Today we’re speaking to Justin Sainton of Zao Web Design. Justin is a core contributor to WordPress and a regular speaker at WordCamp.
He’s also a core developer for the popular plugin WP e-Commerce which you’ll definitely want to check out if you need a shopping cart for an online store.
How do you personally make money with WordPress?
I make money with WordPress primarily through consulting and development. Somewhere between 50 and 70% of my revenue is generated from consulting and development specifically for WP e-Commerce. The other 30-50% is other general WordPress development, primarily custom plugins. From time to time, we’ll do full-site builds – but mostly, my sweet spot is custom development and consulting.
What’s your top tip for a killer WP resource most people haven’t heard about it?
Core. 🙂 Everyone’s heard of it, but as a developer, it is the absolute best source for learning and advancement. Funny that the best WordPress resource is WordPress itself. But in all seriousness, you’ll learn more by reading through core code than almost any other avenue.
What is the biggest mistakes people make when trying to earn a living as a WP developer or consultant?
Lacking focus. Almost every developer I talk to these days has this same main problem, an incredible inability to focus, either on a micro or macro level. By that I mean day-to-day (micro) and long-term (macro), people tend to have a hard time focusing on starting and finishing well, defining their long-term vision for success (whatever that means to them personally) and doing the hard work it takes to successfully get where they want to be. It’s not easy, and I’m certainly not immune to losing focus – but those who are doing well and will continue to do so are those with laser-like focus on doing what they need to do to be where they want to be.
Tell us a bit about your plugin WP e-Commerce, what types of niches are doing well with this right now?
WP e-Commerce was the first e-commerce plugin for WordPress, launched back in 2006, if you can believe it! My involvement began in 2010 as a core contributor, and really only became a lead developer for it in 2012. Naturally, the landscape for e-commerce in WordPress has gotten significantly broader with the advent of legitimate competitors in the space over the last few years, but we’re as excited and as confident as ever in the direction of WP e-Commerce as the leading platform for general e-commerce in WordPress. Last year, we learned that we were the only WP commerce plugin to make a blip on the top million e-commerce sites – that’s pretty awesome! As far as different niches doing well here the answer is as vast and varied as you might imagine. Digital, naturally, is huge – but we see tons of different physical fulfillment sites as well, everything from CDs to clothes to medical devices and more. Subscription sites have been and continue to grow in popularity. As daily deal sites got popular, we built a plugin for that niche, and as the success of some of the big players there has waned, so has interest in that type of plugin. So as far as niches go, there are those that come and go (like daily deals, and probably crowdfunding, which is popular now), those that will stick around (Digital, Subscriptions) and those that have yet to be seen.
Here’s a video of Justin talking about WordPress + e-Commerce at WordCamp:
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about working online that was counter-intuitive or not obvious?
In a word, boundaries. This kind of comes back to focus. So much more than I ever realized, when you work online (especially if you work from home), you have to learn how to set boundaries. Boundaries with clients, friend, family, etc. A lot of people ask about work/life balance as a freelancer, which kind of ties into this idea. The reality of it is that there is no balance. Only in the retroactive aggregate of life is there actually balance, but the reality is that you have seasons of really hard, long work – and then you have seasons of lots of fun family/personal/play time. It’s rarely at the same time, so knowing how to clearly communicate and define those boundaries with your friends/family is helpful. On the other end, defining boundaries with clients allows you the same joy and freedom when you’re on personal time. The ability to clearly communicate expectations and boundaries is what sets happy freelancers apart from the more disgruntled ones 🙂
What would you do if you had to start again from scratch?
Focus on WordPress sooner. I dropped out of high school at 17 to build my business. Almost 10 years into it now, I know that if I focused on WordPress sooner (at the time, it would have been just barely two years old), I would have likely gotten more involved in the community and learned a lot more earlier on. Also, mentors. Finding business mentors when you’re starting out is key, it took me way too long to build those formative relationships. They will be your anchor in the stormy seasons that come into every business.
What is your biggest challenge or frustration right now? Let’s see if any of our readers can help you out!
My biggest challenge right now is being in that “in between” stage – deciding whether or not to keep doing what I’m doing (which is quite comfortable – I’m happy and busy, two great combinations) or scale up (build teams, take on larger projects, etc.). It’s a challenge of options that I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to choose from, but in all honesty, I’m just not sure yet what direction I’d like to go.
What is your biggest opportunity right now? Let’s see if any of our readers can help make it happen!
My biggest opportunity right now is in the WP e-Commerce world. We’re getting ready to launch an extensions marketplace that is incredibly exciting and innovative, unlike any other marketplace I’ve seen. It’s really geared towards helping developers make great commissions and do it within their current development workflows. Exciting stuff!
What does your typical workday look like?
Ahh, how tempting it is to tell you what I’d like my day to look like 🙂 Alas, here’s the breakdown of what it actually is: Wake up around 7:00 or so. Spend time with my two daughters making breakfast, watching TV, getting coffee, etc. Start working about 8:00. I generally spend my Sunday evenings planning out my work week, so aside from a few breaks here and there, from about 8:00 to 5:00 or so is full-steam development mode. That may mean merging PRs on GitHub, developing plugins, client phone calls or meetings, etc. Around 5:00, I go back into family mode – helping out with dinner, getting kids in bed. Then, probably half the time, I’ll stay up and do other dev work for a few hours.
Which clients are best suited to Zao Web Design, what do you guys do especially well?
Our target clients fall into two categories: E-commerce and non-e-commerce. For the e-commerce side of things, our target clients are small-to-medium size businesses, generally those with revenue between 500K and 50M. On the other end of the spectrum is essentially any company that needs custom WordPress development. As a core contributor to WordPress, I enjoy working with companies and agencies that need and value high quality, scalable, performant code.