So You Wanna Be A…Web Designer/Developer

So You Wanna Be A Web Designer or Developer via One Woman Shop

SoYouWannaBeA_WebDesignerDeveloper -- blog

You’re ready to start your solo business — you’re craving the freedom, the versatility, and the chance to put your passion into play — but you’re not quite sure where to start. You’ve come to the right place. In our So You Wanna Be a… series, we highlight entrepreneurs who’ve built successful businesses doing what they love.

This month, we’re chatting with four web designers + developers — Sarah Eggers, Aleia Walker, Alison Monday of tiny blue orange, and Melanie Karlik of A Prettier Web — to get their inside advice on how they got their web design + development careers started.

(Editor’s note: The terms designer + developer are sometimes used interchangeably. The women interviewed here each have their own specialties, which you’ll notice in their responses. For a breakdown of the differences between designers and developers, check out this post.)

So you wanna be a web designer/developer? Here’s what you need to know…

Tell us exactly what a person in your role does.

Sarah: A freelance web designer helps people accomplish amazing things. No really, we do! There are thousands of people out there with life-changing ideas, but they stop and give up when they shudder at the idea of creating a website. Web designers are here to eliminate that website-building barrier and help people use their saved time to focus on their strengths.

Aleia: I am a freelance Web Developer who focuses on Front End Development. As a Front End Developer, I build the parts of the website that you can see. I also have a design background so I frequently handle projects from design to development. That includes figuring out how a site can have maximum impact for the client.

Alison: I'm a WordPress developer, so that means I create custom themes for WordPress based on designs that my clients have from working with a designer. I also input site content (blog posts, pages, etc.), run site updates, and do on-going maintenance/tweaks. Long story short, I spend all day being super nerdy with code + servers.

Mel: I help women tackle WordPress! I spend about 70% of my time with content creation -- I test out plugins, write blog posts, create videos, create visuals collateral, PDFs -- anything to share information that I think will be helpful for bloggers and online business owners. I have two WordPress themes that I sell right now.

How did you get your start? What are other ways someone else can get started?

Sarah: I got my start back in 2014 when I enrolled in a Skillcrush Blueprint for web design. I took the leap and paid for my first ever course, and I was totally blown away just a week in. It was super easy to learn, and my classmates and instructors were amazing. I highly recommend to someone starting out to take a high-level, paid course like Skillcrush. Before then, I just played around with free courses and never really learned much before my interest faded.

Aleia: I got started by taking a Web Designer course with Skillcrush. It was an intro course that catapulted my love for all things design and development. I definitely suggest taking a structured course to get your feet wet and determine if development is your path and what part of development you like.

Alison: I started out as a designer but loved bringing my own designs to life by coding them. All of my designer friends thought I was crazy because they hated coding + felt completely limited by it. The more I started helping them, the more I realized that I was happiest coding themes that others had designed.

Mel: I was working as a software programmer when I started my first WordPress blog, back around 2002! I really wanted to learn how to "tweak" the look and feel of my site so I taught myself HTML & CSS with whatever resources I could find online. Then, I took a part-time degree in Graphic Design from a local college. I'd spend some money and invest in a good course.

Is there a certain kind of person that would thrive in your role?

Sarah: You'll thrive if you 1) love to create things and can get in the flow and 2) can communicate well with people. I know a lot of web designers who love to create and get in the flow but have a hellish time communicating. You can be the best web designer in the world, but if you can't make your client happy and translate their words into design, then you're actually the worst web designer.

Aleia: A person who loves learning would do very well as a developer. There are always new technologies and tools. The learning never stops.

Alison: You certainly need a little bit of love for the nerdy things in life. I spend a good chunk of my day working with HTML, CSS, PHP + JavaScript/jQuery. I also work on server settings for clients because they don't want to touch their hosting account with a 10-foot pole. It helps to understand a bit about design so that you can communicate with the designer and understand why they did some of the things they did.

Mel: People who are creative would thrive doing design work. As for the tech side, I think it requires some persistence, resourcefulness and enthusiasm. It's easy to tell right away if tech is going to frustrate you or motivate you.

What do people need before they can get started in your industry?

Alison: If you have a way to write code, technically you can get started. I don't think it's necessarily required, but I'm happy as heck that I have business insurance, a legal business entity + a lawyer that I can send questions to. I'd suggest making sure you have a solid agreement/contract template to protect both you + your clients. Aside from that, you'll typically need Adobe CC or Photoshop as most designers work in that.

Mel: Making WordPress websites doesn't require any special degree. There is ample resources available for you online. Then, start doing it! Make some websites and build up a portfolio of great work. If you’re interested in creating apps, plugins or any kind of programming beyond HTML, CSS and Javascript then a degree could be of benefit. Again, you can learn a lot from online courses but if you are looking to work for a Google, Amazon or Uber then they often ask for a degree.

How do you currently seek out clients or customers? What are some ways you've considered seeking out clients or customers that you haven't tried yet?

Sarah: The traditional way to attract clients is to seek them out on job boards, whether through Upwork, Craigslist, or other markets. The non-traditional way to attract clients is to join Twitter chats and Facebook groups of your target audience. Someone in a group is going to be asking for web design advice and you can swoop in to save the day—and impress the rest of the group!

Aleia: I currently use word of mouth, but I’d like to step it up and make more effort in marketing my services. I am looking into building an email list and ramping up my blog game by providing useful content to prospective customers.

Alison: Because of how long I've been doing this, most of my customers come via word of mouth or by clicking my site credit link at the bottom of a site I built. In the past, I've done a lot of sharing/helping in Facebook groups. I also reached out to mentors who in turn would send work my way that was a good fit for me but maybe too low of a budget or not complex enough for them.

Mel: Everyone that has purchased my themes has either found me through my website, social media or on Creative Market.

How do you normally work with clients or customers?

Sarah: I work with clients 1-on-1 in-person or through video chats. I strongly believe in spending important decision-making time face-to-face. What a client says to you in-person vs what they may say they want their website to do in an email can sometimes be two different things.

Aleia: I generally start and end client engagements with 1-on-1, in-person contact when available, especially when working with non-tech clients (i.e. small business owners). During the project, all of the communication is online -- Google Hangouts and emails galore. When our lines get crossed, I will hop on an impromptu phone call or Hangout to get us back on track.

Alison: I typically work with clients online in a 1-on-1 or small group setting. There are times where I work directly with the designer and don't interact with the client much at all, but I'm happiest when the designer, final client, and I are a small team. That way questions are directed to the right person.

How did you decide how to set your pricing when you were starting out?

Sarah: Pricing is a mystery to early career freelance web designers. We sort of shake the eight ball of arbitrary pricing. After a while, we then start to research the market and get a better understanding of our work quality, how price affects what type of clients we get, how it all fits into our finances, and the going rate in our area.

Aleia: I played around a lot. I didn’t want to under or overcharge and ended up doing a lot of free jobs before I eventually started charging. While learning I preferred to charge flat fees instead of hourly rates to take into consideration the time that I would spend looking things up that a more seasoned developer would already have a grip on.

Alison: I used the AIGA survey on industry pricing based on my area to set my base hourly rate. As I did more and more projects, I tracked my time and figured out approximately how many hours I spent on each site build. From there, I created a flat fee so that I benefit from being faster and clients know exactly what to expect on their invoice.

What is an industry-specific tool that you couldn’t live without?

Sarah: Inspect element. (Click that link to get a preview lesson from my course that describes how to use it.) Looking at what's behind the website and making live changes is amazing.

Aleia: Git [a version control system] & GitHub [online project hosting]. I love being able to keep track of and share my code without needing to keep hundreds of versions of a project on my desktop.

