After taking a break last week to talk to Hugh Lashbrooke, we’re back with the Business Track. Chris Ford, Laura Byrne-Cristiano, and and Patrick Rauland will all be giving you great advice for working with clients, workflows, and money management.
- Building a Design Process During a Pandemic by Chris Ford
- Teaching Your Clients Gutenberg: Think Like a Content Creator by Laura Byrne-Cristiano
- Financial Self Defense – or – How to Prepare Your Business for any Disaster by Patrick Rauland
Joe Casabona: Hey everybody. And welcome to episode three of WordPress WP Review. After taking a break from the speaker tracks last week, to talk to you Hugh Lashbrooke, about the learn WordPress platform, we are back with the business track. And I’m really excited because I get to talk to several of my friends about what they’ve done in their businesses.
So we’ll be talking to Chris Ford about putting together a design process in a pandemic. We’ll be talking to Laura Byrne-Cristiano about teaching Gutenberg to your clients, something really important, pandemic or not. And we’ll be talking to Patrick Rauland about financial self-defense or how to prepare your business for any disaster. Something, another prescient topic for this year.
So, this is great. I think that these three talks will help you prepare moving into 2021 as the pandemic continues, to help grow and sustain your business. So without further ado, let’s get into the first talk by Chris Ford about creating a design process in a pandemic.
All right. I am here with Chris Ford. She’s a designer at Reaktiv Studios. We used to work together at Crowd Favorite. Chris, how are you today?
Chris Ford: I’m doing well. How are you doing today?
Joe Casabona: Not too shabby. Thanks so much for joining me. I’m excited to talk to you today because this is still very topical, I think, the name of your WordCamp US talk, ‘Building a Design Process During a Pandemic’. And so I’m happy to not only highlight your WordCamp US but give the listeners something that hopefully will be practical for them as we move into 2021. So, we’ll talk about all of that. But first, why don’t you tell us a little bit about who you are, and what you do?
Chris Ford: My name’s Chris Ford. I graduated from design school in 1996.
When the internet was first coming out, I was the very first person at my school to have an interactive portfolio and it was on a CD ROM. You actually had to go to a service bureau and have people burn you your CD ROMs because you couldn’t do it on your own computer yet. So super fancy. And I used that to go to a skateboard company where I learned web design through frames and tables and animated gifts, and making a whole lot of ugly stuff like everyone else at the time.
And just kind of kept moving forward through, you know, the design process, I worked at agencies for a while. I’ve done sites for Sony picture studios, and when hotels and, you know, all that was during the [.com] era. And then that blew up and I became a freelancer like so many people of my generation. And maybe 10 years ago, after a stint as a professional scrapbooker, I decided to get back into web design because that industry had its equivalent of a [.com] boom. And a lot of photographers I knew needed websites that they could easily update. One of my clients asked me if I could use a Cooper theme. And so I made them a website that was Kubrick with a giant flash header on it. And then my next client asked if I could use a revolution theme, which was the precursor of StudioPress.
So I was a freelance theme designer for a while. I did freelance work up until like you said, I got a call from Chris Lema. He said you know, don’t hang up. I have a weird job proposition for you. Asked me if I wanted to come on as a project manager at Crowd Favorite. And I’ve always really been interested in getting into like design management, art direction, creative direction. And I thought it would be a really good opportunity to not just understand how design works, but understand how forecasting works and budgets work, timelines work, and the processes you would use to work with developers. And kind of do cross-functional communication. And so for the last five years at Crowd Favorite and the last four at Reaktiv Studios, I’ve been a full-time project manager running projects.
And then this year, I started redesigning the Reaktiv website. And you know, getting my toes a little bit back more into the design pool. And then a lot of really awesome design project opportunities started coming through. And so I just kind of naturally transitioned to over from, you know, managing the projects to doing design work on the projects. So it was something I’d wanted to do for a long time. Possibly not in the middle of a pandemic, but that’s how it happened. And that’s where the idea for the talk came from making, you know, a massive shift, not just personally. But the company, like all of a sudden offering this, you know, full-service agency type offerings that are really brand new to us because we’ve worked very closely with other teams and their design teams to, you know, bring really cool stuff to light. But it was kind of the first time that we were doing that stuff ourselves.
Joe Casabona: Yeah. That’s awesome. And it kinda makes me think about, you know, I got my start in like 2000, 2001. Maybe I made my first website using like front page. And the first economic downturn that really impacted me was the 2008 recession. But I didn’t feel like it impacted me. I started to see more work because I think more businesses much like kind of the early 2000s. Right, where businesses were like, I guess we should have like a website, more businesses by 2008. We’re like, “All right. We need like an actual, real website to get business and not just like a homepage.” So this is kind of unrelated to your talk, but I’m generally curious cause you’re in the agency space this year, has the…and feel free to answer this however you’d like, or not at all. How has the pandemic impacted your pipeline? Have you seen more work, less work about the same…?
Chris Ford: I think it’s varied throughout the year. I know this last month we have been slammed. We have brought on a new client. We’re constantly working on new business. It seems like because of the shift to remote work, a lot of our existing clients, our clients who, you know, are in a space where remote working doesn’t necessarily their bottom line, you know. And then there are other clients who were in different industries that are affected, that, you know, have had to kind of put a pause on things, but are still, you know, moving forward on stuff.
