April 28, 2015 6:00PM PDT to 7:00PM PDT
Kronda Adair spoke to the Apprenticeship Community about managing clients and running her business effectively.
Kronda Adair is the founder of Karvel Digital, a WordPress consultancy and development business. In addition to developing websites, Kronda gives business owners the training they need to own and manage their digital presence.
She is a regular speaker at WordPress meetups and Wordcamps and has been invited to speak at Ada Developers Academy, Beyond the Code, Open Source Bridge, Lesbians Who Tech Summit, and others. She has given talks on WordPress deployment processes, successful site planning, starting your own business, and more.
She also writes and speaks about issues of diversity (or lack thereof) in the tech industry. She has been interviewed by sites such as Revision Path and Less Than or Equal. You can read her personal blog at kronda.com or sign up for her weekly newsletter at tinyletter.com/kronda
Her latest project is a book for business owners on managing your website and other digital assets, to be released in the fall of 2015.
When she’s not working, she can be found enjoying time at home with her wife and two cats, reading dead-tree books, riding one of her five bikes, or enjoying the postcard vistas of the state of Oregon.
The full AMA follows, edited for length, clarity and style.
kmanion: What are you most excited about right now?
My vacation! But work wise … I’ve been in business since January 2013 but this is the first year I’ve really gotten to focus on the business full time. I had health challenges in 2013, then in 2014 there was selling our house, buying a new one, moving and a lot of travel. So this year I really get to focus on growing the business. I wanted to get off the typical freelancer feast/famine treadmill. I joined a 10k bootcamp through ugurus.com that is a 10 week course to learn to sell 10k projects (and up). It’s completely changed my business and now I actually have more work than I can handle and have started looking for people to subcontract work to.
kmanion: What are some tips for managing freelance clients and keeping them happy?
Managing expectations and communication are key. When I first started, I of course took any client who would pay me and do anything they asked. And of course sometimes they asked for things that were terrible ideas.
So it didn’t take long before I started to reposition myself as a consultant and raise my rates.
I wanted clients to know that they should expect me to tell them what to do, based on the problem they wanted solved. For the most part, they don’t get to dictate solutions.
Also, standing weekly meetings for ongoing projects help head off any big misunderstandings.
Zee: What was your main takeaway from the 10K course that changed your sales and marketing strategy?
The two biggest things were about the interaction model of selling: Relationships = Interactions / Time.
The more time you spend with someone, the more likely they are to hire you. The second thing was to stop emailing proposals and present them instead.
I gave a presentation on this at ACT-W conference in Portland a few weeks ago. Slides: karvel.me/actslides
Zee: How did you go about repositioning as a consultant?
People think bad things about sales, but done right, sales is really solving people’s problems. For money. If you give them more value than they paid you then everyone is happy.
I started speaking at conferences and blogging. I wrote things like this: http://karveldigital.com/why-i-dont-use-godaddy-you-shouldnt-either/
I’m highly opinionated and if you let your ideas be known, it will draw the right people to you and keep the wrong ones away. I once got a client from a fight I had on Twitter. (For the record, I’ve tried to retire from Twitter fighting).
Zee: What’s something you wish people would ask you about?
How women in tech can escape these shitty tech companies and work for themselves. (This is the subject of the next tinyletter)
I literally watch the 50% of women leave tech statistic play out in IRC daily. And yet, I’ve never been more excited about my business.
krystyna: What’s some advice you would give someone, new to the tech game, looking to move to Oregon?
I’ve lived in Portland my whole life, so I’m probably not the one to advise about relocating. But on being new to tech … learn the technology that will help you solve the problems of the people you want to work with.
Hint: If you don’t want to work with shitty tech companies, maybe learn something that will help clients directly, or small businesses, or make a product.
That’s one of the reasons I like WordPress. I think a lot of developers don’t find it interesting on a coding challenge level (though it absolutely can be). Or PHP isn’t cool anymore or whatever. I find freedom and independence more exciting than code.
Zee: How do you manage invoicing and all the headache re running a business?
Constantly. I’m a big fan of tools to streamline things. I use Harvest for time tracking, Freshbooks for invoicing (though I’m about to switch to Xero). Bidsketch for proposals.
But it looks nice and it does some things Freshbooks doesn’t. Mainly it will connect to your accounts and you can create rules to categorize incoming transactions.
I have a Trello board called “The Toolshed” that I use to track things I might want to try.
I’m starting to outsource some of the things. Just this week, I got a book keeper because I once again found myself doing a year’s worth of accounting in the two days before my meeting with my tax accountant. Never. Again.
So far I have a tax accountant, bookkeeper, lawyer (also new just this month) and someone who does part time business development and project management.
gtsai: Would you say most of your clients are word of mouth?
Yes, so far, I still haven’t exhausted my network. But I’ve lived in the same place my whole life and I now have a decent Twitter following so that helps. In 10k bootcamp they really impress the importance of finding a niche.
When you focus on a small target audience, you can learn to solve their problems more efficiently, find one or two champions within that community and become known as the go-to person for X.
But so far, I haven’t had time to find a niche because people are coming to me now, which is awesome.
kmanion: Valuing my time or pricing services effectively still challenging for me. Do you have any advice in that regard?
Ah. Yes, that’s really tough, especially it seems, for women. It’s helpful to think of your services in terms of the value you’re bringing to the client.
That’s why spending more time with clients on the front side before they hire you is so helpful.
