WordPress Freelancer Ask Me Anything: Nov. 27, 2023

Welcome to the podcast.

We’re just gonna jump in here with some WordPress freelancer questions.

First up, scaling the business.

How can I transition from solo freelancing to running a larger WordPress consulting agency?

So a lot of people think about this.

As they build their business they start out, maybe they take one or two clients, customers, and they build it, they like it.

Maybe then they start doing regular work, they have the word out on the street, they’re doing it, and maybe they have a very successful solo freelance business.

And I’ve certainly asked this myself.

At one point I scaled up to about 10 people, and then I scaled down to one, and now I have three people.

And that’s over this course of 15 years, I’ve been up and down in terms of the size of my team.

And I think part of why I started that, why I built it up to 10 at that, you know, that was about about eight years ago when we were at 10, is that I thought that was like the way to do it.

I thought it was the next step for me to in my professional growth.

And I learned later that there’s many ways to run a business, one of which is to scale it and grow it and maybe sell it at some point.

Maybe not sell it, maybe you just want to run a big agency that’s well known in town.

And I think that gets at the core of the question is, what do you need out of your business?

What do you need out of your life?

How does your business fit in with your current family life and goals and how much free time you have?

In my case, I had to, part of the conflict for me when I scaled up to 10 was that the business required a lot more of my time.

And you know, it was all managing people, building sales relationships, selling products, you know, doing QA on stuff that my team was building.

So my time investment went way up.

I also had some of the most profitable years of my life in terms of money during that time because we were making a lot of money.

But at the end of the day, for me, I didn’t feel like it was a good fit.

And you know, I had kind of had to do it to realize that I was busy raising my young children and I wanted to be home and be present with my wife.

And so I ended up scaling down.

And you know, it’s been great.

It’s felt like a much better fit for this phase of my life where I have three kids and you know, lots of commitments.

And so you know, if you want to, but let’s get back to the question.

How can I transition from solo freelancing to running a larger WordPress consulting agency?

The first step is to hire someone.

If you’ve never hired anyone to do anything, hire a freelancer to do part of a project.

See how you like that.

See what you learn.

Read some books on outsourcing.

I have a big long article on the Mighty Mo or on TobyKrins.

com that I’ll link to explaining how freelancers can outsource to other freelancers.

And it’s like a step-by-step process based on my experience.

You can do you know, lots of questions come up as you think about that.

Do you want to hire someone in your town, in your state, in your country?

Do you want to go abroad?

If so, where do you go abroad?

Do you want to go in your same time zone, opposite time zone?

There’s pros and cons and reasons for doing all these things.

But the first step is just to try it.

Hire somebody.

If you don’t know anybody that you want to hire, find a project and hire someone on Upwork to do it.

Manage the project and see how you like that management process.

And if you’re like, “Wow, that felt great.

Great.

Do it again.

” And you know, just try it and keep going and at some point you’ll figure out if you really like it or if you don’t really like it.

And that’s you know, what you need to figure out.

Second question, in the advanced WordPress techniques category:

What are some advanced WordPress techniques that can set my services apart from the competition?

I think the question is more about how to differentiate your WordPress consulting business or your WordPress development or design business from others in town.

And invariably, there’s at least a hundred other businesses in town doing exactly the same thing you are, many of which are freelancers just like you, some of which are huge.

They have 100 employees.

So I actually don’t think it’s about setting yourself apart.

I think you gotta sell projects and however you do it is fine.

You know, once you sell a project, however you want to manage it, it’s fine.

It’s not about setting your services apart.

It’s about just pleasing your customers and finding the customers you like and the customers that are a good fit for you personally and your skill set and then scaling that piece.

You know, figure out the customers you like, the customers that like you and that sweet little middle ground and just figure out how to get more of them.

I never think about setting myself apart from the competition except maybe in my marketing materials.

But what I really value is just a human out there in the world is somebody who a company that responds quickly and responds with the skill, you know, in terms of somebody that can do the job and it communicates well.