Alison: I know everyone has a preference, but I can't imagine coding outside of espresso. It's my absolute favorite software for writing code.

Mel: Photoshop, Sublime Text [a text editor] and WordPress (of course).

What are some great resources for people looking to learn more about your industry?

Aleia: Twitter is a great catch-all for information, especially if you follow the right accounts. It’s an awesome place to learn of new tools, tips, and products. There are also a few great resources to stay current on all things development: A List Apart and its counterpart A Book Apart, Webdesigner Depot, and of course the Skillcrush blog!

Alison: Codecademy is a great website for learning code. I got my most "hands-on" learning by taking existing WordPress themes (especially the ones made by WP) and making changes to them. Create your own child theme (‘cause that's a great first lesson too!) and then start changing things. You can learn a lot by breaking and changing something that's already built. I also love Codrops for tutorials, CSS-Tricks for ways to rock CSS, and Google for searching for specific tutorials + problems.

Mel: Look for courses from Codecademy, Udemy, and Treehouse.

What is something that someone getting started in your type of business would be surprised to hear?

Sarah: The #1 thing brand new freelancers are surprised to hear is that their pricing dictates the kind of clients they receive. If you have cheap pricing, then you're more likely to have someone who tries to barter with you, or give you major scope creep. If you have high quality work and high prices, you'll mostly get people who are extremely appreciative of your time.

Alison: I'm still surprised by the fact that simply replying to emails sets me lightyears apart from others in this industry. "My developer fell off the face of the earth" is something I hear every single week, without fail. Life/things happen, but to me it's about being respectful to those that are paying you.

Mel: You don't need a degree to make websites - you can learn it all online!

This post contains affiliate links for resources mentioned by those we interviewed. Anything you purchase may net us a bit of money, which helps us further our mission of supporting One Woman Shops across the world. Thank you!

Questions For An… Accountant

Questions For An Accountant

Questions For An... Accountant

One Woman Shops can’t always do it all. But when it’s time to turn to an outside pro -- and be certain we’re choosing the right one -- we’re often at a loss as to what to ask to get the info we need. Welcome to Questions For A… a series where we interview the pros themselves on the questions you need to ask before hiring them.

In this month’s edition, we bring you Questions for an....Accountant with contributions from accountants Amy Northard, Taisha Stewart of Saidia Financial, Catherine Derus of Brightwater Financial, and Erin Johnstone of Vivid Numbers. Here’s what they suggest you ask, and why:

Q: What services do you offer? What services are included in my package?

Amy’s why: Just like specializing in different industries, accountants can specialize in different financial services. Make sure your needs (tax planning, budgeting, etc.) align with what they can offer.

Tai’s why: Clearly define the scope of services you need or won’t need because you don’t want to be charged for a service you don’t need, nor do you want to be unaware of what’s included in your accountant’s quote. Some accountants provide tax preparation as well as monthly bookkeeping services. Some process payroll (which can include 1099s). Some accountants provide quarterly review meetings with the client, while others only talk to their clients once or twice a year. You want to make sure that there are no surprise charges down the road. Know what to expect from your accountant and when to expect it.

Catherine’s why: An accountant may provide any combination of the following services: tax preparation and planning, business formation, bookkeeping, payroll processing, financial and retirement planning, cash flow and budgeting analysis, and more. If the accountant you plan on hiring doesn't provide a service you need, ask if they have recommendations.

Q: Do you have experience in my industry?

Catherine’s why: Different industries come with their own unique accounting and tax issues. Accounting for a food blogger (are you tracking food purchases for recipe development?) is different than accounting for a retail store (hello, inventory!), which is also different than accounting for a freelance writer (do you have all of your 1099's?). Your accountant should be aware of tax opportunities that relate to your industry.

Erin’s why: There are standard tasks in accounting and bookkeeping regardless of industry that any good accountant will understand. However, you'll get more value from someone not only familiar with your industry but who has experience in it as well. You are essentially paying for the knowledge the accountant can bring to the table so the more they already know, the better!

Q: How can you help me grow my business?

Catherine’s why: Businesses have several moving pieces and an accountant can help you see the big picture by assisting with a business plan. At the same time, they can provide suggestions on your pricing, improving cash flow, assessing whether to hire an employee or contractor, and other ways to improve your bottom line.

Q: What bookkeeping software do you primarily work with, and what is your preferred method of communication?

Catherine’s why: Gone are the days of schlepping a shoebox full of receipts and a folder full of statements to your accountant's office. Unless, of course, your accountant really wants you to! These days, accountants are using cloud-based accounting programs and file-sharing sites, emailing contracts and invoices, helping you track expenses with online receipt scanning, and communicating via Google Hangouts or Skype. When you have questions, figure out if your accountant prefers a phone call, email, or something else. When I work with financial planning clients, we have a set number of in-person or virtual meetings throughout the year, but I offer unlimited email support in implementing planning recommendations.

Amy’s why: Many accountants have a preference as to which bookkeeping software they use because they're most familiar with it. Familiarity means they can work more efficiently and offer advice if you have any problems with the software.

Erin’s why: We all know that communication is critical in business relationships, and it's no exception here. Look for someone who has the same preferred method of communication so it flows more freely and frequently. You can quickly become frustrated (and vice versa) if you always want to hop on Skype for a video chat but your accountant wants to respond with an email.

Q: Are you available during tax season?

Erin’s why: "Busy" season is a very real thing for accountants who also prepare taxes. You want to make sure your accountant will still have the capacity to assist you the first three and a half months of the year and not just go dark!

Q: What will your help cost me + how do you bill?

Amy’s why: Most accountants don't have detailed costs for their services listed on their website because client needs can vary so much. Ask about this up front so you aren't surprised with a big bill.

Erin’s why: Find out if you will be billed by the hour or if there will be a fixed fee. If by the hour, you will also want an estimate on what the fee will be. Along the same line of thought, you'll want to know exactly what you are getting for your money.

Q: What systems and processes do you have in place to protect my financial data?

Tai’s why: Your accountant will have access to the most private information you possess. You want to make sure that your financial statements aren’t just lying around for anyone’s eyes to see. Also, social security numbers, addresses, and other private details should be under lock and key or encrypted digital storage.

Q: How quickly should I expect deliverables to be available every month?

Tai’s why: Clear communication prevents misunderstandings. I was recently interviewing a new client whose main problem with his previous accountant was that he didn’t get information to him in a timely manner. Expectations should be outlined upfront to keep you happy and to also give the accountant the time necessary to make information available to you. For example: Will I be receiving my monthly profit-and-loss report by the 10th of the following month? Should I start to worry if I don’t receive it by the 5th? What deadlines can I expect you, the accountant, to adhere to?

Q: If I incur federal or state penalties for filing errors proven to be the fault of you, the accountant, will you reimburse me? And if so, how much?

Tai’s why: Again drawing from client narratives of past accountant relationships, an accountant is human and sometimes mistakes are made. If that accountant is filing tax returns (business or personal) or making estimated tax payments on your behalf and causes you to incur penalties or interest with the IRS because of neglect or oversight, what is their policy on resolving the situation? Perhaps they will reduce what they bill you. Perhaps they will pay part of the penalties.

Ready to grill (in the best way possible) your potential accountant? Print these questions out + have them at the ready when you’re looking to hire! And if you want pros we stand by, check out the One Woman Shop directory.

PS: Want more information from accountants on what to know before you hire them? Get the (free) Prior to the Hire ebook now!

Thinking About Starting a Podcast? Here’s What You Need to Know

Starting a podcast? Here's what you need to know

Thinking About Starting a Podcast? Here’s What You Need to Know.

