Shop Talk: Focus on Your Strengths, Not Your Weaknesses

d: strengthsfinder

d: strengthsfinder

Welcome to Shop Talk! While we love providing you with jam-packed, actionable posts, we also wanted to share quick, thought-provoking snippets here and there — from our brains to yours.

So, here’s a fun fact: The Google Doc for this Shop Talk idea was started in February — and all it had in it was the main idea (focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses), and the words “yogi tea” — Sara’s grocery list?

That’s fun, but here’s the ironic part: This idea was already in place before we read StrengthsFinder 2.0 (affiliate link) as part of #OWSBookClub. Clear proof that sometimes we subconsciously know things before we ever have a chance to put them in context.

Fun facts and ironies aside, one thing is very true of solopreneurs, and society in general, really: We focus on our weaknesses way more often than our strengths.

We buy courses to improve areas of our life/business that need honing. We join masterminds filled with people who know things we don’t. We read books on topics we think we should know more about.

Now, learning is all well and good (okay — it’s more than that — we love learning), but it’s the attitude we take toward learning that is a bit of a concern.

Tom Rath, author of StrengthsFinder 2.0, would argue that instead of attempting to better our weaknesses, we should capitalize on our strengths.

Said another way: Instead of targeting our learning toward the things we feel we should be better at, why not target our learning at the skills we already have?

For me, Sara, that might mean setting aside more time to focus on really diving into what I’m reading. (First strength from the StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment: Achiever, with a description that includes really taking time to absorb and process what’s being read.)

For Cristina, that might mean finding resources that help her hone her analytical thinking. (Her first strength: Strategic.)

The point is this: We all have innate strengths that stand out. How would this world be different if we all focused on improving our strengths, and spent our time learning things we were genuinely interested in?

If it sounds like capitalizing on those strengths is really just taking the easy way out, it usually isn’t — because sometimes, despite being our strengths, they still might not necessarily be in our comfort zone.

There’s always room for improvement when it comes to our strengths. Start there. Your “weaknesses” can wait for another day.

PS: We had a lot of fun sharing our results on The Hot Seat. An interesting revelation: We could each have the same strength (i.e. Learner), but it manifests in very different ways from person-to-person.

OWS Experiments: Learning to Code with Skillcrush Blueprints (Part IV)

freelance WordPress developer

freelance WordPress developer

Welcome to One Woman Experiments, where daring business women experiment with different parts of their business in order to find best practices. We hope these experiments help improve your business and inspire you to test-drive new strategies. Have an experiment you want to test out and document? Check out our ideas and guidelines!

This experiment in web design + business building is currently being embarked upon by OWS community member Ashley Rustad, who is on her second Skillcrush Blueprint and is kindly documenting the process for us here! Take it away, Ashley.


(Editor’s note: In Part I of this series, Ashley broke down how a Skillcrush Blueprint works for us as she was completing the Web Designer Blueprint. In Part II, she introduced us to the Freelance WordPress Developer Blueprint, which she took us deeper into as she learned the WordPress Professional Best Practices in Part III. Below is Part IV, the final step in her current Blueprint!)

We’re at the last month of the Skillcrush WordPress Developer Blueprint and man, is it jam packed with lots of info. This last class in the three-part Blueprint walks through how to find, land and manage a client.

What is Skillcrush 303?

The final session of the Skillcrush Freelance WordPress Developer Blueprint is three weeks long. It starts with scheduling a 1-on-1, 20-minute consultation via Google Hangout with a Skillcrush Career Counselor. The consultations are to answer any career, coding, or client questions. Tip: Being prepared with questions for the counselor is a great way to make the most of your time with them.

The rest of Skillcrush 303: WordPress Apprenticeship (now called Industry Crash Course) is made up of three weeks:

  • Week 1: Finding a client
  • Week 2: Landing a client
  • Week 3: Managing a client

Each week includes webinars, downloadable slides, and templates that help to guide you through the different aspects of getting clients. The lessons are broken up into support, work, learn, and earn sections. Here’s more about each one:

Week 1: Finding a client

Support section: This module is all about the 1-on-1 consultation with a career counselor. When I had my consultation, all my questions about working as a freelance web designer were answered and I was able to feel more reassured about going into this line of work.

Work section: Included two webinars — Overcoming Imposter Syndrome and Scoping a WordPress Project. Overcoming Imposter Syndrome is about how to gain confidence in your abilities and not being afraid to call yourself a WordPress developer. It can be really hard in the beginning because your skills are so new. Scoping a WordPress Project is about estimating all that is involved in creating a WordPress website.The instructor’s’ slides were given to us to take notes with and refer back to, which was helpful.

Learn section: Made up of the Responsive WordPress Workshop. This workshop came with slides as well. I do feel the responsive workshop could have been expanded on with more lessons in a different area of the WordPress Developer Blueprint. I don’t think one 45-minute workshop on responsive WordPress design is enough.

Earn section: AKA “The Fast Track Formula” — A breakdown of how to reach out to your inner circle, with a guide of great examples for emails and social media posts to help you in the beginning. If you’ve gone down the route of taking the whole blueprint and not just one or two classes; you’ll know this fast track formula was already taught in Skillcrush 203.

Week 2: Landing a client

Support section: It’s all about portfolio hours. You can join a Google Hangout with your instructor and other students to talk about what you plan on putting in your portfolio, how you’ll set it up and who your potential target clients are. You’ll be able to talk about your work and get feedback from your instructor and your fellow students. It’s really informative and helpful in getting other people’s opinion about your work and how you’ll go about it.

Work section: The webinar topic here was Building a Healthy Client Relationship. The workshop walks you through your first client meeting from prep to the meeting and after the meeting.

Learn section: There were two webinars here. The first is Ecommerce Solutions. The webinar goes over three common solutions for selling products with WordPress — offsite, onsite, and the five-minute solution.

