Thoughts on Side Projects and Family

If you don’t know John Saddington, entrepreneur, software engineer, indie developer, and family man, you need to stop right now and go read his blog. The whole thing. I’ll wait.

Ok, now that you’re back, 🙂 I hope you read his most recent post on this topic. I have a huge amount of respect for John. I was super excited that I was moving to Atlanta, knowing that he was in this great city. But shortly before I moved, he up and moved his own family (I don’t hold it against you, John). While I still hope that one day we can grab a beverage and chat, I continue to follow him digitally via his blog.

Family Matters

After reading his post on family and side projects, I thought about my own recent experiences with balancing my full time job developing websites and applications using WordPress, spending time with my wife and two girls, and working on my upcoming product, Mission Plannr, I figured I’d offer some feedback.

While I wholeheartedly agree with John’s sentiment of not being perfect and still trying to figure this thing out, I do think there are some good principles and practices that can be helpful.

Be there when it matters

There are key events in your family’s life that matter. Birthdays. School events. Anniversaries. Holidays. While this doesn’t mean you will or have to make every one, being there when it’s important not only makes your family happy, it builds trust and deepens the relationship. This isn’t just pertaining to side projects either. Sometimes you have to step away from full time work to put family first.

Be there everyday

While this isn’t for everyone or every situation, I make the effort to spend some sort of time with my kids and my wife everyday. Usually, this means pausing when they arrive home, eating dinner and helping get the kids washed up and put to bed. Then my wife and I spend a few minutes chatting about our days and the next few days. Then I usually return to working on side projects. While exceptions are made, this allows me to be present, be a parent, and be an influence on my children daily. A reminder that I love them, daily. The one time this doesn’t work physically is when I travel for work or to conferences. While I don’t do this too often, when I do I make sure to video chat at least once a day with all of them.

What about you? How do you handle family, work, side projects and all the other things that compose our lives? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Should I?

My eldest had her third birthday this weekend. We had a very fun, present-filled celebration with family and even FaceTimed with those that couldn’t be there. It was a truly merry time. One of the things that I learning as a father is to enjoy those little moments as they fly by and are so easy to miss. But perhaps the hardest thing I’m having to learn as my children get older is that there are a myriad of really great opportunities out there for kids, parents and families.

Options, Options, Options

Companies, organizations, and local governments are all learning that providing programs and events geared towards families actually brings both families and singles to their community. So we have options. Festivals, parties, Christmas light shows, and so much more.

Working from home this year I’ve made a priority of getting myself and my family out of the house to do things together. With this plethora of options available it’s been hard to not overcommit or simply be overwhelmed and do nothing. But neither of those is the right thing.

You see, my kids love to go do these events. They love meeting people, going places and doing anything fun. My wife loves taking them places. So do I. But going to as many as possible would stretch us too far both financially and physically. We focus on keeping our schedule free and clear most nights in order to facilitate rest and family growth. We don’t look down on those who fill their nights with activities, we have just chosen not to and it is what works for our family. But we also have decided to not just sit at home every night and be hermits. Children (and adults) learn so much from interacting with others their age and older. It’s important for growth and intellectual stimulation.

But recently, we’ve been asking not only just which activities we should attend, but why. We have all these options to choose from. But should we choose any of them? Is it wise? What does it gain? Would it be better to wait for another weekend to do something? It has helped us not race towards nowhere simply because we want to see forward motion.

Asking Should I At Work

The programming world can be like this at times. Just last week I was looking through my normal reading list and realized how many resources, guides, learning opportunities and white papers were available. The amount of information available on various subjects is vast. Unfathomable. My desire for learning begs me to dive in and not come up until I’ve consumed it all. But is that really the most helpful thing? Should I?

The same goes for decisions we make at work. We can take on that fifth client. It would mean a record year in terms of profit. But should we? What stress will it place on our people? Are they reputable? Even if they are a dream client, the answer might not be yes.

When you ask “should I?” you are asking what the ramifications are. Not just for you, but for others. You have to consider the mental, physical, financial, social, and lots of other areas that could be affected. It causes you to pause. To consider. In that moment of pause, I have found that the pause itself causes the best answer to present itself that perhaps wasn’t visible before.

