Does owning your business really give you more freedom?
Episode 7: Transcript
This podcast is about our experiences with being self-employed, entrepreneurship, and bootstrapping it. Sometimes I have a spectacular guest that join me and share their stories. Also it’s about connecting to our soul, our inner selves to unwind and chill. My name is Lourdes, and I hope you enjoy this episode!
Hey, welcome back! Let me tell you about Mark Hunter. Mark Hunter is a full stack WordPress developer. He offers custom-made websites, digital marketing, and he specializes in memberships and marketing funnels. He is also the founder of WP Study Group on Facebook. Mark is from “down under,” you know, from Australia! I met Mark in… I guess, 2016? And it’s been a while since I’ve talked to Mark, so I’m really excited to have him join our show today!
Lourdes: And Mark, thank you for joining me today! I’m so happy to have you as my guest! How are you?
Mark: I’m doing really well, thank you. How are you?
Lourdes: Good, good, everything’s good here! And I just want to remind everybody that Mark is in Australia, so I think, oh my gosh… I’m recording on a Friday, and it’s Saturday morning for Mark, so thank you so much for getting up early and joining me today. So I wanna start off with some questions that I wanted to ask you. What made you decide to have your own business?
Mark: I think for me, a lot of people say it’s about the freedom, but I think for me it was about carving my own pathway. It’s kinda hard to describe but I really couldn’t find a traditional job that fitted me, and I didn’t necessarily have the qualifications and skills they were looking for because by the time I actually was “job ready,” I was too old to find. Basically, it was young people being paid cheaper to put into an entry position than me. So, I think it was about creating my own opportunity to be honest. And I think that’s really the reason I started. I guess that’s probably the best explanation for me, it was about creating my own opportunity.
Lourdes: Not everybody knows what you do, so can you tell us what you do?
Mark: Definitely! So, I’m actually a web developer, so I program in PHP, and all this kind of other technologies you might’ve heard of, some people might be familiar with CSS. And I’ve been sort of doing that since 2004. But in 2010, I think I kind of became aware of WordPress, and I remember dabbling in it at that time, and I kind of thought “this is kind of not so good,” y’know? Cause y’know, it’s back in 2010, I didn’t know a lot about that, I just built websites from HTML and that sort of stuff. And back in the day I had already tried Joomla earlier, and Joomla is very complicated but it’s nothing I kind of have tolerated. And over the years, maybe by 2011, somebody actually asked me if I could apply my web developer skills into the context of WordPress. So to cut a long story short, I’m a WordPress web developer. I know WordPress now the whole ecosystem, I’m very familiar with a lot of the popular plugins. I consult people, helping them set up the websites, particularly memberships or e-commerce sites. I help people with that kind of flow. But I also have the added benefit of having pulled the code apart, so I kinda know how WordPress works from what’s under the hood, programming, and also strategically in terms of how to use it, and what is actually out there inside of the ecosystem that works best for people. If that kind of, paints a little bit of a picture for you?
Lourdes: Yeah, it does. Were you self-taught as a developer, or did you go to school for that?
Mark: Great question, so yeah I was self-taught. In that 2004 period that I started learning programming, I had actually just dropped out of a course from college for teaching. So basically I’d graduated with an early exit. So I didn’t actually go to the board to pass school, being a high school teacher, or secondary teacher. But I kinda had the education. I didn’t wanna teach high school students, cause by that time kids were getting… I like the idea of teaching people, but kids did not want to be taught, and I just didn’t like that environment. So basically, I picked up a book in Borders one day. I don’t know if you have Borders, or you had Borders in the USA, I think maybe? It used to be a book store where they had like coffee, and y’know, two stories, multiple stories. And I started learning Java programming, that’s where I kinda got started. Then about a year later, I jumped onto the PHP bandwagon. I did a lot of courses for Lynda.com, which is now LinkedIn Learning, and I kind of built my skills up from there. So, yeah, I would say that’s how I got started. But in 2010, I did take a Master’s degree to extend my original degree, but it wasn’t in education, it was kind of like a jump into programming and web development. So I did take a Master’s, but I kinda already knew everything by then, so it was kinda easy to get those distinctions. [Laughter]
Lourdes: Yeah, I mean… Self-taught, that’s a lot of learning by yourself. Especially with coding. I’m taking a class right now by myself to0. Well not by myself, I’m taking a class. And it’s quite challenging, and you are self-taught, so you must have a lot of patience, and very smart. Do you have – and y’know, you said you’re self-taught, and you said it was back in 2004 – When did you officially have a business? Or your very first paid client?
