Introducing Matthew Rodela
Matthew is a recovering IT consultant who now builds websites for a living. Based out of the Washington DC area, Matthew has found success with his turnkey website service and enjoys sharing his experiences running it with other web consultants.
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 116.
Liam: Welcome to the Hallway Chat. I’m Liam Dempsey.
Tara: And I’m Tara Claeys. Today we’re joined by Matthew Rodela. Matthew is a recovering IT consultant who now builds websites for a living. Based out of the Washington DC area, Matthew has found success with his turnkey website service and enjoys sharing his experiences running it with other web consultants. Welcome, Matthew. We’re glad to have you here today.
Matthew: Glad to be here. Thanks for having me.
Liam: Hey, Matt, thanks for joining us out here in the virtual hallway. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself, please?
Matthew: Yeah. I come from an IT background. I started computers and doing computer support and help desk as my career. I did that for about seven years. As I was going up through the ranks of IT, I realized that I would start to need to be going into management positions, and a lot of red tapes and a lot of stuff that just wasn’t fun and just wasn’t what I wanted to do. So I decided to go off on my own and do IT consulting, and start a business doing that.
I started doing that around…gosh, what is it? 2011. As I was doing that, naturally, my customers would ask me to build them websites for their businesses as well. And I had been building websites for fun for a while. I started building with WordPress back in I think around 2007, 2008 timeframe. So that’s what I use to build customer’s websites. I found that that was my favorite thing to do, so I decided to focus on that. Focused on that for a while.
Then I kind of stumbled upon the idea of turnkey websites, which we can get into a little bit later. But I’m basically using WordPress multisite to automate the website delivery process so that customers who have low budget and aren’t shy to kind of build out the website themselves, I provide a platform for them to do that easily for their particular industry. That’s what I’m focusing on now. It’s not only building my own turnkey platform for my customers but also teaching other web developers and web consultants how to build out their own turnkey platform on multisite as well.
Tara: Interesting. How did you get this idea? Was it a project and then you kind of grew it out from there? Tell us a little bit about the background of that.
Matthew: I had been writing a blog and doing a podcast for IT business owners. I was running an IT business. myself and I figured I would share my experiences. I like writing. And so I thought I’d kind of build following that way and see what happens. I started to build an audience around that, a lot of other IT business owners. Through that process, someone approached me who had a product called Tech Site Builder. What Tech Site Builder was, it was a customized WordPress theme that he would sell and package it with videos that would walk you through how to install it on your own WordPress instance on your own hosting, how to set it up, how to do some basic marketing and stuff like that. He package that up and sold it for a few hundred bucks.
He was looking to get out of the game and change industries, so he was looking for someone to acquire Tech Site Builder. He turned to me because I had this following from my blog and podcast and said, “Hey, do you want to take this on because I know you work with websites as well. So I thought that was a great opportunity to kind of play around with product key kind of thing with WordPress.
But I realized right away that just charging one price for this theme and videos was going to cause a support nightmare because these guys were constantly requesting support from him when they install a plugin that breaks the site, and they figure they got the theme from him, so they go to him for support. I quickly realized that needed to be some kind of recurring revenue product.
Then I thought, “Well, there’s things like Squarespace and WordPress.com that are out there where they kind of are leasing the platform to build your own website for a low monthly fee. What if I did something like that with Tech Site Builder?” That was kind of the crazy idea I had and it took me about a year of experimenting and trying different approaches until I finally had kind of what it is now at TechSiteBuilder.com, which is kind of what I like to call the Squarespace for it consultants. It’s working well now. I’ve got about 200 customers on it. It’s all automated, so they sign up and they get a website and they can start building it out. I’ve got onboarding videos and a knowledge base to kind of help them along the way.
And then, only then when they maybe stumble or need additional support will they reach out to me. Sometimes customers on the platform I never hear from because the whole thing’s completely automated, which has been kind of a cool thing to have going.
Tara: Fascinating concept. Do your customers know or even care that WordPress is involved in this? It almost sounds like you have your own CMS in a way, right?
Matthew: Yeah. I mean, it is using WordPress and I use plugins To kind of re-theme the dashboard a little bit, so it’s a customized looking dashboard. I use a couple plugins to like edit and consolidate and simplify the admin menu and the toolbar menu and stuff like that. So if someone had limited experience with WordPress, they might not recognize it as WordPress, but if someone has used WordPress before for a little bit, they’d probably recognize that it is a modified version of WordPress. Some people comment on that most of them don’t.
Tara: That’s not why they’re joining up?
Tara: I’ve seen this concept with, like, plastic surgeons and dental. They have their own sort of vertical where they have multisite like this and the content is populated automatically, and then they can go in and edit it and customize it. So you also have content on there?
