332 – Transitioning from clients to products in WordPress

Interview with Derek Ashauer and Nathan Wrigley.

On the podcast today we have a lovely conversation with Derek Ashauer. He’s been working with WordPress for many years, and has gone through a few changes during that time.

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I suspect that many of you will really identify with this podcast. The idea that you’re a web developer, plugin / theme / block author, content creator etc. might suit you for a while, but perhaps you’ve had itchy feet from time to time. Derek certainly has!

He started out building websites in decades ago, but for a variety of reasons this did not seem to be ‘the thing’ that he wanted to do year after year.

And so, in 2013 he decided to turn his attention into plugin development. Success (whatever that means) always seemed to be a little further into the future. Although his Sunshine Photocart plugin was doing fine, it was not the end of the road.

You’ll hear Derek explain that he’s not that comfortable with marketing, having a more self deprecating demeanour (he fits right in here).

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So at the moment Derek is trying to figure out what it means for his business and future to be in the middle of a transition. He’s got a new domain to hang his multiple plugin on, it’s called WP Sunshine.

We talk about what his products do, but mainly this is a conversation about what it’s like to run such a business. What are the issues that Derek faces? How does he overcome the challenges? How to you work out what you’re good at, and the areas of the business which might need some outside help.

He’s trying to figure out what it means to transition from building client websites to having a successful product. And you’ve got to love how very open he is about the difficulties he’s faced. He’s not the best at marketing, but he’s trying to up his game, and become better at those things.

So this podcast is all about that, listening to a nice person talking about how to transition from being an agency, dealing with clients, to being a product owner. Just lovely!

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Transcript (if available)

These transcripts are created using software, so apologies if there are errors in them.

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[00:00:21] Nathan Wrigley: Hello there and welcome once again to the WPE belts podcast, you have reached episode number 332 entitled transitioning from clients to products in WordPress. It was published on Thursday, the 29th of June. 2023. My name's Nathan Wrigley and I'll be joined by our guests in a few short minutes. But firstly, some very short housekeeping this week.

First thing to mention is that I did an episode of the Piccia Neri. UI UX show, you can find that over on our YouTube channel, it was a really interesting discussion. We went through two websites and some deceptive designs. I will put a link in the show notes. So if you want to find that you certainly can. The other thing to mention is that if you are into what we do with WP Builds, we'd certainly appreciate your help spreading the word. You can do that by going to your podcast player of choice and giving us a review.

Alternatively, find us on social media and in some way, boost us. We'd really appreciate that. And if you want to stay in touch, WP Builds.com forward slash subscribe. Is the page to do that.

The WP Builds podcast is brought to you today by GoDaddy Pro. GoDaddy Pro the home of managed WordPress hosting that includes free domain, SSL, and 24 7 support. Bundle that with The Hub by GoDaddy pro to unlock more free benefits to manage multiple sites in one place, invoice clients and get 30% off new purchases. You can find out more by heading to go.me/WPBuilds. Once more go.me/wpbuilds. And true, sincere thanks to GoDaddy Pro for keeping the lights on over here at WP Builds.

Okay. What have we got for you today? We have a truly lovely conversation where they truly lovely person. I've been speaking this week to Derek a shower. And the conversation is all about transitioning from being a client facing business, to being a product focused business. It's such an interesting conversation primarily, just because of how self-deprecating and humble Derek is. He talks about all of the different things that he's learned along the way, his failings, the things that have gone.

Well, the things that he struggles still to do. And it really is all about that. Trying to figure out how it is that he's going to manage to make that transition over to being a plugin house. And I'm sure that when you've listened to this, you'll have the same impression of Derek as I do. If you've got any comments, please head over to WP Builds, search for episode number 3, 3, 2, and leave something there. I'm sure Derek would certainly enjoy that.

So truly, I hope that you enjoy the podcast.

I am joined on the podcast today by Derek Ashauer. Hello, Derek.

[00:03:17] Derek Ashauer: Hello. Good morning.

[00:03:18] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, good afternoon. Good morning. We're on different sides of the Atlantic.

Derek's all the way over in Colorado. I'm obviously in the uk. Derek, I wouldn't wonder if you wouldn't mind just spending a couple of moments. We're not a hundred percent sure where this podcast is gonna go, but regardless of that, I wonder if you wouldn't mind just. Spending a few minutes just explaining to the audience who you are, who you work for, what product suite you've got, URLs, anything like that.

Just give us some orientation as to how you've ended up on a WordPress podcast.

[00:03:47] Derek Ashauer: Absolutely. I started my journey of self-employment back in 2007 when I moved from San Diego to Colorado. I had no intention of starting a freelance business, but literally on my drive the 20 hour drive across the country there Suddenly my website ranked number one for San Diego web design ashp studio.com.

And on the drive I signed two clients on the phone while trying to do contracts and other things before real smartphones were even a thing. And and I was gonna work remotely for the company I had. Been working for Fresh Outta College as a designer and developer. And then two months later I had so much work by being ranked number one for San Diego Web design that I ultimately made the decision to work full-time for myself.

I think maybe a couple years later, at some point. Honestly, I don't remember my WordPress origin story, but but at some point I found WordPress and started using it to build client sites and was off to the races from. From there on in about 2013, I started a plugin called Sunshine Photo Cart.

My now ex-wife was a photographer. She did families and portraits and things like that, and at the time, the only software for photographers to sell their online was about $500, which was incredibly expensive for her, for someone who just wanted to do it as a side project. So of course like every developer, I said I could get that done.

I could do something similar like that in a few weeks. And then about six months later, I had, an initial, version out. I had always known that I wanted to diversify my, my income streams because like I said, when I started my business, I had absolutely no intention of starting a business.

It wasn't something that I ever planned to do or set out as a goal, making a five year plan to start a business, it literally just happened. And so I knew that because it could just happen, it could also just go away. So I wanted to always diversify and come up with different ways to make money.

