One Woman’s Entrepreneurial Journey: An inside look at how Smack Happy came to be.
The start of any business is unique. Behind every business is someone who decided to take the leap to start something new. And for Smack Happy, that someone is Nicole Hanusek. She started Smack Happy in 2008, and it’s been a wild, unexpected, and fulfilling journey ever since.
How did Smack Happy get started?
Nicole started her Smack Happy journey as a freelancer. In 2008, during the midst of a financial crisis, she decided to go full-time with it.
“I wanted to be legit, so I knew I had to come up with a name, see if the domain was even available, and find something easy enough to spell.”
Smack Happy was born out of an annoying work situation.
“I remember I had this co-worker who wouldn’t stop annoying me. And one day I just thought ‘I’m going to go smack happy on him.’”
And there you have it: Smack Happy. Over the last 10 years, Nicole has grown her team, and it just so happens that Smack Happy is the perfect name for them because of their positive vibe.
Even after 12 years in business, people still find Smack Happy from a Google search and contact Nicole simply because they love the name. Or, are at least curious about it! 🙂
How did people find out about Smack Happy?
Nicole always loved working on a variety of projects. After trying her hand at freelancing a few years earlier, she decided to say “yes” and try it again. She knew she didn’t want to settle in at a web design firm or in the Bay Area startup world and knew it was time to try something new and adventurous all on her own.
Feeling compelled to venture out of her comfort zone, she started her full-time freelancing journey (once more) in 2008. And her confidence in her abilities propelled her forward.
For people to find out about Smack Happy, Nicole crafted an email to everyone she knew.
“In the email, I included specifically what I did and how people could introduce me, and it all kind of took off from there.”
What does success look like for Smack Happy?
2008 wasn’t the first time Nicole decided to go solo, but she knew something was different this time. With the desire to reach a new level of success* on her own that she hadn’t before, she knew she’d need to try some new things.
*Success can be defined in all sorts of ways. For most people it’s not about climbing a corporate ladder or following a traditional career path. “Success isn’t a straight line upwards. It’s erratic, with ups and downs, and long periods of no progress. And then when you win, you win big.”
“The key things for me were setting working hours since I knew I was working from home. I knew I needed to set boundaries when I was working, so I wouldn’t get distracted. I also knew I had to try to find new work.”
Nicole’s intro email was the start of something new. Reaching out to her network in a strategic way allowed her to get more referrals than she ever anticipated.
Putting this into perspective, because it’s quite remarkable…
One email 12 years ago set off a chain reaction. Word of mouth referrals started coming in, and today 75% of new Smack Happy business comes from word-of-mouth.
What’s helped Smack Happy get to where it is today?
When Nicole started her business in 2008, it wasn’t always clear how much work she could expect. Much to her surprise, the number of business referrals kept rolling in. Before she knew it, there was more work than she could handle on her own.
“I think it’s important to follow a calling when you have it, and I always had a calling to do my own thing.”
Maybe it was a combination of following her calling and the skills she possessed, but Nicole knew she needed help to figure out how to handle all of the work coming her way.
She decided to hire a business coach to help her figure out the next steps for Smack Happy.
“My coach really helped me make the shift from being a freelancer to being a business owner.”
And with that shift came a new chapter for Smack Happy. As more team members were brought on, the business grew.
What does business look like amid uncertainty?
Nicole always had confidence in her abilities as an artist, and after starting Smack Happy, her confidence as an entrepreneur grew too. While most businesses were struggling to find their footing amid the financial crisis in 2008, Nicole took a chance with Smack Happy.
“I didn’t really think about the 2008 financial crisis. I knew I was good at what I did and that the work would come.”
Even amid a financial crisis, Nicole was confident in what Smack Happy could be.
Nicole was learning what it looked like to be a leader during this time since she was growing a team. With the help of her business coach, she was redefining what being a boss looked like, that it didn’t have to be a dictatorship or a bad thing.
“As the boss, I don’t tell people what to do in a mean way – I can do it gently, and I can listen.”
What’s it like to nerd out on your passion every day?
Being able to do what you love and make a living doing it is the kind of life most people are looking for. Even though Nicole’s found it with Smack Happy, it took some time to get here.
Before Nicole got into web design, she had an artist’s background, and she would have to find a way to combine her love of art and design with what people were looking for.
Nicole knew people wanted great looking websites that worked. In 1998, had her first go at web design and began to learn more about the logical side of design. Paired with her artistic instincts and self-taught skills, she has helped Smack Happy become the web design and digital marketing agency it is today.
Today, Nicole and her team don’t just design beautiful websites; they code them as well and make sure they’re functional. Because it’s about creativity and science – it’s about usability as much as it’s about design. And more than anything else, it’s about helping people.
What advice should new businesses follow?
When you’re starting a business, one of the hardest things is figuring out how to build your brand and find consistent work. It’s hard even to know where to start.
For Nicole, one of the best things she did was say “yes” to opportunities.
“Even if they felt scary and like they were pulling me out of my comfort zone, I would say yes to new opportunities.”
Along with saying yes, Nicole joined networking groups she liked and found her community.
By saying yes and putting herself and Smack Happy out into the world, Nicole has built a strong business foundation. She’s found like-minded communities where she can share her expertise and opportunities for new work and partnerships for herself and her team.
Smack Happy is where it is today because of Nicole’s leadership and her journey to get here.
Even in the midst of a challenging year, Smack Happy is still thriving, and that’s a testament to the same entrepreneurial spirit that started the business in 2008 and has kept it going and will continue to do so. To infinity and beyond!