That’s pretty much what I’m looking for when I hire a plumber or whatever.

And so I’ll pay more for that and that’s how I’ve positioned the mighty mo in my consulting business as that’s how I’ve differentiated it.

And I think that specifically has worked for me.

But there’s so many successful businesses out there that do it different ways and they differentiate different ways.

But I don’t even think people aren’t shopping around for web people.

They’re just going out finding someone hiring them.

And so it’s not like you even have to differentiate.

It’s just kind of like what do you want out of your business and how do you want to run your business?

Next question,

What strategies have proven most effective for acquiring high value clients in the WordPress space?

I think this is more about defining high value clients.

For me, when I started I was going after high value to me meant lots of money, big dollar projects.

And I landed some big dollar projects to be sure.

I had one guy at one point say we don’t care what you charge just as long as you get the work done.

And you know that was that was a lot of money involved and we got a lot of money.

But it wasn’t particularly fulfilling in terms of the work.

But these days for me what high value to me is is a customer who is maybe they need hosting.

Maybe they need a one-time thing.

I’m really after like recurring revenue at this point.

So someone who’s willing to pay a hundred bucks a month is to me a hundred bucks a month that requires very little of my time and effort over time.

That’s a higher value client than someone that might be willing to pay me a few thousand bucks for a one-time thing and then I never hear from again.

I’d rather do that recurring stuff and get more of those.

And so to me those are higher value.

But let’s say you wanted to get land a big dog.

By big dog you know usually you’re looking at an agency.

Looking to get hired by an agency.

Or maybe you’re very skilled on the sales end and you want to get in the room with some big corporations.

They’re both very different things.

And actually it’s more about sales at this point than it is about WordPress.

And I would say like to get in the room with let’s say Target.

It’s a very different sales mentality than say to get in the room with an agency who has lots of work and can pay you.

It’s a very different skill set.

Or to get in front of a small business owner who maybe has a big budget.

You know these are very different sales audiences.

And so I think it’s more about you know read some sales books and figure out what gels with you.

Because personally I don’t like doing those big dollar corporate sales anymore.

I much prefer the one-on-one small business owner like I can do this.

How much does it cost?

Here’s what it’s gonna cost.

Great give me your credit card.

Great can we start tomorrow?

Sure we can.

That’s what I prefer.

You know I’m working with an agency right now on a very big project.

It’s a WordPress not a big project.

It’s a very big brand.

It’s a brand you’ve all heard of.

And I’m just building a WordPress theme for them based on a design they produced.

And so it’s a big corporation.

But I’m just the process is not gelling with me.

There’s lots of meetings where nothing gets done.

Nobody delivers what they say they’re gonna deliver on time.

And so I’m just kind of stuck doing nothing twiddling my thumbs and asking the same questions over and over again.

And maybe you like that.

You know that’s just not where I’m at.

I’m like more action oriented at this point in my life.

And so I much prefer the thing that you know dealing with the buyers that can make stuff happen right away.

Next question.

How should I structure my pricing model to balance profitability with competitiveness?

Well you need to make money and make as much of it as you can within reason.

You know you got to be for me this is me.

I try to be very honest very upfront and I try to charge as much as I can possibly charge without the person on the other end of the line saying ah screw this you’re way too expensive.

And so that’s really how I approach every sales conversation.

I would say this like if if you haven’t done this before do this double your rates whatever you would charge at your next pitch meeting or whatever you’re talking to someone you normally would say I’d charge X for that.

Do the exact same sales pitch but say I’m gonna charge 2x for this work and see what they say.

Maybe they’ll say yes.

And if they do great you just doubled your profitability maybe even more maybe maybe you know if let’s say you would have broken even now you’ve infinitely escalated your profitability.

You’ve made way more money than you would have.

And so these pricing things one thing I would say is each customer is very different.

