Introducing David Wolfpaw
David is a professional web developer focused on helping small businesses by providing ongoing WordPress maintenance and support through his service FixUpFox. He helps organize both WordPress Orlando and WordCamp Orlando.
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 90.
Liam: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Liam, Dempsey.
Tara: And I’m Tara Claeys. Today, we’re joined by David Wolfpaw. David is a professional web developer focused on helping small businesses by providing ongoing WordPress maintenance and support through his service FixUpFox. He helps organize both WordPress Orlando and WordCamp Orlando. Welcome, David. Glad to have you here.
David: Thanks for having me.
Liam: Hey David. Thanks for joining us today. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself, please?
David: Yes. Professionally, I’ve been doing a lot of web development. Not professionally, I started web development in high school which at this point now is almost 20 years ago. And then I started doing web development professionally when I was in college when the things that I was doing for fun, for myself, just building little websites for myself or for my friends, other people started asking me to do them as a business. At the time, I was charging an embarrassingly low amount even for that time. Over the years I have slowly increased both my skill level and the billing. And then in 2008 I believe is the first time I discovered WordPress.It had just hit version 3.0 so I only got– Actually, sorry, it doesn’t matter but I came in a little bit before that so I know when custom post types came out, that was very exciting in 3 .0. So just about 11 years now I’ve been working with WordPress and I’ve been managing WordCamp Orlando and WordPress Orlando, the meetups since 2012.
Liam: That’s a lot of WordPress. When did you start working for yourself? We heard earlier in our conversation that you have a company called FixUpFox. Did that spin right out of college? Did you graduate and then just go right into self-employment?
David: Well, yes and no. Actually, just before I graduated, I realized that– I was doing this basically off the books for a few years and just before I graduated in 2009, I realized I should get a little bit more formal, more official. I just had my 10-year anniversary. The parent company is actually called Orange Blossom Media. I can get into a little bit about the name thing but just at the 10-year anniversary, about a week or two ago.
David: Thank you very much. And through that time, I worked for two other agencies doing some work for them, but I always kept the company going in the background. The second company that I worked for, it was basically a go to work, go home, take a nap, eat dinner, and then spend another five or six hours on the computer working on client work, until I got to the point where I was making about as much at home as I was at the other job. So, of course, when I quit that, I did have an income drop. But the extra time let me build a business up a bit more. I started out doing custom website builds. That would include building custom themes, custom plugins for clients, or just setting things up. But then I noticed that a lot of clients were coming back to me. They would say– I’m talking about a year or two later for some of them. “Hey, we love the site but somebody hacked us.” Or, “This is great but we lost some files. Do you have a backup still?” Something like that. In 2014, I should probably have a date. Sometime September, 2014 range, I started a side service that would manage people’s up sites ongoing. That was the company that eventually got called FixUpFox. It was intended to be just a little side thing but over the past two years, that’s been the main source of revenue. Clients will come to me, they will pay on a monthly or annual basis and I will handle most things for the WordPress sites. The thing that I found most important was preventative care. When I bring someone on, I tell them, honestly, 75% of the requests that I used to get I won’t get anymore because they were things relating to backups, to security, to updates failing, things like that. All the kind of things that I consider table stakes for any maintenance company, make sure you have at least daily backups, some sort of security, daily updates, etcetera.
Tara: Yeah, I had a local meetup last night here and most of the people that attend this meetup are beginners and not experienced users. And I always ask what topics they’d like to cover in future meetups. The main topic this time people wanted to hear about was backups, how to backup, where to backup, when to backup, all those things. That is something that befuddles a lot of users of how to do it and not sure they’re putting it in the right place and all of that. So having a service that offers that gives people a lot of security and confidence that their website is going to be available if anything bad happens. So I can understand that’s probably an easy selling point. What are the biggest challenges with that business? I’m glad to hear it’s growing and it’s become a good source of revenue for you. What is your challenge? I know there are a lot of other companies that do that.