And making a product was one of my ideas. I also wanted to, at the time, having a, an e-commerce website or a drop shipping website was also my holy trinity or trifecta of things that I wanted to have was the freelance work, the product, and then an e-commerce site. I tried the e-commerce thing.

That didn't work out as well. It didn't work out well at all. Unfortunately, it wasn't wasn't my forte. But but yeah, so I created the first version in about six months and then just was like, Hey, if I could make 500 bucks from this to recoup my costs or time, that would be fun little thing.

And few months later, it was making a thousand dollars a month. And I was like, oh, cool. And then, it just slowly grew into what it is today. But what it is, I guess maybe I skipped that a little bit. It is a full comprehensive e-commerce ecosystem, but specifically for photographers.

So it is a pretty massive endeavor for one person to take on. It is, it's, it is a whole thing like WooCommerce. So it's its own e-commerce system. It does not integrate with WooCommerce, but it is specifically for photographers because the products and how they sell are just so different than than a traditional e-commerce store.

So that's why I created that very differently.

[00:07:25] Nathan Wrigley: Wow. And a decade. Check it out. A decade has gone past since then. Yeah. Who would've thought though, all those years ago when you were sitting there creating it, roughly $500 and a couple of weeks as you thought, which into many months, who would've thought that it would, be a thing which you'd still be curating 10 years later?

Can I just go back though? I wanna drill into this SEO piece this, Sandy. Okay. So even in 2007, SEO was hard. I know it's. Definitely harder now, but back then I still think it was quite an achievement to get to the top of SEO for San Diego web design. That probably was fairly difficult to do.

What happened there? How did you achieve that?

[00:08:11] Derek Ashauer: So it's obviously since I had no purposeful intent of targeting that at the time, I can only guess as to what worked. Now. This is 2007. This is ear, it's still early Google and SEO stuff. I, disagree that it was easy or sorry that it was hard. I think it was pretty easy.

That was the time where if you just had. A bunch of links to your website. That's all that mattered. It didn't matter if it was white on white, those kind of spam links and all those kind of stuff. It was just, there was just no one knew what it took or what the real payoff was.

I think the reason why my site did well is back in the day, php BB was a big

[00:08:54] Nathan Wrigley: Right. Right.

[00:08:55] Derek Ashauer: thing. Bolton boards and all that kind of stuff. And early in my career, I, when I was. Trying, I was trying to learn how to do stuff. I created some open source things. I created some themes for php bbb.

And and in the footer of all those I had made by Ash Web Studio, and a couple of those themes got picked up by several thousand. P h b bbb, that's a terrible thing to try and pronounce. A

[00:09:25] Nathan Wrigley: Um,

[00:09:25] Derek Ashauer: couple thousand different forums. And so I had a couple thousand links to my website. Instantly.

I wrote an article on Site Point as well, which was a pretty popular one. I think it was called something along the lines of designing for clients made easy. So that was a big reputable website that was linking back to my site. And so it was just a lot of natural link building at a time, whether you call forum footer, links natural these days.

You know it, but there was a lot of, link building going on and I'm pretty sure that was how it happened.

[00:10:05] Nathan Wrigley: a nice story though, to have right at the outset of things that everything just fell into place as opposed to the exact opposite, which happens to a lot of people. They're banging their head against the wall trying to figure out what the strategy might be, and yet you just stumbled into it.

And even back then it would appear in 2007, even though you didn't really intend to get those keywords. The mere fact that you did get those keywords. And it meant that you were suddenly really busy. It's a great bit of serendipity.

[00:10:33] Derek Ashauer: Yeah, and it's one thing that one thing I want, one thing I wanted to bring up is that what I've noticed as I've gone through my career being self-employed here now for 15 plus years, I've noticed that doing that, taking what I do for a client and then trying to turn for something for myself is something that has really helped a lot.

One of the themes that I made was for It was a concert venue called Soma San Diego. And So I made a, they want to, be a concert venue and I was like, oh, let's do a forum and have, all the local kids. It was for like punk rock, it was a punk rock concert venue type thing. So let's get all the kids on there joining that, and just get a, natural growth.

Have a lot of kids on there talking, do all that kind of stuff, and they could keep coming back. And so they keep coming back to the venue for concerts and things like that. So I made a forum, used PHP BBB, created a custom theme, some grunge looking like red and black grunge, theme. And then, just asked them, Hey, cuz I was doing the site for free for them at the time.

This was when I was just learning and getting started. Can I just release assembly? Yeah, sure. Whatever. We don't care. So I released that and that was one of the themes that for pH pv that got picked up that quite a few other people wanted to use and created those backlinks. So that was a pretty neat thing.

Some of the, my sunshine photo cart not technically a client, it was something for my then ex-wife or my wife at the time. But, I treated her as a client. I made her photography website, this kinda stuff. I was trying to find a solution for a client and then turned into a product.

And then, As also what led that to was creating WP Sunshine and more broader brand of plugins because I realized, I've been making client sites for, at the, I think, I think I started that in 2021 or 2022. I honestly don't remember. Was like, I've been making all these things for clients for so many years.

These could easily turn into plugins. What's what problems have I been solving for clients all these years that I can then turn into things? So that's precisely my, the biggest ones that I have on there are the confetti one which, was just. just was like, Hey, or I don't remember if I did or the client did.

I saw on this one website when I made a purchase, there was a confetti effect. It was really neat and fun. I was like, oh yeah,

[00:13:00] Nathan Wrigley: I see that everywhere. Yeah.

[00:13:02] Derek Ashauer: Yeah, that could be fun. That would be simple. I just found a line of JavaScript that's out there, open source, confetti plugin, grab that, threw it on their site, was like, great.

Done. Normally I'd walk away and call it. Yeah, that was great. That was neat. That was fun. But then, I was just starting to turn that mindset of what have I done for clients that I can turn into a product that solves all their problems. Now confetti isn't necessarily a problem that's being solved.

