The queen of WordPress Carrie Dils joined Jonathan Denwood and Kim Shivler for Episode 279 of the WP-Tonic Podcast. A long-time, successful WordPress freelancer, Carrie has launched a platform to help other freelancers find success in business. In this episode, Carrie shares her top tips for creating a successful freelancing business including Small Business Administration Resources and using clarity.fm to charge for consulting phone calls.
This Episode is Sponsored By
Carrie Dils began working at Starbucks. She had a vision open her own coffee shop, and thought why not learn the ins and outs of how to make coffee and get paid to do it. But soon, she realized she didn’t want to depend on others for success. Not that her team wasn’t great, but she was done trading hours for dollars.
For her birthday, Carrie’s dad signed her up for an annual subscription to Lynda. She started taking classes taught by Morten Rand-Hendriksen which is where her career started rolling as a freelance web developer.
Here’s A Full Transcription Of Our Interview With Carrie
Jonathan: Welcome back folks to the Wednesday WP-Tonic show. We’ve got a great friend of the show back again. She’s in a really classy studio, not in a bunker like last time. That’s a real great friend of the show, Carrie Dils. Would you like to introduce yourself Carrie?
Carrie: Hello. Thank you, Jonathan. Thank you, Kim. It’s good to be back. I am, yes, broadcasting live from Fort Worth, Texas. And, yeah. That probably wasn’t the introduction you were looking for.
Jonathan: No. Tell them what you do Carrie.
Carrie: Okay. So sometimes I just get caught up in the moment and myself.
Jonathan: You do.
Carrie: I am a WordPress Developer, Consultant, Instructor. I teach front-end web development and business skills for freelancers and I also host podcasts.
Jonathan: Very good.
Jonathan: Yes. A very prestigious, very good podcast called OfficeHours.FM. I suggest you go and listen to it folks. And I’ve got my co-host here Kim. Would you like to introduce yourself?
Kim: Absolutely. I’m Kim Shivler. I’m a Communications and Instructional Design Consultant and Instructor.
Jonathan: Oh, that’s great. And I’m the founder of WP-Tonic. We’re a WordPress service maintenance company with an emphasis on Membership and Learning Management Systems. If you’ve got a course and you’re looking for a good support partner, we’re your choice. Before we go into this great interview, I want to talk about quickly about our sponsor which is Kinsta Hosting. Kinsta Hosting, we use it on the WP-Tonic website and also some of the clients that we support as well and we’ve found them to be truly fantastic. They’re a boutique WordPress hosting company. Still large enough to have all the bells and whistles if you’re a Developer or a power user, staging site, statistics, you name it, they supply it. But they’re not too big so they’ve lost their focus. So if you’re looking for real quality support, you will get it from Kinsta.
Like I say, we use them to host the WP-Tonic site and I’m totally delighted with them. If that sounds the kind of hosting partner that you’re looking for, for yourself or for your clients, go to the WP-Tonic website. There are affiliate links there. You’ll be supporting the show as well if you use those links and I can’t recommend them much more, can I? So that’s great, isn’t it? So we’re going straight into the interview. So, Carrie, you’ve been producing, you’ve got a course now, you’ve been blogging extensively about freelancing and how to do it. If you’re thinking of becoming a freelancer, how do you start the ball running? So. obviously, the question is how do you start the ball running effectively if you’re thinking of becoming a freelancer in 2018?
Carrie: Well, first, I would say cross your I’s and dot your T’s. So make sure from a legal perspective that wherever you are in the world that you’re getting the certificates you need to get or the permits you need to get to make sure that you’re doing thing legally. And also, to go out and get a business bank account. And from day 1, from the first moment, somebody pays you to do something, put that money in a business account and not in your personal account. And start off on the right foot in terms of thinking about your business incoming expenses as a separate entity from your personal ones.
Jonathan: Yes. We do not provide any kind of legal advice here. Carrie and myself want to make that totally clear to the viewers. But I think you’re spot on there. Very dependent on where you’re doing business basically. I would suggest that anybody should set up a limited liability company. Would you agree with that?