I have felt busy. I mean, that’s, I haven’t felt like I’ve just kind of been sitting around waiting for work. I feel like, you know, we’ve been really busy. And we’ve also, you know, come up with this whole new way to bring in projects that didn’t exist before. It’s just been really kind of cool too all of a sudden, see, you know, one project comes in and then another. And I think we’re up to like four design projects now, probably within the last six months just by saying that we had the capability to do it. And, you know, building some really awesome stuff.
Joe Casabona: Yeah. That’s awesome. So, yeah. So let’s talk about that now. Again, your talk title was ‘Building a Design Process During a Pandemic’. What is the talk about? And why did you want to give it at WordCamp US? I can guess, but let’s…I want to hear from you. You know.
Chris Ford: Well, since we kind of started talking about it in February, it seemed like something that I could sort of track as I went through the year. Like here are the challenges we faced, here are the things we’ve learned, here are the unique challenges of, you know, working during a pandemic, especially doing something new. Change is hard and you throw that on top of other massive changes. And I’m just personally really proud of how far we’ve come even though everything, right? Like the fact that everyone didn’t just crawl into their shells and just freak out about it, but came together and was like, “Okay. We’re going to do this thing.” It’s going to be hard. There are going to be a lot of growing pains. But this seems like the time to do it right. There’s if, there are slow periods, there’s time to learn. There’s time to document processes. There’s time to have discussions about what’s working and not working. I’m a super huge process nerd. That was one of my favorite things. And still is one of my favorite things about managing projects is figuring out how things get done efficiently. And that’s really kind of, you know, the process we’ve been going through these last nine months is how do we evolve our process to accommodate this amorphous thing that we’ve done for other people? But we haven’t, you know, when you work with a design team, you kind of come up with a process. It’s like, okay, you present the work, we get the Figma files, you know, there’s a build process and a Q and A process, and all of that. But what we’re trying to figure out is what happens between the, here are the requirements, and here are the Figma files for the developers to build. Like, Step one: collect the underpants. Step three: Profit. Like we’re trying to figure out that step two right now.
Joe Casabona: Awesome. Well, first of all, 1 million points to you for making a subpart reference. Excellent. And that’s great. And that makes a lot of sense, right? Because I think, I mean, this is just maybe sometimes the way I do things. I’m trying to be more purposeful and track my time and document what I’m doing because I want to hire a virtual assistant. I’ve kind of like built a little team of contractors, which is insane to me. Like, but I think sometimes we kind of shoot first and ask questions later, like, “Oh, I should do this.” And then I do it. And then I’m like how do I make this repeatable? So I think that’s really interesting. And I think that’s fantastic because I’m doing it on top of a bunch of other challenges that we’ve had this year, is it makes it an even bigger feat. And so let’s imagine that you gave your talk at WordCamp US, people are leaving the room. What do you hope are the two or three takeaways they have from your talk?
Chris Ford: One of the takeaways was being willing to take time to learn. That has been a big one for me. I haven’t really done like actual pixels on a screen design in five years. And so my tools are all gone like if I was in Photoshop, have you ever seen like a concert pianist and their hands just fly? And they don’t have to think about what keys they are like that was me on Photoshop cause I’d been using it since version two. Like you just know, and then all of a sudden it’s like, “Oh, no one uses that anymore. Here’s Figma.” And it took me six weeks to figure out that to zoom in on a specific element, you had to click it and push shift too. So I was just like panning and zooming in with the plus and panning and trying to find my thing.
And so a lot of it was just giving yourself patience and grace while you’re learning new things, especially during a pandemic. It’s something I personally have a really hard time doing for myself. I am my own worst critic. And so for me, that was a big learning experience was like training to give myself a break.
And the other big challenge was giving my teammates a break. Right. Like this is new for all of them too. And a lot of times, I think I do the developer thing where I know what is in my head and I know the language and I’m just like, “Catch up man. Let’s go.” And so learning to like slow down. And, you know, explain things and discuss things. And having been a freelancer, be willing to be open to outside ideas and collaboration like that’s why I joined a team. But there’s still that learning curve of, you’re not a one-person shop doing this. You’re not a contractor. Like this is an entire team that needs to be on board and understand the process and is going to help build out, like what ultimately becomes the reactive way of doing things. Kind of like when I first started as a project manager, maybe three and a half years ago, we had a really rudimentary project management process. And so building that was like watching how people work and trying little things. And if that doesn’t work, tweaking it a little bit, and just a lot of growing pains from three people using the free version of a sauna to like 12 or 13 people, like having an actual process that everyone understands, like, how do we forecast and how do we track time? And how do we communicate like when is something in Slack, when it’s something in a Sauna and just making it a habit, like that’s what we’re trying to do with design right now.
And being patient during that learning and growing process. To me, that was like the number one takeaway is be patient with yourself. Be patient with your team, and take the opportunities. You do have to learn and grow. And it’s definitely, you know, if you can’t leave your house, you might as well watch a whole bunch of Figma videos.
Joe Casabona: Yeah. I know. It’s funny cause I have a list of online courses I want to watch and I’m always like, “Do I watch a YouTube video? Or like, should I actually learn a real skill?”
Well, I took a course on Siri shortcuts, and now I have a bunch of shortcuts that do work for me. So time well-spent. I still, you know, I still get star wars rebels, and at some point during the day, so…
Chris Ford: It’s balance. Right? You got to go watch the baby goat videos and then you can learn something.
Joe Casabona: Absolutely. Well, I love that. Give your…be willing to take time to learn. You mentioned Figma. The last time I was working at an agency, Sketch was like all the rage. So have we like skipped over Sketch and gone to Figma? Are they like competing?