It's a fun one. It's a great one. I think it's cool. I think it sets your side apart. When someone. Submits a form, does something, makes a purchase, makes a fun little confetti effect. You can make it differentiate your site a little bit from others. And I've noticed a lot of websites now use it,

[00:13:43] Nathan Wrigley: Oh yeah.

yeah, yeah.

[00:13:45] Derek Ashauer: After you do something fun.

So it's a great fun way to do that. And, but it was just a shifting that mindset of I'm just solving this one problem for a client to how can I solve lots of people's problems and build it once?

And so that's what really got me into wanting to become product first. Because someone like myself who's been making client websites since 2000 when I started this journey, starting to teach myself how to do web design, cuz I am almost entirely self-taught when it comes to all this, like many of

[00:14:21] Nathan Wrigley: yeah. Really? Yeah.

[00:14:23] Derek Ashauer: But but yeah When I started at, doing client size for so long over the last several years, I just it's, you get tired of it a little bit, to be blunt. You kinda I'm ready to do something different. I'd been finding myself, when I was, when I had a new feature for Sunshine Photo card, it was easy to get up in the morning and get to work, but when I had a client request, when I had a, when I had a client Quest, It would sit there for a week and it would, build up the anxiety of, oh my gosh, I, I haven't done this yet, whatever.

And then you finally dive into it and realize it was a 15 minute task. But I realized there's a lot of client work that has turned, most of my client work has turned into anxiety inducing work. Because it's just not, the passion's gone, there's no desire for it. It's just, it just becomes more stressful and then it's harder to do.

And it's not as exciting. And I've been trying over the last two years slowly of making a plan of how can I become product first? What does that look like? And all this kind of stuff. And and so that's why I wanted to create things like the confetti one. The Address Auto Complete actually happened to be for the exact same client.

We were doing custom development and we needed to do. An address auto complete in this one component of this WooCommerce A I made a custom WooCommerce add-on and it had it's basically where you could add your contacts create their, do their do their address and name and who they are.

What are their age, what is their gender this kinda stuff. And then it would recommend products in the store. And then you can put in their special dates, like events, like birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, and 30 days beforehand. It will email you recommended products for this person based on their age, their gender, and their relationship to

[00:16:22] Nathan Wrigley: Oh, that's nice.

[00:16:23] Derek Ashauer: so it was a fun thing, but part of creating that customer's profile or that, that person's profile you put in their address and things like that to help with the shipping so it could automatically ship to that person and you could pre-populate it and it would ship to that person right away, make it really easy in the future.

Part of that, there's all kinds of address auto complete things specifically for WooCommerce checkout process, but not in my custom add-on. I was like, oh, I need to. Let's try and move this address auto complete into my thing. And it just became more trouble than it was worth to try and repurpose someone else's thing.

So then the way I built it was all you need to do is a CSS selector for the start and the CSS selector for where it populates done. That was the easiest way to build it. Because I had it on a, it just ended up being the easiest way to build it. And then I go, with another couple hours of work, this is now a plugin to just a setting screen to define what are those CSS selectors.

So that literally was after I did the custom client work for them. I think I spent maybe four to five hours and all of a sudden it was plugin. Then now I can sell that and do stuff. Is it making me tens of thousands of dollars a month? Absolutely not. It's a very, it's a very small, very niche, thing.

But it's absolutely paid for itself many times over in my time to do that. Even at my hourly rate, I've made more money off that than the five hours at, if I had done that at a hundred dollars an hour


[00:17:50] Nathan Wrigley: Can, Can I ask, I've got two, I've got two questions, but the first one I think, ought to come first and then we'll tackle the second one. The first one is at what point you, now, you may have covered this in your bio at the beginning, but I didn't send, I didn't pick up on it. At what point did you decide that?

WordPress cuz obviously you, you've launched into plugins in 2013 with your Sun, sunshine photo cart product and whatnot. At what point did you decide that WordPress was the thing that you were gonna work with? And then we'll go onto the second part, which is really how easy has the transition away from client websites to to product websites bin?

And we'll dig. Deeper into that. So yeah, first question when did WordPress come onto your radar as the thing to use? Was it because it was spiking? Cuz back in 2013, I get the feeling that really, it could have been WordPress, but it could have been a bunch of other CMSs as well.

There was Drupal flowing around and there was Jula and I think WordPress was probably winning at that point. But it, it really felt like it could have gone in all sorts of directions.

[00:18:53] Derek Ashauer: Yeah, like I said, I don't remember my WordPress origin story. I remember looking at, evaluating those things for client work mostly. And looking at Jula, looking at Drupal, looking at WordPress. And I think in the end, ultimately it was just ease of use at the time that WordPress was just by far the easiest to use.

I could not figure out Drupal at the time, so I just moved on from that.

[00:19:18] Nathan Wrigley: Yep.

[00:19:19] Derek Ashauer: And didn't try Jula. It was definitely very popular. Just bringing back some memories of a few things, of taking on some clients who were like, oh, our site's currently in Jula, can you work with that? And then diving into it, trying to figure out how to edit some texts and being like, no I can't figure this out.

It just was the easiest to use. And for, and I think that's why many of us and Wyatt ultimately has won

[00:19:44] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah,

[00:19:45] Derek Ashauer: to speak.

[00:19:45] Nathan Wrigley: I feel that story has played out a thousand, 10,000, a hundred thousand times. It was just in, in my case, I was I was using Drupal a lot and I, it really was a case of Drupal. Went through various iterations and they're not backwards compatible when they go through their point releases.

So six to seven breaks, seven to eight breaks, six to 6.1 fine. But I just got fed up with that and then I came over to WordPress and it was wow, okay. It's been going for many years and nothing really has broken over those years. And still broadly that's the case. There's a big commitment to that.

So yeah very easy to use. And it was easy on the eye as well, actually, I thought for. For clients. I thought they'd done a great job in the ui, the admin ui, which actually in many ways hasn't really moved on since then. Maybe it's time for a bit of a refresh there, but the So the

[00:20:35] Derek Ashauer: I have, I was gonna say, I was gonna say, I have some client sites where I designed and built their site on WordPress over 10 years ago, and I have not touched the website. Not even to the only thing I've done is I think because back then even making the site responsive or mobile friendly wasn't a thing.