The second webinar is the Proposal Writing Workshop. Once you’ve found your first potential client, you’ll need to write a proposal. The webinar goes over everything you need to know about the proposal from why you should be writing them to what needs to be included. The templates provided here are invaluable.

Earn section: Continuing from last week, they focus on the next step in The Fast Track Formula: reaching out to your outer circle. There are templates for doing this, building on the work done last week.

Week 3: Managing the client relationship

Support section: Reminds you to sign up with your career counselor, about the grad party and the ongoing Slack alumni group.

Work section: Includes one webinar called Getting Paid for Freelance Work. This webinar covers it all: prepping estimates to dealing with money and sending contracts and invoices to time tracking.

Learn section: Covers three case studies of businesses built with WordPress. Freelancing isn’t easy, but these quick case studies gave us a glimpse at how three different women are using WordPress in their business.

Earn section: Goes through the last step in The Fast Track Formula, which is about expanding your reach. It teaches different ways to reach out to strangers and tell them about your freelance business.

My overall takeaways

The Freelance WordPress Developer Blueprint is packed with lots of great information. This Blueprint really lays the foundation for your freelance WordPress developer career because it’s all about how to get clients. The only limitation is that the information comes almost completely in the form of webinars. If you don’t learn well from lecture format, this really won’t work for you.

The biggest problem I had with this portion of the Blueprint is that all but two webinars (Responsive WordPress and eCommerce Solutions) had previously been in the “Career Path” section of Skillcrush. While they certainly fit here, I do wish they were re-filmed with updated material. What sets this run-through apart from the “Career Path” section is the one-on-one consultation, case studies and a portfolio review. The “Career Path” section has even more webinars and downloads geared toward getting a job with a company, not freelancing.

Who Skillcrush 303 Is For?

Anyone wanting to freelance. It takes you through all the steps of preparing you to become a freelance WordPress developer, minus the coding (which was covered in the first two classes of the Blueprint).

All the skills in the world won’t get you anywhere if you can’t land clients, which is that makes this class crucial.

Who isn’t Skillcrush 303 for?

This isn’t for anyone that already knows how to find and manage clients. If you’re moving careers and have already dealt with finding and managing clients in a different creative field, I think those skills would transfer. If you’ve taken previous Skillcrush classes, you can get 75% of this class’ webinars in the “Career Path” section.

Are you interested in taking a Skillcrush class?

If you’re interested learning more about Skillcrush, you can dip your toes in with their free, 10-day bootcamp. If you want to take this class alone it costs $175, but I highly recommend looking into the Freelance WordPress Developer Blueprint, which includes three classes and keeps you on a track that provides context for everything you’re learning for $149/month. To find out when the next enrollment session is, scroll down to the bottom of this page.

What questions do you have about Skillcrush and/or tech skills, in general? Leave ’em in the comments below!

We are affiliates of and may receive commission from sales of Skillcrush Blueprints. As always, we only promote products and services that we love and/or think you might benefit from — and Skillcrush is among the best of the best!

How to Measure ROI and Record Tax Deductions on Educational Material as a Solopreneur

measure ROI and record tax deductions on educational material

measure ROI and record tax deductions on educational material

As freelancers and solo business owners, we know the importance of investing in what I like to call “YOU, Inc.”

For our business to grow, we have to continually educate ourselves on all the things we have to do, both in and on our company. In fact, when I quit my job to work full time for myself, I quickly learned that my accounting degree wouldn’t be enough.

I knew I had to invest in nontraditional education beyond the blog posts I was reading and the podcasts I was listening to. It was time to look at paid webinars, courses, classes, and books to help fill in any gaps my formal business degree left.

At some point, however, I became a “content consumer.” Similar to a “professional student,” I was taking every course and attending every workshop I thought would help make my business better.

I love learning new things but I was forgetting the most valuable piece of the puzzle: the actual implementation.

Since then, I’ve learned that I need to measure the return on investment (ROI) before I make a purchase on any new educational material that I come across, taking some time to work out the numbers and evaluate how quickly I can earn my costs back. (Yes, your purchase will be tax deductible — we’ll talk about that in a minute — but spending money you don’t need to is not good for your cash flow, either.)

Here’s how I do it, and how you can do the same.

Measuring the ROI of business development content purchases

Good news: You don’t have to be a mathematician to calculate a rough ROI on your course purchases.

Here’s what’s important: Having a roadmap to know where you’re headed no matter what concepts you’re studying. Nothing is random, and everything has a purpose. Creating ROI goals and meticulously tracking them gives you some accountability to yourself and helps you understand what it would take to recoup the cost of the purchase.

Here are the questions I ask myself before purchasing:

  • What does it cost?
  • What do I want to accomplish from this investment?
  • If I implement what I’ve learned from the material, can I create new paid content from it or increase my prices? If so, how much do I have the potential to make, based on my goals?
  • How does what I learn from this course or workshop enable me to build a more profitable, more efficient business?

Here are a few examples of how I consider the cost versus what I want to accomplish from learning:

  • If I have to decide on purchasing a $99 course on creating the best Instagram strategy, I set a follower goal for my Instagram account and then a revenue goal based on conversion rates.
  • If I purchase a $799 course on creating courses, I’d set a revenue goal to earn 3-5 times the cost before I buy it. This way, even if I fall short of the exact goal, I will have at least made my investment back.

Having a solid roadmap for how you’ll use the product/course to implement change in your business is key to knowing whether it will produce an ROI that makes it worth the investment.

Accounting for educational material purchases

Once you’ve decided to invest in a course, you don’t want to miss out on any tax deductions that you’re entitled to. Business development counts as deductible business expenses.

So how do you account for these types of expenses?