Some customers would pay you five grand for something some would pay you 20 for that exact same thing.

And so I one thing to keep in mind is never go in with assumptions about what people are willing to pay.

And there’s lots of great books again about sales.

It’s less about pricing and more about sales like that you need to figure out how to how you present yourself matters by the way that first email you send them the first phone call you answer the first video call however you present that is gonna inform them about how much you’re gonna charge.

So keep that in mind too that it’s a it’s there’s a lot to this and sometimes people I have friends in the biz who suck at web design but they sell huge projects because they’re great salespeople.

I’ve got a friend who owns an agency real marketing agency not a great agency but they’re doing their best but he charges way more than I do and sells these projects he’s stolen one or two of my customers because he goes in and he knows how to make that sale and you know frankly they’re very happy with him because he knows how to make him happy it’s not like he’s delivering better work he’s delivering worse work but he knows how to make people happy and that that’s that’s a an important skill in this game.

Next question,

As a freelancer how do I manage my time effectively between client work business development and personal growth?

I think you got to be rigid.

I think this is you know I actually don’t look at it like a balancing act these days I used to I used to I think you got to be present in all the situations so if you’re home with your family put down the phone put down the computer have dinner with your family if you’re at work and you’re on a client call put your phone away have a conversation with the client you know in terms of business development do you like business development I happen to like it I like emailing people meeting new people so I tend to do a lot of business development in personal growth you know what is that that is that hobbies what is personal growth I don’t know but like I try to I try to just follow when I’m at home I like to play guitar and I like to record stuff and do fancy things with my audio recorder and so I try to do that just cuz I like it I’m not saying like I need a personal growth but I think I think it contributes to who I am I think there’s like this tendency to say like you know that work is encroaching on personal and I just don’t see it that way if done you know you got to be you got to be present and then it won’t encroach because you’ll have time regardless of what you’re doing and when and you’ll have time for it all next question:

What are your tips for managing expectations and handling difficult client situations?

I think a couple things one what I try to do and I’ve been in this biz for 15 years so I see stuff coming sometimes I was working I had a first-time engagement with a rather large nonprofit that you’ve all heard of you know just an enormous organization I don’t know maybe 50 I want to say 50,000 employees they might have 50,000 employees I don’t know what they have thousands of employees will say and anytime I see I work with an organization like that of that size what maybe they have a board maybe there’s like different stakeholders I know it’s gonna be a lot of admin overhead period like contracts and you know change orders and that sort of thing so I build it into the price upfront and I don’t tell them that I just say look happy to do the work here’s what it’s gonna cost and I would start at 2x whatever I would charge a small business owner just because it’s gonna eat up that you know like it’s gonna cost way more in terms of time and energy blood and treasure so start there start with you know if you can see it’s gonna be a headache charge more you might also just if you run into these situations a lot charge more you’ll find a couple things one if you charge more people respect you more that’s just a fact and they’ll respect your time more they’ll show you more respect in the interactions when you push back they’ll respect it a little more and that’s part of the good thing not you go go up this like what you charge to a point and then you reach like if you can stay under this like layer of bureaucracy and it’s any big organization let’s say more than 40 people like there starts to be like unneeded bureaucracy and if you can get work under that and charge as much as you can whatever you charge in there you’re gonna have a much better odds of happier clients and also if you charge more for those then you can go in and a lot of times I’ll charge more because I see it coming and I’m just like I charged in a way that I was like no whatever happens I’m fine with like even this product if this project goes to hell I’m fine with that because I charged enough to make me feel comfortable with that situation so I do usually just eat it I do the work and I don’t get into the nitty-gritty contract stuff all that much you know if someone wants to change and it’s not included sometimes I’ll just do it and just be like well that’s why I charged what I charged and not something else but let’s say somebody comes to you and let’s say they’re respectful about it like they’re like hey you said you would do this you didn’t do that and maybe you had a conversation with them explaining why you weren’t gonna do that and it was very logical and reasonable but they don’t care they want that it’s tough what I try to do is a lean into that paperwork and just say what did we really agree to a lot of times I had a situation recently where this happened it was with a big bureaucratic organization and they had outlined a bunch of stuff in the contract that I couldn’t deliver on because like if up front it looked like a good idea and looked like it made sense but when we got there I was like you know this doesn’t really make tech sense like to build this is not gonna work and so when I brought that to them I brought it in the context of some other things they were asking for that were outside of the contract I was like oh do you remember when you wanted do you see how fancy this WordPress search box is working and they’re like no what do you mean it looks like a normal search and I’m like well I actually spent a day fixing that search and so like in that case we kind of negotiated on you know something I had delivered and something they that I promised and you know I over delivered on this and under delivered on that and we came to an agreement we’re just like okay I see we’ll call it even so you got to be flexible there’s a great book out there it’s called getting to yes and there’s one called getting past no they’re by the same authors and it’s all about negotiation at that point you’re just trying to you know come out of it with as little scarring as possible a lot of times you can get some big wins in there too not like big money or anything although sometimes you could come in and say like oh you wanted that thing it’s a different scope than I thought it’s gonna cost a little more and maybe you know that there’s all sorts of everything’s on the table.

