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!

Learn How to Code: The Why and the How

learn to code

Learn How To Code

Learning to code is more than just a passing trend right now. Because of that, there’s been a small explosion of startups teaching people essential digital skills; especially ones aimed at women. With options galore, where is it safe to start? As always, with the why.

Why would you want to learn how to code?

Technology is everywhere. Nearly everyone has a smartphone, a tablet, or a laptop. Soon, lots of people will be wearing smartwatches while driving their smart cars around their smart cities.

Lots of people’s jobs already depend on technology, and that number is only increasing. Even if yours doesn’t, it's important for everyone to reclaim their right to have mastery over the technology that governs our lives.

How learning to code enabled me to become a solopreneur

Learning to code can open previously closed doors. This is especially helpful for those seeking to balance their work with family life, or others who are returning to the working world after time away.

For me, learning to code was one of the crucial milestones that enabled me to leave my 9-5 job and embark on my career as a freelance blogger in tech. Prior to this, I’d been working full-time in digital communications, and I was certainly never ‘techie.’

To build my professional confidence, I learned to code for free with a non-profit, UK-based organization called Code First: Girls. During these courses, I also gained experience in collaborating with others to build websites. Even when the work was very difficult, our shared goal motivated each of us to complete our project.

The new knowledge gained gave me a strong dose of confidence and helped me to understand the tech and startup industry for the first time. Because of that, I picked tech as my blogging niche, and have since been learning as much as I can about the industry. I was able take blogging, which I had been doing for free for years, and make a career out of it.

As a result, I recently quit my job to take the plunge as a full-time freelance tech blogger. So, let’s overcome one of society’s most ridiculous stereotypes, which is that only white male ‘nerds’ can understand computers, and all start learning to code!

Different types of coding skills you can learn -- and the purpose each serves

“Learn how to code.” That’s a lofty goal, no doubt, and it can be overwhelming to consider all your different options - especially if you don't know which language you want to learn.

Many people find it helpful to start with HTML and CSS, which are the front-end coding languages of websites. They are probably the simplest ones to pick up as they’re responsible for styling the visual elements of webpages, and require little-to-no understanding of programming.

As a solopreneur, learning HTML and CSS will give you a lot more confidence when you’re trying to set up your own website, because even if you use a website platform like WordPress or pay a developer to build your site, you’ll still be able to make small edits yourself.

You’ll also be empowered to understand what’s possible in terms of web design. This can be anything from the importance of responsive design (when a website resizes across different devices such smartphones or desktop computers), or when to use bits of code such as H2 tags (the subheadings that break up your page text on your website).

If you want to get a bit more techie, you can learn programming languages such as JavaScript, PHP, Ruby or Python.

These are languages used to program the backend of websites (although JavaScript is used for both frontend and backend). They provide extra functionality such as a website database, or enable you to sell things on your website.

There are a huge variety of languages used to build different types of websites. To start, Google the purpose of each language to see which might be most applicable for you.

The different ways to learn coding

Most people who want to get really serious about learning to code end up paying for a service. This is really useful as it enables you to have that contact with experienced professional developers who can advance your learning and kickstart your career.

This is really useful as it enables you to have that contact with experienced professional developers who can advance your learning and kickstart your career.

Paid courses

Skillcrush is one such resource where you can join a thriving community of like-minded individuals and target your learning with tailored Blueprints. All courses are taken online and they offer a free introductory bootcamp. Amanda has chronicled her Skillcrush journey on the OWS blog in several parts, starting here.

Likewise, you can take singular courses like Sarah Eggers’ HTML & CSS Crash Course.

Many, many other groups exist, like Decoded, which teaches you to code in a day in HTML, or Mums in Technology, which specifically caters to women with children who are looking to advance their careers.

Free options

If you don't have much money to play around with, or just want to dip your toe in the water, there are some free options available. I've created a fully comprehensive list of free UK coding groups on my website.

Groups like Rails Girls offer free day coding bootcamps to teach any women the coding language Ruby on Rails. Another great group aimed at university students and recent graduates is Code First: Girls, which I took part in, myself.

In addition, there are lots and lots of online resources available, including CodeAcademy, General Assembly, and Coursera, to name a few.

