4 Ways Running A WordPress Web Design Business Changes You, And Your Life

Posted on August 25, 2014 by in Editorial | 31 comments

4 Ways Running A WordPress Web Design Business Changes You, And Your Life

Starting a business in WordPress web design is a great challenge. When we start off, we’re occupied wholly by things like what our new logo will look like, our branding colours, our target market and our own website copy.

But have you ever stopped to think about how venturing into entrepreneurialism is going to change your day-to-day life? It’s not just office scenery that will be different. Even your personality can change as a result of freelancing.

Yes, it’s an experience, and all experiences change us.

However, particularly in WordPress web design, the dynamics of how your life is shaped by your business can be unique. This is mainly because it’s not a 9 to 5 type of business, which you might have been used to at a former job. It also involves many relatively new modes of communication and teamwork.

‘Modus operandi’ changes can happen with entrepreneurs in other industries too, but when working as a freelancer making websites for clients, or even in other aspects of the WordPress industry, you might notice the following characteristics of your work leaking into your personal life.

1) You have no choice but to start buckling down

Probably the biggest change you’ll notice is how money is managed and monitored.

As freelancers, especially in a world as creative as web design and development, we often don’t like to think about the financials. But they’re a critical part to our growth and success. If we don’t know our numbers we could be missing opportunities for advancement, or even worse, not realizing we are sailing a sinking ship.

I think it’s a really important matter to bring up because it’s something we have to learn whether we like it or not as creative freelancers. By nature we become savers because we have to be. We don’t know when we’ll be weathering a storm or simply riding the waves.

Planning for an unknown financial future is pertinent. If we hit the jackpot with great sales one month, that is no excuse to celebrate by going out to buy a bunch of nice things. If anything, it’s a solemn warning that next month might be a rainy one.

This is not scary. It’s part of the challenge, and the drive that keeps us competitive. Entrepreneurialism is an exercise in being mindful and yet strategically calculated.

Investments are important to make in business. But you also need to ask yourself if what you are spending on is really an investment, or a waste of money. The more there is on the line for you, the more careful you’ll be (or should be) about these decisions, and that’s a good thing.

You’re going to learn the true meaning of ROI (return on investment). It’s not just a buzzword you use in meetings. What do I mean by that? Well, let’s explain how we put emphasis on the ‘return’ part of ROI:

Do you need office space? Really? For some people this is a genuine ‘yes.’ For others, it’s really just a misconceived notion that if you start a business, you should have commercial retail space because the two go together. Not true, especially not as a WordPress freelancer.

I once met someone who was making $16K a year (not in this industry) and renting a $3K a month office space. Yeah. Not smart. You don’t need these types of expenditures when your cash flow is not justifying them.

So how does this play out in your real life? Remember your business bank account is really going to be reflective of what’s in your personal bank account. If your business is not earning enough to sustain itself, your salary will need to take a hit.

If you have just come from a job where your pay check arrived every two weeks rain or shine, your style of spending will have to change.

No more fancy nights out for a while. And, I didn’t go to Harvard, but I think you’ll survive if your water is not alkaline without that thousand-dollar sink filtration system.

Maybe you’ll need to eliminate your car payments for something more practical. Maybe coffee will be brewed at home instead of at the coffee shop. Maybe Joe Fresh will replace Louis Vitton. And I’m sure that resort in Mexico can wait a few years for you while you establish your footing.

Want to laugh about it? Here is a very true meme on this subject.

2) Entrepreneurialism in web design demands a change in your character

Ok hear me out. Maybe this is just my own experience, but I hope others can relate.

When you are an entrepreneur, time is of the essence because there is so little of it. If you start to see that, you will stop wasting time. That changes your modus operandi. That changes you.

Before I became an entrepreneur, I worked in an office with a ‘team.’ By that I mean I learned how to waste a lot of time talking about ideas of what looked good, or what no one was qualified to make decisions on, because that was called ‘teamwork.’ It was supposed to be good for human resources or whatever.

(Semi-related side note: read “10 Tricks to Appear Smart During Meetings” by Sarah Cooper, it’s hilarious.)

But I didn’t learn how to be a team player until I became an entrepreneur. And I don’t think I’m done learning how to be one.

