Introducing Jessica Reilley
- Jess’s business coach: De Yarrison – essentialshiftnow.com
- Original music for Hallway Chats by Brian Claeys
Liam: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Liam Dempsey.
Tara: I’m Tara Claeys. Today we have Jessica Reilley with us. Jess is a single mom of two awesome kids. She’s a front-end developer and works exclusively with WordPress. In her free time, Jess can be found traveling with her kids in tow, hiking, taking photos, reading or connecting with others. Hi, Jess!
Jess: Hi! Thanks for having me.
Liam: Hey Jess! How are you? Thanks for joining us.
Jess: Thanks. I’m good Liam. How are you?
Liam: Very good. Very good. I’m going to acknowledge the dog in the background barking. Otherwise, it would be silly if we didn’t. The dog is around somewhere (as they are always) and that’s wonderful. Jess? Why don’t you take a few minutes and tell us about yourself?
Jess: Ok. Thank you. I can’t believe she is barking. She rarely barks. It’s great that we started up the podcast with Cocoa barking. Anyway…so I am a front-end WordPress developer. I work exclusively with WordPress. I started working with WordPress almost 10 years ago. That was in 2006 and that was for my own personal blog. I just came across the software and I thought, “This is pretty cool.” I installed it and started playing around with it. I just liked the blogging aspect of it. That’s when I first got involved.
Then a couple years later I had a friend who needed a website (a glass artist). I actually still do her website. I said why don’t we build it on WordPress? She liked it and I liked it. Back then it was really more of a blogging platform. Now it’s evolved to really be a fully all-encompassing website platform. Yes, so that’s where I started. In 2008, I had my first child and I stopped working completely at that time. Then I had my second child and I was still doing that original website. I guess what happened was I started to help out more people with WordPress. I really loved the platform. Eventually I started helping and doing web development for people that weren’t friends. I started to think well maybe this is something I can actually do for a living. I actually started jumping in full-time. I actually made my business official and I love it. It’s been my favorite thing. I get to do this every day for my job. It’s creative, it challenges me and I get to be around my kids. That’s the really awesome part. I get to see them off to the bus, and to work during the day. Then I get them off the bus every day. I love that.
Tara: That’s great. I love your story and I can relate to it a little bit too. I did a website early on for a glass artist as well.
Liam: I’m going to chime in and say I did one as well. We’re three peas in a pod there.
Tara: No! What are the odds? I appreciate also that you started out doing WordPress as a favor for people just to learn and have progressed to doing it to make a living. Tell us a little bit about how have you developed your skills? How did you learn to do what you do and evolved over the past 10 years from doing it as a hobby to having the skill level to do it professionally?
Jess: So, first off I should say my degree is in computer engineering. I have pretty solid coding background. Although, after I graduated from Penn State I worked in industry for five years. At that time, I coded in C for five years. I do have a fairly strong coding background. Although in college I did not, except for maybe a couple minor personal interests, I didn’t have any HTML, PHP or CSS experience. When I started getting into it (just as favors for friends) I really started off with very basic understanding of how WordPress works. I started off with a free theme. I installed it and started digging in trying to understand how themes work and how WordPress works. Then I transitioned to customizing themes (either purchasing a theme or getting a free theme) and customizing it. Then I transitioned to starting with a starter theme, like Genesis or another theme. I used a much more traditional starter theme and making more custom themes for clients. With most or all of my experience, I haven’t taking any WordPress classes or coding classes specifically in web development. That’s all just been learning and going off my coding background.
Tara: In that regard, what have you found to be the biggest challenge in your pathway of learning? It sounds like you have a lot of experience and you’ve pieced a lot of things together. What would you say has been the most challenging part of that journey?
Jess: Since I’m a solo business owner, one of the biggest challenges is day-to-day. I use the internet a lot for resources and to understand things. If I hit a challenge or to just learn coding techniques is (I think) just best practices. I would love to have a business partner at times who had a coding background and just to just say “Hey! What’s the best practice for this?” “What’s the best way to implement this?” Just someone to bounce ideas off of. That’s a really big challenge for me. I’ll do a lot of research on the internet and I belong to the Philly burbs Meetup group which is a really fantastic resource. (…a little plug there…) That’s fantastic. Although day-to-day one of the biggest struggles is “Am I doing this right way? Is there a better way to be doing this?” It’s that type of thing.
Tara: Yeah. I think that’s familiar. In your professional life and life in general, we always like to ask people about how they define success. So, you’ve taken this great journey over ten years and become a professional. So what would you say is your definition of success?
