086: Making millions through Dribbble with Erik Reagan

In this week’s episode of the Working Without Pants Podcast, I had the awesome opportunity to talk with Erik Reagan of Focus Lab.

This week was a response to a listener request from someone interested in generating revenue on Dribbble. What came out of the interview weren’t just keys to success in Dribbble, but tips for getting new clients from any online community in your line of work.

Also, be sure to check out the articles linked below that describe in detail the success Focus Lab has seen from communities like Dribbble and ExpressionEngine.

High fives: A toast to Dribbble
How showing our work intentionally has led to making millions

Initial Momentum

Focus Lab is a branding and interactive design agency of around 20 people. But, just 7 years ago is when they first started.

For the first 18 months of business, it was just Erik and his cofounder Bill doing work in the local community. And, new work usually came from word of mouth referrals from happy clients.

It was at this time that Erik started getting into a content management system called ExpressionEngine. While learning and growing in the ExpressionEngine community, he started to realize that there were a few key players that kept coming up. When he would search, he would always find a handful of people. He would see that they were answering questions that others were putting out there. They seemed to be everywhere on the site.

This small group of people who kept coming up were the go-to people for ExpressionEngine.

So, Erik decided to try this out. He decided to become very involved in Expression Engine with the hopes that people would come to Focus Lab by finding them there.

Focus Lab started seeing growth coming specifically from this tactic.

Bill then decided that they should try to focus on becoming a go-to person in the design community on Dribbble.

Over time, the strategy worked, and they started getting leads through Dribbble directly. And now, it accounts for a huge portion of their work.

And, being part of these communities has given them a place to learn and grow in their craft as well.

How do you make yourself known in this space?

So, being a go-to person on an online community like this can help drive clients to you, but how on earth do you actually rise to the top?

One of the key factors is spending time in the community.

Erik mentioned that he would spend 2 to 4 hours a week in the ExpressionEngine forums answering questions and posting information. Each time he learned something about ExpressionEngine, he would write about it.

But, you don’t just want to go into these communities and toot your own horn.

In addition to showing your work, you need to provide value to the other community members. You can answer questions, give feedback on other’s projects, or give suggestions.

One other important thing is that you don’t need to have a huge following to make this strategy work for you.

When Bill started out, he had 0 followers. He had no big audience coming over from Twitter or Facebook. He simply kept posting, kept answering, and kept being involved while winning new audience members one by one.

The key is to spend intentional time in the community that provides value to more than just yourself.

Deciding what to post

Dribbble allows designers to post work while in progress for feedback and suggestions. So, any time the team at Focus Lab has the opportunity to share what they are working on, they do.

But, posting an unfinished project can get tricky when doing client work.

When sitting down with a new client, Focus Lab talks to them about how important Dribbble has been for them and how it could attract people for the client as well. During this time, they discuss the project and whether or not it is something they can share updates with the community on along the way.

They’ve developed a stoplight approach to it. If a client is marked as green, they can share progress at any point along the way. If the client is yellow, they are able to share, but everything must pass through the client first before being shared. If the client is marked as red, they aren’t allowed to share anything with the project until it has gone to market.

This dashboard is readily available, so anyone on the team can know the status of the projects they are working on.

Work-Life balance

In addition to talking with Erik about the success they have seen in working with these online communities, I was also interested in discussing work-life balance. Erik puts a big emphasis on making sure work doesn’t take over.

One of the ways he maintains a good work-life balance is by managing his environments. Early on, he found that he was greatly influenced by his environment.

If he worked on his laptop in his living room, he would find himself in work mode any time he was in his living room with his laptop nearby.

It is because of this that Erik is very conscious of where he works and how he decompresses from work when on his commute home.

Although he has the ability to work from home often, he tries to do so as little as possible. And if he does, he works in his garage.

He is a huge fan of podcasts, but he doesn’t allow himself to listen to any work related podcasts on his commute home. This keeps his head from still being in work mode when he arrives.

There are several simple things like this that allow Erik to respect the environments he has in his life and maintain a proper balance throughout.

Final Thoughts

I always enjoy asking for final advice in my interviews. When talking with Erik, he mentioned the importance of good communication and how he wished he had learned that earlier in his career.

Strong communication skills can help you in managing coworker, prospect, client, and all other relationships better.

In his effort to become a better communicator, Erik had several good books he recommended, which I’ve listed below.

I had a great time talking to Erik, and I loved learning about how Focus Lab has seen huge results from working in Dribbble and ExpressionEngine. I hope you got some good information and insights on how to become involved in online communities in your industry.


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