So next time you are presented with a mountain of data, material, or a multitude of decisions, instead of choosing an option, simply ask, “should I?”


Developers Are Project Managers Too

We’ve all felt it. That tension that builds as a project get closer to launch. Maybe things are a bit behind. In many agencies, this leads to frustration between project managers and team members as each pushes back on the other. In some cases, I’ve even seen this tension lead to outright anger and arguments. In those cases, everyone, including the client, loses. So how can you, as a developer, keep this from happening? How can project managers work with developers to create beautiful sites and software for clients while maintaining proper boundaries and profitability? It’s not easy.

But there is a small change that developers can make to help push the conversation in the right direction. Act more like project managers. My friend and boss, Chris Lema, calls this taking ownership. This encompasses many areas and tasks, but mainly it involves proactive task management, client management and even project manger…management. Let’s take a look.

Proactive Task Management

Internally, we use a combination of task management applications to get the job done. But the most popular is GitHub tasks. It allows developers to interact with the tasks programmatically and attach them to pull requests and commits. But an issue that I’ve seen among many developers in many companies is that we only tend to pay attention to our tasks and not the project and task list as a whole.

While project managers are in place to make sure that tasks are sorted and being carried out, part of being a responsible team member is knowing what is going on, not just in your task list, but how the project is proceeding as a whole. Not only does this help your team be better, but it allows you to make better decisions about how to approach coding specific modules and pieces of your tasks.

Client Management

One of the biggest lies I deal with from many technical managers and even project managers is that developers can’t talk to clients and should be kept as far away from them as possible. I have met some developers who were truly awful at client relations, that is mostly through inexperience. Communication is a learned skill. It takes practice. Sometimes, it takes having someone more experienced sit down and explain the basics to you.

A developer who can speak to a client is a powerful resource. Not only do they have the ability to put in the work, but they can also explain it to the client in great detail but with great simplicity. Imagine if instead of having to come up with a answer to the why question every time a client asks why solution X was picked over solution Y the developer could speak intelligently, simply and quickly on the subject. This ability helps not only during the project but during discovery and project planning as well. Estimates are sharper, features are scoped correctly, and clients are given more complete pictures of what to expect rather than finding out about problems in the development cycle.

Project Manager…Management

I once worked for a company where I had 10-12 “drive-bys” per day of people dropping by my desk to get an update on a project or just say hi. While none of these were with the intent to distract me, that is what they did. It takes me on average 20-30 minutes to get “in the zone” for programming. So for every 30 second drive by, it was really costing myself and the company up to 30 minutes of productive time.

One way I found to get around this (other than work from home and hide from all communications 🙂 ) was to preemptively update my project managers each day. I began reaching out to them first thing in the morning with updates and asking for any questions or updates  they could provide. While this didn’t stop all the distractions, it did ease them by a vast majority.

True project management requires patience and planning. A great team realizes that not only does each member bring something to the table but that everyone has to pull their weight and that each person can help outside of their discipline. When we take ownership of our responsibilities and of the project as a whole, we allow our clients to benefit from a well synced machine that is both profitable and productive.

Growing Outside the WordPress Box

Sometimes I get too focused. I stop growing. I’ve been “head down” for the past several months. After joining Crowd Favorite, I jumped right into several projects. I also moved 800 miles from Texas to Georgia. Moving is both expensive and complex. There are licenses to update, crazy amounts of bills and lots of records to get transferred. So it has been a while since I blogged. But more than that, it has been a while since I have done anything but work and spend time with my family. Neither of which I am complaining about. I get to do some really cool things for Crowd Favorite and I love my family beyond what I can communicate. But I had stopped learning. Stopped teaching. Stopped pursuing personal growth. While I noticed it right away, it wasn’t until this past week that I felt like I was in a place to do something about it.