A note on bootcamps

A stigma has sprung up in the web development community among some hiring managers against coding bootcamps. This term refers to full-time intensive courses that you pay for. This option is typically for aspiring web developers, rather than the amateur coder.

If you want to become a web developer and are considering a bootcamp, remember they will vary in quality, so do your research and always make sure you have a genuine enthusiasm for building your own portfolio. Maker’s Academy is a good place to start looking at bootcamps.

How to pick the right course for you

Unless you want to become a professional web developer, you don't need to invest large amounts of time and money in learning to code.

Think about key factors like financial cost, difficulty level, distance to travel, comprehensiveness of the course, contact with experienced developers, and fitting it in around commitments like work and childcare.

Aim for a basic understanding of and curiosity about the nature of technology. Learning to code helps push you past the fear and mystery around technology and empowers you to make the most of it.

Overcoming obstacles and moving forward

Learning to code opens the door to taking control over the digital aspects of your business, and often comes with unintended side benefits, like being able to build your own digital products, launch a startup, become a better designer, or take the plunge as a full-time blogger specializing in tech (like me!), among other things.

If nothing else, dipping your toe into the coding world may help you realize how beneficial hiring a professional developer can be. One Woman Shop published this super handy post about what to ask as you interview a professional developer before you jump into a relationship with them.

I hope this post has shown you some of the ways you can dive in and learn to code -- no matter your situation.

Don’t let negative self beliefs hold you back. Just like learning to write, anyone can learn to code. The aim is not necessarily to become a professional programmer or developer, but simply to enter a whole new world of opportunities.


We are affiliates of and may receive commission from sales of courses mentioned above. As always, we only promote products and services that we love and/or think you might benefit from.

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!

Tools We Love: PopupAlly

Tools We Love: PopupAlly

Tools We Love: PopupAlly from Nathalie Lussier

Welcome to Tools We Love, where we highlight some of the tools that make us more efficient, productive, and effective in our businesses. Have a tool that you want to share with the community? Email us! Today’s tool we love: PopupAlly!

Which email marketing platform to choose. The best social media platform for business owners. Which planner to use at the beginning of each year. And...whether or not to use a pop-up. These are just a few of the things that cause great debate amongst solo business owners around the world. (And...the types of things that make us think, “You know you’re a solopreneur when…”)

Installing a pop-up has dramatically increased our conversion rate for email sign ups. Want proof? As we mention in Building Your Online Community, we credit the combination of a pop-up (installed 5/19/2014) and our opt-in freebie (promoted 6/1/2014) with this little increase in our subscribers:

email list growth chart with popupally

And given that our email list is one of our top sources of sales, collaborations, and more, we’ve found it to be worth the risk of potentially irritating a minor subset of our website visitors in order to best serve our community.

Our weapon of choice? PopupAlly from Nathalie Lussier (who you might recognize from 100 Best Sites for Solopreneurs) and her husband, Robin, who together make up the AmbitionAlly team.

Some of our favorite things about PopupAlly

  • The free version is extremely robust, but there’s a paid upgrade if you need more
  • You can choose between an exit-intent pop-up (it triggers when a website visitor is about to leave the site) and a time delayed pop-up
  • It syncs with popular email marketing platforms, like Mailchimp, Aweber, and yes, ConvertKit
  • It’s super easy to customize the look of your pop-up so that it reflects your brand
  • You can create two pop-ups with the free version, which means you can have both an overall pop-up, as well as a targeted one (we did this on our 100 Best Sites for Solopreneurs page to increase downloads of our Road to Solopreneur Success ebook)
  • You can split test two different pop-ups to track conversion rate (only with the pro version)
  • The AmbitionAlly website is chockful of best practices for pop-ups. In fact, we would wager a bet that you can find the answer to any question you have about PopUpAlly or pop-ups

Limitations + drawbacks

To be honest? As of right now, we can’t think of any limitations of PopupAlly, so we’ll just say this: The biggest “problem” is that we can’t do absolutely everything we’d like to do with the free version. But, as fellow business owners, we really can’t complain about a company providing an awesome free version and then trying to upsell to a paid version. More power to ‘em for roping us in so effectively and making us loyal fans!

