Wayne Pelletier, Resonant Pixel
During his 26 years in the web design industry, Wayne Pelletier designed thousands of websites. He also learned the patterns that cause frustration and communication breakdowns between web designers and their clients. So when Wayne started his company, Resonant Pixel, in 2020, he employed a different business model that broke the mold of standard website services. Instead of a lump-sum investment, his team uses a subscription-based model.
Episode 48 – Wayne Pelletier, Resonant Pixel
[00:00:55] Sanjay Parekh: Wayne Pelletier has designed thousands of websites over his 26 years in the industry, where he’s worked as a web designer, art director, creative director, and now, founder. Wayne started his company, Resonant Pixel, in 2020. He employs a business model that breaks the mold of standard website creation services — no more lump-sum investments. Here today to talk about how he started his business, how he utilizes productized services, and how he balances his work and family, is Wayne Pelletier. Wayne, welcome to the show!
[00:01:27] Wayne Pelletier: Thanks for having me.
[00:01:29] Sanjay Parekh: So, I'm excited to have you on because what you've done is kind of interesting in the business. But before we get into that, tell us a little bit about your background and what got you to where you are now.
[00:01:41] Wayne Pelletier: Originally from New England, so that might come out. The accent does pop in once in a while, but I live in Atlanta. I moved here in ‘99 after I had been working in the family business, spinning up websites and all kinds of ad graphics in the late nineties, after a stint in the Army. So, I've been in Atlanta at various ad agencies, marketing firms, direct marketing firms for the last 23 years now. And once you have roots and a family and a house, you're just, this is where you live now.
[00:02:17] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. It's funny that you say it's the family business. Because normally when people say family business, you think they're in like, I don't know, some like physical business of some sort.
[00:02:29] Wayne Pelletier: Oh yeah. It's like a dry cleaner.
[00:02:32] Sanjay Parekh: A horse farm or, yeah, or a dry cleaner or a winery or something. Like the family business is making websites.
[00:02:36] Wayne Pelletier: I'll give you a 30-second really cool story on that. So, my stepfather was a plastics engineer. He actually owns plastics.com and he had a molding company in this industrial park, and as a computer geek, he made his own website in the early nineties and when they were gray, and it was all Times New Roman. And he put his logo on it and his phone rang off the hook. People were like, how did you get a graphic or your logo on your webpage? And he was like, oh, it's really difficult. It's not. And then, so he decided to do it for them for a fee, and then it took a year or two until the web design firm outgrew the molding company. So, he sold off the molding company stuff. And just basically built out his design agency.
[00:03:24] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. And you say he still owns plastics.com?
[00:03:29] Wayne Pelletier: Plastics.com. He still owns and just works from home and manages that and has for the last, really, 25 years.
[00:03:37] Sanjay Parekh: Wow. That is amazing. I'm not sure if you know this, but Atlanta apparently is a big hub for domain name buyers and sellers. There's a lot of people that just live in that industry and buy and sell domain names. And for some weird reason it's here in Atlanta. So, there you go.
[00:03:56] Wayne Pelletier: That's awesome.
[00:03:57] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, let's talk about your own entrepreneurial experiences. Did you have any, when you were younger, when you were a kid? What was the first entrepreneurial thing that you ever did?
[00:04:09] Wayne Pelletier: I did actually. There was always like, you're on Pop Warner football and they make you stand outside of the grocery store, asking for money with your helmet.
There was always that. And then there was moving around the neighborhood with my lawnmower trying to mow people's lawns, like asking if I can mow them, like my father made me do it. He's you need to go down this street and ask everybody if you can mow their lawn.
[00:04:35] Sanjay Parekh: So, going down the street, how many people actually took you up for it and how much money did you make?
[00:04:40] Wayne Pelletier: I don't recall exactly how much money I made, to be honest, but there were, I was mowing lawns. I was out there in the summer pretty much every weekend. I was young. I was probably 14. That was before I could legally work once, I could get a legal, like at 16 you got good grades, you can get a job or something like that. Then I worked at the grocery store, pizza joint and stuff.