Chris Ford: I think there’s still kind of competing. When I was looking at tools, I talked to a bunch of people I knew who’d been working in the UI UX space. I have a Mac for the first time in like 15 years because Sketch was Mac only. And everyone I talked to was recommending Figma. I know a lot of agencies use Sketch. I know that there are a lot of similarities. I know on Figma you can import Sketch files, but I just kind of figured it works. It got high points from everyone I was talking to. It’s really fast. I am learning a lot. I love the auto layouts. They just launched this thing called variants. So I’m kind of trained to learn how to build the design system with it because a lot of like a lot of our clients have existing design systems. And knowing how to work within this, seeing how they kind of build those, and how they’re put together, it’s really helpful as a designer to understand how those things are built. And it makes me so much faster and less frustrated.
Joe Casabona: Yeah. Yeah. For sure. That’s a…man, learning new skills, learning something new when you’re set in a way where you like the process is always tough. But I think that’s, you know, I think that your takeaways are really good. So I will encourage.
Chris Ford: [Inaudible 19:52.71] in my career with my skill sets have become completely and totally obsolete. Like at least five times, like I was a flash designer and then suddenly one day I was not.
Joe Casabona: Yeah. the Steve jobs hated flash. For some reason it was like, I’m going to kill it. I mean, it’d probably like, I don’t know…Batteries.
Chris Ford: It was totally inaccessible and it had its problems. But as far as like creative expression, I miss Flash. I used to love going in there and just like having music and animating. It was like magic that you could do that stuff on the web. The cool thing is, you can do it with like SVG animations. And we’re kind of getting back to that a little bit, which is why I’m glad I worked with a bunch of really right developers who take what’s in my brain and can make it happen without me having to do anything.
Chris Ford: That’s not different at all.
Joe Casabona: Yeah. So I’m like, “All right. Well, I guess you should make the HTML course, like a prereq.” And they did. And then I was able to do it. But my students by the end of the course definitely were able to do cooler things than me. Which is rewarding and super fun.
Chris Ford: That’s the best part of teaching. Like that’s my favorite part is when you’re like, “Here are the basics. Go. Be more awesome than I could be.”
Chris Ford: That’s actually the best prep for a job you can have. It’s like, I have no idea why this is happening so we’re just gonna have to try a bunch of things and see what, see how it shakes out.
Joe Casabona: Yes, absolutely. Which goes back to your takeaways, have some patience and grace. Give your team or your students or whoever you’re working a break, a time to yourself.
Chris Ford: Give yourself a break first of all.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. Yes. Well, Chris, this has been a pleasure as it always is when we get together and get to chit-chat. Where can people find you If they want to learn more?
Chris Ford: I am super terrible and, my blog URL now just goes like, it’s not even hosted anywhere. I just kind of let it die. And it lives on for my email and every year when it comes up and like, I need to get a host for that and have a blog again. But you can find some stuff I’ve written at [reaktivstudios.com]. You can also learn more about what we do there. We’re a WordPress VIP partner. We’ve got a new site, hopefully coming soon that we’ll have even more case studies and stuff on it. I’m on Twitter as @ci_chrisford. I sometimes tweet about WordPress and design. It’s about 50/53rd dog pictures there. Rants. You will either love me or hate me. But you probably already know which side you fall on. I’m not shy.
And my dog has an Instagram. But no one’s probably interested in that one. I have officially become the crazy dog lady who never updates her own Instagram but does her dogs.
Joe Casabona: Do you post in as first-person for the dog?
Chris Ford: Yes, I do.
Joe Casabona: That I thought that was insane a couple of years ago. But now, enough people do it where I’m like, maybe I’m the crazy one.
Chris Ford: I don’t know. I feel completely insane when I do it.
Joe Casabona: I also, this is the least endearing thing about me. I think this really upsets people, but I’m not an animal person at all. I don’t like animals. They weird me out. I’m afraid of most of them. So that’s probably another reason where I’m like, I don’t know if I’m into this but, several of my friends have told me that it’s not okay that I don’t like animals. So.
Chris Ford: You know, what? It totally is. One of my coworkers is kind of the same way. He’s like, I just don’t get it. And so when my friend, Tina, and I are on a call with him and need to talk about our dogs, we were like, “All right. It’s pet time. You can drop.” And, you know, everyone has their thing. I zone out sometimes when people talk about lego or star wars, I just don’t get it.
Joe Casabona: Or Lego star wars, which, I mean, let’s see. I don’t know if he could see them that way. Oh yeah. You probably can. Yeah.
Chris Ford: But I have to tell you. We actually lost our dog two days before quarantine started. Getting a new puppy was like sanity-saving during this time because I have to go outside, which is awesome.
Joe Casabona: My wife joked at the beginning of the pandemic that maybe now is a good time to get a dog. She wants a dog. I don’t want a dog. So we’re going to compromise and get a dog, at some point.
Chris Ford: And do you know, what’s funny? I guarantee you within two years, that dog is going to love you more than anyone else because you’re the one who didn’t want it.
Joe Casabona: My wife has said that about there, like dogs just flocked you. Cause you know, they know you don’t like them and they want you to like them. So that’ll probably be the case. And you know, I mean, if it’s a good dog, I’ll probably like it, cause I’m a giant softie and I talk a bigger game than I actually practice.
