Carrie Dils is a freelance WordPress developer specializing in the Genesis framework. She hosts the Genesis Office Hours podcast and shares lots of tutorials and help on her blog. Carrie has also created a couple of premium WordPress themes, Winning Agent and Utility.
We talked freelance WordPress development with Carrie and covered insights and wisdom from her experience:
How did you first get started with WordPress?
I come from a background of coding sites with plain ol’ HTML and a classic ASP/SQL server combo. About five to six years ago, a guy I was working with told me about WordPress, and I was absolutely floored with all it could do right out of the box. The idea of separating content from design so cleanly was right up my alley.
What prompted you to become a freelancer and specifically work with WordPress?
I’ve done a ton of freelance work in the past and have always enjoyed the autonomy of working from home as well as the flexibility to work projects of my choosing. Once I was introduced to WordPress and realized how much more quickly I could knock out websites for clients, I was sold.
Also, as a one-person shop, I can’t possibly know or do it all, so it’s appealing to work with software that’s under such active development. WordPress gives me the best of both worlds in terms of starting off with a solid code base but being able to build on that with my code.
What are some of the best practices that keep you successful as a freelancer?
Always be networking. I work alone from home but feel very connected through social media and developer-specific chat groups. I hang out on Twitter a lot, which is basically my go-to spot for “water cooler” conversations when I’m taking a break from work. I’ve had the opportunity through local WordPress meetups and WordCamps to meet a lot of my social media buddies in real life, which makes the connection even stronger.
Of course, those networks and connections have become part of my referral network, too, so there’s a lot of value in cultivating relationships both online and in real life.
In addition to staying socially and professionally connected, setting good work boundaries is important. I’ve never needed motivation to sit at my desk and work—I love what I do. But I’ve found it’s important to set rules about when I’m not going to work, so I can be present with my family and take care of myself.
What have you found to be the most effective at bringing in business?
In the past, customer referrals were always my biggest source of new business. There’s no better referral than the one I get from a happy client!
A couple of years ago I made a concerted effort to generate more content on my site (tutorials, DIY blog posts, etc.), and that’s lead to a tremendous increase in what I call “stranger referrals”—people I have no connection to. At present, I generate over 60% of my business from total strangers who’ve discovered me online. I’m not a blogging mastermind or business guru, but I’ve been amazed at what a consistent online presence has accomplished for my business.
How do you find the balance between contributing to the community with tutorials, podcasts, etc., and getting distracted from work that pays the bills?
This is such a great question and something I struggle to find balance with. Although the time/resources I give to the community don’t net direct profit, I know they’ve increased my exposure over time, which leads back to those “stranger referrals.” In that way, continuing to contribute is selfishly important. Of course, I love it too. At the risk of being ridiculous for quoting myself, I frequently say, “It’s more fun to solve someone else’s problem than work on my own.”
The Genesis Office Hours podcast is taking more and more of my time, but I absolutely love doing it. I’m considering sponsorship and some other ways to re-coup some of that time. We’ll see what happens!
What are your favorite productivity tools?
Every time I go to a WordCamp, I always pick up a new productivity tool (yes, that’s a commercial for anyone reading this to get out and go to a WordCamp).
One of my biggest time-savers this past year is DesktopServer, which is a great tool for spinning up local WordPress installations. WP MigrateDB Pro is another favorite that’s saved me a ton of time. If I need to buckle down and knock out a task, I’ve found TomatoTimer lights a fire under me.
I still spend too much time importing/categorizing transactions from Stripe and PayPal into Quickbooks. I need to take some time to use Zapier or the like to automate some of those tasks.
What have you learned from selling your own themes?
Oh goodness, I’ve learned a lot! Turns out that creating a theme takes the least amount of time. It’s the mechanics of setting up a store, writing documentation, creating support channels, marketing and the like, that are so time-investment heavy. I don’t say that to discourage anyone—there’s still plenty of room in the market—but creating a theme for public release is a completely different prospect than whipping out a custom theme for a client. In addition to the rigors you put your code through, there are just a lot of other components involved.
I wrote a post about my experience selling themes that still stands.
I think the biggest thing I’ve learned since I wrote that is how much I still need to learn. Ha! I’ve been reading up lately on accessibility issues for WordPress and designing with a mobile user in mind first. I’m proud of the themes I’ve put out so far, but I look forward to making them even better the next time around.