[00:05:03] Sanjay Parekh: So it sounds like your stepfather was an entrepreneur with the web business. But was there anybody else in the family that was an entrepreneur that you got to watch and see as they built their business?
[00:05:18] Wayne Pelletier: There were some uncles — one had a body shop, one had like a molding company that did like different types of contracts and another was like inside sales, I don't even know what companies he worked for. It was like, I think it was like Digital and IBM like back in the central computer days.
[00:05:40] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. From those lessons do you feel like that was the opening for you that said, hey, this is a possibility for me as well or was it you were kind of oblivious to the fact that they were entrepreneurs and you only realized that later?
[00:05:58] Wayne Pelletier: I have always fantasized that reality. I just wasn't sure how to get there. I didn't have much of a map in my head, so I realized it was, I always knew it was possible. I just didn't know how to get from where I was standing to where I wanted to be, until I got a little older. And you work on teams at a digital agency, at a corporation and you're in my capacity, in a creative capacity, you start to see how the businesses run. You've managed accounts, you have direct client contact. You're obviously deep with accounting, and then you have seen all the parts. And I was thinking, you know what? I could do this. This isn't that hard. If this idiot can do it, I can do it.
[00:06:48] Sanjay Parekh: So was that the motivation for starting your own business? You're like, ah, everybody else is an idiot. I can do it better.
[00:06:56] Wayne Pelletier: It's crude and I was being crass there on purpose, but I would say yeah, kind of. I was like obviously not motivated to spend an hour in the car to not own my priorities anymore. I've got to figure it out.
[00:07:14] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. As you were starting this, the thing that I talk about, I like to know and share is that all entrepreneurs have fear. There's something that scares them. And a lot of times in the press and the media, that kind of gets glossed away. But I think it's there and it's real and we should talk about it because I think that prevents a lot of people from doing exactly what you've done. So, for you, what was the fear? What were you scared of when you decided to quit your job and do this yourself?
[00:07:50] Wayne Pelletier: Everybody has fear. It's just the ones that are willing to step through it, right? My fear was consistency, being able to drive enough revenue to pay myself to maintain my family's lifestyle and expectations. Can my daughter still do some of the extracurricular activities she enjoys? Can my wife still do some of the crafts and events and meetups and things that she loves doing? That's important to me that it's not this big hiccup for a period of time where I'm like, we got to shut some things down here. We're going to be running lean. I didn't want them to ever feel that way.
[00:08:26] Sanjay Parekh: So, you were okay running lean for yourself. Not necessarily running lean for family life and for them.
[00:08:35] Wayne Pelletier: I suppose. Yeah. Yeah.
[00:08:37] Sanjay Parekh: So, thinking about that fear, how is it that you managed it and dealt with it and figured out how to get yourself through it?
[00:08:47] Wayne Pelletier: Yeah, when you first start, or at least for me, the highs and lows, they can run like to extremes. Sometimes you get a contract and you're on cloud nine and then, you know, someone's late to pay you. It's a big deal and you're running on fumes here until that lands and you're making phone calls you really would rather not be making. I think I took it home and by take it home, I went downstairs to dinner and got fussed at for bringing my work with me, and just carrying it on my face and carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. And I realized that without the drive, it's up to me to make sure that I am able to turn this off. I've got to have that switch because they deserve better.
Honestly it doesn't, carrying the emotion and emoting in any way really with regards to the function of the business, regardless of how I feel about it, doesn't actually produce anything. It's not productive in any way. So, I've learned to be pretty even, don't get too high with the highs. They're great. Don't get too low with the lows. We're going to figure it out. And it really doesn't come until you have confidence in yourself. Until I realize that I'm the only one here that's really going to push this forward and move it through. So, if there's an issue and it's painful, think systematically about what led me to this spot, and then what systematically can I do to help prevent that in the future.
[00:10:18] Sanjay Parekh: You bring up a very interesting point in that so many of us have shied away from doing the commute and spending the time in the car, but that time for a lot of people, and even for us, is good to separate out what has happened during the day with what happens at home with family. And instead of a commute now of 20 minutes, 30 minutes, whatever, you've got a commute of a minute and a half down the stairs. And so, then it's tough to probably separate those things. Do you do anything to make sure that work doesn't bleed into like your downstairs life? Make sure your computer stays upstairs or like how do you think about those things?