Why? Because, as described above, it wasn’t until there was a lot on the line for me, that I learned about ROI. And also how to let other people do my job, no matter how much I loved it or wanted to get paid for doing it (ahem, ahem, ‘delegation’).

Don’t get me wrong – this topic is not about producing imperfect work. I don’t like that idea and never have (though I agree that too much perfectionism can be a disease).

I am talking about human relationships while working, which can change who you are, because of the way you learn to interact with people. This means giving in sometimes.

Eventually, you figure out that the personalities around you aren’t going to change. So you go with the flow. You learn how to be adaptable. You learn what battles to pick in the interest of saving time, and saving energy for more important matters.

Changing yourself in the interest of other people and things is hard. Who likes change? No one.

For example, if a client or colleague insists on a bad design, you can only go so far with your arguments. But it’s not worth wasting the time you could be spending making more money, or doing more satisfying work. This is the type of time wasted when you are paid for just ‘showing up’ at an office. No one cares about what a loss useless ‘discussions’ are (though not all are useless).

This is because hardly anyone thinks in terms of how much money the company is sacrificing when people aren’t making productive decisions and are instead focusing on the emotions of other team players. Management can cave in to everyone’s desire to have input when it’s not needed. I’ve seen random company departments interfering in website projects before. Organizations make ‘design by committee’ decisions (instead of ‘design by expertise’ decisions) that end up taking much longer and becoming more expensive than necessary.

In some way, this is exemplified in the infamous “Goodbye, Google” blog post by Douglas Bowman. It’s a really good read.

At some point you give in and say, “ok, it’s your website, you’re paying the tab, just tell me what you want me to do.” Then go treat yourself to some ice cream.

Despite what I’ve said in my recent article about increasing the value of your work with good projects, don’t allow yourself to get married to your work. You will get disappointed.

Personality challenges also happen with the people who work with you on production. Designers, developers, content copywriters, project managers at the agency you’re working with who know nothing about your job but pretend to…these people all have feelings, and feelings often come first in human relationships. You have to learn to let them feel special, wanted, needed and appreciated so that you can produce a good product.

But…

Learning how to deal with people in business is learning how to bypass the emotional attachment to a project and focus on getting things done. This doesn’t mean you have to be cruel and insensitive.

In fact, I have learned it’s important to take care of people around you in business (namely your sub contractors). Actively make sure they’re not overwhelmed or overworked. Make sure they are paid, on time. Your suppliers, their health, and their motivation are pertinent to your business. PERTINENT!

But you do need to stick to professionalism, and make sure your team knows their responsibilities and priorities.

If someone starts doing a bad job, you need to address it, even if it will hurt their feelings. This is business. We are adults. Get to work, or sincerely ask for time off so you don’t compromise the success of other people.

Dealing with both positivity and negativity are important for teamwork, in my opinion. You can’t have one person holding everyone back because of their emotional needy-ness. Teamwork is about getting things done, not just getting along.

This is hard to figure out. It deserves it’s own article.

This lesson is not over for me, so I can’t point fingers. I think it takes years to figure out, as do most deep lessons that change us. We’ll see.

The point is: you have to deal with this a lot when you’re conducting a WordPress web design business. And that can change you in other parts of your life.

3) You start looking for new hobbies to keep your passion from running dry

It’s true that ‘work’ is not ‘work’ if you’re doing what you love. But let’s face it; too much work can drain us out. And when our passion is our work, we can start to associate the negative feelings of being drained with our job, which we are supposed to enjoy. That’s not good.

Not to fear. If you love what you do, you will probably always love doing it. You gave up a lot to be a website-designing freelancer, let’s remember that.

But it doesn’t hurt to take on new hobbies. In fact, it helps.

Do something fun, and find passion in something other than web design. But, don’t pick a hobby that is just learning more skills in this business. It’s necessary to keep learning, but keep that restricted to working hours.

It’s time to take up guitar, kickboxing, marathon running, swing dancing or quilting. Or, hey, maybe YouTubing, (which WordPressers don’t do often enough).  In fact, taking walks has shown to be instrumental in fueling creativity, which can make you better at your job. Apparently famous people did it. In psychology this kind of practice is called free association, which stems from the ‘default mode network’ that happens in our brains during mindless activities, which explains why we get our best ideas in the shower.

