These are some common questions that come up when I’m speaking with clients, potential clients, and potential employers. I figured I’d use them to paint a rounder picture of what I do professionally. I know it’s text-heavy, but this is what I wish I could zap into your brain to help you easily understand the field and my work process.

 

Can you help me with X?

If it’s related to your WordPress website, I probably can. I’ve worked with WordPress pretty intensely since 2010, and I’ve worked on websites in general since 2000.

But do you have specific experience in XYZ?

There are a couple things to understand about working in IT / programming / software / web development:

  1. There are a bazillion software applications, so no one “IT guy”, programmer, or web developer knows them all.
  2. However, once you have sufficient experience working with various programs, you can easily pick up new ones.

It’s quite important for employers and clients to understand this. It is very likely (say, 80%) that I can open up whatever software you’re using and understand the basics within a few minutes. More detailed understanding might require an online tutorial or a skim through their documentation, and from there, I can probably do whatever is necessary. I’ve been learning software like that for the past 20 years.

Almost every project that I do has some element that is foreign to me in the beginning. I research it and figure it out.

Here’s a secret: this is what happens in all IT work. People come to you with their weird, random questions, and you say, “Hmm, alright. That’s a new one. Let’s see what can be done.” And it gets figured out. That’s what happens when you call tech support and it’s also what happens when you call a guy to fix your washing machine.

I’m not telling you this to scare you and make you think that nobody knows what the hell they’re doing. I’m telling you this so that you don’t worry about it so much.

All that being said, I’ve specialized in WordPress. Most of my effort goes toward better understanding WordPress and learning what it will require in the future. So, while I could easily open and use another CMS, I am not an expert in it.

If you’re using software that is unusually specific to your industry or niche, and it’s also unusually complicated to use, then you should definitely hire someone who has specific experience in that software.

If you need help with anything related to WordPress, I can give you these estimates:

  • 90% – I am confident that I can help with whatever it is, even if I’ve never seen it before.
  • 9% – If I don’t feel comfortable doing the work myself, I can at least point you in the right direction.
  • 1% or less – In these rare cases, I won’t even make a recommendation and I’ll tell you that I’m not the right person for the job.

 

I don’t see much of X on your portfolio.

I’m kinda picky about what I post in the portfolio. In order for something to make it onto the portfolio, it has to:

  1. Demonstrate something interesting that I learned in that particular project, and
  2. Be an example of the type of work that I like to do, and
  3. Show something visual and interesting for the reader.

So, that rules out a giant chunk of common projects, simply because most of it is same-old, same-old. If I make some small SEO updates, help someone with a few tweaks to their CSS, or set up a new campaign in Moz, that’s not worthy of a portfolio item.

In addition, the majority of the work that I do is for long-term clients, and it tends to be one long ongoing project. I’m not a web agency that builds tons of individual websites.

Sometimes I’ll write a blog post about something smaller, which is sort of like a portfolio item, but not as important. If I figured out a particularly interesting problem for a client, for example, but it wasn’t a whole project itself.

And finally, I’ve only been keeping this portfolio-style log of projects since 2013, and I often clear out old stuff that I no longer feel is relevant.

 

How much of your time is spent on creating websites for clients?

Like I said above, I’m not a one-woman web design agency. I actually don’t even seek out work for individual clients. Usually they just show up on their own as referrals or by finding me online.

Recently someone asked me specifically how much of time is spent on creating websites for clients. I think I told her about 50%, which is probably true-ish, but it’s more complex than that. It’s more like:

  • 50% – Work for clients who have me on retainer. This is a mixture of website maintenance, web development, graphics, and SEO.
  • 20% – Work for clients who send me work less frequently and on a project-by-project basis. This is a mixture of website help and writing projects.
  • 15% – Keeping up with the industry: taking classes, researching, reading and learning about the new developments in SEO / web design / graphic design / programming.
  • 10% – Work on my own endeavors, such as Zen Web Themes.
  • 5% – Administrative stuff like invoicing, bookkeeping, writing blog posts, etc.

 

 

I see a lot of portfolio items about WordPress themes you developed. How does that help me?

It helps you a lot 🙂

I spent much of 2016 focusing on theme development. This was great for a few reasons:

  1. It gave me an excuse to take updated classes in web development topics (I hadn’t taken a real class since 2001, and everything has changed since then.)
  2. I was able to build my own shop that sells my themes: Zen Web Themes
  3. I learned a TON of detailed information about the back-end function of WordPress itself.
  4. And many more details that go into creating themes instead of simply using a theme.