But anyway, this has been such a fantastic conversation. We could have made this a full episode on its own. Chris, thank you for your time. If you want to learn more about Chris, I will link to everything that we talked about in the show notes over at [wpreview.io]. Chris, thanks so much again for your time. I really appreciate it.
Chris Ford: Thanks for having me.
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Joe Casabona: All right. We are here now with Laura Byrne-Cristiano. She is the content specialist and client relationship manager relations, head in web-business websites. I have terrible handwriting, especially early-ish in the morning. Laura, how are you?
Laura Byrne-Cristiano: I’m doing well. I could probably use some more coffee, coffee too. Like extra caffeination is never a bad thing.
Joe Casabona: Yes, for sure. I spent a long weekend at my parents. And so it feels like we are recording this on a Tuesday. It feels very much like a Monday to me and I have circumvented the sickness that has gone through my whole family. I’m hoping to continue to avoid it. I know it’s like, now wife and two kids are sick. So hopefully…
Laura Byrne-Cristiano: No, that’s all…and honestly, the really young kids, that’s what they do is they bring home the germs and just get used to welcome to the next 10 years, my friend.
Joe Casabona: I know. We just realized. And this is, we’ll get to your talk in a minute, but it’s nice to catch up with you. So we haven’t been sending Teresa to daycare, because of everything that’s going on. And so she hasn’t been sick for like months. And we just started opening up our social circle again, like people who are being like, just as cautious as we are, we feel like we can. And like, just as soon as we do that, the kids are sick. So I take vitamin C every single day. So I hope that I, you know, cause usually I’m traveling a lot and the vitamin C helps. But so we’ll see what happens.
But that’s, we’re not here to talk about sick kids. We’re here to talk about your, what would have been your WordCamp US 2020 talk, ‘Teaching Your Clients Gutenberg Think Like a Content Creator.’ So first, before we get into that, why don’t you tell us a little bit about who you are? And what you do?
Laura Byrne-Cristiano: Okay. Sure. So, my name is Laura Byrne-Cristiano. I created my first WordPress website back in 2006. And I have been working on content on WordPress websites every day of my life ever since. Managing websites in areas, ranging from the entertainment industry to education to technology. And where I am now, I am at a small agency where we help, oh gosh, probably about 150 clients with their website. So, pick a day, I could be on any kind of website on any kind of theme.
Joe Casabona: Fantastic. And so that’s a lot of diversity. I know that page builders have helped a little bit in that. But of course, the Block Editor has probably helped you quite a bit in bringing some parody across all of those websites and themes. Right?
Laura Byrne-Cristiano: Absolutely. the Block Editor, it’s interesting. I went from losing it to loving it. Funny story, cause like, you know, like many of us, I’m probably one of those early adopters that, “Oh, I’ll go try the bright, shiny new toy. Let me add it. I want to play with it.” So back in, oh gosh, this must have been early 2017, I was on the WordCamp US team and Aaron Jordan said, “You know, the core team would like some feedback on the Block Editor. Would the content team for us like to use it?” And I said, “Yes. That’s amazing. We’re going to do this. We’re going to dive right In.” 24 hours later, I came back to Jordan with a 12 point list on how it was completely non-functional. And he said, you know, he’s like, “Well, if we need to eat our own dog food, we need to know.” And I came back to him, I said, “Start buying stock and elbow.”
So that was my first experience. Flash forward to March of 2019, and things had vastly improved, changed, turned over what have you. I was now in a position to constantly be in the Block Editor every day. And I was like, holy cow, this has vastly changed as to what it looks like. And I can tell you since then, I am…Now, if I have to touch something in the classic editor, I’m actually actively annoyed. I want to be in the Block Editor. I am faster. I am more accurate. I am more creative in the Block Editor. So like I said, I went from being, like I said, looting it to loving it. So yeah, a lot of advantages to it.
Joe Casabona: Yeah. And you know what? I really think that first impressions really hurt the Block Editor here because you know, I released a user course on it, and there were some things even like during the course where like I had to do a little bit of creative editing to make it a little smoother, right? The first few times I tried something, especially with columns, it didn’t work. But now, you know, especially with the WordPress a Year in review project, I’ve been using just the Block Editor and it’s been really fantastic. You know, they’ve come a long way since those first iterations. So kudos to the Gutenberg, the core team there.
Now your talk was titled ‘Teaching Your Clients Gutenberg. Think Like a Content Creator’. Why do you think that this was a good talk to present at WordCamp US 2020?
Laura Byrne-Cristiano: Yeah. Great question. I think from being at so many different WordPress meetups and WordCamps, I frequently heard people disparaging the Block Editor who were not content creators. They were primarily developers. They were primarily the designers. They were primarily people who rarely wrote, you know, more than a paragraph, say every three weeks in WordPress. And I remember thinking respectfully. You’re not the person this is aimed at like, you can have an opinion. But I personally like to say your opinion lacks merit, you know unless you’re the person who is doing this. And I also found people being very judgmental. I feel like frequently the content creators are the redheaded stepchildren of the… Yeah. You’re laughing because Joe knows I have red hair, where there were the redheaded stepchildren of the WordPress ecosystem. Because how many times do you go to a WordCamp and there were very few talks in regards to content? How many times have we heard somebody disparagingly talk about content creators and roll their eyes and say, “Oh well” like, you know, users, and then just say something very flippant about them? And I find it really rather annoying. And I think that you know, there’s a place for everybody in this ecosystem.
