Introducing Marjorie Ray
Marjorie is a digital strategist and web designer living in Southern Vermont. She is also a videographer, runs a toy company, and co-manages the Brattleboro WordPress Meetup.
Web Design/Digital Marketing | www.codewryter.com
Buy Art | www.artfinder.com/richrayart#
Nature Toy | www.hspnaturetoys.com
Facebook | <Codewryter/a>
Instagram | @codewryter
Twitter | @Marjorie_Ray
Linked-In | linkedin.com/in/marjorieray/
Liam: This is Hallway Chats, where we talk with some of the unique people in and around WordPress.
Tara: Together, we meet and chat with folks you may not know about in our community.
Liam: With our guests, we’ll explore stories of living – and of making a living with WordPress.
Tara: And now the conversation begins. This is episode 28.
Liam: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Liam Dempsey.
Tara: And I’m Tara Claeys. Today we have with us Marjorie Ray. Marjorie is a digital strategist and web designer living in Southern Vermont. She is also a videographer, runs a toy company, and co-manages the Brattleboro WordPress Meetup. Her kids say you can always find her in a crowd by her laugh. Hi Marjorie!
Marjorie: Hey, thanks for having me.
Liam: You’re very welcome, Marjorie. How are you today?
Marjorie: I’m doing really good. It’s great to be here.
Liam: Yeah, we’re delighted that you’re here. Can you share a little bit more beyond what Tara just wrote about you? Tell us about yourself.
Marjorie: Well, I live in Vermont, a little bit above Brattleboro, Vermont. And I’ve been here about 15 years, I moved here from California, although I am from the east coast originally. I am married and have three boys. Two of them are in college and one is still living at home. I work in WordPress, about 50-60% of my day is doing websites, and the other part of my day I run a toy company that my father in law started. My husband and I run it together. It’s nature toys, there’s an underground root farm and an underground worm farm so I also raise worms, forgot to say that. We had a website that my brother did, it was a really great website, very engaging and colorful, but I could never make changes on it. And this was about 10 years ago. I had taken computer programming in college very, very long time ago, I’ve taken some different like Cobalt and Fortran and different classes. So I felt capable of doing something to the website but I just didn’t know how. And my brother, I just felt like I was bugging him if I asked for him to make a change. Another toy company in this area, Mary Meyer Toys, they had just started using WordPress and I actually didn’t know it was WordPress at the time, but one of the guys that I know was saying that they could get on their website and they could make changes to the pricing or just little typographical changes, and that was really all I wanted to do. That was the beginning of me becoming a web developer, just wanting to make simple changes.
Liam: And that was your way into WordPress?
Marjorie: That was my way in. I happened to be mentioning this to a friend who said, “Well, why don’t you take a class at Marlboro College?” Marlboro College graduate school had a open source web development program at that time. And literally, that night I just applied to the program. It was so great. I learned HTML and CSS, it was like some of the prerequisites of the program. We had courses in human-computer interaction and web standards. I learned Joomla, that was the focus at the time with Jen Kramer. She was the instructor, really great teacher, I had so many great teachers. And the nice thing about going to a school to learn web design development was that I am still in touch with a lot of those people now. Even though I work at home, which is part of one of the reasons I run WordPress is, you know, to get out and– you both run WordCamp meetups as well?
Liam: Yeah, absolutely.
Marjorie: And you know that feeling. You need to get up and be around people. We were actually very Joomla focused and then one class wanted us to keep a blog and I got on WordPress and, I don’t know. Actually, my business is Codewryter and that’s how I came up with the name was one night, just another quick thing. I was like, “Oh, I’ll just name it Codewryter.” And then that turned into my business like, “Gee, how did you think of the name?”, “Well, late at night.” That’s just how it got started for me. I, for my class project, at grad school redid that website, our company website which I’ve just redone again. And then two things happened, one was the toy business kind of became slower and we needed more income. And also, I just had people kind of started asking, “Hey–” I would say I was in this program and I started doing websites for others and I really love everything about our business. Because running that toy business, I learned a lot about marketing and just general business so when people come today and they say, “Oh, I need a website.” I know how it is, they need a lot more than a website a lot of times. They need to connect to their Facebook page, now it’s Instagram. Have they written a press release or have they done just some of the basic marketing that helps a small business. Yeah, you’re truly helping people.
