Nathan is the creator of >ADVANCE Coaching. He works with WordPress web developers individually and in groups to help them remove the obstacles preventing them from becoming more successful in their freelance businesses.
He is also the Host at iThemes Training where he teaches WordPress and freelance business development topics via live webinar.
Micah: (00:10) Hi, you’re listening to the WPSquareOne podcast. I am Micah.
Aaron: (00:04) And I am Aaron. And I have, or we have, Nathan Ingram. He is the creator of advanced coaching. He works with WordPress developers individually and in groups to help them remove obstacles, preventing them from becoming more successful in their freelance business. He also is a host at iThemes training where he teaches WordPress and freelance business development topics via live webinar. Nathan has been a freelance web developer since 1995. You got me beat. And he is based out of Birmingham, Alabama, where he organizes the Birmingham WordCamp meetup and the WordCamp Birmingham. Thank you for joining us. Nathan, how are you?
Nathan: (00:53) I’m great guys. Thanks for having me today.
Aaron: (00:55) Yeah, no problem. I had no idea you were from Birmingham. I know, I see you at probably, I don’t know. I’ve seen you in Florida. I’ve seen you at WordCamps. I don’t, I think maybe Boston. Lots of different places. I had no idea you were local-ish.
Nathan: (01:13) Yeah. Yeah. I’m a Birmingham native. Grew up here, moved away for several years, but had been back since about 1999 so it is definitely home. And I do get to travel around though and no telling where we’ve seen each other at WordCamps, Micah the same way. I’ve been able to travel to about… it’ll Be 19 WordCamps by next month this year. So it’s been a lot of fun.
Aaron: (01:35) Nice. Have you spoken to at most all?
Nathan: (01:38) Yeah. I’ve spoken to all but one. Actually it’ll be all but two, because I will not speak at WordCamp US coming up next month.
Aaron: (01:46) Yeah. It’s hard to get in there.
Nathan: (01:47) It really is. It’s a small fraternity or sorority or group of people. Yeah.
Aaron: (01:54) I was looking at other kind of geographical WordCamps, you know, not a specific city. And there’s a WordCamp Nordic, which is like, Sweden.
Nathan: (02:05) I just saw that last night!
Aaron: 02:07) I was like, maybe I could do that one. Then I was looking at an airplane ticket and that is not cheap. It is not cheap. So anyway. Well we’re glad to have you. Tell us a little bit about yourself, what you do at iThemes and what you do when it comes to coaching.
New Speaker: 02:23) Sure, yeah, absolutely. So, you know, I’d say still about 40% of my time is spent doing client work. I build websites for clients, small businesses, nonprofits
“One of my big focuses as a business owner is to put systems and practices in place so that my business is a lot more streamlined and efficient.” @nathaningramTweet
Aaron: 04:02) That makes sense. So how long have you been involved doing, I guess,
Nathan: (04:25) Well, so I, yeah, I’ve always had some sort of business I ever since I was an adult really. I started out doing a lot of it and graphic design, video editing, really anything that I could do that had a skill to do computer related that I could charge people money for. But, uh, when the web happened, I was doing a lot of it work and it was just sort of a curiosity. And I was living at that time in a small town in Louisiana and it happened to be the parish seat, you know, they have parishes in Louisiana, not counties. Uh, and we were, uh, talking to the economic development office and we ended up building a website for that parish economic development office. That was the first paying Gig many years ago. Uh, it was a pretty decent experience. All things considered considering I really didn’t know what I was doing. And at that time, I did have a couple of partners who work together and uh, had a little business. But, I started working solo. I would say I officially incorporated my business back in 2002. Uh, and I was working solo a few years before that.
Micah: (5:28) Cool. So tell us about how you got into the WordPress community?