David: Just like I think if you ask most people who have their own WordPress-based companies, assuming they’re selling services. A lot of people say, “I don’t consider these other people my competitors, I consider them partners or friends because there’s so much work to go around.” And I think the same thing happens in the maintenance space as well. Of course, there’s the opportunity for somebody to choose my company over, as you said, one of the many, many other companies that offer WordPress maintenance or choose one of them over me. But I could not handle all the work that is available there. I think more people should be moving into recurring revenue. I think it’s very– I know it’s easier said than done, just like myself, so many people want to pivot into trying products out one day. It’s certainly easier said than done but if you take the time to work at it, it’s great to have something where you know, okay, at least barring anything crazy, like everyone suddenly canceling. I have this much coming in each month and I don’t have to worry about those dry periods when people don’t need new work. When we’re recording this, it’s early February, and in January, I had the onslaught of emails from people who suddenly have new budgets available or who have a new resolution to do some updates to the website or something. The past few weeks, I’ve seen a huge influx of new work. Who knows what’s going to happen later in the year? But the clients that I have on a regular retainer, I at least know that they’ll be there.
Tara: Yeah. How do you divide your time up and manage that because doing maintenance on websites is not predictable in terms of your schedule? You can’t plan when a website is going to down and when somebody’s going to email you with an emergency. Do you have a team that helps you in other time zones or do you keep your phone by your bed and you’re ready for somebody to contact you at one in the morning that their website’s down? How do you manage that scheduling?
David: Well, both of the things that you said, having a 24-hour team or keeping my phone by my bed. They presuppose that, one, there’s some things that happen that would be major emergencies, and two, it’s assumed that I would be available on call 24/7 for them. And I do understand that there are a lot of companies that want that and there are companies that market that. I listened to the episode that you had with Joe Howard of WP Buffs and he mentioned that was one of their growing pains was moving to the 24/7. It’s certainly a selling point, I’ve certainly lost potential leads that wanted some 24/7 support. But honestly, it’s myself and a few contractors as needed. But the majority of the work I do myself. That’s been the case for a past few years. Honestly, it’s easier to manage when you know your own schedule. Of course, if anything happens, I need to make sure there’s something in place and that’s what I find most helpful is having something in place, having some sort of process, some sort of systems for work. One thing that my clients know when I’m on-boarding them, actually, even when we’re in the sales pitch, before they give me any money, is that you’re working with me directly. If we’re working with anyone else, you’ll know in advance who it is, what they’ll be doing, and here are all the ways that you can reach me. I try to make it more personal. The newsletters that I send to clients are more personalized. I also share with them some things that are going in my life. I try to keep up with what’s going on in their lives a bit. I try to make it a bit more of a one-to-one relationship. You’re not just hiring a company but you’re hiring a person individually. The reason that I think I do that is because they know there’s somebody at the other end of the computer. It’s not– if you ever just talk to customer support at some big company and you know it’s just somebody who doesn’t care who you are, doesn’t even know who you are, you’re a number there, something like that. So you know, they’ll know when I go, “Well, it’s after 05:00 PM Eastern time or it’s the weekend, so we’ll be getting to this on Monday.”
Liam: Yeah, that’s got to build a lot of trust where they can say to you, “Hey, David. You remember a couple of months ago when we did this thing?” And you know what that is, it’s not a support ticket where they have to type it in and, “Well, we did this and did that, and we did that two months ago because you were the one that did it and you remember.” I suppose also then with that trust, if it is 05:05 on a Thursday afternoon and the clients emails in, “Hey, David. This really is an emergency.” You know that client and you can say, “You know what? That person never cries emergency when it’s not. I’m going to jump back on and take that because that is an emergency. Let me fix that.” Because it’s the trust and relationship, right?