How to get started with PopupAlly

Even for those self-proclaimed “tech-illiterate” solopreneurs, we can pretty much guarantee that you’ll be up and running with a pop up in no time when you use PopupAlly pro. (We can say this, because we might just be those people…)

PS -- In case you were wondering, we also like to riff on our favorite email marketing apps, social media platforms, and planners.

PPS -- A popup is just one of the tools we use to build our online community. Want more tried-and-true methods? Click below.

Building Your Online Community

Just a head's up: As you might've guessed, we are affiliates of PopupAlly -- we promote the platform because we love it!

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!

The 4 Building Blocks of your Solo Business’ Security Strategy

When we start following our dreams of building a business, we get emerged in the flow. We are inspired and excited about this new chapter in our life. We are flooded with enthusiasm and joy. And then, we get really, really busy. There is lots of work that needs to get done in so many areas; many of them we never had to do before and are just not familiar with.

Security matters is one of those areas. For a solopreneur, security often isn’t top of mind until their website is hacked or a computer dies and leaves a big black hole.

To put it bluntly, there is no miracle way to absolutely prevent an attack or accident from ever happening, but there are some solid steps that can be taken to minimize your risk of having a security issue leave a negative impact on your business.

There are four basic building blocks that make up a business security strategy:

  • an awareness of keeping your website protected from common security threats
  • the habit of creating regular backups
  • the responsible use of cloud data storage applications, and
  • the use of secure passwords

It’s never too early to start putting these steps in place. Let’s dive in.

1. Apply website security

Making sure a website is protected against common threats is a key step in establishing a business that’s seen as trustworthy. Many entrepreneurs understand the urgency behind this topic, yet they lack the knowledge of how to implement basic security features on their websites.

A fair majority of websites are run on WordPress today, which is fortunate as the software is pretty safe in and of itself. However, there are always possibilities for hackers to access other people's WordPress applications, from themes to plugins. And it most often has to do with users not taking the required steps for an appropriate security setup.

Reasons for this are manifold. Not being very tech-savvy and not knowing how to get started is one cause -- but let’s not let that be yours. Here are some steps I recommend to everyone in order to close commonly weak security spots:

  • Delete the default admin user from the system: the “admin” user is the user -- that is, the account that has the username “admin” -- that is most commonly attacked by hackers. Not having this username in your system at all closes a security hole. To remove this user, I suggest you create a new user with administrator rights first, and then delete the admin user. To create a new user, go to Users in the WordPress menu and click on Add New. Provide name, password and email for the new user, and choose the role Administrator. Now, log out of WordPress and log in with the newly created user. Go again to the Users menu and then All Users. You can now delete the admin-user from the system. (For an in-depth tutorial, go here.)
  • Create a strong password. We’ll get further into what makes a solid password below.
  • Secure your login screen. There are phases from time to time when WordPress sites all over the web notice massive attacks. An excellent way to protect your site from bots that try to enter your site by massive brute attacks is to install a plugin that puts some sort of captcha onto your login screen.
  • Keep your WP software, the theme and the plugins up to date. The best way to maintain a secure application is by updating all the components your website is made of. Keep an eye on the little update notification in the top left area in your WP dashboard and apply the updates as soon as possible.
  • Delete unused/inactive plugins and themes. This is also a common entry point into WordPress applications. Remove the pre-installed themes from WordPress (if you are not using them) and delete plugins that you don’t really need.
  • Install one or two security plugins and follow their instructions to secure your site. There are a handful of very good plugins that will take care of security threats on your website. WordFence Security is the most downloaded security plugin for WordPress, and even its free version is pretty powerful. Other recommended security plugins are Sucuri Security, iThemes Security or Acunetix WP Security.

2. Create regular backups

Even though it's not that rare of an event that a computer's hard drive or external hard drive dies or a website is hacked, it's surprising just how many businesses don't get into the habit of backing up their data.

In your online business, there are basically two areas that could be affected by a digital calamity: your computer and your website. Having a backup on hand that can replace a corrupted website or a dead hard drive is an incredibly valuable thing.

Here's what I recommend for every solopreneur or online business:

  • Invest a few dollars into two external hard drives (1-2 TerraByte each)
  • Commit yourself to a backup schedule: run computer backups on a weekly and monthly schedule (one hard drive for weekly; one hard drive for monthly backups)
  • Get familiar with a professional backup software that you can schedule accordingly (TimeMachine is great for Mac computers)

What applies to backing up your computer's files is also true for your website files.