[00:11:01] Wayne Pelletier: A hundred percent, the computer needs to stay clam shelled in a space where it's not going to be a distraction. Now if I am working late, I'm going to bring it on the couch. They watch a movie, I can plow through some things, communicate. That's fine if I decide to do that because it's necessary. But I don't use notifications on my phone at all really. I don't turn the ringer on. There's no volume, there's no notifications. That's really important. I can't have something pop up while I'm cooking or cleaning, or enjoying time with the family or friends, that's going to distract me. I can't stand it when I'm talking to somebody, and they pull their phone out and thumb fight that thing for five minutes while we're having a conversation. What were we talking about? It's no, I want people to realize that they're a priority. When I'm talking to them, I'm with them. I don't always ask for it back. I may have overstated how irritated I get, but it in general it's a courtesy, but I've gotten pretty good at just turning it off. When work’s done. I shut this stuff down. I go downstairs to common areas of the home and I'm home, that's that.
[00:12:17] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, let's talk a little bit about your business in particular. You've done a shift in productizing a service. How did you figure out that's the way you wanted to go and how did you figure out that was something that the market was looking for? And also, well, explain exactly what you did.
[00:12:38] Wayne Pelletier: Yeah, happy to. I made a lot of websites and when you run a small agency, you're very familiar — even larger agencies are very familiar — with the feast and famine cycle of project income. Project-based income means that you always have to be selling future projects. I don't love selling time, and that's problematic when it comes to project work because you're either doing time-based pricing or value-based pricing. But one thing that service businesses in the knowledge worker space struggle with is monthly recurring revenue. You might have some, especially web design companies or SEO firms might be like, here's a small retainer for hosting, or here's a retainer for content. And then there's a fee for whatever level of effort from an expertise standpoint, whether it's creative or content or whatever. And that's all well and good, but that still doesn't necessarily scale because in order to add time, you have to add people. That's the only way to create time.
I liked the subscription model and I've seen some businesses do this. I certainly didn't invent this whole entire paradigm. There's Design Join, Design Pickle, and there's some other ones out there. But with the understanding that there was likely to be something of a recession going into 2023, really last June, I started thinking and writing about how can I create monthly recurring revenue and create websites on a subscription model? So, they got to be a fixed scope right out of the gate. And you have to recognize who your best customer is, and not necessarily from a revenue standpoint. It’s who you really enjoy serving and interacting with. Who do you make inroads with? Who do you really connect with? And for me, that's usually small to mid-size businesses, consultants, startups, entrepreneurs.
So, with that in mind, I realized the budget and that backed me into the tool set I could use. I’ve made websites on all of the platforms, but I chose Squarespace because of whom they serve. And then my ability to package that up. So just because you can create an account on a no-code platform doesn't mean you're good at making websites. They still need someone with expertise that they wouldn't normally be able to pay for someone who is, this sounds weird, but like someone who's been a creative director at a fancy pants agency that's been working with Fortune 100, Fortune 500 brands isn't normally accessible to somebody that owns a mom-and-pop shop. The paths rarely cross because the project fees are so insane at agencies. They’re small, it's probably their entire annual revenue.
So, being able to make that accessible for those businesses and handhold them. It's not only is it a package deal, it's sort of a white glove service. Like I walk them through how things should communicate, how landing pages should communicate, how to set up a lead magnet, how to build their email list. So, they go from just having a brochureware website that someone made for them on WordPress five years ago that has gone completely incommunicado, to having a marketing platform. And they never wrote a big check, right? They just started up their subscription, we go in and make an investment in them and put skin in the game by creating the entire thing. And then we basically served them like, super amazing service in perpetuity.
[00:16:24] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So how long did it, so when you started thinking about this, thinking okay, bad things might be coming. I want to get to the point where I've got recurring revenue, so it's a lot more predictable.