Growing Outside of WordPress

I’ve had the chance in the past week to pursue several interests inside and outside of development. I gotten a taste of Angular and React. They are both amazing tools that I am hoping to use on several personal projects in the near future. I also started learning Swift, Apple’s iOS programming language. While it is a HUGE step outside of my front end development comfort zone, it has been a really cool process. Being an avid user of my Apple Watch, I noticed a huge section of the market that no one else has pursued yet and decided to build something to fit my own needs. Stay tuned for my first app release hopefully before the end of 2015.

@chrislema taught me that if you aren't stretching yourself in some way, you're probably doing it wrong. Click To Tweet

I’m also planning on writing a lot more. I tried to be very diligent about writing daily this year, but only made it a few months. I believe that writing is an integral skill in life both on the business and personal side of things. In fact, my generation seems to lack for this skill more than almost any other.

All of that to say that I’ve been pursuing life outside of WordPress lately. I don’t plan on leaving it anytime soon nor do I think that there’s anything wrong with leveling up your WP skills. In fact, I am aiming to do that myself as well. But, every once in a while, it pays to stick your head up and dive into something foreign. Chris Lema taught me that if you aren’t stretching yourself in some way, you’re probably doing it wrong. 🙂

What Putting Family First Actually Means

Disclaimer: I realize, up front, that not everyone is in the position that I am. Not everyone values the same things I do. Nor does everyone believe the same things that I do. But you, dear reader, are on my personal blog. You have been warned. 🙂

There’s been a lot of tweets, chatter, blog posts and conversation the last few years about work and the balance between work and family.Recently, even Jeff Chandler at WP Tavern took a shot at opening up more discussion of the family first mantra after hearing a talk about it at Prestige Conference. While I see many of my friends and peers moving in the right direction, it would appear that America overall is moving in the wrong direction. While I definitely do not judge those who must or enjoy working 40+ hour weeks, I have found that it isn’t appropriate for me, all the time.

What I mean is that I’m working very hard on slowing down. Being with my family. Focusing on my mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health. But this doesn’t mean that I quit my job and have become a hermit. In fact, part of the decision to write this post came from working a 70 hours week recently in order to launch a massive, complex project. We launched and I got to see a great team come together and do something incredible. Was it tiring? Yes. Was it worth it? Yes. Am I super excited to be back to normal and get to invest more in my family this weekend? Yes.

Family first is a mantra that has been heard by most in the last few years. While I think it is a positive idea, I think that it is often misunderstood. Family first doesn’t mean family first always or family only. Andy Stanley, a noted author, speaker, and pastor, has a book that I love called, “Choosing to Cheat.” The basic idea of the book is that we have a limited amount of time but an unlimited amount of requests for time and energy. We are going to have to “cheat” something out of time and energy. He encourages you to make sure you cheat more on work than family. But this doesn’t mean you always “cheat” work. Sometimes you have to invest in work in order to be able to invest in family. It’s a balance.  I make a very comfortable living and am very blessed to be able to provide for my family at the level that I do. I’ve worked very hard and been given much. While I don’t necessarily call it family first, I do live by a set of boundaries that mean my family should be getting more time and energy than my job.

A little of my family first story

To give you some background, I have to go back to my first development job out of college. I worked for a large church in Virginia that was able to pay for their first full-time web developer as a part of the IT department. That meant on any given day I could be coding PHP or laying ethernet cable. I was newly married and grateful for full-time, benefitted work. I also had an incredible boss who is still a family friend. I was able to work from home a few days per week and wasn’t held to a 40 hour work week. Get the job done and enjoy time away. To this day, I am extremely grateful for that first experience. It helped shape my views on the industry as well as what work should look like in a major way.

Next, I moved to a much higher paying job in the advertising industry. While the job was fast paced and allowed me to work on some extremely high-profile clients, it came with long hours and a stressful, protracted commute. I worked with insanely smart people and was able to lead our company in all of our WordPress development efforts. But my wife and I welcomed our second little girl into the world during this time and I was home 30 minutes before bedtime each night. This became increasingly unacceptable to me. So I made a change.

