Introducing Kathy Drewien
Kathy Drewien lives in Marietta, Georgia just outside of Atlanta. There she rescues abandoned, ugly, orphaned, broken, and non-productive websites for people and businesses who are ready for a change. She’s an organizer of WordCamp Atlanta and runs a local WordPress Meetup around there, too. And if that’s not enough, she’s also an organizer of WordCamp US.
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 31.
Tara: Welcome to Hallway Chats, I’m Tara Claeys.
Liam: And I’m Liam Dempsey. Today, we’re joined by Kathy Drewien. Kathy lives in Marietta, Georgia just outside of Atlanta. There she rescues abandoned, ugly, orphaned, broken, and non-productive websites for people and businesses who are ready for a change. She’s an organizer of WordCamp Atlanta and runs a local WordPress Meetup around there, too. And if that’s not enough, she’s also an organizer of WordCamp US. Hey, Kathy.
Kathy: Hi, how are you doing?
Tara: Good. Welcome, Kathy. It’s great to have you on the show. I love the way that Liam introduced you, very creative and it makes me very curious about what you do so can you tell us a little bit more about yourself?
Kathy: I can. I thought it was very clever to talk about how I rescue ugly orphaned websites.
Tara: Yeah, that’s great.
Kathy: That really has driven out of my desire to work with people who are struggling in learning how to use WordPress. And a lot of people come to me because they have broken websites and I love teaching them how to feel powerful in their experience.
Tara: How did you get started in this endeavor?
Kathy: Let’s back up to 2006, which is when I got introduced to WordPress. At that time, I was in a totally different industry. I was a real estate broker and had built a website for that business back in the mid-’90s. 2006, it was time to update that to WordPress. And when I discovered the power of WordPress, there was no looking back in terms of my user experience. I started in it as a career because the real estate market crashed and so did I. And technology was always my go-to and I’ve been doing it ever since.
Tara: Yeah. Real estate sites are very complicated. There’s a lot that goes into them. I don’t know how it was in 2006 but it always surprises me that there aren’t more options available for real estate agents as far as self-hosted websites are concerned.
Kathy: There can be, it’s just a lot of real estate agents choose not to. They’re always available to them.
Tara: Many of them do become website experts, I’m sure, by the time they finish. Do you still work with real estate agents or agencies?
Kathy: I’m counting in my head, I have one real estate client still on my roles, so to speak. And she chose to work with me when I was teaching a two-day course. And she learned that I have real estate background. Otherwise, all the rest of them have passed by.
Tara: Okay. Do you have a specific type of client that you look for or do you have a wide variety? Tell me a little bit about how you find your clients and who they are?
Kathy: Well, I keep changing that. When I got started, I had a lot of real estate clients and discovered really quickly that that was not the ideal client for me. But I got focused in the beginning on helping people learn WordPress, so I did a lot of websites for newbies, so to speak. Whether I was helping them improve what they had installed or whether I was ‘building’ websites. I put building in quotes because in reality, I am an implementer of websites. Where I am in my journey now is I hate building websites, hate it with a passion. I don’t like sitting behind the computer and clicking all those little things. Although I still will create, I think, websites for people, which means I roll out a Genesis theme and help them match their colors. I am a people person, I’m not a website builder type person.
Liam: That explanation is making me smile. I want to explore something you said around how you discovered that real estate agents weren’t your ideal clients, something we chat with our guests kind of regularly is how do they find their niche, how do they figure out as they maybe transition into a career with WordPress. What they really want to do, what works for them, what makes their brain get excited and makes them want to jump in front of the computer, or go out and meet people and the like. Can you talk us through how you came to discern the kind of client and project work that really excites you?
