Matt Nelson, founder of Grow Madison

IB’s Professional of the Week is the premier way to meet Dane County’s professionals. This week features Matt Nelson, freelance WordPress and SEO consultant, founder of Grow Madison.

1. What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your job and why?

I’ve been self-employed my entire adult life and have been a full-time freelance WordPress website designer and Search Engine Optimization consultant for the last seven years. It’s fair to say that I truly love the work, and it’s fair to say it has its challenges and rewards.

Since starting Grow Madison I’ve had the chance to teach technology to hundreds of folks from a huge range of backgrounds and industries, and I’m crystal clear that teaching and empowering others is the most rewarding thing I do. The most rewarding part of branding and website work is that I get to design something beautiful that gets used every day, by tons of people, and that’s such an awesome concept. I also admit that I live for the positive feedback that comes with a job well done — nothing beats having a client gush over the final product.

For any freelancer most challenges revolve around finding work, doing the work, and getting paid. Most of the work comes to me these days, so finding new projects isn’t much of a problem. On the other hand, finding nice long blocks of time to do design work can be challenging between Grow Madison events, running a monthly Freelancer Meetup, and working on “a few” other startup projects.

I’m lucky enough to pick and choose what projects I take on, so I tend to have really interesting clients that are up to big things and are at the top of their field. I truly love working with highly talented people.

2. Who do you look up to or admire in business and why?

Greg St. Fort, executive director at 100state. I’ve had the privilege of working closely with Greg for the last couple years as he started managing events and eventually took over as executive director at 100state. He’s one of the sharpest and hardest working people I’ve had the privilege of working with. His energy is infectious and he’s done a phenomenal job growing the community at 100state into a more diverse and invited space for everyone in Madison.

3. What has been the high point of your career so far?

I’m usually looking forward to the next great project, which I generally anticipate will be the next “high point.” It’s not that I think the grass is greener on the other side; I just like to live in the present and prepare to knock the next big thing out of the park. With that being said, I have three really amazing projects that will all be coming together this year; two are startups, and the other could have a huge impact on the nonprofit and volunteer communities.

4. Thinking back on your career, what advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

Invest heavily in Apple and Microsoft. And don’t miss that Prince show at Paisley Park.

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5. What would you say are the best things about living and working in Dane County?

I’ve wanted to live and work in Madison ever since my first visit to the Memorial Union back when I was a teenager, and the UW is the only school I applied to. Now that I’ve grown some roots here and have built so many great relationships in the business community, I can say my favorite thing about living and working here is the people. There are so many civic-minded people looking to make the world a better place, and I just love them all!

I also can’t really talk about Madison without mentioning 100state. Since finding this little coworking space on the square three years ago, I’ve been lucky enough to help it grow into Wisconsin’s biggest coworking community and what has become a major focal point of art, entrepreneurship, and social change in the area. I like to describe it as the modern Rotary or Chamber, but it’s so much more than that.

6. Do you have any secret talents or abilities that people would be surprised to discover?

I’m a former Hoofers Sailing Club instructor and am certified to charter a sailboat anywhere in the world. I’ve also jumped out of airplanes, barefoot water skied, and walked on fire.

7. What are your guilty pleasures?

My biggest guilty pleasure is reading — when I find a good book (or series) I can’t put it down, and have been known to binge read 1,000-page novels in no time at all. I have a great library of personal development and leadership books, a huge library of sailing related books, and in the last few years I’ve become a big fan of science fiction and fantasy novels for the rare times I can find to read these days.

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