Matthew: Yeah, we have some starter content, and then through the onboarding process, we encourage them to go And, you know, replace it with their own stuff. But if they’re in a rush, and they just need to get something out really quick, then the start of content is there to at least have something that looks like a fully fleshed out website from the very beginning.
Liam: That’s really interesting. I’m eager to know and hear your thoughts on how you walked from making a website or two as a hobby to being able to run a multisite with hundreds of customers, not just from a technology but also from a product standpoint. You said it took you about a year, and I can imagine and that’s a lot of trial and error and customer feedback. But can you talk to us a little bit about that, Matt?
Matthew: Right. Luckily for the turnkey website, that kind of took a different path from what I would call my agency, which started out just as me and now it’s I have a couple of contractors that work for me, where we build customized bespoke websites. And I still do that. I like that I’m able to dig in deeply to a project and do customer discovery and build out a customized website and all of that. So I still do that, but I just don’t need to do that as often now, because I have the kind of the recurring revenue from the turnkey platform.
For the turnkey platform, it really helped that I had that blog, and that podcast and I’ve been doing that for a few years before I was approached with the Tech Site Builder project. I think that that is important for this kind of turnkey model to work. Either you yourself need to have spent the time to build an audience around a certain industry vertical, or I’ve seen other people have success where they build the platform and then they partner with somebody else like a well-known person in that industry, who has a lot of followers. Because with something like turnkey websites where you’re delivering the product at a low cost, you’re really looking for scale in order to make a decent revenue. So you need a lot of eyeballs on the product and you need a lot of people signing up for it.
So for me, I was able to do that on my own just by building up the audience over a few years. But for those of you who don’t have a few years to build up an audience, then you can reach out to partners, or other people in the space who might have a blog or a podcast or some other complementary product in the industry and then approach them and say, “Hey, I’ve got this cool website platform I’m working on. What do you say we partner up?”
Tara: That’s really interesting. There’s so much talk about specializing in verticals. It’s great to see you’ve taken something and to actually take it even further with this whole multisite concept. What kind of challenges, if any, do you face with a multisite? I’ll practice for a second and say, we’re not a tech podcast, so that’s not like necessarily a tech question, but just wondering about that.
Matthew: There are tech challenges, but luckily, these days they’re a lot less. When I was starting, and this was only four years ago, but we know how quickly things change in the WordPress space. For years ago, there were very few tools or off the shelf plugins to help facilitate this kind of business model. Really WPMU DEV was the only company out there that was building multisite type of things. But now, there’s a great plugin called WP Ultimo that really kind of facilitates this type of business model.
So you can install the plugin on multisite and it facilitates having customers sign up, choose a plan, pay for the plan, and then they get a website in multisite that’s created from a template of a site that you’ve already created on multisite. And then it assigns it to that customer and they can go in and start building it out. So that plugin didn’t exist when I started. I wish it did, but now it does, so it makes the whole process a lot easier. That gets rid of a lot of technical challenges.
Then from kind of a business perspective, I think the biggest challenge is just getting the customers, getting the eyeballs because a lot of the things you do in a traditional website agency don’t work when you’re talking about a very low cost, a very product type of service. So things like doing long discovery calls, or spending a lot of time prospecting, or Facebook ads, spending a lot of money on ads doesn’t really work.
So instead you got to look for things like content marketing works really well, where you released a lot of helpful content that gets a lot of eyeballs and they sign up for a newsletter, a mailing list, and then you continue to build a following that way. That’s been really helpful. And then, of course, word of mouth. The biggest challenge has been just getting enough people on the platform to make sure it’s turning a profit.
Then support was an issue at first. Luckily, the time has taught me that I’m able to anticipate people’s questions and build up a nice knowledge base so that people can self-help themselves. But that took time to build up and to get the questions from people. So now it’s pretty easy to support. I only get a handful of support requests per week. But it took time to kind of buildup that library of issues and questions and answers.
Liam: Matt, I want to ask you a question about customers. You talked about the challenges around content and getting new ones in the door. I wonder if you’ve had the challenge of a customer taking up too much support time or too many complaints? And if you have, how did you approach that? How do you deal with that, and how did you resolve it?
Matthew: I hear that’s a big fear of people when they’re thinking about doing the turnkey model, but they hesitate because they know they’ve had clients in the past that will monopolize their time as far as support requests and that kind of thing. So in a traditional agency model, you’re taught, well, okay, just charge a lot and anticipate that this might happen. So you have to charge enough to be able to absorb that kind of customer and that kind of back and forth, whereas with the turnkey model you don’t have that luxury.