Jess: That’s a great question. I think I’d like to split it into two parts because I have personal success and professional success.
I’m going to preface this with my life has really changed over the past year. I went from being married, to separated, to being a single mom. Why I mentioning that is because it really has shifted my definition of success. It also has to do with my role as a web developer.
When I was married, my role was supplementary. My job was kind of supplementary to our income. It wasn’t something I had to do a certain amount of. I wasn’t bringing in a certain income. When we separated, that role really shifted for me. So now professionally, I need to live a certain lifestyle and to support my kids. I need to make X amount of dollars. So that has really shifted the way I see my job (for better or for worse) and also how I define success.
Now I define successfully for my personal life as being able to connect with my children and to provide a specific lifestyle for them. That doesn’t come back to sometimes making so much money. I need to think about my job in business in a different way than I used to. Although, ultimately what I define success as…if money wasn’t an issue and I didn’t have to think about that…the way I define success is being able to connect with others and make meaningful impact on other’s lives. That goes personally and professionally.
I find so much meaning in fighting for my children, getting them out the door everyday, playing with them, and seeing them. I also find a lot of deep meaningful work in not only doing web development for professionals but also web development for nonprofits as well. I feel very fortunate that I get to do that.
Liam: I love that imagery of success being the ability to connect for and provide for and assist others, where it starts with your immediate family, your children and then it grows from there. You’re putting food on your table, when you’re working with your clients to help them to put food on their respective tables, and you’re working with nonprofits to enable them to address the needs of the communities they serve. That’s a really fantastic vision and definition of success. As you tied that to the business where at some point…yeah…it comes down to “There has to be enough money.” I see that not as a vicious capitalistic way where it’s all money but as a practical reality. Part of the way that we care for our circles is to be able to meet some their earthly needs. So what a great definition. Thank you for sharing that.
Jess: Thank you.
Tara: I know working from home…it sounds like you do…is that right?
Jess: Yes, I do.
Tara: Yeah. So separating your work life from your mom life, and mixing the two things together, and setting an example for your kids on how you balance that…how do you balance that?
Jess: That’s a great question to ask. This is something I’ve struggled with even before becoming a single mom. Balance has been challenging and a struggle for me. It’s wonderful that I feel very fulfilled by my job and as my role as a mother. The challenge does come down to how do I manage a business (which is as you both know very time-consuming) and sometimes it just seems there’s just not enough hours in the day.
It really is such a fluid thing for me. I often will get kids off the bus, come home and get them settled in and say “Ok. I have to wrap up a couple emails here. Give me half an hour. Why don’t you guys decompress and watch a TV show or whatever?”
I think that still continues to be my biggest challenge is not only finding time to provide for my client and provide well for them and serve them well…but to provide for my children and serve them well.
On top of that, provide for myself. I think all three of those are important to me and are the top priorities for my children and me. Yeah, I do have a strong connection and identity with my business. It’s such a huge part of my life. I feel a lot of responsibility to provide well for my clients that I serve. So this balance thing…it’s good on some days and I celebrate those days. Then there are days where everything is falling apart. It’s 5:30 and there’s no food on the table yet and I’m still rapidly tying to fire off some emails and the kids are going apart. So it is not all rainbows and unicorns.
Liam: (laughing) Yeah. “It’s 8:30 at night. We’re going to have breakfast for dinner.”
Jess: Yep, absolutely. We’ve had many of those nights.
Tara: How old are your kids?
Jess: They are 8 and 6. They’re both in school. They are in second and first grade. So my day really consists of…I get them on the bus at 8:00 a.m. and I pick them up at 3:45 p.m. So I have a solid seven hours and during the day where I can get my stuff done. My day doesn’t always stop right then. Sometimes I will hop on and do some emails. I will often hop on my computer at night and do work. Working from home, as you were saying Tara, it’s hard to set boundaries. I don’t have a set day. Once the kids are home, my computer is off. At this point that’s not how it is. It’s very changing.
Tara: That’s understandable. I know we talked about your development as a professional web person but it sounds like now that you’ve taken this on more as a sustaining business for your family how are you learning and developing your skills as a business owner? That’s a whole other set of skills that I think a lot of us struggle with…tracking your time, finding new clients, maintaining websites for clients, all of those things…billing. How are you managing that end of your business?
Jess: I would say that is my single biggest struggle and I don’t manage it well. I actually have had “Send out invoices” on my list for March, April, and May. I am three months behind on my invoicing.