What are the emerging trends in WordPress development and design that I should be aware of?

I mean this Gutenberg thing is taking over some section of the WordPress community I think Gutenberg is gonna be at some point will be the go-to thing right now I know barely any pro developers who use Gutenberg it’s just not as good as Elementor and Beaver Builder and all these other divvy all the other options that are out there as builders it’s kind of like a beta or alpha Gutenberg is compared to these others so I would say that’s the biggest trend because the community is invested I don’t know hundreds of thousands of hours probably not that much scores of thousands probably in building this tool to replace the WYSIWYG editor I would start there.

Which project management tools do you recommend for WordPress projects to streamline workflow?

I’m not someone who proselytizes a certain project management tool I don’t think it’s important how you do it you know everybody and every organization is different if you can get your project management done on a pad of paper with a pencil great do it you know if your thing is checklist do that personally I like Basecamp and I pay base camps like really expensive it’s a hundred bucks a month and it doesn’t do all that much but I just really like how it’s laid out and it the UI encourages written conversation which is great if you have a remote organization like I do it promotes you know conversational threads whereas a lot of the other tools like let’s say Todd Trello and all these others they promote more disjointed conversation not even conversation but just just just a bunch of stuff connecting and popping up and so the UI is very different that’s why I use Basecamp you know there are other tools that are free and some people swear by those tools and great go for it but whatever whatever floats your boat whatever feels good for you and your biz.

How can I build a strong personal brand to enhance my credibility and attract more clients?

I think people make this more complex than it needs to be you don’t need to be famous you don’t need to be known to have a lot of customers and a lot of success in business I should say you don’t need to be known by many I think the best thing you could do as a freelancer to build more business is to speak in front of groups that have nothing to do with technology get in front of a knitters group get in front of an insurance group a bankers group really anything that that has nothing to do with WordPress because they’re gonna need you the most and they’re gonna be willing to pay pay for the work because they it’s gonna be really the prospect of them building a WordPress site or any website is like they see it as like a mountain to climb whereas if you go and spoke to like I don’t know an Arduino group there they’ve probably all they are probably already all have blogs or websites and so that’s where I would probably start and there’s a million ways to do this again there’s a guy who wrote a book called swimming with sharks and just a great sales book and he talks about just all the ways he used to just engage buyers and try to get them to go with him rather than the competition and it wasn’t like he was building a brand for the say he was just trying to like be number two on their their list so when the number one guy failed he would be ready to pick up the pieces but he relied on you know an old-school Rolodex and mailed Christmas cards and did a lot of phone calls and that sort of thing he even took he told a story about how he he knew one of his buyers percent actual buyers he wasn’t they weren’t a client but he knew they loved pro wrestling and so he went and bought ringside tickets to look you know when the WWE came through town and he bought ringside tickets he goes hey would you like to go to this wrestling match with me and he knew the person wouldn’t be able to say no and so the person knew it too they’re like gosh darn it I have to go and the sale this guy’s gonna sell me on his thing and he’s like fine I’ll go do it anyway the guy tells a story about three years later he was the customer he he hired the customer hired him so you know lots of ways to go there but you got to choose your path and just kind of lean in.