While not for everyone, working from home has become the solution that works best for me and my family. It allows me to work hard but be engaged with my family throughout the day. It also does away with a stressful commute that takes up even more time. I see my wife and girls now more than I ever have. No, my life isn’t perfect. Yes, we get on each others nerves at times. Yes, I still work late some days. But we’re working on it. I’m learning to invest time and energy into the things that matter. My health. My wife. My children. AND my work.

5 Best Practices for Nonprofit Websites

The web is an increasingly crowded place. Getting your message out in the sea of other website and connecting with potential volunteers and donors is becoming increasingly difficult. That isn’t even counting the other forms of media that fill our eyes each day. While there is no silver bullet to slaying the perfect website dragon, there are several best practices that can make your nonprofit website stand out and speak up.

Best Practices

1. Be Professional

This is huge. There are so many websites out there, even outside the nonprofit world, that are simply ugly. They could have been designed by the founders six-year-old. We aren’t in the 90’s anymore where any old design will do. Today, visitors expect clean design, well written copy and images that aren’t clip art. While great design can be quite expensive, it doesn’t have to be.

Nonprofits on a tight budget can take advantage of things like well coded, well designed templates. While I believe that every professional should be adequately compensated for their time and experience, there are many options and those that will work with agencies and nonprofits to find a solution that will fit within your budget. By choosing a strong design and staying away from outdated ideas, you can use this best practice to leap ahead of a large percentage of the websites out there.

2. State Your Mission Quickly and Clearly

One of the most frustrating things that I often see on the web is that while the design of the website is beautiful, I have no idea what the organization or company does. That full screen video playing in the background is beautiful and trendy, but it doesn’t tell me what you are trying to do in the world.

You want your site’s visitors to know exactly who you are and what you do as quickly as possible. This is more important than your pretty picture or that catchy headline or your latest tweet. So make your site’s structure make sense and present the most important information at the top. You’ll thank me later.

3. Stay Updated

Keeping content, imagery, and events on your website up to date is imperative. No one likes to visit a website trying to find when an event is only to see the last event listed is from eight months ago. If you aren’t going to keep your blog updated, don’t have one. It isn’t worth the negative reaction that you are going to cause.

Another piece of this is that you must have reliable hosting  and keep your software and applications up to date. Keep CMSes like WordPress updated and make sure your web host is installing security patches for server applications. It is your job to make sure both you and your website are following best practices in all areas.

4. Keep It Positive

Don’t be negative. Just don’t do it. While it might seem easy or smart to attack the competition or point out a competitor’s flaws, it ends up making you look pitiful and could bring legal ramifications. Positive, encouraging messages as well as strong relationships with peers in your industry can forge powerful bonds and create new opportunities in the future.

5. Trust is key

In the end, trust is the key ingredient for a great online experience for any visitor. They are only going to interact and communicate if they trust your message, your mission and your voice. So make sure you pay close attention to issues both with security and messaging. Deal with problems immediately and with patience and understanding. Maintain a cool head when interacting with detractors and keep records and logs that can help you track down potential issues.

While there are many more best practices that can help your nonprofit succeed online, this list provides a solid foundation to getting your message heard and your platform established. I’d love to hear what others you have found that have been essential to your success!

Why Your NonProfit Needs A Website

Your organization, church, nonprofit needs a website. If you don’t already believe that, it is my hope that I can help convince you. In today’s highly competitive market for nonprofits and the finite amount of donation dollars available, those with clear, consistent, strong digital platforms are winning the day.

Take a look at organizations like The Salvation Army. They spend millions every year on a professional website, high end advertising and are constantly looking for ways to improve and streamline their customer and volunteer experience. I know, because I used to work for their agency of record.

But they didn’t start out using one of the largest advertising agencies in the nation or with budgets in the millions. They started with a vision. A mission. A desire to spread their message of hope and help far and wide.

But not everyone has those things.

You don’t have to understand it all, but knowing someone who does helps

They just didn’t understand.

I had been working with a nonprofit organization as a volunteer for months trying to impress upon them the need for a website. It would help solidify their brand and spread their message of hope to the world. It would allow them to take donations online and communicate digitally with their volunteers and those that wanted to donate.