David: Absolutely. Again, I’m not a stickler like, “Nope, it’s absolutely after this time frame, not going to help you.” But I have the opportunity, I have the option to do so if I want to. And I say that just to say, I don’t feel as stressed as I could be. Because there’s certainly a lot of things that can get stressful about work. But I’ve been making a conscious effort over the past few years to remove as many of the stresses as I can, one of them feeling like I always have to be by my computer 24/7. Any time that I have a support ticket come in, I do get a notification about it. That’s one of the very, very few notifications that I allow to take place on my devices. Again, I have no other cruff coming in that I have to filter through so I know when it’s important. I will be available when they need me but reason so we both feel comfortable on both sides or at least that’s how it always seems to me. Because I’ll get some clients who will say, “Oh, thank you for responding so quickly.” And I responded that afternoon when they sent me a message earlier in the day but I had closed email because I was in the middle of a deeper project. And I always felt, even years ago, that was one of the things that clients would say when they would work with me. They’d go, “I like working with you because you’re responsive.” So many places you’ll go to and say, “Hey, I need a full website built. Here’s all my details.” And then the person wouldn’t get back to them until they had something fully complete and go, “Here you go, here’s your website. Enjoy.” And then, of course, if they didn’t have any conversations in between to say, “Is this what you want? What might have changed over time? How does this change?” Or some people just not getting back to them at all. A lot of companies just won’t respond and I feel that way too. I will talk to some other companies or some other contractors that I might want to work with and just get no response for whatever reason.
Liam: Yeah, that’s a good point.
David: To the point where you said that I know what’s going on on the website. Of course, I try to keep copious notes. I also let clients know. I’m going to tell you what I’m doing, unless you don’t want me to. If they ask me to make some change. I can go, “Here, I will give you a detailed multiple-paragraph here’s what I did and why or here’s what was wrong and why, unless you don’t care and you go, I just want it fixed.” More clients are in the latter camp, they’re just like, “I want it fixed.” Not like in a, “I don’t care what you’re doing.” But more of a, “It’s great that it’s up. This is why I’m hiring you.”
Liam: Right. It’s like when we go to the lawyer or the accountant and say, “Fix our books or write us a new contract.” We don’t really care how they do the research, as long as they do it well and they give us a contract that protects us.
David: Right. But I also make sure I’m available for any education that they may want, because sometimes, I’ll see something where I go, “Oh, this thing stopped working because of this other thing that you’re using because of whatever. Here are a few options we can do to fix the problem, or here’s something to keep in mind for the future.” You mentioned that if I keep notes, I’ll be able to remember and go back and make changes again. I think that’s also important for timing. That’s one of the– when people ask me– to back up, part of my service besides all the preventative care is I also offer unlimited small-task fix. Basically, in my mind, I say anything that I consider to be under a half hour or so of work would be included. I have a detailed page on my site that I can refer people to that says, “Here are the kind of things that are normally included. Here are the kind of things that aren’t included in service.” Just so they know in advance that if they have something small we need to get done, they can send an email and it will get done probably the same day, and not have to worry about hiring somebody for every little task they have on the website, going through that process over and over again. And if anyone asks, “How can you support that?” Usually, the main thing is the time savings. If I have a relationship with the client, then I can do things more proactively. I can make changes before they even see they need to be made. And I’ll know where their site is at. If you had me go on and make a change to the menu on your site, that can take me a half hour to do so where I have to get your credentials, log in, make sure I’m not messing anything else up, blah, blah, blah, find out that it’s actually in a widget instead of a menu, whatever. The second time you ask me to make a change there, It’ll take maybe five minutes to log in, find the changes, and do it. Over time, I think it serves both parties well.