What are your tips for optimizing workflow and increasing efficiency in WordPress development?

I think for me you got to choose a tool set and stick with it so I for example I use Beaver Builder for themes I use gravity forms performs I use word fence for security things like that so like that saves time and you know inside a customer the big customer recently was like hey we want you to use well they want Elementor or something I was like yeah I can do that the project will cost it’ll take me two more weeks to learn this tool so do you want the tool do you want the website done two weeks earlier or not and and they’re like just do it do whatever you like to do it so because that’s more efficient because it’s a tool I know and you know even if you’re just you know you don’t need to use the most recent newest tools if you’re fast at them and good at them go for it I know a guy who records audio and he’s the best music producer that I’ve met and interacted with at least in town here and he uses all old-school stuff you know old tapes and he has this tape delay that has like literally a magnetic tape that goes around and he controls the speed of it but you know that works for him and I think the same as in business any business really you don’t have to as long as you as long as you are fast or you don’t even need to be fast as long as you are delivering on your promises to your customers so let’s say it’s tell your customer it’s gonna take a month and it literally takes you a month great who cares let’s say I you know you tell them a week it takes them let’s say it takes them to tell them a month and it takes you three hours great no you know however you want to do it is fine.

How do I balance the need for quick delivery while maintaining high quality work?

Why do you have a need for quick delivery I don’t understand the only need for quick delivery is someone pays me to deliver quicker sure but but I try to build in lots of buffer on all my projects Scotty from Star Trek you know kind of famously used to over exaggerate all the timelines and that way he could save the day by getting stuff done sooner and I think that’s generally a good philosophy in business you know you kind of like set low expectations and deliver in advance or on time and people are very happy and just to bring that Star Trek analogy one step further Jordy the forge did not over promise and so you know maybe you’re somebody who promises exactly the time and that and then the high quality what you know high quality what is high quality it’s gonna be different for everybody so I think you’ve got to figure out that figure out what you’re personally comfortable with and I always try to I always try to push on quality and what quality means to me which is probably different from what it means to you but you know I I try to produce work I’m proud of and that’s to me what quality is if I look at it and go yeah I’m proud of that work then tie enough quality I think.

Can you suggest effective ways to network and collaborate within the WordPress community?

Yeah you want to meet developers here in Minneapolis we have WordPress Wednesday which is a once-a-week co-working thing anybody can show up you just have to show up there’s you know WordPress meetups are great you can plan you know meetup.com you can plan oh you could collaborate online you could go like we have a Google group for our WordPress user group and lots of people are on there go to the slack groups there’s lots of WordPress slack groups you can also collaborate I’ve done a lot of contributing to WordPress.org and the BuddyPress projects you contribute in all sorts of ways you know for example WordPress.org is looking for people to write documentation they’re looking for people to troubleshoot bugs they’re looking for people to draw you know do design work tons of ways to contribute just kind of have to figure out what you want to do and go find the the organ you know go figure out how to do it.

What strategies do you use to prevent or manage scope creep in WordPress projects?