Carrie: That’s how I’m personally established. But, again, I’m not an accountant or a lawyer or any of those blah blah blah things. But for folks in the US, the Small Business Administration website actually has like a little kind of, and asks you a series of questions and based on your answers, tells you what sort of business formation could be ideal. So either a limited liability or maybe a C Corp or S Corp. And then, of course, once you get outside of the US, I have no clue. I refer to you Jonathan.
Jonathan: Yeah. I think that you just made a great suggestion there, the small business service. I know in Nevada they do free seminars which you can go to and they also do face to face mentorship and advice which is all totally free. And they’re just a great resource if you’re looking to start a small business and they’re totally impartial. So I totally agree with you, Carrie. If you’re thinking of going down this road, you should give them a call or email them and see what they’ve got to offer. What do you reckon Carrie?
Carrie: Yeah. And any time you agree with me, I’m just going to agree with you right back.
Jonathan: Exactly. But I always agree Carrie because you always talk a lot of common sense normally. So there’s that bit. So what’s step 2 then Carrie?
Carrie: Step 2, get work. Somebody to pay you for something.
Jonathan: The big question is how do you achieve that?
Carrie: Yeah. How do you do that? So I guess it depends on what sort of services that you’re offering. But first, you need to define what it is you’re doing. Are you making websites for people? Are you going to help them with their advertising or their marketing? Whatever it is that you’re good at, you need to find people that need what you’re offering. I’m a fan of starting locally. So whether that’s at a Chamber of Commerce or even just working your local network, “Hey. Do you know anybody that needs what I do?”, starting there. And then, of course, you can go online and there’s tons of places you can start kind of shaking the bushes too. That’s the tough question, right? Where do you find clients? First is, where do you find anybody that’ll pay you? And then, the more you get into freelancing projects, you’re like, “Okay. How do I find good clients and not just any clients?”.
Jonathan: I think fundamentally that there are sub-sections of this. But I just want to see if you agree with this. I think it really depends on where you’re coming from, which I would highly advise you but it doesn’t fit everybody. If you can, work for an agency and build up relationships. Obviously, some agencies are very strict about you not doing any work as a freelancer if you’re working for an agency. Others are a little bit looser in their policy. It just depends. The other factor is trying to get work through agencies, approaching agencies saying you’ve got these skills, is there any kind of work that they can give you? There’s that road. And then, there’s the third path which you identified and that’s going direct, face to face with business owners. Would you agree with that?
Carrie: Yeah, I would. And especially since WP-Tonic and a lot of WordPress folks that are tuning into this. There’s, I’ll get the URL for your show notes later. But Post Status run by Brian Krogsgard, he’s actually got a job board website. So if you’re looking for work in the WordPress space, that’s a great place to start too just to see who’s hiring and what sort of jobs they’re hiring for. But, yeah, I like the idea of getting in with an agency and meeting people and networking and building those relationships.
Jonathan: Let’s say you have gotten your skills to a certain level and you’re approaching agencies, maybe as a freelancer, as a sub-contractor, have you got any kind of insights, the best methodology, the best way to do that initial contact with them? And should it be based locally or should you just look at different agencies depending on your skills?
Carrie: I don’t think locale matters anymore, especially in this space. So go anywhere. But that said, I’ve never actually done a cold contact. I think if we’re going back to that phrase, building relationships and doing that consistently, whether that’s going to WordCamps or showing up online to be helpful and ask questions. When you do that consistently and repeatedly, people notice.
Carrie: Over time as you build some recognition in the community for being helpful, then you’re naturally going to encounter some of those people at agencies that you might want to talk to. And maybe they’re not the big boss, maybe they’re a fellow Developer there or what not. But my answer’s always going to be start with building relationships. I’m not good at cold call. So I couldn’t even tell you the first, I would do what I’m doing right now which is stammering. Hire me?
Jonathan: What I think you’re suggesting is to go to WordCamps, meetups. Going to WordPress meetups is a great go. If you’re in a reasonably large city, there would probably be multiple meetups, wouldn’t they? And just get yourself around, be helpful, try and join the WordPress community. I feel that’s one of the great strengths of WordPress, isn’t it? It’s a bit cliche. But to some extent, I think it’s still true. It’s a quite open community as long as you’re too abrasive and demanding. And you’re seen a team member, aren’t you?
