Jack McConnell of Voltronik in Bath, England is a RAR-certified, one-man web design and development company. He offers great advice from his years of experience as a designer, developer and consulting. A contributor to the WordPress Community, he has contributed to the popular Custom Field Suite plugin and the Bones starter theme. In addition, McConnell has developed two free plugins of his own.
McConnell is also partners in a web repository of tested, proven and recommended WP plugins at TidyRepo.
In this episode you’ll learn great tips and tools for running a WordPress design and development business, as well as how to grow your business while working with others in a co-working space.
The secret to @jackmcconnell success."People wanted sites they could edit themselves." #Understand the #client.
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Jack McConnell is a web designer and developer, the head of Voltronic, started out in the WordPress space, and then found his niche and now he is reaching out to that customer base to grow his business.
Hailing from Bath (UK), Jack was on WP Elevation talking about WP Migrate DB Pro a few episodes ago.
Jack says he started with an eye to being creative and artistic. He grew up enjoying drawing as a child, then getting into Photoshop and other applications. As a younger boy, Jack recalls getting on the internet back in 1994-95, and finding a copy of Photoshop.
In 1999 or 2000, Jack finally got internet into his room. That’s when he got hooked onto web design. “My first business venture when I was 13 was making really horrible websites with an old copy of Dreamweaver.”
Troy says the first website he looked for was the episode guide of the TV series Melrose Place so he could spoil the episode for his Australian classmates who watched the series a week behind the United States.
Don’t worry if you can’t get big clients immediately, because you will get them eventually @jackmcconnell
THE WORDPRESS STORY
Jack says the first time he saw the WordPress dashboard was when he installed a web server onto a hard drive he purchased. After installing the server, he read that he could install WordPress, at the time, a blog management software.
“I kind of used it to document what I did to hack this network hard drive,” Jack says.
Now, years later, Jack describes himself as a “one-man web design and development agency working exclusively with WordPress” through his company Voltronik.
During the credit crunch of 2009-10, he started looking for a way to continue working in web design. “People wanted sites they could edit themselves. They didn’t want to spend loads of money on a web designer, cause they just didn’t have that.”
Although he already had experience with WordPress, he tested several other platforms, Drupal, Joomla, Mambo and others. He decided to stick with WordPress.
On price competition: Clients “tend to buy me as a person… If it’s down to price then that’s up to them
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF VOLTRONIK
As a solo-preneur, Jack says his time is spent mainly in customer development and web design and development within a co-working space.
“When I have the clients,” says McConnell, “my time is basically spent 50/50 doing design or development.”
He is currently working on mastering Google AdWords, with some success. But, he says, “I find most of my clients are coming through the co-working space that I’m in for the last 18 months.” The space includes many different types of companies, most of which are familiar with WordPress. “Everyone’s talking about WordPress, so it’s just worked to my favor,” he says.
At the time Jack joined the space, there were as few as 7 entrepreneurs, now there are about 30 people working there, which has helped him grow his business within the co-working space.
WP Elevation host Troy Dean asks Jack if it was difficult making the transition from working at home to getting out to an office in a co-working space. “Not really… it costs about the same as working out of the house and doing this networking thing (Business Network International).”
Jack says he was intrigued by BNI’s opportunity to network through BNI. Saying he was concerned about the upfront cost of membership, he still broke even in the first six months of membership.
The group helped him improve his marketing efforts, “if you put in the effort, go in every week, write content and talk to people… it helps clarify things. Even re-writing what you do on the front page of your website,” says McConnell.
Jack says BNI helped him be able to speak in front of people by helping him develop a script and be able to use that to speak to the group. He says he’s held some “WordPress Ask Anything” type of events for small groups, but, he’s not interested in speaking to large groups.
KEEPING JACK UP ALL NIGHT
When asked what keeps him up all njight, Jack quickly responds, “money.” But, he says, it usually is some idea that he’s had about a website design. “It’s usually an idea about my website or something that I really want to work on… and I’ll wake up around 3 or 4 in the morning and have a solution… or not, and be really tired an frustrated. It usually is a problem-solving kind of thing that keeps me up late at night.”
PICKING UP BONES
Jack started off using the Bones and Roots system for WordPress design, but, now, he uses his own system to develop WordPress sites. Troy says he has a couple of clients who used Bones as a starter theme, because it’s a mobile theme first.
MANAGING WORK/LIFE BALANCE
In addition to getting married last year, Jack says he spends most of his time doing things that he loves, which helps keep things in balance. But, in addition, “I watch quite a lot of TV and movies, to be honest… I cycle to and from work. I like cycling longer distances in the summer and stuff,” he answers.