Kathy: Oh, that’s a great question. In the beginning, like so many of us, I took everybody who said, “I’ll write you a check.” And it didn’t even matter to me how small that check might be, it was, “Pay me. I have to eat.” And what I discovered about the real estate industry, primarily because I was so intimately involved when I first got started, is a lot of real estate agents do not view themselves as business owner. I discovered that I wanted to work with people who wanted to put some energy into their website as opposed to roll out something and be hands-off for the rest of my life. Over the years, my clientele transitioned because I became a known entity in the Atlanta market through my involvement with the Atlanta WordCamp. Very, very quickly I began to focus on people who are new to WordPress and that’s what prompted me to start a meetup in 2011 that was targeted to beginners. And I have a knack for talking with beginners. I translate the technology into everyday southern language and my background as a therapist enables me to connect with them very quickly and very deeply, and move through the process of learning. In the last few years, it’s become very, very clear to me that my gift is that people connection. And that’s why in my business now, I’m more focused as front-end of the business and I have other people who do the technology.
Liam: That’s a really important realization and I love that you realized you wanted to work with people who wanted to invest in their website. And I’m imagining that you’re not seeing that so much from a commercial standpoint, although that certainly has its value, but it’s more you wanted to work with individuals who had intellectually invested themselves into their own website, so you have them putting their own creative energy and their intellectual power into the project so they’re kind of partnering with you and working with you together rather than you going away and making this block green and that block more square. It actually becomes an opportunity to work together with people.
Kathy: I think that’s a pretty apt description, I like your use of the word partner because I certainly perform better under that framework. I want to grow with you and enable you as the business owner to achieve your goals. And I will help structure that conversation with you. I don’t like a top-down kind of scenario. Again, I think that comes back to my first career as a therapist. That’s just where I meet people where they are and that’s my starting point. And then I guide the discussion through, what I hope are, strategic and in-depth questions.
Liam: With that understanding then, did the WordPress community find you or did you find the WordPress community? How did that relationship begin and how has it evolved? From our introduction, it’s pretty clear that you’re up to your eyeballs in WordPress community now being an organizer in Atlanta, and in US, and at your own meetup. Talk us through that?
Kathy: I found the community in 2008. I attended my first WordCamp ever in Birmingham, Alabama, which is a two-hour commute from home for me. I walked in the room and then, oh my gosh, here are my people. And just fell in love with the community and came back to Atlanta and discovered that there was already a meetup here that I wasn’t aware of because you don’t know what you don’t know.
Kathy: So I attended that for a while and one thing and another, it’s called the Atlanta WordPress Users group. Out of that group came Atlanta’s first WordCamp in 2010. And I have been intimately involved in the community and was the first person who kind of– I don’t know how to put it. I ruffled some feathers when I decided to launch a meetup outside the perimeter. As in many metropolitan areas, there’s this big circle around downtown Atlanta and the meeting was inside the perimeter and I chose to move outside the perimeter and doing so, did nothing but expand the WordPress community here in Atlanta. I think through my people skills, that has enabled the community to grow quite large here in Atlanta.
Liam: Yeah, I couldn’t agree with you more on that more meetups only strengthen the community. I was lucky enough to approach Brad Williams and Doug Stewart back in 2012, who were core organizers of the Philadelphia WordPress meetup. And I asked them, “What do you think about maybe another? If you think about it, maybe a meetup out in the suburbs?” And I got a very welcome, “Yeah, just do it. If you’re willing to put the time and energy, go for it. And if it doesn’t work, that’s okay, too.” And now our two meetups, suburbs and the Philadelphia one play very, very nicely together. And we’ve built a very strong community in and around Philly through WordPress. It sounds like, through your leadership and many years of hard work, you have absolutely the same thing down there in Atlanta.
Kathy: Absolutely. There are probably eight to 10 meetup groups here in the metro area and all of us are friends and all of us are involved in the WordCamp organization and play very nicely together. But it didn’t start out that way. [laughs] That took some time.
Tara: I can tell from your personality that you’ve helped put a smiley face on whatever was going on.