Carrie: Yeah, yeah. I mean, basically, don’t be a, we’re live actually. You can’t bleep me out live. But, yeah. Be nice.
Jonathan: Be nice. Got any questions, Kim?
Kim: I do. So we’re talking a lot about freelancers that are in the WordPress community. For what you’re doing now with your whole freelancer community, is all of it for online business or do you also help freelancers that might be a cleaning service or more offline type business? Which sometimes those of us in the community forget that there’s a whole other side out there.
Carrie: Right, right. Well, that’s a great question. I started a Facebook group called The Fearless Freelancer. My contacts are in the realm of WordPress and tech and so forth. So that was a lot of the people that initially joined the group. But then, I started seeing some friends from previous years. One of them, she does custom eyelash extensions. That’s her service-based business. So she’s in the group. I have another friend that’s done like traditional advertising and PR. She’s part of the group. That’s completely offline. So I think it’s maybe for everyone in that sense, online and off. I will kind of throw in the caveat that I’m more comfortable in the realm of freelancing as service. When it comes to products or creating products, that’s something I’ve dabbled in myself but don’t know that I have the true solid fitting there to offer much wisdom to other people.
Kim: Excellent. And most service-based businesses are so critical. I’ve heard a lot of things thrown around at business meetings about outsourcing yourself and working on your business, not in your business, etcetera. But the reality is, we need those people that actually do the work. If we’re going to outsource ourselves, I’ve got to have my cleaning guy come clean. And he does and he’s great.
Kim: So I love your take there on the service business or the WordPress group. One of the things I do hear from freelancers who aren’t really specialized, so, when I was working predominantly in WordPress, I was very specialized. It was all Learning Management and Membership sites other than a few basic classes I offered. But one of the things I hear from them is the challenge of when they go to the meetups etcetera, most of the people they meet there really want everything to be given away for free, at that meetup. How do you help them bridge that gap to getting a paid gig from it?
Carrie: Yeah. You know there’s a fine line there. And in the terms of a meetup, you’re in a limited space, in a limited time. And for me, when I’m at the meetup, it’s free. I show up to be helpful and to give away information. But I’m also only there for an hour and a half. If you need help beyond that, then we can talk about whether or not that’s a paid engagement or more often than not, it’s me just referring them to someone who could be the most helpful based on whatever it is they’re needing. Yeah. I think maybe that’s a balance you have to kind of feel comfortable within yourself. For example, I write a lot of blog posts, tutorials, that’s sort of thing and people follow up and ask questions in the comments and I’ll go and I will provide further free information in those comments. Now, when those people land in my inbox asking me how to do a customization on something something, I just delete it and that’s kind of the boundary line that I’ve set for myself. I’m like, “This is the forum that I have set up. This is my playground where if you want to engage here, I’m happy to help. If you try to engage me over here and don’t want to respect my expertise or pay me for it, then you’re just going to go to the bin. Sorry”.
Kim: So you don’t reach back out to them and offer them a paid service at that point?
Carrie: I don’t. And here’s why. And this is going to maybe sound, whatever, take it for what it is. On I contact page, I explicitly state that the contact form is not for support and also at this moment, I’m not taking new clients. So if someone has not even bothered to read what’s on that page before they send me an email, then no, they’re not the kind of person I want to engage anyway because they’re not even listening from that very first moment.
Kim: That makes absolute, perfect sense. The reason I asked it was, in your case, you’re not taking new clients. I think for some of those first-timers, it is a nice way to reach back out. If someone had seen your, that’s not how you give free support. You can turn back around and say, “I do this as a service. It costs X, Y, and Z”, etcetera. And you’ve had permission to reach back out. It’s not truly a cold call.
