Teach – The Clever Site

Today’s guest on the show is Dr. Tanisha Lemelle with The Clever Site, a small business web design shop and consultancy based in Houston, TX. Dr. Lemelle began her entrepreneur career in the HR industry. She quickly found the marketplace had a more urgent need of digital help than HR so she pivoted her focus to building affordable websites for small businesses. Over time, Dr. Lemelle has empowered many small businesses using her own entrepreneurship experience to help her clients on their path to success.  

Company: The Clever Site

Owners: Dr. Tanisha Lemelle

Year Started: 2011

Employees: 1 – 10

In the captivating world of marketing agency stories, “An Agency Story” podcast stands as a beacon for aspiring and established agency owners alike, offering a treasure trove of insights, experiences, and the rollercoaster of emotions that accompany the entrepreneurial journey. The episode titled “Teach,” featuring the remarkable Dr. Tanisha Lemelle, serves as a shining example of the series’ allure, presenting a narrative that is both inspirational and deeply educational.

Dr. Lemelle, the brain behind The Clever Site, takes listeners on a journey from her initial forays into the HR industry to the pivotal moment she discovered a pressing need for digital assistance among small businesses. This episode delves into the transformative power of entrepreneurship, pivoting from traditional career paths to the digital frontier, and the significance of strategic web design in amplifying the success of small businesses.

What sets this episode apart are Dr. Lemelle’s unique insights and the serendipitous path that led her from teaching and HR to founding a digital marketing agency. Her story is peppered with humorous anecdotes, such as the daunting experience of her websites getting hacked while vacationing in Bermuda, which, in retrospect, offered valuable lessons in security and resilience. Moreover, her journey through academia, culminating in a doctorate focused on empowering minority and women-owned businesses, showcases a relentless pursuit of knowledge and the desire to make a meaningful impact.

Listeners will be particularly captivated by the discussion on the importance of project management, the challenges and triumphs of entrepreneurship, and the strategic decision-making that propelled The Clever Site to its ten-year anniversary. Dr. Lemelle’s narrative is a testament to the power of adaptability, continuous learning, and the drive to assist others in their entrepreneurial endeavors.

This episode of “An Agency Story” is not just a story about making websites; it’s a masterclass in transforming passions into impactful businesses, navigating the complexities of the digital world, and the continuous journey of personal and professional growth. As Dr. Lemelle vividly shares her experiences, listeners are left contemplating the vast possibilities that lie at the intersection of technology, entrepreneurship, and education.

For anyone standing at the crossroads of a career decision, looking to leap into entrepreneurship, or seeking to scale their business, “Teach” is an episode that offers not just inspiration but practical insights and strategies for success. Tune in to “An Agency Story” to explore the fascinating world of marketing agencies through the lens of those who have walked the path, faced the challenges, and emerged triumphant.


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Show Transcript

The Clever Site

[00:00:00] Intro: Welcome to An Agency Story podcast where we share real stories of marketing agency owners from around the world. From the excitement of starting up, the first big sale. Passion, doubt, fear, freedom, and the emotional rollercoaster of growth. Hear it all on An Agency Story podcast. An Agency Story podcast is hosted by Russel Dubree, successful agency owner with an eight figure exit turned business coach. Enjoy the next agency story.

[00:00:38] Russel: Hello. Welcome to another episode of An Agency Story podcast. I’m your host, Russel. Today’s guest on the show is Dr. Tanisha Lemelle with The Clever Site, a small business web design shop and consultancy based in Houston, Texas.

[00:00:52] Dr. Lemelle began her entrepreneurship career in the HR industry, and she quickly found out the marketplace had a more urgent need of digital [00:01:00] help than HR, so she pivoted her focus to building affordable websites for small businesses. Over time, Dr. Lemelle has empowered many small businesses using her own entrepreneurship experience to help her clients on their path to success

[00:01:13] Enjoy the story.

[00:01:16] Welcome everyone to the show today. I have Dr. Tanisha Lemelle with us here from The Clever Site. Welcome to the show, Tanisha.

[00:01:23] Dr. Lemelle: Thank you so much, Russel. It’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me.

[00:01:26] Russel: Absolutely. Start us off with a quick overview. What does The Clever Site do and who do you do it for?