Also, don’t forget that in WordPress and web design, most of your job is mental. There isn’t much of the ‘physical’ going on. I think it’s almost not human considering how much time we spend sitting and starring at screens. A friend once told me that even doing something like knitting is helpful because it allows your brain to concentrate on something you’re doing physically with your hands. Not a medical fact. Remember, I didn’t go to Harvard.

Whether you take my advice now, or learn it the hard way later, eventually you’ll find that passion for your business can run out. Keep it ignited by limiting your time spent on it. Seriously, this even fits with the idea of the scarcity principle. Psychologists reading this: feel free to confirm or deny my theory.

4) You need new friends, those who know about WordPress web design freelancing

Your old friends are good to keep – don’t get rid of them! But eventually you learn that it’s very helpful to be able to talk to people who work in web design as well. When you do, you’ll probably figure out the following:

a) People are not cutthroat competitive in this industry. They are much more collaborative than you may think.

b) Web designers often like to help each other. WordCamps and WordPress meetups are evidence of this.

c) Many web designers have gone before you and know what you might be struggling with. Talking things out with like-minded people can help you solve a lot of issues you may have in your business.

For example, we recently wrote about the different types of WordPress web design clients and how to handle them. In the comments we had several people testify of their experiences with customer management. It helps to know you’re not alone. In another example, I once wrote an article on how to get clients to send you their web content on time (it’s a common problem in the industry). You know where I went to input for that? A WordPress LinkedIn group – the community is great and loves to share!

Make friends in WordPress web design. Don’t think of other freelancers as competitors. There is enough work to go around and honestly, it is rare that you would be bidding on the same projects anyway. If you are good at your job, clients that suit you will be attracted to you anyway. You can reap far more benefit by making friends in the industry and collaborating with others at networking events, online or even by calling them up for a coffee.

Bounce ideas off each other, vent frustrations out with each other and go for brunches together – you’ll feel much better! Business can be stressful, and your old-time friends won’t always understand what you mean when you nag about this stuff. You’ve gotta be ‘in’ it to get it.

To conclude: freelancing is a whole new life!

Freelancing is a whole other world that goes beyond the business aspects of your day job. As we’ve seen, it can change your personal life too – even the crowds you hang with. You’ll spend money differently, you’ll handle conversations differently and you’ll find new passions out of necessity.

Is it worth it? Of course! Hopefully for most of us, these changes will be for the better, even if they are hard to adjust to at first. If not for anything else, then at least you will be able to understand other freelancers from now on!

I’ve now given you my big life changes that stemmed from being an entrepreneur. In the comments below, you can give us yours!

Article thumbnail image by PremiumVector / Shutterstock.com 

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31 Comments

  1. Love the part about making friends with others in the WordPress community!

    Like you said, don’t think of them as competition….think of them as people who you can learn from and share your experiences with. There are plenty of WordPress projects to go around for everyone!

  2. I’ve really been enjoying the posts like this one that have been popping up on the ET blog. Thanks for sharing your wisdom, Joyce. I’m a part-time designer who may need to make WordPress websites a full-time job some day, and these thoughts have been very helpful.

    • That’s great to hear! We’re enjoying writing them! If you have topics you’d like us to explore, please let us know

  3. It’s so helpful to know other people are experiencing the same issues as I am. Thanks for reminding me I can find WordPress friends online, gonna work on that…

    • Hi Christy! Actually it’s helpful for me when I get reinforcements like this. Sometimes, believe it or not, I wonder if when I write these things, it’s just me 😉 So when I hear that people like yourself experience the same things, it actually encourages ME!

  4. Hi Joyce,

    Thanks for this enjoyable and interesting post! Just took the plunge becoming a full-time freelancer with WordPress and enjoying it every day, but I will keep some tips in mind!

    Kind regards by a (dutch 😉 ) webdeveloper

    • Hi Wim! I noticed your name was Dutch right away 🙂 Glad you enjoyed the post! Let us know what topics you’re struggling with these days so we can see if we can help out by writing more articles along these lines 🙂

  5. Hey Joyce,

    Just thought I’d let you know I can always relate to at least one thing in your posts. I love them! Keep writing for ET 🙂

  6. Hello Joyce, I love the part of “free association” explained in your post and to break away from the screen, I do some house chore and walking even as a middle freelancer. Thanks and cheers.