It was so old, the sites were so old that we didn't even think about it back then. And I think that's the only change I've done is to gone in and adjust 'em a little bit to be mobile friendly. But other than that, they've literally run on cruise control and I don't log into their site except for once every couple years when they say, Hey, can you maybe tweak this one little thing or something?

But I'd never touch it. 12 year, 10, 12 years later and the site's still going just fine.

[00:21:17] Nathan Wrigley: going. Yeah. Backwards compatibility is a real thing, and I think it's been worth every ounce of angst from the core developers to keep it that way. Okay. Then moving over to the transition from building websites to the product. I'm gonna bet that, There's almost nobody in the audience listening to this who at some point if they're building client websites hasn't thought, okay, I've got an idea for a plugin.

And whether they've implemented or not is one thing. You've obviously made that leap, but how has it been you? You've been at pains to point out that you know quite a few of them. The confetti one as an example. It's a bit of a pet project, it's a bit of fun. You enjoyed it, but how? Has that been, my understanding is that you embark on it.

There is an expectation that you'll perhaps get some success, but also equally, there's very few runaway successes. Either you've got a, an amazingly novel product which everybody wants to get ahold of, or you are probably getting into a fairly competitive market. Place. You mentioned that for Sunshine photo cart, that really wasn't the case.

You were pretty unique. So that was nice. So yeah, just talk us through where you're at the moment and how that journey has been, whether you've managed to ditch all the client websites or is it still 40 60? 50 50.

[00:22:34] Derek Ashauer: Yeah. Yeah. First thing I, to say is that if anyone is listening and they're hoping to. I'm gonna, I'm gonna listen to Derek. He's gonna tell me exactly what to do. I have absolutely no answers.

[00:22:44] Nathan Wrigley: I say that. I say that a

[00:22:45] Derek Ashauer: Yeah. Yeah. That I don't have the answer and I'm still on the journey of trying to understand and figure it out.

I feel like I have some good ideas of where to go and what it will take, but the one thing. I feel solace and when I, when I'm on Twitter and hearing other people talk about it or interacting with other people, is that there are other people having similar struggles and I'm not alone. So it is a very common, frequent journey to get stuck in a certain point.

And where I'm basically stuck is it's. It's a comical video of, an old guy trying to jump over a fence and all of a sudden he's got both legs stuck on either side of the fence

[00:23:24] Nathan Wrigley: Oh,

[00:23:25] Derek Ashauer: he's stuck and doesn't know what to do. Is the analogy I have for myself of just being like, now what do I do?

I have both legs equally on each side of this fence, and I don't know how to get down on either side. It's It's an interesting spot to be where I have a certain income goal that I wanna make each month. And my plugins get me about 40% of that income now, and clients get me about 60%.

It used to be even a couple years ago, it used to be like 80% client work.

[00:23:58] Nathan Wrigley: Oh, it's going in the right direction

[00:24:00] Derek Ashauer: Well,

[00:24:00] Nathan Wrigley: then.

[00:24:01] Derek Ashauer: I would say my plugins haven't changed and my freelance stuff has gone since the pandemic. So it's just a general income drop. Overall is what I've experienced over the last several years for, I. A multitude of various reasons that I it's hard when the client work is dropping and your also interest in it is dropping.

There may be a correlation to that, there, whether it's a correlation, a causation, I don't know. I, I'm not, I've never been one to seek out client work. It's always come to me as I explained to the top of this. So I've never had to seek out client work. It's always come. And so now that I'm at the point where I need to seek it out, I struggle with that because that's not my forte.

I'm good at making the clients, making the sites and doing the work, but doing the marketing, all that kind of stuff is definitely where I struggle. And I think where a lot of developers, people who can build and make plugins and code and do all that kind of stuff that I think many of the people who are successful will tell you, stop working on your plugin and start working on your marketing.

And so as my plugin as. Before I really started this journey, I had this idea that my, the reason why it's not successful is because it doesn't have, it's, doesn't have a good enough ui, it doesn't have a good enough feature set it. I'm looking at my competitors which most of my competitors actually SAS products.

There's not really too many WordPress plugins, specific plugins that are direct better. So there's one. But most of the competitors are actually SaaS options. So I, when I look at them, those are my real competitors that I'm looking at. My feature sets, not there and all this kind of stuff.

So I was like, I wanna rewrite this so that it could be more efficient and I can. Be better at building on top of it, adding features. And so then a year and a half later of starting from scratch, essentially of working on it I loved working on it, but it's been a year and a half because again, client work is the main focus.

It's, it was, a couple years ago it was 70, 80% of my income, and so they took priority. And so it was always when I had a lull, I could really focus on it and make huge progress on it. But otherwise it was some weeks it was zero hours. Some weeks it was 10 hours. Some weeks it was 30 hours. That I, I could really spend on doing it.

But because of that, it's been a year and a half journey of trying to rewrite the whole thing. And again, it's an sunshine photo card is a e-commerce ecosystem. It's, it's essentially writing, the entire checkout process, add to cart, shipping taxes, doing this whole massive thing, which I.

If I were getting into creating a plugin, do not start with an ecosystem plugin, especially an entire e-commerce one to start with. It's it's a massive endeavor where my confetti plugin when I did it for the client and then it was like, lemme make this a plugin two days later, probably I.

Eight to 10 hours total. I had a complete plugin that I was submitting to the repo, to the.org repo. But where Sunshine Photo Card is concerned, that's, where I'm in the years of building and doing it, not the hours. Definitely start with something small. If you're getting your, you have an idea, just get it out there and learn how the repo works and all that kind of stuff.

But but yeah, my journey of becoming product first is, I think I started the redevelopment of everything as a way to avoid doing marketing because I didn't know it. It was more of an avoidance tactic than it was diving into something and really trying to learn a new skill.