By the time you talk with them 3-4 times, you can find out a lot more about their pains and problems and get a handle on how much time you can save them, how many more customers you can help bring to their business etc.
For example, I was talking to a friend who built a custom site and did content and photography for a law firm for less than $500.
But, when you think about the fact that lawyers charge $200+/hour and every new client you bring them is probably thousands of dollars.
But the sooner you learn to think about value like this, the more confident you can be about your services.
Also, people bring their own anchors into tech. I just talked to my mentor about this. He started at age 17, making sites for $10/hour, which he thought was great because he was making $7/hour at his job.
So if you’re used to making $10/hour, 20 or 50 can seem amazing, but it still might be relatively low for what you’re doing.
gtsai: So I’m by no means a rails/ruby as I’m still a bit below intermediate, when you approached your first couple of projects how did you overcome your, “Oh shit, I want to take it, but I’m not sure I’m qualified” thinking?
I was in school when I started making projects for people so I did them for free.
It’s fine to do a few free projects for people in your network to build portfolio. It’s better if you can charge them at least a little. People don’t value what they get for free. Charge enough to put some skin in the game for both of you.
I did the design and a custom theme for my first WordPress site and it’s still up. jillmalone.com
krystyna: So as someone who is self taught, I’m trying to treat whatever projects I’m handed as a learning experience and I often feel guilty that I get paid for something because in spite of the fact that someone has come to me for services, I still feel like they could have chosen someone better and charge WAY less than I probably should. Have you ever dealt with that?
I don’t have a lot of guilt, but I totally get that, it’s very common. Again, you have to look at it objectively and really learn the value of what you’re offering.
Talk to the people you’ve done work for and find out how it’s helped them. Ask them for testimonials.
It will help you know that yes, you really are helping people with your services and you can use the testimonials to get more customers!
As far as someone else doing it better … well there’s always someone who can do it better. There are tons of developers who are better than me. But they’re not necessarily as focused on the client’s actual problems. You have to figure out what unique thing you bring to the table. That’s what clients are buying, as much as whatever you’re building.
kmanion: How do you make time for writing/blogging?
Easy. Stop sleeping. LOL I sort of kid.
I would like to be more regular about it, but what usually happens is that I get to the point of having a burning need to get some message out, and then I steal time from something else to write it.
Yep, that’s my experience too. Even if it’s a cute story about biking home with a million groceries. It had to be told.
Which is why I’ve started hiring help in the business. I’m hoping to become more regular about writing especially since I’m working on a book to be released later this year!
My personal blog has been a bit more reactionary than I would like, usually involving someone pissing me off and needing to respond to it so I can move past it and go on with my day.
You can of course hire people to blog for you but I actually love writing so I don’t imagine I’ll be doing that anytime soon.
lgdean: With the various things that aren’t paid work (and the administrative stuff that supports that work), how do you prioritize those things?
Good question. I think all the admin stuff is why people eventually figure out that you have to raise your rates! That stuff takes time.
It’s a lot easier to have a reasonable schedule if you have less clients who have larger projects.
But the Toolshed I straight up stole from my bootcamp mentor. He created it and opened it up and I copied it and added my own stuff.
Stealing other people’s good ideas is a great way to save time. On that note: https://trello.com/b/A5916KPa/tool-shed
It helps to keep context switching to a minimum. So I’ve started trying to schedule all my meetings for Thursdays and Fridays.
I’m also a huge fan of scheduling tools. I use youcanbook.me for scheduling so I don’t have to spend time doing the back and forth time-picking emails with people. I just talked my lawyer into using it too.
Zee: Speaking of tools, what are your go-to time/effort saving tools for running your business?
Some of them I’ve mentioned: bidsketch.com for proposals saves a lot of time. youcanbook.me for scheduling. getdrip.com for email automation. Videousermanuals.com for training clients to use WordPress. That was one of the first ones I found. It’s lovely. Also zapier.com is great for connecting your apps together.
I created a CRM with Trello that imports people who fill out my contact form on my website. Stole that from this guy: http://casjam.com/system-for-selling/
gtsai: Can you tell me how you got your first contracting gig and how you were able to spread the word after that?
I’m a WordPress developer, so I went to my local WP meetup every month. I got my first paying client there and she was terrible! LOL
I knew I was going to ditch her as soon as I could afford to, which took 8 months.
I also told EVERYONE I KNEW, what I was doing. In my case that’s a lot of people so I got some business from that. My dad sent me an old friend of his who needed a small counseling website: cheryljefferson.com
krystyna: How do you do that? Because there’s someone that I worked for, finished the work for them and now I don’t want anything to do with them again. How do I say “I never want to work with you again” without sounding like a jerk?
Sometimes I literally would just tweet that I was looking for work, and people would send referrals.
Firing clients is no fun but it’s so freeing and you make room for more awesome clients in their place. I literally googled ‘how to fire a client’ You’ll find a ton of articles.
I picked a few, made some notes about why I was firing her, read our contract so I’d know if I owed her anything else or vice versa and then made the call. It wasn’t fun, but it wasn’t that bad either.
You can also blame it on your schedule (whether you’re actually busy or not) and /or say that you’re focusing on other things. (Like better clients)
One last time-saving tip: You only have so many keystrokes before you die, so when you find yourself telling people the same stuff over and over again, put it on your website!
Kronda Adair will be giving one of the keynote speeches at Open Source Bridge this year.