Liam: Yeah, that’s awesome.
Marjorie: It’s a good feeling. And also, I have that side of me that I think you have to kind of have where you like to problem solve, in our business. It changes constantly and it seems like there’s always these little, “Gee, I wonder how to do that.” And you have to be a good problem solver.
Liam: And not be afraid to try something new too, right?
Marjorie: Exactly. And just having the confidence to just, even if you don’t know how to do something, you’d be like, “Yeah, I can probably figure that out.” That’s taking me some time. In the beginning, I would say, “Oh, I can’t do that. No, I don’t know how to do that. I should refer you.” And then it’s like, I live in kind of the middle of nowhere. Sometimes there’s not really people to refer for just some of the simple, like, “Oh, maybe I could just figure that out.” And over time, I figured out a lot of things and yeah, now I have a business.
Liam: That’s great. Marjorie, let me ask you this. As a business owner, when you are asked to go beyond your media skill set and how do you deal with that in the sense of finding a balance between pushing yourself and offering services that, at this point because of the limits of your knowledge, you’re not really qualified to provide? How do you walk that either internally or how do you engage with clients and prospective clients around that?
Marjorie: Well, I’m in a lot of different Slack groups, the Genesis Slack and different technical groups. So I feel like, if I don’t know how to do something, I have this huge support network. If I didn’t have that group of people, not necessarily behind me but that I know that that’s a resource. And also, I’ve hired people from that group and asked them, if there’s something that just seemed like that the time it would take me to learn how to do it is just not worth it, then I can hire a developer. But that’s been kind of a while since I’ve done that. Most of the things, I’m at a point now where I feel like I can figure it out, I structure it in a way so that’s it’s doable for me.
Liam: And how do you engage with the prospective client on that? What does that conversation sound like?
Marjorie: On technical issues?
Liam: When you’re getting a little bit beyond where you think you definitely have never been down that road yet, you’ve been ABC, they’re asking for D. You’re confident that you can figure out how to get to D from C, but how do you talk to a client about that? How do you position that?
Marjorie: I’m sort of in that situation now. I am learning about membership sites. I have a client that wants to have a membership site. And I told her, basically, I’ll charge a small fee but certainly not the amount of time that I’m investing in it, mainly because it’s something that I want to learn about. And that is challenging in that sometimes I will spend a lot of time learning things, and then I don’t charge for it, that’s my time learning, but on the other hand, if it’s something I’m learning just for one client, I have to charge something.
Liam: Of course. Yeah, finding the balance there.
Marjorie: I used to do video as well, I just started doing it again a little. But I found that keeping up with all the technology, everything changes so fast. It just can get to be overwhelming so I’ll only do a certain type of video now, that’s not super editing intensive because I just feel like I have to kind of get focused on a few things. Because you know how it is, there’s just so much to know just at WordPress ecosphere, that you only have so much time to be researching and learning.
Tara: Yeah, it’s overwhelming sometimes, it is. With all the things that you have inlined to learn with the new things that you tackle, how do you define success in your knowledge path, in your business, in your personal life? Any of those things or all of the above, what success means to you?
Marjorie: Success for me, personally, is I love where I live. I love my life and I don’t have the same– I think success is very versatile, I’m not a person that wants a lot of things really. Personally, I feel successful. In terms of with the client, did we meet their goals, did they get the site they wanted, are they making money with the site or whatever they came to me for, did I get a good testimonial from them, was I even able to ask them for a testimonial because I felt confident in what we did together? I feel like success is just kind of being happy in myself, and that hasn’t always necessarily been the case. I am a cancer survivor, I had cancer when I was 27 and obviously, something like that changes your perspective. I didn’t know my husband then, I had to have a lot of radioactive iodine, it was thyroid cancer. And I said, “Hey, well, I want to have kids. Is this going to–?” And they didn’t know at the time. I was kind of a young cancer patient. And then I met my husband, I have three boys, and I’m grateful for that and being able to live where I live out in the middle of Vermont, and being able to, I’ve got to say, I don’t know about you guys, I love working in WordPress. It’s exciting to me, I love the challenges and even when there are things I don’t know, I love that, that’s the part of it I love. I feel like in terms of us getting old in our brains like, “We’re going to be fine.” Because you are always firing on like, “Oh geez, I don’t want to do that.” And you’re researching stuff. Now it’s like, our brains are always being worked.