Liam: I know that well.
Jess: Oh my gosh! I am horrible at it. I struggle with this the whole time. I love what I do. I do not feel that being a business owner is my strength. I feel that I excel at connecting with colleagues and working with others. I am a solid developer. Yet when it comes to the administrative stuff (and it’s not only the fact that I don’t like it) it’s probably that 20% of my job that I just don’t like. So that is where I struggle.
As I’m working on what I want my business model to be, I am at a point where (I’ve been at this point for about two years now) where I have probably more than enough work. I’m in this transition phase where I need to figure out where to go from here. Do I hire someone? Do I partner with someone? What do I do? I really feel that I’m at a crossroads of sorts. I’m just not sure what I want to do. That’s where I’m sitting right now. This uncertainty of where do I go? I hate the administrative stuff. How do I manage that?
Liam: I very much appreciate that, and losing the forest for the trees when we’re up to our eyeballs in project deliverables. We realize the bank account has not even enough money in there. Then we realized from our invoicing services that we use that they owe about $8,000. They aren’t going to pay it until I invoice them. So let me do that.
Within this milieu of work going well from a project standpoint, getting the income that you want (or need to meet your goals) and on any given day you’re balancing it all. How do you find time, on good days I guess, to find the space to think about where should I be going particularly as it relates back to your goals? I’m sorry…you’re definition of success, and then maybe while you’re thinking about this question, Jess, I’ll ask you as well… how do you weave in self-care time?
I get the view that you’re very busy and there’s a lot of demands on your time. Those are demands that you want to meet, you love to meet and you’re excited to meet. But at some point, you only have so much energy and time. How do you get through all of that?
Jess: That’s another great question. To start with the first question regarding how do I find the space and time to think about my business, where is it going and how do I see it meeting my definition of success? I have worked with a business coach for almost five years now. She’s really a fantastic coach. Her name is Dee Arenson. We coach every other week. I love it. Sometimes it’s coaching and sometimes it morphs into a little bit of counseling. What I love about it though is that it is my defined space for one hour every other week. I’m sitting with her and talking about my business, about life, and how do I meet my goals?
I would say outside of that, where I struggle is I get very wrapped up in project deliverables. The reality is I have so much to do. I have to get his out the door and ship this. I have to do this… I feel it’s one area that I can certainly improve in. It’s spending more day-to-day time of thinking bigger picture. Thinking about that forest as opposed to thinking I’ve got to get this out then this out.
That is one thing (as I adjust to my new normal) that I would absolutely love to work on this year. It’s to spend more time…even if it means sitting for 10 minutes every day thinking here’s what I need to do immediately…how is this fitting into my weekly, my monthly, my yearly and then my bigger goals? That is something where I’m not there. As you were saying, I do feel busy.
Everyone’s busy and there are levels. I think I am certainly still adjusting to life as a single mom and that something that, I’m a work in progress. Yeah, even at the best of times, I’m a work in progress.
When it comes to self-care, which I feel very strongly about … that’s another challenge. One thing that’s really important to me is having some alone time. For me, self-care also means connecting with others. If I can fit in a lunch occasionally with a good friend, for me, that is absolutely a very important part of self-care because it gives me the opportunity to talk. I love connecting with others. I find through this experience that I have gone through, one of the most important things to me is connection, not only connection, but deeply connecting and authentically connecting with others. I find that is really fulfilling to me. I find that’s an important part of self-care for me.
Liam: Thank you so much for your candor. To talk about work, “I’m a work in progress”…not just in a conversation but a conversation that you know is being recorded and going to be shared online. That’s great. It really speaks to how you value community and how you’re willing to put your vulnerability out there to connect with and support others. Thank you for that. With that in mind, let me ask you how did you first encounter the WordPress community? What was that experience like for you? Within your very long to do list on any given day, how do you continue to connect with the WordPress community?
Jess: That’s a good question. It’s something that I have had hills and valleys with (not in a good/bad way that I had a bad experience). It’s just more the amount of time that I’ve had to connect with the WordPress community, give back to the WordPress community. I think my first experience with the WordPress community was just their support forms. Since I was doing this on my own and figuring out WordPress, I would turn to Google and end up in the support community. At that time, I was doing strictly searches and not contributing or giving back. Then, (oh gosh maybe it was 3 years ago) I was really looking for more of a connection and that desire to tap into other people’s brains and say is this what you’re doing? How are you doing this? How do you figure this out? That’s when I searched Meetup and I came across the excellent Philly burbs WordPress group and Liam. That was a really important piece to me because I feel like I kind of was really hitting my stride as a developer. I was expanding my business and that became a really important time for me to connect with others. I went to WordCamp Philly and it was awesome. I really felt a great connection with that. That is one of my favorite pieces of connecting with others and being involved in WordPress communities. That being said, I still use the forums regularly. I personally would like to give back and contribute more to the forums, which I don’t do regularly. I should. I think that’s another thing on my level and what I can bring to the table. I know I can offer a lot to the general WordPress community.