[00:01:32] Dr. Lemelle: Well, The Clever Site is a full service digital marketing agency. We help small businesses do it big online, and we do that with beautiful web design and clever business strategy. So we really do focus on the strategy for our clients because we wanna make sure that they have more than just a pretty website, but that they have a marketing strategy, a tool that’s going to actually help them get a return on their investment.

[00:01:55] So, so we offer everything from web design and development. Search engine optimization, social [00:02:00] media, reputation management, everything to make sure that they’re showing up online, people are finding them online, and then those visitors are converting to paying customers.

[00:02:11] Russel: So like a lot of owners, doesn’t sound like you set out in your career to be an agency owner. What were you thinking was gonna be your career back when you were young? .

[00:02:20] Dr. Lemelle: Oh, wow. I actually thought initially I wanted to go to law school. Well, first I wanted to be a doctor, then I realized I didn’t really like the sight of blood, so that wasn’t gonna work out. Mm-hmm. . Um, then I said, okay, we’ll try law school.

[00:02:32] Thought about that for a while and decided that was not going to be the route for me. So I actually came out of college not quite knowing what I was gonna do. And I started my bachelor’s degree was in Spanish, so I was like, what do you do with degree in Spanish? Right. So I ended up teaching high school and I loved it.

[00:02:48] I love teaching and I found out at that point that’s really who I am. I’m a teacher, I’m a trainer. I love helping people. I taught high school for several years before going back to get my master’s in HR where I was able to do training and [00:03:00] development still.

[00:03:00] Russel: So what made you decide to get out of the teaching field and then actually go into the HR field?

[00:03:06] Dr. Lemelle: Well that was a family situation actually so I had a transitioned family and moved from Houston to Delaware and I was living in Delaware and found a job at a staffing agency and that’s when I realized, wow, I really like helping people find jobs.

[00:03:21] I really like helping people make career choices and with their resumes. And so it was at that moment I was like, okay, this, this can be a long-term career. So I went back and got my master’s while I was in Delaware at Wilmington University and then relocated back to Houston, but at the time I was still in HR at that point.

[00:03:38] So went from working in the staffing agencies into corporate America as VP of Employment for Regional Bank at the time. So that’s when I started doing a lot of the training and development.

[00:03:49] Russel: Delaware that is a hike from Houston, Texas.

[00:03:52] Dr. Lemelle: It’s quite a hike. It’s quite cold there too, but

[00:03:54] Russel: Oh, I bet, I bet. That’s part of the country I have not yet made it to. So then as I understand [00:04:00] it, as you said, you’re doing the corporate HR thing and then eventually started your own HR consultancy. Which again, non-linear path even kind of led to the evolution of your agency.

[00:04:10] If you don’t mind sharing with us how that all came to be.

[00:04:13] Dr. Lemelle: I left corporate America for a while to raise a family. I had kids and I was working full-time in ministry at the time and loving life. And then life changed again and I was like, entrepreneurship had always been at the center of my heart.

[00:04:25] Always knew I wanted to own a business. I have several entrepreneurs in my family, and I think it’s just in my blood. After, like I said, my kids were a little bit older, I decided I was gonna start a, the HR company. But at that time I’d been out of corporate America for I think about 12 years.

[00:04:39] So I didn’t necessarily have those connections. I was getting a few opportunities here and there doing some HR consulting and some recruiting. But I had built my own website and people kept asking me, who built your website? I built the website for the ministry that I was working with at the time, and again, more people were asking me churches and ministries and other people who built your website.

[00:04:59] Can you [00:05:00] build me a website? So at this point I’m absolutely sure I’ll build you a website. And what it really just kind of evolved into a business, all its own. People were paying me to build websites and I was like, wow, this is actually a pretty good business model. I spent some time trying to teach myself HTML coding, Dreamweaver, and finally landed on WordPress.

[00:05:20] That’s how the transition happened. It was not expected at all. I never thought or really considered myself as a web designer or even a digital marketer because like I said, HR teaching and training was my passion. Luckily I’m able to bring a lot of that to my clients, working with them with their STR strategy and their business plans.

[00:05:37] Russel: Just for context as I understand it, you just celebrated or you’ve passed the, the decade mark in your business. So this was all about 10 years ago, is that correct?