Create a category of expenses called Business Development. In this category, place purchases like:

  • E-books and physical books
  • Paid email courses and online courses
  • Online webinars, masterclasses, and workshops
  • College and university individual courses
  • Any online challenges you pay for
  • Community membership sites (Have you joined the OWS group? It’s well worth it!)
  • Bundles of educational material (like the Solopreneur Success Bundle)
  • In-person workshops and seminars
  • Conference ticket registration fees (separate from hotel, flights, and rental cars, which are categorized under travel)

….and any other training and development material you purchase. If you’re conflicted on whether it falls under Business Development or a different category, reach out to an accountant who can steer you in the right direction.

Advanced note: If you’re a sole proprietor or a single-member LLC using a Schedule C on your personal tax return, business development expenses will be listed under “other expenses.” (It’s line 27 in the latest IRS edition.)

Get your books in order

Set yourself up to record your next professional development purchase now:

  1. Open your favorite system you use to keep track of your expenses — a spreadsheet, Evernote, accounting software, etc.
  2. Create an account called Business Development. If you aren’t using anything currently to keep track of your expenses, try a simple program like Freshbooks to start.
  3. In this category will go any content you’ve purchased from the categories listed above. Locate your receipts and keep them together. Be sure to take all physical receipts, scanning them in for backup and safekeeping so that at the end of the year, you’re not scrambling to pull information together or organize the shoebox.

When tax time comes around, be sure to include these expenses to help reduce your taxable income.

Measure ROI and record tax deductions on educational material: a better approach to learning

With a solid estimate of ROI before you’ve purchased a course and an understanding of how to record that income to maximize your tax return, you’re much better equipped to avoid becoming a “content consumer” and instead using your learning to truly better your business.

P.S. — Here’s why there’s no such thing as a free course.

How to Choose Your Next Course Purchase Effectively

How to Choose Your Next Course Purchase

How to Choose Your Next Course Purchase

Hi. I’m Amanda, and I am a courseaholic.

I’m subscribed to multiple newsletters announcing when new courses will be coming out on sites I follow…and I’ve spent oodles of money on them.

We’ve all heard both sides of this issue.

We’ve been told that courses are a distraction, and we need to stay strong and believe we already know what we should do. (Now we just need to do it!)

However, we’ve also been told that the very best thing you can do is invest in your business by taking targeted courses.

What if I told you both sides are right?

Now, what if I told you both sides are wrong? *gasp*

Seriously though… If you’ve ever followed me on social media or my blog, you may have heard me harping on about happy mediums. I’m a huge fan of them. (For the record, my dad says he thinks of Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost when I say happy medium. My mom and I both think of the Happy Medium from A Wrinkle in Time.)

Courses are a fantastic way to invest in your business, especially if you’re just getting started, or are transitioning to a new niche. That said, there does come a point where you’re just beating a dead horse.

But there’s also a third option: taking a course to round out a creative skill, or for sheer pleasure.

The one word that helps me decide whether to buy that course

As an entrepreneur, I’m super guilty of trying to monetize everything I learn. (You, too?)
Lettering? I could add that to my site! Watercolor? I could mesh that with lettering, and learn to make paper by hand, and craft the most darling cards to welcome all of my new clients, complete with my watercolors and lettering skills!

Okay, so I haven’t gone quite that far…but close. One of my dear friends and mentors is constantly trying to remind me that I don’t have to sell everything I do. And yet I still ponder whether it can be integrated into my consulting business, or if I could sell it on Etsy. #thestruggleisreal

She’s starting to get through to me though, because I’m eyeballing courses with a keener eye now. And I’m learning to not just ask myself, “do I want to learn this” — but “do I want to learn this now.

That one word makes all the difference. There are so many things on my list of future learnings, but I don’t have the time (or funds) to learn everything right now.

How to evaluate the ‘why’ in your course decisions

When you’re deciding whether to buy another course or not, here are three great reasons that will validate your decision, two not-so-good reasons you might list, plus a bonus one that could go either way. (Happy mediums, like I said.)

Good reasons for buying that next course (all three of these need to be in place to make it a solid investment):

  1. This course is something I’ve wanted to learn for my business, recreation, or family, and can put to use almost immediately.
  2. I can afford to take it! (And by afford, I don’t mean “If I take on a second mortgage.”)
  3. I am excited to learn from this course instructor, in particular. (There are dozens of teachers for any particular topic. The subject of the course may be perfect, but the teacher may not be to your taste. Both subject and “teacher” need to align for you to get your maximum benefit.)

Not-so-good reasons you might come up with:

  1. All the cool kids are taking this course, and I don’t want to feel like I’m missing out. (FOMO is real, but it’s a terrible reason for spending money.)
  2. So-and-so said I should take it. (So-and-so may not know what’s best for your business, or what you’ve already taken courses on.)

Bonuuuuus!

  1. Buying a course because you’re a huge fan of the creator.

As mentioned, that bonus reason can truly go either way. If it’s something you’re stoked to learn, and you love the teacher, that’s the best. If you’d just like to be a good friend and support them, that’s where it gets sticky.

I’ve had friends buy courses of mine, because they wanted to show support. I appreciated the thought (really), but if the course wasn’t a solid fit for them, they struggled to give me helpful feedback on how to improve it. Additionally, this meant that if the course flopped, it was hard for me to tell where the failure was.

I’ve also been on the other side of this, and paid for courses that I really couldn’t technically afford, but I wanted to show support. So, I ponied it up anyway. I didn’t fault them for this, but I did feel personally guilty when I saw my budget.

So how can you show support for a friend who’s made courses without breaking the bank or ignoring your solid criteria for taking a course? Here are a few ways:

  • If they’re local, buy them coffee (or send them a digital Starbucks card as congratulations)
  • Send them a quick letter/postcard/card in the mail to congratulate them on their launch…everyone loves real mail!
  • Tweet/FB/Pin/IG/whatever their latest-greatest, if it’s a fit for your followers.

Courses we need + courses we don’t: Why we need to effectively discern the difference

As solopreneurs, it’s up to ourselves to invest in professional development to sharpen our skills and keep growing, but it’s all too easy to fall into the shiny object trap with each new course that comes out. Effectively discerning what you can use, afford, and are excited by is key to keeping that budget in tact.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments…what’s the big question you ask yourself before taking on a new course?