Liam: Yeah, I totally agree with that. We have an agreement with some of our clients where if anything is less than two hours, they don’t ask for an estimate and we don’t provide it. We just do the work. And that saves us having to spend 10, 15 minutes, how long is this going to take and prepare an estimate. Even if it’s just in the body of an email, send it over to them, they have to think about it and respond. Because we know and they know and there’s a trust. If it takes us 15 minutes, we’ll bill 15, if it takes us an hour and a half, we’re going to bill an hour and a half. And the efficiency of time and not having to make decisions makes it much easier for everybody involved. But it’s all based on trust, what you’re talking about. David, let me ask you a little bit about the WordPress community. We heard earlier in our conversation that you help organize WordPress Orlando, the meetups there, and the WordCamp there. How did you get involved with the community? You told us earlier that you discovered WordPress around 3.0. Did you discover the software and then the community, did somebody drag you to a meetup and then you said, “Well, the software is cool.” Tell us a little bit about that?
David: I discovered WordPress, the software several years before I discovered the community. It was early 2008, I remember. I was working on a project for a client that was going to include some blogging capabilities, that’s where I went looking for blogging tools and found WordPress. At the time, I was already doing some PHP development so I wasn’t fully afraid of it. But at the same time, I know I did a lot of really dumb things and I’m probably doing really dumb things now too.
Liam: I’m laughing and raising my hand too. Yeah, I’m with you there.
David: And even though things like the forums existed. I didn’t really piece two and two together. It wasn’t until I was working at an agency in 2011. I saw that somebody there was on a meetup and they were like, “Hey, there’s a WordPress meetup starting.” I’ll get really detailed just because I remember exactly. WordPress meetup started in November 2011. I went to the very first meeting with the coworker and met a few other people in the community who I still continue to see and talk to this day. And then by the third meetup, I was helping to organize it, which would have been like January 2012. That’s because there was one person doing it who knew that he wanted to have meetups around WordPress but honestly, he wanted people who knew more WordPress to come. Which I get the same benefit, too, people who know more than me come and teach me things all the time at the meetups. And then 2012, we rebooted the WordCamp Orlando because it had been dormant for a year. So yeah, I knew about WordPress well before I knew about the WordPress community. And I found that’s been a thing for a lot of our other organizers as well. They say, “I can’t believe I didn’t realize there were other people here who cared as much about a piece of software as I do.”
Liam: Yeah, that’s an experience we hear a lot about on this show. Let me change gears on you one more time, if I can, and ask you about success. This is a question we ask all of our guests and I want you to share your definition of success, whether it’s a definition of personal success, professional success, or maybe a mixture of both?
David: Absolutely. Myself, when I think about any goals that I have for the future, any plans that I’m making. I consider success around those, obviously, to complete as many of those as I can. But I consider it more in personal terms. This business is here to serve my life, not the other way around. I enjoy the work that I do. of course, there are a lot of things that can get frustrating in the day to day, in the moment. But at the end of the day, I enjoy what I’m doing for work and it is helping me to live a comfortable life. I’m very thankful that I’ve had the opportunities that I’ve had, that people have given me the help that I’ve had in the past. That’s my roundabout way of saying that success to me is that– I’m not thinking about it in financial terms, in terms of like, “Oh, I want to have the biggest company, do the biggest thing.” But, “Oh, I have money in the bank so I know if there is an emergency, if there is an accident or anything, I’ll be covered.”, “Oh, I have great relationships that I’ve built both in and out of this community that aren’t negatively getting affected by my work. And I say that because, again, I try to remember that some, way too high number of Americans wouldn’t be able to pay their mortgage if they missed a single paycheck. Of course, we had hundreds of thousands that missed a lot of paychecks over the past few weeks. I’m very thankful that I’m not in that position. And I remember getting to that position and feeling this sense of relief going, “Okay, great.” I went to one of those financial courses a few years ago and one thing that a lot of them tell you is make sure that you have some amount of money in the bank for emergencies, things like that. That’s one thing that I consider success. Right now, I am fairly healthy, I have great relationship. I don’t have any major life issues, both ones that either I caused or the ones that a lot of people have that they don’t have control over. And I’m able to give a lot of help to other people.
