The Leap: On creating space with Micah Woods

Welcome to The Leap! For this IG Live series, Wethos CEO Rachel Renock sits down with entrepreneurs who took the leap toward working independently or starting their own project.

In this episode, Rachel sat down with Micah Woods, the founder and creative director of OK Micah, a brand and web design studio. Micah is a Los Angeles-based entrepreneur, and as a queer person, they’ve rooted their business in creating space for LGBTQIA+ founders and creatives. 

Watch the full interview here or read below to learn more about how OK Micah got its start, why Micah is on a mission to demystify and demasculinize the design process, and their advice for anyone who’s taking the leap — whether by choice or not.

Note: The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.

RR: Micah, thank you so much for taking the time, we appreciate it. I would love to hear a little bit more from you about your journey to start your business and how it’s evolved.

MW: Yeah, so I’m definitely a pandemic entrepreneur, as I like to call it. I was working in the music industry pre-pandemic, and then pandemic hit and the music industry tanked because there was no need for live music. And I was like, what am I going to do? I had always loved design and that’s what I was doing in the industry anyways. So I felt that it was time for me to branch out on my own. I started freelancing a little bit and quickly realized that the people that I loved working with the most were the people in the LGBTQIA+ community that I’m a part of. And I realized that nobody was creating space for them in the entrepreneur world.

I wanted to give them what I always wish that I had when it came to design — getting rid of that tech bro world and being a safe space to have meetings where it’s like, “did you watch Drag Race last night?”  To be able to have more camaraderie and a sense of community; to be able to allow them to show up as themselves and help them realize that it’s okay for them to be proud of their identity in their business and that customers and users and people are attracted to that for that reason. So that’s how things got going and it just snowballed from there. I’ve been going almost two years strong now, and it’s amazing. I just keep working with such really awesome clients and continuing to grow.

RR: I love that, and your mission is really powerful too. You have these words on your website, which I thought were really great: “demystify and demasculinize the design process.” Can you share a little bit more about why you’re passionate about this and how this actually comes to life in your work day-to-day?

MW: It really started with wanting to demasculinize the design process. I think that especially in the web design world, it is a male-dominated industry and it was really frustrating for me to be in meetings where I was being misgendered and mispronouned. Even when I would communicate like, hey, actually I don’t use those pronouns, please don’t say that. Or please don’t call me bro, I don’t identify with that — they would be offended that I was creating that boundary. So for me, I realized that it was really important in that process, from beginning to end, to be able to create an emotional feeling of design that communicates not just boring, stale, masculine, or strong, but something that feels much more [aligned with] the full spectrum of emotion in design.

I think that’s why a lot of my clients choose to work with me. They get that feeling when they look at my work and they see that I’m bringing something different that is not the stereotypical agency snobby tech bro vibe to what I create. And something that I learned through working with such amazing clients is the need to demystify the design process. A lot of times, as designers, we forget that they don’t know what we’re talking about most of the time. Like, you’re talking to people who don’t know what kerning is. 

So it’s important to communicate and be able to help them understand exactly what that design process is and what you’re doing and why certain things are important and why the decisions you’re making are important and how they’re in line with their vision for their business so that they aren’t feeling alone in that process. I want them to feel like it’s actually a collaboration and that they understand why decisions are being made so that when they are taking ownership of it after I’ve done my work, they can speak to it in a way that’s totally in line with their brand ethos.

RR: I’m a big proponent of, diverse teams create better work, period, because you’re bringing these different perspectives to the table. So I’m curious, what’s your perspective on why building a more inclusive brand is actually leading to better business outcomes and is a better business strategy overall?

MW: I think it’s a common misconception that there’s a need to market to the majority, which is ironic because it’s not the majority. A lot of business owners come to me and they think that they need to target this because that’s what corporations are targeting. But the reality is, when you start to include more voices and to create more space for the actual people that want to be a part of your business and want to be a brand ambassador for you, you actually end up having stronger connections with your customer and therefore creating genuine relationships that are going to uplift you. And you’re going to see revenue. That’s what every business owner wants. 