P.S. — Here are four sites for easy access to online learning. Plus, four more.

OWS Experiments: Learning to Code with Skillcrush Blueprints (Part III)

OWS Experiments: Learning to Code with Skillcrush Blueprints (Part III)

OWS Experiments: Learning to Code with Skillcrush Blueprints (Part III)

Welcome to One Woman Experiments, where daring business women experiment with different parts of their business in order to find best practices. We hope these experiments help improve your business and inspire you to test-drive new strategies. Have an experiment you want to test out and document? Check out our ideas and guidelines!

This experiment in web design + business building is currently being embarked upon by OWS community member Ashley Rustad, who is on her second Skillcrush Blueprint and is kindly documenting the process for us here! Take it away, Ashley.


(Editor’s note: In Part I of this series, Ashley broke down how a Skillcrush Blueprint works for us as she was completing the Web Designer Blueprint. In Part II, she introduced us to her current Blueprint, the Freelancer WordPress Developer Blueprint. Below is Part III, where we continue to follow her journey!)

To say the second month of Skillcrush’s Freelance WordPress Developer Blueprint was packed with new learning and immense progress would be a crazy understatement. It was during the second phase of the Blueprint that I learned all about the WordPress Professional Best Practices: GitHub, command line, child themes, professional workflow, and advanced themes customizations. (Sound like gibberish? This might be the perfect course for you…)

It was definitely a big month of learning. This class has been harder for me than the past classes I’ve taken; I’m still practicing what I’ve learned, and will be for a while. But that’s not to scare you off — let’s jump right into what you can learn in Skillcrush 203 of the Freelance WordPress Developer Blueprint so you know if it’s right for you.

My major takeaways from Skillcrush 203: WordPress Professional Best Practices

Takeaway #1: Community is key

Skillcrush 203 kicks off with a five-day crash course on Git, GitHub and command line. In all honesty, this section was definitely the hardest for me to learn, but one of the great things about Skillcrush is that they have Mightybell message boards to post on. The community there allows you to learn from others who are going through the same coursework. The collaborative spirit that they promote is great.

Takeaway #2: WordPress customization is endless

Following Git, GitHub, and command line, we really dug into WordPress child themes — which is how you’re able to turn WordPress into an awesome CMS. We learned how to create custom post types, custom fields, and custom archives, and played around with 404 (error) pages, custom about pages, and contact forms. In simple terms, you learn a lot about changing WordPress into exactly what you want it be.

You also learn a professional workflow for setting up/deploying WordPress sites for clients (or yourself). It’s been really fun learning how to deploy a site the correct and professional way.

Takeaway #3: You get “hands-on experience” with a fictitious client

While learning all of this, you work with a fictitious client to get her site re-designed. Instead of getting your typical email from your Skillcrush instructor, you get an email from “your” client. It’s been fun learning this way, and it’s great practice for working with clients in the future. It was definitely different getting emails from the “client,” but I looked forward to the changes. Truth: I’m not sure I’ll always feel that way when working with actual clients.

Takeaway #4: Skillcrush remains career focused

Like every class I’ve taken so far, Skillcrush 203 includes career content sections. In this class, we focused on how to package and price freelance work, find and land clients, and the fast track way to get clients now. The career content sections come in the form of webinars, which are about an hour long each. The ones I have watched so far are super informative.

Who Skillcrush 203 is for

Skillcrush 203 is for the person that wants to take their knowledge of WordPress to the next level to customize their WordPress site, and work with others to build unique sites. Also — if Git, GitHub, command line, mobile optimization, and professional deployment are terms that aren’t familiar to you, this class might just be the perfect fit.

Who Skillcrush 203 isn’t for

If you’re not interested in learning the next level of WordPress or you’re already a pro at customization, this class might not be for you. Additionally, if you’re not interested in working with clients or other developers on WordPress sites, you may not need all of the material taught here.

Are you interested in taking your knowledge of WordPress to the next level?

I’ve learned so much in this Blueprint so far, and while there’s still more to learn, I’m already feeling empowered to truly customize my own site and start working with clients.

If you’re interested in learning more about Skillcrush, check here for more information. You can take the WordPress Professional Best Practices alone, but I highly recommend looking into the Freelance WordPress Developer Blueprint, which includes three classes and keeps you on a track that provides context for everything you’re learning. To find out when the next enrollment session is scroll down to the bottom of this page.

Next up for me is Skillcrush 303: WordPress Apprenticeship. I will be learning all about finding, landing and working with a client. Check back here soon for my recap!

What questions do you have about Skillcrush and/or tech skills, in general? Leave ’em in the comments below!

We are affiliates of and may receive commission from sales of Skillcrush Blueprints. As always, we only promote products and services that we love and/or think you might benefit from — and Skillcrush is among the best of the best!

OWS Experiments: Learning to Code with Skillcrush Blueprints (Part II)

One Woman Shop Experiments: Learning to Code with Skillcrush, Part II

One Woman Shop Experiments: Learning to Code with Skillcrush, Part II

Welcome to One Woman Experiments, where daring business women experiment with different parts of their business in order to find best practices. We hope these experiments help improve your business and inspire you to test-drive new strategies. Have an experiment you want to test out and document? Check out our ideas and guidelines!

This experiment in web design + business building is currently being embarked upon by OWS community member Ashley Rustad, who is on her second Skillcrush Blueprint and is kindly documenting the process for us here! Take it away, Ashley.


(Editor’s note: Last month, Ashley broke down how a Skillcrush Blueprint works for us as she was completing the Web Designer Blueprint. Now, she’s on to the Freelancer WordPress Developer Blueprint, and is letting us following along!)