What I found though, is that the expectations is of the customers really were these, I guess issues start. When you approach it from an agency perspective, you’re spending that one-on-one time with the customer, so they expect to be able to talk to you and get face time with you every now and then, whereas, with the turnkey model, they’re signing up for the service without ever talking to a human being. So it’s kind of like a SAS where you go, and you sign up, and you pay and you get access to the software or whatever. So the customers’ expectations are a lot lower as to what they can expect from support.
So I find that just through the business, delivering it that way helps to reduce the kind of support requests that I might get from a typical agency customer. So I don’t get customers contacting me saying, “Hey, I need you to update my logo every week or change colors or that kind of thing. We make it clear to them that it’s a DIY platform. So it’s up to the customer to build out and add content and do everything to get their website set up. Support is there to, you know, answer any questions if they’re not sure where to go to update something or how to do something.
But we also offer add on services. And that’s kind of another level of this thing where if they want, you know, maybe they want things to be SEO optimized, maybe they need content written for them, because they don’t have a writer, they’re not good at it, we do offer add on services so they can pay additional fees for content writing, and graphic design, and SEO. Those are basically the three add on services we provide. And then they pay extra and then they can get that kind of extra level of support.
Liam: Sure. Let me ask you, and you don’t have to answer but is what you’re doing with this turnkey site, is that enough to be a full-time job? I know you have some consultancy on the side, and I wasn’t sure if that was just from a professional interest or if from a business standpoint, you’re running both for business reasons.
Matthew: I think it’s like anything where if you put the focus into it and the time into building it out as a full-time thing you could do that. I think it’s very similar to if you wanted to go out and develop a plugin and start selling it, or develop a theme and start selling it. It’s something you can see examples of people doing that full time, companies that are selling plugins full time. But most people who have developed a plugin and most plugins that are out there are developed by someone who is also doing something else, whether it’s agency work, or whether they’re working a full-time job or something like that.
So is it possible? Yes. But it’s probably better suited as a side thing like it is for me. I tend to not like to put all my eggs in one basket business-wise. So if all my turnkey customers dry up or something happens and that goes away, then I still have my agency or vice versa.
Tara: Thanks for sharing all that information. That’s really cool. I’m going to change gears and talk to you about success. We ask all of our guests how they define success, whether it’s personally, professionally, a combination of the two, separate, however, you want to address it. But when you think about success, what does that mean to you?
Matthew: That’s a tough question. It’s always a moving goalpost for me. I’ve come to kind of the conclusion over time that for me successes is not a destination, it’s the journey that you go on to get there. So I’m always going to be looking for the next level to get to and the next milestone to reach. So the goal of success is always been a change.
But for me what success looks like is am I able to live the lifestyle that I want to live as I’m doing that. So I’m able to work from home, I’m able to set my own hours, I’m able to now finally and it’s taken a while, take time off on the weekends and in the evenings to do you know other things besides business. I’m able to travel a little bit. To me, that’s that success. Am I able to live the kind of life I want to live while I’m also doing work I love, and then whatever the goal happens to be for that work will change? But I think the successes in the journey and am I having fun? Am I having a good time and am I living the life I want to live on the way?
Tara: Right. So that implies that it probably evolves over time, right? You’re on a journey, but there’s not really it’s a hard and fast destination. If your IT site business changes and you decide to do something else with it, you’re still on that journey, right?
Matthew: Right. And that’s how it’s gone up to this point. I mean, I never predicted that I would have started a turnkey website when I started my business. So all of these opportunities that come along, you know, if they look like something I’d enjoy or I’m interested in, I’ll take them on and see where they go. I like that approach to business. I like having that flexibility. I’m not a 5-year or 10-year goal kind of person in business. As long as I’m moving forward, and I feel like I’m making progress on whatever projects I’m working on, and like I said, I’m living a lifestyle I want to live, I think to me I like that approach.
Liam: That seems a balanced way forward. Matt, I want to talk to you about the WordPress community. And clearly if you’re running multisite, you’re in your eyeballs with WordPress all day long, but what’s your involvement with your local WordPress community or the wider WordPress community?
Matthew: I really appreciate and that’s why I got interested in WordPress in the first place is I appreciate the community that’s around it and how involved and active it is. I mean there’s meetups all over the place and of course, WordCamps all over the place and then not to mention the myriad of Facebook groups and other groups that you can join online. Like probably most of us, I’m a bit of an introvert so, I started my WordPress community journey online and just joined some LinkedIn groups and different Facebook groups and not necessarily local groups, but just WordPress in general.