Tara: Yeah, I hear you. I agree. And thanks for sharing your story. I’m glad that you’ve come this far and have children and family, and that your life sounds like it’s very full and happy. That sounds like a great definition of success to me. And when you talk about getting older, and the three of us are not in the category, I’ll say, although no one can see us.
Liam: Age is relative.
Tara: I think this is saying that it’s really good for my brain and I’m really happy about it. I also feel sometimes, though, that, gosh, I wish I were 25 or 30 years old and had the opportunity to look ahead to grow a business that can grow with what’s happening with WordPress. Because sometimes now, especially with Gutenberg and the changes that are coming along, there are some days where I feel like, I’m just not going to go down that road. I’m just going to give up on the changes because there’s no more time. I don’t know how you feel about what the future holds for you or how you view your business developing and growing over time, given the changes that are always happening in technology and especially in WordPress, what we’re seeing coming down the pike.
Marjorie: You know, I had that same feeling a couple of weeks ago. I thought, oh gosh, what am I going to tell my clients about Gutenberg because it’s an unknown. And I just thought, hey, so I downloaded Gutenberg. I started a new site, I’m actually trying out some– I normally work with Genesis, I’m actually trying out this Beans theme – I just thought I like to play. You have to have some time to just play around so I thought, you know, I’ll just try to get ahead of the curve if I can. And this week, I have had a lot of calls and refferrals, so I thought, you know, I think I’m going to be fine. But I think it’s normal to get into that place in any business. “Oh my God, what’s coming down the pike?” You just keep plugging away and trying different things. And I feel like being with people. In our business, it’s easy to not be with people or you’re just communicating with clients. And I’m grateful I have some folks that I can meet in person and have lunch with and they’re designers, and WordPress people, and marketers for branding people. I feel like it might morph and look a little differently but I’m in it for the long haul.
Liam: Marjorie, the part of your definition of success that resonated with me was being happy in yourself and a lot of the aspects that you used to describe that, you love where you live, your family is gathered around you in a wholesome and constructive way, your business is exciting, work you’re doing is exciting. What is then the single most important things you’re doing to continue that success or to achieve an even greater level of personal satisfaction or self-satisfaction in a healthy way?
Marjorie: I think for me, it’s sort of the simple things. I try to get outside in nature, I try to go for walks if I can. I know you’re both runners. I think things like that just help so much. I guess I’m not the greatest exercise person but just being out like walking by a stream. But I always start my day with, I like to read different– I don’t know, either The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz, or Eckhart Tolle. One of those kind of– even Dale Carnegie, How To Stop Worrying is one of my go-to books. Or Chicken Soup For The Soul, any kind of spiritual or just positive thinking kind of books. I try to do that every morning when I’m having my coffee. I don’t always read something, sometimes I just knit. But–
Liam: [laughs] Some form of inner peace.
Marjorie: Yeah. It’s sort of like how I start my day. I just have to kind of– and then that gets me thinking about what I need to do. I usually have an ongoing to-do list that I keep on the computer so I’m not obsessed with– I kind of know what to do first and I find that’s really helpful, just to be very organized.
Liam: I like that.
Tara: I do too.
Liam: You had mentioned this a need and the desire and enjoyment you get from getting out into the community, especially since you work for yourself from home in the woods. And Tara had read earlier that you are one of the organizers of the Brattleboro Meetup group. Tell us about your involvement with the WordPress community? How that came about and how you stay involved or what you’re doing with it now?
