to big changes in their business. What you just said about D E I B is certainly a small step that can lead to big changes for businesses. But one of the other things that you say is every client isn’t right for you.

And you teach how to qualify them. And I want to talk about that for a moment and how that fits into the particular American idea that you must say yes to everything, every opportunity, especially if you’re freelancing, especially if you’re just starting out. And so can you talk about that? And when a yes to a client is really a bad yes.

Michelle: [00:43:50] Absolutely. So when I freelanced for five years before I joined GiveWP and then now StellerWP, and I at first took every client that came my way because I’m like, I gotta pay the bills. I gotta take every client. And I soon realized that Every client is not a good fit, and every client is not the right client for you, and every client is not going to make you money because the client that you give a discount to is going to be the one that demands the most of your time and the client who demands the most of your time means that whatever you’re charging them, your hourly rate for that person is going down down, right?

So if you, let’s say take pity on a small business and only charge them a thousand dollars. For a five-page website, and it takes you 50 hours, you’ve reached a minimal amount of money per hour. If that now becomes handholding and a million changes and whatever, now you’re down to pennies and nobody can afford to work for pennies an hour.

So that thinking that you needed to take that thousand dollars to keep the lights on actually stops you from being able to do work that you could have and made more money from other people. So you need to be able to qualify based on price. I had two people. This is in the book. I had two people call me on the exact same day, which was super interesting.

One person called me in the morning and she had been referred to me by somebody else in our local community. Because they knew I built websites and I’m in the car and I’m on speakerphone. And she’s asking me how much do you charge for the website. And I said it really depends on what your needs are, right?

There’s a five-page website. There’s a 50-page website. I can’t charge the same thing for both. And she’s I needed to have this like basically a five-page website. And this was several years ago, and I said to her my base fee for what you’re looking for called a brochure website is 2,000 Dollars.

And she said, Oh, wow, you must be really good at what you do, but I just can’t afford that right now. And so I gave her some ideas of how she could go to non-WordPress and be able to do things herself, like perhaps with Wix or something, and create something that would make do for what she needed at the moment.

And she thanked me and she said, if I ever can afford you, I’m coming back. And I thought, did I get a client? No. And that’s okay, right? She couldn’t afford me. I didn’t want to work for less. I didn’t say, oh could you afford a thousand? Because now I know that’s going to get scope creep and all that things. That, and I felt bad that I couldn’t help her, but I also felt really good that I maintained my own boundaries.

That afternoon. So we’re talking like literally four hours later, I get a phone call. Somebody in the local chamber of commerce had recommended me to this fellow. And he was in a band and he was using language. That is my, what I call disqualifying language. I just need a website that only has, as soon as people start using language, that’s just an only, they are going to try to get you to the lowest price possible. Because that’s their mindset. They have a scarcity mindset. And so I just need a site that only has a few pages.

And I said what are those pages? We need a home page. And we need a page where people can contact us. It’s only two pages. I said do you need an about us page? So you talk about who the band is and the members. Yeah, we need that too. I said do you need a gigs page so people can find you in places?

Yeah, we need that too. I said, okay, so now we’re up to four pages. And do you want each member of the band to have a separate page so they can actually talk about who they are? Yeah. I said, okay, now we’re up to nine pages. He says how much would you charge? What’s your base fee? And I said it really depends on what we’re looking at.

Do they need to be able to book you, etc., through the page? He says, what’s the bottom line? He’s getting irritated with me. I said I said, okay, I’ll tell you my minimum is 2, 000. He let out expletives. He was like, Jesus effing, who do you think you are to charge that kind of money?

And I said, apparently too good for you. And I hung up the phone. Those were two clients and I didn’t get either one of them. And I felt good about both of them. Because I set boundaries that allowed me to qualify the clients that I would work with. Now, other things that have to do with qualifying clients, if somebody had come to me and said, I really want to build this gambling website or this porno website, I’d be like, I am so not your girl for those things.

That’s not my niche and not something I can put my excitement behind. And I have nothing against sex work. I have nothing against like all of that sex workers are fine. I’m not making a moral judgment, but that’s not something that was my niche for sure. And if those people had approached me, one, I did have a gambling site asked me to set up.

I’m like, I can’t do that. I don’t know how, I wouldn’t even know how much to charge you and it would be a huge learning curve. You have to know where your boundaries are. What are the niches you’re willing to work with? What are the niches you’re not willing to work with?

What are the people you’re willing to work with and how much are you willing to compromise to work with them? And then make the decision as to whether or not that customer is right for you.

Morayo: [00:48:32] Okay. That is the strong answer to that question. I’d never heard those stories from you before either. And the guy who from the chamber, what a jerk. And just imagine if you had said, yeah, it was, he was cursing you out in the first conversation. Just imagine how bad that relationship would have been.

Michelle: [00:48:51] Oh, it would have been awful.

Morayo: [00:48:53] I’m sure his brand sucked too.

Michelle: [00:48:54] I’m sure

Morayo: [00:48:55] Couldn’t have been better.

Michelle: [00:48:56] It was probably like a Nickelback cover band or something.

Morayo: [00:49:00] Oh, no. It’s hard. Nickelback gets no love.

Michelle: [00:49:05] I did that as a joke. I couldn’t even tell you one of their songs. I don’t even know.

Morayo: [00:49:11] I will not hold that against you. Trust me.

Michelle: [00:49:14] Okay.

Morayo: [00:49:15] Looking forward, Michelle to 2023. I had to check myself. Is that the right year? It’s moving so fast. I’m like, are we still in 2023? But by December of this year, when you reflect on what will make this year successful for you, you’ve got so many positive initiatives going on, projects at the end of the year.

