We’re in the midst of a series of interviews with WordPress entrepreneurs, picking their brains for insight and knowledge.
Today we talk with Emilie Lebrun. She’s the founder Whodunit, the second largest WordPress agency in Paris, and was recently named chief operating officer of WP Media, the company behind the WP Rocket plugin, among others.
“One of the best lessons I’ve learned to make more money is ‘work less to earn more.’” -Emilie Lebrun
The conversation covers perseverance, increasing profitability and confidence:
When things are hard, how do you know when to stick with it and power through and when to call it quits and move on?
From an early age, I was taught to expect life to be tough. My parents always told me that I could have anything I dreamed of if I worked hard for it. “No pain, no gain,” they said. This idea was further drilled into me through popular culture. We were a whole generation inspired by the likes of Rocky Balboa: we were gonna make it with our will to survive.
After school, I tried out lots of different fields—law, banking, even law enforcement—but I always ended up quitting to try something else. My parents were in anguish, of course. How could I succeed if I didn’t persevere? But to me it was perseverance. I was never scared to try something new. I wanted to learn and to follow my passion. And so I learned to believe in myself and to listen to the little voice in my head, you know the one—the one that tells us what to do, what to believe and when to move on.
This drive and independent nature led me to entrepreneurship. I launched my first company, in IT support services, in 2001. Two years in, both my partner and I realized that this was not what we wanted to be doing and decided to close up shop. During that time I had started building websites, just as a hobby. It was something I really enjoyed doing and I thought, why not try to make a living at it?
Despite the Internet still being in its infancy at the time, nobody wanted to hire me. I had no qualifications, no school certification, nothing professional to show. One day, I heard a recruiter laugh from behind the closed door after leaving a job interview. In that moment, I listened to my little voice again, but this time she didn’t tell me to quit and move on. This time she told me not to be defeated, that I should persevere.
I took another job, an easy one just to pay the bills, and worked hard days and nights to learn how to become a web professional. I learned Photoshop, Flash, HTML and CSS. I started freelancing in graphic design, working with developers and some web agencies. I worked relentlessly, doing a mockup over and over again until it was good enough, until I finally became a web professional in my own right.
In 2009 I founded Whodunit, now the second leading French WordPress agency with a team of seven employees.
Having passion in my work and in my business, believing in my team and in what we are building is what drives me. Speaking and sharing with other colleagues, or in my case other WordPress professionals, keeps me engaged and in tune. Contact with people in the community helps me gain perspective and understand everyday problems that we can all encounter. Friends and family are, of course, very important too.
There is no science to knowing when to stick with it and power through, and when it’s time to move on. It’s instinct. It’s listening to yourself—to your little voice—and knowing yourself well enough to know whether or not you’re thriving in a given situation.
How do you make more money—what are some lessons you’ve learned that can increase profitability?
Diversify: Never put all your eggs in one basket. In the service industry, concentrating all or even a high percentage of your efforts and resources into one client is too risky. Diversifying your portfolio minimizes the risk while multiplying your revenue sources.
Be Proactive: Suggest new products and services to your customers on a regular basis. You know your business and your customers’ needs, what can you offer them to benefit their own business? For example, our main offer is building websites, but in addition we propose hosting (with solid partners), maintenance and WordPress support.
Add Value Through Expertise: Ours customers know their market, but they don’t know how to create a digital strategy. Our mission is to show them how to attract, convert and close with their website. A successful WordPress website is not only based on technical skills or a beautiful theme: it must be useful and bring more money to my clients. Adding value that creates profitability for your clients is an easy sell.
Delegate: When I started my business, I was doing too many jobs every day. I was the CEO, but also a graphic designer, a project manager and the bookkeeper. It’s impossible to concentrate on increasing profitability while juggling so many tasks. It’s a necessary step for a lot of startups and young companies, but the sooner you can delegate and free yourself to concentrate on your primary role, the sooner you will be putting your most necessary skills to work for your company.
Work Better: One of the best lessons I’ve learned to make more money is “work less to earn more.” Seriously, we don’t need to work so much. Time is money. And when I started becoming aware of where my time was going, how I was spending my hours, how my team was spending their hours—I realized that there was a lot of waste. There are even savings to be made in how you allocate time to projects, successfully matching the products and services you offer in relation to a client’s budget.
What are the most important lessons you’ve learned as an entrepreneur?
I learn something new every day with each new project and experience. But the lesson I’d most like to share with your readers is that we are the authors of our own destiny. We have the power to decide what we do day to day, whether it’s to move forward, create a new dynamic, get up after falling, take a step back or go in another direction.
My parents had it right all those years ago: we can do anything we dream of if we’re willing to work hard and fight for what we believe. The only thing stopping us is ourselves, and, beyond our will to survive, our desire to truly thrive.