[00:27:44] Nathan Wrigley: sorry you carry on. I apologize.

[00:27:45] Derek Ashauer: Yeah. The last thing I was gonna say is just that it is, when you're, when you have a bunch of client work and that's, you're like, I gotta do this, I gotta pay the bills, I gotta do this kinda stuff. And then when you're like, all right, now I have some free time, maybe, what do you wanna work on?

It's like I wanna work on the stuff that I know and love and want to do, not the stuff where I have to, I don't really know this. Do I know what I'm doing? I don't really, I'm not confident in this. Let me start on this part first, and then a year and a half later, you're still working on that part and you've never really d gotten into the marketing part, but I know, one of my goals starting this year was to really start learning it and diving in into it and doing that.

Unfortunately, my rewrite has just, I really wanted to finish it so that I could put something out there and then do all the marketing at once. So I'm still literally in that process. 90. 5% of the way theirs, you know what they say? The first 90% of development is easy. The last 10% is the hardest.

[00:28:40] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah.

[00:28:41] Derek Ashauer: And that's definitely true. And I'm getting close, I'm getting closer. But, starting to do some of the marketing, whether it's content stuff, outreach and all this kinda stuff, it's one of the reasons why I'm on this, on here talking with you. I'm trying this, I'm seeing this. Is this something that could work?

I don't know. I'm just trying to get my name out there so that other developers who are making a client for a photographer and they go, oh yeah, I heard of Derek on this one thing, or why I joined Twitter six months ago was to just. Get out there and get my name out there. Oh yeah. I know this guy, Derek Ashour, he makes this photography plugin.

I have a photography client. Maybe I could use that. Things like that. And that's part of the whole process of just getting out there and dipping my toes into it. Is this gonna be effective for me? I don't know. Who knows?

[00:29:22] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, you're, yeah you're gonna find out, that's for sure. It's interesting. So firstly, I think you're very what's the right word I wanna say here? You're quite brave for exposing your underbelly there a little bit, if you like, but I'm sure that many of the people listening to this podcast will have a story similar to that.

You've embarked on something. It hasn't been quite as easy as you'd imagine, but also you you suddenly realize that all of the things that are needed to get yourself over the finish line are many more things than you anticipated. So if you just think as a web developer, somebody that, let's say just is building client websites, if that's, All that you do, air quotes, all that you do, you've gotta become quite good at marketing.

You've probably gotta be able to handle finance. You've gotta do your tax returns. You've probably got to be a fairly decent designer. You've gotta keep your eyes peeled as to what the latest products are in the WordPress space so that you, they can help you design things. You've probably gotta be good at email marketing.

You've probably got to be keeping abreast of the latest trends in css, JavaScript, the HTML spec, keeping an eye on what the W three C are doing and all these kind of things. And honestly, that's just the stuff that's come to the top of my head. I could probably go on the point being there's a million things that you are doing and it's as a freelancer in the WordPress space, I think sometimes it's easy to punish yourself because you think I should be able to do all of these things at once.

The reality is, All of that is really time consuming and really difficult to keep those plates spinning. I think.

[00:30:58] Derek Ashauer: Yeah, absolutely. It's I think one of my fundamental mistakes. Throughout all this is not having other people that I work with, partners or things like that. I think for me personally as you outlined, I can design, I can code, I can build, I. Learned how to be good with clients, how to do customer relationships and all that kind of stuff.

I learned how to do sales. I feel pretty, I don't like it, but I've learned how to do it and I feel confident and can do all that kind of stuff. But I also lean on as a crutches that, because I can do all that stuff, I do

[00:31:33] Nathan Wrigley: Right, Exactly. Yep.

[00:31:35] Derek Ashauer: Then and then, I fell into this, which I imagine, I don't know, honestly, I'm still getting myself out there.

I've worked for myself for 15 years now, or over 15 years that I don't really have too many connections even in our. As a web developer, whether locally or internationally, and why, six months ago or eight months ago, I joined Twitter to let's try and broaden my network. I've literally worked for myself in my own little silo for so long that I don't have too many connections.

And then when I started being, saying Hey, client, I don't wanna take this on, but let me refer you because I wanna start being product first. I was like, who do I refer you to? I don't even know people. So it was like, how, who can I suggest? And things like that. But I think that was definitely one of my fundamental mistakes was not having someone to help with some of these tasks.

And I think having someone that was opposite of me, someone that was good at. Doing the parts that I don't like, like the marketing side, doing all that kinda stuff and balance each other's strengths and weaknesses and finding somebody to do that. I didn't come across anyone in my journey. Like I said, I never set out to do it, so I stumbled upon this whole thing.

So I didn't really have a plan and it just happened. And then before I knew it, I was, Literally day to day flying by the seat of my pants and just praying that it all doesn't just disappear. So the idea of sitting down and doing a plan was not something that I've really done until the last year or so.

And how I've made it 15 years is beyond me.

[00:33:08] Nathan Wrigley: I think though that sometimes, even if you are in your own eyes, reasonably good at something. So let's imagine that marketing was up for discussion here. There's probably somebody out there who, for a, you know, a reasonable amount of. Money is probably gonna be superior at that because that's their focus.

That's all they've done for the last 10 years, and they're really good at it. But I'm a terrible delegator. What I tend to find is that just the minutiae of what I've got to do each day consumes all my time. And so I never get to the, okay, I'm gonna spend two or three days finding people who are really good at marketing products, just like the one that.

I've got over here and so I just ended up, using those 48 hours, concentrating on the ordinary stuff that I could get a, I could easily do 48 hours from now, but it just fills my inbox, if so I never get round to doing those kind of things. It sounds like maybe you are similar

[00:34:07] Derek Ashauer: Yeah. Yeah. No I would say you've fallen in the trap of you're just good enough to get by so you think you can do it. I think the other trap that I've fallen into is just random numbers. Let's say I wanted to make $10,000 a month. How would I pay someone $2,000 to come in and help me with that?