Liam: Well, I can let you know that there is a WordPress support forums meeting today on Slack 12 PM. So if you want to join that you could. No pressure.
Jess: I would love to. I need to just dive in and do that because I think one of my favorite things has always been (at our WordPress Meetups) is doing presentations. Even though I’m not become public speaking, I love doing those presentations.
Tara: That’s great. I love your interest in giving back to the community and participating in those forums. I think about that too. I will hop on the Facebook group or Slack group and look at what’s going on. Dedicating the time is a hard thing to do. I really value and appreciate people in those forums who do that, who are always answering questions and do things behind the scenes. I don’t know how they do it. They manage all they do and still answer questions patiently.
Jess: I’m with you. I thought about this too – is just coming up with a regular schedule. Maybe every Tuesday I spend half an hour. I don’t think it takes a lot of time. I think it’s just dedicating the time. Saying ok on Tuesday morning, no matter what, from 8 to 9, I’m going to hop on the forums and do that. That is something as a smaller measure of success is to be able to give back more on that.
Liam: I started getting involved with the forums at WordCamp US 2016. On Contributor Day I met with some of the team there. The next day I went out to Dave and Busters with some of the team. That was really fun. Your point around trying to make just a little bit of time to answer some tickets – yes, that’s what I do and I tend to try Saturday and Sunday mornings when I’m awake and my children are not. So its coffee, leftover pizza and it’s WordPress support forum. Some days it’s for 15 minutes and they come storming down the stairs and that’s all I give. Other days they are sleeping in, it’s rainy and dark and I do an hour. Yeah, it’s really rewarding. I’m finding (surprisingly to me anyway) how much I’m actually learning about WordPress and how different people go about it differently. So it’s been really educational and valuable for me as well.
Tara: I think that idea of time blocking…I’ve been trying that unsuccessfully for a while…but having a weekly schedule where like you said…Tuesday from 9 to 10 is your support time and then from 10 to 1 is client time and whatever time to block your time of that way. If you are able to turn off your inbox and focus on what you’re supposed to be hearing during that time, I think it can be very successful. It’s really hard to be disciplined to do that. So here’s to all of us trying to stick to that schedule. Switching gears… for now…I wanted to ask you what you think is the most important thing that you do every day (whether in work or just in your daily day-to-day life)?
Jess: I actually think it has a lot to do with what we were just talking about and staying focused with attention management. I tend to be a little bit of a productivity geek. Probably the most single important thing I do is to stay present in the moment. I have a sign in my office (actually I have a lot of notes around my house) but the sign in my office says wherever you are be all there. To me that is the single most important thing I do every single day. So right now I’m chatting with you on this podcast. This is where I need to be. This is where my focus is. When I am working on a graphic, or working on a team or even with my kids (which is very challenging at times) I am there with them. I continually work on having the awareness of being present with what I’m working. That’s the single most important thing I do.
Tara: I love that.
Liam. Me too. I love the commitment to mindfulness and awareness. That is awesome!
Jess: Thank you. Yeah same here.
Tara: That rolls us into actually something that we like to ask all of our guests. What is the single most important, helpful piece of advice that you’ve ever received?
Jess: That’s a really good. I’ve gotten a lot of advice this past year. The best piece of advice that helps me feel the best day to day is to accept life as its playing out. Try not to resist the changes that are coming your way. I can say from experience, I spent a very long time trying to resist lots of changes. Yet, when I open to life as it’s playing out and embrace life as is playing out I have found so many wonderful things have come from that.
Tara: That’s great advice. It sounds like you really are taking that to heart with all that you’ve got going on now with changes that have happened. We really appreciate your sharing and it’s inspiring. I’m sure you will be very successful as you define success. It sounds like you’ve got a really good perspective on all the things going on. Thank you so much for sharing with us.
Jess: Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.
Liam: It’s been a real pleasure to have you on the show today. Can you let people know where they can find you online please?
Liam: Thanks Jess. That’s awesome. It was great to chat with you. Have a great day.