When it comes to creating content, our minds often go straight to one thing: a blog. But little known to most people is that podcasting has been around for over a decade -- and it could be just the thing you need in your solo biz to mix your content up, showcase your expertise, and grow your community. Today, we’re talking with a group of both long-time and newbie podcasters to learn about their podcasting process, the biggest benefits they’ve seen, their favorite tools, and more.

Without further ado, let’s hear it from Laura Yamin of Say Yes Podcast, Ashley Brooks and Abbigail Kriebs of Chasing Creative, Jen Hatzung & Danielle Spurge of She Percolates, Carrie Smith and Cait Flanders of Budgets and Cents, Stacey Harris of Hit the Mic, and Jennifer Snyder of Creating Your Own Path!

Tell us your podcasting story.

Laura: After five years of blogging, I needed a break from writing, but wanted a medium to communicate with my audience. I’d been listening to podcasts while I was working, so I thought, “Why not audio?” The Say Yes Podcast is a lifestyle, bite-size show. I have guests from all walks of life chatting about their moments when they said yes to a bigger life.

Ashley + Abbigail: One night last fall, I (Ashley) was listening to a podcast with a rather famous guest and realized I couldn’t relate to a single thing they were saying about how they had achieved their goals. Maybe that person had enough money and resources to devote huge chunks of time to their creative projects and business, but I sure couldn’t! I knew Abbigail was a fellow podcast lover, so we put our heads together to start Chasing Creative, a podcast for regular people overcoming challenges to make creativity happen in their everyday.

Danielle + Jen: Danielle and I dreamt up She Percolates after many coffee, donut, and dinner dates where we always ended up chatting about what we were doing with our lives and how we felt like our success did not compare to everyone else’s. We quickly realized we should not have this mindset about what makes us successful, and if we felt this way we were pretty certain many other women did too. Now, on our weekly podcast, we chat with ladies from around the world about what success means to them.

Carrie: My co-host Cait and I wanted to start our podcast, Budgets and Cents, back in the summer of 2015 as a way of proving to listeners that if you change your money you can change your life, and we do that through sharing our personal stories. But it wasn't until January of 2016 that we actually launched the podcast. (Finally!)

Stacey: I became a big fan of podcasts in 2005 and have been listening to all kinds ever since. It wasn't until a friend asked me why I hadn't launched a podcast in 2013 that it occurred to me, I should! I hated writing blog posts, and I love talking. So, in the fall of 2013 I launched Hit the Mic with The Stacey Harris, a podcast all about social media, online marketing, and building a brand online.

Jennifer: My podcast is called Creating Your Own Path (CYOP) and it’s a weekly interview series featuring inspiring individuals and change-makers in various creative industries. I launched the show for several reasons, but the main driving force was my curiosity about the careers of others. At the time, I felt really unsure of my own creative path and knew that I was likely not alone in feeling that way. (It turns out, I wasn’t.)

What benefits or opportunities have you seen from podcasting?

Laura: I have been able to connect with a larger audience who I share similar interests with, and audio brings a new sense of intimacy to that relationship. I also love connecting with the guests, and have expanded my network to new people in various industries. Finally, my guests have been able to book clients thanks to being featured on my show.

Ashley + Abbigail: The best part about podcasting is connecting with other people -- especially women -- who are making creativity an intentional part of their lives. Learning from their successes (and failures) and finding that we are not alone in this journey has been an amazing benefit of the journey so far.

Danielle + Jen: We absolutely love that we get to connect with so many women -- both our guests and our listeners. It is an honor to be able to share a different woman's story each week. We know we are achieving success for the show when we get an email that says, "Thank you for having so and so on the show, their story resonated with me and was exactly what I needed to hear."

Carrie: I actually signed on several new business coaching clients who found my website through the podcast. We've also chatted with numerous listeners on Twitter about how our show is a must-listen for their morning work commutes.

Stacey: I've seen added credibility, because I'm using a medium that is more aligned with how I best provide value. It's amazing being in someone's ear and sharing with them what they need to hear. I've also been really amazed by the attention it's brought to my speaking career. When event planners have a chance to actually hear you speak, it's a lot easier to make a call on hiring you.

Jennifer: Creating something like this has given me the courage to reach out to those whose work I’ve admired for a long time and ask the questions I’ve always wanted to ask. On a larger level, the biggest opportunity is the ability to reach people who really need to hear the stories, tips and wisdom that the show brings to the table. The CYOP community has shown me the value in bringing a lot of different voices, opinions and experiences out into the open and the power those stories really have.

From a career perspective, I started the show before I knew what I was doing. I was essentially making a decision to put myself out there and mess up in public. And I did (do) mess up -- a lot! That said, I think by going through this process in a public way, people have started to notice. I get to do fun interviews like this one, I’ve been approached for really great speaking opportunities (which freaks me out, but hey—we all have to face our fears at some point, right?) and I’ve been able to collaborate with other content creators in interesting ways.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve encountered while podcasting?

Laura: I think post-production is the biggest challenge. I still handle the editing of the show and it's a time consuming process.

Ashley + Abbigail: The biggest challenge has been going into each interview completely unsure of what kind of audio you will get from your guest. When it is your own blog and business, you are 100% in control, but when you are relying on someone else to capture high-quality audio for you, it can be a gamble.

Carrie: Cait and I thought that doing a podcast together would be really challenging but it's been quite a smooth experience. I think a couple challenges that arose were creating a consistent schedule in the beginning and sending out the newsletters regularly. It's tough to manage a partnership venture on top of our separate blogs and communities.

Stacey: My biggest challenge is always around my editorial calendar. I go between having a million ideas and zero. It's helped that now when I have a million ideas, I lay them out in an actual plan.

Jennifer: The biggest challenges I’ve encountered have to do with production of the show. I graduated with a degree in English literature so the tech side of podcasting was incredibly intimidating to me. Luckily, we have an amazing tool called the internet. How-to videos have saved the day on more than one occasion!

Another challenge for me has been time management. Podcasting takes a lot of time! I’ve been doing all of the booking, production and editing myself and a lot of the time I’m doing that work in between the hours I dedicate to my actual job. I’m finally transitioning to a place where I might be able to outsource some of the production of my show.

If you could give one piece of advice to potential or new podcasters, what would it be?

Laura: The process of putting together a podcast is time consuming. I would encourage you to batch the process to save time and energy. Schedule the recordings one day; schedule post production another day.

Ashley + Abbigail: Don't let fear hold you back -- just jump in and get started! You could drive yourself crazy researching the technical side of audio or spending hundreds of dollars on top-of-the-line equipment...or you could create a simple setup that works for you and learn as you go. You could be afraid to reach out to potential guests because they might say no...or you could hit "send" on that email and be pleasantly surprised when they say yes! Not everything in podcasting will go your way, but you'll never get anywhere if you let fear keep you from trying.

Danielle + Jen: Just start. You can't get better if you don't start. You can't get a bigger audience if you don't start. You can't get more confident behind the mic if you don't start.

Cait: Have fun with it! It is an extra project and will take up at least a few hours of your week, so you should decide early on if you're enjoying it or not. I think one of the reasons Carrie and I are enjoying ours is because it feels like minimal effort. We hit record, have a conversation and share it with the world. My second piece of advice would be to not stress too much about the editing process! I spent so much time editing the first few episodes, then realized the umm's and ahhh's are worth keeping -- it's how we talk and makes the conversation flow more naturally!

Stacey: Get started. I still hate my first 100 shows, no joke. In another 100 episodes I'll likely hate my first 200 episodes. I will learn from the experience of doing. No one gets better by just wanting to be better. It takes practice.

