This article is a translated transcript of my presentation at WordCamp Romania 2014. You can always watch my “performance” on WordPress.tv if you understand Romanian.
I started the adventure of online entrepreneurship in August 2007. I was working in IT at the time; I didn’t quit the job right away, I thought I’d grow my business in my free time.
I worked with Magento since it was in beta, I made the first decent Romanian translation for it. Magento is an excellent application with a flexible design and excellent e-commerce functionality, but it’s quite challenging.
When you start a business online from scratch and you don’t have enough resources to hire people you have to handle everything, including the technical part.
And Magento is a nightmare on the technical side:
- has a fairly steep learning curve
- its logic may not be very intuitive
- many extensions did not work properly
- upgrading to new versions often broke the whole site
- import and export of data was not easy
- you need good hosting, and that raises costs
I had to manage my store and also handle the tech stuff, so the point here is that the technical side prevented me from growing my business, it consumed way too much time and resources.
I don’t remember exactly how I first got in contact with WordPress but coming from a Magento background, knowing how complicated and cumbersome was, WordPress seemed unreal.
The ease of use and customization just fascinated me:
- updates didn’t break the site; I had a functional one-click update
- there were lots of themes and plugins, most of them free, you can build almost any type of website
That was the main “key selling point” for me, the fact I could launch many different projects on WordPress.
Given that my online store was not doing very well, it was a terrible time (the financial crisis just hit) and discovering WordPress was a breath of fresh air.
I started making websites for various local companies in my city: restaurants, dentists, accountants, many different small businesses.
I had some experience in this area, had done it in the past, I made some simple websites in CSS and HTML back in 2002-2003, and now WordPress allowed me to offer my clients a dashboard for easy management of their content.
My wife and I also launched our website built on WordPress.
At first, it was just an online catalog where visitors could grade and review fashion stores but over time we started to add content, write about store promotions, outfits and shopping ideas and slowly it turned into an online magazine.
It was never a huge success, but we got some traffic spikes which led me to learn how WordPress can be optimized to consume fewer server resources and handle more traffic on the same shared hosting, thus keeping the costs low.
I tried to squeeze as much performance as I could out of shared hosting then moved on to a VPS, started learning Nginx and optimizing small Digital Ocean droplets for high performance.
Meanwhile, I helped more people to launch various projects on WordPress, assisting small publishers & bloggers to optimize WordPress and maintain lower hosting costs.
I slowly discovered that I could earn more money in providing help to others than I was making from my publishing project.
The defining moment
My moment came in 2010. After three years of entrepreneurship, I was exhausted. Since I had not quit my day job, I worked at least 8 hours at the office, got home at night, quickly ate something and started working again for my business.
I could not sleep, and when I slept, I dreamt that I was working. My brain just wouldn’t shut down. I dreamt that I was sending emails, making reports, optimizing WordPress, building websites and so on…
During the day I could not even remember if I did a particular task or I just dreamt that I did it, so I had to double & triple check everything to make sure.
That kills you, physically and mentally.
It’s challenging to grow a business when you are a full-time employee.
But in 2010 my daughter Alexia was to be born, and I made a decision that proved to be the best decision I took in my entire life.
I took a paternity leave.
My wife was unemployed at the time so she could not take maternity leave. Your country may have different laws on this matter but in my country, this leave was for two years, and it came with a monthly compensation from the Government worth 85% of your income (last 12 months average).
You’re losing 15% of your income, but you stay at home for two years.
Time vs. Money
I decided to lose money in the short term but gain time to build something for the long run.
Not having to go to work, my day had increased by 8 hours.
I had two years available, and I decided that at the end of these two years I would not only sell WordPress services but have a business model that generates a decent cash flow so that I wouldn’t have to go back to work.
With more time available, I started to sleep and rest better. To think sharper, to see clearer.
I analyzed everything I was doing, and I gave up activities and projects that didn’t bring in enough money compared to the effort, I streamlined, standardized and automated everything I could and the results began to show.
I started earning more money, but I reached a point where probably many freelancers got.
Do you sell hours of work or create a product?
It’s nice to be a freelancer, to make your schedule, to work in organized chaos, but the problem is that the money is coming as long as you work. If you get sick or have a problem and you cannot work it becomes difficult to support your family.
If you don’t have another steady source of income, it is a risky game.
I started thinking about how I could pack the services in a product that is unique, attractive and easy to understand and make it affordable to as many people as possible.
So in February 2012, I started Simplenet, a WordPress hosting solution where we included our WordPress related services (themes, optimization, migrations, etc.) plus web hosting in a single plan.
It was much better to have our customers on our infrastructure. We also had access to their hosting accounts and solve problems much faster without waiting for them to dig up old emails from their hosts for access info.
It was a better solution for everyone involved.
So that’s what I’ve been doing since – helping online publishers have faster, more scalable websites and save money. I never returned to my old job, I’m making decent money, and I also have time to spend with my wife and my daughter.
So that’s how WordPress changed my life.
1. Technology should help you, not hold you back
Technology & software should help you be more efficient, more productive; you can earn more money with less effort, not to hold you back and waste your time.
2. What’s the best business for you?
I got emails or comments on my Romanian blog from people looking for business ideas or advice on their business ideas. The overwhelming majority of people are looking too far ahead and don’t see the business idea that’s right in front of them.
I’ll give you an example; someone wants to make an online store to sell honey, he thinks it’s a good niche market. And he says – I know how to make an online store with Prestashop & where I work now I do Adwords campaigns, so I believe these skills would help me to have success with my honey store.
And I say – if you know how to build online shops, why not sell web development, or if you are an Adwords expert, why not sell services like managing ad campaigns or something?
The business idea is right in front of you; you don’t need to look very far. That’s one thing I’ve learned in these years. The best business is to sell what you know to do best.
Sell your skills.
3. Limitations help you progress
A limited budget can teach you how to streamline and prioritize. The limited resources of a server can force you to squeeze as much performance out of it and how to optimize.
A self-imposed deadline can teach you how to prioritize your work and how you can streamline to get to the point of profitability.
4. Passion is not enough
Many people start businesses because they find it cool, fall in love with an idea or because they want to pursue a passion. There so many cool start-ups out there that you’d think that the primary goal of entrepreneurs nowadays is to see who’s the coolest guy alive.
The painful truth is that nobody cares about your passions. Your potential customers care about what you can do for them. You must solve a consumer problem if you want to be a successful entrepreneur.
Otherwise, you will most likely fail.