Your website is the central spot of your business. Developing the habit of backing up your website won’t take away the risk of any one of the imaginable ways your website data could suddenly be lost, but it will make recovery an easy option.

Running backups is a different matter depending on which platform your website is run on. If you have used a website builder (e.g. Weebly, Wix, SquareSpace) to create your website, you might be bound by the website's builder rules. I recommend contacting their support hotline to find out how backups are handled, and how much control you have over what is happening with the backups created. It's often a disadvantage of website builders that the users are not in control of their own data.

Working with WordPress allows users to take steps on their own with little effort to backup their website's data. The best option is the installation of a plugin that can schedule backup runs and store them in cloud storage or locally on a computer, such as:

  • BackupBuddy - $$ - A popular, premium plugin that lets you backup your site and easily schedule upcoming backups. You are licensed to use the plugin on the number of sites mentioned in your plan. You get access to premium support forums, updates, and 1GB of cloud storage to store your backups.
  • BackWPUp - Free - A plugin that is extremely easy to use and allows you to schedule automatic backups according to your site's update frequency.
  • UpdraftPlus - Free - The #1 most installed WP backup plugin with a 4.9 star rating (out of 5).
  • VaultPress - $$ - A subscription-based service from the makers of WordPress that offers automated, real-time cloud backup solution starting at $5/month.

3. Cloud data storage

Cloud services are amazing: They allow us to save our data in a very convenient way, and make our files accessible everywhere and anytime. Using services like Dropbox, Google Docs or Box to store our data offers more effective and collaborative working routines that weren't possible before.

But let’s also be aware that by using them, we give up several layers of control.

Being realistic here, none of us have the time to study vendor policies, so making an informed decision is a tough thing to do. But you can put certain parameters in place to protect yourself. I recommend you use a multi-faceted strategy:

  • Don't save anything in the cloud that contains confidential data for yourself or your business
  • If you really need to store some of your confidential files online, either encrypt those files before uploading them, or choose a file storage service that provides secure encryption to protect your files. SpiderOak and Wuala are both secure cloud storage applications that encrypt your files before upload. All you need to do to encrypt your data is have a solid password available; both storage applications encrypt your data before upload. Witkit is another data storage, but also a collaboration platform with highly sophisticated security features that uses end-to-end encryption for all your data.
  • Don't use the same password for all of your cloud applications and apply a safe password strategy (see below)

4. The art of creating secure passwords

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of passwords to memorize for the dozens of applications we all use.

Here’s the sad truth, though: when Adobe got hacked and the list of passwords circulated, the amount of accounts using '123456' or 'password' as their choice of security was amazing. When these lists circulate in the dark web, together with the associated email addresses, it is all too easy to connect the dots and use the same combination on other web applications.

To prevent your personal accounts being hacked and your business being affected by it -- and vice versa -- it makes sense to invest 10 minutes to learn about a password strategy that is safe. This technique creates safe passwords that are easily adjustable and easy to remember.

Here's how it works:

  • Choose a long-tailed word first, that preferably cannot be found in any dictionary. The purpose is that it cannot be figured out by trial and error, so it's time to get creative and have some fun here. (Mine below: BananaTeahouse)
  • To add an additional layer of security to it, add a 2-4 digit number (to be placed at the beginning, end or middle), as well as one special character and at least one capital letter.

Example: "73BananaTeahouse%". That is your password basis and all you need to remember for now.

  • Next, set up a rule of how to implement parts of the website's domain name into your master password, so you know which password goes with which site. For example, use the first and second letter of the site name and add it to your password basis. Optionally, you can also add up the number of letters in the site's name and add it to the end of your password.

Example: if you were applying this to a password for Dropbox, then your "individualized" Dropbox password would be: '73BananaTeahouse%dr7'.

You can, of course, make adjustments to the letter and number combinations, or even include a simple mathematical series instead of a number if you are good with mental arithmetic. But surely, with this method you can quickly and easily create unique passwords for any service you use, and can be assured you have handled the password part of your business' security strategy with the appropriate responsibility.

Take a multi-faceted approach

A business’ security strategy is all about the preservation of the confidentiality, integrity and accessibility of your information.