Nathan: (5:35) So for a lot of years I was, uh, my whole process was built around the Macromedia suite of products, so it was fireworks to do some design and Dreamweaver. But I mean, I’ve used everything. I have this really a period of my web development professional life. I’m ashamed golf when it was all Microsoft front. We don’t like to talk about that very much, but you know, I have to go back to bed at then. I’ll remove that out of the recording. Yeah, exactly. But uh, so you know, that was a phase, you know, kind of got through that pretty quick. But WordPress, I perceived as a threat when I first heard about it, because back in those days, and I’m talking about mid 2000’s like 05, 06, 07 right around that timeframe, my whole business was really built around a large retainers and just a few clients because you know, you build a website and then if anybody wanted to add text or change an image or do anything back in those days, you usually had to call your web professional and they had to log in with the special software and make all the changes, right? So, you know, you could charge a lot of money for that because nobody had the understanding or the software to make the changes. And so when the CMS revolution started happening, gosh, that was a threat to everything that I had built my business around. So I looked at that and you know, for a lot of years, WordPress is going to drag me out of business. I hate WordPress. I actually said that to a friend of mine. I hate WordPress. It’s going to ruin my business.
Aaron: (07:08) And we all say that occasionally. But..
Nathan: (07:12) No, I really, I thought, you know, but eventually I discovered, okay, this is the way, this is what’s going to happen. I was probably a little late making that realization. But about 2008 is when I started dabbling with WordPress. It was 3.something and back then, you know, just learn WordPress. And the more I got involved in it, the by 2010, I was neck deep in WordPress. And just have fallen in love with the community ever since.
Micah: (07:41) Yeah. I remember the first time that I was working on a website and I was so excited because, uh, you know, the client was going to be able to maintain it and take care of it and enter all their content for themselves and they didn’t do that. (laugher)
Nathan: (07:58) So few things have changed.
Micah: (08:01) So yeah, it’s, it’s nice. And now we have page builders, I think the last time I had pointed out to someone that they could use a page builder. They then turned around and said they wanted a designer because they’re not cut out for creating webpages. So yeah, there’s always, always those people that want it done for them. Without a doubt.
Aaron: (08:23) Yeah. I had a client up until recently, she, she went somewhere else, which is fine. I’m definitely a fan of letting someone go. You build a site and then take it wherever, wherever you want. But for, I don’t know, it was about like eight years, she would send me a word document that had a photo of the artist in there and she would send me the word document and I would take it and put it in WordPress. And I’m like, I’m like a couple of times I sent her, like, you can log in here and do this. You know, but yeah, I guess she was busy. Which is fine. But I would say a lot of people saw those CMS, like w WordPress, as a threat. So tell us about how you made it, where it’s not a threat, how it became, I’ll say friendly.
Nathan: (09:14) Yeah. Well, okay, so that takes a little bit of a story, if that’s okay.
Aaron: (09:18) Sweet, we’ve got time.
Nathan: (09:20) So it was late 2007 and, uh, one of my largest clients, which ironically if you know me, it was the largest hair salon in Birmingham. Which, you know, I’m bald. So it’s a very ironic client. I’m not the guy that goes into one of these fashion…. Anyways. So I actually went into that client to do some work and if you remember the economy and the economy was like in 2007, we were in a recession and things were not going well. And I went in that day thinking I was going to do some work on one of their computers. I was doing some it for them at that point as well as their website. And as I was walking out, the manager called me in and said, we’re gonna have to let you go. And this client represented about a quarter of my monthly income and also was providing the health insurance from my family. And so I walked out of there that day having lost 25% of my net income. And health insurance for my family within 30 days. So it was a bad day. And I remember walking, you know, in that place, it was kind of a large mall area. And so you had the park kind of at the end if you had any sort of working relationship with the business. So it was a long walk down this long parking lot to my car. And I remember thinking to myself as I was walking down that aisle, I will never let this happen again. I will never let this happen again. I will never be so beholden to a single client that their decision can have this kind of impact on my family’s, you know, financial wellbeing.
And so it was right at that time I was looking really hard at WordPress and so I pivoted, it was a, it was hard because I don’t like change, but in this pivot was tough, but I changed my model from just, uh, you know, not as many clients with large retainers into realizing, you know, WordPress is, is really great. It can do a lot of things even way back then. It can do so much more now, but it can do a lot of things, but it still has to be kept healthy. It’s gotta be backed up. There’s some, you know, even back in those days, there was some security, you know, you had to deal with WordPress updates and those sorts of things. And so what I realized was I could do that for people who site that I built, charge them much less money each month, but then I wasn’t getting hammered by all these stupid request to change texts and images.
That’s the sort of work that drove me crazy. Uh, and it was a lot of the time I was spending was doing that sort of work so I could end up doing really less work, get more clients, and have a much healthier business because if a client decided to drop, it would just be a much smaller percentage of the total business. So that’s when I started building. And over time, uh, that’s become a pretty successful business, at least for me. It’s, you know, it’s, uh, definitely not one of the large WordPress agencies in the country. But for me it does very well.
