In this interview, John Locke discusses his personal journey from master baker to master WordPress developer. We also discuss some tips connected to how a small to medium business owner should choose the right WordPress developer.

Also, John is going to be joining me as my official co-host of WP-Tonic. I’m personally excited by John agreeing to come on board and help me make the show one of the top WordPress podcasts.

Hello, I’m John Locke.

john-LockeI run a web design studio in Sacramento, California called Lockedown Design. I specialize in building online stores and e-commerce websites on the WordPress platform for established businesses. My goal is to help you promote and sell your products, and help you reach more of your customers.

My role is to empower you for success on the web. I’m dedicated to designing websites that all of your customers can use. I can help you increase conversions and optimize your site for mobile devices. Ultimately, I am designing for your customers. Making things easy for them means more sales for you, and that brings a smile to my face.

My Background

Since 2012, I’ve been consulting and doing web development full-time as Lockedown Design, working with award-nominated web agencies, large media sites, small businesses and entrepreneurs of all varieties.

Now, I am narrowing my focus to work mainly with businesses looking to build or improve online stores and e-commerce websites on the WordPress platform.

My Values

Investing in any design or development project is a big decision for business owners like you. There are literally millions of web designers to choose from, and selecting just one provider can be nerve-wracking.

You have a good business and a great product. You know more people should be able to find and purchase from you, which is why you are seeking a web designer in the first place. To get an idea of what it would be like to work with me, consider the values I live by at Lockedown Design.

Full Show Transcript

Jonathan: Hi, folks. This is WP-Tonic, Episode 94. It’s a special. Introducing John Locke. He’s going to be my ongoing co-host in the next episodes, or the next season, of WP-Tonic. We’re having a chat about John’s experience in WordPress. His experience has been a WordPress developer, a web designer, and a cool guy in general. Say something, John.

John: Hello. How are you?

Jonathan: Great, John. We’re starting this off, John. What led you into web design?

John: Web design is my second career. Originally, I had a first career. First I was working in restaurants. Then eventually I worked in bakeries for about 18 years. For 9 years I was a bakery manager for a well-known supermarket chain, and then I ended up working for a factory bakery. During this time, I was developing a lot of repetitive motion injuries and muscle strains. I wanted to do something that I could do for the rest of my life and that I would enjoy and be passionate about. Web design is what I chose.

During the last couple of years that I was working at the factory bakery, I started going to online school and learning web design. On top of that, I was reading books by Jeffrey Zeldman, Ethan Marcotte, Andy Clarke – all of your early guys on the web. I was building sites, just simple sites, and seeing how stuff worked. Then just building increasingly more complex sites.

Jonathan: Yeah. You did a college course, a degree, as well, didn’t you?

John: Yes, I did. For whatever that’s worth. Education on the web is something you’ve got to keep up on all the time.

Jonathan: Yeah, it’s quite hard for educational establishment to keep current, isn’t it?

John: Yeah. It is a little bit tough because they’re always behind. Because for an accredited college, they have to get it approved by the college board. It’s usually a few years behind where the industry is.

Jonathan: Obviously, John’s been on the show before and we’ve become friends and I’m delighted that he decided to become our co-host. We’ve got a very broad audience, folks. What advice would you give to somebody that’s maybe looking to get into web design? Have you got any tips or insights, and maybe recommendations from the things you did that you wouldn’t do, or things you would have changed to get into it? Got any kind of insights, John?

John: I mean the biggest thing is just start building stuff just to learn and just to scratch your own itch. Some of the very early sites I did were just for people I knew. Then I started approaching people that I didn’t know, businesses that I didn’t know. The biggest thing is to be sure if you go out on your own as a freelancer, be sure to charge enough to keep yourself in business. That’s one of the biggest things that I see is people don’t charge nearly enough to stay in business. A lot of people, they’re around for a couple years, but then they have to go work for an agency or something like that because they’re charging what they think the hourly rate should be, but they’re forgetting that they have to pay their own taxes and that they’re not really going to get 40 hours a week all the time.

Jonathan: That’s quite true. What about working for somebody? Were you not tempted to join an agency and be on salary full-time, rather? Am I correct in saying that you’ve always been a freelancer, haven’t you?

John: Yeah. I’ve always been a freelancer and part of it was because I didn’t even break into the industry until I was about 40 years old. Because of that, a lot of places, they kind of take a pass on you if you’re a junior developer who’s older. Because a junior developer, basically, is just someone who builds websites for less than a senior developer. They are less experienced. Most agencies use a lot of junior developers to stay profitable. But they really want people who are preferably young, maybe unencumbered. It was a little bit difficult to break in because of that. I did do a lot of work for agencies and I still do. I still do quite a bit of subcontracting, but I just charge a lot more. When I really stopped trying to get a full-time job somewhere and just focused on being my own business, that’s when things really started to build momentum.