How long did it take you to get to the point where you basically, and or maybe you're still in this transition, gotten rid of the one-off project work and gone all in on the projectized side?
[00:16:49] Wayne Pelletier: That transition is still happening. If you've read Build to Sell, not that I'm trying to sell my business per se, a well-designed, a well-oiled machine is basically working toward a sale, having operations in place, having SOPs, having repeatable functions, allows one to add people and/or projects, and have an understanding of the impact that's going to have. The three different types of things you can sell: done for you, which every agency and service company does; done with you, which some do more of a consultant thing but can also be courses and things like that; and do yourself products — any kind of product or thing that someone would take and implement and or use themselves. So having those three things, that diversification is my ultimate goal.
So, I've already refashioned done for you by creating productized packages for websites, as web design as a service. There's more content coming around done with you and done, which is website in a day, which I've technically launched, but I haven't done much marking and there's almost no content around it. And I love the idea of website in a day. Because I'm really good under pressure. I'm really good in front of an audience with the design thing. Someone standing over my shoulder. I know every other designer in the world hates that. I love it and I can thrive in that environment. The other one would be do it yourself, which is templatizing some things. I made a big change in my contracts last summer when I started productizing. It's subtle, but it's big in that I own the IP of all the source creative. And happy to take it out for any brands and the only brands that have called me on it, after a conversation, left it in. It's about me being able to templatize any of the things that I make for them and sell that as a product. That's my goal with that, right? So, in order to do that, obviously it's not going to be branded, you take their branding out and then I'm able to sell that as a categorical template to be implemented, either done with you or DIY. Productizing my things.
[00:19:04] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, is your long-term then to still have all three or to just move into the, hey, I'm going to sell things, to let people do it on their own?
[00:19:14] Wayne Pelletier: To sell all three and then ultimately probably prices go up on some of the done for you, if demand increases. I've got a dozen of them, so it's working. I'm selling a couple, few a month. Which is perfect because if I sell anymore, I don't think I could get them all done, but it's about monthly recurring revenue and, the holy grail, passive income.
[00:19:42] Sanjay Parekh: So, that's why my question was there because you earlier said you didn't like having to focus on selling time. And even though it's productized, you're still in a way selling your time because like you just said, there’s a limit to how many you could do. So is the move to the, hey, I'm going to help you do it yourself, like the ultimate goal for you.
[00:20:07] Wayne Pelletier: Yeah. Yeah. That's the ultimate goal. And do fewer done for you. And be more selective in that regard. But you can't really get there until the expertise is obvious and the volume, like on my website was just one thing, right? So, it's coming. I'm going to have the website in a day in there as a nav item. And then I've got a bunch of templatized products. And I've got a really cool twist on that, that I'm excited about. Lots of themes and templates out there for every single platform. Yeah, but I've got what I think is a completely different idea for that, and I've made a bunch of that content now. I didn't want to launch it with three items. I wanted it to look like it was already mature. So, as I'm making things, I'm saving them. It's Kingford charcoal. It's plywood, it's MDF. Like all these things were invented from factory waste. How can I monetize my waste? The thing about creative, and writers and designers especially will, this should resonate is that like you make 10 things, you show the client three. Your hard drive is basically two thirds things that nobody ever saw or didn't buy. It's crazy. Sell all that stuff.
[00:21:37] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. It's a great way of looking at it.
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[00:22:01] Sanjay Parekh: So, let's change gears a little bit and talk about, and we've touched on this a little bit, but let's talk about how you balance the stress and demands of having your business along with family life and personal life and the personal demands and all that stuff. How do you think about balancing those things, beyond not having notifications on and not taking the computer downstairs? What else is there that you think about in terms of those?
[00:22:26] Wayne Pelletier: It's not easy and there's no magic pill. I don't care what anybody says. I've done a lot in this, especially in the last 12 to 18 months to be more intentional. I don't have one of these perfect morning routines, but I do try to consider stoic practices. And I love Ryan Holiday's content. It can really help me at times when I'm struggling with not taking the highs too high or the lows too low, right from emoting and I won't always realize I'm carrying it. I'll carry it for a while until I realize it. My wife will realize it way before I do. So, it's good. She can just say, yeah, you probably need to pipe down.