Micah: (12:20) So it sounds like you’re talking about how you pivoted into WordPress and it seems like you’ve kind of pivoted a few times, maybe a, in doing some of this, I think training and some of this, uh, you know, coaching and that kind of thing. I’m always curious, a lot of times your hand is forced, right? And like your story, you kinda had to do something to fill the gap, but in your experience in talking with other developers and that kind of thing, how often do you see kind of these pivots that are foundational to success?
Nathan: (13:00) Man, that’s
Aaron: (14:28) It makes, makes sense to me. I wouldn’t say I was forced to go out on my own, I too did IT stuff and in 2008 that’s when I quit. And I basically just kind of said I was tired of, I can’t print questions, you know, like, can you make it where I can print it? Like the network was really stable. All the computers were, you know, stable and everything. And I, and I just, I had had this moment where I’m like, I had enough. And I went out and I didn’t really have a plan and honestly, if I had known that coaching was a thing, it probably would have been something I should’ve done. I have made mistakes as every business owner you know, has. But concerning coaching and everything, how do you get clients? How do you help people realize that they could use a coach or do people just come to you, Google and find you? How does, how’s that work?
Nathan: (15:34) That’s a great question. So, and by the way, you’re absolutely right. If you’ve never experienced coaching, it’s hard for a lot of people to get their heads around it. Because what I do is not pure coaching, people who are pure business coaches, they’re really just asking questions, trying to extract from you the answers to your own problems and then holds you accountable to the goals that you set. And by the way, that’s, that’s good. There’s nothing wrong with that. I come in as sort of a coach slash consultant having been in the web business for a long time, uh, and helping people see the systems that I’ve built and maybe helping them install those exact systems or a modification of those that work for them. People usually find me after I’m speaking at WordCamps or maybe they hear me when I think his training doing some business development topics or, you know, we have very few people I think has ever found me just on the web because I think with any coach, you have to have some sort of connection with that person realize, okay, this is a person who can really help me get some answers to get to the next step. So for me at least, it starts out more organically than just somebody finding me on Google.
Aaron: (16:49) Yeah. Then, I mean, that makes perfect sense. I mean, that’s one of the reasons why I speak at WordCamps. And I’m assuming for you too, I mean, one, it’s, it’s one way to give back to the community and then also it’s a way for people to find you.
Nathan: (17:05) Right. You know I’m very grateful that I think is helps me to do the travel to those WordCamps and you know, I’m there representing iThemes and you know, what we try to be is the most helpful humans in WordPress. And you know, that’s why we have iThemes training and so many resources are devoted to giving back to the WordPress community through that venue. Virtually all the webinars that we do at iThemes training are free. We do one paid webinar per month. That’s usually more in depth, but there’s so much great training that happens there when I was training and anybody can log in at any time to do it. And so iThemes helps me travel as well. And you know, I’m able to get in front of rooms full of WordPress freelancers and business owners. And just say, look, you know, here’s, here’s an issue that I think we all face and maybe here’s some solutions to it. Let’s see how we can work that out.
Aaron: (17:59) Cool. Can I ask you a question? I can go back and edit this if need be, but iThemes training, how’s it profitable? If
Nathan: (18:12) Yeah, great question. So for years, iThemes training was a paid membership. A matter of fact, I learned WordPress through, iThemes training back then. It was called webdesign.com. But that’s where I learned WordPress. And you know,
Aaron: (19:17) Okay. That, that makes sense. That answers my question. So it’s like one of those things where, you know, if, if Linux or WordPress is free, you know, how can anybody ever make any money off of it? So that kinda makes make sense. So we make money off of the training aspect.
Nathan: (19:34) And you know, honestly, like I say, I think, you know, the goal that I think just trying to be the most helpful humans and WordPress and one of the ways we do that is through this free training. So it’s really part of our brand promise to the WordPress community is just being as helpful as we can. And, you know, I love it because I’m a generally helpful person and so I enjoy that role.
Aaron: (19:59) That’s cool. So you guys, you’re adding a lot of WordCamps. Are you guys sponsors? Because if I remember correctly, I see you at tables. It’s, it’s all a blur.