Jonathan: That’s really fascinating, really, isn’t it?

John: Yeah. It kind of is. You have to be just all-in on something. You can’t be half and half.

Jonathan: It is true. It is true. I think, also, you touched how … This is a ridiculous question, really, but I’m still going to ask it, John.

John: Sure.

Jonathan: How do you avoid burnout, really? Have you got any insights? Because it’s really, really quite easy in this industry to get totally burned out, isn’t it?

John: Yeah, there’s a lot of people who get burned out. I can tell you, in my previous career, I was definitely a workaholic, too. I think it’s a personality trait that some people have. Especially for men, I think it’s really hard to struggle with workaholism because your self-worth is so tied to [your] work.

What I do is I make sure that I set certain times each day that I’m going to stop. I do take breaks. I don’t just sit down for 10 hours straight. Working for myself, I have that ability to do things at my own pace. I can work a full day and I don’t feel like I’m burning out.

Jonathan: Oh, I can understand that. What are the basic tools that you use to develop with, John?

John: I’m pretty basic when it comes to that. I’m pretty old school. Basically I just use Sublime Text. If I’m building a custom theme, I just use something like Underscores [_s] and just develop on a staging environment. BrowserStack is something that I use to do browser checking. I have a small device library where I can check mobile devices. Just Photoshop Illustrator, a little bit. Just really basic tools.

Jonathan: The normal tools of the trade. Yeah, that’s great. Have you got any advice for the business owner looking to hire, they’re looking for a custom look, and they’re looking around to hire somebody? Got any kind of insights about how they should judge if they’re just looking online and they’re looking for recommendation about who might be the right person to hire?

John: Most of the business owners that I run into have had a bad experience, say … Or I should say, most, and definitely with small business, most people have had a bad experience hiring a web developer or a team or what have you. Generally speaking, don’t just hire the first person you run into. Don’t run into the first person you’re referred to. Do your due diligence, research people. Talk to different people. Realize that you’re going to get what you pay for most of the time. I’m not saying that every time you pay a lot, you’re going to get quality, but more often than not. I would ask people what their process is so you get a good idea of “have they got a plan for approaching projects?” Do they have a repeatable pattern of how they diagnose problems or do they just jump in and start building stuff and figure out what the destination is later?

Jonathan: That’s great. I think we’ll go to our first break, folks. We’ll come back and learn more about John.

Jonathan: We’re coming back to learn more about John and how he got into web design and WordPress. When did you first start using WordPress and have you used any other content management systems? Or was it WordPress and you just saw the light, John?

John: I would say that for the most part, when I first started, I was doing a lot of flat HTML and CSS and JavaScript. Then I was starting to look at different CMS’ like WordPress, Joomla!, Drupal. WordPress was one of the ones that seemed the most accessible to me. I’ve dabbled in a couple others like ExpressionEngine, but WordPress is really just what I gravitated toward. That’s what I’ve been using for the last 5 years.

Jonathan: What version? Can you remember what version and when you first saw it and started trying it out?

John: No, I don’t remember the particular version, but it was right around the time that they were introducing custom post types. That was brand new. This was about 2011 or so.

Jonathan: That’s great. I think I started using it around 2009, 2010. I think it was version 2.8, I started using it. Showing my age, aren’t I, John? That’s great, like I said. What do you think is going to happen to WordPress? Do you get any insights or thoughts about anything interesting that might happen in the WordPress world in the second half of 2016, John?

John: Well, the 2 things that I really see happening is the REST API is being more fully integrated into core. They’re building out the endpoints. I think you’re going to see a lot more applications using WordPress as a database and then pulling that into apps or different applications through that.

The other thing that’s really interesting that I’ve noticed in recent years is if you’ve read the news, you saw that Automatic, the parent company of WordPress, is starting to go after people who have WooCommerce in their domain name, much as the way that they do with the term “WordPress”. I know that acquired WooCommerce about a year ago. I think what you’re going to see is them integrating WooCommerce more into the WordPress.com service to give a complete e-commerce solution to people who want to subscribe to WordPress.com. Because I think what they’re trying to do is go after competitors like Squarespace and Big Cartel and Shopify that have these type of subscription solutions that offer e-commerce.

Jonathan: Yeah, that’s great. A follow over question is you mentioned Squarespace. You’ve got services like Squarespace, Wix, and Shopify. Then you’ve got WordPress and WooCommerce. Why should somebody be working at WordPress, John, rather than Squarespace? What do you think are the rationale? You got any insights about the rationale to somebody should be thinking about to make the choice? That can be a bit perplexing, can’t it?