[00:05:46] Dr. Lemelle: Absolutely, yes. We celebrated 10 years last year. We had a beautiful celebration downtown Houston, where I got to see some of my clients that I’d never met face to face before.

[00:05:55] So that was a really great experience. Cause as you know, digital marketing, we pretty much work remote. We’ve [00:06:00] been doing Zoom before Zoom was on everybody’s radar. That was a really great experience to celebrate those 10 years and see where we came from. For me, being a solopreneur one person to now having an agency and a team that works with me.

[00:06:14] Russel: Congratulations. Not an easy feat to accomplish. But going back to some of those early days, how did you find your clients back then?

[00:06:22] Dr. Lemelle: Well, initially they found me and then when I realized that, okay, this can actually be a business, I decided, okay, I probably need to build some type of portfolio.

[00:06:31] I started asking friends and families who I knew either had a side business or a side hustle and offered to build for free. I would do that. I built a couple of websites for free and built a support, built myself a website. Cause I didn’t have a website business.

[00:06:44] I had my HR website and I had my ministry website, but I didn’t have a, a website for the the web design business. So I created that website and they said, did a few free websites for friends who had side hustles or businesses. And from there it really just started to grow [00:07:00] through word of mouth referral.

[00:07:02] Russel: You briefly touched on it earlier, but not too long in the business, you decided to get your doctorate’s degree. Why was that important to you and how did you navigate running a business while going through that process?

[00:07:15] Dr. Lemelle: Well, I always wanted to be a doctor, but like I said, I didn’t stand the sight of blood, so I figured I’d go a different route.

[00:07:21] No, no, really, I always, I love education. I love learning, I love research. And always knew I wanted to pursue that terminal degree, and it just seemed like the perfect time because I was transitioning from a very, different background and I wanted to be able to help my clients as much as I possibly could.

[00:07:38] So I wanted to know as much as I could about business so that I could help them, not only from my own experience and my own mistakes, but I really wanted to understand business theory so that I could make sure that I’m was giving good information. We’re talking about strategy and management and administration and operations.

[00:07:55] I did decide to go back and I earned my doctorate in business administration. [00:08:00] It was really just a, a long-term dream of mine, so it was something that I wanted to do. I was already my own boss at the time, so it wasn’t like I was getting a raise, but I definitely was able to accomplish something that I had been longing for.

[00:08:12] So it was, it was a great experience, a tough journey, but a great experience.

[00:08:16] Russel: I can’t imagine. And what ended up being the focus area for your thesis?

[00:08:21] Dr. Lemelle: My thesis, my dissertation is identifying best practices for minority and women’s small business owners in government contracting. I was actually working on a government contract at the time with a friend and I was subbing on the contract and it just blew my mind how a government contract could truly change the trajectory of a business for a business owner.

[00:08:41] Knowing how much information was out there that we did not have access to as minority and women’s small business owners, I wanted to dive deeper into that specifically so that I could help more minority and women’s small business owners understand these opportunities and how to take advantage of these opportunities for their own business growth.[00:09:00]

[00:09:02] Russel: Is there any helpful tips, takeaways, that might be helpful or to other folks, particularly minority women-owned business owners out there that are listening?

[00:09:10] Dr. Lemelle: Oh, absolutely. I was able to create a framework of best practices in a model for business owners to use as they’re either seeking government contracts or working in government contracts.

[00:09:21] I interviewed 15 successful MWBEs who had multiple government contracts over the past three to five years. And the information I was able to gain from them, like I said, I try to share with my business owners. One of the main things that came from that is the importance of project management, which can be a very tricky thing for entrepreneurs and small business owners.

[00:09:41] But if you don’t master project management, you are really going to struggle as a business owner because there are always multiple things going on at the same time. So the great part about my research, although it was focused on government contracting. Those principles and that framework that I created can be [00:10:00] applicable to any business owner across any industry. And so I find it to be very valuable information. It has changed my business and has helped me to grow significantly. We’ve implemented different project management tools and we view it completely differently now than I did prior to doing my research. It has definitely helped to propel my business and to grow it over the last two to three years.

[00:10:22] Russel: Nothing will test your project management skills like government projects.

[00:10:26] Dr. Lemelle: Yeah. . Absolutely. Absolutely.