That's 20% of my income. I, I've built up this certain thing that requires me to make $2,000 to then bring someone in to help me with this. It's it's all of a sudden $2,000 to pay someone to do this. It, it could be six months where they could start recouping that and they're making me $5,000.

But when you're living paycheck to paycheck or month to month type thing, you're still, just, scrambling all the time. How do you do that? That's, I don't have an answer for that one. It's nothing I don't have an answer for. That's where I've constantly struggled is to say, how can I. How can I pay you two to $3,000?

Whether it's for ads or a person to manage an AdWords account or to start doing social media marketing or doing that kinda stuff. How do I do that? The, I think the only one area where I saw some success was a friend of a friend who offered to be my salesman for a while, for my client stuff.

He was just and we came to agreement where basically I didn't have to pay him a salary. It was just commission only. And the great thing was, is that he was not tied to the work itself. Where I tie, I look at something and I go, oh, that's a five minute task. Oftentimes I don't even bill for it.

It's just part of customer. He goes, oh, that was worth this much for, I'm gonna charge him $500. So suddenly there were things where he was, my. Favorite example was I was charging, like something I didn't have to do hosting and I was charging $250 a year for, I was just, reseller through site ground or something like that.

It was costing me like, $6 a year to add their site to my account wasn't really anything. So $250, he like, great, nothing. And he just comes in and goes, I'm gonna sell it for $500 a year. What, and not one single client ever batted an eye. They're like, sure sounds great. So he just instantly doubled my income on hosting.

And so yeah, there's definitely people who are gonna be better at that, who separate themselves from, the minutia of things and all this kind of stuff. And to me that's the only area where I found where it was easy to bring someone in to increase. That's on the client side, of course, bringing someone to do sales on a product thing, it's hard.

[00:36:39] Nathan Wrigley: It it is

[00:36:39] Derek Ashauer: no real. Sales,

[00:36:41] Nathan Wrigley: you come across somebody that can do something like that and the expectation is that let's just see what kind of calamity that's gonna create. And then when it turns out to not create a calamity, you're of course thinking why didn't I do that years ago? That's.

There's tens of thousands of dollars that, I guess at some point you've got to be, you've got to have enough experience to know how far you can push things like that because we're, we're always hearing about things like the $10,000 website, which, you know, for a five page brochure site or something like that.

And there's always in the back of my mind, some little gremlin saying, yeah, but. They're gonna be harder to find than, easier to find. And, yeah I think this is really interesting. You're admitting to all the frailties and all of the different things that you find difficult.

So where are you right now with it? Then you've got this product. Let's talk about that one in particular. Sunshine photo kit. You've explained that it's a marketplace for well, You put it on your website and it becomes your own marketplace for selling your own digital assets, which in this case is photos.

I dunno if it does other things. Is that the, one of the products that are listed on your website, which I will link to in the show notes, is that the one product which is the most profitable. I noticed that you've got that higher than all the others. It's the first product that you list. Is that the one which is doing the best air quotes?

[00:38:01] Derek Ashauer: Oh yeah, by far. Yeah. Income wise, everything, it's obviously it's been around for. A very long time. The other ones are very, you nailed it. The confetti one is a fun project that, if I make a few bucks on it, which I do a few bucks it's great. And the other ones are just some free ones that I've made.

Again, client projects that I just say this, there's no way to monetize. This is just a useful tool I found in my way of contributing back to an ecosystem the WordPress ecosystem and offering something to help someone else as well. But but yeah, sunshine photo card is by far the largest one.

Again, it's not enough. I'm still on my journey. It's not enough to sustain me to make the income that I want to do it full-time. That's still my goal and my journey. My hope is that I can do that in the next, six months to a year. It's definitely taking longer than I ever expected. Because I'm still trying to learn what is it things that I'm trying is we talked about the hosting thing and just doubling the price and all of a sudden no one batted an

[00:39:05] Nathan Wrigley: Mm.

[00:39:05] Derek Ashauer: eye.

I'm gonna be, some of the things that I'm gonna be trying with sunshine, photo cards, nearly doubling the cost of it. It is an entire ecosystem in one single plugin. If you go to WooCommerce and WooCommerce itself is free, you go for a client trying to set up an

[00:39:21] Nathan Wrigley: Oh, thousands,

[00:39:22] Derek Ashauer: to, to sell their hats, and they could spend, 500 to a thousand dollars in plugins a year.

plugins 1 49 right now for an entire thing, which for a photographer could make up 60, 70, 80% of their income can come through their pho, through their print sales. And this is the tool that they use to do that. For photographers, they can make, a few hundred dollars in a session and then honestly they can make a thousand dollars in sales, so they can make $1,500 from, taking a doing a session with a family.

And a small portion of that is the session. And most of that could be in print sales. So trying to really, some of my goals are trying to price it accordingly and get across to people that this is a plugin that you are going to make most of your money with. So it's a big thing and a good thing to invest in.

And here's the reasons why it's worthwhile. It has all these features, my, my support, and all this kind of stuff, and it'll earn your money back in one session. So this is gonna be something that you recoup your money back really quick, even if it is double the cost of what it is now.

[00:40:27] Nathan Wrigley: Do you I hang out in the WordPress community because that's where I need to hang out given what I now do, which is basically creating content around the WordPress ecosystem. I'm just wondering, do you find yourself hanging out in. Photography places, attending real world photography events and online Facebook groups that are all to do with photography and all that.

Is that a strategy that you've deployed?

[00:40:54] Derek Ashauer: No,

[00:40:55] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah.

[00:40:55] Derek Ashauer: Like I said, my wife's ex-wife now. She was the photographer and I made it for her. We're no longer together, so I don't have that resource to, to do things. So I don't have that connection to the community. And that's another thing that I struggle with is that a lot of people who cr who create a product and it's a great thing to do.

It's a great, way to do it is is finding something that you're passionate about and something that you have an interest in because then it's easier to do the social media marketing, to have the connections and do all that kind of stuff. Where. I'm still, and that's why the WP Sunshine brand is out there, is me throwing ideas out there to see if there is something I can find that maybe does connect a little bit better.