John: Yeah. I mean, Squarespace, it’s got a pretty robust e-commerce capability, but it’s pretty straightforward when it comes to what they offer. When you get into applications like WordPress, there’s such a robust plugin ecosystem when it comes to e-commerce and memberships. Really, the sky’s the limit for what you can do and what you can build. You can either chain together different plugins or build something custom that puts stuff together. Basically, you’re going to be able to build more complex solutions with self-hosted WordPress than you are with something like Squarespace or Big Cartel.

Jonathan: That’s great. Can I ask a quite difficult question, and I don’t expect you to be precise, John, but I just thought you might give some insight. Let’s say we’re looking at a smallish, e-commerce site down in WordPress, what do you think somebody that actually knows what they’re doing, what kind of realistic budget parameters should a business person looking to have that built? Maybe they tried Squarespace and they want to move their business on to the next level. What kind of realistic budget parameters? Can you give any insights, John?

John: Sure. Budget is tricky because, again, it’s going to depend on the business, what the business is, how much revenue they’re generating from their site, and who’s building it for them. The larger team that you bring in and the larger that the business is that’s commissioning the site, the larger the budget is going to need to be. Now for small businesses that I deal with, the vast majority sites that I build are in that 3k to 10k range. E-commerce is going to cost more than a regular website because you have to make sure that payment gateways are configured correctly. There’s more testing that needs to be done. An e-commerce site is going to cost more than a simple brochure site. If you are expecting to spend a few thousand dollars for a brochure site, then I would up that to at least 5,000 or 6,000 for an e-commerce site.

Jonathan: What kind of realistic timeline, I know there is enormous variation in that as well, but you can give any kind of idea what a realistic timeline is in general?

John: If you’re dealing with a smaller business or a smaller organization where there’s one person who’s making decisions, who has the final say, and maybe just the marketing department or directly with the owner, most projects are about 6 to 8 weeks. With large organizations, they can definitely take months. Very large projects can take several months to years even because there is so much iteration going on.

Jonathan: That’s great, John. I think we’ll go on to our next break and then we’ll finish off with a couple questions and wrap it up, John.

Jonathan: We’re back, folks, for our final section. I think we dealt with a few things. What advice, when it comes to, let’s say, what is called a brochure site, what are some of the things that a client should be aware of before they hire a professional like yourself? What do you think some of the fundamental things they should understand?

John: The biggest difference between professionally done sites that end up successes and sites that maybe cost a lot, but they end up not being a success, is the planning stage. If you do a paid discovery, road mapping, whatever you want to call it at the beginning of the project, it’s going to ensure that the rest of the project is going to stay on course and that there is no surprises and everybody is on the same page.

What that usually entails is digging deep, finding the problems that you’re actually solving, making some decisions of how you’re going to solve the problems that each person is going to have to bring to the project. Look for stuff like that. Generally speaking, it’s not just like, “I want to have a site that is YouTube for $2,000 or copy this site.” That’s a big thing. Things take a while to get done right like planning, strategy, design, and development, and testing.

Jonathan: Yes, that’s true words. How can people get ahold of you, John, if they want to? You’ll be joining me every week, but if people want to talk more about hiring you and having an initial conversation, what’s the best way of getting hold of you, John?

John: Sure. You can always find me on my website, which is LockedownDesign.com. There’s a silent “E” after the Locke. I have an “E” at the end of my name. My email address is [email protected] You can find me on Twitter as @Lockedown_.

Jonathan: That’s great. Folks, if you want to get ahold of me or pass a comment, the best ways are to email me at [email protected] or Twitter me @JonathanDenwood. Quickest ways to get ahold of me. John Locke, like I said, is going to be my co-host for the upcoming season. Also, he helps me. We do a live show, folks, where you can ask questions about WordPress or you’re looking for any kind of advice, any kind of WordPress problem. We’ve got a great team of other panelists, but John is going to help me with that. That’s on Saturdays. It starts at 9:00pm. We normally go on for a couple of hours. That’s on Blab, Blab.im. If you want to know more, you can go to the website, go to the site app, and you’ll be able to see the link and that will give you more details. John, thanks for agreeing to become my co-host. I think we’ve done a really nice interview. Got anything else you think we haven’t covered?

John: Do due diligence. And if you’re a developer or a designer scouting a client, do your due diligence there as well.

Jonathan: That’s true words. It works both ways, doesn’t it, John? All right then, folks, thanks for listening to this special episode. Next week we’ll delve in probably into how to choose a premium theme, the right way to choose one and the wrong way for your project or your new website. Have a great week. Subscribe to the show on YouTube and join us next week. Bye, folks.

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