It's not an easy thing but having routine. Time blocking helps, in small little ways. Taking time off and time away, not using notifications, going for long walks, listening to things that are not business-related podcasts or radio shows or anything like that, news. I stay away from all that stuff. I will read or listen to an audio book about business on occasion. I even name-dropped one a minute ago, but I try to do things that are technology based or other types of content-based, stoicism-based, or something that allows me to not think about and design things in my head. Because all the ideas can come when I'm in the shower like everybody else. I don't need those when I'm driving.
[00:24:00] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. I'm with you. So, let's talk about some of the things that you've possibly implemented in terms of technology or apps or systems to help you manage the business, grow the business, run the business, whatever it is — be more productive. What's the first thing that comes to mind or the first couple of things that come to mind that you're like, oh, I couldn't live without these things.
[00:24:29] Wayne Pelletier: Mac OS has done a lot and everything you need pretty much comes with it, just to be honest. I know we take it for granted sometimes, the operating system on our computer. But the way reminders, calendars, notes. These things, the operating system, regardless of which one you use, has the ability to do these things really well. Probably as good or better than any other app because of the integration with the OS, and sometimes we take it for granted. I used to think I needed some fancy app like to Doist or Dubsato, or these things, and they're nice, but they don't actually improve your life, necessarily. They might improve someone else's life. I recently moved into Hectic app. I had been using Dubsato. I've tried Bonsai, one of these operating systems for small business. It's great. They're all great, but it's about simplifying other people's lives, right? Having a portal for some company's accounting department to go in and see everything for what they've done over the course of the year, so I don't have to collect it. Instant time saver. And the same thing goes with having automation progressing from proposal to contract to invoice. So, I don't have to write all of those. That automation is critical. Now, it's only as critical as the number of things that you're onboarding, right? If you onboard one client every three months, you probably don't need a tool for any of that. You can write those things, take a half an hour out of your life. But if you're onboarding new clients every month, you start thinking, I really need this time back.
[00:26:09] Sanjay Parekh: And it's time as well as making sure that it actually does happen, right? Humans are infallible. Computers are too sometimes, but they're less infallible than humans, right? We tend to forget things, but computers are pretty good at remembering to do those kinds of things.
[00:26:25] Wayne Pelletier: Yeah. That's why automation can really help, especially if you're a small team, a solopreneur. Yeah, some tools like Zapier and stuff that were going to integrate your different systems through APIs can really make an impact.
[00:26:41] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. I like that. So, thinking back about the couple of years now that you've been doing this on your own. If you could go back in time, is there anything you think about now that, oh man, I wish I'd done this differently back then, knowing what I know now.
[00:26:59] Wayne Pelletier: Oh yeah.
[00:27:00] Sanjay Parekh: There's apparently a lot of them. So, what's the biggest one?
[00:27:03] Wayne Pelletier: I don't know if there's a lot, but I honestly, I should have started doing this 10 years prior. I wish I hadn't been so chicken.
[00:27:11] Sanjay Parekh: Why do you think you didn't, why do you think you didn't do it 10 years prior?
[00:27:15] Wayne Pelletier: I'm not the biggest risk taker. I'm not the biggest. I won't do much gambling when I go to a casino. I won't do, I'm not a big risk taker.
[00:27:30] Sanjay Parekh: But do you feel like being a founder is a risk? Because I'll reframe it for you in a second once you answer that as to why I don't think it is.
[00:27:38] Wayne Pelletier: I don't necessarily think that is. You have to have a certain amount of confidence in yourself and yeah, just when I first, and here's an example. What I mean, when I first started this three years ago, you're supposed to look at all these metrics in your business. You need this kind of revenue, and you need this EBITDA and you need this 90-day window and this 12-month outlook. And it's all crap, everything. I don't I'm so glad I didn't go to B School. It's all crap. Your 90-day window is the most depressing thing on the entire planet if you run a project-based services business. It was freaking me out. That might have been when I upset my wife when I went downstairs and I was like, ghost face. That's a terrible idea, looking at that number.