Marjorie: When I was at Marlboro, we had an Adobe group and I got involved with that, I was helping to run that group. Then that group kind of, Adobe stopped supporting a lot of those groups so we kind of folded. But we had such a great core group of people and many of them were WordPress people, or designers, or photographers. So we started– I guess, I basically started the– I say I co-manage because I just turned it over to WordPress so now I’m co-managing with them. Just so that we have the support of the actual WordPress community. It’s really nice. We don’t meet every month. We skip the holidays and summer but it’s just nice to get together. I run that meetup with help, with other people. We try to get everybody in the group to speak, and just kind of keep hitting people up like, “Come on, you can do a five-minute thing.” And try to get everybody involved. Then I go to other meetups, there’s another one down in North Hampton that’s a great meetup. And I go to the WordCamps in Boston and Maine. I’ve been to WordCamp US when it was in Philly, I couldn’t go this year.
Liam: WooHoo! Philly!
Marjorie: Yeah. And I volunteered, I feel like the more you, basically, put out, the more you get back. Volunteering was a great way to meet people, so yeah. And then I feel like I’m in other little groups around the area, just being a mom with kids in school. I’ve met a lot of people that way. Because most of my business comes from people I know or referrals. And then there’s another, it’s a Brattleboro area tech group that I go to sometimes, and I’ve met people in that group that refer me a lot of business. Yeah, good old-fashioned networking is still alive and well.
Liam: You heard it here first. [laughter]
Tara: Marjorie, I like how you talked about how you start your day. You’ve made me rethink my decision to read the paper because that’s, while I have my coffee, it’s certainly not as calming and self-reflecting and self-affirming as reading something like you do or knitting. I really like that. [laughter] Oh, we just heard a laugh. I was waiting for a laugh.
Marjorie: [laughs] Yeah, great. Okay.
Tara: Okay, I was going to have to pull out some WordPress jokes later.
Marjorie: Oh, no.
Tara: What would you say is the most important thing that you do every day?
Marjorie: Oh, the most important thing? Huh. I’m drawing a blank. I mean, I immediately think of my kids, my husband.
Tara: Sure, it doesn’t have to be work-related.
Marjorie: Yeah, my greatest joy is having kids and being married and staying married for 25– it will be 25 years this year.
Marjorie: I guess, probably, to be honest, the most important thing I do is my husband who is an artist and we work different hours. He’s kind of more of a night owl so he kind of sleeps in. That’s why in the morning, it’s nice and quiet when I have my coffee. Later, he’ll get up and come out and will sit in front of this window that we sit in front of that faces basically the forest, and we’ll have our coffee together. I mean, a lot of times we’re just goofing around and basically making fun of each other. Humor’s kind of a key for us but that’s probably one of the most important things, honestly, that I do because it’s like connecting, it’s like our little routine. We don’t do date nights, a lot of these other things other people do. We have our own way.
Tara: I love that.
Marjorie: Sometimes that, it might be like, I’m in the middle of something where I can’t figure something out or I’m stressed out. And my husband’s pretty calming and funny. Yeah, I guess I’ve got where I do these simple things that kind of save me. I’m a person that can get anxious pretty easily. I think I have all these– now that I’m talking to you guys, I realize I have all these built-in systems to keep me kind of on track.
Liam: Sounds like you’ve got a pretty wonderful relationship with your life partner, your life mate, your husband, that’s important time to figure out what that routine then supports you. I’m sure the routine supports him in ways as well, that’s really important and I’d love to hear about your focus on that.
Tara: So you both work from home? You’re both around each other all day long?
Marjorie: Yeah, we are.
Marjorie: That’s why the morning’s nice, I have the house to myself. Yeah, my husband, we have the toy business which is sort of the same thing year after year. We tried developing new products ourselves, because my father in law invented the kits that we still sell. And we spend a fortune coming out with these kits. It just wasn’t really our– we inherited the business through his father in law, that part of it, the product development part was not our forte, even though we tried for many years. And my husband always really just was very artistic. He’s just done a lot of different other businesses and he kind of always came back to doing art. And a couple years ago, I posted– he never wanted to be on the internet at all. And, “Oh, that Facebook, ah.” And I posted his stuff on Facebook and he got all these likes. He was like, “What? Hey, post it online again.” I was like, “Well, you can get your own Facebook page now, dude.” I think that was like a Father’s Day gift, I made him a Facebook page or something. Since then, yeah, I don’t know how, I don’t even check his Facebook, he’s got like three or four thousand followers, he’s big on this site called Artfinder which is in the UK but they sell all over the world, and he’s totally become very tech-savvy as well.