Kathy: That was the front-facing phase. [laughter]
Tara: Okay. That’s what you pride yourself in. Kathy, let’s talk a little bit about success. We ask our guests to tell us what their definition of success is, whether that’s in their personal life or their business life, professional, a combination of the two. We love to hear the different answers that people give us to this question that usually provokes them good thoughts and questions. How do you define success?
Kathy: I’ll tell you the definition that I came up with about five years ago. I was attending a women’s thing, one way or the other, some sort of ‘build your business’. And the question raised to the audience was, what is your five-year goal? Blah, blah, blah. For the first time ever, I wrote on a piece of paper my answer, and the answer for me was my measure of, I want to be profitable enough to be able to travel with my grandchildren who at that time had yet to be conceived. Today I have reached that goal and my granddaughter is two. That’s my measure of success. I’ve lived a long time, I don’t need to have lots and lots of money but I need to have lots and lots of time with that baby girl.
Tara: Where have you traveled? Does she live near you or did you take her somewhere?
Kathy: She lives in Birmingham. My daughter went to school there in 2003 which is why I ended up at WordCamp in 2008 in Birmingham. I travel over there once a month, I have an office in Birmingham as well as Atlanta. We go to the beach, I don’t need to go big and far, I just need to be with her.
Tara: That’s wonderful. Congratulations.
Kathy: Thank you.
Tara: That’s great. I hear being a grandparent is wonderful.
Kathy: Yes, it is.
Liam: My father often says that if he had to do it all over again, he would be a grandfather first and then a father.
Tara: That might have something to do with the fact that you have, what, 10 siblings, 11 siblings?
Liam: 11, there’s 12 of us.
Kathy: Oh, my gosh.
Liam: I love the simplicity of your success. It’s simply about enabling family connection there and buying, if you will–
Kathy: It shifted over the years, certainly, but what my definition was when I was 20 is vastly different than it is today.
Liam: Sure. It would be a little bit odd if it didn’t change, right? If time and experiences didn’t change, I’m thinking we’d either be very precocious or wildly stubborn, I suppose.
Kathy: Just wrong, however you look at it. [laughter] Aging appropriate. [laughs]
Liam: Kathy, with that definition of success, what’s the single most important thing you do every day to either maintain that success or to continue to achieve it?
Kathy: That one – I have to roll my eyes back and look at my brain to see if I can come up with an answer. There are not a lot of things that I do every day except that I think I lean towards balance, whatever that might be for that day. I live by my intuition and so if it’s one of those days where I don’t feel like working, I don’t, unless there’s something calendared, of course. I don’t know how I answer that. I’m going to have to ponder that for a while because I’m not disciplined in any way, shape, or form. I wake up slowly meaning I get out of bed very slowly in the morning. I do my reading, linger for two hours or so, and then I put my feet on the floor. And I might get into my home office by 10:00-10:30. And then I work until I don’t want to. Sometimes, that means eight o’clock at night, sometimes it means three o’clock in the afternoon. I kind of trust my own clock, whatever that might mean.
Tara: That sounds important.
Kathy: It is to me.
Liam: The tone of voice that I’m hearing you speak with as you walk us through that day and that approach makes it sound like this is not something that you decided, this is how I’m going to do it. It sounds like it’s an evolution of maybe becoming who you are and your experiences. Can you talk us through how that sense of balance became important to you and how you figured it out in a way that works for you?
Kathy: Wow. We need to jump back to whenever, 100 years ago, when I got out of grad school and began my professional life and the field of recovery of addictions and alcoholism and those kinds of things. One of the things I learned in grad school as a therapist is that most of us go into that field to address our own wounded family, we’re going to figure out that wounded dysfunctional family and somehow we’re going to fix it. And I think one of the bi-products of choosing that career path is that along the way, I do begin to heal and through my own recovery process, I became introspective and discovered my gifts for working with others. Over the course of all the years since, I have come to truly value my intuitive sense on what’s right and wrong for me and eliminated a lot of negative in my life over the years, whether that was situations or individuals. I don’t know, there’s just a lot of wisdom that comes over 40 years that I just trust my instincts.