Nathan: (20:11) In the past I think we’ve had tables. Uh, I’ve never been at a table. iThemes sponsored WordCamp Birmingham this year. I think they sponsored a couple of others. I’m not exactly sure which WordCamps we did sponsor this year.
Aaron: (20:26) Okay. Then I guess by memory, I don’t know. It’s all a blur… when you go to a lot of them it’s shaking a lot of hands. It’s good. And I’ll see people in different cities and I’m, I’m like, I don’t know where I met you at, but hi! Yeah..I was gonna ask… so, it made, made me laugh a little bit. Cause you said Macromedia. Actually I, I lived in Birmingham for about a year and I was there as a Macromedia Flash, designer. That was like my full time job. Um, you know, so, but I know that when you say a 40% of your time is doing websites, that can mean anything. So give us a little more detail. I know you’re a developer. Is that your primary role?
Nathan (21:20) Yeah. Great. Okay. You know, I use “developer” with quotes around it. I am not going to be the guy that writes PHP from scratch.I’ll blow things up. Like Micah is that guy, he’s awesome, but it’s all, you know, I’m going to leave a semicolon off and I’m going to get a white screen. That’s, that’s me. I am much more of a designer, but you know
“I work with clients to figure out what the message is that they need to get across and help them communicate that message well to their audience.” @nathaningramTweet
Aaron: (22:37) That make sense. We’re big Beaver Builder shop… how has that interacted or how has that affected your, your business using a page builder?
Nathan: (22:48) Oh Wow. Yeah. So page builders are amazing. Well, the right page builders are amazing and you know, there’s some good choices out there. Settled on Beaver Builder a couple of years ago and haven’t looked back. Matter of fact, I was having dinner with the Beaver Builder guys a few months ago in Sacramento, and I told Justin that I’ve gone from, you know, you used to be like a five day sprint to build a website down to like a day and a half because of beaver builder. It just so dramatically reduces the time that it takes to build a website. And, you know, I love it. I think it’s great.
Aaron: (23:27) Yeah. With our agency, it’s changed our perspective on building sites. So if we need custom programming, we need to add something to beaver builder, then we write that. Um, but it has definitely our time, I guess, time it takes to, to build, which is nice. Um, jumping into the 5.0 realm here, um, how does, uh, how does, what’s your opinion on Beaver Builder and, or just I guess Gutenberg and how that’s going to affect your business?
Nathan: (24:05) Yeah, that’s a great question. So, uh, one of the camps I spoke at this year was Jacksonville, Florida earlier this year, I had the privilege of the keynote there and my talk was all about, uh, Gutenberg WordPress and the challenge of change, right? So I, I’m in the big picture. I am a fan of Gutenberg. I think
Uh, now, you know, they’re supposedly additional phases of Gutenberg. We’ll see how that happens. But third-party page builders, like Beaver Builder, like Elementor, like Divvy and some of the others, are always going to be able to innovate faster than core WordPress. So I don’t see the page builder market ever going away. I could also live to eat those words. We’ll see. But you know, when you’re looking, I mean, that’s the point of the plugin is to make core WordPress better, right? So a good plugin developer, like the ones I just mentioned, are always going to innovate above and beyond WordPress core. So I think there’s always going to be a place for those products. Um, you know, how to deal with the transition. That’s really the trick. And in that talk in Jackson, but, which I think is on wordpress.tv now. Uh, I had some fun with it because what I discovered was that the way that the world reacted to the actual Gutenberg’s invention of the movable type printing press was exactly the same way that the WordPress community has reacted to Gutenberg and WordPress, which is lots of fear, lots of suspicions. You know, it’s going to ruin the business. It’s going to ruin my business. Exactly. It’s funny how that works. Matter of fact, Gutenberg’s business partner was actually tried in Paris for witchcraft because nobody believed that the pages of the Bible at that point could be replicated with such perfection on such a mass basis…. it had to be witchcraft. Right. It’s so funny, you know, rooms of our monks were going on strike in Paris because they were being put out of a job because of the press.
Aaron: (26:37) Gutenberg himself, he went, uh, he went bankrupt, like doing this, caused him to go, which is kinda funny. And I’m hoping in the WordPress community that doesn’t cause the same thing….