And I think sometimes the people who are trying to bring Gutenberg in just don’t have the mindset of how people that end-user thinks. So they don’t know how to introduce it to them. So that’s where the talk came from.
Joe Casabona: Yeah. That’s really fantastic. And it reminds me a little bit of my, you know, I gave a WordCamp US talk in 2015 called ‘Have Empathy While Teaching’ and it really comes down to that. Cause you know, you hear freelancers or developers say like, you know, users are stupid. And just because a user isn’t using it to something the way that you think it should be used, doesn’t make them stupid. Maybe it means that you have misinterpreted the way this tool should be used. Right. And you see that with software all the time. I made this to go in direction A but the more the users use it, it started to go in direction B.
Laura Byrne-Cristiano: Yeah. Absolutely. And I think you and I both probably come at some of this from a similar angle because we’re both former teachers and we, I think, understand learning styles and how to give people an introduction to material and how to gradually build up that material and the user’s confidence. So I think we probably both come at this from a different perspective than maybe people who do not have that background.
Joe Casabona: Yeah. Absolutely. And, you know, as a developer myself, I really want more developers to approach teaching and development through that lens. So I really think that this is a great idea, right? Because I, again, I understand like you put all this time and effort into coding something, and when a user doesn’t use it the way you want it to be used. But if you’re ultimately building something for the user, then you should really get their feedback. Don’t take it so personally, it’s something really hard. A lot of creative people need to think about that too. But anyway, I’m grandstanding here and this is all about your talk. So let’s say that we are at the end of your talk, the audience just listened. They of course applauded vigorously. What are maybe one to two takeaways you hope the audience has after hearing your talk?
Laura Byrne-Cristiano: Number one is, start with reeducation before you introduce the content. You know, the block editing system to people, make sure they understand things like why are headers important? What’s hierarchy? Why is, why do you need to use a header versus just put in a line of type bolded? You’d be surprised about how many content creators don’t know about headers and good header hierarchy, which impacts accessibility, SEO, so many things. Also, take that moment to talk about images and all tags. Again, accessibility, SEO, that’s key. That’s something that really impacts content creators.
And then the next one is start with introducing what’s easy to them. Start with the Google doc and let them know that now you can highlight copy and paste work that you have worked collaboratively in a Google doc, into the WordPress Block Editor and have them adjust things from there, and play, and discover how you can do things, how blocks work, what moves around, how does it go?
And I would say, the other thing that’s probably the biggest game-changer, the biggest life-changer is the reusable block. The fact that you can now come up with boilerplate and multiple iterations of boilerplate, and save that and reuse that and plop that in wherever you need it, that is a wild game changer in so many ways for people. I pretty much find it once you show them that you can use a Google doc and you can use that as your basis. And then reusable blocks, it’s like they’ve died and gone to Disneyland. Their life has been vastly improved.
And I guess the one last thing I always say to people, make sure they have a sandbox or at least a page that maybe you have no index, no follow on it and say, look, play around with this for three weeks and then we’ll delete this page. Give them a page to go and play and say, “Wonder what this button does”. I always say to them “Be curious, and you’re not going to break it. Be curious and have fun.”
Joe Casabona: Yeah. I love that. The, ‘Be curious and have fun. You’re not going to break it.’ Unlike, you know, like building a building or something? Nothing on the web really is permanent except for maybe data deletion. But even that doesn’t have to be. So yeah. If you have clients out there who are like, “How does this work?” Just tell them to play. I love that.
Laura, thanks so much. If people want to find out more about your talk or you in general, where can they find you?
Laura Byrne-Cristiano: You can find me on the web pretty much everywhere in [newyorkerlaura.com] whether that’s my website. My Twitter handles, yeah, pretty much. That’s where I am everywhere. That’s super easy. Or you can also find me over at Beth Hannon Business Websites where you’ll find me creating content every day.
Joe Casabona: Fantastic. I will link to that and everything we’ve talked about in the show notes over in two places. Remember [howibuiltit and wpreview.io] if you just want the WordPress Year in review stuff and not the rest of the, How I Built It stuff.
So Laura, thanks so much for joining me today. I really appreciate it.
Laura Byrne-Cristiano: Thanks for having me. appreciate it.
Joe Casabona: All right. I am here with my good friend Patrick Rauland. He is a finance and e-commerce expert. And his talk that he submitted to WordCamp US 2020 was ‘Financial Self-defense or How To Prepare Your Business For Any Disaster?’ I love this topic. And full disclosure, Patrick and I were in a mastermind group for a small amount of time, a long amount of time, actually and we talked about stuff like this so I’m really glad to have him on the show. Patrick, how are you?
Patrick Rauland: I’m doing very well. And it is also one of my favorite topics. I, you know, I’ve lots of friends who do entrepreneurial stuff and sometimes I hear them talk about, you know, silly things like, I only have one, like one source of income, like, so I it’s one of my favorite things to talk about. So I’m jazzed.
Joe Casabona: For Sure. Yeah. That or like, I, you know, I was praised at like 24 for like having a retirement fund. Like a lot of people don’t do that and I’m like, that’s insane to me. So, you know, things like that. Totally get it. But, yeah. So before we get into this kind of like the why, and the main takeaways and stuff like that, why don’t you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?