Tara: How do you manage a balance of things? You have a couple of different businesses and a personal life, I assume. Talk a little bit about your, I’ll use that cliche term, work/life balance, but how do you mentally, emotionally, physically manage the balance between running your own business and having a life outside that?
David: In part, I admit, probably more than it should be, a lot of my personal life can revolve around business-related things. We do at least two meetups a month as an example and I can’t remember the last one that I missed. And then, of course, we do all the things outside of the meetups that relate to community. That’s one way that helps to build some of those relationships that can become more personal. A lot of the other organizers I consider personal friends, not just professional friends. And then I find time for my hobbies and my interests outside of work. Again, besides having cut off times where I can go, “Sure, I will do some work in the evening if I choose to do so, but I have that option not to that lets me not feel guilty that I’m leaving some task hanging.” Of course, all the things that most people say, try to maintain time to be healthy a bit, take a walk every day, walk my dogs, spend time with friends. I admit, I do always feel that there’s more that I could be doing. Every time that there’s– which, I guess could be a positive in one way, going, “Yes, there is that task hanging. But honestly, once I finish that one, there’s another task, and another one.” I don’t have to think that this one task is the one thing that’s keeping me frustrated.
Liam: The task of the Damocles – not the sword, the To Do List of Damocles.
David: I have a lot of to-do lists. I try to stay very organized. The thing that I feel most important for work/life balance for me is having systems and processes. Just knowing what I’m going to do. How I’m going to handle this situation when it comes up. Of course, you can’t handle everything. Automating a few things if I can, making tasks easier. I’m a big fan of having canned emails that I can bring up with a text snippet so that I can– because, of course I’m not just going to send a form email to somebody, but that gets me 80, 90% of the way there for requests that are the same all the time. Anything that I see myself doing more than once or twice, I want to at least document in some way. And then, hopefully, find some way to improve it. And I do have a few other business ideas that are related to that, that I’m working on now. Because I finally decided to set aside some official time for them. I guess that’s another thing. I try to make certain things that I can schedule, scheduled, to say, “The focus of this week is going to be X.”
Tara: Yeah. Do you have a system or a method that do you use for that or do you write it down on a piece of paper? How do you do that sort of goal setting?
David: I am a humongous fan of Trello. If people don’t know, Trello is like a Kanban/Agile whatever. I know there’s actual methodologies for this but it’s that kind of board. That Dave Allen getting things done mentality of moving things, sorting things out, and getting rid of the things that are not important, which I think is just as important as getting things done is figuring out what things don’t need to get done at all. And then just handling all the small things. And I’m going to say this maybe in a joking manner because some of the people in my life, some of the people close to me in my life aren’t very organized. At times, I can see a problem coming a mile away and I’m like, “Hey, you should do this.” They don’t do it, it happens. And I don’t want to do a gloating, “I told you so.” But more of a, “Oh, I think of these things that look really minor in advance, that way when they come up, hopefully, the things go smooth.” You know, “Oh, I see that–” I don’t have any great examples off the top of my head but just things that can seem like insignificant, little, honestly, just thinking about something and doing it in advance in the moment while you’re there can save so much headache later.
Tara: Yeah, planning is a good thing. And it sounds like we’re going to transition really easily into my next question because you are giving us some good advice, giving our listeners some advice about managing their schedules and being organized. But can you share with us some advice that you’ve received, a piece of advice that’s really stuck with you and that you’ve implemented into your life?
David: Most of those things that I went over, other people taught me. I didn’t just discover on my own. Especially, the most important of those things would be, again, finding out what things don’t need to be done. I’m sure we’ve heard it from many people many times. My favorite is the way Derek Sivers says it which is, “Either it’s a hell yes or it’s a no.” In case you like to change it to heck yes instead of a no. And I don’t always do that. And again, you can hear people say things like that all the time and still find it hard to implement. But if I can be one more person in that chorus, if something isn’t the right fit for you and you can choose not to do it, you can choose not to take that specific client, you have the ability to not work on a specific project, listen to your gut, make time for the ones that are the right fit for you.
