Andrew Norcross is a passionate WordPress developer. You’d have to be to tattoo the WordPress logo on your hand.
Norcross isn’t much for the traditional. He’s tried the 9-to-5 life and keeps coming back to his own business, Reaktiv Studios. They do custom WordPress development as well as products with Design Palette Pro.
Eager to give back to the WordPress community, Norcross creates free plugins, is a conference regular, organizes WordCamp Tampa and makes WordPress core contributions.
We talked to Norcross to glean some business insights:
What was your first breakthrough in business that made you successful and how did it come about?
I don’t think there was one big “breakthrough” event, but rather a series of small wins and lessons.
I was fortunate to get involved at a time when WordPress was growing, but wasn’t the crowded space it is today. I put in a lot of time and effort and made a lot of mistakes, but was lucky that I could recover from them.
It also helped that due to some things in my personal life, I had begun freelancing without much (none, really) of a safety net so I had extra motivation to make it work.
Can you share a few of those mistakes and what you learned?
Oh wow, there are so many it’s not even funny.
But a few core ones that took more than a few times to grasp:
- Learning client red flags.
- Listening to my gut when something didn’t seem right.
- Only promising what I can actually deliver.
- When I mess something up, owning it 100%.
You have a WordPress tattoo, so clearly WordPress means a lot to you. What is it about WordPress that’s impacted your life so deeply you wanted a tattoo?
Well, I’ve got a lot of ink—about 120 hours total. So while I’d love to say that it was something really deep and meaningful, it just happened to work well into the coffee cup tattoo I was getting on my hand.
But to the question itself, WordPress does mean a lot to me. It’s what pays my bills and supports my family, and it’s provided me with a fantastic community of people that I’d otherwise never have met.
You’ve worked full time jobs as well as running your own business, Reaktiv Studios. What keeps bringing you back to running your own business?
I worked for two companies for a total of 18 months in the middle of my now 8-year career. It was a combination of being exhausted running my company solo, wanting to purchase a home and getting married, which brought two more kids to the family. So the insurance, steady pay, etc., was nice. It also gave me a chance to work on some cool projects that I wouldn’t have gotten as a freelancer.
But ultimately I’m just not that good at working for other people, as I’ve never done well with authority. So when I re-launched Reaktiv full time, my wife took on the management side of the business while I focused on the development side. It’s worked out amazingly well.
What’s your best advice for working with clients?
First off, do the work.
It seems odd to say, but so many issues are avoided by just delivering on your promises.
From there, it’s a matter of communication. Let them know what’s happening. Get them involved when they need to be (and push them out when they don’t). And most importantly, be the professional.
You’ve switched from custom development to selling products with Design Palette. How has that changed your business?
Reaktiv does both. We still do at least 50% client work, if not more. But moving to the product space was a combination of having a marketable idea, and knowing how to build it. It’s been nice in terms of revenue, but also to see a project through over the long haul and watch as it matures and evolves. It’s given me more insight to managing a project, as most client work is simply build/ship/repeat.
In another interview you were asked about the first question you’d ask a developer in a job interview, and you said you’d want to see their code before a word is spoken—and if they didn’t have public code, they wouldn’t be a good candidate. Why is having public code so important to you?
I know there are a few scenarios where there isn’t public code, usually when someone works for a company that doesn’t allow them to push things live. But it’s still important to see public code.
First off, it shows they are involved with the community at some level.
But in detail, it gives me insight into the person as a developer. Do they follow best practices? Do they cut corners? If there’s enough code to review, has their skill set grown? These are things you can’t get in a verbal interview.
What books have helped you build your business?
I don’t read a lot of business books, too many are either so high level/theory based that it’s not actionable info, or so hyper focused that it’s only relatable to the writer’s experience.
But the books by Mike Monteiro and Erika Hall from Mule Design are fantastic, and I’d strongly suggest everyone read those:
- Design Is a Job by Mike Monteiro
- You’re My Favorite Client by Mike Monteiro
- Just Enough Research by Erika Hall