In this new episode of Changing lives, we'll meet with Jonathan Bossenger, a full stack WordPress developer who has specialized in many areas like Custom Plugins, Plugin & Theme Customization, Javascript, MySQL, just to name a few.

During the interview, he'll share with us his insights and thoughts about:

  • why he decided to be a freelancer self-employed professional developer
  • how to be a better self-employed freelancer
  • how to apply for Codeable
  • how being a Codeable expert changed his life

Need help with your WordPress projects?

Hire Jonathan Bossenger or just post your project and have one of our other experts take care of it immediately.

Want more stories from WordPress developers? Check them out here:

Changing lives #1: Spyros Vlachopoulos.
Changing lives #2: Nathan Reimnitz.
Changing lives #3: Alexandra Spalato.
Changing lives #4: Raleigh Leslie.
Changing lives #5: Alex Belov.
Changing lives #6: Bogdan Dragomir.
Changing lives #7: Ray Flores.
Changing lives #8: Zach Nicodemous.
Changing lives #9: Oliver Efremov.
Changing lives #10: Bruno Kos.
Changing lives #11: Surendra Shrestha.
Changing lives #12: Marius Vetrici.
Changing lives #13: Mitchell Callahan.
Changing lives #14: Puneet Sahalot.
Changing lives #15: Onur Demir.

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Video Transcription

Matteo: Hi everyone this is Matteo from Codeable and in this new episode of Changing Lives we’re going to meet with Jonathan Bossenger who will share with us his story and experience as a freelancer. He will also tell us more about his experiences as a Codeable expert, letting us know how this experience, in a way, changed his life. Hey Jonathan, thank you for joining us in this new episode of Changing Lives, we really appreciate it.

Jonathan: Hey Matteo thank you very much, this is a great opportunity for me and I’m looking forward to the chat.

Matteo: Ohh I’m really looking forward to learning more about you and your story. So to get the ball rolling, why don’t you start off by sharing with us which part of the world you are right now, where you’re from and most importantly how long you’ve been a freelancer.

Jonathan: I’m born and bred in Cape Town South Africa. I’ve literally left the country once I’m not very well-traveled. I grew up in Cape Town and spent most of my time in Cape Town and surroundings. I’m a father of 2 little boys; so that makes life very interesting. The main reason I became a freelancer was because of my specific work scenarios. My wife, when I met her, she was part of a family business that she ran with her father, mother, and sister. When her father and mother decided they wanted to retire, they wanted one of the daughters to take over the business and she choose to took over and it put me in this position where I wanted to help her in the business but I felt I couldn’t work a full-time job. So I then started looking at the concept of freelancing and working for myself. I’ve been doing it in interesting ways for the last 5 years. There have been some interesting ups and downs but that is kind of what has brought me to where I am today.

Matteo: I didn’t get for how long have you been a freelancer?

Jonathan: I’m going to start off by saying I don’t like the word "freelancer" just from a personal view, I don’t know why. You can keep using it, I’ll never use the word. I’ve been what I call "self-employed" for 5 years now. But it hasn’t actually been 100% self-employment. When I first started looking at getting my own clients, I contacted a company whom I had interactions with in the previous year and they were interested in bringing me on board for a part-time contract basis. For the last 4 years of the 5 years, I was working on site there. And then what happened was my boys were born; I started getting more involved in the family business. My juggling at the time between the two companies was getting very difficult. Officially the beginning of last year was when I was 100% full time self-employed or as I said, freelancer.

Matteo: Since you brought it up could you elaborate why the "freelancer" word isn’t something that you like to use? I heard that you’re just using self-employed right?

Jonathan: Yes.

Matteo: Do you mind elaborating a little bit?

Jonathan: It’s really about the clients that I met and I don’t know if it’s a local thing in Cape Town, South Africa, as a country or whether this happens internationally but I find when I meet with new clients and the word "freelancer" comes up. They have worked on a previous project and hired a freelancer. The freelancer delivered something and when things went wrong the freelancer was nowhere to be found. It’s almost like the term "freelancer" has been associated with somebody who will just pitch up, do the work and you’ll never see them again when you need them. And I decided that I was not going to refer to myself as a freelancer because I’m the kind of guy that pitch up, do the work and if in a week’s time there is a problem you can still contact me and I’ll help you fix that problem, or a month later you need to do some updates, I’ll see what I can do to help you. There seems to be… and as I said I don’t know if it’s a Cape Town thing, I don’t know what it’s like internationally, I should speak to other freelancers but in Cape Town, it's these guys want to just come in, make a quick buck and then move onto the next project. Just keep making quick bucks and moving onto the next projects and never giving any kind of feedback or any kind of support to persons. And most of the time, from my experience at least, the support has to happen because of how poor their work is. So they’ll quickly package something together, it will work when they show it to the client it will work for a couple of months and, the minute the site hits some kind of strain or traffic, it falls over and you can’t find them anywhere. That’s the reason I’ve chosen to not use the term freelancer.

