Published on March 15th, 2017 | by Jeff M.


Interview: Debi Lewis, Doing business with non-profits

Some species eat their young.  Every August, I wholly understand (and am tempted to embrace) this tendency, yet my children are too large to fit on the Weber grill.

The kids are off school, camp has run out, and now we need to be Good Mommies and Daddies while running our businesses (since our clients could not care less whether we have any focus left to dedicate to work after singing Wheels on the Bus 40,000 times in a row.)  How does one go about this?  One (not me, of course, but ONE) works from sunrise until the kids start to kill each other while her husband “watches” them, and then packs a (Healthy! Nutritious!) picnic lunch, abandons the laptop for the pool, and chases after all the kids in the water for the better part of the day.  With any luck, the little one will nap (Quick, write a blog post!) or they’ll play Chutes and Ladders (Schedule social media updates for tomorrow!) and after bath time and throwing the picnic leftovers down one’s throat, one hauls the laptop back out and goes back to work.  Yes, one is exhausted.  And hungry, since picnic leftovers are not known to satisfy. Thus, the thoughts of cannibalism.

debi-headshotJeff and I felt that we (and our listeners) might benefit from an alternate, more altruistic business perspective given that most of us are grumbling through the month.  Enter Debi of Jebraweb.  I totally dig Debi and her process for several reasons.  Yes, she is a bloody do-gooder, but I better surround myself with some of those or I’m headed straight to hell.  She is one of the most genuine, grounded and non-hypocritical people I have ever come across, and those ingredients earn tremendous amounts of respect from me.  I’m not the only one – Debi’s clients adore her.  She is Evanston, IL based and dedicated to her local community. Most of her clients are local, and they have one thing in common apart from their addresses; Jebraweb almost exclusively serves clients which contribute to the greater good in one way or another.  Most of them are nonprofits. She builds custom websites within a content management system (she’s a Joomla-head like Jeff) and is a champion of open source solutions.  Debi runs her company like she runs her life – focused on improving the world and doing it locally.

Debi’s blog, Jebrawebbed, outlines her philosophies on more than just technology – her views on her work are consistent with her views on life, parenting, and the environment. Debi balances her business with her kids, working part time out of either her home office or at her “satellite” office, better known as the locally owned and managed Brothers K Coffee Shop while nursing a soy mocha.

Believe it or not, this was not a master plan hatched at college graduation (Debi has two – count them, two – degrees in creative writing, which as we all know is super lucrative)  and when life threw lemons and a programming book at Debi, she made homemade lemonade.  Too bad she doesn’t drink much – I could spike that shit and make it awesome.

Initially, waaaay back in the 1990’s, Debi was hired into a startup and told to catalog websites for search engines (can you imagine?)  When the startup changed direction five minutes later, she was told to build a website, which of course her creative writing background had completely prepared her for.  See – I just ended a sentence with a preposition – something someone with two degrees in writingwould never do.

Although she was already a vegetarian, even beans and rice cost money (as did rent) so she had no choice but to figure it out.  And figure it out she did.  She spent the next ten years going from one startup to another (tech jobs were easy to land back then) learning along the way, and eventually found herself working for the American Library Association.  She suddenly found herself in the company of many bloody do-gooders (how much “gooder” can you get than librarians?) and loved the feeling of working for a reason other than lining some one’s pocket (including her own.)  Then, she was hit with a bit of a shocker.  Debi’s youngest daughter was diagnosed with a condition which made it impossible for her to attend any sort of out-of-home daycare.  Debi needed an in-home job, and fast.  She gave notice at the ALA and began a new chapter of her life.

Initially, Debi (as all of us do) took any client she could lay her hands on, but found that working with the the “blood sucking businesses” made her feel unfulfilled.  She felt as though she was not contributing the way she could; she felt she was selling herself and the greater community short, and made a change.  Debi began networking locally, in a casual, collaborative, person-to-person kind of way.  With the local women’s exercise studio owner.  With budding artists. With those whom she wanted to be associated with socially – ultimately aligning her work life with her life ideals.  Harmonizing everything. (Doesn’t that sound reiki-licious?)

She offered bits of assistance and advice to these other Evanston-based entrepreneurs and the work (the work she wanted) began to flow!  Crowdsourcing at its best.  Actually, Debi dropped a word in regards to her philosophy that I didn’t recognize: hiveminding.  She set her sights on being part of and contributing to a local community of like-minded thinkers, and she achieved it.

My favorite piece of the Debi interview was her diplomatic approach to commenting on a potential client’s currently horrifically sucky website.  “What do you think of what I have now?” could be answered with “Wow, who did this for you? Your nine year old? It looks like an elderly cat threw up on it.” But Debi has other thoughts.  God bless bloody do-gooders.

Dudes, whassa girl gotta do ’round here to get an iTunes review? (OK, don’t answer that.)  Come give us a shoutout on iTunes so that we don’t appear to be in complete and utter oblivion.  Yes, I live in the middle of nowhere, and Jeff is in Suburbia Hell (my words, not his) but we would like to be somewhere on the iTunes podcast map!  C’mon… know you want to……

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