Many solopreneurs are not aware of potential security risks and therefore don’t prioritize the improvement of their online security for future business growth. Managing these risks by developing the habit of applying website security, creating regular backups, and using responsible authentication techniques, are solid steps toward protecting your data. The most dangerous thing you can do? Disregard potential threats. There’s no better time to start mitigating your risks than today.

November #OWSchat: Solopreneur Websites (DIY or Don’t Even Try?)

#OWSchat from One Woman Shop

Mark your calendars! Today at 9pm EST, we're hosting our monthly #OWSchat where we're chatting about how your website can best serve your solopreneur business and whether you should do it yourself or hire it out.

We're super psyched to have One Woman Shop member and WordPress expert Shannon Mattern of WP+BFF and creator of the WP+BFF Academy joining us for the chat. She'll be answering questions and sharing her advice as we navigate what it takes to get a site created.

See you TONIGHT, Wednesday, 11/4 at 9pm EST in the Twitterverse!

PS – First ever Twitter chat? We highly recommend using a platform like TweetChat to keep things organized.

Affiliate disclaimer: this post contains an affiliate link. As always, we only promote products and services we truly believe can benefit your solopreneur business.

How Much a WordPress Site Really Costs

A few months ago I saw this exchange in one of my favorite Facebook groups for solopreneurs:

"I am about to pay $4k for someone to make my webpage and I'm having a hard time stomaching this… that’s almost my entire bank account. Do others charge this kind of money?"

This post BLEW UP. There were over 300 comments on it, most of them appearing within the first hour of it being posted.

Each response fell into one of these categories:

“I just paid $5,000. I would be suspect of the quality if someone was charging less."

"If a $4,000 website would enable me to make $40k/month, then yes. Investment mindset vs. Cheapskate mindset."

“I’ll do it for you for $1500. PM me."

“Web developers are sharks who are just out to make as much money as possible. You can do it yourself for under $100."

“I’m offended - we are not sharks, we have a highly developed and refined skill set and we deserve to get paid for our time."

I was captivated. I read comment after comment. And as someone who has spent years building WordPress sites and currently building my own business, I disagreed with EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. Well, except this one: “Don’t empty your bank account for anything, let alone a website.”

My fingers scrambled to type a well-thought out argument to counter every single one of those responses, but my typing skills are no match for the speed at which this thread was growing. So I kept reading and reading and shakin’ my damn head... They all think they are having the same conversation, but this was the most epic communication breakdown I’ve ever seen online. And no one noticed.

So I decided to take a minute to clear up all the confusion and explain the different types of WordPress experts, how they decide how much to charge, and give you a clear path for deciding whether to DIY or hire it out.

What is a Developer?

Everyone has a different definition of what a web developer is. In my many years of experience there are four levels of WordPress pros:

A WordPress Developer knows PHP and CSS and could code a WordPress theme or plugin from scratch. They know the WordPress Codex inside and out; they might even contribute to the development of the core of WordPress or code and sell their own custom themes. They likely are active in the WordPress support forums and submit bug fixes. They make WordPress work for the rest of us. Unless you’re a theme developer or wanting to create and sell your own plugin, you’re almost never gonna hire a developer.

Then there’s the WordPress Expert. She knows WordPress up and down, back and forth -- and is also an expert in web hosting technology. She knows where every single last option can be found in the Dashboard. How to troubleshoot and fix any problems. How to maintain + optimize it. How to extend it with plugins to make it perform any task you can dream of. How to customize any theme even if she’s never seen it before (because really, they all operate on the same basic WordPress principles). She knows every single plugin you need and don’t need, how to make your site do anything you would want your site to do. She knows every WordPress trick in the book.

Next up is the Design Expert. She knows popular WordPress themes like the back of her hand and has a talent for making WordPress sites look ah-mazing. She’s an ARTIST. She's going to select fonts and colors for you, design layouts and graphics, and maybe even write some copy for you because that’s part of the design.

Finally, there’s the Content Expert. This girl knows how to create and format new pages, add media, create and categorize blog posts. She knows how to apply and customize themes, set up menus, customize widgets and keep things moving. She may also be great at writing copy.