When you buy and install a WordPress theme, you’re able to choose a lot of settings that the theme comes with. That’s very different from creating those settings yourself. Think of it like this: you use Windows or MacOSX, but that’s obviously not the same as programming an operating system.

If you read any of those portfolio posts, you’ll get some insight into what I learned while developing those themes, code that I wrote, difficult problems I ran into, and how I went about solving them.

 

How long will it take to finish my website?

The biggest variable is how long it will take YOU to:

  1. Give me the content for your website (all text, images, etc),
  2. Respond to my questions,
  3. Review current work and offer suggestions, and
  4. Finalize your decisions.

Most folks don’t realize how collaborative it is. Since its your website, you’ll have to make the majority of the decisions related to design, layout, and content. I will give you some options and help you narrow things down, but in the end you’ll certainly want a lot of control over what your website looks like.

Okay, but you still want an estimate. I can tell you two things:

  1. Let’s say it’s a typical website (say, 8 pages that aren’t too complicated), and let’s say I already have all of the content, and you’ve chosen a theme that you love and it doesn’t need much customization. I could put that together within a couple days. The actual number of hours that I spend working on it would usually be around 10-12.
  2. So why do these projects take weeks or even months to get finished? All of that extra time is when I’ve sent you something to look at and I’m waiting for three days until I get an answer. Then there are more questions and answers, and more waiting. Once you’ve made a decision, I usually implement it within hours. (And then I wait another three days until you give me the content for the next page …)

I’m not saying this out of frustration or blame. It doesn’t matter to me how long it takes you to respond with a decision—I’ve got plenty of other stuff to do 😉

 

Do I really need to hire a web developer to build a WordPress website?

This completely depends on your level of skill and how willing (and interested) you are in learning more about WordPress.

I wrote an article that delves into this question:

The Real Difference Between Hiring a Web Developer and Buying a WordPress Theme

 

Do you do this full time, or is it a side job?

Right now I do this full time (see the percentages above for an estimate on where the time goes.)

I had a full-time job at a small startup company from 2000-2012, and was laid off in December 2012 when the company essentially shut down. After that, I worked in an office for about a year, and got laid off there, too. Thoroughly sick of that situation, I briefly took advantage of unemployment benefits to see if I could get some freelance or contract jobs, while also applying for regular jobs. I found enough work to pay the bills, and that’s what I’ve been doing since.

 

Is it better to use a web agency or hire an individual like you?

This is completely up to you. It depends on what you need and how you prefer to work.

For example, my clients have told me that they like working with an individual because it’s a one-on-one experience. When you sign on with an agency, you often get passed around from person to person. Your account manager might leave the company, and they give your account to someone else, and later that person moves to a different department, etc.

On the other hand, you might choose to hire an agency because they can provide a wider range of services, including things I don’t offer. They have more people and resources, simply because they’re a company, not a single person.

You can probably come up with many other pros and cons. There is no inherently right or wrong choice—only what works best for you.

 

What about places like Fiverr, or folks from outside the US who offer really low rates?

I’ve heard from multiple clients that they had bad experiences when hiring someone from a cheap freelancing website. From what I’ve heard, and from my own subjective impressions, the reasons for the poor experiences are:

  • The person doesn’t do it full time. It’s just a side job or a hobby to them, so they’re not treating it like a business. Consequently, they don’t respond to emails very quickly, they flake out, or they simply disappear.
  • It seems like some of them offer cheap rates to get more volume. But that also means that they do the minimum amount required to get your payment. Once you’ve paid the invoice, it becomes impossible to get any further responses from them.

This is another case of “you get what you pay for.” But again, it’s totally up to you. I am not in any way trying to compete with people who charge $5/hour or less. You will always be able to find someone who charges less than me and someone who charges more than me.

 

Why Zen?

Why am I naming everything “Zen-this” and “Zen-that”?

Well hey, first of all, it’s a brand.

But mainly, I’m a seeker of truth and I strive toward a higher level of consciousness. I don’t spend hours on a meditation cushion, but I have spent a lot of time reading about enlightenment. Does that sound wacky? It is. I’ve also dedicated just as much time to video games, so give it whatever credence you feel like.

On a more practical level, I believe in simplicity and organization. We live in a crazy world, but we can simplify our lives when we own fewer objects, live within our means, and make time to relax. I apply this approach to my work and interactions with others. I accomplish what’s needed in the most efficient and realistic way I can find. My personality is direct and straightforward, and I do my best to make sure everything is clear at all times.

One of the best explanations of Zen I’ve found is in the Urban Dictionary, of all places. “Zen involves dropping illusion and seeing things without distortion created by your own thoughts.”