Nathan: (26:50) Well, you know, and again, I think it’s all about managing the change, with clients. I’m just about to send an email out. I probably won’t be today, probably tomorrow to my clients just saying, “Hey, look, there’s a big change happening in WordPress next week. Uh, don’t update your site.” My strategy at this point has been to install the classic editor plugin and all the sites that I manage, 120+sites that we take care of as a under our little umbrella here. So classic editor is there and we, but we’re probably not going to upgrade to WordPress5, for least a few weeks, maybe longer just to make sure what’s going to happen if any issues occur. And it may go longer than that. So we’re going to kind of push that down the road a bit and let some other people upgrade first and see what happens. Um, but then, you know, you have the issue of training, you know, training clients, how Gutenberg works and you know, that’s something I’m still working out internally how we’re going to accomplish.
Aaron: (27:50) Yeah. That, that makes sense. I sent an email out to my team saying, Hey, let’s not push the button yet. I said, let’s wait… because my guess is we need to update plugins. Get those were, those are, I guess they’ve adapted I guess to 5.0 and then whenever like 5.0.1 comes out then that I’m a little more comfortable flipping that switch. I could be wrong. I mean, I don’t know. It’s a gamble right now, but I also don’t think that core is going to break millions of sites. I just don’t foresee that happening.
Nathan: (28:38) Well, I think, you know, if anything like that happens, it will be, because it will be unfortunately to the very novice users of WordPress who’ve just installed some plugin off of the WordPress plug in directory that, you know, maybe by a developer who perhaps isn’t as skilled as other developers or doesn’t know or it’s a long abandoned plugin or whatever. And the Code that Gutenberg is going to bring in is going to break something. If you’re using good plugins and a good theme, you’re probably going to be fine. But you know, with, with WordPress, you just never know what themes and plugins people have chosen to install.
Aaron: (29:13) Yeah, I’m amazed almost every time before we bring a company in as… Like a lot of times we’ll inherit sites, but we’ll do an audit before and it’s amazing some of the plugins that are, that are out there. The ones that scare me the most, and I’m sorry, if someone is listening that has these plugins. The ones that allow you to put PHP directly into something. It just scares the crap of me.
Nathan: (29:41) Yeah, not a good idea.
Aaron: (29:46) Yeah. I’m not going to call out any, any names here, but uh…
Micah: (29:49) Yeah, we’ll leave a list on the, on the post here… (laughing
Aaron: (29:56) Do not use X, Y, and Z. No, we’re just kidding…
Nathan: (29:58) My very first WordCamp, Otto was there. Otto, for anybody listening he doesn’t know is one of the managers of the WordPress plugin directory. Brilliant developer. And he has the PHP code widget plugin was developed by auto and, uh, and I didn’t know any better at that point. This was many years ago. And I said, oh, hey, Otto, I use your plugin! He goes, don’t do that. Don’t use that plugin. This was like 2012. He’s like, don’t use that plugin. I’m not even sure why I still have it in the repo.
Aaron: (30:29) That’s awesome. So it makes it makes sense that he was at the WordCamp, just out of curiosity, which WordCamp was that?
Nathan: (30:41) Oh, that was WordCamp Birmingham. Yeah. WordCamp Birmingham 2012, I believe was my first WordCamp.
Aaron: (30:46) Okay. Mine was, I think it was 2012, Nashville, he was, he was at that one. Uh, Micah, correct me if I’m wrong, was it Andrew? And Otto where they did the… Oh man, I’m drawing a blank. They, they did some kind of famous thing where they just talked about WordPress.
Micah: (31:01) Oh, they
Aaron: (31:05) I guess. Yeah. Nonetheless, it was, it was interesting to watch the interaction, you know, now when you submit a talk to WordCamp yet, you know, there has to be like slides and stuff like that. It was a little more off the off the cuff type thing. So tell us a little bit about your, the courses that you have within, within your sites?
Nathan: (31:27) Sure. Yeah. So what I discovered after having lots of coaching conversations with people and just encounters at WordCamps or whatever, most people are asking the same few questions when it comes to how to be more profitable in their business. You know, grow their business deal. All the problems that freelancers have tend to be similar. Uh, there are very few unique problems, uh, among people who are working with clients, doing stuff with WordPress. Uh, so what I did was put a lot of those issues into three different courses, uh, which are all available on my website (nathaningram.com) but there’s a course on process that talks about how to systematize your business and you know, it’s got a contract template that it’s a very one that I use in my business proposal template and just some structure on how to run your first client consultation and you know, how to deal with clients who have been problem clients and how to put systems into your business.