Jennifer: Make sure you have something to say. It’s really important to understand why you want your idea to be presented via audio. I don’t recommend starting a show because you want to monetize it (though, if you play your cards right, that might be an awesome bonus) and I really advise against starting a show simply because everyone is starting a show. Just like blogging, podcasting is not a requirement -- even though it’s trendy right now. As I mentioned above, podcasting takes a lot of time and effort, so try to think about its purpose in your business mix. I see a lot of people jump into it and then quit after a handful of episodes.

What are the top tools, sites, or pieces of equipment that have been valuable to you as a podcaster?

Laura: 1) I found the She Podcast Facebook Group to be a valuable community of fellow podcasters. 2) Simple Podcast Press is a great player that makes it easier to gather reviews on iTunes and make your podcast shareable. 3) Libsyn is a great podcasting host.

Ashley + Abbigail: 1) GarageBand: Makes editing audio simple. It's free for Mac users, and there are lots of free resources out there to help you learn how to compile and process audio files. 2) Asana: This project management tool keeps all of our tasks for each episode organized and in one place. We know we're never letting something important slip through the cracks. 3) Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB Cardioid Dynamic USB/XLR Microphone: There are a ton of options out there for microphones, but not all of them are affordable for a new podcaster. At $59, this one comes with a stand and all the cords and cables you'll need -- plus it delivers great audio.

Danielle + Jen: 1) Auphonic: Helps to level out the volume. 2) Trello: Keeps our team organized for each episode, with details like date to go live, photos to share on social media, etc. 3) Podcasters' Paradise gave us all the tools and info we needed to get our podcast running.

Cait: 1) Decent microphones! You don't need to get anything super expensive. Mine was less than $100. 2) I edit the podcasts with Audacity, which is free. 3) We upload/store all our episodes on Libsyn (which syncs with iTunes) and SoundCloud (for non-Apple listeners).

Stacey: 1) Good quality mic. I use a Samson Meteor Mic, I also recommend the Blue Microphones Snowball mic. Both are under $100.

Jennifer: 1) YouTube has been a lifesaver because really smart people are kind enough to post helpful how-to videos! 2) Get acquainted with Skype and ecamm Call Recorder (if you’re a Mac person), which make recording remote interviews fairly painless. 3) If you really want to go deep into podcasting, head over to Pat Flynn’s podcasting tutorial. It’s comprehensive, easy to follow, and full of helpful information.

There you have it: tips from the podcast pros! Your turn: What questions do you have, or what tips can you share? Leave them in the comments, below.

This post contains affiliate links for resources mentioned by those we interviewed. Anything you purchase will net us a bit of money, which helps us further our mission of supporting One Woman Shops across the world. Thank you!

So You Wanna Be A…Virtual Assistant

so you wanna be a virtual assistant

so you wanna be a virtual assistant

You’re ready to start your solo business — you’re craving the freedom, the versatility, and the chance to put your passion into play — but you’re not quite sure where to start. You’ve come to the right place. In our So You Wanna Be a… series, we highlight entrepreneurs who’ve built successful businesses doing what they love.

This month, we’re chatting with five virtual assistants — Kelley Alexander-Kruger of Kelley and Co, Julienne DesJardins, Shay Orlena Brown of My Bliss Publishing, Billie Gardner of Desire to Done, and Christine Funke of Spark Virtual Assistance — to get their inside advice on how they got their virtual assistance careers started.

So you wanna be a VA? Here’s what you need to know…

Tell us exactly what a person in your role does.

Julienne: I support business owners by handling the details, often in recurring tasks like social media scheduling and email marketing. That means they're able to check that item off their to-do list and free up brain space to focus on the big picture stuff.

Shay: My version of a VA might be a little different. I like to refer to myself as a Project Manager. When a client has a new product or service they need to develop, market, launch and run, they contact me. I break it down into step-by-step tasks that need to be completed. My clients create all of the content and I take that content and implement the payment, marketing and email funnels needed for launch. (In addition to my project management role, I also wear the website and branding hat for many of my clients.)

Billie: I’m a virtual assistant, specifically an online business manager. I help busy entrepreneurs get organized, automated, and running smoothly so that they can focus their “biz time” on tasks that make them happy and make more money. I also help with product launches and social media management. There are tons of different types of VAs. I chose to go the route of management because that’s something I enjoy and have experience with.

Christine: A virtual assistant provides all kinds of administrative, online marketing and/or design support to business owners, companies and freelancers. They take on tasks that their clients don't have the time, interest or skills to do and are a cost-effective solution compared to a part-time or full-time employee. They usually work remotely and can provide as much or as little help as their clients need.

How did you get your start? What are other ways someone else can get started?

Kelley: I wanted to work for myself and have a flexible schedule. A friend shared with me the virtual assistant concept and I loved it. I determined what skills I had that could be used to do virtual work, purchased a domain name, built a simple website and started networking.
Joining IVAA (International Virtual Assistant Association) is great. They offer great information to help grow your skills as a VA.

Julienne: My freelancing start actually began with grant writing. (My background is nonprofit communications and management.) My first client as a VA, though, was through a VA placement company. This helped me get my feet under me -- someone was with me to explain the industry as I got started.

Shay: I got started in the very, very beginning as a social media manager. This is a great way to get started as so many people are looking to outsource this. It also is a great foundation for getting to know how to craft content and automate items.

From there, my clients started asking me to help them in other areas of marketing and managing their business. I started to learn different automation softwares and took some online courses to beef up my knowledge base. When you're looking to get started, think: social media management, email marketing, and copy editing. Those are some areas that people are looking for a VA for.

Billie: I first took on a few free clients for one month to make sure becoming a VA was something I wanted to do. It also helped me fine-tune the direction of my business and learn which tasks I enjoyed and which ones I didn’t. From there, the referrals started pouring in and I took on my first paying clients! To get started, I recommend listing your skills, talents and software knowledge to get a feel for what type of VA you’d like to be. Then, figure out the types of clients you want to work with and map out some service ideas you can offer.

Christine: My full-time job was coming to an end and I needed to decide what I wanted to do when I grew up. I handled all of the online communications for the American International Women's Club in Cologne (Germany) and loved the work and one day came across the term "virtual assistant" and knew that was the name for what I wanted to do. Many VAs get started by doing pro-bono work and then transitioning over to getting paid.

Is there a certain kind of person that would thrive in your role?

Kelley: An introvert! I am not an introvert so often times I feel very isolated. I force myself to plan social events to get out with people.

Julienne: An organized, self-starting, and driven person. It's a lot of independent work; producing deliverables for clients and living by deadlines.

Shay: You must be organized and detail-oriented. I know that sounds like cheesy things you put on a resume. But honestly ask yourself if the role you want to be in is something where you need to manage a lot of tiny pieces that fit together to make up the bigger picture. Your clients will be relying on you to be their second pair of eyes and to make sure the technical side of things work.

Billie: I feel that someone who is detail-oriented, takes initiative, and constantly builds upon his or her skills will have a leg up in the industry. As a VA you are taking over someone’s baby, their business, so you have to be mindful of how you treat it. Being detail-oriented means always looking at the little pieces to make sure it’s all going smoothly and that things are done correctly. Business owners appreciate someone who can take initiative and offer solutions or ways to improve things without them asking.

Christine: People who want the flexibility and independence to work for themselves, but have the discipline to work from home and on their own are well suited to be a virtual assistant. They should be detail-oriented, organized and creative when it comes to providing solutions to clients.

What do people need before they can get started in your industry?

Kelley: A good set of marketable skills, a great LinkedIn profile, a basic website, the desire to network and the ability to follow through on deadlines.