How can you sit back and say, Michelle, good job? I know you won’t sit back.

Michelle: [00:49:50] You don’t know for sure, but if I lay my head down on the pillow every night and know that I’ve done the best that I can for the people in my life at the end of that day, then that’s been a successful day. And if I can say that there are at least 340 days, let’s say out of 365 that was true, then that will have been a successful year.

On top of that, I do have a few initiatives that I’m working on, other than the LGBTQ press. Which I’m actually taking a step back from letting the community do their thing. So I don’t need to be involved in their community. If I could just get them started, that’s great. But I have two initiatives that I’m working on that I only leaked the first one last night on another podcast.

So you’ll be the second to know is I am going to be creating wpspeakers.com because so many WordPress events don’t know how to find the people that they want. So especially meetups. And WordCamps, looking for people who can speak on that. And Underrepresented in Tech fills that, but only for the underrepresented groups.

So if there are more people that you want to be able to tap into, who want to make themselves available to speak at your event, they’ll be able to register themselves at wpspeakers.com. Don’t go there yet. It doesn’t exist yet, but it will within the next two weeks. And so getting people into that and having that be a healthy environment for people to be able to make their meetups and their work camp successful will be absolutely a success for me.

And then the other thing is there’s a woman in my hometown. I think she’s two decades older than me. She has fought cancer four times. She is currently finally back in remission. One of our goals last year was to create a journal and a calendar together with my photography and her gratitude. And so we have put that on for this year.

So by September, we want to have those things created so people can purchase a 2024 calendar with her words, my photography, and then also a journal to be able to have all of those things in it also but a place to journal your gratitude. And so we want those to be able to be purchased as gifts or to be able to start 2024 with gratitude and so that is my second goal which would make to this a successful year.

Morayo: [00:51:52] I know that those initiatives will come into fruition. Keep me updated on the journal. That sounds amazing. The final question, I think you’ve already answered it, but you can feel free to add onto it. We always ask our guests, how they create happiness for themselves.

Michelle: [00:52:09] For me, it’s photography. I absolutely I had bought my first camera six years ago. I had never, I always thought I could be good at it, but I didn’t know. And as soon as I started taking pictures, I was like, damn, I am good at this. I look back at those pictures and six years ago. Oh my God, those are awful.

But like we grow in our craft practice makes perfect. The more you do something, the better you get at it. I now have two cameras. I have two cannons because I was tired of shifting lenses back and forth when I’m out and I want to see a bird far away or a chipmunk close up, and then I added a third camera this year.

So I have a bad habit of accumulating camera equipment. But that is my happy place is getting my car. If you go to my Instagram it’s at Michelle Ames on Instagram. If you go to look at the photos that I have in the photo directory on WordPress, you will see a lot of nature photos.

Please know that 99% of those were taken from the front seat of my car because I don’t walk well, I can’t go hiking in nature. And so even there’s a picture of an eagle flying with a huge carp in its talons, and I took that from the front seat of my car through the passenger window as a flyer ride, because I’m getting really good at being able to spot those kinds of things, but not knowing, not even knowing where, how the photographer is, knowing that I’m a disabled person who can create I can’t get owls, you have to go into the woods to get owls, so I’ve my, my goal is someday to find a place where I can shoot it, not shoot with a gun, but shoot with my camera, an owl from the front seat of my car would be amazing, but the art that I’m able to create absolutely makes me happy even if nobody else sees it and I can just look at those pictures and remember what, where I was and the feelings I had being able to see nature and be out in nature.

Morayo: [00:53:43] That’s so apropos to come to the closing of this conversation with that you spotting serendipitously a little bit the eagle flying by with the carp in its talons and capturing that because you have demonstrated over the years that you have such a talent for seeing the potential and really capturing it, not just for yourself.

I think that’s what’s so amazing about you. You capture it for other people and encourage them to take it and grow with it to be that eagle and keep flying. Okay, before I get too corny with these metaphors. I think I’ll stop there. But yeah, Michelle, thank you.

Michelle: [00:54:25] Can we do this podcast every day because you have completely made my ego so full today and made me feel so good about myself.

Morayo: [00:54:32] We’ll do it.

I’ll set my watch. So right after I remind myself that I’m black, then I will call you and we’ll have another moment for sure.

Michelle: [00:54:42] Yeah, for sure. Sounds good. Thank you so much, Morayo.

Morayo: [00:54:47] Thank you, Michelle. And I want it again to remind our listeners where you can go and hear and read more about and see more about Michelle’s projects. You can go to meetmichelle.online, and you also gave a few other sites while we were talking blackpress.com and lgbtq.Press.

Was that the other one?

Michelle: [00:55:11] Lgbtqpress.com is the other one. Yep. And then bigorangeheart.org.

Morayo: [00:55:16] All right. So go out, find a safe place, and find a place where you can get mental health resources and we will get you connected.

Thank you again, Michelle, and I want to just close and say thank you to all who listen to this podcast and don’t forget to like and subscribe, and you can get this and other episodes of the GoWP digital agency owners podcast wherever you get your podcast.

Just a quick reminder at GoWP, we really want to help you become more profitable, whether it’s by listening to other episodes of the podcasts, joining our weekly happiness hours, viewing our webinars hosted by friends in the WordPress community, and by course, growing your team with our skilled developers, copywriters, designers, and project managers. So go to gowp.com and read more about our services and schedule a call with our team.

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