Matteo: Okay, I totally see your point and I agree of course. And, so even if we’re at the beginning of this interview, I’m going to ask you like a super tough question right away. You ready?

Jonathan: Sure!

Matteo: Okay, what does it take to be a good self-employed professional and do you think anybody can be one?

Jonathan: Wow, so... because I’ve only been 100% self-employed for a year I don’t think I can fully answer the first part of that question because I don’t think I’ve yet cracked 100% success in my own frames. What I can say though is I’ve definitely spent the last year learning from my own mistakes. And when I started as 100% self-employed freelancer I tried to market myself as something that I’m not and I’ve tried various different avenues. If you go to my blog you’ll see there are two blog posts I literally had a public meltdown and I kind of just threw my emotions on my blog that I hate what I’m doing and don’t want to do this anymore; whatever the case is. I think the key thing I’ve learned at least, and this is what I think is taking me on the path to success, is that you should stick to what works for you. So find your niche; be it for me coding. For me it’s writing PHP code, JavaScript code, maybe a little CSS, not designing, not building, not suggesting plugins because that’s not where my experience is.

Focus on finding the clients that need what you have to give. And focus on building relationships with those clients because you might feel like or at least what I’ve learnt is I felt like my experience and what I’ve brought to the table because of how great WordPress is and because of how many plugins there are and because of how amazing the themes are my experience wouldn’t be necessary. I learned very quickly that there are you know 25% of the internet running on WordPress. There are millions, millions of users that have hundreds of different requirements. Not every plugin is going to work for every user exactly the way they want it to. I learned that if I focus on what I… where my strength is I can deliver an amazing product within a reasonable frame of time.

My client is happy because they’re not paying 3x what they would because I have to now go learn something new and charge them for it. That then puts me in a position when I’m working with clients I know what to… what I can expect to give them. They know what they can expect from me, the relationship is just so much better: they’re happy to pay me; I’m happy to work with them. Every day just becomes successful. So, for me, the big thing was for me to focus on that part or thing. If you’re good at site building and everything else great but if you don’t have a wide experience to focus on what you’re good at… They always talk about… sorry, I’m rambling.

Matteo: No, no I’m following you.

Jonathan: They always talk about finding something that you love doing and you’ll never have a job for the rest of your life or something like that. It’s not necessarily about something you enjoy because something like I enjoy cooking, I enjoy baking but I can’t do that for a job because that’s my hobby. But I do also enjoy writing code so I can do that for a job. It’s a thing about finding what you love but also earn money and gives you purpose and that whole thing. And there is a Japanese word for it. If you find that thing and focus as much of your energy as you have to find that thing, that will take you on the path to success I believe.

Matteo: Okay yeah, inspiring. And let’s enter a little more into our discussion. What made you look for something in your self-employment path like Codeable? Was there a specific reason like you didn’t like your previous jobs where you probably were working for, or in a way you felt like you were missing something in your professional life, or what else?

Jonathan: So I started with Codeable in August-September last year. And if you look at the last quarter of the year I literally… in the course of the last year I literally went through 4 distinct phases. The first 3 months was trying something, trying to find clients, doing websites build, something which I didn’t have a lot of experience in but I had these awesome themes, page builders that do everything for you. And literally finding work that nobody else wanted because, you know, budget, time or whatever the case is. And realizing that was not what I’m good at, what I can earn from or what I’m passionate about. So then I moved onto the next step and the next step was my focus, my niche is custom development; extending plug-ins, extending themes, adding functionality, rest API, all that kind of thing. Then I started looking at all the options. There are companies like Toptal, there are companies like WP Curve, Freelancer.com, Upwork. There are all these companies and I looked at their processes and I tried processing projects on a few of the Freelancer packages, I applied to WP Curve. And I realized that most of these businesses their focus was always about the bottom-line of money. So get the cheapest developer to do the job, we don’t want to spend a lot of money that seems to be across the board.

Matteo: Yeah!