    • I wish chores were my other passion 🙂 But nope…. 🙂

  7. I am not a designer but a customer of et.
    I found ur comments very insightful. And will be passing them on to 2 of my kids who r in business. I think they apply to most self employeds:)

    • Thanks! And yes, it does apply to other self employed professions. This one in particular has challenges that are unique though. Such as the staying in all the time and needing to think of something else to do!

  8. Love to read article 🙂 Specifically “You start looking for new hobbies to keep your passion from running dry” . Thanks for share

  9. Happy to read an interesting and useful post like this. To get into something new and valuable there should be certain changes we should make to adopt it. In this way your life will also change.

  10. Thanks for posting. Love the part about changing how you spend money. I’ve been running my own business for 2 years now and I never truly understood what it takes to ensure cash flow until I went out on my own… Its a whole new world when the only source of income you have is the result of your own making… Good and bad!

    • Yes! I heard someone say to me a while ago “it’s not about what you make, it’s about what you spend.” And that stuck with me. I was like, gee, yeah, that’s true! You can be comfortable as a freelancer if you are careful. But it does take diligence.

  11. Nice read! I totally agree with the part about working in a “team” before starting your own business: a total waste of time, I’m working SO much faster now.

    I am thinking about getting my own office space though. In the area there are offices spaces for rent at about 300-400 euros/month so it’s worth a shot. Now that working from home has become my business I start to notice that I’m almost always at home, even when work has stopped. That can be a bit confusing at times 🙂

    • ha ha, maybe try coffee shops first and see if that suits your fancy 🙂 It’s only about $5 a day for wifi AND a beverage!

  12. Great article Joyce, nice to read and very helpful. Not only for web designers but also for many other creative professions i think.
    I’m not a freelancer myself but work evenings and weekends designing for customers that my wife photographs for (professionally). Unfortunately not enough to go full-time but probably in the future 😉
    We do notice that creative pro’s can be very helpful to each other. In combining business and stimulating creativity. “Creating the perfect team around you” could be a next article? Thanks

    • Hey that’s a good one! We’ll consider it!

  13. Great article Joyce! What….no cheesecake?!?

  14. Joyce, I found this article very refreshing to read and helpful to those who are not just WP designers. I’m a freelance/virtual paralegal plus I do a bit of webdesign, so am quite appreciative of your insight into working as a freelance anything. Thanks also for the reminder to pursue other interests … I have many, and they tend to fall by the wayside when I’m working. It’s a good way to keep one’s balance. What is that saying? All work and no play makes Jane a dull girl …

    Thanks again, Joyce!

    • Thanks Margaret! I think you’re right, it can apply in principle to many other freelancers 🙂 Though I don’t want to assume too much since I only know what it’s like to be in the WordPress web industry so far 🙂

  15. WP developing on the side with a full time IT job. I can really get my creative juices flowing in web and graphic design. Finally starting to brand my webdesign business now that I am getting more customers. But before I plunge into this full time I want to be more certain I can keep bringing in the customers. How do you think marketing should be handled, what is you opinion on the best way to bring in new clients?

    • Bump^ What’s the best method for getting a flow of clients? ie cold calling, setting up flyers etc?

  16. Very good article! I am a full time designer in an agency in Germany and I’m starting to organize my own freelance business back to my beautifull land and this article was the most useful and real that I have read till now.

  17. I recently purchased a plan with you all, and themes/plugins aside (which are awesomesauce in themselves), I would just like to share that I LOVE this blog. You bring real, usable content to the forefront instead of just filling space with characters. It’s clear that you care about your products as well as educating your customers. Much appreciated!

  18. I typed “running a website is like a full time job” into google and you came up! Well, I needed cheering up, sometimes it feels too much, so to read about other experiences is a good thing.

    I only have one client though! They keep me so busy I have no time for others. To break up my day I bought a large plastic pool and take a tip every 2 or 3 hours. It completely refreshes me.

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