Introducing Lee Drozak
Lee is a WordPress teacher, Doer and Fixer, working with small business owners. She gives her client a different perspective for their digital space so that they can find solutions that work toward their business goals.
Tara: This is Hallway Chats, where we meet people who use WordPress.
Liam: We ask questions, and our guests share their stories, ideas, and perspectives.
Tara: And now the conversation begins. This is episode 101.
Liam: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Liam Dempsey.
Tara: And I’m Tara Claeys. Today we’re joined by Lee Drozak. Lee is a WordPress teacher, Doer and Fixer, working with small business owners. She gives her client a different perspective for their digital space so that they can find solutions that work toward their business goals. Welcome, Lee. We’re glad you’re here.
Lee: Hey, thanks for having me, Tara and Liam.
Liam: You’re most welcome. Thanks for joining us. Lee, can you tell us a little bit more about yourself, please?
Lee: Yeah. I actually started out as an accountant years ago, and I realized that I had like this knack for thinking outside the box. When the mortgage bubble started to burst, I decided it was time to get out of that and do something different. I was introduced to virtual assistants, so I thought, “Well, why not? I needed something to do. I figured out very quickly I was not just a very good stay at home mom, I needed something extra. That’s where I started.
And because in college had taken for my liberal arts coding classes, I was able to quickly transition to creating my own website for my business, and then websites. Then I was introduced to WordPress, which made the whole process so much simpler. Because I think of the design and the development background, and quickly learning the marketing, I was able to transition to more of a troubleshooting implementer phase. And then it just took off from there. So here I am today with that.
Tara: Tell us a little bit about virtual assistants, because I know that term can be very broad. Where did you find your clients and what kind of work did you start out doing as a virtual assistant? Was it like administrative stuff? I think you can get virtual assistants to do anything now?
Lee: Yeah, you can. It’s a very, very broad term. I started out doing administrative assistants just to kind of get my feet wet and figure out what it was that I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I designed my website in HTML and CSS, because that long ago, that’s what was available at the time. That kind of drew a couple of different people to me saying, “Hey, I can’t update my website, can you help me with that, too? It’s slowly transitioned from administrative to the more technical. So I became like a technical virtual assistant.
Then once I was introduced to WordPress and I started to really dig into that and learn that, it kind of just morphed itself. Because I knew I didn’t want to continue with the administrative, I really liked the clients that I found. The first one was a referral to me who happened to be a coach who referred other people to me.
So since day one, I’ve been a referral business. That’s how I built it. But I knew I had to learn the marketing strategies because it was feast or famine at first, and I was always kind of hesitant to stop relying on everybody for referrals, but they just kept coming. So I got into a space that I was really lucky that because I’m an extrovert, I’m able to build those relationships. And because I’m a giver, I probably over gave, and that allowed people to easily refer me to other people knowing that they were going to get the best care possible.
Tara: How did you balance that? You mentioned just being a stay at home mom – and I don’t mean just in any kind of way other than that would be the only thing that you were doing – that wasn’t a good fit for you. So how did you balance being a mom and running this business that seems like it’s grown without even you’re intending it to grow like it has? How did you balance that?
Lee: It was really hard to balance that. I pushed every boundary that I had set for myself. It seemed like I was working 24/7 as I was building the business, and my family at one point didn’t understand to where my son in his teenage years was like, “You’re always on the computer. You never shut the computer.” And my husband was like, “What the heck are you doing? Like this was not what we signed up for when I left the job that I left.”
So I had to figure out how to set the boundaries and say no. No was probably the hardest business tool that I had to master or learn. Because I think it’s the mom and me, I think it’s the giver in me that they would say, okay, “No, I’m not going to do this, no, I don’t have time, but okay, let me just spend five minutes on it.” And five minutes became ten.
So it was just the balance of it took a long, long time until I got to the point where I was like, “Look, I didn’t start my business to be another part of my life. I started my business to give me something to do, but to give back to people in a way that I was finding was not out there.” So I had to master the delicate balance of saying no and respecting my space. I had to learn to respect my space, which I think was my biggest business lesson of all.
Tara: How long did it take you? What was the evolution of that? I have a similar story and trajectory here so I’m wondering. I think it’s taken me a long time.