Patrick Rauland: Cool. So I work as a product marketing manager at Nexcess. So Nexcess does hosting mostly for e-commerce sites like WooCommerce and Magento. I do their marketing strategies, the best way to talk about it. And then I also do in addition to helping them with marketing, I also run WooSesh, which is a big online conference for WooCommerce. And I create courses for LinkedIn Learning, which I’ve been doing for years. And I have some books on Woocommerce. And then, you know, I’ve also had this traditional background of being a WordPress developer doing client work and working at agencies. I think that’s most of the things.
Joe Casabona: Yeah. And I mean, this is good, right? Because you’re practicing what you preach or what I assume you’ll preach with multiple streams of income, spoiler alert. Also full disclosure, Patrick said he works at Nexcess. Nexcess is a sponsor of this podcast series and the WordPress Year in Review Project. So thank you to them. Patrick applied and was accepted before the official sponsorship started. So, I knew I wanted to have Patrick on before. Full disclosure. Yeah.
So you are like all over the place, which is good. I don’t know how you, I mean, I guess people say the same thing to me, right? Like how do you find enough time in the day to do all this? I know you find some time in the day to do the work and goof off, or maybe you have like a solid month where you don’t goof off at all and then like three weeks where you’re just goofing off. So you figure it out.
So let’s talk about this financial self-defense. Why do you maybe, why did you think this was a good topic for WordCamp US? And maybe a little bit about what financial self-defense is?
Patrick Rauland: Yeah. I think it’s worth defining a little bit upfront, cause it’s a weird term. And people know itself defenses, but maybe not how it applies to your finances. So like self-defense is like basically…
Joe Casabona: That’s like, are you paying for karate classes?
Patrick Rauland: Right. So right. So regular self-defense is all about preventing harm either, you know, using some physical techniques to block it, or usually, it’s like a runaway. And that’s sort of the end goal. And basically, it’s to get yourself out of a bad situation. And then also sometimes to prevent yourself from getting into that situation.
So financial self-defense is the same thing. It’s things you can do to get yourself out of a bad situation or to prevent it entirely. And I think, the thing that most website designers have had the experience of at some point is where you have a, I used to work at an agency and we had a few clients who were like, we do not want to work with them again. And then, because, you know, we are having a quarter where just everything was really slow or we have this was one project that’s coming, but it’s like two months away, and this is a huge project, it will be great for six months. But it’s, you know, two months away, what do we do to fill the gap? And then, of course, we had to go back to this client who we really didn’t want to work with again. And then Joe, you know, they have all the regular website stuff. Please put a photo of my grandchild instead of the logo. How is that helping your business? And I, Joe, one of the first clients ahead of the first place I worked at, they wanted every single line of text to be a different color. And we’re just like, “I promise you. This is bad for the user experience. No one will want to read it.” He’s like, “No. Every bullet point has to be a separate color.” “Oh, okay.” And you don’t want to work with those people because they’re hard to work with. They’re very opinionated, and also they generally don’t pay you very well. It’s not like they pay you very well. So the whole point of financial self-defense is to develop a system of habits, resources, income streams, etcetera so that you don’t have to go back to those clients that don’t mesh well with you. And sometimes it’s just a fit, right? I don’t want to say it’s always a client’s fault. Sometimes just a fit thing, but it’s just to prevent you from getting yourself into a bad situation
Joe Casabona: Yeah. I think that’s great. Right. The first time I ever said no to a job, because I didn’t want it. And I didn’t mean to take it was like super freeing. And you’re right. It does go both ways. Right. I’ve had clients who are like our potential clients who are like, yeah. Every developer I’ve ever worked with disappeared on me. And I’m like, well, I don’t think we should work together. But then like, I’ve also had developers who are like, my clients just keep disappearing on me. And I’m like, well, it’s probably you then, pal. Like, but that’s really neither here nor there. So I think that’s a great definition.
And so what’s the reason that you decided to apply for this talk at WordCamp us?
Patrick Rauland: So about the time applications were open for WordCamp US, it was like, I think it was late March? or maybe it was early March. So COVID-19 was just starting to hit. And I’m like, “Oh my God! this is the time to talk.” This is the time to talk about this. Right? Cause a lot of people are experiencing pain. A lot of people are not having as many clients as they did before. Or in the hosting world, some of our clients are saying, “Hey, can we pay less every month?” You know, while we get back on our feet and you’re like, “Good. How do we handle this?” And it’s a sticky, uncomfortable situation. And I just want to try to, if there’s anyone out there and also some people have a lot of free time right now. So for all the people who have free time now is the chance to develop new systems, habits, processes, et cetera, so that you don’t, the next time there’s a once in a generation pandemic, storm, wildfire, tornado, flood, economic downturn, crazy presidential politics, who knows what could happen, what nonsense is going to happen next like, it’s just nice to have some, build some financial self-defense habits so you can weather the storm.
Joe Casabona: Yeah. Absolutely. I gave a, you know, I talked about like feast or famine and that’s like a small subset of what you talk about, right. It’s like, you know, it’s to be prepared. Don’t just think that the work’s never going to end.
Patrick Rauland: Yep. So absolutely.
Joe Casabona: Awesome. So, you know, we’re trying to keep these pretty short. But I do want to ask you, like, what are, let’s say you just gave this talk. People are leaving the room. What do you hope those people took away? One to three takeaways from your talk?