Jonathan: That’s great for certain companies. I found that there wasn’t a company I found across that board that their focus was good customer service. Now my focus is good customer service as I explained earlier. For me, it’s important to build a relationship with a client. They know they can contact me and say this has happened help please, help me sort it out. Even if it doesn’t relate to what we did together maybe I can advise or I can guide. Interestingly, I just spent 5 years of my post high school career in the customer service industry, in retail. I’ve got that built in you know the customer. The customer is your salary so keep the customer happy and you’ll get a salary. And then somebody I think somebody mentioned Codeable to me and said: “If that’s how you think you should look at Codeable”.

Matteo: Oh...

Jonathan: I went on it and the first thing that I saw, I think it was somebody who may have freelanced for you guys for a number of years and he now works for Automattic funny enough, and he said: “If that’s how you think you should really check out Codeable.” I went on and saw the key thing was customer service. The secondary thing was fair price for fair work. But the primary thing was building good customer relations, good communication, you know Automattic talks about communication, is the lifeblood of any business. Within a freelancing environment or self-employed environment where there is no one person controlling client developer communication, it’s up to the developer to manage better communication, here is a business which is helping the developers do that. This is where I can do my best work if you will. That’s what led me to apply at Codeable.

Matteo: Nice story, if I understood correctly somebody references you to Codeable, right?

Jonathan: Yes!

Matteo: Just test it...

Jonathan: Yes!

Matteo: Do you remember the application? How you went through it? Was it hard for you? Anything, was it funny or hard probably? I don’t know.

Jonathan: My biggest concern was my lack of WordPress experience applying as a Codeable developer. I only started… I had known about WordPress and dabbled in WordPress about 2009 my blog has been running on WordPress since 2009. But my work career was never in WordPress it was in other frameworks. So I never really got to dig into WordPress and understand how WordPress worked. So when I applied it was about June midway through the year when I applied. I was very nervous that I didn’t have enough experience in WordPress to get through to that point. I applied in June and I left it. Some time went by and I went "okay my experience level isn’t enough that’s obviously why they haven’t gotten back to me". I kind of just went on with my life. Funny enough, I was back on the Codeable website one day for some reason and the little chat window popped up and there was David. Yeah, and you know “Hi I’m David”. Probably going to pronounce his surname wrong David Papandreas. “Just want to see if you need anything”. I thought, why not.

"Hi David hi I’m Jonathan" and we just started chatting. It was amazing I said to him upfront I’m not a client I’m a previous a developer, I applied and I was just on your website and he just started a conversation and I thought this is pretty amazing. This is guy is a happiness engineer at this company, I’m sure he’s gotten way better things to do than chat to random person but here he is chatting with me. Maybe it wasn’t him maybe it was a bot whatever… I just thought it was cool and we started chatting and he said: “When did you apply?” And I told him and he said “Okay let me have a look at some of your things. Okay you’re there I see your application.” He said: “Has anything changed in your life?” I said when I originally applied I was very nervous because I didn’t have WordPress experience. And he went “Oh tell me about that”. And we started chatting about my lack of so-called experience. He said to me: “Hang on you’ve been working as a PHP developer, framework and all that so it’s just learning a few new functions and way of doing things.” He said: “Have you built plug-in?” I said every since I applied I built a few plug-ins that I’m selling. He said: “Why haven’t you added that to your application?” I didn’t even think of that. I didn’t think of adding my plug-ins. He said: “Send me the details”. I sent him the details he updated it. And within about 2 weeks I was contacted by Chris. And Chris and I had a bit of a back and forth. He was going to send me the first sort of phase testing and I was busy with a project so I couldn’t get to it. I was nervous like these guys are going to move on, they’re not going to want me because I’m not available. I kind of very much almost applied my employed experience of being employed at a company to this Codeable situation. And Chris said to me “No stress, no worry when you get there you’ll know.” So we did the test and he was very happy with that and I had the interview with I think it was him and Raleigh. That was… I was about to speak at Word Camp Cape Town.

Matteo: Wow, astounding!

Jonathan: Raleigh was like “Wow that’s amazing you’re speakers and all that”. I just said to me I went to Word Camp Cape Town in 2015 for the first time I decided after that WordCamp I had 3 goals; number one I was going to switch 100% to WordPress; number two I was going to speak at a WordCamp within the next year, I was going to bombard them with applications if I had to; number three I was going to eventually organize a WordCamp. Those were my 3 goals when I walked out there. I’m very much a guy when I make a decision I do it, whether it’s crazy, whether it’s an angel trick kind of thing, I’m going to do it.

Matteo: If it’s on your list...

Jonathan: If it’s on my list, I’m going to do it yeah. And that’s why I keep my list very small because otherwise, I’m not going to do it.

Matteo: Otherwise, yeah it’s complicated.