Lee: Ten years. I would say probably 10 years.
Tara: It’s a long time, isn’t it? And then your kids are gone.
Lee: Yes. Five years to make the decision, “Okay, I’m going to do this,” and then five years to get it implemented. I still find myself even now backsliding occasionally. We have an RV, and so we spend a lot of time in that on the weekends and traveling. That’s where the no weekends came into play because internet can be really spotty and stressful.
Then also, there’s a whole ‘nother community like the WordPress community, there’s a camp community, and I just wanted to enjoy that time that I had. Doing the no weekends is a little easier now than it was because I have an end goal for it. But it’s still a learning…If somebody has a problem, I make sure that I have a backup to handle the problem. But sometimes you need to step in. And it’s learning to step in, handle the problem and step back out pretty quickly.
Liam: Lee, how are you learning to say no? And not necessarily practices, but when somebody comes to you and says, “Lee, can you help with this?” what are you doing internally process-wise to decide whether or not to say yes or no? Do you have a checklist of like, “Well, I only say yes if or I always say no when?
Lee: I have a mental checklist to say, “Okay, you know what? Is this a project that someone thinks is small but ends up being this major thing?” So I have to like really dig into that. And then I look at it too is if I would say no, can I give them a research source or a tool or a person that can actually help them? So it’s more like, “All my partner networks and my referral networks, is there someone else who can help them?”
Then finally is, you know, is it something or someone that I want to take on at this time and how is it going to…? Because it’s just my husband and I, now. My kids are grown so they don’t…they do factor into the decision. I don’t think your kids will never factor into the decision. But I look at it as my husband, he has the weekends free, although he has been working a lot of Saturday. So if it’s something that will be a Sunday, it’s an absolute no – that’s our time together. If it’s a Saturday, “Can I do it, and it not like really interrupt the whole weekend?”
Liam: Has that no ever stun you in ways that have been really problematic?
Lee: It was because sometimes I’ve said no in a totally selfish manner as far as my time, and the person I’ve said no to was like taken aback that I wasn’t there for them. I’ve had some people who stopped talking to me because I’ve started to say no to them. At first, I was like, “Oh, my gosh, I’ve lost a friend, how can this happen?” But then in retrospect, I look at it and say, “The only time they called me was when they needed something.” So by saying no I actually opened myself up for other opportunities.
I think it’s just the guilt – dealing with the guilt of saying no, like, how is it going to affect the person on the other end. I had to learn to flip it to say, “By me saying no or yes, how is it going to affect me internally instead of just them?”
Tara: I also wonder if there’s a difference between “no” and “not now.” I think about a lot that the sense of urgency that we can have, especially when you’re working on something that’s live on the web, it’s not working right now, I need to fix it right now. So there’s always this sense of urgency that it has to be done right now. So when you say no, you’re closing the door completely. But do you also sometimes say not now?
Lee: I do. I think I look at the urgency. I actually had someone in my mastermind group who had a WordPress site that was pieced together. It was bad. It was bad. He couldn’t even make edits. He would try to go make edits, and he was getting a white screen. And he was in the middle of this promotion, so he was like, “I need my whole site redone I think, but in the interim, I need this.”
So I was like, “Okay, let’s put off the whole I need my site redone thing and figure out what the immediate problem is.” And then I was like, “Okay, can it wait until Monday?” Because I think it was late on a Friday. Yeah, it was late on a Friday.
Tara: It’s always late on a Friday.
Lee: Of course. He was kind of stuck, and he was like, “I’m really starting the promotion on Monday. So you could just at least get it so I could update things.” I took a step back, and I said, “You know what? Let me just look at it. If I can fix this within a half an hour, I will at least get you functioning.” Which, fortunately, it was just disabling a few plugins that were conflicting, and so I was able to easily…and I said, “You know what? I did what I could right now. I can relook at it Monday if you want to continue with this.” And he was like, “Yeah, sure.” Then that built a whole ‘nother relationship for us.
So I think it’s just finding people that can respect it’s not the fire that you think it is kind of thing, and then moving forward from there. But then there are times too where it’s like, “not now.” and I’ve lost opportunities, because I’ve said, “I can’t get to this right now.” It’s not in my space right now and for them, the need was immediately and they moved on.