Julienne: Not much! It's fairly easy to launch. I started as a sole proprietor, and operated my business under my personal name. That meant I did not have to file for a Fictitious Business Name, or DBA. I also used my own social security number in the beginning for tax forms. Now I've filed for an EIN with the IRS. It's not necessary, but it is a bit of added peace of mind for me. Instead of sending my personal info through email, I have that number on the 1099s I receive from my clients.

Shay: Not a whole lot! I would recommend taking some online classes and getting to know the different software people will want you to manage, such as MailChimp, AWeber, YouCanBook.Me, ScheduleOnce, Asana, Canva, PicMonkey, ConvertKit, and more. Really you only need your laptop, an internet connection and some knowledge of setting up business process funnels.

Billie: Insurance and certificates are not necessary. What I recommend is getting clear on who you want to work with, what you want to offer, and what your niche is. Building a solid foundation with these three things will help you thrive and keep you focused. You can always change these, but knowing them before taking on your first clients is uber important!

Christine: There are no official certifications or degrees; VAs come from all backgrounds. You should establish yourself as a freelancer or a small business, and get all the official paperwork that comes with that status. Having contracts and insurance is a good idea (for all business owners) but isn't required to get started.

How do you currently seek out clients or customers? What are some ways you've considered seeking out clients or customers that you haven't tried yet?

Kelley: Most of my clients come from referrals. I also reply to RFPs (requests for proposal) on IVAA, find clients on Craigslist, or through other electronic job posting sites.

Julienne: My client base is just about an even split of connections I make in Facebook groups and referrals from past clients. Just a few are contacts local to me in my community.

Shay: Almost all of my clients come from referrals because I've carved out a niche for myself with online coaches. They are all a part of the same Facebook groups and take each other's recommendations. A couple of times, I've done some cold messaging to potential clients through contact forms on their website. That's produced an 80% conversion rate for me and only takes 20 mins a day for a couple days to book me out for six months. Another way I've considered seeking out clients is through partnering with a client of mine who has access to my client base. She would like to add my services as an add-on service to one of her packages.

Billie: I’ve been blessed that I’ve never had to seek out paying clients! They’ve either been referred to me, have come from my website, or have seen my info in the B-School community (B-School is an online business course I took a few years ago). I also see a lot of people referring me in Facebook groups when someone asks for a VA referral. (Joining Facebook groups is a great way to get your name out there.)

Christine: Most of my clients come from my association with local American women's clubs or women's networking groups here in Germany. I am American so mostly work with English-speaking women. I also network in VA Facebook groups or other groups of women like me. In the beginning, I did a survey letting contacts and friends know I was getting started, which helped build interest for my first clients. In addition, I am planning to do some workshops and webinars with American women's clubs all over the world to help them with social media, and I hope to get some new clients from those activities.

How do you normally work with clients or customers?

Kelley: I work with my clients via email or Google Hangout. Sometimes, if they are local, I will meet with them in person.

Julienne: For my direct clients, I tend to organize most of their work on a weekly basis. We have quick, weekly chats where we set a game plan for the coming week. We organize and assign tasks in our project management system. And then I'm able to work on those tasks on my own schedule -- using our next meeting as my deadline.

Shay: All of my clients are online and I use a project management system called Asana. On big contracts, I meet with my client once a week for an hour to discuss project timelines, deadlines, deliverables and future projects. I use Skype or Google Hangouts for our calls.

Billie: I generally work with clients online. Some prefer weekly calls to touch base on what’s going on that week. One of my clients and her team communicate through a phone app called Voxer (it’s like a walkie-talkie), where we Vox each other when we have questions or just to say hi. Other than that, I communicate through email and/or Basecamp.

Christine: I work with all of my clients 1-on-1. Most of them are in ongoing monthly support packages, where I do regular tasks for them. Others come to me with short projects, like website or print flyer design, or just tweaking their websites.

How did you decide how to set your pricing when you were starting out?

Kelley: This was the most difficult part of the process. When researching "how to be a VA" there were people suggesting really high hourly rates but most of my connections couldn't handle those rates. I had to consider my value and what the market could bear based on the connections I have. You may have to start out lower than you'd like but increase as your business increases. One caveat: If you totally depend on referrals, you may find yourself stuck to that pay range because the referrer will mention your rate.

Julienne: When I first started out, my pricing was determined by the VA company I was working with. Because these companies take a percentage, you tend to earn less than if you booked the client directly. Now I book all of my own clients, and have raised my rates as I've added more skills. (I raised my rates twice in 2015, in fact.) As an aside, a typical range for a North American-based VA is usually between $15-$30/hour. There are, of course, outliers -- but you can use this is as a good rule-of-thumb.

Shay: When I started out as a VA, I took a look around to gauge the average of what other VAs were offering. I compared that with my university background, experience, confidence and value of my services to choose my rate.

Billie: I decided to go with the mid-range of what other VAs charge. I didn’t want to charge too much because I was new to the industry and wanted to get some experience first. This rate worked out for me beautifully and I recently raised my prices to reflect my experience. I also decided to go with a retainer rate so that I would have consistent income (a retainer rate is when a client pays a monthly rate for a set amount of hours each month).

Christine: I did some research in some virtual assistant resources (ebooks, blogs, FB groups) and asked around here in Europe since it's a bit different than in the US. I started with a range, got feedback from clients, and adjusted from there.

What is an industry-specific tool that you couldn’t live without?

Julienne: I love Asana. I use it to organize my own business tasks, and I use it with my clients. You can upload huge files, create an unlimited number of workspaces, set deadlines and assign tasks -- and it's completely free! I really like that it integrates with Google Apps, too.

Billie: I couldn’t live without Google Drive. I have my own business docs and spreadsheets organized there, plus my clients’. It automatically saves my work and I can share docs with anyone. Love it!

Christine: We use everything, but Freshbooks has been my most important investment for tracking time, sending invoices and logging expenses.

What are some great resources for people looking to learn more about your industry?

Kelley: and The Technie Mentor.

Julienne: The Freelance to Freedom Project will give you a lot of support if you're looking to go full-time. Freelancer's Union has a lot of practical support, like a sample contract and discounts on tools for your biz. And, of course, the One Woman Shop blog has a ton of content about running a successful small business. I also offer an e-course for new VAs who want to have someone explain the basics of small biz ownership and the VA industry. It was really born out of my philosophy that you can launch a business pretty quickly.

Shay: Skillshare, SkillCrush, and Girls Who Code (if web design is part of your services).

Billie: I have a few resources on my site. I have a checklist of all the basic tools needed to get your business up and running called Tools of the Trade. I also have an ebook Start Your Virtual Assistant Business that goes through the basics like mapping out your services, pricing your offerings and registering your business. You can find articles on my blog, as well, that cover various topics on being a VA.

Christine: I used The Bootstrap VA ebook by Lisa Morosky the most. It walks you through everything you need to get set up. The accompanying Facebook group has been a lifesaver for asking "newbie" questions and networking. Amy Lynn Andrews' blog and Useletter are really helpful for general online marketing know-how.

What is something that someone getting started in your type of business would be surprised to hear?

Kelley: It's hard to be held accountable to yourself. This is why I love OWS! It can be isolating if you don't put practices in place to keep isolation from happening. (Editor’s note: Espresso level members receive access to a monthly accountability group.)

Julienne: I truly believe it's simple to launch your business. You can perfect things like your pricing and website later. Just identify what value you can bring to people and find prospects who need what you have. You'll gain more confidence the more you engage.

Shay: Everyone who runs an online business will hire a VA at some point. It's a never-ending pool of potential clients. (Unless the internet breaks! Haha.)

Billie: I’ve created a few businesses over the years and I’ve struggled to make enough money to justify quitting my job. That is, until I became a VA. I was able to quit my job three months after landing my first paying client. It went fast! There are so many business owners out there looking for honest, hard-working VAs that once you make it known that you’re a VA, you can have a full-blown business in no time!