April was all about transitioning from the Web Designer Blueprint I completed during the winter and beginning the Freelance WordPress Developer Blueprint. The first class? Introduction to WordPress. This class is the primer on all things WordPress: It teaches the history of WordPress, how to install it, the WordPress Admin (which includes Posts, Pages, Setting, Widgets, Themes, and Plugins), Introduction to PHP, the WordPress loop, debugging, creating a homepage, QA, launching WordPress, and security.

Also, throughout the course there are “career sections” which include revamping your resume, using Adobe Photoshop, using social media to get hired, and writing cover letters. Needless to say, there is a ton of stuff packed into this first month of the three-month Blueprint. Below, I’m sharing my takeaways, as well as who this class might be a good fit for (and who it might not be).

Freelance WordPress Developer Blueprint: Takeaways

I have one overall takeaway that I should share first: This class is the primer for the rest of the Blueprint. That being said, if you already know certain aspects of WordPress, some sections may be more of a review for you than others. That was the case for me.

Takeaway #1 – If you know the WordPress Admin, be prepared for review. If you know nothing about WordPress, there is a big learning curve, but everything is explained very well.

By “knowing” the WordPress backend, I mean you can create a post and page, you know what all the settings are and what they do, you know how to create and organize widgets in the sidebar and footer, you can create menus for the navigation bar, and you can download and install themes and plugins. If that’s all in your wheelhouse, those parts will be a refresher, which was the case for me. But…that’s all I knew.

Takeaway #2 – The bigger learning curve comes with an introduction of PHP. (Already know PHP? This may be a review for you, too, but can be a really good refresher.)

I didn’t know any PHP, which is the programing language that WordPress uses. (It’s amazing.) The Blueprint taught the sections by recording Adda write PHP, having us then copy her on our computer. (It sounds much easier than it is because if you miss one character, it won’t work.) Since this was all new to me, I had to go back and watch a few sections over again to see what I missed. I was never worried about not being able to figure it out — Skillcrush also provides the written out pieces of code to compare against, so I could easily see where I may have gone wrong. Truth: It could be frustrating at times, but when I got it right on the first time, it felt amazing! There was no better thought than, “I’m actually getting this.”

Takeaway #3 – The videos are well done, but be prepared to pause, rewind, and rewatch when it comes to the actual PHP programming.

One thing I didn’t like about the PHP videos is that they went too fast for a beginner like me. Adda is a pro-programmer, so her mind works quickly, sometimes making it hard to keep up with her. Having the video at my fingertips to watch at my own pace meant rewinding to go back and see exactly what she typed. And when all else failed and I couldn’t quite figure it out, the Blueprint provides the actual code to install if I just wanted to move on. Patience is key in learning code.

Takeaway #4 – It’s not just about learning to code; it’s about learning how to apply it as a career.

The program is broken up into weeks and days. There’s homework each weekday for three weeks, then the fourth week is filled with what Skillcrush calls “Career Content.” These weeks have information-packed webinars about the career side of becoming a web developer.

There are three Career Content sections: revamp your resume, Photoshop & social media, and cover letters. Each of the career content sections have a webinar-style video that’s at least 45 minutes long. Skillcrush includes the webinar slides and sometimes an e-book type of download for further reading. I haven’t actually watched all the webinars yet, but ones I have watched have been super informational and helpful in the career aspect of the class. Since they are webinar style, they don’t have the extra graphics and video quality like the rest of the videos from the class, and I do wish they were divided up into shorter segments since they are so information rich. I would have preferred to watch four, 15-minute videos over the course of a week about cover letters.

Who is/isn’t this course for?

The introductory class of the Skillcrush Freelance WordPress Developer Blueprint is great for anyone who has little-to-no knowledge about WordPress and/or PHP. With an introductory level knowledge of WordPress and PHP, this course would be a good review. Since I’d worked with the WordPress Admin in the past, that portion was a review for me, while the PHP section was brand new, and more challenging for me to learn.

Overall, I really enjoyed the course and learned a lot. Learning all about WordPress and PHP are the building blocks of becoming a great WordPress Developer — and I can’t wait to go through the next two courses of this Blueprint. Before long, I’ll be building websites for clients and helping them get their message out into the world.

Stay tuned for next month, when I share the behind-the-scenes of the second course in the Freelance WordPress Developer Blueprint: Git, Github and the Command Line.

What questions do you have about Skillcrush and/or tech skills, in general? Leave ’em in the comments below!

We are affiliates of and may receive commission from sales of Skillcrush Blueprints. As always, we only promote products and services that we love and/or think you might benefit from — and Skillcrush is among the best of the best!

OWS Experiments: Learning to Code with Skillcrush Blueprints (Part I)

learning to code skillcrush

learning to code skillcrush

Welcome to One Woman Experiments, where daring business women experiment with different parts of their business in order to find best practices. We hope these experiments help improve your business and inspire you to test-drive new strategies. Have an experiment you want to test out and document? Check out our ideas and guidelines!

This experiment in web design + business building is currently being embarked upon by OWS community member Ashley Rustad, who is on her second Skillcrush Blueprint and is kindly documenting the process for us here! (For those of you who were around this time last year, OWS co-head honcho Sara was test driving the Blueprints — check out her breakdown here. She’s now passed the torch!) Take it away, Ashley.


Starting my own one woman shop has always been a dream of mine. But despite reading this blog for a while and being endlessly inspired by other women solopreneurs, it wasn’t until recently that I decided I wanted to build a business as a web designer.

I’ve always loved working on and customizing my own WordPress sites in the past, but had a barrier to being able to build a business around helping other women with their websites: I needed to learn a lot more about coding and web design beyond what I had taught myself. So I started searching online — and, well, there a lot of places to go! I was completely overwhelmed until I stumbled upon Skillcrush.

Skillcrush is an online coding company teaching a plethora of digital skills. Skillcrush Career Blueprints are each made up of three classes to teach you the exact skills you need to become a web designer, web developer, WordPress developer, Ruby on Rails developer, and more.

