In this new episode of Changing lives, we'll meet with Robin Scott, an experienced WordPress developer who's also one of the founders of Silicon Dales, an agency focused on WordPress, WooCommerce, and a variety of other services.
Robin has specialized in several areas such as Custom Plugins, Gravity Forms, Hosting Transfer, Maintenance, and WooCommerce, just to name a few.
During the interview, he'll share with us his insights and thoughts about:
- why he became a freelancer
- what he likes about being a freelance developer
- why he decided to team up with other freelancers and launch his company
- how being a Codeable expert changed his life
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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.
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Changing lives #16: Jonathan Bossenger.
Changing lives #17: Justin Frydman.
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Matteo: Hi everyone this is Matteo and in this new episode of Changing Lives we’re going to meet with Robin Scott, who will share with us his story and of course his experiences. As you might already know, that’s not all about it for today. In fact Robin will tell us a bit more about working as a Codeable expert too, letting us know how these experience in a way changed his life. Hey Robin thank you for joining us in this episode, we really appreciate it.
Robin: Hi Matteo, really good to talk to you and thanks for having me!
Matteo: Yeah-yeah, so to get everything started why don’t you tell us which part of the world you’re right now, where you’re from, but most importantly how long have you been a freelancer?
Robin: So I live in England in the north of England in the Yorkshire Dales, really a quiet place called Swaledale; it’s quiet most of the year and then it’s really popular with tourists in the summertime: it’s like a lot of people come on holiday here. So I started out as a freelancer and I started basically as like a sole trader in 2005, when I actually was at university, and I was doing a law degree. I had been basically doing code using coding computers since I was a kid. I incorporated the business in 2010. But I’ve been working with WordPress for about 12 years. Yes since 2005.
Matteo: Yeah, so more than a decade. Nice! Would you mind telling us what do you like about being part of the freelancing world? Why did you choose to work by yourself instead of working a 9-5 job?
Robin: I mean for a while… for quite a long time the plan was to be a lawyer, be a commercial lawyer and I actually spent a year after university in Australia and I’ve worked.
Robin: Worked in a commercial law department, at the same time doing a web based business, doing client work, doing websites. I realized quite quickly that I prefer to do that rather than working my way up a corporate ladder and working in commercial litigation. I mean as a sort of a commercial lawyer or somebody in that world, I always expected to work 9-5 and I still do. I even yesterday finished quite late and started falling. There is still a lot of flexibility in having your own business and being able to work internationally.
Robin: I can work with an American client in the evening and I can spend time with my family in the morning and vice versa, work with a client in Australia really early in the morning and just find an hour in the middle of the day to pick my daughter up from nursery or whatever. That flexibility actually is quite good but while working all the time, as well it’s sort of two things at the same time.
Matteo: Okay yes flexibility is good but sometimes it just covers the most part of your days and evenings as well. Even if we’re at the beginning of this interview I’m going to ask a super tough question right away, are you ready?
Matteo: Okay. What does it take to be a good freelancer? Do you think anyone can be one? To clarify a bit this kind of question, I find maybe dealing with clients requests that might fall off the scope of a project, tight deadlines, revisions, planning your time and planning your resources, and all the like, a continuous challenge for someone getting close, someone that would like to start freelancing. Tell us about it what does it take to be a good freelancer?
Robin: What does it take to be good? There are two things. There is preparing a good contract is important so basically, everyone’s expectations have to be really clear before any work starts, timelines, prices, deliverables all that has to be clear. You can avoid a lot of disappointment on both sides if people know exactly what’s going to be delivered and how long it’s going to take. Probably more than that is communication. Obviously, it ties into that communication, good freelancers are organized and they are professional and consistent communicators.
It’s important to know your job and be really good at the code. So you’ve got to know what you’re doing. If you going to log into somebody’s website and start making changes you’ve got to be able to communicate with people. Particularly they don’t understand what you’re doing to their websites, so you’ve got to make it really clear to people. I think that’s probably the most important thing for being a good freelancer and a good contractor is if you can communicate clearly what you’re about to do and what you’ve just done. I think everybody is going to be happy with the job that you’ve done. I would say that’s number one for me.
Matteo: Yeah probably because many people aren’t developers so they lack a lot of technologies, you know, tech knowledge around development. This is a fair point and a really good one, yeah I completely agree with you. But I also know another thing about you and your professional story. I know that you’re not just a one man band, a solo freelancer. You also run your own agency Silicon Dales correct?