Mark: I’m trying to think of the timeline, but I do remember my first big website project. I think it was about 2011-12, that was kind of a freebie, if you know what I mean? It was a short stint, I think after that, it was actually my doctor. One day I was sitting at McDonald’s, having a cheeseburger and kind of, y’know, just staring at the wall.
Lourdes: Wait, did you say your doctor?
Mark: Yeah, I’m not kidding!
Mark: So basically then I got a phone call, and then my doctor says “Hello Mark. Bet you didn’t expect me to call you.” And I said “yeah, what’s up?” Cause she was actually my psychiatrist, by the way. So I was thinking what’s going on here, cause y’know, it’s like counseling right? And then, basically, she asked me to help her husband with a website he was building for his coaching business. So that was my first big gig. Cause she knew, y’know we used to have counseling sessions, and she kinda knew all about what I was doing and how I was coping with y’know, lack of ambition. Well, not ambition, but lack of opportunity, and kind of confidence even. And that was kind of really nice to get started there. And I was thinking like, now who’s the mad one? You hired me to do your website. [Laughter]
Lourdes: That’s nice. So, she found you because she knew about your background. Aside from that, your second client. Were they a referral, or how did someone look for you, or you find clients?
Mark: If I remember back, around that time I do think I was kind of also into those networks like… there’s a network, VA Classroom, run by Craig Cannings and Kelly Cannings. And there was the networking run by Tawnya Sutherland. I remember I’d looked into those kind of networks, and then I was kind of a bit confused as to the term VA/Virtual Assistant back then, cause in my own mind, I didn’t understand, couldn’t differentiate “is this a freelancer, or is it something else?” And so basically, I joined Tawnya’s network, and what I’ll say is I spent a lot of time on the forums sharing my expertise, just y’know? Just like I was doing years ago with my doctor, just like all those years, sharing things. And come to think of it, even before then I kind of was also mingling with Justin Popovic and his crew. Cause I didn’t feel, somehow, confident enough that I could get clients, but at the same time I wanted to, in my narrow mind, I wanted to create products. And y’know I probably didn’t even think how I’d sell this product, the gurus make it look so easy. But y’know, Justin was a very great teacher, and he ran this class on product creation. And basically through his class, through his network, Tawnya’s network, people started hearing about my expertise, and it wasn’t long before Justin asked me to do a webinar for him. I remember I think I did two presentations for him, which actually landed me a few clients. ‘Cause a lot of people in this group were looking for help with their websites. And ironically, it was the same thing with Tawnya’s group. And then Tawnya and I built up a nice relationship, cause y’know Tawnya’s always so kind and caring. A lot of the people I hang out with, you kind of keep the ones you know who are kind and caring. So, it was all about relationship marketing, I guess I didn’t know that’s what I was doing. I wasn’t intending on that, but just by being me, being myself, sharing my knowledge, it got to a point where Tawnya asked me to present at VA Virtuosos, Justin asked me to do some webinars for him. So I would say a big part of my success story would be sharing knowledge, actually doing presentations like I’m doing with you now, which actually led to clients, which actually led to referrals, and that kind of created that flywheel, if you know what I mean.
Lourdes: Yeah, I do. And, is this Justin the guy that does the PLRs?
Mark: Mhm, that is correct. Very lovely person. I think he’s even actually asked me to do a presentation in March, which is kind of fun. I think it’s gonna be a series I believe, and he’s asked me to consider one of them and I’m happy to do it, ’cause I love talking about WordPress.
Lourdes: [Laughter] Yeah, thinking of having those clients and new clients that are coming to you, and you’ve helped them, did you find any of those clients difficult to work with?