Christine: You really don't want to work with everybody! As you get started, really hone in on the industry or type of business or professionals you'd like to work with and target them. It'll make finding clients easier and you'll become the expert VA for that industry or niche.

Thanks, ladies! Your turn: What questions do you still have for our fantastic contributors?

This post contains affiliate links for resources mentioned by those we interviewed. Anything you purchase will net us a bit of money, which helps us further our mission of supporting One Woman Shops across the world. Thank you!

The Highs and Lows of Location Independence

The highs and lows of location independence

In honor of Location Independence Month here at One Woman Shop, we asked our digital nomad friends to answer the following question:

What is the highest high and the lowest low when it comes to living a location-independent lifestyle?

Here’s what they had to say:

For me, the high of location independence is connecting with other people on the same journey. Being a solopreneur gets lonely so meeting someone who shares similar goals and mindsets is amazing. I love connecting with other entrepreneurs and freelancers - especially over some local cuisine or going on a random adventure together! The lowest low would be the exact opposite - the days where you're completely alone and you feel about a million miles away from anyone or anything familiar. As exciting as it is to be immersed in a new world, there are lonely days and they can be rough! On those days I try to do something fun wherever I am to shake that homesick feeling. - Kayli Barth, The Freelance Hustle

The highest high has to be feeling as if I'm the real controller of my own success and happiness. If I want to take on more work and make more money, I can. If I want to scale back and enjoy where I'm living, I can. If I want to pick up and move to Thailand, I can. Not many people get the opportunity to have total control of their professional AND personal lives. The lowest low would be having to be completely on top of my work 24/7. Having that complete control also means not being able to fall back on anyone else but yourself, but I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. - Kelly Schwantes, Where in the World

For me, the highest high and the lowest low of a location independent lifestyle are the same: freedom. While it's invigorating to be able to do things like fly to South America and work remotely (which I did for five months last year), you eventually find that for all that freedom, you sacrificed the stability necessary for things like nurturing friendships and relationships. - Amy Rigby, Wherever Writer

It was surprising to learn that friends and relationships I had before I leapt into this lifestyle weren't all built to last. Be prepared that not everyone will be supportive, but that there is a huge community on the other side! It's shocking to learn how few things - clothes, shoes, beauty products, etc - you "need" to live comfortably. An intentional wardrobe with multi-purpose pieces allows me to have style yet easily live out of a small suitcase for over a month at a time. Looking and feeling your best, even when you're not going into an office, helps you work at your best! - Ashley Word

The highest high of being location independent is the ability to have a stable home life but still drop everything and go to China if you find a ticket that's too good to pass up. The worst part is the loneliness -- all my friends are busy with their lives and kids and don't have the time to meet up with me during the week. - Vanessa Page, Vanessa's Money

To me the highs are meeting new people who you really connect with... I'm an introvert so I'm not out looking for people but I have met a few who have become what I think will be lifelong friends. Also, learning how much you can do on your own...overcoming the fear of doing this solo and finding out how much strength you really have when you "gotta do what you gotta do" is amazing and empowering. While I'm not the all out partying type, I do have great friends and family and there are times where I miss them quite a bit. Also, the language barrier encountered when moving to a country where you don't speak the language. 🙂 Having conversations, ordering take out, buying groceries all become a bit frustrating sometimes. - Tamala Huntley

Highest high: In general, getting to call the shots in my life—when to work, when not to work, where to go and when. In particular, meeting my husband at a salsa club while living abroad in Buenos Aires! Lowest low: Just recently, getting sick three months in a row, in three different countries—a stomach bug in Mexico, a kidney infection in Nicaragua, and dengue in Costa Rica. - Amy Scott, Nomadtopia

The best thing about being location independent is being able to travel to new places whenever I want, of course! The low about being location independent is that it can be very hard to get any work done when you want to see wherever it is that you are. - Michelle Schroeder, Making Sense of Cents

The very best thing about location independence is the schedule flexibility. I get to spend more time with my family. I can volunteer at my kids schools or meet my husband for lunch and every night we eat dinner together as a family. This goes a long way in helping to assuage some of the "mommy guilt" I felt when I worked outside the home. One of the hardest things about location independence is the isolation especially when you're a solopreneur. I often feel out of the loop and that my business growth is being stunted because I don't have a network of professional friends or a "business bestie". I wish I had an accountability partner or mentor who could relate to the nuisances of a being an entrepreneur. - Tracie Momie 

(Editor's note: Espresso Level One Woman Shop membership includes a kickass accountability group full of women solo biz owners riding the same rollercoaster.)

Digital nomad and location independence resources

Unexpected Lessons Learned from Location Independence

lessons learned location independence

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In honor of Location Independence Month here at One Woman Shop, we asked our digital nomad friends to answer the following question:

What is the most surprising or unexpected thing you’ve learned from being location independent? (From the little tips to the life-changing discoveries -- we want to hear it all!).

Here's what they had to say:

The most surprising thing I've learned is that being location independent is not such a big deal. I know that sounds crazy, and it certainly feels like a big deal when you make the decision and take the leap! But once you live and work overseas you meet so many people who are doing the same thing that it becomes the new normal, and those people who aren't location independent become the "different" ones. - Stacey Kuyf, One Travels Far

It's the sheer newness of all the little details in the world around me – they blow me away on a near-daily basis. It has such a positive psychological impact to notice the different and the unusual with an attitude of joy and wonder. - Sarah Ball, Mango Sticky

I have an apartment in Buenos Aires, and while I like having a home base that in theory I can go back to anytime, and where I can leave some stuff, I've discovered that I don't necessarily need to spend a lot of time there! My husband and I have only spent about four months there in the last two years. - Amy Scott, Nomadtopia

The most unexpected thing I learned is that there's such a thing as moving too fast, and seeing too much. Just because I can set off on a whirlwind, one-month trip across six countries in Europe doesn't mean I should. Instead, I've found joy in stopping, forming a routine, and getting to know the place I'm in. Much like my old location-dependent life, I guess! - Lauren Juliff, Never Ending Footsteps

I had no idea how much of my day would be spent trying to find decent wifi. And it's shocking which countries have good and bad wifi -- South Africa is awful, while many Eastern European countries are amazing! - Kate McCulley, Adventurous Kate

I didn't expect to learn about the importance of a holistic lifestyle - running a location-independent online business and travelling the world is just not enough to live a healthy and conscious life. Along the way I unexpectedly discovered yoga, meditation and a vegan diet and realised how much more amazing this freedom can be when I incorporate them into my daily life. - Conni Biesalski, Planet Backpack

The most powerful thing I've learned from being location independent happened while sitting in the back of a car owned by a friend of a friend, in the middle of the night, after arriving in Lima (Peru), without my luggage, on a flight that was 14 hours delayed. I learned that I am much, much stronger and braver than I ever had imagined. - Marthe Hagen, The Freedom Experiment

The most surprising thing about being location independent is how easily it flows if you commit to it. Know that you can't plan all of the details -- even though they make the journey smooth. From border stamp adventures to the back of a dusty pickup truck in Nicaragua, to stopping for Tres Leches desert at a local's home and sailing with new friends, a whole new world awaits you! And you can live and work from anywhere if you set up your business accordingly. All you have to do is say yes! - Lynan Saperstein, The Big Factor

After six years of location independence, my life-changing revelation is that no one truly has their work life figured out. Everyone from the freshly-minted freelancer to the uber-successful nomadic entrepreneur lives with plenty of doubt and uncertainty. What matters is how you approach the next challenge. - Kit Whelan, Seek New Travel

The most surprising thing I realised from living and working on the road for the last four years is the importance of a home base. Counter-intuitive right? But I’ve recognised now that I feel most free, most independent, and more importantly, most grounded, when I have a home base. It’s the knowledge that I’m not completely detached from a sense of belonging, and that I can drift along happily knowing I have somewhere to go back to if need be.” - Linzi Wilson, HelloGlow

The most unexpected thing for me is that even after four years of location independence, I still get these huge waves of disbelief and gratitude that I can do whatever I want - that I am the master of my days. On any given day of the week, I might be roadtripping through the English countryside and taking a client call in the evening. Amazing! - Heather Thorkelson

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Questions for a… Developer

Questions For a Developer

One Woman Shops can’t always do it all. But when it’s time to turn to an outside pro -- and be certain we’re choosing the right one -- we’re often at a loss as to what to ask to get the info we need. Welcome to Questions For A… a series where we interview the pros themselves on the questions you need to ask before hiring them.