There’s another course on profits, you know, how do you structure your finances as a freelancer, what are some of the things to do to build recurring revenue? How do you deal with the ups and downs of, you know, good months and bad months. All that’s in the profits course, and there’s a productivity course that talks about how to maximize your time, how to be more productive when you’re dealing with spinning lots of plates as a freelancer and having to, you know, shuffle projects and so forth. All that’s in a productivity course, uh, there as well.
Micah: (32:49) So I am a big systems and productivity person. So out of all the most helpful things that you’ve learned about productivity and use personally, um, can you share one awesome tip?
Nathan: (33:09) So I think the single most important thing that people need to do, and this is outside of systems necessarily, this is a single behavior, is close the email. Uh, what I find that a lot of freelancers do is they run their whole day out of their inbox. And so they’re constantly at the beck and call of whatever email pops in next. And if you’re easily distracted, which tends to be part of the personality type of lots of folks doing freelance,
“It’s okay to close your email and only open it in the morning and maybe once in the afternoon and handle responses then. This is the single most important productivity habit, in my opinion.” @nathaningramTweet
Micah: (34:00) And I’d have to agree with that. At first, I had heard somebody tell, tell me that. I was like, yeah, but I don’t check my email that much. Uh, but the reality is, you know, after that thought cross my head a few days later, I’m realizing I’m in my email a good bit. So ended up, uh, you know, closing that down.
Nathan: (34:21) Absolutely. And you know, the inbox tends to rule the day for most people. It sets the agenda; so by simply closing your inbox, it lets you set the agenda.
Aaron: (34:33) Yeah. I don’t feel like a lot of people are necessarily expecting a response in 10 seconds, you know. Things can wait for two to three hours. Sometimes if it’s 4 o’clock and I get an email, I’m not going to respond to till tomorrow anyway. So I try to shut down my inbox. I know my business partner, he in his email signature says; I can’t quote it, I could pull up an email and read it, but it’s something like: “Hey, I deal with email differently. I check in the morning and in the afternoon and that’s it.” You know, something to that effect because yeah, it does kind of rule your day or rules and ruins your day at the same time.
Nathan: (35:23) Absolutely. You know, it’s actually, uh, the app that I use for email lets you snooze sending them an email and it very rarely will I actually send a response to a client right away. Even if I’m working on the inbox is open, I’m doing that kind of work
Aaron: (36:05) we’re sender’s perspective right now. That makes, that makes perfect sense. So I got an email yesterday afternoon, which was a Sunday. And, um, I rarely will, will respond, uh, but, but I did not jump, uh, you know, on a, on a weekend. I’m just, cause it’s, yeah, it’s just setting expectations thing. So, um, it wasn’t the most critical thing in the world, you know, so I, I, I waited nonetheless.
So Nathan, I have a question for you. If you were to go back to square one and had to start over, what is one thing you would do differently? And this could be, uh, you know, something like early 90’s or something business related or something just specifically within the WordPress community?
Nathan: (36:54) Yeah. So I guess if I were to do something differently starting out with WordPress, it would be not to resist so long. For probably a year to 18 months, I resisted WordPress kind of like I talked about earlier. And embracing WordPress in the
“The WordPress community has been one of the best things I’ve ever done professionally and personally. If I were to start over, I would have joined the WordPress community sooner.” @nathaningramTweet
Micah: (38:06) So we can distill that down to don’t resist change, maybe?
Nathan: (38:11) Don’t resist good change. The question is, is the change good?
Aaron: (38:17) What I heard was that I’m awesome. Because I’m part of that community…. I’m just kidding.
Nathan: (38:28) Absolutely.
Aaron: (38:28) Awesome. Well, how can we, uh, get in touch with you? What’s the best way?
Aaron: (38:41) Awesome. Well, I’m sure Micah and I will both see you at WordCamp. Well, I would assume you’re going to WordCampUS, right?
Nathan: (38:48) I will be at WordCamp US, looking forward to it.
Aaron: (38:51) See you there. Thanks.
Nathan: (38:52) All right guys. Thanks a lot.