Tara: Yeah, I think that also relates to patience, to be patient with other people, what you’re describing, what you translate into what you do now as an educator with beginners in WordPress. Because that takes a lot of patience when you know something really well to teach people who don’t and to have the patience to listen to the questions that they’re asking. It sounds like you’ve carried that through, that skill that you have with people, the people skill and this empathy and patience in your heart, I think you’re using that in a different way with a very different–
Kathy: I think that’s valid. When I’m working side by side with someone teaching, I no longer teach one to many, I teach one to one. There are a lot of times when I figuratively and literally have to sit on my fingers because I want to grab the keyboard away from the and like, “Just let me!” But that’s not my natural state. I really want people to be successful, in a way that they define it. And I’ve discovered over the last several years, that so many people come to their WordPress experience pulling their hair out and being very, not just disgruntled, but feeling stupid. They think there’s something wrong with them that they can’t figure it out. And in reality, they have installed WordPress and they’ve installed a theme, and they don’t know what they don’t know sometimes documentation is for. But they’re just lost and they just think there’s– they come out of two places, either I’m stupid or WordPress is too hard, and neither of which are true. I want to have them walk away from our time together feeling smart and empowered.
Tara: I’ve read a lot in the WordPress forums and community lately just about this subject, about who WordPress is for and who WordPress is trying to become and who they’re competing against for people like you’re describing who feel that WordPress is too hard. They have options like Wix and Squarespace and those types of things. Now we are hearing a lot about Gutenberg again and what the goals are in order to make WordPress maybe more usable for beginners, or is WordPress really more for non-beginners. What’s your feeling about that conversation? I’m sure you–
Kathy: It has shifted somewhat on the heels of WordCamp US. I had not paid much attention to Gutenberg other than, “Okay, that’s the thing.” But after watching the last State of The Word, and coming away with a better comprehension of what it’s designed to do, I’m both optimistic and apprehensive. We were discussing at my meetup earlier today what ramifications it might have on the clients that I’ve just been talking about in terms of them thinking that it’s hard. One, I’m going to have to learn how to use Gutenberg and to make the transition. On the other hand, I’m anticipating there being maybe a dip in people that are currently on WordPress switching to Wix and Squarespace until they go through that curb. There’s going to be a deep learning curve for a lot of people. I’m looking forward to the change because I think it’s a smart move of WordPress as the project. And at the same time, I’m like, “Oh my god, my clients.”
Tara: And yourself. I mean, like you said, you have to learn it first.
Kathy: Yeah, if I’m going to continue this career of teaching people, yeah. I’m not apprehensive about me learning it but I do think when you begin to have a conversation with your clients or our clients. It’s, “Hey, there’s this new thing and by the way, we’re going to have to rebuild your website. I know you didn’t ask for that but hey, we’re going to have to.” And that’s going to be a tough conversation, I think.
Liam: I think you’re absolutely right. Let me change gears just a little bit and ask you, what is the single most valuable piece of advice that you have ever received and worked into your life? And that advice can be personal, it can be professional, maybe a mix of both.
Kathy: That was one question that I remembered hearing consistently in your podcast so I was giving that a little bit of thought this morning. It’s like, “How am I going to answer that?”
Liam: Thank you for listening.
Kathy: What I am today, I am the person that gives those sage pieces of wisdom to other people.
Kathy: But when I think what I carry with me today, there’s been lots of little tidbits. I think the one that stay with me now is, don’t sweat the small stuff. And then parenthetically, by the way, it’s all small stuff. And that helps reign me in when I’m getting out of balance. It is like, in the grand scheme of life, this is just not that important.
Tara: It’s true.