Patrick Rauland: All right. So if there’s just one takeaway, let’s start just one. I like the idea. I like the analogy of a stool. So I like to think of your business as a stool. And if you have one big strong pillar, that’s generally good. And you know, when times are good, having a nice big solid leg to the stool, I guess is the right word will keep you up. And, everything will be good. You can sit at the table, eat all the food, delicious food. Great. But if there is a shock to the system, that would be a pandemic, a flood, what are some sort of catastrophe? I like to think of it as a nudge on your stool. So something nudges your stool, what’s going to happen? Well, if it’s not thick enough, it doesn’t have a wide enough base, it’s going to topple over. You’re going to fall over and get. So the best thing that you can do is to start building X is to start having more legs on your stool that could kind of go around the outside. Sort of having one central leg. Have, you know, three legs to your stool. That’s great. And they don’t want…technically, it was a stool. They ought to be the same size. But in the business world, they don’t have to be exactly the same size. But you just want to have different legs so that way, when someone gives you a push from one sort of angle or the other you basically will not tip over. And I don’t think that doesn’t mean that all more is always better. I don’t, I’m not saying have a hundred different income streams. You’ll probably…cause there’s a little bit of a, you can’t focus on a hundred things at once. So, but you probably want to have like three to four. And I really think, you know, just to cover this briefly, I think most website designers, whether you be freelancers or if you work at an agency can have multiple streams of revenue.
And I think like right off the top, the biggest one for most freelancers is going to be client revenue, right. Just income from building new websites. Great. The next one hosting and or maintenance like that’s another big one that just relieves a huge amount of your…it pays for your monthly expenses and gives you a little bit of income on top.
Then the one that I don’t think enough people take enough, get enough from, or take advantage of is Affiliate Income. Like, so just as an example, most hosting companies have this at Nexcess. We have this. If you recommend a client for us, there’s like a partnership and, or an affiliate deal. You should definitely have affiliate links on your website or a partnership set up with a host. It’s solid income. It comes in every month while you have clients. I know several website designers where like 50% of their income is from clients that they built their website for 10 years ago that they’ve never updated. That’s great like you should make a little bit of money for recommending hosts.
And then there’s so many more, right. Depending on who you are. Online courses, which is what I do. I also have a couple of books and that’s, you know, that’s a very tiny amount, right? It’s like I get like a tiny quarterly royalty check, but it’s nice. And then even, Joe, I don’t know if you’re on like Clarity.fm. I do a little bit of like consulting on there. It’s probably like 800 bucks a year. It’s not much, but it’s just like a little bit of income. If you want to interrupt me in the middle of my workday, you know, you pay a premium to do so, but we’ll get on a call. I’ll talk to you about anything e-commerce or finance-related or business model-related.
So I think that’s like five or six things that a good chunk of website designers could start to make some additional money from. And it doesn’t have to be a huge amount. But just like, let’s say 80%, let’s say 70% of your income is from new websites, 20% is from hosting maintenance and maybe 10% is affiliate links to various things. If all of a sudden you lose half of your new clients, you still have something like 70% of your revenue coming in. And I think that’s significant. So I want everyone to just think about that stool, and being solid and safe, even if someone gives you a nudge.
Joe Casabona: Yeah. And so, and I like what you said, they were all kind of like related, right? It’s not like you’re setting up five different stools. They are legs on the same stool. So, you know, like I’ll just say it a little bit more explicitly. I don’t know if you’re allowed to say it because you work at a hosting company, but like, if I have a client and they need hosting, I say, get hosting from this company, use this link. Right. And they use my affiliate link, so it doesn’t cost them any extra. But I get some extra income.
And man, I’ll tell you like good hosting companies have a very generous affiliate. Like I shared, it was Nexcess actually doing like a summer sale. And I was like, crazy, good deal. I tweeted it once. I made 200 bucks from a single tweet like just one person who follows me who must’ve been like on the edge of getting Nexcess and just did it. Right. Yeah. Right. And I’m like, this tweet took me all. I got the email, I tweeted the link. I made 200 bucks. Not everything is going to go that way. But, You know, have your affiliate links and hosting and maintenance.
And so I really love that. I think it’s super important. So that’s the one takeaway. We probably have time for like one more if there’s something else you want to share out.
Patrick Rauland: The other one that I just think is remarkably simple that not enough people do is, and this is both your personal life and for business is to always have an emergency fund.
And so I always have…and Joe, I think both of us like the book profit first, right? so I’m a big fan of having literally multiple bank accounts. And you can have a bank account that’s in, it can just be your savings accounts, but I have a separate one for savings and a separate one for taxes. I think I have a separate one for something else. But at least have one for savings and taxes. So always put your taxes away cause you need that to pay your taxes later. But then have a separate savings account that is literally your emergency fund. And then you can look at your checking account and go, “Oh, okay. Great. I need a new computer. I can afford it.” And I still have, you know, and it first started as a one-month savings fund for personal financial reasons. People generally recommend three to six months, which is what I have in my personal savings accounts. For business, it can be a little bit different depending on if you have employees or not. But just start with something small. It doesn’t have to, you know, I’m a big fan of just taking a tiny step in the right direction and maybe that’s having a separate account that just has a thousand dollars in it. So that way, when a client doesn’t pay, right, how many times do clients not pay you on time? The client doesn’t pay you on time. You need to pay your bills. Great. You now have the money to draw from your savings account to pay those bills immediately. And then right after that, call the client angrily and demand payments.