Mark: Oh, goodness, yeah. So some of the referals that come out, some of them are… I actually built a lot of peer relationships, and some of those peers had referred me to clients, which was also great. And I’ve had a few nightmare clients like everybody else, and there was probably one client who… There were two clients who were kind of… The funny thing is, one client referred the other client, so it was this kind of like this snake pot of angry network, y’know what I mean? And it was like I was their puppy dog, “you do this now, you do that.” And cause I’ve not really been good at that point with boundaries, so I just thought yeah yeah I’ll just do it and help out and do that. But because I didn’t set that precedence, this one time the client’s attitude totally changed towards me because I said to her “I’m actually down the road getting medication, I can’t do this right now but I’ll do it when I get home.” So I jumped in a call with them 90 minutes later, and I think from there she kinda became quite agitated with me, because I didn’t jump in that instant 1 minute, I actually took 90 minutes to get to her.
Lourdes: I believe that. The boundaries are important, and we all learn as business owners that we experience that. But how do you teach a client your boundaries? How do you have them to have an expectation of how you and the client will work together to set those boundaries? How do you tell them that?
Mark: It’s really difficult for me, but I think to be honest, I think it comes down to, even when you send them a proposal or something just to outline the expectations in that. So it’s more or less, I’ll be available between these hours, or, y’know? And you might occasionally, as you get to know them a bit better, you might occasionally flex that kind of opportunity based on how you feel about that client. You might say yeah I’ll jump on that, but you don’t want to give them… How do I say this? There’s many different types of clients, right? So there are some clients you’ll do a project with, there are other clients who’ll kind of return to you, basically for little tasks, like pay-per-task. So if the client gives me something, I will avoid saying to them “ah yes, I’ll get back to you on that tomorrow.” I’ll try and extend that timeframe, like “I’ll get back to you soon,” in terms of a reply. Or if you do set an expectation, like let’s say you’re gonna have this created in 5 days time, you would extend the amount of time to say 8 days, and maybe deliver it on the 7th day. So it kind of sets the boundary, but it also looks like you’re overdelivering, which you are, but it’s just in their mind that you are. Does that make sense?
Lourdes: It makes sense. So on your proposal, I’m not sure if you said you outline the timeline. Do you, for example, for me, when I send a proposal, I also send an agreement. Is that something you do?
Mark: It’s something I should do. [laugher] And honestly, I know I should, but I’ve always liked to build that kind of trust, but that sometimes backfires. Like in 2021, I had my first bad experience. When I say bad experience, I had a client who was basically a professional speaker, and he talked about showing up and taking responsibility, that was kind of his premise. I built him a website we were working on, I kind of did the copy. I made the mistake of not taking the money up-front, cause I thought it was only a short project, signed off to complete in a short timeline. Then something came up with him, and returned one week later to it, and then suddenly he kept skipping out on the follow-up calls that he kept scheduling. So like 3 calls, he totally bailed out on, and then he disappeared altogether. So here I was with a completed website that we could’ve modified, I had written the copy. It was only one page of it, y’know? It’s still kind of a lesson to be learned, and that was the first client who skipped out on the bill. And I thought because of his mantra, and how well-known he seemed to be, he would have taken responsibility y’know? But he didn’t, he just got up and left. Cause he was having issues in his family, but rather he didn’t come to me and say “I can’t do this, I can’t pay,” he chose to basically keep scheduling the meetings and not turning up until he decided he didn’t wanna do it, and just disappeared.
Lourdes: I’m sorry to hear that. Learning from that, so apparently you require payment up-front. Do you ask for a full payment? How do you ask for these payments from the clients?
Mark: So what I usually do, I usually ask for a 50% payment in the first week. Sometimes, if the work doesn’t cost me, I might actually just get a head-start one week ahead, but it really is wise to have a payment up-front. I thought in the past in my own mindset that avoiding having a payment up-front would make the client happy. But at the end of the day it doesn’t change how the client feels about, how grumpy they might be. It doesn’t change the client in the end. So by getting a payment up-front, it actually qualifies and disqualifies clients. So, just because you think of being nice and taking a payment, doing a project that might take 10 days and taking a payment afterwards, it doesn’t make the client think any differently, y’know what I mean?