It’s been a realization in my clients of, oh, we didn’t realize that if we actually opened space for people and started noticing them and paying attention to them and catering to them that they would show up. Because I think there’s so much fear that they won’t show up, but the reality is that most minorities are wanting to show up and are looking for a reason to show up. If you give it to them, they’re going to be die hard for you.

That’s what I try to do in my business as well — include as many people and as many voices and ideas, because there are so many people that aren’t being given opportunities to use their amazing brain power that when you take advantage of that, and use it to give them opportunities, you start to see such incredible work.

RR: I want to switch gears a little bit and get tactical. I was clicking around your website and I saw that there are three or four really well thought out packages that you put together. How did you land on the services that you offer and then how do you handle requests if they do come in outside of those packages? What’s your method for saying no?

MW: Those packages came from noticing what people wanted from me as well as what I wanted to do. It was a lot of trial and error in the beginning, like I’ll do anything. What do you need? Yes, I got you. I didn’t know what to charge. It was like shots in the dark and hopefully this works. And I think it took probably four or five months to realize, okay, here’s what I love. Here’s what I enjoy doing. And here’s what people are wanting me to do. So let’s actually lay out exactly what that looks like and what I’ve been doing and what’s been working.

So it was like, okay, we can get rid of that. Oh, I think they might like this, let’s add this little bonus. Oh, this client wanted this, that’s something I should be offering to all my clients. And maybe they don’t come to me saying they need that, but I know they need it. So that’s where I landed with my packages. 

And how I handle when people come to me for random requests and it’s not something I want to do, I tap into my network and am like, “hey, this client needs this, I don’t want to do it, but I’m happy to white label it through me. I’ll just give you exactly what they’re going to pay me, you do the work, you get the money, but it’s like, OK Micah did it.”

RR: Something we hear a lot from people on our platform is that they’re chasing invoices. Or, this payment is late, can I bill up front? So I really love that you basically have what I understand to be like a payment plan and people who opt-out of that payment plan and pay totally up front get a $500 discount. Can you walk us through what led to that idea and if you would suggest others give it a try?

MW: What led to it was that exact frustration of chasing down invoices and feeling so frustrated by being taken advantage of when it came to being a freelancer and feeling like oh, he’s just a contractor, we’ll pay him when we pay him. And it’s like, well, no, I’m actually running a full business and I deserve to be paid the same way you deserve to be paid as an entrepreneur. And it felt like, why am I allowing my clients to dictate when I get paid? And not taking advantage of the fact that I’m in control and I can make the rules and I can set the boundaries and if they don’t follow those boundaries, then there’s the door. Sorry about it.

I absolutely implore everybody to implement that because it will just make your life so much easier and it also just helps with cash flow and constant revenue. Rather than feeling like going through the feast or famine of freelance, it allows you to just have consistent income, which is something I never thought that I would have as a freelance/agency owner. I finally have, for the first time in my life, true financial freedom to be able to take four days off if I want to and go on a vacation and be able to live life happily and not be chasing down clients all the time to pay me because we’re busy enough as it is, we don’t want to be doing that. We’ve got so much more to do and so much more energy to put into our creative processes that we shouldn’t be wasting that energy just trying to get paid.

RR: So last question: Do you have any advice for people looking to take the leap?

MW: For the people who are considering it and choosing to go into it, I would say don’t rush because you might not like it. Start freelancing on the side while keeping your job and see if it’s something that you want to work towards. I think a lot of times people just take the leap and then they’re like, wait, this isn’t for me. I’ve seen it happen and it’s confusing, it’s difficult. When you have a choice to not go through that, I would say take your time and don’t rush into it.

And for the people who are being thrusted into it and not having a choice, I was there, I’m with you. I know how difficult it can be, but if you just keep going and just totally put 100% trust into yourself and work really hard, you will get to that point where you love the freedom and you’re able to decide how you want to work and how you want your life to be. Enjoy the fact that you are getting to decide and being able to take control over your life.

Ready to take the leap?