[00:10:29] Russel: So you kind of started to touch on it, now that you’ve graduated and it sounds like a lot of really amazing research. How has that continued to help you in your business in other ways?

[00:10:39] Dr. Lemelle: I always go back to that framework. When things start to seem to be breaking down a little bit I’m able to go back to that framework and identify, okay, where are we struggling? Is it the project management? Is it our workforce management? Is it our systems and our processes?

[00:10:53] Based on everything usually falls back into that framework. And so if I’m taking those best practices and applying them [00:11:00] in my business, I can usually see, I can usually fix whatever the problem is that I’m dealing with at that time. So I use that framework, I use that model as sort of an assessment for my business when things start to get a little hard or difficult or I’m not growing at the rate that I want to continue to grow at.

[00:11:17] It’s been a, a great evaluation tool for me and my business as well as for some of my clients, that I work with as well.

[00:11:25] Russel: Sounds like you practice what you preach, as well for, for your own business, which sometimes isn’t always the case for agencies. Have you been able to take that a same approach with even the marketing efforts?

[00:11:36] How up to date do you keep your website?

[00:11:37] Dr. Lemelle: Maybe is the, oh my gosh. They say the cobbler kids have no shoes. Right? So that’s interest . We actually are in the process of revamping our website right now. What I’ve told my team for this year, the remainder of this year is that we will begin to treat the clever site like a client because we’ve helped so many other small businesses grow.

[00:11:58] We post them launch, [00:12:00] grow, and scale their businesses over the last few years. And so, we’ve had some growth as well, but we’ve not really been as diligent on our own marketing, growing our own platforms and so forth, because we’ve been so busy right now with, with word of mouth and referrals. That’s always a great thing.

[00:12:15] Marketing is great. I, and do I say it as a digital marketer, you want it, you wanna have it. But you can’t beat those referrals and word of mouth clients that come in.

[00:12:23] So yeah,

[00:12:24] Russel: We’ve been to have that. Yeah get first right of refusal on your time for sure. We’ll, there you go.

[00:12:29] As you look back across your business journey in growing your business was there moments of uncertainty that you had and then maybe on the other side of that coin where you’re like, oh, I, I’ve got this, I know I’m on the right path.

[00:12:40] Was, is that something that sticks out in your mind?

[00:12:42] Dr. Lemelle: Probably those first 10 years I was definitely . Right then, do you ever feel like you’re on the right path? I mean, definitely. There’s always a lot of doubt, fear and imposter syndrome that comes along with being an entrepreneur. I didn’t even realize it had been 10 years when we hit 10 years. So those first probably eight or nine years, I was [00:13:00] always thinking, okay, do I need to have a plan B or do I need to go find a job? Do I need to do something different? And it really wasn’t until probably the last two or three years where I’m like, okay let me just focus in and figure this thing out and give it 100%.

[00:13:16] It was very scary. There was a lot of that trying to figure out, am I really on the right path or what do I do next?

[00:13:23] Russel: So you’ve certainly been in business for a good number of years now and experienced a good amount of success. What was that turning point or what did you have to solve for yourself and your business to actually start down that path of achieving growth?

[00:13:36] Dr. Lemelle: Not doing everything myself. Okay. Learning to delegate. Growing my team was definitely one of the best things that I could have done for my business. And like I said, I feel like I’ve done that really well. Cuz the people on my team now are amazing. Um, and it has. Freed me up to really focus on working on my business and not in my business every day, and that is huge.

[00:13:58] That’s when I really began to [00:14:00] see that exponential growth is when I stopped trying to do everything myself. As entrepreneurs, it’s one of the biggest challenges because usually funds are limited and so we don’t have the money to pay people. And then sometimes there’s a little bit of ego involved.

[00:14:13] Like I, you know, I know how I want it done. It is going to, you know, my clients wanna hear from me, it’s gonna get done if it’s gonna get done right and I’ll do it myself. That kind of mentality. And I really had to break away from that. And hire people that were smarter than me in certain areas.

[00:14:27] I am not the best developer. I’m definitely not the best designer. And so being able to , identify my own weaknesses and then hire those weaknesses so that I could focus on my strengths, I would say that’s something that I’m learning to do and getting better at every day.

