Kevin and Lauren Deal working together on the couch in their home studio

Meet July Five Design

A brand new Black-owned digital agency flourishing at stellar PM practices

Lauren Deal is a project manager and co-founder of July Five Design, an ecommerce agency out of Philadelphia. She spoke to Louder Than Ten about completing the Digital Project Management Foundations course and how it helped her set up efficient processes, as well as the importance of creating opportunities for underserved communities, and the beauty of a supportive online community that sees people for the humans that they are—even in a remote, digital world.

The July Five website

Organization
July Five Design

Based in
Philadelphia, PA

Website
julyfivedesign.com

Program
Digital Project Management Foundations (cohort LTT-020)

Tell me a little bit about your agency—who are you, what do you do, and who does what?

My husband, Kevin Deal, and I started an agency. We called it “July Five” because it was kind of a physical manifestation of our relationship. I don’t know, that sounds weird! [laughs] But, it’s like two people becoming one in business, but then also in marriage. Our wedding anniversary is July 5th, so that’s why we chose the name July Five.

I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit. That’s just how my family is. Whenever I see a problem that needs to be fixed, I prefer to fix it rather than to talk about it. It’s like, if doors aren’t opening, let’s make our own doors and our own lane for ourselves so that nobody can really dictate to us what we can and cannot do.

We wanted to have an agency that felt intentional. We don’t not hire people of other races or anything like that, we’re just very intentional about seeking out Black designers and Black developers and marketers and copywriters so that they have opportunities that they wouldn’t necessarily have had before. So it wasn’t like we don’t want other people, but it was also like we want to help underrepresented groups through this company.

When we were putting this all together, it was right before the pandemic. I was in art school at the time, and the agency was supposed to be a combination of interior design and web—like the digital and physical spaces meeting together. And when COVID happened, I also realized “Hey, I want to be able to do this from anywhere and not have to be in an actual physical location to do work.” Because that just opens you up more. So we were like, okay, maybe the interior design thing isn’t the way to go.

So we pivoted very early into mainly web. My husband had heard about an opportunity with Louder Than Ten’s digital project management training and I was like, “Oh yeah, that’s something I want to do!” So I did the three-month program.

The Digital PM Foundations program.

Yup.

Okay, cool.

Abby Fretz was my instructor. It was a small cohort which I really liked because at the end, everybody kind of pretty much knew everybody. And it was really hands-on, and you could ask any question.

I used some of the things that I was learning to start processes for July Five, and to understand how to set up projects from the beginning. And I think one of the things that happens is a lot of agencies start with just designers, and they usually don’t have project managers. Project managers probably for most start-up agencies don’t come into play until much later because it’s not [obviously] a money-making role.

There were so many templates, and resources, and links [shared in the course]. I remember one night I was probably up for five hours just going through all the lessons and bookmarking all the websites that they had linked to and adding and saving all of the templates that they had created. And I was just like, “This is gold!”

We struck gold, it felt like. I know it’s also for people doing project management in-house, but I think it was even more helpful for the freelancer who wanted to do it, or the agency who wanted to do it because there were just a lot of processes and structures already put in place and all you had to do was adapt them to what you wanted. And it was very adaptable so it wasn’t like they were saying “oh you have to do it this way all the time.” It was like, “How can you use this and implement it in your work and what you’re doing and tweak it?”

A portrait of Lauren Deal

Lauren
Deal

Co-Founder, Interior Design & Operations
at July Five

I know it’s also for peo­ple doing project man­age­ment in-house, but I think it was even more help­ful for the free­lancer who want­ed to do it, or the agency who want­ed to do it because there were just a lot of process­es and struc­tures already put in place and all you had to do was adapt them to what you wanted.

I’m happy that you say that. It’s good to know you found it helpful.

Yeah!

As I was nearing completion for the course, everything kind of came to a head. We were in the midst of quarantine. We were all still very new to it. New to everybody being virtual and all those things.

And then George Floyd happened, and I think that people got more hyper-aware of wanting to be more about diversity and inclusion and all of those things. Which opened a lot of doors I’m grateful for. It’s always kind of bittersweet though because it shouldn’t have had to take that to do it. But we’re here now.

For a lot of people, it was the first time that they noticed. But it was definitely not the first time that it has happened. At that point, I guess the world was noticing. I think—and this is a sidebar—but every other case of police killing Black people, people always made another reason for why it was justified. I guess for this case there was a harder play on its justification. So maybe people started to notice more.

Even though they tried to justify it, still.

Right. Exactly. But anyway, because people were noticing, my husband was connected with a design system agency. They wanted to have a conversation, and do a brain trust about being Black in tech.

Through those conversations, we talked about creating more opportunities for Black people and how Black people usually have a lot of knowledge but not a lot of experience. And it’s like well, yeah, that’s because we have to have five times the knowledge for you to even give us the experience that you would give to somebody else. So I was like, I have to have a Masters in Business Administration for people to even get me the opportunities that are entry-level. Where somebody else doesn’t because that’s just not required of them.