And it's my way to explore what is something that I can do this better with. So that is one area where I very much struggle. And one area where I've looked to and, consider reaching out to my customers. Cuz my customers, I get great reviews, they all love my product and all this kind of stuff.

And they'll tell me, oh, we, we wanna share this with our group. Once, once you have Sunshine three out, we wanna share this with everyone to really get the word out for you. And so trying to do better at connecting with them and even bringing someone on board. But, how do I pay them?

And all this kind of stuff. To help out. I've considered doing trade of services. Hey, I will do all your i'll custom design and build your marketing or your photography website and give you a free sunshine photo cart license in exchange for being my eyes and ears to the community, so to speak.

Tell me what's going on. The photography world and things like that. Or be my, my photography advocate, things like that of how to compensate someone. So creative ways because I'm not directly in there. But yeah, that is an area I'm aware of that I lack that I'm not in there because I'm not a Facebook type person.

And honestly, that's a major area of Facebook and Instagram type area.

[00:42:48] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, especially photography, Instagram and photography are joined at the hip, aren't they? That's That would be the perfect place to hang out. Yeah I guess it's interesting. I wouldn't personally probably enjoy attending events around all of these different things, so a photography event or, I don't know a physical networking event, like a Cisco event or something like that.

Those kind of things probably wouldn't interest me, but the word camp things really do. I'd be curious to see if you pushed the boat out there and did attend. Some word camps, the conversations that you might start up on the serendipity of meeting somebody in the hall and having a chat with them.

I've seen over the many years that I've been doing this podcast, I've seen people go from zero sales to quite a lot of sales simply by the connections that they've made inside the community. You get to know certain people and those people know other people. And before you know it, if somebody does want a photo selling e-commerce platform.

At some point your name comes up and you never know. You get a sale and then you get another sale, and then you get another sale. So yeah that, that would be, I think, something that I would certainly be exploring, just being part of the WordPress community and developing those. Those connections can, oddly enough, despite the fact that you're not facing out towards your direct customers who are photographers, just being inside that WordPress community and getting your name out, there's a lot of people who are building websites and they will be approached by photographers and they're looking around, they're looking on Google for something that your plugin does.

So if you can get to the developers, that could be, in a sense, your. You're middle man selling the product for you to their end clients.

[00:44:36] Derek Ashauer: Yeah, absolutely. And that's again, like I said, I joined Twitter six, eight months ago for that very reason too. And as I said, I'm trying to expand my network, I'm debating going to work camp us. I have a ticket, but I am still trying to justify the cost. My wife is still you should go.


[00:44:52] Nathan Wrigley: You should go.

[00:44:53] Derek Ashauer: Yeah, e everyone said the same thing.

[00:44:56] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah.

[00:44:57] Derek Ashauer: So it is, it's something that I, yeah, I'm definitely looking at and that's one area where I have explored is where I feel I could feel like I could have more confidence and more comfort as talking to other of my peers, WordPress designers and developers, and getting the word out that way as opposed to talking to photographers who, I don't know, shutter speed, I don't know, lenses and all this kind of stuff.

I I couldn't, chat with you on, these other types of things and stuff like that. Yeah, and that's what, where I'm gonna try and do that unless I can find

[00:45:30] Nathan Wrigley: I think you'd get a ROI on that pretty quickly actually. I'm just guessing that you would, but it does take that initial step. Just to put your mind at risk. I have literally yet to meet anybody who at the end of a word, camp. Has had a really negative experience. Maybe they didn't like the food or something, and they've got that to grumble about, but there's almost nobody who attends these events, who thinks that really had nothing for me.

That's my experience anyway. Maybe I'm reading reach, reaching out, or meeting a select cohort of very positive people, but that seems to be the. Yeah. That seems to be the sort of, the way that people's brain is wired when they leave is that was good. I met a bunch of people who knows what will come of that.

And it is, I keep using the word, but serendipity does play a big part in those things. How are you finding the the transfer of. Your constituents, if you like. So previously, your constituents they still are, by the sounds of it, your constituents were clients and now you've gone over to the constituents of customers in this case, buying your plugin.

How do you manage things like support and do you allocate time, dedicated time to support for the plugin and, updating the plugin? Or is it just when you can fit it in still?

[00:46:44] Derek Ashauer: I definitely prioritize the support because I've definitely learned that good customer support through, whether it's you're doing client work or a plugin is a. Phenomenal selling tool. Like I said, yeah if I don't have to sell anyone, that's great. That's why, like I said I live off referrals from my client stuff and I think that's also another reason why my plugin is still cruising along without doing too much marketing stuff is because other photographers tell other photographers.

So I definitely prioritize support cause it's something that I know how to do and I know that I can do it well. I usually start my Mondays with, Hanson all support tickets, usually on the weekends as well. When I get most of my plugin support for whatever reason they usually come in on Saturday, Sunday, so I'll start Monday morning and handle all

[00:47:30] Nathan Wrigley: They've just done the wedding, haven't they? Or, yeah.

[00:47:33] Derek Ashauer: Yeah. They run into an issue. Exactly. They, while they were uploading photos or doing something. A lot of photographers are, It's their secondary business as well. They have a full-time job, so they'll do their stuff on the weekends or in the evenings and things like that as well for many of them.

So it's not uncommon to get those tickets at that time. So yeah I definitely prioritize the support for that very reason. I take those in. One of the things that I think I did well with Sunshine Photo Cart when I started it, Was when I did first release it I actually priced it a lot higher than it is now.

And then one, one thing that I did, like many of us in the WordPress space, I fell victim to the race, to the bottom of looking at my competitor, my com. The one WordPress competitor that I have was, oh my God, they're $50 less than me. Let me drop at $50. I look two years later, oh my God, they're another $50 less than me.