I dipped my toes in with Skillcrush’s free 10-day bootcamp: fun, informative videos, interactive lessons, and a dive into HTML. It wasn’t long before I fell in love with their classes. After completing the bootcamp and watching a few Skillcrush webinars, I decided to sign up for the Skillcrush Web Designer Blueprint.

Skillcrush Web Designer Blueprint

In October of 2015, I started the Skillcrush Web Designer Blueprint. Like all Skillcrush Blueprints (except Front End Developer), the Web Designer Blueprint consists of three classes. The Web Designer classes include UX & Web Design, HTML & CSS, and JavaScript & jQuery. All three classes, which run for a month each, were informative and helpful in giving me a jumping off point into web design — especially since I’d never really dabbled too far into any of it before.

What’s in a Skillcrush Blueprint

All Skillcrush Blueprints are set up similarly. Here’s what you can expect:

  • The classes are self-paced. Each morning, you receive an email with a link to that day’s materials (videos, downloads, worksheets) and often a few supplemental materials, as well. You can expect to spend about 30 to 40 minutes per day on the class work. If that doesn’t work with your schedule, you can spend a few hours batching the work each weekend. Since the classes are self-paced, it’s truly up to you.
  • You have lifetime access to the classes, so you can always look back if you get stuck in a later class — and if you fall behind, you can choose to catch up or just pick up where you left off. Honestly? In self-paced classes like this, I don’t really think there is a “behind.”
  • The lessons come with suggested homework for each day, and an interactive platform where you can upload or save what you’ve been working on.
  • Each Blueprint has an associated community on Mightybell where you can turn to get your questions answered. The questions are answered by the designated teacher, teacher’s assistant and other class members. It’s very community oriented.

What do you need before starting a Blueprint?

Depending on the Blueprint, there may be a prerequisite. The Web Designer Blueprint and Front End Developer Blueprint do not have any prerequisites, but all the other Blueprints have a prerequisite of at least knowing HTML & CSS. (Not at an expert level, but a comfortable level.)

Even without a prerequisite, you will need to make sure you have the time to invest in doing the Blueprint. While you can take each differently — for example, on one of the classes, I worked ahead on and learned as much as possible because I was going out of town, whereas another I did the class as I received each email — each one will still require a designated time investment.

Beyond the Blueprint

Skillcrush truly builds a community around each Blueprint. Beyond your Mightybell community, there are also weekly “office hours” held via Google Hangouts, where your teacher can answer any questions related to the projects you are putting together in class.

The teachers are current web designers and developers. Some of the teachers work at other companies, plus teach Skillcrush classes, while some teachers own their own businesses. The teachers are pretty interactive on Mightybell. Your level of engagement on Mightybell is entirely up to you.

In addition, once per month, there is a “Circle Chat” — a big group chat/forum where you can ask questions and meet other people in your class. It’s a great time to meet up and start collaborations, if that’s what you’re looking for.

They also have monthly Master Classes, where they interview someone from the tech industry like Adda Birnir, Randle Browning, and Rachel Papst. They teach classes about writing resumes, social media, project management and more. You also have access to the backlog of Master Classes. The interviews give great insight into the tech industry and have been helpful in teaching new skills like how to transition from a non-tech job to a tech job.

Setting you up for a career

Skillcrush isn’t just about teaching you the skills — they are all about helping you launch a career based on them. Each Blueprint comes with an additional program taking you step-by-step through what you need to do to jumpstart a career in tech, called a Career Path.

The Career Path takes you through building a portfolio, getting organized, and tips and strategies on finding a job. Learning how to create a portfolio and a website to advertise my new skills as a web designer will help me to promote my one woman shop. These same skills can help someone just looking to transition to a new career in tech.

Who the Web Designer Blueprint is for

Skillcrush is a great way to get started if this is the first time taking a class on web design or you’ve just dabbled in web design. The Blueprint is a comprehensive approach to learning web design: It doesn’t just teach foundational HTML & CSS. In the UX & Web Design class, you learn wireframing, user experience, a little Photoshop, and how to create and use sitemaps. (And if you don’t know what any of that means, then the class is perfect for you because you’ll learn it all!) The thing I love about Skillcrush is that you’re not jumping from site to site wondering if you’re learning it the right way or learning it well. I felt comfortable that I was learning what I needed to know to design a website from scratch.

After going through the Blueprint, I now know what I need to prepare for a meeting with a potential client, how to outline a sitemap for them, and where to start on the layout of their site — things I had no clue on before.

Who the Web Designer Blueprint isn’t for

Like any course, one Skillcrush Blueprint cannot possibly teach you everything you need to know about web design. You have to be willing to hit roadblocks and run Google searches.

In addition, if you’ve dabbled in HTML or CSS before or have built a website from scratch, the Web Designer Blueprint may not be advanced enough for you. Advanced Blueprints from Skillcrush include a Freelance WordPress Developer Blueprint, Mobile Web Designer Blueprint and Ruby on Rails Developer Blueprint that may be more suited for someone that is familiar with HTML and CSS. It’s also possible to take individual classes, so if you know HTML & CSS, but not UX & Web Design, you could just take that one class.

The team at Skillcrush is great in helping you get on the path you need. If you ever have any questions you can always email someone at Skillcrush or use the chat box at the bottom of the page when you sign in.

Are you interested in Skillcrush?

If you’re curious about Skillcrush and how the Blueprints are run, take their free 10-Day Bootcamp. It will give you a great taste for what the paid classes are like.

What’s next for me

The next step for me is take the Freelance WordPress Developer Blueprint. I’ve always loved the WordPress CMS and I’ve always wanted to build sites on that platform. Since Skillcrush has classes teaching all about being a Freelance WordPress Developer and that’s what I want to be, it’s the next logical step. I’ve really enjoyed learning with Skillcrush and am so excited to start my business soon with the skills that I am learning. The WP Blueprint outlines exactly what you need to do build a freelance business, plus the skills to make it happen.