Jonathan: He was very happy he said: “We’re very happy so thank you very much”. I think within a week Chris came back to me and said: “Happy to have you onboard”. The next day already before I was even on the system, he was emailing me to saying “Here is a project, if you’re keen.” So yeah it was a very interesting. And I actually said to him afterward, the Codeable system is very similar to the Automattic way of doing things. It was a very relaxed, easy to do and comfortable experience to become a part of the Codeable team.

Matteo: Thank you for sharing your… really an insider view here. How are things going here at Codeable?

Jonathan: As of today...

Matteo: As of today yeah.

Jonathan: As of the end of last year today things are going well. I have personal targets that I’m trying to meet in terms of what I want to earn. I’m happy to share those figures; I have no problem sharing those figures. My personal target every month I want to try and make $2000. Now that, and my income that I earn from the other business, puts me in a happy place where I know I can feed my family, pay my bills, there is a little bit left for daddy’s toys. And that’s my target. So as of December, my withdrawal was just short of that just $200, it was about $1800.

Matteo: Pretty close.

Jonathan: It’s pretty close. If you think about the fact I started in September. I’ll be honest the first 3 months were difficult not because it was difficult finding work but it was difficult for me again to find the process that I’m comfortable with. Not the process other people follow, the process I’m comfortable with. That’s something I’d like to say to anybody watching this. I’m going to make a suggestion. Anybody watching this who wants to work with Codeable, don’t try to be like any other developer. Do what works for you because if you do what works for you, the customers that want to work with someone like you will come and find you. And that’s what I found. Somebody once said to me that if you see a task and somebody that you know well that you respect applies for that task… because my question was its respectful for me to reply to that task. And he said: “No because you don’t know that that customer, that client will work well with that other person. That person may be amazing but the customer might work better with you and you’re robbing the customer the opportunity to work with you”. That opened my eyes to a different way of thinking. So as long as I stick to the way I work and the way I’m comfortable in doing things, then the customers that want to work with that kind of fiddle, the clients that want to work with that type of person will work with me. Then there is no worry about other people applying because other people will apply and the customer will choose the person that’s right for them.

Matteo: Yeah.

Jonathan: If I wasn’t right for them then the next customer might be or the next customer. That’s kind of what I’ve discovered is to not worry about everybody else, just focus on my niche and what I do and how I do things not try to be anybody else. Right now December was a very good month, January is shaping up too. I think I might even hit my target or might even go over which I’m excited about. I don’t think much but it might even go over which I’m very excited about. For me, that’s quite an achievement.

Matteo: Wow!

Jonathan: Yeah!

Matteo: First month of the year… last month, sorry in December you almost hit your goal.

Jonathan: Yeah!

Matteo: This month you’re almost going above it so... congrats.

Jonathan: Absolutely, thank you.

Matteo: I mean I have another question. If you look at your past working life, let me just use this once your past ‘freelancing’ life. Sorry to use that.

Jonathan: No problem.

Matteo: And you fast.forward to today how things have changed for you. Are they any different?

Jonathan: So yes they are different in a lot of interesting ways. I can choose to take an afternoon off and spend it with my family if I want to, or I can choose to work from 7 in the morning till 7 in the evening if I want to. That was a big thing. It’s difficult to explain but for those people who have children your life changes quite drastically in that you realize that it’s not about how much time you spend but it’s about making sure the time you spend with them is of quality. And because we were self-employed at this business, the time I was able to spend with my children was not quality. Now I can make decisions and, for example, my son’s birthday is coming up in January. My wife is saying she wants to do something on Wednesday afternoon. I can say: "I can help you with that". I can schedule my life and schedule work and I can help you with that. We’re talking about in a few months time packing up, taking a few days and going away for a break. So I don’t have that requirement. This is the funny thing is I can go away and still do some work. It doesn’t have to be full time but when I was on holiday over Christmas there was a client project I was still doing a bit of work on because it kind of overlapped and that was fine. And the client understood I was away and I flicked it in when I could. I have my laptop and my internet I can work anywhere.

Matteo: That’s the freedom.

Jonathan: That was a big change is the freedom. The interesting thing about freedom is you have to be the kind of person who can manage that freedom. There was a stage when I first started in web development 10 years ago, where I wasn’t self-employed I was working with somebody else and they were basically bringing in the clients and I was billing them. I wasn’t getting my own clients, I was theoretically working for them but I was billing the project. And I used to… it was so silly, I used to sit and work till about 2 am, then play Counterstrike till about 4 am, and then sleep till about 11 in the morning and wake up and restart the cycle. And that’s great when you’re that age but as you get older you have more responsibilities, you can’t do that anymore.

Matteo: Yeah...

