Women in UX: Sarah Doody On Being Her Own Boss And Her Own Client

by Sheena Lyonnais

posted on 07-05-2017

While many people in the creative field dream of being their own boss one day, what they don’t realize is this also means being your own client.

As Sarah Doody, a New York-based UX consultant, designer and entrepreneur, will tell you, designers are often their own worst clients. It’s something that’s taken on a whole new level for her now that she has launched an online course called UX Research Mastery, the first product in what she hopes to develop into a series of courses for UX professionals.

“It forces me to do everything I tell all my clients to do, like should I sit here and perfect this landing page for several more hours or just put it out there and see what happens?” she said. “I can say I have grown so much as a designer in the past six months because I have to make those decisions every day and I see the impact of it. It’s such a mental shift to have your own product.”

Treat Your Projects As You’d Treat A Client’s

She approached the project like she would any other. It began as a 90-minute workshop that, after receiving feedback that the workshop should be expanded into a multi-week offering, she developed into a curriculum. “Like any researcher, I prototyped this course,” she said. She tested it at a couple of conferences then launched it online as a limited-run offer. “Fifty-two people bought it, which was huge. It totally validated the demand.”

When the first run was over, she took the feedback and developed the product further and quietly re-launched it. Before she had a chance to devote any time to marketing, people immediately began purchasing the course.

Though this came as a surprise for her, it shouldn’t have. Doody is no stranger to the UX world, and with a background in marketing and visual design is an expert in marketing herself in a way that captures attention. She pens a popular weekly newsletter called the UX Notebook that has spun off into a tangible product that was recently given to 750 conference attendees in France. She has an active social media following, regularly writes and shares articles on the topic of UX including a plethora of resources for fellow designers, and runs a YouTube channel all with the intention of “helping you think like a designer.”

Her work has taken her all over the world, something the humble Canadian never imagined. After studying and working in Texas and then Portland, Doody jumped at the opportunity to move to New York City to work as the director of user experience at a startup, a city she has now called home for 10 years. Her dynamic personality and the accessibility with which she presents her work around UX research have since landed her speaking gigs across the globe. Most recently, she spent three weeks working, speaking at conferences, and getting stuck in a bathroom with a cat in Europe.

“I never created my own product in the past because I always thought the definition of a product had to be a consumer website or an app. I just had done too many of them to know I didn’t want to throw my soul into that,” she said. “But when I was able to redefine what a product was and think of it as a digital product or course, that’s when things clicked for me.”

How Doody Manages Her Day As A Full-Time UX Consultant With A Fledging Side Hustle

With so much on the go, Doody relies on project management software, regular goal setting, organization, an assistant, and sheer determination to manage her schedule and achieve her ambitions.

“What I do is I get really specific about what I want to do each year, each quarter, each month and then at the beginning of each week I block out everything I know I need to do that week. Then it’s kind of very fluid as to which days it actually gets done on,” she said.

She’s not a fan of wasting time, and allows herself the freedom to move things around when she isn’t feeling up to doing a specific task at a specific moment. With her week already mapped out, the flexibility has been crucial to her success as in her experience trying to force herself to do something her heart’s not into at that moment is counterproductive.

“I think that takes years of experience in knowing yourself well enough to recognize when you’re in one of those moments of ‘I’m just sitting here staring at my screen, maybe I should go for a run or make a YouTube video,” she said.

…And Run She Does

“Running is my therapy basically,” she said. “I was not a runner growing up. I took up running in Portland because everyone runs there because of Nike, and then in New York I joined the New York Roadrunners, which is a big run club here. I got into races and now I’ve been running with them for like seven years. I’ve done two marathons and I’m going to do another one this fall.”

With Barack Obama like discipline, she prefers running in the morning—ideally before she checks her email. She views it as an anchor, something to ground her throughout the rest of her day while also giving her a sense of accomplishment and pride right off the bat.

“If I open my email and I get hate mail because of an article I wrote, or if I get some crazy request from a client, it just rolls off my shoulders because no one can take that run away from you. You think well, I ran 10 miles this morning so I can deal with this crazy thing that has come into my inbox.”

If you’re not a runner don’t worry. Some mornings Doody will write an article she’s been thinking about. It’s really about setting yourself up for success by starting your day with an accomplishment that isn’t necessarily directly related to your job.

On Your Mark, Get Set, Go

A new chapter is here for Doody and she’s ready to put her best foot forward.

“Now that I’ve created the product and proven that people want it, it’s time to basically turn it from an experiment into a business. I don’t have a business degree, I know there’s a lot of stuff I don’t know, so it’s going to force me to deep dive into a lot of stuff I’ve just never had to do before like analyze the finances of it and things like that,” she said.

“I feel like now I’m at a point where I’ve always wanted to be because I’ve had this chapter of doing client work, I’ve proven I can do it for five years in New York City, and now I’m going to graduate to products, doing my own stuff, and being my own client, which is scary as anything.”

If Doody’s story so far has taught us anything it’s that if you work hard enough you too can become your own client, and that’s where the next chapter really begins.

To learn more about Sarah Doody, check out her website at sarahdoody.com. As a designer, do you have any experience in being your own boss and your own client, and if so, how do you manage it? Share your story and tips in the comments below.

Topics: Creative Inspiration & Trends, Design

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