Here are a few things you need to know:

  • No one reading this article needs to hire a WordPress Developer. That’s the point of WordPress -- it was created by developers to give the PEOPLE the ability to make their own websites. Websites for the people!
  • If you can find a legit WordPress Expert who is also a legit Design Expert, marry her. She is a unicorn. This is where people wind up disappointed. They hire a “web developer” assuming they have both of these skill sets. Then they end up with a site that can pat its head and rub its tummy at the same time but looks like it came out of 1998. Or they have a GORGEOUS website with five beautiful pages and absolutely zero brains.
  • You must become the content expert whether you hire it out or you do it all yourself. It is your duty as a business owner to know how this stuff works. Would you open up your business in a physical location you knew nothing about? NO! Just because your website is “technical” doesn’t absolve you of knowing how it works.

I cannot stress this enough. A basic level of knowledge is enough to maintain your site -- and it's crucial. That way, when you’re between experts, you won’t need to even break a sweat, because you’ll know exactly what you need to do.

Should you DIY or hire out?

If you do it yourself (which you totally can if you know how to use the internet, can point and click, can follow instructions and have a little cash and a little patience), you are eventually going to become a WordPress Expert. Maybe not a ninja-level-can-work-on-any-site expert, but you’ll learn enough to know exactly how to maintain everything about your own site. To do it RIGHT and set yourself up for success and future growth, it’s going to cost you a few hundred dollars.

If you are going to hire someone, you either marry a unicorn OR you hire WordPress Expert AND a designer. Your WordPress expert sets up your site for you (and they should ask TONS of questions about your business so they build everything you don’t even know you need), and hire a graphic designer to create your brand for you, and your WordPress Expert will implement the brand on the site for you.

Truth: the price for a WordPress site is completely arbitrary

It is determined by how much that expert thinks their time and talents are worth, and with cheap tech labor overseas, that skews the price range even more.

If you’re going to do your due diligence, there are four options to look at seriously:

1. How much time and money it will take to do it yourself, and what resources are available for learning?

2. How much does this ‘unicorn’ cost? You won’t know if they are a unicorn until you talk to them and ask the right questions.

3. How much a WordPress Expert costs - they might call themselves a web developer… pay attention to semantics. They really do matter here.

4. How much a Design Expert costs - they might also call themselves web developers. It is up to you to know the difference.

Yes -- this requires leg work, but it’s like finding the right physical location for your business. (Super important.)

To help you decide whether to DIY or don’t even try, check out this free decision guide. It includes:

  • A quiz to help you determine if DIYing is right for your personality (no, you don't have to be techie).
  • The BEST resources for DIYing your WordPress site.
  • Tips on how to find the web developer that's right for you if you determine DIY is not for you.
  • 24 questions to ask potential web developers so you can be sure you know exactly what you're getting before you get started.

How much money you decide to spend on a website has zero to do with an abundance vs. cheapskate mindset. It has to do with making good business decisions based on where you are in your journey. And there are eleventy-million ways to go about building your website, which is what makes deciding what to do so overwhelming! It’s important to do your research, make an informed decision, and not blow your entire start-up budget on a website.

P.S. Want more from Shannon? Check out her WP+BFF Academy -- so that you can build your website right the first time. Note: This is an affiliate link -- we believe in Shannon's work and think you might find it valuable. 

A WordPress Theme for Creativepreneurs

It's probably no surprise that we <3 us some BluChic WordPress themes -- it's also probably no surprise that we always use the words chic, sleek, and feminine to describe them (it's a running joke here at OWS HQ). Hey, if it ain't broke...

Our BluChic love affair continues with their newest chic, sleek, and feminine WordPress theme -- Quinn. According to BluChic, it's perfect for creativepreneurs -- which is probably you, if you're hanging out here on One Woman Shop.

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.17.48 PM

A few of our favorite features:

  • Responsive design (like the rest of their themes)
  • Customizable color scheme
  • Full width slideshow
  • 3 promo boxes for pages or call to actions
  • Newsletter sign-up form on footer with custom styling for MailChimp

quinn theme for creativepreneurs

Disclosure: We are part of BluChic’s affiliate program and will receive a commission on sales bought through the links above. However, we are huge fans of BluChic and use their products all the time (including on this site), so all opinions are our own!

