Have you heard of Riverwest Radio? The independent Milwaukee radio station is keeping the community up to date with local arts and news. My friend Ramone Sanders produces a show on the station called Pachamama Vibes (with hosts Razor Ramon and Billy Beats). Pachamama Vibes graciously had me on for an interview about all things Hoan Marketing.
Listen to the Interview (7:50 to 19:48)
Transcript of the Pachamama Vibes Interview with Hoan Marketing
Razor: So Ben, I met you at Public Allies. It was my first experience working in the city of Milwaukee. I don’t know about you, but it was a great experience. Because the experience itself, and the Public Allies way of going through service, and who I got to work with—the organizations—and the work I got to do, it gave me a sense of direction for the rest of my life and what I want to do. Or, if I do venture off into new endeavors, I want to ensure that these values are there. Do you know what I’m saying?
Ben: Absolutely. Yeah, I couldn’t say it any better than that. I really had the same experience and also coming up in the punk rock haven of West Bend, WI, coming up with values—it’s a little bit of a learning curve to consider myself in a “business.” But I’m trying to do it with values, and say yes to opportunities that really amplify those values and say no when the values don’t [match] because there are a lot of other digital marketing companies out there that handle a lot of different businesses. But whether it’s nonprofits, creatives, activists, or even businesses that have a social bent to them, I’m making websites.
Razor: What is the business?
Ben: Hoan Marketing—named after the bridge and one of Milwaukee’s socialist mayors—is a business that helps nonprofits (mainly) stand out online. Also what I call “social entrepreneurs,” creatives, activists. It’s web design mainly, but also other related digital marketing. There are a lot of people doing great work who don’t necessarily love spending their time in front of computers. I never saw myself doing that, but I guess I’m okay it, so here we are.
Razor: That’s wonderful. Would you say that when you initially came up with the idea you were already thinking “I’m doing this for the little guy?”
Ben: Well, I started off ten years ago, now. In West Bend, a group of us started an activist community center in 2009. I took it upon myself to do the website, social media, and all the digital marketing. There were a bunch of different projects after that, some local, some on a larger scale, where I ended up being the guy volunteering to build the websites. So, I guess I liked it! Then, Public Allies—the AmeriCorps program we did—was the first time I realized that I didn’t have to work jobs I didn’t love, and do activism full-time for no money on the side, and basically struggle constantly, because I wanted to meet the calling of my values. Public Allies opened all these doors of really good nonprofits in Milwaukee and I realized the best way I could help them was by building their websites.
Razor: Would you say most of the work you’ve completed now has been based on your connections through the AmeriCorps program, Public Allies?
Ben: I’d say half. The other half has been from connections from community organizing I’ve done in the past.
Razor: So, where I can I find your website?
Ben: It’s hoanmarketing.com and also on Facebook @hoanmarketingmke. I see it largely as a collaboration, so if you have questions about your website or digital marketing, we can talk. It doesn’t necessarily mean signing up for anything. I really want to help: my dream is to be self-sufficient enough with the business to be able to give a free website or two away every year to different nonprofits or initiatives that could use one but maybe don’t have the budget.
Billy: What advice would you give to someone who is looking that direction, starting off as you were, but is struggling to make ends meet (being that you were able to develop it into something that could provide for you as well as meet your goals)?
Ben: For people who come from an activist mindset, it can be hard to imagine merging activism and making a living. But, my time in Public Allies taught me that if you’re struggling yourself, you’re not going to be able to help others as well. There’s nothing wrong with getting your basic needs met. Ideally, we’d all feel comfortable, safe, and secure. So, it’s a struggle to be a freelancer; there’s a lot of insecurity that comes with that (not having a 9-to-5). For me, what has helped me is leaning into the connections that I already have. I was willing to do some things for free or very cheap to build up a portfolio. As a young entrepreneur, I needed to show that I’ve got the chops. Some advice that I also need to give myself is to not be afraid to charge what you’re worth. It’s always a struggle, especially with nonprofits: you look at their mission, what they’re trying to do. It’s hard to charge full price. So, I try my best to work it out with them to make it reasonable for everyone.