Tara: I’m going to ask you about success, Lee. It sounds like you’ve made an evolution in your business, and you’re making good choices about putting yourself first in a lot of cases and compartmentalizing your work and personal life. And that may relate for you to this topic that we asked all of our guests, which is, how do you define success, personally, professionally, or combination or separately or both?
Lee: I think professionally and personally they go hand in hand. I define success is am I actually living the freedom that I was hoping to. Am I just punching a time clock or is this another job? I don’t work the traditional 9-to-5, I found that my best times are in the morning. And then later in the day, like I hit that afternoon wall between 12 and 2. And instead of just trying to struggle through it, I’m like, “Nope”, I’m going to eat lunch, I’m going to go take a walk, maybe I’ll have a nap, whatever, maybe I’ll just sit back and read. That really plays into the success.
Then, of course, there’s the financial. Am I making money? Because if you’re not making money, you just have an expensive hobby, which I don’t want. I have found that my income continues to increase, because I’m diversifying a little bit, but more importantly, because I’m really honing my skills process.
So instead of saying I have to charge $10,000 for a website that I know my clients can afford $5,000 for, I figured out how to hone my process so that I can stay at that level and still make a good profit from it. And being a numbers person, I always look at my numbers. I’m always looking at ways that I can cut costs, or can I eliminate this and replace it for this? Or can I create something that I don’t have to outlay the cost for which will up my profit margin so that I can continue to grow my income and make more money?
Tara: Do you base your profit on hours? Do you track your hours very carefully in order to determine that or when you talk about what things cost, are you thinking about overhead expenses?
Lee: It’s both. I track my hours because I don’t think that you can really create a solid process without knowing how much time everything takes. Then I look at those hours and say, “Can I do something differently or is there an app that I can use that will take the place of that?”
A great case in point is this online scheduling programs that are out there. I mean, that’s a huge time saver for anyone. Then also I look at how much time I wasted with email. So now I use inbox pause to stop my inbox, except once a day so that I’m not stopping and starting and stopping and starting. And I noticed I saved huge chunks of time with that.
But then I look at the tools. Can I find something on AppSumo for 49 bucks that will replace something else? Or with Adobe Creative Suite, I just got a notification in one of my groups that said, “Hey, they’re having this $29 special.” So of course, I’m on live chat, I bought the $29 special. I think I do this every single year, and every single year it’s been “No, that’s only for new people. Sorry, we can’t do this.” But this time, they were like, “Yeah, sure, no problem.”
So I cut that expense almost in half just by doing a 10-minute live chat. So it’s I think it’s a combination of everything. But it is important that even if you don’t charge by the hour, you still track your hour that it takes you or your hourly time so that you can figure out where you need to improve on that process.
Tara: What do you use to track your time?
Lee: I use Toggle for because they have a Chrome extension, and then they also have an app for Mac that I don’t have to necessarily be online, I can still track there. Then sometimes I just write it. Like I’ll just say, “I stopped working x time and then started at x time if it’s something where I close a computer, and I want to do some non-online stuff.
I have a probably more online that I track than offline, but it seems like I’m always tracking my time anymore just to make myself way more efficient.
Liam: I’m going to interrupt here because I let you two go off on apps and efficiency. So that’s going to be an add to this conversation. And I say that with laughter on my a…
Tara: AppSumo crack, we call it.
Liam: I want to talk to you about the WordPress community, Lee. You had talked about how you came across WordPress as a way to stop having to do everything with static HTML and CSS. Tell us about how you encountered the WordPress community and kind of where that went, and what that journey was like and where you are with it today.
Lee: I was introduced to WordPress through a blog a good while ago. Then I realized that if I learned this, it would be much easier to create my website and websites for my clients. Then I’m a lifelong learner, so it wasn’t just enough to find WordPress. I also found that there was this huge community of sharers who were teaching you how to use it, different tips and tricks. And then people were sharing the different code that they were writing to solve a problem or resources, and I was like, “Wow, this is a very supportive community.”
Then I attended my first WordCamp. And I think then I realized that there was a whole ‘nother ecosystem of people, that it wasn’t just the themes and the app and WordPress itself, but there was so many people who were willing to share and collaborate and just brainstorm with each other to continue to keep these businesses thriving, but the WordPress framework itself thriving. It was just fascinating to me the amount of resources and people resources that were out there.