Lourdes: Yeah, and I don’t do business that way. Usually I ask for 50% down, and at the half-way point I ask for the next quarter down, and then before I release a website, I show the client, make sure it’s approved, and then get the final payment, and then release the website.
Mark: I kind of was doing your approach too. And it’s good because we have control, cause it’s on our service. But with this client last year, it’s like. It was my website, it maybe because of my kind of area, it was my creation. But it didn’t stop him losing interest, or whatever happened. I think he had some issues with family. It didn’t stop him from just walking out, cause he had no skin in the game to stay. But if it’s a long project like you and I, we do like, web projects. Definitely, y’know? We might take the first payment a couple weeks into it, whatever, or at the start. But if it’s a short project, like a one-week sort of micro project, it probably is worth taking all the money up front. Or 50/50.
Lourdes: So, if there’s a new business owner starting in the website developer business, what advice would you give that person as far as payments, hours, retainers, what should this new person do?
Mark: Well, that’s a tough question. Because, if they haven’t got clients, I think they really need to find out what makes them unique to get the client. But assuming they have got client flow or leads coming in, for websites I would definitely suggest projects. The reason being is, it’s not very common to build a website on a retainer, and it can be a bit disturbing for the client with the uncertainty of they want a product that has a finish line, and is this finish line gonna stop here or is it gonna go on forever? Now if it’s a project like social media management, that’s where retainers make sense, because it’s a recurring monthly thing. But when it’s a website, the client will always ask you how long will it take. And that’s really a hard question to answer, especially if you haven’t done it before. And, to be honest, I don’t like to answer that. I haven’t been asked that for years. Because y’know, it takes what it takes. But if you’re doing a project, and you start saying 4 weeks to delivery or whatever the scope of work is, the client’s less likely to ask that, cause they know the price up front, and they know it’s A-Z, they don’t have to worry about the time cause they’re not paying hourly. And you don’t have to be put in that awkward position of “oh well how long will that take” what if they ask this or that, y’know?
Lourdes: [Laughter] Yeah, I do know. So, Mark, I know you’ve been really busy with your business, and do you have team members?
Mark: Yes, I do. So, I had some help. Although the team members, ironically, don’t know how to do what I do. And the team members more or less help behind the scenes like with some of the marketing. Like, I got a really great social media community manager, her name is Karen. Do you know Karen, K? I don’t know if you do.
Lourdes: I don’t think so.
Mark: Everyone in the VA industry kinda knows her, cause she’s kinda this very popular… Very well-known one. She knows everybody in the industry, and she’s worked with organizations like IVAA, so she’s really really great, and she helps me basically with the community. Keeping an eye on things, like with the Facebook groups I have, or the one I have for my own membership site. She also creates social media content for my Mark of Approval consultancy, and I kind of am scaling up. I kind of had to let a couple go because of some differences in… Let’s say, there was just some things that weren’t compatible. But Karen is, y’know, she’s been working with me since March in 2021, and she’s just, everybody just loves Karen. And I’m planning on bringing a team together to help with the development of websites. So I do have some plans. So basically, Karen is like a fixture. I have Kathy, who from Europe, is kind of a writer. But she’s also a trained web developer too, so I’m kind of hoping she’ll spring back into her web development. And Karen’s from New Jersey, and I kind of have Marie from Virginia who’s more of a strategic partner, but she will help refer people to me, so we work strategically on projects. And I have, Heidi [laughs] from South Africa who’s a really great networker too, and she’s great with graphics, but she wants to be more into becoming her own consultant. So we definitely talk about ways we can collaborate now. So I have basically a team of 1 or 2, if you know what I mean, a team of 2, I guess.
