Building Your WordPress Business: The Author & Designer
The last of my interviews is with Lisa Sabin-Wilson. Many of you will know Lisa as the author of WordPress for Dummies and BuddyPress for Dummies, as well as the forthcoming WordPress Web Design for Dummies. She is also the founder of E.Webscapes, founder of Allure Themes, and MassivePresser. You’ll often find her out on the road speaking at WordCamps and posing with the yellow WordPress Corvette:
It’s an impressive repertoire! But what did Lisa do before she started working with WordPress? And what got her to take the big step into dedicating her career to the platform. Let’s find out.
1. What did you do before working with WordPress?
I had a 12 year long career as a Registered Nurse and worked in the area of home hospice and palliative care. It was a very rewarding career and I still keep my license current, just in case.
2. At what time did you realise “Hey, I can make money out of this!”
I started out doing everything for free. Free themes, free set ups, free configurations – whatever anyone needed. When the demand for my services began to take over all of my spare time, it was time for me to start charging for what I was doing in order to make it worth it. I started small ($50 for a full custom theme!) and worked my way up from there.
3. When did you take the big step from your day job to working for yourself? Was it a difficult decision to make? How did it feel?
In October of 2004, I walked into my boss’s office and gave a 30-day notice of resignation. She was pretty upset, and I was in tears. I felt like I was jumping off a huge cliff. Nursing had been my life, and security blanket over the years, so the decision tugged at my heart quite a bit. Obviously, WordPress and Web Development is quite a different focus from nursing – so I was basically completely re-inventing myself, which is a very stressful thing to do, but also very exciting. I guess I felt bittersweet at closing one chapter of my life, but fabulously excited about opening another. The nice thing about the nursing industry is that there is always, always a shortage of nurses. I knew if my freelance efforts failed to pay the bills, I could always go back. Not all freelancers have that kind of job security, so for that, I was blessed.
4. What is your typical work day like?
Let’s see… wake up around 9am and I sit with my husband and enjoy our first cup of coffee in the morning before either one of us even THINKS about looking at email or work related stuff. I usually start my day, officially, at 10am by checking the status of ongoing projects for myself and my staff at E.Webscapes and answer any necessary emails or help tickets that I need to. That usually takes an hour or two. I reserve my time before noon to deal with business related items and my afternoons are reserved for project work, themes and book writing that I may be working on.
I home office, so I don’t have to commute anywhere, which is nice – but sometimes a bit lonely, considering my former career which was a very social one. That is why I like Twitter and Facebook and have developed a nice group of friends that I converse with throughout the day to try an alleviate some of that social isolation I sometimes feel by working from home.
5. How did working for yourself changed your life?
I’ve gained weight! Seriously, I used to run looooong hospital hallways all day long, and now I sit at my desk for hours and hours. My life has become a great deal more sedentary than it used to, so I have to be aware of that and need to think about exercise and activity more than I used to, because it’s not a part of my life the way it used to be.
But there are great benefits like being closer to my family. As a nurse, I used to work 12-16 hours a day outside of the home and now I work those hours inside the home, which allows me the opportunity to be closer and more involved with my family than ever before, which is probably the best benefit I can think of to working for myself.
I also travel a lot more than I used to, with WordCamps and other speaking engagements. I used to be fearful of flying – to the point of tears sometimes; I had a real fear of it! Now? It’s nothing to me – I get on and off planes like a real trooper!
Working for myself has also taught me how to balance my professional and personal life. There used to be a clear separation when I was a nurse. I was either working at the hospital, or at a home — the line was clear. Now, with a home office, it’s harder to separate and in my early years of working for myself, I didn’t separate it and it ruled my life all the time. When your office is two steps away from your bedroom, the draw to sit down and work at all hours of the day is strong. I’ve learned to balance it now, 7 years later, but it was a process.
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6. What are the downsides to working for yourself?
I think I mentioned social isolation in a previous question. In my former career, my days were filled with people all day long. Working for myself from a home office can be incredibly isolating and in my earlier years doing this, I didn’t pursue outside interaction mainly because I was very busy, but also because I didn’t realize the change as it was happening. After a year, or so, I began to realize how much that part of it has changed my life and I make it a point now to be lots more social during my days, even if it is online, and make sure that I’m scheduling time with my friends outside of work. I’ve worked out a good balance now, many years later, but those early years affected me.
Other downsides would include the shock of going into business for yourself that everyone goes through, I think. Before you do it, you think that you’ll be your own boss and can do whatever you want to. In reality, your customer, or users, become your boss and your life quickly gets dictated by the needs of your business, offering a lot less freedom than you maybe used to enjoy. I don’t always have the freedom to take days off work, or even an afternoon off, depending on what is going on with my business at the time. So while working for myself does have a lot of benefits, the reality became clear almost immediately that owning your own business does not necessarily mean increasing your personal freedoms. It can, but you have to really work hard to make it happen.
7. What are your favourite apps and tools for running your WordPress business?
WordPress is my number one favorite tool, obviously!
Beyond that – I use several tools throughout the day to help me run business, and they include:
- Freshbooks for estimates, invoicing and time tracking
- Kayako support software, which powers our client desk at E.Webscapes
- Skype for conference calls with clients and collegues
- Google Apps for managing email, calendars and contacts
- Backup Buddy for the quick migration of client sites from my local environment to their server
8. What’s the best advice you could give to someone who wants to start their own WordPress business?
It’s a competitive world out there in the WordPress community. But what I find is that the commercial community is very open, friendly and giving. I would strongly suggest trying to attend some WordCamp events to start making contacts, and reach out to people in the community to create a network of support, learning and business. I have found that while it’s a very competitive environment, the people who run businesses in the community with WordPress are very open to collaboration and cooperation, unlike any other business environment I have ever come across. I think its really unique and am always open to meeting new people who bring great skills and talent to the table. You will find that almost all people involved in the business of WordPress have, mainly, the same outlook.
Also, education is very important – and I’m not talking about that piece of paper that you get for attending 4 years of university. What I mean is that the WordPress world changes rapidly – doesn’t matter if you’re working with themes, plugins, consulting or services – it changes fast from one week to the other. Be sure to leave some time in your work week to continually educate yourself on what is going on as the technology improves and grows. If you don’t, you will find yourself struggling. For me? Working for myself, running a business in the WordPress community is sometimes like attending college on a part time basis as I do have to constantly chase that technology and educate myself on what’s new and emerging this week.
9. Five years from now, where do you think you’ll be?
On a Caribbean island somewhere drinking alcoholic beverages with fruit, hopefully. If not, I see myself continuing my work in development and design in some capacity. Perhaps I’ll have a few more books under my belt and am continuing my work in the open source community. That is where I hope to be in 5 years (including the drinks with fruit).
Loads of great advice from Lisa. I have already seen my waist expand, my spare time disappear and find myself scrabbling to keep up-to-date with the latest happenings in the WordPress community. Looking forward to finally getting some sort of balance!