Stay tuned: Over the next three months, I’ll be walking you through the Freelance WordPress Developer Blueprint here on the One Woman Shop blog!

What questions do you have about Skillcrush and/or tech skills, in general? Leave ’em in the comments below!

We are affiliates of and may receive commission from sales of Skillcrush Blueprints As always, we only promote products and services that we love and/or think you might benefit from — and Skillcrush is among the best of the best!

Get Schooled: 4 Free & Affordable Ways to Learn More

OWS goes back to school

Get Schooled: 4 Free & Affordable Ways to Learn More

backtoschool_pinterest

Whether you have just begun your solopreneur business or are a seasoned professional, there is always room to grow professionally and personally. One of my favorite ways to do this is through online learning. That’s because there are a plethora of online learning resources available that are free or affordable, can be done independently at your own pace, and are packed with information from business management to personal development. That’s a win-win for any One Woman Shop!

Ready to get your study on? Try out these free and affordable ways to learn more:

1. Coursera

The beauty of Coursera is that it has a catalog of scheduled sessions in various areas of study. Each course comes with lots of structure, including a syllabus, audio and visual lectures, quizzes and tests, along with an online instructor from a qualified institution.

Before you join a course, Coursera provides you with: available sessions (current and future), the length of the course (in weeks), hours of study suggested per week, and a brief overview. Taking classes through Coursera gives you the opportunity to earn a course certificate with valuable credentials from the best universities. In addition, they also offer a Specialization program which includes select courses in a given topic, a capstone project and a specialization certificate.

Personally, Coursera is one of my favorite online learning resources because it marries lectures, self-study and resource reading in a way that best suits me. I like to be at a desk with my Coursera class on my laptop and a notebook to take notes.

Cost: Free to Variable

2. iTunes U

I was overwhelmed (in a good way) when I was first introduced to iTunes U a few years ago. Available via the iTunes Store, iTunes U allows you to subscribe to classes and curriculum from some of the top universities. Primarily used as an extension for instructors to bring their curriculum together on iPad, the app is complete with an index of areas to learn from, lectures, notes, quizzes, tests, webinars, documents, books and resources. When you see the structure of the courses and the subjects available, you will certainly understand why much of the younger generation is provided with iPads over traditional textbooks.

Because the iTunes U App is from Apple, the design is similar to the iTunes Store App and Podcasts App, making it easy to use for any one familiar. Many of the iTunes U classes I have taken are provided as lecture videos while others emulate a condensed ebook with assignments. Due to this format of online learning through the app, it is much easier to take the course(s) while on an iPad.

Cost: Free

3. Khan Academy

Khan Academy has self-paced videos to learn, interact and assess your knowledge in different areas. The site has over 4,300 videos to learn from and skills to practice for students, parents, teachers and the lifelong learner. Topics they tackle range from math and science to history, and the Academy’s resources are being translated into more than 36 languages. A fun feature Khan Academy provides is a way to track your progress on what and how you have been learning.

One of the best things about Khan Academy is they have no ads and no subscriptions because they believe in a free forever world-class education for everyone!

Cost: Free

4. TED

TED began as a Technology, Entertainment and Design conference. The purpose of a TED Talk? To share ideas worth spreading. TED Talks are driven, concise and inspiring from the most renowned leaders, movers, and shakers in the world. Today, TED covers almost all topics in powerful talks of 18 minutes or less. Topics range from consumerism to activism and productivity. These talks will instantly inspire you to engage in conversation or take action.

TED provides TED Talks and Playlists for free. You can also attend TED Conferences, TEDx Events or TED Live at additional costs.

Because of the length of time given to do a Talk, it breeds more passion and intensity from the speaker and in turn, has the listener more engaged and in tune with what is said.

Cost: Free to Variable

What are some of your favorite ways to engage in lifelong learning, fellow solopreneur?

PS: Looking for more great sites to learn from? Check out past posts here and here.

There’s No Such Thing as a Free Course: Steps for Choosing How to Invest Your Time Wisely

OWS goes back to school

There's No Such Thing as a Free Course: Steps for Choosing How to Invest Your Time Wisely

With the prevalence of online learning options and the abundance of MOOCs (not an alien species in Dr. Who, but the acronym for Massive Open Online Courses), there are more and more free and low-cost ways to learn just about anything you need to know as a solopreneur.

But even a free course requires an investment of your time and attention, meaning investing in learning isn’t always a no-brainer. Your first move is to decide whether it’s time to learn a new skill. (Read this to help you make that decision.) Once you’ve settled on a “yes”, it’s up to you to choose the right course from the dazzling, and sometimes overwhelming, range of choices out there. Here’s how:

Set clear goals for your learning

The best starting point is to decide exactly what you want to learn or what skills you need to develop. In the early stages of business it can feel like you need to know everything, all at once. If this is you, create a brain dump of all those ideas (web development? sales? copywriting? accounting?) and ask yourself which is most important right now in order to help you take your next step.

Once you’ve decided what you want to learn you can turn to Google or one of the MOOC directories like MOOC List or Class Central to search for courses on your topic. Note that the directories do not cover all providers so if you use them it is a good idea to do a Google search as well.

After you’ve identified some course options there are a number of ways to decide which one is right for you:

1. Try before you buy

If the course you’re considering is free you can have a good look at it before you dig in:

  • Scroll through the syllabus and check that it covers everything you want to know – and not too much else;
  • Check whether the mode of delivery (e.g. PDF; video; audio) suits you;
  • Try a lesson or two to see whether you like the style of the presentation.

Some platforms, particularly those where you buy a monthly subscription to access all of their courses like Lynda or Skillshare, offer a free trial period. The trial period is usually quite short so be savvy and check out any of the courses you might be interested in while you’ve got the chance.

On other platforms you might be able to view a preview lesson or two. CreativeLive and Udemy offer this option on many of their paid courses.