Lourdes: So I have two questions that came in my mind while you were talking. One, you spoke about your study group that’s coming up soon, and two, your team members. Was it hard to find team members, and how do you know to trust them, and how do you know if they’re good? And, how do you let them go? [laughs]
Mark: All the team members are very close to me, so that kind of makes it hard and easy. But basically when you have that team and then know each other, you’ve also got that support. So if you have to let one team member go, and that team member kind of shows some side of them that they’re not really comfortable with, you kind of get an understanding when the other team members give you their respect a bit. They won’t tell you typically unless you ask them. A lot of team members don’t want to make it look like they’re yakking. But there was this one team member once that kind of, really showed a side that I kind of had known him for a long time. And had known he was kind of prone to getting agitated. But I kind of… Let’s just say there was a last straw, and basically the team I thought was really great. So Heidi from South Africa, she was there for me, because it was like in the afternoon when I was able to speak to her. Karen and Marie were asleep, because in America it was like 3 in the morning, and then basically by the time we were having, she was consoling me, we’re talking about the chaos that had gone down, she was having to ping the others. Cause we spoke for so long, it was like, the hours were getting up by the time we were still talking, so she got everybody on the call, and they all kind of consoled me. And they actually empowered me, by telling me how I’ve made so many changes in their lives. They told me all the things that’d changed because of me, and my influence on them, and they gave me that respect of just seeing that I mattered, if you know what I mean. So it kind of had come to a point where I realized these are the people who love me, and I love them, and… There are some people who will take, and not give so much, and there are some people you can really feel. So I guess to answer your question, it comes down to a gut feeling. And sometimes if you’re too deep into the mud, your gut feeling won’t register. So trust the initial gut feeling you have, and try not to let that go as you become more enamored in the relationship whether it’s real or false. Do you know what I’m saying? Trust that gut at the beginning before a relationship goes to a point where you lose sight of yourself. Does that make sense?
Lourdes: Makes sense, it almost sounds like you have to be a little bit vulnerable. And she sounds like a really good team player. She was there for you, with you, kinda holding your hand, and got everybody on the team when everybody woke up at the time. [laugh] That’s awesome. So, what’ve you been up to?
Mark: So, the WordPress Study Group was actually my membership for my…it’s like my peer-based y’know? It’s basically, you could say the two business, but it’s just one business. But it’s basically the peer side of things I do, where I train my peers. So the people I told you about are also a part of that group, and actually it’s a good thing you mention that. Because I actually met them through the group, if that makes sense, they joined as members, and they kind of become my pupils before they become my team if that makes sense. And that was a really great way of qualifying. So what I do in that group is basically, I teach different WordPress processes. Now, every month we’re kind of releasing in terms of stuff you need to do in a WordPress. This month it’s gonna be how to build a webinar sign-up page in Elementor, and some other market trends around that. That’s mainly the topic of the month. And then I have coaching calls, where they get on with me and ask questions, and I answer. So it’s basically a community where we learn about WordPress, and the reason I created that community is cause I see a lot of WordPress courses or trainings out there, but what I don’t see – and this is what everybody tells me – I don’t see somebody they can actually talk to who’s actually teaching the courses, and they can get feedback from and actually have a community around. Cause WordPress becomes more like a commoditized training these days, you may have noticed. There’s really nobody holding your hand, like I said, Haidi* holding my hand, and Karen holding my hand. There was nobody to hold their hands while they were learning about WordPress, if that makes sense.
Lourdes: Makes a lot of sense. Yeah, we’re usually watching videos from, I don’t know, maybe they made it last year, or the year before, and sometimes you have to go and ask questions and it could take a few days to get an answer. So it’s nice to have your hands held.
Mark: It is, definitely. And some of them will even book me for individual one-on-ones, because they need that extra, y’know. It’s mostly just confidence, to be honest. And education, but then confidence to apply.
Lourdes: You know, you mentioned confidence a few times. How did you get your confidence? Do you still get Imposter Syndrome today? I don’t think you do.
Mark: Not when it comes to my skills. And I never really have, when it comes to my skills. The only time I would really feel out of my confidence depth, is if I take the wrongful, you know I take the kind of harmful advice of the “gurus” and trying to take on a project that’s not me, selling something that is not me. Or I’m being pushed by somebody who I’m trying to help, and they want me to get out of my comfort zone because it’s about them, not about me. And that’s the only time I will feel not confident. But when I’m doing me, when I’m doing what I love, when I’m doing what I know, I’m totally in my zone, in my zen zone.
Lourdes: I like that, zen zone. Mark, you sound like you’re really really busy. What do you do in your spare time when you’re not working? Y’know, putting together a class, working with clients, managing teams, what do you do for fun?
