When I was a kid not a single girl said “I want to be a web designer when I grow up”. Mostly because there was no world wide web. There weren’t video games either, until I was in junior high school and Pong came out. Back when I was a kid, girls mostly thought about becoming teachers, nurses, ballerinas, and mothers. We weren’t encouraged to do “man” jobs. We definitely weren’t encouraged to pursue STEM careers.
As a matter of fact, my high school guidance counselor told me that I should give up my dream of college and concentrate on being a stay-at-home mom. (It was 1987 and I was ranked 21/325 students in my graduating class.)
I’ve always been a bit of a calculated rebel, so I didn’t heed her advice. Instead I started down a long path through academia that would eventually bring me here, to WordPress and the community that has become my tribe.
I’m often asked how I started my WordPress business. I would love to tell you a story about how I did a ton of research, met with mentors, found advisors, wrote a perfect business plan, crafted an amazing marketing plan, and launched according to a timeline all neatly written out (and using a project management app, of course).
It wasn’t like that at all.
At the time I started my business I had worked in higher education for over twenty years as an administrator in five different colleges, universities, and trade schools. I had a bachelor of arts degree in Religion and Philosophy, classical training in vocal performance, an MBA (in marketing, e-commerce, and information systems management), and coursework completed toward a doctorate in higher education administration.
In June of 2013, I decided it was time to leave my job as an administrator in a local trade school. I hadn’t really been happy for a long while, and the timing was right financially for me to make a move. My plan was to take July off, use August to job search, then be employed by September.
Have you ever heard the phrase, “Men plan, God laughs”?
While it was still June, and within the two weeks’ notice I had given, I was afraid I might become bored. I thought I could make a little money doing some marketing, so I posted to my personal Facebook page that I would love to help out friends and family with social media or web design. The customers came out of the woodwork.
And just like that, I had a business.
I made many mistakes along the way, of course. I charged $300 for a website when I started ($500 for e-commerce). I paid my dues and learned the trade. I started attending WordPress meetups in Rochester. They were sporadic, at best, so when the organizer asked me if I would become the organizer, I jumped at the chance and got us on a regular schedule, with topics in advance and volunteer speakers.
From there it was just a matter of time before I would attend my first WordCamp (Buffalo, 2014). Since then I’ve attended more than thirty camps, organized six, mentored five, and spoken at twenty.
I love WordPress. But I love the people even more.
I don’t just love WordPress. I fell in love with WordPress. The ease of use. The total control. I love that there’s always more to learn. I love that I can teach others how to use it. I love the events. I love the collaboration. I love the people.
I don’t just have WordPress acquaintances. I have WordPress friends. I have a WordPress family.
The first site I ever logged into was created for my best friend and me. We had just started a nonprofit organization and her husband built us a website. He made the structure, but we had to add the content. He emailed us our logins. I remember logging in like I had mistakenly been given the key to the castle and wasn’t really supposed to use it. I was afraid to click links. I was afraid to click “publish” or “update.”
I thought for sure I’d kill the whole site. But I didn’t.
I wrote. I added classes. I added pages. I added posts. We added a membership component and soon I was navigating that like a sailor in well-known waters. I was a great WordPress user, but I still didn’t understand the connection between purchasing a domain and having a WordPress site, so I called my friend’s husband.
Rob and Christine had five kids and Christine worked evenings. When I asked Rob to teach me how to get from the domain purchase to having a site, a deal was struck: if I would cook dinner for their kids, he would teach me WordPress. I made spaghetti, purchased a domain and hosting, and I wrote 4 things down on a piece of paper:
- Download WordPress from wordpress.org.
- Upload WordPress through FTP.
- Edit wp-config file (don’t forget to change the salt keys)
- Don’t use “admin” as the account name.
The rest I (miraculously) remembered. That was eight years and over 300 WordPress installations ago.
Which all led me to where I am now.
Getting up the courage to speak at WordCamp about a year after I started building sites was scary. I felt like an imposter. I was sure I would be “found out,” but I really did “know my stuff.” People were very complimentary about my talk, so I applied to more camps. I met more people. My friends teased me that I wanted to know all the “A-Listers” in WordPress. Others teased that I wanted to BE an A-Lister. What I really wanted was to learn as much as I could, share what I knew, and build a network.
In 2017 I spoke at WordCamp Ottawa. It was there I built a connection with Jason Knill of GiveWP.com. I had used Give before, and I told him about how it worked for me. He asked if Give could write about the nonprofit site I had built to raise money to feed children in South Sudan. He interviewed me about it. At the end of our meeting I mentioned to Jason that “if you ever have an opening, I’d love to work for you.” Four and a half months later I started working full-time as the Head of Customer Success for Give.
What I love about my job.
In my role at Give I get to talk to people all over the world. I get to help them increase their fundraising, which in turn helps their organizations – most of which are nonprofits helping make the world a better place.
With our WP Business Reviews plugin I get to work with businesses that are hoping to grow and succeed – just like I did when I started my freelance business.
I get to build a team that helps us succeed by helping others succeed. I get to employ people locally in my small hometown outside of Rochester, NY.
I get to keep sharing my love of WordPress.
I continue to speak at WordCamps, mentor and teach locally, and organize my local WordPress Meetup and Technology Nonprofit Meetup. I love Slack, Facebook Groups, Facebook Messenger, and Twitter messages because they let me keep in touch with all of the wonderful people I meet in the community.
Mostly I love how WordPress has empowered me to do more and to be more.
I’ve spent most of my life trying to broaden my comfort zone.
As you can probably tell, I have a pretty large comfort zone. Actually, I can’t remember the last time I saw the border of my comfort zone, because it’s that big; but it wasn’t always so. When I was a child I had a comfort zone the size of a postage stamp. I had to stand in it on one toe, like an uncoordinated ballerina trying to learn to go en pointe and failing miserably. I was timid and shy. I was afraid of everything.
Then one day I decided to do something uncomfortable. I ran for 8th grade student council secretary. It didn’t occur to me that I might not win. I have no idea where that hubris came from. I figured, at that point, that I had just as good a chance as anybody else. I made posters. I gave a speech. And something amazing happened. I lost the election. I mean, I cataclysmically lost the election.
Most people wouldn’t think that losing an election was amazing, but it was. It was amazing because I learned that I could step outside of my comfort zone, lose, and survive. I could still breathe. Still be me. It had changed me and my perceptions of myself. After that, instead of a postage stamp-sized comfort zone, I could put my foot down on the whole envelope.
It didn’t end there.
What I learned is that comfort zones are like concentric circles. A step outside doesn’t just stretch the zone to fit that footstep. Instead, it increases it exponentially. Where before you had a three-foot circle, now you have a six-foot circle, then twelve feet, then twenty-four feet, then before you know it, you won’t be able to see the edge of your zone because it’s so big.
WordPress helped me with that, too.
Instead of feeling like an imposter, the WordPress community embraced me and gave me the validation I needed to feel like I belonged. People were receptive to my ideas. Some wanted to teach me. Some wanted to learn from me. Some wanted to work with me. People hired me. Others asked my opinion or for help. I belonged. I had a tribe.
I will continue to contribute to, support, learn from and grow with WordPress. I love it here. I love my tribe.