It has allowed me to transition into freelancing. I met with Abby, because you can have one-on-ones with your instructor. And I told her that I wanted to go freelance, and asked her what she thought. And she told me that she thought that within six to eight months I would be able to do freelance full-time. And it’s always hard because it’s like: I have an agency, some work is freelance, some work is client work, it’s very hodgepodge, but I kind of like it that way.

Any­time you need any­thing you can go to the com­mu­ni­ty and ask a ques­tion or get a resource or have some­body jump on a call with you. I don’t know how Loud­er Than Ten did it but they have cre­at­ed the ulti­mate Slack community.

What would you say is the main thing that you learned about yourself or your team at July Five during the span of the Foundations course?

That digital project management, although it is a branch of project management, is very different from traditional project management. There’s a lot of nuance. There’s technical project managers, and there’s people who are certified by PMP project managers, and I feel like being a digital PM is different from all of that. You can apply things, but it’s not a one-for-one application. Because there’s this whole idea of web and tech culture that you have to learn that comes with it that I didn’t necessarily know much about until I started it.

Did you find that the course from LT10 did a good job of introducing those concepts that are unique to the digital world?

Yeah, it was good to have the in-class project that we were working on together. There’s so much information shared like the bookshelf, or tools, and so it helps you to start to get acclimated to all these things that are out there and what it can be. Louder Than Ten also doesn’t have the tech bro culture!

We’re on the same wavelength cause my next question was going to be: you’re a member of the LT10 alumni community, do you find this is a helpful space for you?

I think it really is. For one, I get to sit in on AMAs (Ask Me Anythings), which I think is good especially as I’m learning more about tech and the web world. I get to hear what different people do. There are still careers out there that I don’t know exist that I get to now know it’s a thing that exists. I think that’s always helpful to me because another one of my passions is to let people in underrepresented communities know that things are out there because a lot of us don’t. It’s not afforded to us to know.

For only $10 a month, you couldn’t ask for more. Anytime you need anything you can go to the community and ask a question or get a resource or have somebody jump on a call with you. I don’t know how Louder Than Ten did it but they have created the ultimate Slack community. Not that I’m a part of so many—I’m probably only a part of like five—but this has been the most supportive. And we don’t all work together, so I think that makes a difference too because everyone comes from different places and has different ideas working on different things.

By the numbers

$40k increased revenue in 6 months

increased project value

$250K project size collaborated on

Also…

  • Increased client satisfaction
  • Able to transition to full-time business within 6 months
  • Now offering project management as a service to large agency clients

LT10 gave me bet­ter prac­tices that actu­al­ly make a dif­fer­ence for clients. It also helped give me more con­fi­dence to stand on when decid­ing how a process is going.

If I had a company and I was wondering whether or not to take the apprenticeship, what would you tell me?

I actually had this conversation with Alex Vasquez. He’s already in the program. I was talking it up so much to him that he was like, “I already paid for this! You don’t have to convince me!” [laughs] And I’m like, “I’m not trying to!”

I was like, you’ll learn all of this stuff in the course you’ll be able to talk about this, you’ll be able to talk about that. You know, it goes into pricing, it goes into establishing teams, and it goes into communicating with clients, and it goes into all of those things and it’s so vast and I’m like, they have an even longer program.

Is there anything else you wanted to add before we go?

One of the cool things that happened is I found out that Abby and I only live five blocks away from each other! So we ended up meeting up and having after work drinks and food. Everyone is genuine. I feel like I have a friendship with Abby, I feel like I could talk to her about stuff work-related or outside of work. So it’s not like it’s just putting on for trying to have a community. It’s really genuine people making genuine connections and wanting to help one another out.

That’s so hard to find!

Yeah, they’ve opened my eyes to so much. When Rachel and Travis were talking about making Louder Than Ten into a coop, and I’m researching what is a coop and how does it work? They’re really about people. I don’t know if you find too many people this day and age that are really about people. So that is something that keeps me around. I don’t feel like a commodity, I feel like a valued community member in a community that values people.

What are you doing now that you couldn’t do before?

Before LT10, I knew I could manage a project. I had done it many times before, but there is a difference between just managing a project and doing a good job and doing a better job. LT10 gave me better practices that actually make a difference for clients. It also helped give me more confidence to stand on when deciding how a process is going. Especially in the sales process, sometimes you accept whatever is presented to you as a PM because that is the norm. Through this process, I realized how to create new norms that influence the success of a project.

What are you most excited about or looking forward to doing this year as you grow?

I am most excited to have better sales to PM transitions in my work. I like to think of projects like a relay team. If the handoff of the baton isn’t near perfect it can impact the race drastically. Not that your team isn’t better than the others—but if the handoffs aren’t good then you can’t get the best results. And of course, I love the opportunity to be able to work on more and more projects that I enjoy working on.

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