Bill is also a successful freelancer, based in Texas, and eager to share his insights with other freelancers. We spent almost an hour talking to Bill about WordPress, freelance development and tips for entrepreneurs.
We’ll share his freelance insights in this interview series:
- Part 1: Getting Started
- Part 2: Best Practices
- Part 3: Contracts
- Part 4: Giving Back
- Part 5: Highlights
How did you first get into WordPress?
I got started in WordPress in 2005. I was a freshman in college studying business and interested in web design. Our business honors group was hiring a web designer—I thought, “I could do that.”
My job was to update the content. They’d copy and paste text from the website, make one or two changes and email it back to me. Instead of spending hours and hours making text changes, I wanted to build it so they could manage it themselves.
So I played with WordPress and it worked really well. We started using WordPress for other sites at the university. It was just a matter of making it so the content editors could edit content instead of going through the developers.
I was a finance major when the finance world collapsed, so I could go after a nonexistent job or go freelance. So I’ve been doing that ever since.
Did you start freelancing right out of college?
Working for the university, I was a student worker making $10 per hour. So for my first freelance project I didn’t know how to quote a price, so I just worked for $10 per hour. I spend a long time working and not making any money.
One thing that really helped me getting started was that I had minimal expenses. My goal was to make $2,000 per month. Back then I thought if I could make that much it’d be amazing. A lot of freelancers can understand this—having those lower expenses you’re able to succeed faster and grow your business from there.
It would have been much harder if I had a corporate job now and tried to get into freelancing. I took four to five years to figure things out, build a name for myself and charge a premium for my services. I could experiment without having a ton of bills to pay.
What prompted you to start doing WordPress as a freelancer?
Recognizing the need. Once I built WordPress sites for a few people, I realized how many people want it. Everyone needs a website. There weren’t many great solutions out there, so there was a ton of demand from businesses. I’ve built sites for people and it’s replaced a $1,000 per month retainer they were paying. The client is able to take control of their business. By lowering costs, they can do more.
After I did a few WordPress sites, I realized this huge market opportunity. That’s still the case. Every good developer is booked for months and there’s way more work than there are quality developers.
How did you break through and become successful? What strategies or approaches seemed to work the best?
One thing that really helped was a coworking space. I set up a coworking space with eight to 10 other designers and developers. That physical space where you could turn around and ask questions or pull together a team was huge. I could turn around and have the resources of 10 people without having to pay their salaries.
That helped me get started on the business front, by allowing me to sell more than I could do. But it also helped on the personal front by having the collaborative space to ask questions. That’s hard for developers to replicate when they work by themselves.
That’s one thing you really need to do as a developer, but also as a businessperson, is have a group of people to ask questions. You need a social community so you’re not on your own.
What keeps you successful as a WordPress freelancer?
Success from a business perspective is doing high quality work and building your client list. Word of mouth is the primary source—recommendations from past clients. I could take down my website right now and still have work coming in—that’s how important word of mouth is.
As far as success from a personal perspective, if you keep doing the same thing you’re going to slowly get left behind. The market keeps moving and you need to move with it. So you need to interact with other developers and see what they’re doing so you can keep growing.
That’s a lot more difficult as a successful developer than when you’re just coming up. You’re too busy with all your projects to try out the latest things. It’s kind of a problem of success, I guess. But when you’ve found something that works, it’s hard to take time away to learn something new, especially when you don’t know if it’s going to be successful.
Right now I’m trying to carve out time to test new technology and expand my skill set, even though I’m fully booked. Especially when you’ve already given 120 percent to clients, that research is the easiest thing to cut. It’s like the cobbler’s shoes—it takes forever for web developers to do their own sites.