Liam: Yeah, absolutely. What was the first WordCamp you attended?
Lee: The first one I attended was WordCamp KENT, I believe. Then right after that, I did the first WordCamp US. And you want to talk about like over. It was just a lot because I went from this a wonderful WordCamp KENT – I loved it. It was a wonderful small WordCamp – to WordCamp US where there was just like people everywhere and activity everywhere, and just so much going on.
This was really when I learned how huge the community was, and how helpful the community was. Then they had the happiness bar to help people out and the sponsors who were. And then just the Hallway Chats, which is how you guys came about. So it was just really a great experience for me. But as an extrovert, it was very overwhelming for me to say. I looked at it like, “Oh my gosh, if people are introverts, how could they handle all this? This is a lot today, God.” So it was just the whole experience was just amazing.
Liam: That’s a great story. Thank you. What do you do with WordPress community now? Are you a meetup regular? You have WordCamps on a regular basis? You talked about, you’ve got a camping RV community and a WordPress community. Tell me about your involvement week to week, month to month with your local WordPress community.
Lee: I do a lot of WordCamps.
Lee: I have been putting myself out there in a speaking capacity as well. Then I’m in a few Slack groups and Facebook groups too with different themes and plugins in the WordPress community as a whole. I found that the Slack groups are mostly people who are immersed as designers, developers, in that sense, and Facebook, it’s the people who are using WordPress from a DIY standpoint, which is really my target market. So it’s kind of like the best of both worlds. Then, of course, you have Twitter, which there’s a whole ‘nother ecosystem on there, too.
Liam: Yeah, absolutely. What’s been your biggest challenge in growing your business? You mentioned kind of learning to say no. Was that a challenge or is something else that might have given you more grief and headache and required more work?
Lee: I think the biggest was learning what to let go of, learning what services to let go of. I found that from a development standpoint, I’m better when I hire developers for specific tasks or programs. I still like to do the design because it brings the creative out in me, but I found that I am much better as a teacher and a fixer like getting in there and figuring out what’s wrong and fixing it. So it was just coming to that mindset of I don’t have to do it all. There are people that I can partner with that will help me do it all without doing it all.
Then just trying to make the decisions of what to offer and where to go from here. That to me was the hardest part was, what is it that I want to do for the next five years in my business? And what is it that I’ve done in the last five years that kind of don’t give me joy or that I don’t enjoy anymore? And who can I find to do that for me?
Liam: That takes time, doesn’t it? Because you don’t know if you don’t like it or if you really like it until you’ve done it a few times, right?
Lee: Yeah. I think sometimes I do like it. There are times where I like to dig into the code just because it makes my mind think differently. But then I think, “You know what? This isn’t something that I want to continue to do day in and day out.” So I need to find someone who has the same work style that I have but still knows the programs that I’m using at that point in time. So hiring anyone else is a really delicate balance of skill set and personality. Because someone can be the best of the best, but if you can’t communicate get along with them, then it’s a really bad experience.
Liam: Yeah, absolutely, it is. I want to ask you about advice, Lee. I want to ask you about advice that you’ve received and implemented in your life. What’s been the best advice that you were given or read or encountered, and successfully implemented in your life or business?
Lee: I think the best advice was self-care. Don’t forget about your self-care. And that’s just business and personal. I think as a business person, we tend to put ourselves last all the time. And as a mom, we tend to put ourselves last all the time. Even as a family giver, I had to learn that for me, you need to put yourself first.
On June 30, 2015, I had open heart surgery. I knew that I had a problem with my heart. I knew that it had to be fixed. My surgeon was like, “Yeah, we go in there and we…” It was supposed to be minimally invasive. I didn’t know until I woke up, which I think was a blessing. But at that point, I realized I had to do a lot of things differently, both in my life and in my business.
Fortunately, for me, my clients that I had, I told them, “I’m going in for this surgery, I will be out for two weeks, I’ll be back at it.” And that didn’t happen, and they were all really great about it. I had a support system that they were able to rely on while I was recovering. But there was a lot of changes that I had to make.
