The Story Behind the Name: Smack Happy Lessons in Leadership

Learn how Nicole, owner of Smack Happy Design, got started and why she loves her work, her team, and making her clients happy.


When did you start using WordPress?

I started using WordPress when I started my business twelve years ago, and it’s been an excellent choice. We can make WordPress do anything.

How did you come up with the name Smack Happy?

When I took the plunge to do freelancing full-time, I knew I needed a name that was memorable, easy to spell, and available. I thought about it for roughly a month until an annoying co-worker made me think, “I’m going to go smack happy on him.” So I looked up Smack Happy and it was available.

How did you go from freelancing to building a team?

I’ve been in business for twelve years. I started out as a freelancer, and it stayed that way for five years. Then I got stuck – I had too much work and I needed help. So I found contractors to work with. I also started networking so that I could find like-minded business people. I worked with a business coach and that was the best thing I could have done. It turned my world upside down. It helped me make the mindset shift from being a freelancer to being a business owner.

What does leadership mean to you? What does being a leader at Smack Happy look like?

I had to own the fact that I enjoyed being a leader. I was told I was bossy when I was a little girl and I had to redefine what it meant for me to be the boss – that I could be loving and compassionate. It’s about having conversations [with your team] so you can figure stuff out together. I want people on my team who are going to figure it out on their own and bring their own expertise to it.

How do you find people you can trust and let go of the mentality of ‘I have to do it all’?

I think all business owners are control freaks. It’s hard to let go of that. To build trust, we start with small projects. It’s important to start small. Each person has carved out their role at Smack Happy. Everyone came in from a freelance mindset – they were good at setting their hours/time. They have the freedom to work when they need to work.

What is something that you encourage among your team?

Gratitude is one of the big things I promote. It’s important to have a cohesive team environment while being fully remote. We use Slack. We have three team meetings a week.

What are your favorite tools and how does your team work together on projects (with everyone being remote)?

We use Beaver Builder – we build all of our sites with it. Some clients will take it and run with it and some just want us to do it for them. I’m all about process. We have a huge repository on how we do things. We use Workast for project management. Sometimes projects are delegated based on personality, experience, or interest. Everyone’s happy with how things are right now, but we’re open to growth.

What’s your management style like? How do you manage a remote team?

Do we have people management? Not a whole lot. One of the most important things my business coach told me was, “Hire for attitude. Skills can be learned.” I tend to hire fairly positive people who are all about helping each other. We share the same core values. Because of that, it’s amazing to see how much everyone supports each other.

Does Smack Happy have a social media presence?

Social media? It’s delegated to the team. It’s happening.

What’s your role involve on a day-to-day basis?

I’m networking. I’m meeting people and finding good clients. I was part of BNI for a while and have recently joined Provisors. They focus on established businesses. I’m also a part of Centricity which is completely virtual. Most days I’m having one-on-ones.

How many projects does your team take on at a given time?

We will turn down clients because of our red flag list, but not because of availability. We’re available. We can handle more projects. We currently have thirty-plus active projects. When we finish a site launch for a client, we’ll get them onto a care plan where we can manage WordPress for them. My project managers stay in touch with our clients. We’re about building relationships. We don’t set it and forget it or leave anyone behind.

How has the pandemic affected business?

We’re ramping up our networking and bringing in new inquiries with our referral partners. There’s a Bay Area IT group that I’m a part of and I’m the only web designer, so I’m the go-to referral. Get in front of the audience you’re looking for. Get outside of your comfort zone. Put yourself into spaces where you can fit. This is all good advice for growing businesses.

Any words of advice for fellow business owners?

You have to want to be the boss. It’s a combination of skills and personality that help someone succeed in this role.

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