In this month’s edition, we bring you Questions For A…Developer with contributions from developers Tiffany Breyne, Erin E Flynn, Lis Dingjan, and Meredith Underell. Here’s what they suggest you ask:

Q: What is your preferred method of communication?

Tiffany’s why: I know that introductory Skype and phone calls are a major part of some people’s work processes, but I’d rather change a baby’s dirty diaper than talk on the phone. Therefore, I prefer communication via email, or through Basecamp, my project management system. If you’re a big phone/email person, it’s important to make sure that the people you’re working with feel the same way.

Erin’s why: If you want weekly phone calls to check in on progress, and the designer/developer only communicates via email, it's better to know that right away.

Q: What should I have ready before we start working together? Do you require design assets and copy before starting the development piece?

Tiffany’s why: You should have all of your passwords ready, as well as any necessary notes, content, design files, etc. The majority of my projects don’t get started right away because passwords need to be found, and content and files need to be delivered. I’m all about hitting the ground running, and I’m sure most clients feel the same way.

Meredith’s why: Depending on how complex the project is, most developers will need all the pieces in place before starting. They may begin by coding the foundational layer but for any real website building, they will ideally like to have all of the assets complete before starting work.

Q: How does your process work?

Tiffany’s why: Everyone’s process is different. Some developers ask more in-depth questions, and others prefer to create exactly what the client requests, no questions asked. Because I like to think about user experience when developing something, I tend to ask more questions about goals and objectives. Some people may appreciate that, and others may not. So it’s important to understand what the developer has in mind prior to signing a contract.

Erin’s why: It's important to know how designers and developers work and how long things are expected to take.You'll also want to know how many rounds of revisions you get, when and what you need to provide the developer in order to let them do their job, and keep things moving. If a developer says they need final copy, don't expect to change your About page text the night before website launch. When everyone knows what to expect it makes the project run a lot smoother and reduces the chance for misunderstandings.

Q: How do you track a project's progress and deliverables?

Meredith’s why: I use Trello to track all my projects. Everyone who's involved on the project has access. We assign deliverables, due dates and keep the majority of our communication through there to cut down on the number of emails. It's best to be upfront with how the project communication will be handled so expectations are set from the beginning.

Q: What platforms do you work with?

Erin’s why: Find someone who specializes in the platform you want -- it will ensure you get a well-coded site that won't break every time you touch it. I've fixed plenty of sites made by developers who knew just enough about WordPress to make a site that looked good to visitors, but were a nightmare to update or maintain.

Q: I have my heart set on ____ feature, can you do that?

Erin’s why: Prioritize your features and make sure the developer knows how to do them. For example, if you have your heart set on a custom masonry-style gallery, ask developers if they know how to do that. There’s nothing worse than getting halfway into a project only to find out the developer can't deliver what you want. I've picked up a lot of half-finished projects where either the client didn't communicate features they wanted clearly, or the developer didn't know how to add in the feature. Show examples and look for similar features in your developer's portfolio.

Q: Will you code this responsively?

Lis’ why: Not to be confused with responsibly (which let’s hope is also the case!). We consume and read differently on mobile. If your designs don’t have this specified then you can ask your developer to code down the designs responsively. Responsive design increases time and budget on a project due to extra planning, additional coding, more testing and extra know-how but is well worth it as audiences increasingly use mobile devices to access your website (from buses, work and bathrooms!).

Erin’s why: It's 2015. Websites NEED to be responsive. Not only will you be penalized by Google if your website isn't, but visitors will have a hard time viewing your site on anything other than a computer screen.

Q: Do you design websites as well, or do you have a list of designers you prefer working with?

Erin’s why: Developers are not necessarily designers. And designers are not necessarily developers. Ask if your developer can design, and what kind of design they do. For example, I design websites, but I don't do brand or print design. If you need something outside your developer's realm of expertise, ask if they have recommendations -- when designers and developers have a relationship it makes the process smoother. While developers CAN work with mockups from a designer they don't know, it's easier for everyone involved if the designer and developer already have processes in place and rapport with each other.

Q: How much back end functionality will I have?

Lis’ why: Depending on your project size, budget, scope and the skills of your dev, you’ll likely have a different range of functionality and access on the back end. For custom projects and development anything is possible so ask what platform (CMS) they’re building on, why they’ve chosen that one for your project, what access you’ll have, if there is any ongoing payment for support or maintenance, how you’ll update areas on the site and if you’re provided with training, instructions, guides or anything else.

Q: Are you responsible for all integrations, third party systems, hosting, setting up emails etc?

Lis’ why: Again, this will vary per project and developer. For example, I prefer all my clients establish their own accounts to third party applications (I.e hosting, domain, mailing services, payment gateways, etc.) so they have full control and access over the account and they can securely control their payment details and the like. I’ll take it from there to work with everything and arrange what I need within the overall website and systems flow. Other developers may have partnerships with companies, reseller programs or their own products. This is also the time to note who is responsible for setting up things like mailing list integrations, online schedulers, memberships, etc.

Q: Do you maintain my site or provide support packages?

Lis’ why: All sites need to have occasional updates and maintenance. Can you easily add things and do it in-house? Sometimes clients don’t wish to (or don’t have time or the desire) to add/change any of their own content. Do you regularly need new layouts designed or are you constantly tweaking and testing things and need a developer who can help out? Will you require extra phases of new items or functionality in the future? Do you want to look after your own updates and security or would you like somebody else to take care of this? If your server goes down or if there is any issue with your hosting do you go back to your developer and they’ll fix it? If you mess around with some code and it temporarily ‘breaks’ the site (the evil white screen of death!), is your developer responsible for fixing the code and are they on hand immediately?

Q: What is your payment structure & schedule?

Meredith’s why: Every developer has a different payment schedule. It's good for the client to know how much the deposit will be and whether they will need to make a final payment before the site goes live.

Ready to grill (in the best way possible) your potential developer? Print these questions out + have them at the ready when you’re looking to hire! And if you want pros we stand by, check out the One Woman Shop directory.

PS: Want more information from developers on what to know before you hire them? Check out Prior to the Hire: Developers Edition.

Secrets of Solo Business Mompreneurs

Solo Business MompreneursSolopreneurship is an amazing thing. We pour our hearts, souls, and every ounce of hustle we have into building the business of our dreams -- one that both fulfills us financially and emotionally. We work day-in and day-out, often from dawn to dusk (and sometimes from dusk to dawn…) to make it work so we can enjoy the freedom and the choice that come from being our own boss.

But there’s a certain kind of One Woman Shop that often goes underappreciated: the mompreneur. The ladies hustling to make the baby that is their business work, while also taking care of their real babies, whether they’re two months, two years, or 20.