That was the time that I realized that you know what, if you don’t start putting yourself first, you can’t be the best business owner that you can be, you can’t be the best mom that you can be, you can be the best friend that you can be. So that was when the light bulb went off for me that things had to really change and I needed to start eating lunch at a normal hour or making sure that I hydrate during the day, or even getting up and moving. Like I can’t sit there for hours at a time working on a website, I need to get up and move around.
Tara: Tell us a little bit about your weekend RV travels and how that came about and just what you do, where you go with that?
Lee: We’ve camped since I was little. We started out at tent and then we went to a travel trailer and then my mom and dad ended up with a Class A Motorhome. So I’ve always traveled in motorhomes. When people say camping, I kind of cringe if it involves a tent, and no water or electric because I’m not used to it.
Then, when my kids started to get a little older and we figured we needed to do something for my husband and I, he wanted to buy a camp like in the middle of nowhere because he was a hunter and fisher. And I was like, “That’s fine with me. But you know what? I’m not going. I am not doing that. I can’t do the same thing over and over again, I get bored with it. And I have young kids, what am I going to do with them in the middle of nowhere?”
So we decided to buy our first RV. And he said, “I will give it a year. And that is if when the year is done, we’re buying a piece of property and sticking it there.” And we just had such a great time that it’s been 12 13 years now. We just bought a new fifth wheel because we want to do more long term traveling now that he’s getting ready to retire and I can work anywhere. We want to do four to six-week trips, maybe even longer, and then still do our weekends away. But we’ve gone so many places.
And sometimes we go in an RV and sometimes we just run an Airbnb or we rent a house. It just depends on where we want to be at the time. But it’s great for location independent traveling.
Tara: Do you like to drive or does your husband do most of the driving?
Lee: My husband does most of driving because I’m a bad driver in a car let alone with it and RV. I could kill you. But I do learn. This new RV, I have not taken it out and learn to drive it, but that is something…Even when we were younger, my mom learned to drive the AR that we had. You have to learn as a backup just in case. So I will learn it, but I will not be primary driver.
Tara: That would intimidate me. I also eat a lot of junk food when I have to drive and stay awake. I have trouble staying awake in the car. But I love the idea of it and I kind of would think that it gives you so much flexibility and independence like you have with your job. Here is where it sort of fits together, I guess. You don’t have to stay in hotels or choose hotels. You’re in your own space that only you have been in. So that’s really neat. I love that.
Lee: Yeah, it’s nice because you’re in your own space. But especially when you’re working on top of traveling, I know that I always have everything that I need. I have a WiFi extender and I have all of the things that I need to run my business, electricity. Then just the creature comforts that you don’t find in a hotel.
While living in an RV is not the same as living in a home, it does give you the creature comforts that you need to make things doable and comfortable.
Tara: What’s your farthest trip that you’ve been on? How far?
Lee: The further trip has been in Florida. We’ve gone down the east coast of Florida. I’ve been to the west coast but not in an RV. That’s on our bucket list for next year. I’ve done the West Coast travel mostly flying. I would love to do a train across the United States too. I think that would be such a cool trip. And the Midwest. We haven’t spent a lot of time in the Midwest, so that’s on the radar as well.
Tara: Sounds like you have some good plans for your husband’s retirement and your self-care working and traveling in the RV. It sounds really interesting. I look forward to hearing about it and maybe following you. We are out of time, so that leads me to ask where people can find you online and follow you.
Lee: You can find me on my website at leedrozak.com. I’m on Twitter @leedrozak. Facebook, my personal is @leedrozak, and my business is @leedrozakbiz. Then I’m sure if you google me, you’ll find everywhere else that I am too.
Tara: Great. I’m going to look for some RV stuff. Hopefully, you post your travels. That would be neat to see. Thanks for joining us, Lee. It’s been really great talking to you. I really enjoyed meeting you at WordCamp a few weeks ago and it’s great to have you on Hallway Chats.
Lee: Thanks. Thanks for having me.
Liam: Thank, Lee. It’s been a real pleasure getting to know you. Thanks for your time today.
Lee: Thank you, Liam.
Liam: Will see you soon. Bye-bye.
Liam: Thanks for listening to the show. We sure hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.
Tara: If you like what we’re doing here – meeting new people in our WordPress community – we invite you to tell others about it. We’re on iTunes and at hallwaychats.com.
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