But just an emergency fund for three to six months. And you can start small, but just gradually get there just to, o I think it’s so essential. It removes so much stress. Joe, a couple, I think this was a year ago, two years ago, I have this affiliate deal fall through where someone said I violated the terms of their affiliate deal. I worked with them for three or four months to like correct it. After three or four months, I thought I corrected it. And then someone at the company must have like changed roles. And I got in touch with someone new and they said nope. And then they said, we’ve canceled your account. It was like $400 a month or something. We canceled it. You cannot reply to this. We will block you. This is not open for discussion. And that income stream was basically deleted. And I’m glad I didn’t rely on that. I’m glad I had a savings and emergency account for when something that I literally…someone just must’ve changed at the company or it went to the wrong departments. I have no idea what happens. And all of a sudden I thought it was resolved and I was like deleted. And I don’t want anyone to panic in that situation. And I didn’t right. I didn’t panic. I’m like, “Oh, this sucks. $400 a month.” Like I would much rather have $400 a month to not have $400 a month. But at least I have savings. I have multiple months to figure out something to substitute it.
Joe Casabona: Yeah. Yeah. Again, I think that’s just great advice, right? Because you don’t want to be in that panic mode where now you have to go back to that nightmare client and be like, “Do you have more work for me?” Cause like that’s, I think, you know, like you said, three to six months runway is something good to aspire to. But again, start small, just a little bit.
Before I went out on my own, I talked to my wife and we had six months in. Say I’m like, if I can’t pay us for six months, we’ll still be okay. Our savings will be lower than we want them to be, but we’ll be okay. And so, you know, now, honestly this year, like, you know, my rainy day fund, they call it, or my slow time’s account is what I call it, my slow time’s account is like, it’s better than it’s ever been. So, get the right processes in place and it’s a snowball, right. It’s like a snowball rolling down the hill.
Patrick Rauland: I love it. And so, Joe, I realized you want to keep this short, but just like….
Joe Casabona: I’m excited about this, anyway.
Patrick Rauland: If you didn’t have that rainy day funds account, would you have had to accept work from a client you didn’t want to work with?
Joe Casabona: Oh, absolutely. Like I would have had to like do either client work I don’t want to do anymore. Right. Or, yeah, like reach out to people and say like, “Hey, do you have work for me?” probably work for cheaper than I want to because I wouldn’t be able to pay us. Right. And I got to make ends meet or I’d have to find a full-time job, like cause I’ve got kids. So, yeah.
Patrick Rauland: Yeah. So I’m just such a big fan of like because it lets you wait for the right opportunity, so have that emergency savings account. That way you can wait for the right opportunity for the person who will pay you all the money that you deserve.
Joe Casabona: Yes. Yeah. Cause I mean, remember like our mutual friend Brian Richards says like, ‘taking a job that you should have said no to, ends up costing you more anyway. But unfortunately, if you’re in a situation where it’s like keeping the lights on or like losing theoretical hours, money, like man-hours, money, then you’re going to have to take that job.’
So, Patrick, this has been great. Maybe I’ll have you back on the normal show to talk about this stuff cause I’m like jazzed about this. And I think that more people need to think about it. But, as for now, where can people find you if they want to learn more about this or financial Self-defense?
Patrick Rauland: Great. So I do talk about business models on my website, [speakinginbytes], that’s B- Y-T- E-S kind of like computer bytes, [speakinginbytes.com]. And probably the easiest place to find me is on Twitter. I am @BFTrick, and I run my own board game podcast. That’s a BS and board game. F as in fun and trick, as in trick-taking games.
Joe Casabona: I didn’t know about that.
Patrick Rauland: Oh, no, no. That’s just how I explain it. I made it years ago for nonsense reasons, but I now have a fun way to explain it because I have my own podcast in a cute way.
Joe Casabona: I like it. Where you into like extreme snowboarding or something like that? Like when I see BFTrick, that’s what I think of.
Patrick Rauland: Ah, no. Sadly, no. I am not. I’m a very bad snowboarder.
Joe Casabona: Hmm. Me too. I’ve never done it, but I imagine I’m bad. Awesome. So I will link to those things and more things we talked about in the show notes, like a link to the book that Patrick and I loved so much, ‘Profit First’.
You can find the show notes in two places for this very special series over at [howibuilt.it] and over at [wpreview.io].
So yeah. Patrick, thanks so much for joining me today. I really appreciate it.
Patrick Rauland: Thank you for having me. And thank you for giving people like giving lots of people in the WordPress space, the space, maybe just to give their talk that they would have given up where it can’t be less. So I want to say thank you to the WordPress community.
Joe Casabona: Oh, well, thank you. I really appreciate that. Lots of thanks. And I feel like Paul wrote thanking Paul wrote over here.
All right. Thanks so much to Chris, Laura, and Patrick for joining me today. For joining us today and sharing their potential WordCamp US talks. I really appreciate them taking the time. Always a pleasure talking to each of them. I consider each of them a friend. And so I was happy to have them all on the same episode.
if you want to find the show notes and everything for this episode, you can head over to [wpreview.io]. That is the home for this podcast. You’ll find all of the episodes. You’ll find the show notes, and you’ll find information about our great sponsors for the entire WordPress Year in Review project.
They are Nexcess and GoDaddy Pro. So be sure to check them out as well.
Thanks so much for listening. If you are interested in the WordPress Year in Review project, you can, again, head over to [wpreview.io] to learn more about the ebook I’m currently writing about the video series that’s coming.
And there is still time until the end of November if you want to get your logo on the site, or you want to get a print copy of the book by making a pledge of $19 for the ebook, or a hundred dollars to get your logo, and link on the website and in the book.
So thanks again so much for listening. And until next time, get out there and build something.