Liam: What’s his name?
Marjorie: His business is Rich Ray Art, it’s on Artfinder. He sold quite a few works on there this year, he was like the number 12 artist or something at one point, and it’s just incredible what you can do online.
Liam: Absolutely, it is. Especially as artists who struggle to find an audience where they struggle to find a community to accept their art, or at least enough of a community to support the ability to pay monthly bills so that he’s able to do that in a way that empowers him to have the life he wants and also create the way he likes, it’s fantastic.
Marjorie: Yeah, it’s pretty incredible. He’s learned a lot doing that. And we learned from each other. We really do, especially, his dad was such a marketing genius and I think he’s got that in him where he’ll just try different things. If one thing doesn’t work, you try something else and you just have to keep at it. Yeah, we’re really lucky that we’re at this place. If somebody had told me a few years ago, “Oh, your husband’s going to be doing this great thing online with art.” I’d think, nobody sells art online. And it’s like, hey, you never know. People can pursue their dreams, it’s amazing what they can do.
Liam: Absolutely they can. Marjorie, let me ask you one of our biggest questions here. What is the single most valuable piece of advice, be it personal, professional or otherwise, that you have received and implemented or integrated into your life?
Marjorie: Yeah, there’s so many ways I could go with that question. I think just in terms of my business with WordPress, the advice is to charge what you’re worth, it has been really helpful and I’ve received that in a number of different ways. People would say it on blog posts and I had a fellow developer friend tell me that. I think it’s something that at the time I’d think, well, I’m trying to. And I feel that it’s just something that I slowly grew into. In the beginning, I just didn’t know how to charge and I would charge probably almost nothing. Then I put all this work into something and it just didn’t feel right. I think over time I’ve just continued to charge a little bit more, a little bit more until now, I feel like if someone comes to me and I say, “Here’s what it costs.” And they’re like, “Oh, that’s too much.” It’s like, I can’t really work with that person because I’m spending so much more time than you’ll ever know learning what I know. And you don’t have that knowledge and I do. And I think I still probably don’t charge like other might charge because I’m out in the rural area but I feel like that’s been really helpful advice.
Tara: Yeah, that’s an evolution that you’ve described. We hear it from a lot of people, I know I’ve experienced it as well. When you’re starting out and you don’t have much experience. It’s easy to sort of learn on someone else’s dime and so as a result, you don’t charge as much maybe. But then as you know more and more, you get the experience, you become more confident to charge more. And what you’re worth is, I could hold up my fingers as quotes, that’s a really hard thing to wrap your head around, especially where we have sometimes imposter syndrome or we feel like we aren’t as good as other people or those types of things that question our abilities, but what you’re worth, as you just said, is really you’ve put a lot of time in learning this and you know a lot more than most people.
Marjorie: Yeah, and having other people to talk to about like, it can also be, “Hey, what would you charge her this?” And if they say a number and you’re like, “Oh, wow. Gee, I don’t know if I could charge that.” But, you know, you kind of see what is the market charging. I think it just comes over time in wanting to just get better and better at something. Now I feel fairly confident about that.
Tara: Yeah, that’s great.
Marjorie: But it’s taken kind of a long time too.
Tara: Go ahead, Liam.
Liam: I was just going to say, speaking of time, we’re coming to the end of ours, we’re wrapping up on 30 minutes here. Before we let you go, Marjorie, please share with us where we can find you online?
Marjorie: Well, my website is Codewryter.com, that’s the easiest place. I’m @marjorie_ray on Twitter. My website has all my contact information but I’d love to hear from anybody if you want to connect. It would be great.
Tara: Great, it’s been great having you on the show and thanks for sharing your story with us, Marjorie.
Marjorie: Thanks for having me, I really enjoyed talking with both of you.
Liam: It’s been a real pleasure, Marjorie, thanks so much. Bye, bye.
Marjorie: Thank you, bye.
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