[00:14:40] And it’s definitely helping me to grow my business.

[00:14:43] Russel: I think that’s a, that’s certainly a common thing that folks face. Is there any little hacks or tips like that you did? Where your natural inclination was, well, I’m gonna do this myself, but I slapped myself in the hand, or, I don’t know, anything like that helped you focus on implementing?

[00:14:58] Dr. Lemelle: I started by asking [00:15:00] myself what were the things I don’t want to do? What are the things I don’t like to do? Cause those are the easiest handover. Right. And then they’re the things that I really like to do, but I shouldn’t be doing because I love to research and learn and like I could spend hours just looking stuff up on the internet.

[00:15:14] But that’s not the best use of my time. Right. Cause there’s no ROI there. First of all, things I don’t like to do, like my bookkeeping, outsource that as soon as I could afford to. Just general administrative stuff. And then the things that I like to do, but I probably shouldn’t do. Like, so if you identify those things and then start handing them off, it’s hard with the things that you like to do.

[00:15:34] But what I always ask myself is this the best use of my time? So should I be doing it? Is it the best use of my time? Can someone do this better than me? And just constantly asking yourself, you know, why am I doing this? So if I get, find myself doing things over and over again that are not adding value or it’s not using my greatest strengths, using me as the CEO. I wanna function as a CEO.

[00:15:57] So that’s really, really important. And the [00:16:00] things that have helped your people that have helped me get there have been business coaches. So I definitely would recommend to anyone listening, if you don’t have a business coach and you’re in business as an entrepreneur. The moments you can, you know, hire a business coach absolutely for the accountability.

[00:16:14] And it’s not necessarily you are looking for somebody to tell you what to do. That’s not it. But you need that accountability and you need that person to question you and to challenge you as an entrepreneur.

[00:16:24] Russel: I couldn’t agree more. That was certainly instrumental in our growth and a big motivator behind even what I’m doing today, obviously, so I appreciate you sharing that.

[00:16:32] And then last question that came to mind is when you do actually delegate any, just tips on how to do that well? Some people, they’re good at throwing things off their plate, but they’re maybe not good at the follow up or anything along those lines.

[00:16:47] Anything come to mind with that question?

[00:16:48] Dr. Lemelle: Absolutely. First of all, there’s gotta be a project management tool in place. I cannot remember half the stuff I tell, you know, I say say to people or assign. So if it’s not in writing, it’s almost like it [00:17:00] didn’t happen for me. We use the project management tool.

[00:17:02] I have a project manager, so it gets assigned to someone. There’s a date attached to it, and then there’s accountability. There has to be that level of accountability. So that’s the first part is, you know, effective project management, which goes back to what you talked about earlier. And then the second part is having the right people on your team so that they, they’re accountable to themselves and following up with you.

[00:17:22] Because when you’re delegating to multiple people, you sometimes forget about what project. Who’s doing what, and so forth. And then making sure that you’re following up and just inspecting what you expect so that you aren’t just, you know, throwing ideas out in the air to see what sticks, but actually following up and making sure things are happen.

[00:17:41] Russel: Like that phrase, expecting what you expect.

[00:17:44] What are you focused on long-term?

[00:17:46] Dr. Lemelle: Well long term, I am looking to actually take myself out of the day-to-day operations. Over the last year and a half, I’ve been able to grow my team so that I’m not doing the hands-on design and development anymore. I [00:18:00] have an amazing team that I work with. I have an amazing project manager.

[00:18:03] Client success manager, technical support. I just have a really great team and so my focus, what it allows me to do now more of is to do what I love to do, and that is the strategy, the teaching and the training, the working one-on-one with my clients to help them develop their overall business, their full-blown marketing strategy from beginning to end.

[00:18:22] So we’re no longer just building pretty websites. We’re building clever growth plans to help them grow their business. So whether they’re starting off brand new and they need a logo, a website, or if they’ve been in business for a while and they need to drive more traffic to the website and get more conversions, we can help them develop a strategy over the next 12 months to help them meet their business goals and their sales goals.

[00:18:44] That’s really my focus is being able to move myself out of the day-to-day as, as I’ve grown my team now and really help start helping more business owners grow and scale their business.