Continuing, Jack admits that much of what he does with his company Voltronik, allows him to do the things he enjoys. “It’s pretty great, really.”
“A lot of my time seems to be taken up with stuff that I really enjoy doing, so I don’t feel that I’m wanting for anything more,” he says, “but I’m hoping to do some long cycles this year, and that’s about it.”
PROJECT MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS
Jack admits that he used Evernote some for project management while working on his wedding. But, that he doesn’t use project management systems that much. “Evernote and DropBox, and that’s about it, really,” says Jack.
Troy jokes that he tried to use Asana, but his fiancé’ wouldn’t participate, preferring a pen and paper approach at project management.
FIXING THE BUSINESS
When asked if there was one thing about his business he would change if he could, he says it would be developing leads for his business. “It’s getting better, but I can’t just kind of flick a switch, leads come in, I flick a switch, leads stop.”
That is what he wants to happen as he works with Google AdWords. He’s working with another worker in the co-working space who McConnell describes as “an AdWords genius.” His plans are to continue working with AdWords, with the help of his neighbor, after about a year.
One of the advantages of working with AdWords is, “it highlighted some areas of my website that needed attention, and as such, I’m kind of re-jigging that at the moment as well.”
Jack describes his work with AdWords pointing leads to the home page, but, he’s not ready quite yet to use lead pages, funnels other marketing systems. He’s currently reading a book from Watertight Marketing about online marketing that is helping him improve his AdWord marketing.
McConnell says he’s using local keywords, plus WordPress Design, WordPress Development and Web Design Bath in his advertising. He and Troy find it interesting that customers are now asking if designers and developers are using WordPress.
WORKING WITH PEOPLE
Noting that Jack’s website states that he “loves working with people,” WP Elevation host, Troy Dean recognizes the disconnect with the stereotypical web designer. “I love the fact that you say that… as a prospective client that just made me relax and made me and instantly at ease. You acknowledge that we’re people and there’s actually a human relationship going on here.” Jack replies, “I do like working with people. I think part of that comes from working at home for quite a few years and not getting to see too many people… you kind of treasure those moments [when you connect with other people].”
He describes the things you learn when spending time with people and how they help him in his web design and development.
When asked about the process of developing inter-personal skills, Jack says he thinks most of that development has matured as a result of “being out there,” and “experiencing.” Reading has helped him grow his business, but, “I’ve never really found that reading articles about people… are applicable.”
Jack says he has a few “sure signs’ to know when a client isn’t a good match for him. “Too many emails… I don’t know how many specifically, but, perhaps ten or more.” He says he has found that consistent emails about things that don’t matter too much in the design phase might indicate that they’re “all talk and not enough discussing the site… worrying about things they shouldn’t be worrying about,” leads him to think “they might be a bit of a control freak if I took on this project with them.”
When dealing with clients who might call or email Jack on the weekends or the middle of the night. “I put it in the contract.” He says his contract spells out “you’re hiring me Jack McConnell between these hours and these days.”
Saying he’s a firm believer in providing customer service. “You should be able to give them customer support via however they can contact you,” he says. While he gives his client his cell phone and work phone numbers, he also describes the hours in which he is responsive and tells the client not to be offended if he doesn’t respond outside of those hours.
“I’m very reasonable about the expectations that I have from my clients, and they should be reasonable about what they expect from me,” Jack states.
DEFINING WHAT IS URGENT?
Describing a recent event with a client, he received a Direct Message via Twitter from a client stating that the client’s website was down and so was Voltrinik’s. “It turns out a whole bunch of hosts in the UK were having some kind of attack from somewhere else in the world. That was about 9 o’clock in the night.”
Jack says he simply reassured his client that it was fine. But, he says, “it caught my attention because it came through Twitter and it beeped on my phone, otherwise I wouldn’t have noticed it.”
One of the ways he’s streamlined his support responses over the weekend is by limiting the email access through his phone. “I don’t have email coming to my phone, I have to go to Gmail in my web browser on my phone and then look at my emails that way. That way I can do it,” McConnell says.
He says if he finds 15 minutes to spare on the weekends he’ll check the email, otherwise he won’t notice that there are any problems. “if I don’t have 15 minutes, I don’t look at it.”
Saying it’s rare that he has a client who is desperate for help. To combat the problem, he gives his clients details about their hosting so they can take ownership of their website as well.