But all they could see was the cost. Nevermind that I was willing to do the actual design and development for free. I had pursued multiple hosts and showed them lots of options for various levels of service and pricing. But they weren’t willing to invest even a few dollars per month towards something they couldn’t understand the value of.

I partly blame myself as I was not a great salesman. It’s something I’ve worked on a lot since then. I’ve spent hours reading books on and practicing my salesmanship. But the true fault lies in the founder’s lack of vision into how to grow his organization’s platform and reach. While not the only reason, it was part of the reason the organization was forced to fold several years later.

Getting a website up and running these days is unbelievably easier than it was even five years ago. With options like WordPress, Squarespace, Wix, and hundreds of other options, anyone can do it themselves. But there are also agencies and freelancers across the globe who can help you get up and running with a professional website without having to request an armored car to deliver the money.

The important thing is that you must begin to build your brand in the digital world. It is an incredible platform if you use it wisely. It doesn’t have to be expensive. It doesn’t have to consume all your time. But leveraging things like social media, web presence and advertising can be the difference between completing your organization’s mission and wondering where you went wrong.

July Is WordPress NonProfit Month

Let’s face it, there are a lot of really bad nonprofit websites out there. I mean really, really bad. But there are also some great examples of building a platform, a brand and an audience online in order to fulfil a mission and support a cause. That’s why I’m dedicating July as WordPress nonprofit month.

Having been in the nonprofit world for more than seven years as an employee and even a board member, I’ve helped quite a few nonprofits get online and build their brands and support online.

In fact, I love to write about doing just that. The nonprofit world is one that is unlike any other in business. It has such a unique set of challenges, goals, and people that no project is ever the same.

So I’m dedicating July to helping nonprofits specifically. I’m going to write about getting a website setup, how to take donations, how to communicate your mission and much more.

If you have a question or topic that you think needs to be included in our series for Nonprofit Month, tweet at me or send me an email via my contact form. I’d love to hear from you.

It’s been a long while since I posted. This was due to several reasons including a move across country, getting our new home setup, an illness and vacation. Now that things are back to some semblance of normal, I have a dedicated space and time to write each day, so posts should become more frequent.

What Getting Rid of 50% Of My Stuff Is Teaching Me About Building A Business

To prepare for our upcoming move, my family and I got rid of almost half of our stuff. This may seem like we went crazy, but it is leading us to a more fulfilling life and an easier move. But above and beyond that I’m learning a huge lesson in my business.

Getting rid of junk brings clarity

Over the past few years, I’ve tried and (mostly) failed to start several businesses online. Everything from WordPress themes to passive income blogs to niche websites. I even got into dropshipping websites one time. Ugh.

While I can’t say that I’ve had some epiphany or I’m suddenly an online business ninja guru expert, I can say that I am more focused and clear headed about business than I ever have been. I’m reading, studying and listening to those who have succeeded more. I’m working on a few core select businesses.

Most importantly, I’ve learned to say no. Chris Lema is famous for saying no. This simple step has allowed me to clear away all the junk that I was involved in before. It has even helped me to decide to let go of some good opportunities. This has been instrumental in my current growth because it has let me take advantage of great opportunities. Good is the enemy of great.

Getting rid of all of these things in my life that weren’t the best possible opportunities has allowed me to see the things I want to focus on more clearly. I have clarity to make good decisions in my business and to get things done efficiently.

Building a solid business take focus

With this renewed clarity, I’ve been able to focus more on the core tenets of my business and ensure that those are utilized and fed. This has been essential lately as I haven’t had a lot of time to invest in building side businesses with my full time job and preparing to move. So the limited amount of time I’ve been able to invest has had to be laser focused on achieving specific goals.

I’ve begun creating manageable to-do lists of short term goals with specific tasks like:

  • Write a post on XXX today and schedule for ____.
  • Install ____ plugin and configure.
  • Email so and so a short reminder that I need X by Y.

These kind of short, to the point, and actionable to dos have led to a huge increase in getting things done that have measurable impact on business and growth. While focus isn’t going to make you millions, it will help to take your hard work and invest it wisely.

So what can you get rid of mentally or physically to help you focus?