Liam: Yeah, I like that a lot. For me, that’s a difficult practice to get over. I tend to forget it. “That sounds really interesting, let me explore that.” And then I’m three months and maybe 15 or 20 hours of mental exercises and paper exercise– paper, not papal exercises. I don’t do those. Paper exercises into it and realize, “You know, I don’t like this. I don’t want to do this but I’ve already committed so much time. Maybe if I just do a little more, I can get around the corner or get around the bend and it will be fun. That’s really hard for me but I think you’re absolutely right. The sense of belief and– it’s just that, the sense of release of, “That’s not for me. I’m not going to do that anymore. It’s not hanging over me, it’s not keeping me down, it’s not occupying my thoughts.” That’s a great bit of advice. Thank you for sharing that.
David: Like I said, that and really a lot of things I’ve learned from the WordPress community. There are a lot of great people in the Orlando area, and of course, I’ve gone to many, many WordCamps. There are great people there who have taken their time out to sit and chat with me about any questions that I might have, share a lot of advice. Some of the people who come to top of mind are Mason James of LA, Syed Balkhi of WPBeginner and Awesome Motive and his many companies, Cory Miller of iThemes. There’s a lot of people who have said specific things that when they said them– again, other people could have said them in the past, I might have heard it before. But for some reason, just whatever way they said it was the way that it finally clicked for me. A lot of my personal and professional success is thanks to people in this community saying, “Cool, you’re doing whatever it is that you’re doing. Here’s the way you can do it better. Or, here’s the way that I do it. Have you considered this?”
Tara: Yeah. I think it’s unique to this community. I’ve talked to people in other fields and they don’t seem to have the same kind of interactive, supportive, inspirational community that we have. I think many of us can say that we are better not just in our professions and in our coding and in our development, our business, but also, I think, as people. I think we inspire each other. There’s a lot of great people in this community who set a good example for how to be a better person every day. Sounds like that’s effective.
Liam: Here, here.
David: And if I can share just one more thing relating to that. Not only do people give me a lot of help, but I consciously try to make that effort to give help to others. Besides at least setting several hours aside every month to do in-person help desks with people at a meetup, I mean more like helping raise others up. Everyone else who’s– It’s not like a bragging thing or anything but everyone else who is an organizer of one of our meetups is somebody who came in and I was like, “Hey, you should get involved and start doing this.” We had a new member who came to one of our meetups about two years ago. And his very first meetup, he asked a lot of very good questions and I saw he was actually taking notes, and he was very thankful, and he kept coming. A few months later, I asked him if he could share what he was working on and he was like, “Well, I don’t know much. I only started doing this a few months ago.” So he gave a talk about getting started, getting involved with WordPress, and getting started with development. It was amazing. He said he had never done public speaking before. I am pretty sure he is lying because he was amazing, people loved it. WordCamp Orlando is coming up in a few months and all the organizers, we were like, “What about this guy?” I guess you can look it up. Sam Smith. He’s one of our organizers here. He works for GiveWP, he does now, that is. And he said, “That was a great talk. People at the meetup loved it. Why don’t we have him be the keynote for WordCamp Orlando this year because it’s starting the first day, very inspirational? I didn’t know anything about the web, here I am working for a company, doing all this like a year later. And again, it was amazing.”
Tara: That’s great. You’re making me want to come, that’s great. Thank you so much for sharing everything that you shared with us today. We are out of time but I think we’re ending on a really positive note, which is always great to do. Where can people find you online, David?
David: Main place if they want to find anything professional would be Fixupfox.com. Honestly, I just use DVAs for things now for the main business. And then my full name @davidwolfpaw on Twitter. Those are probably two main places. I’m not super active on social media on purpose.
Tara: Yeah, we’ll put those in the show notes. Thank you so much for joining us and sharing your story today, David. Bye-bye.
David: Thanks for having me. Bye.
Liam: Thanks David, 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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