2. Choose your instructor

You might find that you already know of the instructor. For example, CreativeLive attracts very high-caliber instructors that are often big names in their niche. MOOCs first came out of the universities so the more traditional ones like FutureLearn are usually delivered by people who teach at academic institutions. Others, like Udemy, exercise less control over the courses they offer and have a more diverse range of instructors.

Whatever the credentials of the instructor, you also need to gel with their style. Unless you already know them, it’s a good idea to do some research. The majority of course instructors will have some sort of web presence. Search them out and have a look at what they’ve got to say:

  • Have they published any books?
  • Do they have a website or a presence on social media?
  • Have they created any free resources that you can download?
  • Can you watch them on YouTube to get a feel for their presentation style?
  • What are other people saying about them?

3. Read the reviews

Most platforms, including Udemy and CreativeLive, and the MOOC directories mentioned above have a rating and review system so you can find out what previous students thought about the course. If you’re looking at a course that doesn’t have reviews or you just want to do some extra due diligence, search for the course name and platform on Google. As long as it isn’t brand new, there’s a good chance you’ll find somebody talking about it somewhere on the web.

Balance your investment of time versus money

It always feels good to get something for free, but sometimes it’s worth investing some money if it means saving yourself time. For example, this might allow you to get a course more tightly focused on exactly what you want to learn.

On the flipside, if the pennies are tight then you may be able to get something for free by being more flexible with your time. For example, CreativeLive courses are recorded in front of a studio audience — during recording, you can watch the live stream for free.

It’s amazing just how much knowledge we now have access to as online entrepreneurs. Choose the topic that will help you where you are right now and research the course to make sure it’s the right fit — then, go and make the most out of it. Remember — for almost any learning opportunity: you only get out what you put in.

Business Myth: Investing In Yourself Is Always a Good Idea

One Woman Shop business myths

Business Myth: Investing In Your Business is Always a Good Idea

Welcome to Business Myths. Here’s the deal: we often hear business “truths” and accept them as true without stopping to question them. We’re chatting with solopreneurs and freelancers who have learned the hard way that these commonly accepted facts may not, in fact, always be true. In this case, Ashley shares her take on why “investing in yourself” isn’t always a no-brainer.

It’s commonly stated, and widely believed, that “investing in yourself” (aka buying a course, program, membership, etc.) is the best thing you can do for your business.

There’s a lot of wisdom in that advice. After all, you are your business, and the more you improve your skills and abilities, the better you’ll be able to run the show and the better your bottom line will look.

While I do agree that the right training can allow you to leapfrog ahead of where you’d be if you figured everything out on your own, I don’t necessarily agree that plinking down money for the program or course dancing in front of you is a no-brainer.

The value of learning

I don’t for one second want to give the impression that there isn’t value in identifying an area of weakness (or finding a new entrepreneurial front to move into) and then strengthening your skills in that area. In fact, there’s a lot of value in courses, coaching and programs, and I’ve taken advantage of quite a few myself.

Here’s the beef: “investing in yourself” this way is only going to pay off (making it a successful “investment”) if it’s the right education at the right time:

  • when you’ve hit a roadblock and this will get you through it;
  • when you need a new skill and taking a course will enable you to leap-frog;
  • when you’re just starting out and totally green and lost;
  • when it makes strategic sense and you can afford it.

Basically, investments need to pay off. That’s pretty much the definition of a good investment. And when you sign up for every new opportunity without really looking at how it supports your long-term strategy, you aren’t necessarily making good investments.

A justified distraction?

Often, a new course or program can be a dressed-up form of distraction, also known as procrastination.

As an entrepreneur, there comes a time when you need to stop learning and start doing. When you don’t feel confident landing new clients, for example, it’s easier to take a course on landing new clients than it is to start digging, marketing, pitching, and bracing for rejection. So instead of doing the hard and scary work that leads to actual dollars in your pocket, you sign up for one more webinar, join one more program, or study one more blogger’s advice.

In my experience? Not a winning strategy. You’d likely be better served by pitching and asking for peer reviews.

Pretend-productive procrastination?

Fear — of failure, of rejection, of success. Boredom. Intimidation or inadequacy. Shiny Object Syndrome. Imposter Syndrome. Habit. Envy. Lack of vision or strategy. These are just some of the reasons so many of us reach for our wallets when a new opportunity to learn something comes up.

If you’re considering a new personal development program, take a hard look at why you want it in the first place. If it’s to fill an actual knowledge gap you’ve identified, have at it. It’s another thing entirely if you’re telling yourself this is “the thing” that will “get you there” — wherever “there” is.

Know what your goals are, be clear on exactly how this new investment will serve you and your business, and commit to following through. That’s the only way it’s going to pay off. (See definition of investment, above.) Anything less is just procrastination… potentially expensive procrastination.

Rationalized overspending?

There’s also the case where you may sign up for the next big thing without really considering the financial impact. Tune into your business for a minute, first.

Taking advantage of these opportunities indicates that we expect them to lead to a lot more money down the road. But before we get to the “down the road” part, they cost money now.

Money going out has a direct impact on profitability. Too much money going out could mean that you lose your profitability, and that’s obviously not good for business.

Learning how to run your business well and level up in your craft is important, yes, but so is operating without burying your financial future under the crushing weight of your friends Visa and MasterCard. Staying right-side-up matters! Possibly more than that $997 membership with $4,000 in bonuses! Know your business, and whether or not you can handle it.

Just be smart

There are many times when paying for personal development products is exactly what you need for your business — but with so many of these opportunities cropping up all the time, it’s easy to get swept away. Pay attention to how you’re putting these investments to work, keep an eye on your bottom line, and don’t let the idea of “investing in yourself” become such a no-brainer that it ends up getting in the way of real growth and development.

Ultimately, when you’re the boss you’ve got to manage all your resources — including money, time, strategy, and yes, your personal and business growth and development.

Tell me: how do you make the decision on what to invest in for your biz?

1 2