I know that there's going to be a referral here and there. And I know I can do a pretty good job with that. I know that there's going to be a cold thing here or there, based on content I've got out there and whatever. It just happens. And that's fine. We can have those conversations. But the number one thing that grows the business from a services standpoint is actually providing great service. Being nice, being real with people. And treating them with white glove service. Like really going out of your way to make sure people are happy and they go out of their way to recommend you. That's the new business strategy, is just be awesome all the time.
[00:29:14] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, here's my reframing on that. I say being a founder is actually less risky than being an employee because as an employee, you could come in any day and find out that your job is no longer there for you anymore. Whereas as a founder, there's only one person that can fire you and that's you.
[00:29:42] Wayne Pelletier: Yeah. You're a hundred percent right. There's no such thing as job security. You could be let go at any point in time. Yesterday, Microsoft let go of 10,000 people. They all thought they had a job.
[00:29:54] Sanjay Parekh: Exactly. And don't get me wrong, like there is obviously a place for people that need and want to be employees and then, want to be founders. Not everybody should be a founder and not everybody should be an employee. There's definitely those segments, but the risk that you talk about is, if you reframe it a little bit, it's actually not risky, right? Who is not going to hire Wayne as an art director or as a creative, or as somebody leading a team doing web development, if this thing fails, right? I find it highly unlikely that you would be unable to find a position after this, right? Especially after this. With that kind of experience behind you.
[00:30:38] Wayne Pelletier: You could even fall back and go drive an Uber. There are things you can do to earn income. Even outside of your core specialty.
[00:30:51] Sanjay Parekh: If push comes the shove there’s opportunities.
[00:30:54] Wayne Pelletier: It's at least no more risky than being a j-o-b-er.
[00:31:00] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. So, on that point, last question for you, what would you tell somebody who's thinking about taking the leap and going full-time into their business from something that they had as a side hustle like you did before?
[00:31:15] Wayne Pelletier: Stop thinking. Don't even think about it. Just go. Just do it. If you even think for a second that it's something you might want to do, ask yourself whether or not your heart is really there because you just literally had that thought. And once you have that thought, driving across town to a job where you don't own your priorities, working for someone who's no smarter than you, is bananas. That's it. You've already sold, you just haven't convinced yourself. And stop thinking about it and do it because you are not going to get younger. I started this when I was, what, 49? You can do it, but it takes a couple, few years for the momentum to build, for there to be enough of it that is not automatic, but mature. For there to be recurring things and you have enough good relationships. Because you might have a hundred solid relationships even at work, but only three or four of them are really solid. The same thing goes for clients when you have a services business that you own, you might have 30 clients, but only a couple of them are really going to go to bat for you. Will write you a case study. Will recommend, will take you with them if they go to another company. Those are the relationships you nurture.
[00:32:54] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Wayne, this has been fantastic. Where can our listeners find and connect with you?
[00:32:59] Wayne Pelletier: You can go to Resonantpixel.co. You can find me on LinkedIn. I'm everywhere, especially in the Fuse community in that private group. But I DM people in LinkedIn all day. It's like a new business channel. I'm always DMing people just saying hi, checking in and saying how you doing?
[00:33:22] Sanjay Parekh: That's great. I love it. So, find you on LinkedIn is the best place to be.
[00:33:26] Wayne Pelletier: That's the best one. I usually get back to people within a few minutes.
[00:33:30] Sanjay Parekh: Awesome. Thanks for coming on Wayne.
[00:33:32] Wayne Pelletier: I appreciate you so much.
[00:33:36] Sanjay Parekh: Thank you for listening to this week's episode of the Side Hustle to Small Business Podcast, powered by Hiscox. To learn more about how Hiscox can help protect your small business through intelligent insurance solutions, visit hiscox.com. And if you have a story you want to hear on this podcast, please visit www.hiscox.com/shareyourstory. I'm your host Sanjay Parekh. You can find me on Twitter @sanjay or on my website at www.sanjayparekh.com.