Carrie: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. So based on what your rules of engagement are, certainly, that’s like a warm lead landing in your inbox. But I’ve discovered though, there’s just a lot of tire kickers. People that want to pick your brain but don’t want to pay you for it. And I guess maybe 2 years ago, I created an account on Clarity which is a pay by the minute phone service and that just came out really weird sounding when I said it out loud. That sounds like a sex line or something. But it’s not. But anyways, you can set your rates or whether you want your rate to be $20 an hour or $500 an hour. It doesn’t matter. But it breaks that down to a per minute cost and you create your little account on Clarity and people book calls through Clarity. So they’re paying you for your time. So I created that account and I don’t take a ton of calls on there but I’ve used that now as my gatekeeper. So if somebody emails me and says, “Hey. I’m looking for, I wanted to ask your, what do you think about this, this this or that”, and they write me like four paragraphs worth of information and I’m like, “Whew”. I just shoot them a quick email back and I’d say, “I would love to chat about with you more. Book a call here when it’s convenient for you”. 95 percent of those people never book a call and that’s because they don’t value it enough to pay for it. And that’s fine because I used to answer all those emails.
Kim: Oh no.
Carrie: So that’s kind of the little barrier that I’ve put up. The people who truly want to engage and respect my expertise, they’ll hop on a quick 10-minute call. And the others, they’ll move on to find somebody else to help for free.
Jonathan: Somewhere else. I think that’s a good place to have our break folks. We’ll be back in a few moments and we’ll be continuing this great discussion with a great member of the WordPress community in general, Carrie Dils. We’ll be back in a few moments folks.
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Jonathan: We’re coming back. We’ve had a great discussion with a great friend of the show Carrie Dils and we continue it. I think that’s a great methodology because like you said Carrie, not be disparaging, there are a lot of tire kickers out there. So when it comes to freelancing, we’ve covered the legal side a little bit and we’ve covered networking a little bit. What are some of the more fundamental mistakes, like one or two, that you see on a regular basis that freelancers in the WordPress technology field make when they’re starting to build up their business and become a freelancer?
Carrie: So here’s one and I see it from the newest newbie to even some of the most seasoned people and that is underestimating what’s involved in a project for simple lack of thorough communication. As a service provider, if somebody tells me, “I need a website”, in my mind, I’m thinking, “Okay. We’re going to have an About page, Contact page”. “Do you need an About page, Contact page?”. “Yeah. I need that”. “Okay. Great, great. Do you want a custom theme?”. And they’re like, “What the heck’s a custom theme?”. You ask these questions that are in the framework of your understanding and you think you get what they need and so you put a price tag on it. And then, you run off and do that and you bring it back to them and they’re like, “Well, where’s the part that does the this and this. And when they submit this form, I need it to go into my inventory management system”, or blah blah blah. And you’re like, “I didn’t quote you for that”. “Well, you told me you were going to build me a website”. And then everybody gets mad and you’re underpaid as the vendor and your client’s not happy with the work you provided. And that’s maybe an exaggeration but I see it happen all the time. Just a misunderstanding of what the actual project is and what you’re responsible for delivering and what your client is responsible for paying for. Just that transaction agreement is a sticker.
Jonathan: I think that’s fantastic. I’m going to see if you agree with this statement as well but it doesn’t apply always because obviously, some jobs are very small, some jobs are quite clear-cut. But in the bulk of medium to larger jobs, having some paid discovery in the process I think is fundamentally necessary. What do you think about that?
Carrie: I do.
Jonathan: And can you explain what I mean by paid discovery?
Carrie: Yeah. If somebody comes to you and they’ve got a project, you’ve got to do some amount of digging in to find out what the requirements truly are. And if they’re asking you for a proposal, well, you don’t want to spend 20 hours of your time to research into their requirements and come up with some potential solutions and all that and give that away in your proposal. Proposals are meant to be kind of quick and dirty, right? “I think that ballpark, this is where we’re at. After we a do a discovery, a paid discovery, then I can give you, not just a ballpark figure but a this is exactly what the project entails and what it costs”. So that way, and I’m just using that number 20 hours. But whatever time you’re investing to really dig into the specifics of that project, is a paid engagement and that creates value on both sides. So for you, as a service provider, you’re getting paid for that time. And at the end of that, what you’re delivering to the client is specifics for the project and they can take that theoretically, to any other service provider and shop that around for a price. Or, more than likely, they go with you if they want to continue the work.