Seeing that we’re just a few days away from celebrating moms the world over, we thought it was a perfect time to chat with a few of our fellow solo business owners -- who just happen to also be mompreneurs -- and ask a simple question:

What are your must-haves for successfully managing motherhood and your solo business?

Here’s what they had to say:

"Be brave: ask for time, space, support, and babysitting from your family, friends, and community; try a short and sweet daily meditation practice; add a little movement and nature to your day; read empowering books; and approach it all with self-compassion and humor. I could name specific tips and technology but, truly, I create by using these simple practices in tandem." - Julie Fiandt, Create in Tandem

"My monthly planner (both paper and digital), byRegina’s Epic Blog calendar combined with my WordPress editorial calendar, and a (kiddo-free) scheduled planning day each month to automate my recurring tasks and get administrative work done. I became a solopreneur so I could stay home with my (now three-year-old) son and the only way for me to stay balanced is for me to keep a healthy dose of realism." - Desiree Jester, A Place to Nest

"My must-haves are intuition and action. I successfully manage motherhood and my business by acting on my intuition without delay. No second guessing, no doubt, no fear." - Lisa Ball, Mompreneur Assistant

"I’ve found that is it essential for me to 1) know my priorities, 2) have a good handle of how much time I can spend on my business and the corresponding, realistic output I can demand from myself (currently loving the Pomodoro technique to maximise my time), and 3) have clear boundaries with my son over when Mama’s work hours are. (Shushing the Mommy Guilt that may crop up whenever I have to say no to that sad puppy dog face!)" - Joy Ycasiano-Dejos, Mommy Proofing Coaching

"For me, it's a constantly updated to-do list. Because I know that I may only have 10 or 15 minutes in which to get a quick work item done, I have to have a really clear, prioritized menu of tasks available at my fingertips. I use the Bullet Journaling method to keep my to-do list organized and up-to-date." - Amy Simpkins, Life Architecting

"I'm still figuring things out since my baby is only eight months old, but I couldn't do it without my husband's support. He takes care of baby when he gets home from work so I can have all afternoon to work and makes sure I have everything I need to focus on getting things done." - Lilly Garcia,

"My email, Google calendar, and Facebook are indispensable for managing my mompreneur life. They keep me organized and focused in regard to scheduling, blog ideas, communication with others, and client work." - Jennifer Lopez, Live Simply, Live Thrifty, Live Savvy

"My iPhone -- if it is not in my phone calendar, it does not happen; Dropbox -- I can see my files on the go whether I am waiting at sports warm-ups or in the dance lobby; my planner from Target -- I need to visually SEE what the heck is going on, too! Finally, peppermint pedicures -- It is one of the things I do for myself where no can talk to me. I don't take my phone and I just relax in the moment." - Sang D,

"Reliable humans! Since welcoming baby, I've added a team member to my business and regular baby care at home, both of which I consider indispensable." - Laura Simms, Create as Folk

"Designated office/work time and reliable child care to help make that happen. As a mother of three, knowing when I can answer emails, add items to our online shop, and correspond with clients and colleagues is a must. Knowing that the kiddos are well taken care of sets me at ease and therefore helps make a happier, more productive work environment." - Veronica Staudt, Vintage Meet Modern

"While I rely a lot on tools like Wunderlist and Pocket to help me keep track of to-dos and resources, my true must haves are flexibility and community. Children are constantly growing and changing, and I try to build some wiggle room into my schedule while still remaining reliable for my clients. And I love my community of mompreneurs to bounce ideas off of, relate to, and be inspired by." - Nikkita Cohoon,

"Focus. I manage my day with the​ WIN concept -- “What's Important Now.” It's all about fully ​dedicating your precious attention to the task in front of you​, no distractions. That way you know whatever you've done, you've done well and with intention." - Melissa Bolton,

"You know the saying “it takes a village”? Well that is definitely the case here, and a few go-to apps help too. First, I’m very, very lucky to have a husband who is willing to take on a good share of the parenting and household management. We use Cozi for scheduling, to do lists (we keep a permanent “travel prep list” for our road trips) and shopping lists. For my solo business, I use Redbooth plus a couple of paper planners (Passion Planner and The Day Designer). Gotta go, my turn for bedtime routine!" - Rachel Formaro, Blu Pagoda

"My biggest tip is having a good support system, I couldn't work on my business without my husband sharing our family responsibilities. I also separate work stuff from home stuff. I have set working hours, during which I ignore the house (ok, I might do a load of laundry, because as we know, there is always laundry!), and when my son and husband are at home, I work really hard on focusing on family stuff. I'd also be lost without my Filofax planner, which helps me to keep up with everything." - Francine Clouden, Callaloo Soup

"I am a runner and making time to run helps to keep me mentally fit, and allows me to have much needed me-time for about an hour every morning. We spend so much time worrying about our clients, families, and other responsibilities, it can be easy to lose sight of the importance of just making time for yourself." - Nancy Laws, Afro-Chic Mompreneur

"Two things: 1. You don't have to answer e-mails in the evening or late into the night. Put down the phone and make some time to snuggle with your babies. This is sometimes hard to do, but I love the snuggle time. 2. Schedule your work day around your children. I wait to start my work until my son is ready and off to school; I then take a break to pick him up from school. That way we get some special time together." - Katie Radke, KR Creative Designs

A huge thanks to the mompreneurs sharing their secrets with us!

Fellow mompreneurs: what’s on your must-have list? Tell us in the comments below.

The One-Woman Solopreneurs We’re Crushing on This Valentine’s Day

It’s Valentine’s Day. Stores are decked out in pink and red; flowers picked over; movie theatres packed. (Though we suspect that might be all the ladies eager to see 50 Shades on the big screen…)

Whether you look forward to this day of love or absolutely dread it, we can all agree on one thing: there are some One Woman Shops out there that are seriously worth crushing over.

This week, we opened the floor to our One Woman Shop members, giving them space to gush over the solopreneurs and boss ladies they admire most. Here’s what they said:

“We are the Treasure Hunters exists thanks to Marianne of Free Range Humans. She's the first person I found online several years ago who was championing creating a life and business, on your own terms, rather than needing to fit any pre-determined linear path. I was in the corporate world at the time and her stuff was illuminating. (It still is.)” - Sara Moss, @ispytreasure

“My crush this Valentine's Day is Regina of I consume everything she reads, creates, and sells. Why? Because she puts her heart and soul into what she produces and is genuinely interested in helping others learn her process, tips, and ideas.” - Carrie Smith, @carefulcents

“Secondarily, my vote is for Steph Halligan of Art To Self. (Who's also my real life friend!) Her daily notes have inspired me to start up hand-lettering and give me a daily boost of motivation to love myself and my creative expression.” - Carrie Smith, @carefulcents

“I have two: XO Sarah, because her blog is helpful for developers/bloggers, she's a badass aerialist, and her Sunday Blog Love emails always have awesome links. Then Becky Kinkead because her design course is great, and she seems like someone who'd be fun to work with!” - Tiffany Breyne, @tiffdotcom

Helene Scott is fabulous! She blows me away with the amount of value she provides - even just in her free training & YouTube Vlogs. She gives real & practical action steps that help you infuse YOU in your brand. I also have to add Hilary Rushford. She is so authentic and transparent when sharing tips for growing your Instagram following. (Editor's note: Put those into practice!) And, of course, all the dance parties are awesome.” - Julienne Mascellino DesJardins, @julmasdes

“I'm crushing fellow One Woman Shop member Brittany Berger. I love how her personality shines through her blog!” - Ebonie Townsend, @_ebtownsend

There you have it -- and this is just the short list. One Woman Shops are rocking the online world in 2015 -- let's show them some love!

Which One Woman Shops are you crushing on this Valentine’s Day? Sing your heart out in the comments below!