Real world experience has given freelance WordPress developer Jared Atchison plenty of insight to share. His journey as a developer began back in sixth grade and today it pays the bills.
We picked Jared’s brain for freelancing insights. Last time we talked about how he got started and this time we’ll talk about more specific tips and best practices.
What advice do you have for budding WordPress freelancers?
Jared Atchison: Running your own business is awesome. It’s very rewarding and with some hard work and planning, your business can be extremely successful.
The key there is hard work. You have to be ready to put in the time, especially at the beginning. The time to: foster knowledge, build a brand, gather leads, network, build relationships, etc. It’s hard work and it’s not done overnight. If anyone else tells you otherwise, they are full of it.
Also, I think reading tutorials, blogs, and social feeds is important. However, one thing I can’t stress enough is that only goes so far. I see way too many people reading instead of doing. At the end of the day, taking action is going to give you the most valuable experience.
Get off social media and start working. Seriously.
Most of the WordPress freelancers out there that are killing it, keep a low profile. They don’t keep Twitter open all day or watch Facebook groups. They aren’t constantly monitoring the WordPress news sites. Not at all. Instead, they are building things. They are investing that time into improving their business.
I know this because not only do I know many of these freelancers personally, but also I can personally attest to this. When I finally started paying attention to (and addressing) how my time was spent, my revenue and profits both went up considerably.
Now I catch up on Twitter during lunch or in the evenings on my tablet—I don’t open the desktop app during the week. The same goes for Facebook and similar services. I read blogs and news sites once or twice a week in the evenings using my RSS feed reader app. I use a service called RescueTime that helps me keep tabs on how my time is spent and make sure I don’t fall back into bad habits.
I believe it is important to network and build relationships. I have a close-knit group of friends who are very successful and/or run their own business. Having these friends has really been invaluable to me both personally and professionally. Personally, I’m a huge believer in surrounding myself with people who are smarter or more successful than me. It pushes me to do more and keeps me from getting complacent.
So whether it’s going to local meet-ups, attending WordCamps, finding a mentor, joining a mastermind group—put yourself in a position to build lasting relationships.
Lastly, we all know the benefits of setting goals. However, that’s only part of the equation. When you set your goals, don’t forget to develop and implement systems that help you achieve them.
Do you have any systems or policies that keep you on track?
I try to develop and use a systematic approach for as much as possible.
I run new prospective leads through a series of checks that help me identify if I will be able to provide value to the client and earn a profit. When I first started out, I did a really poor job at this. It’s key that the project is beneficial to both parties.
I use a calendar (Google Calendar) and to-do list (TeuxDeux) to help keep all my ducks in a row. It’s very important to have a system in place that helps you stay on schedule and be as efficient as possible.
Currently, I’m working on coding a simple CRM that will help manage my leads and projects. It will also help provide project statistics. That’s an area I have identified that I’m not watching closely enough, so I’m working on a solution.
In 2014 I even went so far as to try and structure my average day. By having a daily schedule, my workflow becomes more routine, which I found has helped my productivity. I don’t have to think about what I should be doing. For example:
- 7:00-8:00 a.m. – Morning routine (wake up, quick stretches, shower, coffee breakfast, quick read or walk)
- 8:00-8:30 a.m. – Email (clear out junk, check for urgent messages, prioritize for day)
- 8:30-12:00 p.m. – Work sprint
- 12:00-1:00 p.m. – Lunch break
- 1:00-3:30 p.m. – Work sprint
- 3:30-4:00 p.m. – Break (protein shake, snack, walk dog, etc.)
- 4:00-5:30 p.m. – Email and scheduled calls
- 5:30-7:30 p.m. – Gym
- 8:00 p.m. – Dinner
- 10:00-11:00 p.m. – RSS feed / Read book
- 11:00 p.m. – Sleep
This doesn’t work everyday—there are many days I have things planned or things come up that change my schedule. But it’s a default template that I strive for. I’m still changing it all the time, but it gives you an idea.
All these things have been developed and implemented over time. When I first started, I had a white board list of projects and that was about it. It was terrible. Now I’m always on the lookout for new systems to put in place to help my business.
What keeps you successful as a WordPress freelancer?
Jared: Being stubborn and developing a systematic approach to business.
There are WordPress developers out there who do things I can barely comprehend. I see it on GitHub all the time. There are also people who are naturally gifted at running a business. Who cares? I don’t let that stop me.
My first year running my own business, there were a lot of mistakes. Damn, were there mistakes. Initially I just wasn’t great at managing the business. I let clients boss me around. I couldn’t keep a straight schedule (in part thanks to clients bossing me around). However, I kept going. I was stubborn.
The important thing is to learn from your mistakes and put systems in place to prevent it from happening again. In college I didn’t consider myself a systematic person, far from it. However, developing that attribute I think has been important to my business being successful.
Again, being from a family of business owners, I know that running your own business isn’t always easy. There are a lot of challenges, especially for the greenhorns. I think I was lucky that I had realistic expectations, and I was determined to keep my head down and move forward.
Lastly, I always try to put myself in a position to learn new things. I don’t ever want to get complacent. This applies to not just the technical side of things, but also running my business.
You differentiate between clients and customers—can you talk about that difference?
Jared: My view is customers tend to be transaction based. For example, I buy a premium plugin from AcmeCorp and now I’m a customer.
The approach I take with clients is much deeper than this. It tends to be more personal. I strive to build relationships with the people I work with, which lets me maximize the value I am able to provide.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve built with WordPress for a client?
Jared: That’s a good question. I’ve seen some really crazy things built with WordPress, but most of the stuff I do with it is fairly standard.
So I don’t think I’ve done anything really crazy, but I have done things that are complex.
I helped build a plugin that would dynamically populate parts of a website via content that was pulled in from an outside source via XML-RPC. That was interesting to say the least.
I built a complete recipe management system for one of my clients that ended up being really cool. There are some decent pre-made solutions out there, but none of them fit his needs so we ended up approaching it from scratch. It took a while but the final product turned out great. Even a few years later, I think that feature is one of the best I’ve done in terms of providing value to the client.
I’ve also built a few nifty membership sites that use a lot of custom functionality.
Thanks for sharing your insights, Jared.