Jack prefers to host sites, and recommend it to other designers. “I can offer them a service that will take them a long time to understand or set up for themselves. I keep WordPress and plugins up to date for them.”
If the site is a large install, McConnell says he’ll host the site on a WordPress Managed host, passing the charge on to the client, but keeping access.
Saying he thinks it is wrong to keep access and passwords from clients, Jack admits that he shares access with his client.
“If a client wants to use you, they’ll use you,” he says. “If they say, ‘I’m sorry, we’ve decided to go elsewhere,’ …they deserve to have that information.”
Stating that another area of his business he’d like to improve is the area of recurring income, he admits that he doesn’t charge for maintenance and upkeep. “I try to help them as soon as possible, really,” he says, “if they need help, I’m not going to turn around and say ‘I’m not going to help you until July… I respond to emails.”
Jack says he uses InfiniteWP to manage the sites, “I liked InfiniteWP mainly because it was free, and at the time I was trying set up hosting and trying to do it well and on the cheap.”
Infinite WP can be self hosted, which is how Jack utilizes the kit, which he describes as “a very decent bit of kit… I think Infinite WP is definitely one to look at.”
Explaining that RAR is a type of accreditation system, Jack says he has the free version of the certification. The accreditation depends on a minimum of high quality, independently checked recommendations by his clients. “The last two years, I’ve asked my clients if they would be willing to [participate]… they’ve been more than happy to do that… it certainly looks good,” he states.
RAR, standing for Recommended Agency Register, helps “add a little bit of trust to the visitor on the website,” states WP Elevation host, Troy Dean.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
Dean notes the company name, Voltronik is a “mash-up of electronic words – Volt and Electronic, with a “k” chucked on the end as it’s a nice, strong letter,” he recognizes that both he and McConnell are both “typography nerds” and recommends a great article by Richard Rudder on the 24 Ways website, “Compose to a Vertical Rhythm” for those interested in typography an design.
WP Elevation is a business accelerator program for WordPress consultants, and as such, Troy asks guests questions in a lightning round, hoping they give quick mind blowing answers about being a freelancer or consulting off the top of his head.
Q: What’s the number on thing any freelancer or consultant needs to know?
A: Don’t worry if you can’t get big clients immediately, because you will get them eventually
Q: What’s the best thing you’ve ever done to find new customers?
A: Move into my co-worker space
Q: How do you stop competing on price?
A: I don’t think about it, to be honest. I think about the client, I think about what they want. They tend to buy me as a person and I let them make the decision. If at the end of the day it’s down to price then that’s up to them.
Q: Any tips on writing better proposals?
A: No. I have a ton, but it wouldn’t make a short answer. They’re really boring to do, you can automate them to an extent. If you take the time, the client will see that you understand what they want.
Q: Favorite tool for CRM?
A: No, investigating two at the time. I currently use Trello at the moment to manage customers.
Troy recommends 17 Hats, a new player on the field, $24 a month, CRM, Project Management, Invoicing and Billing all in one.
Q: What’s the best way to keep a project and a client on track?
A: Project Management System. I’m building my own with WordPress, but I use MiniGroup at the moment. Very small, very easy to use, my clients like it.
Q: Any ideas on how to ask for referrals?
A: I send out a questionnaire about 3 months after completion of the bulk of the project, which includes a request for referrals, and it does ok.
Q: What is the number one thing you can do differentiate yourself from all the other WordPress consultants out there?
A: Do something that other people aren’t doing. There’s lots of other people that can build a site for you, but have they made a plug in, do they specialize in WOOCommerce storefronts. Niching is the answer to everything.
Q: What’s the future for Voltronik in 12 months time?
A: Going through a re-brand, focusing on what I am and everything I do. Never really liked the name, I just needed one. It’s all focused around me, looks less like an agency and more about me. New design, new copy.
Q: What is TidyRepo all about?
A: Its a repository of all the best WordPress plugins out there. We write posts about each plugin on our list. We test each one, so you know we’ve made sure the code doesn’t break your site, it will do what it says it will do.
ADVICE FOR ENTREPRENEURS TRYING TO START AND BUILD THEIR OWN BUSINESS
“Just get on with it,” Jack advises entrepreneurs, “so many people worry about it, or never ship… just get anything out there and see how it does.”
Jack suggested I interview Brian Krogsgard from Post Status. Brian, keep your eyes on your inbox.
What is the number one headache you have with finding the right plugin for the right job? The best answer, determined by Jack McConnell in a couple of weeks, will receive a copy of Losing My Virginity, the autobiography of Sir Richard Branson. Post you comments below.