I need to drop it again. They're keep, undercutting me and we're quickly racing to the bottom. And that's why one of my points was to be like, no, I'm done with that. I need to price what it's worth and not what my competitors think that are in what we should be doing. And we're all, making pennies of what we should be doing in this entire, don't get me started on that whole thing.

That's a whole nother topic of this race to the bottom that we're all doing.

[00:48:47] Nathan Wrigley: series of podcast episodes right there.

[00:48:50] Derek Ashauer: Yeah. But but really bringing that back up to selling what it's worth. But yeah, so handling support and is definitely an important thing and making a priority. I do still try and make it a priority, but because because I sold it really high when I first started, I eased into the number of customers that I have.

And that allowed me to then learn where the pain points were in using it and where it can be improved and where to write documentation for and all this kind of stuff. And how to handle support. And I because I kept the customers small and because they're paying me a lot, they were invested in it.

So they were good quality customers. They were willing to stick around and stick through me with some things as I learned on the fly a bit. I have all my processes down now. And, I. When I get the same support ticket five times, I go, okay, it's time to write a documentation article

[00:49:48] Nathan Wrigley: The

[00:49:48] Derek Ashauer: underlying issue.

And because the plugin's been around for 10 years now, most of the things are solved. So most of it's around, unfortunately dealing with e d subscription issues and licensing things and stuff like that. That's most of my support ticket issues now. So I've been able to get that to be pretty minimal at this point.

[00:50:11] Nathan Wrigley: Well, It does sound like you've definitely made the right choice. Ultimately, you would like to swing away from clients into products. All I can say is that hold, hold the, keep chasing that dream because there are a lot of people in the WordPress space who I've come into contact with on, although I've never.

I've not quite had a conversation as yet with anybody. That's not true. I have, but not typically at this part of the journey. Usually they've got, they've got something and it's up and running and it's what they do for a living entirely. So what I would say is just keep going with it and if you do stumble upon any wisdom that w keep deploying that and let everybody know what you've done.

But also I'd be curious to, if anybody's listening to this podcast and have has any advice. For Derek. I hope you're open to that, Derek. It's it would be interesting, we'll obviously post this in our, on our website. I dunno exactly what episode number it will be. But in the preamble, I will let you know what episode you've got to search for.

If anybody's got any thoughts, you could drop something into the Facebook group. Just little snippets of advice that Derek could assume that would be helpful. I hope that's not out of turn, Derek.

[00:51:23] Derek Ashauer: No, that's the whole reason why I'm on here. I'm very I'm that's, I, I'm looking for a lot of stuff. I, I have some things, like I said, I know what has worked, what's helped me and stuff like that. But we're always on a growth journey and I'm very open to all those kind of things.


[00:51:45] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah we'll probably knock it on the head there. We're up to nearly 50 minutes, so we'll pause it there. But Derek, honestly, best of luck with your suite of plugins, particularly the Sunshine Photo car. I'll put links in the show notes to all of the websites that we've mentioned today so that you can go and check them out.

But as we said, if you've got any thoughts, Derek, where can people find you? You, me? You mentioned Twitter a few times. What's your Twitter handle?

[00:52:10] Derek Ashauer: It's my name, Derek Auer. A s h a u e r. Yeah, you find me on

[00:52:17] Nathan Wrigley: Okay, perfect. And shall I, do you wanna mention an email address? If you mention an email address, it will likely get transcribed, so it will end up on a website, so

[00:52:26] Derek Ashauer: Yeah, you, I have multiple websites. You can contact me through those sites, the ashwood studio.com and wp sunshine.com or sunshine photo cart.com or many others that we all have. Yeah.

[00:52:37] Nathan Wrigley: We will find you some way, shape or form. Derek, honestly, really interesting to chat to you today and also your very open and candidness is highly appreciated. I really appreciate having you comment on the podcast today. Thanks a lot.

[00:52:50] Derek Ashauer: Sure thing.

[00:52:51] Nathan Wrigley: Well, I hope that you enjoyed the episode. It was an absolute pleasure. Chatting to Derek Ashauer. Maybe you thought the same way too. If anything in that episode resonated with you, or even if you just want to lend your support to Derek and all that, he's doing head to episode number 3 3 2 on the WP Builds.com website. Use our search facility to do that, and perhaps leave us a comment there. Let Derek know that you understand what he's going through and you never know. You might even be able to offer some support. Or guidance.

The WP Builds podcast was brought to you today by GoDaddy Pro. GoDaddy Pro the home of managed WordPress hosting that includes free domain, SSL and 24 7 support. Bundle that with The Hub by GoDaddy Pro to unlock more free benefits to manage multiple sites in one place, invoice clients and get 30% off new purchases. Find out more by going to go.me forward slash WP Builds. And true sincere, thanks to GoDaddy Pro for their support of the WP Builds podcast.

Okay. As we did an interview this week, it'll be David and I chatting next week. That'll be next Thursday at 2:00 PM. UK time, we released that. Don't forget to join this week in WordPress. That will be at 2:00 PM. On Monday, Monday, we do a show every single week it's live and you can join in the comments.

People from all over the world tend to drop in and leave us commentary on all of the different WordPress news that we're covering. This week, I'm sure we'll be no different. So join us for that. If none of those things apply well, I hope you have a lovely week. Stay safe. Here comes some cheesy music. Bye-bye for now.

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Nathan Wrigley
Nathan Wrigley

Nathan writes posts and creates audio about WordPress on WP Builds and WP Tavern. He can also be found in the WP Builds Facebook group, and on Mastodon at wpbuilds.social. Feel free to donate to WP Builds to keep the lights on as well!

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  1. What I got from this podcast, which I really appreciated and found inspiring, is:
    – Diversify income streams
    – Turn the solutions you are finding for clients into products: “Build once, solve the same problem for many people.”

    • Yes, it was all very inspiring wasn’t it. A lovely, no hype podcast. I drew basically the same conclusions as you did. Thanks for you comment.

  2. @Derek, thanks for sharing an interesting journey and many similarities to my journey, experiments failings and otherwise transitioning into a product provider.

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