Establishing Wholesale Relationships as a Solopreneur

wholesale relationships

Just because you’re a One Woman Shop doesn’t mean there are limits to the scale at which you can produce and sell -- are we right? In fact, we believe the potential extends further, as you naturally incur less overhead and own the decision-making power. (#girlboss) So when one of our members posted in the private Facebook group about setting up wholesale relationships, we took to our network and checked in with three business owners with wholesale experience to give us the ins and outs and help you get started. Here’s what Amanda Wright of Wit and Whistle, Mei Pak of Creative Hive, and Jennifer Hill of JHill Design had to say:

Tell us a bit about your current wholesale relationships and how they tie into the rest of your business.

Amanda: I’ve been super lucky with wholesale. As Wit & Whistle has organically grown, the retailers have come to me! Over the years I’ve maintained a strongly branded, active presence on Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, and my own blog/website. This tangled web of Wit & Whistle has snagged many retailers browsing the internet for products to sell. A lot of retailers turn to Etsy when looking for potential vendors, so maintaining a retail shop there has been a great resource, too. Etsy Wholesale is fairly new, but it has already been a wonderful way for me to connect with new wholesalers. If you’re serious about wholesale, it’s important to have your own gorgeous, professional-looking website to build your credibility. Make sure there’s an easy to spot “wholesale” page that includes a link to your catalog and any other information a retailer might need to get in touch with you and place an order.

Mei: My jewelry business, Tiny Hands, currently sells in over 100 stores across the United States. Most of the stores I sell to are smaller gift shops so I have the opportunity to get to know the shop owners well. In the first two years of taking on wholesale, my business quickly grew to multiple six-figure sales. Half of that can be attributed to wholesale, so it has definitely played a major role in my business. I love being able to diversify my income streams. When it's a slow month for online retail sales, I can count on wholesale orders to pick up. It's been great for stability and has even helped grow my retail sales because I have a wider reach in the market and more people have seen my brand!

Jennifer: Wholesale is a small part of our business. Our main piece is direct-to-consumer via our website. But we are always working to grow our wholesale business.

What is your best advice for first establishing contact with potential wholesalers? Do you recommend stopping in to the store, calling, reaching out via email, or something else?

Mei: First and foremost, check the store's website if they have product submission guidelines. If not, then always email a store instead of walking in. If you can't find an appropriate email contact, then your best bet is to call the store to ask. The majority of stores prefer being pitched to by email. It doesn't put them on the spot, and it gives them time to check out your line. It also helps them keep organized with the dozens, if not hundreds of product pitches they receive every week.

If you want to take it a step further, try to establish a connection with the store owners or buyers on social media before you send them an email. That way, they'll be familiar with who you are and more receptive of your email pitch.

Jennifer: Knowing many store owners, I always think it is best to email first. They are so busy and rarely have the time to review a product at the drop of a dime. Make the email personable, showing that you have researched the store. You may want to mention display ideas so the retailer can begin to picture your goods in their shop.

What makes for a great wholesale relationship?

Amanda: Openness and honesty. I appreciate it so much when my retailers give me feedback on how I can improve my goods and ideas for new products. It’s important to keep in touch with your wholesalers throughout the year, and update them about new collections. This year I’m hoping to print a beautiful Wit & Whistle lookbook to mail out and start sending occasional email newsletters.

Mei: You are all on the same side -- you want the store to sell your products well and as a result, they'll make more orders with you. So make it easy for them. Ship your orders when you say you will. Package your products so they grab a customer's attention. Offer marketing support to your store's retail staff. You can educate them on your product's background to help them talk about and sell your work. Offer to exchange items that aren't selling for ones that are. Follow up with them to check in on sales. This will all help a store feel taken care of and will make for a great relationship.

Jennifer: Stay in touch and promote them! We always give a shout out on social media when we send a new shipment to our retailers. When we open a new account we send an email blast to our customers in the new store's area letting them know they can get our goods in person. We also reach out to local press.

What's one thing that you never thought of prior to establishing a wholesale relationship that you've since learned from?