I try to put myself in situations where scope creep isn’t a thing and the only way I know how to do that is to build trusting partnerships and relationships with people where you know if I come to them and I’m like hey this thing that you’re asking for is not gonna fit in the scope we talked about and a lot of times by the way I don’t have like contracts where everything’s written out usually my contracts include very little high-level stuff in my invoice is one line you know X amount of dollars for the work outlined in the contract and the contract really doesn’t have a lot of details and the reason I don’t put a lot of details in there is because I want to have that back and forth where you know like people always have ideas and they say like hey can you do this thing that I just saw on this other website I’m sorry I should have thought of it three months ago and usually it’s like yeah let’s take a look and I’d rather do that than be like really firm and in both ways you know sometimes I push back to and I’m like you know like turns out this WooCommerce plugin doesn’t do what we thought it would do and that happens regularly and so I you know you got to build in in your budget in your bid and you know the con the money amount needs to be enough to cover most of the contingencies or all the contingencies and so you got to charge more if you’re feeling like scope creep is a thing and you got to have better relationships with your customers

What are the key factors what are the key factors in ensuring sustainable growth for a WordPress freelance business?

Key factors for sustainable growth not just growth well yeah sustainable that’s the question because you can you know at one point I grew unsustainably and we had a lot of you know success made a lot of money but like it was unsustainable and the reason it was unsustainable was because I was unable to I was just not in a place where I could sustain the sales that were required to keep building also growth why grow what you know what is growth why do you need to grow I always wonder that like I’m I’m not I’m looking what I always aim for is like a little bit of growth year-over-year without a lot of bumps I don’t want a bunch of people leave and a bunch of people do the only way I figured out how to do that is to have a lot of recurring monthly revenue that kind of keeps things rather steady you know a lot of people paying relatively little and that keeps the floor pretty high and then you know on the top I have these ups and downs but it’s it’s it you know because of the monthly stuff it never dips below that monthly floor and I’m always trying to particularly for me I’m always trying to onboard more monthly recurring revenue because that raises that floor with every one of those.

Should I diversify my WordPress services and if so what areas should I consider branching into?

I don’t know are you curious about AI are you curious about WordPress speed are you curious about accessibility there’s tons and tons of money right now sitting on the table today waiting to be claimed for accessibility pros like if you are willing to do that work and you you’re willing to accept that liability there is I mean more money that I think has ever existed that it has existed in the WordPress space since like 12 years ago when everyone was building their first website so all those first websites are have been built this is like what do you call it green pastures blue ocean this this accessibility thing right now today if you just wanted to make money jump on it but there’s so many things you could do I have to you know to friend one friend built a Shopify plugin for WordPress that he sells another friend built a Beaver Builder add-on that she sells and so there there’s lots of ways to make more money and diversify you know one of the things that we are doing now this is weird because really what’s diversifying really like you’re just trying to get more money from more people and so one thing I realized is that the mighty moment my business has to date over 15 years just advertised in Minneapolis in st. Paul like just this little area sometimes Minnesota and we’ve done all our SEO for that you know we’ve totally targeted that and we’ve done really well but I’m like there’s like many other major cities in fact there are 18 cities in the United States that are bigger than Minneapolis and so I was like what if we diversified that way offered the exact same set of services but to a different geography you know different to Chicago to San Francisco to LA to Bozeman Montana you know because we have skills in marketing locally but so far we’ve only applied those here in the Twin Cities and so lots of ways to think about diversity in services and if again I think you got to bring it back to how much money you know it’s it’s about money most of these questions are about money and so there’s many ways to make money very you know many honest and ethical ways to make money within the WordPress space and beyond and I think when it you know anytime I’m how do I make you know how do I make money question comes up I’m like you got to think about sales this is about leads and selling and what selling is is getting their credit card on file you know and so like if I were to encourage you to read books and be like hey if you really want to make money read sales books and negotiation books that’s probably where I would start so that’s what we got today that that’s the entirety of this podcast leave questions let me know if you have ideas for next time but thanks we’ll talk to you soon!

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Toby Cryns

Toby Cryns is a freelance CTO, expert WordPress consultant, and teacher.

He offers free advice to improve your freelance biz.

He also publishes small droppings every now and then to twitter.com/tobycryns and twitter.com/themightymo

Follow Toby's contributions on Github and WP.org.