Mark: Do you have any suggestions? [Laughter] So I know, I don’t know! I really don’t know, I mean, I do need to rest my brain. So, I think the simple things that I should do more often like, the other day I really enjoyed going out with my sister to see the new Spider-Man movie. Y’know, we went out, I got a Coke and some M&Ms. And this is the movie theatre right? And I also enjoy sometimes just spending time with family, and having maybe buying something like Indian, or watching a movie. I really don’t have friends in my own country ironically. I have a couple occasionally, but I really don’t have anybody I can go out with. But when it comes to my family, they’re very important to me. And of course, my cat. Everybody knows about Prew. And just spending time, and I think sometimes getting out of the house is really nice for me. Getting out of my dungeon here, and doing simple things like going for a walk. When I go out for a walk, I kind of think about work, and I enjoy it. But if it’s to get my mind off work, it’s kind of nice to watch a movie and hang out with family, or even Netflix. I even forced myself to watch two Netflix movies in the past two weeks. And I kind of enjoyed the movies, and they kind of left a good taste in my mouth even though they were horror movies, ironically. [laughs] But, it’s a good memory, in retrospect you look back on those memories and they have a nostalgic feeling. And I don’t wanna be stuck, like you said, in this kind of work, and only be known for work. And I think that’s really good. And one of my strategic partners, Marie from Virginia, we sometimes get on Zoom and just goof off, and sometimes we’ll laugh for hours at nothing. You can still use your friends from business, and just talk about nothing, y’know?
Lourdes: Yeah, so especially when we have a lot of stress from difficult clients, you just need to get out of the dungeon like you said. Just go out for a walk, or talk to a friend, laugh it off. That’s good.
Mark: Yes, laughing’s really good. Unfortunately it’s all screen-based, but I’d never used TikTok before, but I saw this TikTok video, it was really strange, but I laughed for an hour after it was through. It was like, it was just so ridiculous.
Lourdes: Well, alright. It’s gotten to the part of this podcast where I ask you a weird or funny question Mark. So, here it is. Would you rather spend the rest of your life living in a sailboat as your home, or an RV as your home, and why?
Mark: I would say RV. And the reason why, it’s cause it’s the lesser of the two evils. [laughs] Cause I don’t like either! But, a sailboat is in the ocean, surrounded by nothingness, right? An RV, at least I’ve got a chance to have people around me. Cause one of my things, is actually, even though I’m kind of….If an extrovert is 10/10, and an introvert is 1/10, I would be 4.5 out of 10. I like to have people around me, even if I’m working, I like to know that there’s people in the world. And by being in the ocean, or being in space, anything like that, I’d get a claustrophobic feeling thinking about it cause I’m like, oh, there’s nothingness, it’s just water, there’s no human contact, there’s maybe not even sea gulls. Not even my cat. At least an RV, I might get trampled by an elephant, but at least I’d have the company of the elephant right?
Lourdes: [Laughter] Let’s hope not!
Mark: Well, you said you’d ask a strange question, I gave a strange answer. But it’s true, I like to be surrounded by company.
Lourdes: Yeah, sounds good. And so, finally, how do people find you, and please tell us more about that class that’s coming up.
Mark: Yea, for sure. So, my website for my consultancy business, is https://markofapproval.com/. If you’re gonna put links on the replay, you can put my LinkedIn link as well, my LinkedIn link is just “Mark of Approval” as well, I typically go by that term when I can. The website for the WordPress study group is https://wpstudygroup.com/. Right now I’m trying to re-open the membership, but I believe there’s a link to the community WordPress group on there that anybody can join. Say hello, hang out with the other people, I think it’s 70+? It’s not a big group, but it’s a very intimate group. So yeah, wpstudygroup.com or markofapproval.com, and you can pretty much find everything else from those two websites in terms of how to follow me on social, the group to join, the contact form to say hello, so that’s probably your best bet.
Lourdes: Sounds good, I’ll have all those in the show notes. And again, thank you so much for joining me in my podcast today! This was so interesting, I learned a lot about you today!
Mark: Thank you, I really appreciate it!
Lourdes: That’s it for today’s episode. Are you homeschooling your kid’s today because of our current situation? Join me next week when we talk about Balancing Homeschooling and Working from Home.
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