Amanda: It took me a while to grasp that there are different packaging needs when selling wholesale. When a retail customer orders from my website, they get a complete product description on the page. When my products are for sale in stores, the packaging has to communicate everything the customer needs to know. For example, when I first started wholesaling, many of my greeting cards had messages printed inside, but I would package them in sealed cellophane sleeves. In store, customers had no clue what was printed inside the cards! I didn’t even think about it until one of my retailers asked if I could put stickers on the backs that disclosed the inside messages. Oops! My wholesale selling experience has mostly been trial and error, and sometimes I still feel like I don’t know what I’m doing! I figure that’s probably normal. (At least I hope!)

Mei: It's important to create an irresistible package that makes your product easy to buy. When I started doing wholesale, I just thought having a catalog was all I needed. Later, I put together a package of my best-selling products along with a display rack, tailored to individual stores. That way, instead of just giving stores the option to mix-and-match products, I presented an easy “starter package” for the store that eased the decision-making burden on them and helped tremendously to push sales for me.

Jennifer: Be flexible on terms. Some of our big accounts only pay Net 30; some of our small accounts prefer to pay by bank wire transfer or credit card. We are happy to work with each one.

Have you ever had a wholesale relationship that didn't go well? What did you learn?

Amanda: I learned that when working with large, nationwide retailers I need to ask if I can read through their vendor manual before accepting any purchase orders (POs). This is especially important if the vendor doesn’t usually work with independent makers. Keeping up with some retailers’ vendor requirements is a full time job in and of itself. It’s difficult to follow hundreds of pages of requirements written for huge factories in Asia when you’re a one-woman operation working out of your suburban basement. Some retailers will even charge you expensive fees if you miss a single step (yes, I also learned that the hard way). Don’t be afraid of working with big retailers, just be vigilant and know what you’re getting into before you start.

Mei: There was one store that was so difficult to work with. They caused so much trouble and every email they sent was a headache to deal with. The last straw was when they tried to reorder way less than my minimum amount. I told them it wasn't enough for a reorder but in return they berated my work and threatened that they would buy products similar to mine from a different and cheaper source. At that point, I fired them and took back all of my products to end the relationship.

It's crucial that you sell to the right stores. Sometimes you won't know if it's a right fit until after the first order, so it's hard to avoid these kinds of mishaps. Stand by your product and your wholesale terms and policies. They are there for a reason. When you start bending the rules, some people may take advantage of you. It's okay to end a wholesale relationship. Some stores just don't work out.

Have you discovered any downsides of wholesaling? Anything potential wholesalers should be weary of?

Amanda: For me, the only downside to wholesaling has been that it’s more difficult to introduce new types of products. My goods are made in small batches, which means they cost more per piece to manufacture than if I were having them produced in massive quantities. When I get an idea for a new kind of product, I have to make sure I can produce it at a low enough cost that I can sell it at reasonable wholesale rates (50% off retail). At the same time, I have to keep my inventory at manageable levels, because I can only sell so much product, and only have so much storage room in my studio! It’s a tricky balance. I have some products that I just can’t sell to my wholesalers due to the tight profit margins.

Mei: Be sure you have your systems in place. Doing wholesale really tests your process of manufacturing your product in bulk to packaging and shipping them out in a timely manner. The leaks in your systems become apparent with wholesale because you're dealing with such large numbers compared to a retail order. Be aware of the time you'll need to spend managing stores as well as acquiring new ones and fulfilling orders. Get your systems down pat and you'll do great!

Jennifer: Putting together the orders can sometimes take more time than we expect, but in the end it is worth it. Also sending out cold emails to people can sometimes feel like a waste of time. That is one reason that we are looking more at trade shows.

Going forward, how much do you plan to keep wholesaling as part of your business?

Amanda: I hope the wholesale side of my business continues to grow like crazy.  It has been a great source of income for me, and it’s so satisfying to watch the list of retailers that carry Wit & Whistle goods get longer and longer!

Mei: I would love to keep wholesale and retail sales an even split. But the market and technology changes so quickly that not everything is within our control. So, I go wherever my business takes me. If wholesaling opportunities keep coming my way, I won't turn them down and if it so happens to become all of my business, I'll just need to adapt and hire more help!

Jennifer: We are hoping to start doing more wholesale in 2016 and begin the trade show circuit!

Thanks so much, ladies!

OWS readers: after the fantastic information shared by Amanda, Mei, and Jennifer, what other questions do you have about establishing wholesale relationships as a One Woman Shop? Tell us in the comments below!