[00:18:55] Russel: Worthy and admirable goal for sure. As someone that’s been [00:19:00] an entrepreneur for a long time, I’m curious are entrepreneurs born or are they made?

[00:19:06] Dr. Lemelle: Interesting question. That’s a very interesting question. And to be honest, I don’t know the answer to that. Like I said, I honestly feel like entrepreneurship was in my blood. My grandparents were entrepreneurs, my dad was an entrepreneur.

[00:19:18] I just always knew I wanted to have a business. I remember being in my grandmother’s home, selling penny candy out of her kitchen. You know, like . We were always, you know, it was always, okay, how do we make something happen? How do we make it work? My dad, even though he was a police officer, he always had a side business, whether it was training animals or doing taxes or doing something on the side.

[00:19:38] He always had a desk where he was working. I definitely. To a certain extent that entrepreneurs can be born. It, it’s in their blood. It’s something inside you that drives you. But I also believe that if it’s something that you wanna do, you can learn how to do it. So you can turn yourself into an entrepreneur if you’re willing to put in the work.

[00:19:57] If you’re willing to, you knows. Study, [00:20:00] learn, be a disciple under somebody, follow some, you know, mentorship or an apprenticeship or something and definitely don’t recommend just jumping into it. I will say that I do not believe entrepreneurship is for everyone, though. I definitely don’t think it’s for everyone.

[00:20:12] It’s not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure.

[00:20:15] Russel: isn’t that the truth? And for an answer that started out with, I don’t know, I think that turned out to be a pretty good one. If people want to know more about, you, The Clever Site, where can they go.

[00:20:25] Dr. Lemelle: Definitely. Well, to connect with me directly, I’d definitely say connect with me on LinkedIn.

[00:20:29] I’d love to converse with you there. You can also follow us on Facebook. Um, it’s the clever site, all one word. Instagram is The_CleverSite. You can find us there, but like I said, please reach out, connect with me. You can go to our website@thecleversite.com and schedule a free 15 minute discovery call.

[00:20:48] We can talk about your business, your business goals, and um, your digital marketing strategy. I’d love to hear from you

[00:20:55] Russel: And we have it folks, all the places to go. Well, thank you so much for being on the show today, [00:21:00] Dr. Lemelle. It was great to hear your story. Very inspiring and sincerely appreciate all your time.

[00:21:05] Dr. Lemelle: Well, thank you for the opportunity. I’m very glad to be here.

[00:21:11] Intro: We hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of An Agency Story podcast where we share real stories of marketing agency owners from around the world. Are you interested in being a guest on the show? Send an email to podcast@performancefaction.com. An Agency Story is brought to you by Performance Faction.

[00:21:31] Performance Faction offers services to help agency owners grow their business to 5 million and more in revenue. To learn more, visit performancefaction.com.

[00:21:46] Dr. Lemelle: Other than trying to run a business in my car, having meetings when , you know, first starting out and trying to take business everywhere and anywhere, having conversations in the car, I would say, I can look back now and say [00:22:00] the sites getting hacked was comical because I just remember how stressed out I was.

[00:22:04] I had been doing this probably at that time, maybe for about. Three, four years, not too long, and go to visit my family in Bermuda that I hadn’t seen in years. It was not an inexpensive trip. So the quality time was definitely something I was looking forward to. I get there and maybe day two, all of my sites got hacked.

[00:22:26] I could not believe it. I could have, and the internet wasn’t very great. So so it, I mean, I just remember now looking back, I said I can laugh now. Cause I remember looking back on it, walking around, in my aunt’s home, like literally with my laptop in my hand, trying to find a signal. Going back and forth with the servers.

[00:22:47] It was, it was a nightmare at the time. Like I said, I, I see myself pacing and, and trying to figure it out, about to pull my hair out in the most beautiful place in the world, the island of Bermuda. And I’m inside stuck trying to find, get an [00:23:00] internet connection. It was definitely a turning point.

[00:23:01] We’ve only had, I think we have not had one of our sites get hacked since. I was working with the client that we brought over. We did not build their site. Their site got hacked, but it definitely taught me lessons. We use, we have all types of securities, all types of alerts on our websites now.

[00:23:16] But that was a nightmare. I, yeah, you answered funny, but that was definitely a nightmare.

[00:23:21] Russel: Thank you for sharing that.