But I feel like that’s a great way to gauge the working relationship. Like, let’s say you do a paid discovery and you’re like, “Whoa. This is not somebody I want to work with or this is a nightmare client or we’re just not a good fit as I dig deeper into it. This is really kind of outside of my wheelhouse”. Then at the end of that discovery, you can also use that as sort of a way to end the relationship. Like, “You what, after spending some time on this, here’s exactly what you need. I’m going to refer you to somebody else who I think can serve you better than I can”, or whatever it is. I don’t know. I’m kind of blathering on from your original question, Jonathan.
Jonathan: Oh, you’re doing fine. I think there’s two factors, the power of this. One, it really identifies if the client is really really serious. Most clients when they initially come with you, they are probably going to be talking to other people. And unless they got a detailed request for a proposal document, they’ll be getting quotes, they’ll be looking for oranges and they’ll be getting quotes for bananas. Unless they got a detailed request for a proposal document which they can give to 2 to 3 Developers to a quote, they’re not going to get a proper quote anyway. So it’s for their benefit to develop a proper request for a proposal document. And secondly, it identifies to you if the client is really serious. Would you agree with that Carrie?
Carrie: Yeah. And you know, what you can even, instead of framing it as a paid discovery, frame it as hire me to help you write your request for a proposal.
Jonathan: Yes. That’s what I do.
Carrie: Then you can, oh, I don’t know, write it just so that you’re the perfect vendor to fulfill the needs of that RFP. Yeah. I think you’re spot on.
Jonathan: Got a question, Kim?
Kim: I did. And I just had a senior moment. I was so engaged by what you were saying. It was like.
Jonathan: You’re the only one that is Kim.
Carrie: I’ve never ever done that.
Kim: Yes, I do.
Jonathan: Go on. Have you retrieved it, Kim?
Kim: I retrieved it. It came back fast. For the newer Developers, do you have any support for them? Because one of the things I see with some of the newer people in the WordPress community and they’re maybe just learning development, do you have any support or resources for helping them understand how to dig in and build an RFP? If you’ve never done it before, it’s not intuitive as to what clients are taking for granted, like you said that they’re going to have. Well, what about how this connects to this and how do we need to position ourselves or how do we need to think about an RFP so that we can dig in and get the right one to provide what the customer wants?
Carrie: Yeah. That’s a great question. I’m going to back up just a little bit and say that not every project needs a discovery and not every project needs an RFP. There’s a $1 amount threshold where the level of project changes from this is pretty vanilla, straightforward. If this is a $2,000 project, I don’t need an RFP. There’s not enough work there to justify it. If this a $20,000 project, then I do a better understanding of what’s involved. So just kind of put the price tag barrier there. I want to just say that. If you’re new and you’ve never written an RFP, I would say, don’t do it by yourself. Pair up with someone that’s been around a little bit longer and has some experience. If I could just totally pimp out my own podcast, I have an episode on there with a fellow named Jordon Rupp where he kind of digs into the specifics of what a discovery process looks like. I’ll share that link with you later. And that would be just a good place to start in terms of what sorts of questions you’re asking, the information you’re gathering and sort of your framework for thinking through all of the components of a project.
Kim: Yeah. Please get that link to us because I just find when I work with new business owners, because I do a lot of coaching, that some of those things are things they just don’t even understand yet. And even with the low cost ones, I would recommend people, maybe it doesn’t require an RFP but I recommend to them to have at least a planning guide that they go through with the customer. So you make sure that you are at least meeting their needs or understand their needs. So that you don’t build that 5-page website and then they ask where the shopping cart is.
Carrie: I actually just dropped a couple links in your chat there.
Kim: Thank you so much. Jonathan?
Jonathan: The way I kind of deal with it is that if it’s a certain level project, I normally have like an hour discussion with them. Either I send them to Kim for a kind of formal hour of discussion or if it’s me, I record it on Zoom and then share it between me and the client, then I will write a proposal based on that discussion. But if it’s any kind of custom coding or heavy customization of either an existing plugin or theme and there are doubts around how things are going to work together, then there has to be some more detailed discovery. Recently, there’s been a couple of individuals, and you’re one of them Carrie, that have gone into this field of providing resources, a course, mentorship on a course level and I see you as an extremely ethical person. The other person I think is not doing quite the same, it’s a different market, is Lee Jackson, who is also a very ethical individual. Because there were some other courses, some other resources out there but the people that were running them, I wasn’t totally sure about their ethical base. But like I say, because of your history of education, I think anybody that’s looking to become a freelancer, I think getting some mentorship and getting some advice will save them so much hurt, won’t it Carrie?