Matteo: Would you mind sharing your experience in that. How were able to scale from a freelancer to an agency owner? How did you come up with this idea? Anything, what are the challenges involved in making this switch from being a freelancer and running an agency. Anything would be super useful.
Robin: "Agency" is probably sort of a grand term. It’s 4 people working together. Since 2007 the same people have been working together. So I actually met two of the people… I had already been working with when I was in Australia. We started working together so when the company was set up in 2010, it was just a natural thing to include - you know - these guys. The reason for that is I think you know sort of ties into what I do with the open source as well. People are better when they come together and work together. It’s sort of in the freelance world, it sounds a bit strange because the idea is you’ve got individual developers but nobody can be an expert at everything. John, who works with us, he’s a big SEO guy, he does a lot of offsite/onsite SEO Search Engine Optimization, Google penalty recoveries, etc.. I don’t do any of that or understand how it works. It's really good to have people who are experts. That’s what I really like about Codeable as well, people who know exactly that they’re doing and they’re having specific expertise. We specifically have increasingly focused on WooCommerce. We do a lot of WooCommerce work which Silicon Dales. A week ago, in fact, we have become gold accredited by WooCommerce.
Matteo: Wow yeah (Clapping)!
Robin: I think there is 12 or 15 gold accredited WooCommerce businesses in the world, and we’re one of them.
Robin: Look it up I may be wrong, it's right about 15 I think. That’s really on for us to have a specific expertise. I think that one of the challenges is to find your niche basically to go from being a person who does anything on a WordPress website to doing specific things that have enough of a market to pay the bills basically. That’s the challenge because 5 years ago we would pick up anything - you know - any project that was going. Now actually we’re very specific about projects that we’d do. It leads to better results basically. So that’s definitely the main challenge is finding your expertise and not trying to really cover everything that somebody might want.
Matteo: Thank you for sharing this, and congrats again on your certificate on WooCommerce! So let me just take a step back and get back on track on the main question. What made you look for something new in your freelancing life, like Codeable? Was there a specific reason or you just gave it a shot? I don’t know, what else?
Robin: Yeah, to totally describe the process of how I discovered Codeable and got into Codeable I mentioned WooCommerce just there. When we initially became, went onto the new WooCommerce program after Automattic had bought WooCommerce. They changed the partner program; expert program is called… for the better, they added a lot of extra oversight basically to the system and made it a bit better. WooCommerce referred people who are looking for work doing. They referred me to either experts or to Codeable. I thought I'd better check Codeable out and see what it’s about; probably about just over a year ago now. I put in an application, kind of forgot about it and started getting these tests from Codeable, testing whether the quality of what I could do. I eventually obviously got accepted onto the program. I think it was about May or June 2016. But yeah it took…
Matteo: So almost 1 year...
Robin: Yeah, just about a year.
Robin: So it’s… that’s what sort of happened was I kind of noticed that Codeable… a lot of WooCommerce work was going through Codeable. I thought actually I needed to be on there. I need to make sure that, basically, I’m not missing good WooCommerce work that I’d be really good at doing so it’s…
Matteo: Makes sense.
Robin: It’s proven, it’s worked really well since then.
Matteo: What type of projects do you see yourself strongest at? Quick ones or more complex ones that may keep you busy for a week?
Robin: Yeah, it's kind of a mix. It's generally like about a year ago we would’ve said we didn’t do so many small tweaks, we would tend to focus on larger projects. So 6 months last, a year in fact, was spent working mainly for one client. However there is a big need out there for relatively small tweaks to finish a project where it’s a WooCommerce website, it’s been made by a design agency that knows their stuff but there is a WooCommerce element they have a bit of trouble with. Increasingly that’s what we’re doing more and more of. And that’s what I’m doing more and more through Codeable working with agencies to troubleshoot or basically assist with that final 5% percent that actually makes all the difference but they can handle the rest of it. They’re good with WordPress, they are good with WooCommerce, perhaps they have a gateway that’s failing or…
Matteo: Some fine-tuning at the end, or something like that.
Robin: Exactly that… so I think we’re increasingly focusing on working with agencies or large businesses that… either an IT person dedicated or a pretty good person in that business who know that stuff but they aren’t necessarily... they don’t work in WooCommerce every day so they’re lacking that expertise that I have basically.