Liam: Yeah, that is wonderfully simple. It’s akin to your definition of success, it just boils it all down to what is the purpose of life and what does this immediate challenge in front of me, how does that fit in? And we all have our own definitions of the purpose of life, but they’re all more or less to make ourselves and the world around us a better place, right? And we can color in the shapes a little bit differently with our own personal belief system. But just, it’s all little stuff, it’s only the big picture that ultimately matters, so to speak. And the little stuff just carries us through it. But not to get too carried away, but that’s great. I love it, thank you.
Tara: Yeah, thank you.
Liam: Let me ask you this then, you’ve talked about transition in careers, you’ve talked about the challenges of growing your local Atlanta WordPress community, you’ve talked about some of the challenges of learning about how best you wanted to be in business. Can you share with us what’s been your biggest challenge to date and how did you overcome it or if it’s ongoing, how are you continuing to work on it?
Kathy: My biggest challenges have always been personal. I am not recently divorced but going through a divorce after 30 years of marriage, or 31, was probably the biggest challenge in my life.
Liam: I would imagine. I can see that.
Kathy: I think I surprised myself counting up the years going, “Oh, my gosh. That was six years ago.” So it kind of sort of is new but that was difficult. Prior to that point, the biggest challenge in my life was recovering from alcoholism. But that is so long ago that that’s just in the past. Personal challenge more so than business, business is business. I’ll just go find something else to do if the door shuts on WordPress ever. It’s what I’ve done consistently, this is my third career.
Tara: Yeah, those are some big personal life challenges to go through. If you rack them up and make a list, those are pretty big ones. When you look back, that must give you a feeling of strength, how does that make you feel when you look back at those experiences, those challenges that you faced?
Kathy: I will use the words of my daughter, and she describes me as a strong independent woman. Over the years, I have come to believe that.
Tara: It comes across, Kathy.
Kathy: Thank you. It didn’t always use to be that way, but it is who I am, and probably started life as a strong independent child, and lost track somewhere along the line. But yes, I really, really like who I am.
Tara: Great, sounds like your daughter knows you really well, too. I have to point that out and to encourage you, that’s wonderful.
Kathy: She too, is a very strong independent woman.
Tara: I can imagine.
Kathy: Takes one to know one, right?
Tara: That’s right.
Liam: That bodes really well for the upbringing of your granddaughter then.
Liam: That’s great. And I love your description of how the biggest challenges are personal and that business is just business. That’s so true, that if we can, I’m grossly oversimplifying, but if we can sort ourselves out, then kind of the rest of life takes care of itself. Again, I’m drastically oversimplifying the challenges that many of us face. But if we can get to the point where you are, where we’re comfortable with who we are, we’ve developed ourselves and overcome our challenges in ways that are in keeping with our morals and our standards then. I want to say life’s easy but it gets a lot easier.
Kathy: It does get a lot easier. It gets congruent.
Liam: That’s a great word.
Tara: I love your positive outlook and the fact that you help others is great. That you help them with WordPress but there’s more than that, because you’re helping them with WordPress but that gives them a great sense of confidence, I’m sure, and self-esteem when they figure that stuff out. You’re doing way more than WordPress.
Kathy: Thank you.
Tara: Yeah, thank you for sharing your story with us. We’re just about out of time here so before we say goodbye, can you tell everyone where they can find you online?
Kathy: Atlantawpcoach.com. It’s probably the easiest one to say and the easiest one to get to.
Tara: Okay, we’ll be sure to put that in the show notes.
Liam: We’ll put links to any other, Twitter and other places for you that may not be so easy to say.
Kathy: I am @kdrewien in all things but you’ll have to spell Drewien for everybody.
Liam: We will do that for sure. Kathy, it’s been an absolute pleasure spending some time with you out here in, well, in your car.
Kathy: Yeah. [laughs]
Liam: It’s been a real pleasure getting to know you just a little bit and hearing about your journey. You’ve been wonderfully generous with what you shared with us, thank you so much.
Kathy: Thank you so much for having me.
Tara: Thanks, Kathy.
Liam: Bye, bye for now.
Kathy: Bye, bye.
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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