Carrie: Yes. So much of where I’m coming from now is just what I wish I had when I was starting my own freelancing journey. And in the WordPress community specifically, there’s so many, it’s like you said earlier, it’s just opening, it’s friendly. Now, at some you could end up, family feuds and all that kind of stuff. But it’s a community that welcomes people into it. So if you’re freelancing, if you’re in the WordPress space, there’s so many ways to just start meeting people and finding people who you can just ask questions, whether it’s technical questions or business questions or, “Heck. Come over to my group, The Fearless Freelancer. We’ll take you under our wings”.
Jonathan: Yeah. I think, just to finish up the podcast part of the show Carrie, I think there’s the 2-year burnout that’s notorious in freelancing. And I think you’ve got to really have a little bit of money in reserve and also maybe have a part-time job or have a partner that’s very supportive. I don’t know. It varies. But not doing discovery and quoting for very cheap work will lead to depression, burnout and going back to your 9 – 5 job. Would you agree with that Carrie?
Carrie: Yeah. I haven’t heard the 2-year marker. Running and growing a business is just a different mindset for, “Hey. I’m going to go make some websites for people and hope that I can pay my bills”. And that latter one, you do burnout on eventually because there are seasons and cashflow sometimes be tight. There’s something to be said for the security of that regular paycheck that you get from traditional employment. So I say that to say, I don’t think everybody is cut out to freelance. Maybe do it for a season. Maybe do it as sort of a moonlighting or something to add to your regular income. But for folks that really want to make a go of it, you’re right. There’s got to be some growth because if you stagnate out at that low cost, low dollar projects, working with clients that don’t respect you, that gets old pretty quickly. So I think there’s personal development involved with that to be able to learn how to go after better clients or learn how to partner up with other people that have different skill sets than you so that you can maybe offer something a little bit different. I think at any level you can’t just stay where you are for too long or you just get bored and depressed or delusional. I think you were going to say delusional.
Jonathan: I was struggling for the right word. We don’t want to be too harsh, do we, Carrie? We’re going to finish the podcast part of the show. Carrie’s been very generous and said she’ll continue the discussion which you’ll be able to see on the website with a full transcription of our interview with Carrie and with my great co-host Kim. Carrie, how can people find out more about you and what you’re up to?
Carrie: Sure. So there’s carriedils.com which is sort of the hub of all the things the pies I’ve got my fingers in. The podcast is OfficeHours.FM. And then, to see the courses that I’ve got for freelancers, you can either go to thefearlessfreelancer.com or just join us for free on the Facebook group, also called The Fearless Freelancer.
Jonathan: And like I said before, I’ve got no hesitation in recommending Carrie’s course. If you’re thinking of becoming a freelancer, I think you should really look at it. It will probably save you a lot of pain and learning lessons. Kim, how can people find out more about you and what you’re up to?
Kim: Like Carrie, if you want to find the area where I have my fingers in all kinds of things, you can go to kimshivler.com. And if you’re specifically looking for help on building online courses, you can go to howtobuildanonlinecourse.com.
Jonathan: And if you want to find out more about WP-Tonic, go to our website. We’ve got some great resources this month. We’ve got an extensive article about four of the leading Membership plugins. We’ve got another article that will be coming up pretty soon about MemberPress. And Kim has a continuous series based on how to develop a course from the ground up and Part 2 of that should be coming at the end of this month. So we’ve got a lot of resources on the WP-Tonic website. If you also are very generous, give us a review on iTunes. I know it’s a bit of a pain, especially on the PC but it really helps the show and I do read them and if it’s amusing, I actually read it out on the show. So that’s great. And also, don’t forget about our Round Table shows on a Friday. They are truly a blast. We’ve had a couple recently that have just been fantastic, I feel and you can view those live at 8:30 Pacific Standard Time every Friday on our Facebook page. So if you feel that you need some interesting Facebook WordPress discussion, that’s the place to get it. We’re going to wrap up now and we’ll be back next week with somebody doing something interesting with WordPress. We’ll see you next week folks. Bye.
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