Matteo: Yeah, and how many projects have you work on or complete?
Robin: I’m going to have to check.
Matteo: Just a rough number.
Robin: I think it’s about 70 now.
Matteo: 70 yeah nice number, congrats!
Robin: Yeah very quickly, because up until November I was working most of the time on one project.
Matteo: You catch up quickly!
Robin: Yeah, which was outside of Codeable and then very very quickly once that was finished I got a new office which helped a great deal. There are a couple of desks here too, working in this office. I’m surrounded by screens right now. So it’s really sort of… it’s accelerated since then. In January, I finished 25 tasks… 20. The reason I know these numbers incidentally is the new plug-in for Codeable developers that shows all our stats being made by a few guys...
Matteo: Developer guys?
Robin: Absolutely, brilliant. I know exactly how many projects I’ve done in January, February, and March now. I can be specific about that. The graph is moving up as well quite quickly.
Matteo: Nice, nice, nice so how are things going here at Codeable?
Robin: Really good, I’ve been impressed by the quality of the clients but also the sort of community I think there is about 250, there might even be 300 other developers and they are really good. The lack of competition is sometimes strange because we’re all embedded in the tasks but it’s a different process, different things. It actually took me a while to get used to it to be honest. The idea being that everybody is trying to do a good job and actually not competing with each other and actually trying to… many respects quite often what will happen is people will help other basically so they’ll say actually I haven’t got time for this sounds like you’ve got this covered but I’ll do X, Y, and Z. I’ll have a look at this plug-in and actually helping other developers. People improve for that collaboration and improve through that community that exists among Codeable developers and I'm really impressed by that.
Matteo: The community is strong. You also have a Slack channel and I see you talk shop, you talk about funny stuff so, to me, it looks like it’s friends talking about work!
Robin: Quite often arguing about approach and arguing about which plug-in is best or whatever but it’s a genuine sort of a community.
Matteo: Yeah, it is.
Robin: I think people improve through that. I think a lot of the times you’ll think this is the best way to do it and someone will opt in with a different solution and you say actually that’s a better way of doing it, whatever. I think that’s really beneficial. Even in my business we all operate remotely. Generally, I work with one person half a day every day just because it makes the meetings easier. The rest of the time it’s Skype and it’s talking to clients all the time. I think if I was a developer that only worked on my own it would be beneficial to have the other developers who are out there and discuss. It is private as well you know, you’re not (sort of) having a conversation on Twitter or whatever it is actually, it’s private conversations between developers. It's good and I think it improves everybody who is involved for being on there.
Matteo: Yeah I agree, completely agree. So next question, if you look at your past freelancing life and you fast-forward to today, how have things changed for you since joining Codeable? Are they indifferent?
Robin: Yeah, I think it’s slightly different if I come from just working for clients on my own I think the difference would’ve been bigger but it’s still different. The process, the way that leads a process, the way that the conversation happens is different on Codeable. Mainly the payments system is the big change. A lot of time I spend in my business is for preparing people to have invoice systems, trying to collect deposit payments, trying to get people to understand how payments are going to happen and then, of course, chasing and following up payments where they don’t necessarily come in on time and occasionally having to send a solicitors letter or having to collect some money.
Robin: That tends to be part of client work, but with Codeable that side of things is covered. So that is a big change really from outside world, and if the money side of things is organized and it means you can concentrate more on the actual work.
Matteo: That sounds helpful, of course. Let me ask you one last thing. I know some other experts like you after working with us for some time have been able to travel more… (yay, my favorite). Invest in their business with better software or gear, or somebody also has been able to set money aside, you know some savings. How about you did you do anything like that? Are you planning to do anything like this?
Robin: Yes I spoke to you a few weeks ago and I was thinking about this question and it’s a different answer now it’s a different answer.
Matteo: Ohh I’m curious...
Robin: It’s not because of Codeable, but basically my wife and I are having another baby so yeah. It’s not… I’m not going to say it’s because of you guys but it’s definitely - you know - we’ve already got one and money definitely helps with that.
Matteo: Of course, congrats wow.
Matteo: That’s great. Well Robin, I think that’s enough for today. A great, killer ending to this interview and thank you for sharing all your story with us and, once again, I’d like to thank you for spending your time with me and all of us. Wish you a great day and talk to you soon.
Robin: Yeah, thank you bye!
Matteo: Take care!
Robin: You too!
Matteo: Bye :)