Jonathan: I realized that actually if I had managed that a little bit better I could’ve been more productive with the time I had and had more free time to do other things. But I just kind of didn’t have a process I would just wake up and just doing whatever my body felt like doing and eventually once I’m wide awake then I would start working. So the big thing I found is with the freedom comes a little bit more, you have to have a little bit more self-control.

Matteo: Structure, I'd say.

Jonathan: But once you got that structure it’s easy to plan things and do things. The other thing that it’s brought me is almost a… it’s very cool working for a company and working on projects for a company and doing the things that you do. As a self-employed freelancer, you almost get more control over choosing the projects you want to work on; and that I quite enjoy. In the beginning, I stayed away from the bigger projects because keeping to small projects means I was doing different things all the time.

Matteo: Yeah.

Jonathan: Now I've learned that with a bigger project it’s possible to manage it in a way.

Matteo: Yeah.

Jonathan: That you set up 4 or… I’m actually, I’m sure it’s alright for me to share this. But I’m actually going to write an article at some point for one of our internal documentations on how to take a big project and break it up into smaller tasks because there are 2 advantages to that number one you’re never getting board because you can jump around and change. Number two your client is not at a point where they’ve shelled out a huge sum of money. Let’s say you get half way through or a third of the way through and something happens in your life.

Matteo: Agree.

Jonathan: And you can’t carry on now Codeable support has to now try and get another developer to read up the entire set of documentation whereas if you had broken it down into tasks the new developer just has to worry about the last three tasks or the last two tasks.

Matteo: Yes.

Jonathan: So it just means all around it’s just easier if you need to get somebody to pick up the project or the client gets to appoint where they go okay I have enough. I don’t… I realize I don’t need these extra pieces anymore or I’m not… I don’t have budget for these extra pieces anymore. Let’s leave them till I do have budget. It just gives you way more scope of managing a bigger project.

Matteo: You can wrap things up in every milestone, every step.

Jonathan: Exactly and that’s applying the scrum methodology to a Codeable project.

Matteo: Yeah nice… so I guess you must quite happy about this freelancing life or path you’ve taken. Let me ask you one last thing. I know some other experts like you, after working with us for some time, they’ve been able to let’s see… travel more, put down a deposit for a new house, or just invested on improving their freelance business with better software for example. How about you did you do anything like that? Are you planning to do anything like this?

Jonathan: Let’s put it this way because of my journey through life and because of my experiences I’ve kind of, in terms of personal goals, in terms of putting down a deposit on a house, getting a car, that kind of thing, I had already more or less achieved those before I became 100% self-employed and that was because of the advantage that I had with this other business. Right now the goals are more family-oriented. So making sure I can put aside money for my children’s education; making sure I can pay off my home loan; making sure that we can improve the house; making sure that I can just make you know supply for my family, food, you know, pay my bills. I have every month that kind of thing. But yes there is more of a personal goal that I want to…

I’m hoping to start that fund this year, is a personal travel fund, because my wife and I have discussed about once the children are older and we can leave them with a granny for the week, we would like to do some traveling. We weren’t able to do it before we had children, so we would like to do it afterward. So that is something I would like to try and put some funds away for. And obviously, you know, being able to invest in myself. So something that I’m looking at right now is possibly upgrading my laptop. It doesn’t need to be done right now but, eventually, it would need to happen and I would like to get something that would last me for another 5 years. Also just making it… what I like to try and do is I like to try and take a small amount either every month or every few months and invest it in a piece of software that makes my life easier. So as an example, one of the early things I did last year is I took $99 and I invested in buying myself a copy of PHP Storm. That has made my life so much better. Something that I started doing at the beginning of this year was I started looking at how I’m spending money on hosting and how I can improve that. Actually, I found that I could reduce my cost by making some changes. So ironically being in this position where I’m working at Codeable and I’m able to manage the work coming in and have this goal… because I know what projects are coming up I, know where the goal is, and how much time, and I go oh I can actually spare half a day and I sit and look at where I’m spending money and how I can reduce that. My goals right now are more around saving, family and those kinds of things at this point in time.

Matteo: Yeah that’s amazing goals. I mean they are still super important. It’s not just about…

Jonathan: I’m not a Lamborghini guy like Nathan.

Matteo: Okay well, that’s great to hear. I think that’s enough for today Jonathan. It was super interesting hearing your story.

Jonathan: Thank you.

Matteo: And thank you for sharing it with me, with us. And once again, I would like to thank you very much for spending your time with me and all of us. So wish you a great day and talk to you soon bye.

Jonathan: Thank you very much, bye.

Matteo: Bye.