So through that, I’ve made friends in the WordPress space from all over the country and all over the world. Like last year, I traveled to the UK to attend a WordPress agency event, and I knew half the people there because I had been in contact with them online. Then I try to get to the local WordCamps, WordCamp Baltimore or WordCamp DC. I’m in the DC area. And then there’s a few small business meetups that are focused around WordPress businesses that I try to get out and go to maybe once a quarter or something like that.
So I like the idea that I can connect with lots of people online, but then, you know, it’s healthy to get out and actually interface with people one-on-one. I do try to get myself to do that occasionally, and WordPress community makes it super easy because there’s so many different opportunities.
Tara: I see you’re wearing a WordCamp DC t-shirt today…I just lost my question. Make a mental note of that time, Tara. I just going to ask you something about that. Sorry, total black. I’m going to a different question because we only have about five minutes left. Let me ask you another question, Matt, that we asked everyone which is about advice. If you’ve received some advice that you can share that’s had an impact on your life and that you’ve implemented to help you on your journey to success?
Matthew: Yeah. This is one I’ve heard from a couple of different business coach type people or folks who have found success scaling a product similar to Tech Site Builder, and that is to have an abundance mentality. So not think that by telling people how you do things or giving away free advice or talking about what you’re doing and kind of pulling back the curtain and showing what you’re doing that you’re taking something away from yourself by doing that. Really what you’re doing is you’re sharing the prosperity, sharing what you’ve learned, and through doing that, people will trust you more, and they’ll learn more, and they’ll be successful on their own, and then they will kind of attribute that success maybe not overtly, but even subconsciously back to the advice you gave that contributed to that.
So, if I am able to take something away from someone and be successful with that, why not continue to share that and continue to pay it forward. So that abundance mentality is something that I try to take with me in every project I do and share the wins and the losses. And if people want to know how I did it, I let them know. I’m not afraid of competition. There’s plenty of work to go around and plenty of clients to be had. And that’s not an issue for me. For me, it’s just sharing the knowledge and building that community and building that network. And so far it’s worked very well for me.
Liam: I love that. I’m on the same mindset. I heard it from the Advanced Selling podcast years ago. The question was, what if everybody that needs a website suddenly called you and said, “Hey, can you make a website for me tomorrow?” We just implode from the amount of work that we have to do. So to follow your advice there, we got to give it away and share and give ourselves the opportunity to contribute to the community and that’s only going to come back in folds.
Tara: It seems like that also kind of carrying things forward, you’ve made an example of that with what you’ve done with your business, taking it from where someone else had left it and moving it forward.
Liam: It’s admittedly an interesting, and some might suggest counterintuitive, at least in the early days approach to business. Matt, I wonder, did you buy into it right away? Did you dip your toe in it? Did you say, “I’m going to try this, but I feel like I might regret this in six weeks”? How did you wade into it?
Matthew: With every kind of new project I take on, I’m not the kind of person that just jumps into the next shiny thing that looks like it might be successful. I take the time to think about it and do some research on it and try to find other people who have been successful doing that same model. And if they talk about their journey, I follow that and try to learn from their mistakes and stuff.
So while I do try to take on different projects and try new focuses in my business and new avenues, I do take the time to make sure that that’s going to be a good approach for me. I’m a big fan of testing the market and talking about what I’m doing and getting feedback from people. With Tech Site Builder, before I redid it as a turnkey platform, I reached out to the existing Tech Site Builder users and said, “Hey, I’m thinking about turning this into kind of like a Squarespace type of thing. What do you think of that? What kind of pricing would make sense?”
So I tried to talk to my target customer and figure out what they are looking for. If you talk to a group of customers and ask them what they’re looking for, and you build what they’re looking for, it’s hard not to be successful. So I kind of take that approach of kind of being careful and asking questions and then building something that I think would make sense for them.
Tara: Thanks for that, too. Matt, we are just about out of time. We really appreciate your joining us today. Thank you so much for telling your story and I’m excited to look at your website too and see how that’s working. Sounds like a great concept. I’m really into the idea of specializing myself. So I’ll take a look at that. Where can we find you online? And I know I can find you in person since you’re in the DC area. Where can we find you online?
Matthew: Twitter, I’m @rodela_wp. On Facebook, you can search for Turnkey Websites Blueprint. That’s where I talk about building out the turnkey websites model on multisite and we have a group around that and answer any questions there. Then turnkeywebsitesblueprint.com is the website where I blog about building the turnkey model on multisite.
Tara: Great, thanks. I’ll definitely check it out. We appreciate your being here, and I look forward to meeting you in person sometime.
Matthew: All right, sounds good.
Tara: Thanks for joining us.
Matthew: Thank you.
Liam: Thanks, Matt. Really enjoyed it. Take care.
Liam: Thanks for listening to the show. We sure hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.
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