Have you ever wondered how websites are designed, created, and magically appear on the web? Five years ago I didn’t have a clue how any of that worked or what web hosting, domain names, WordPress, or blogging were. Oh how my life has changed so much these last few years in that regard! One of my fellow Yakezie Network Members, Andrea Whitmer, is a guru when it comes to servers, building websites, design, and understanding how all the techie stuff works.
I recently discovered she started her own business, Nuts and Bolts Media, and became eager to learn more about how she did it and what her experience has been like. More and more women are shattering the template lifestyle and branching out into entrepreneurial careers. In fact, the number of female owned small businesses is growing 50% faster than the total number of small businesses. And it’s also estimated that five years from now, 33% of new US jobs will come from companies owned by women. (Click to read more interesting and also scary facts about business.)
Today Andrea shares some of her insights with us about her entrepreneurial journey in the following interview.
Sydney: Tell us a little bit about your company, the type of work you’re doing, and how long you’ve been self employed.
Andrea: Nuts and Bolts Media offers website design, graphic design, web hosting, and support services to individuals and small businesses. Basically, I try to be a one-stop shop for anyone who wants to get started on the web or improve his/her existing online presence. I left my career in December 2011; at the time I planned to earn most of my income from freelance writing, but I quickly realized that there was more demand for my skills in design and coding. By May of this year, I had given up all my writing jobs to focus on design work full time.
Sydney: Was there a particular event or inspiration that lead you to switch careers and become an entrepreneur?
Andrea: Before I started my business, I was a psychotherapist for seven years. Once I started earning money online, though, it became really difficult to go to work every day. Still, I was committed to staying in my career for at least a few more years to make sure I was financially prepared to become self-employed.
In August 2011, I accepted a transfer within my agency from a salaried position to one that paid by the billable hour. Shortly afterward, my state enacted huge changes in the Medicaid program, severely impacting my ability to bill for therapy, and my agency decided to triple the cost of benefits for billable hour employees. I would sit at my desk realizing that I could be earning more money in a few days at home than I was making in two weeks at my full time job. The risk seemed low because I was already making more from online projects than from the tiny paychecks I was receiving at the time.
Sydney: Did you have any set goals you wanted to complete before leaving your last job? How did things work out?
Andrea: When I left my job, I was in survival mode. I wanted to be self-employed more than anything, but circumstances pushed me into it much sooner than planned. My only goal was to make it through 2012 without having to go back to a “real” job. That meant taking a hard look at my monthly expenses and giving up a lot of things to keep costs down. That said, with less than 2 months left in the year and plenty of scheduled design work, I don’t see any way that I won’t meet my goal, so I’m pretty proud of that.
Sydney: How much did you know about web hosting, graphic design, and running a business before you took the leap?
Andrea: I’ve been designing websites since I was 13, so I felt very comfortable with my ability to design for other people – it was just a matter of building a portfolio. Similarly, after growing up in a gadget-filled home with an engineer father, I know my way around a server (though there were definitely some things I had to learn as I went along). Running a business, though? That part has been a little more difficult. I have been flying by the seat of my pants all year, and while I’ve learned a lot, I also realize how much I don’t know on a regular basis! I spend a lot of my so-called “free time” reading and researching – I’m always looking for better ways to run the business.
Sydney: Were people supportive of your decision to become self employed in the beginning? Did that affect you?
Andrea: I actually didn’t tell many people that I left my job at first – it was right before the holidays and I didn’t want my family members to be worried. My parents knew, of course, and that was an adventure in itself. My dad’s parents were business owners, so he was very open to the idea of me being self employed, especially given my work situation at the time. My mom, on the other hand, had a much harder time being supportive – her father is a retired union coal miner. She grew up in a world where paychecks, benefits, and time spent at work were set in stone and completely reliable.
It took some work to convince my mom that today’s workplaces aren’t as stable as they once were – the changes in my job and pay at the time were proof of that. She still worries constantly; I make sure to call her every week to let her know that I’m still making money and my son and I aren’t starving to death in a ditch somewhere (her vision of self-employment).
My parents are my biggest supporters in all aspects of my life, so it was important to me that they understood my reasons for quitting my job. I was also fortunate to work in a field where I know I could find a job again pretty quickly if necessary. So while I’m mindful of my parents’ opinions, I also knew I was at a critical point and had to do something different.
Sydney: When you were growing up, did you ever imagine you would become an entrepreneur someday? Why/why not?
Andrea: It’s kind of funny that you asked! When I was in kindergarten, my school hired a videographer to interview the class on tape as a surprise gift for our parents. In my interview, I was adamant that I wasn’t going to go to college; I was going to be a writer and I would make my own way. While I did end up going to college (and graduate school), I never really shook that feeling that no one would care as much about my future as I would, and I spent a ridiculous amount of time/effort learning things on my own. I think my independent streak was there from the beginning; it just took awhile for me to realize that working for someone else wasn’t the best choice for me.
Sydney: What was the hardest and most unexpected thing about becoming self employed?
Andrea: Everyone says this, but that’s because it’s the truth: I was completely unprepared for the “feast or famine” lifestyle of a freelancer. When I left my career, my paychecks weren’t even enough to cover my bills, but I did know I was getting at least a small amount of money every other Friday. Now when I get paid for a design project, I’m never sure what to do with the money. Should I hurry and pay ahead on my bills in case next month is slow? Should I stock up on groceries? Should I squirrel the money away in savings?
It’s much harder to plan ahead and there have literally been moments where I didn’t have the money to pay a particular bill until the day before. That said, the money has always come in at the right time, so I try to be grateful and keep my stress levels down. At this point in the year things are much more stable, but early on it was very difficult to cope with the erratic nature of freelance income.
Sydney: How many hours do you work a week now on average?
Andrea: I have averaged just over 70 hours a week so far this year. Considering the fact that I’m the owner, designer, bookkeeper, spokesperson, tech support, consultant, and receptionist, that’s actually not too bad! I do hope to cut back in 2013 – I’ve learned a lot this year that should make next year run more smoothly.
Sydney: Do you have any tips for single parents who work full time?
Andrea: Spend as much time with your kids as you can, especially while they’re young. I know it’s difficult when you’re the only one bringing in money and the only one taking care of things at home, but the time is gone before you know it. My son is 14, and I really regret waiting this late in his life to find a career that allows me to spend more time with him. If I could do things over again, I would have tried self-employment much sooner. Not to say that it’s the right choice for all single parents, but if you can find something that pays the bills and allows you to be home more, go for it!
Sydney: What advice do you have for someone who wants to start their own business?
Andrea: Oh, I could write a book on this topic! Most importantly, make sure you (1) actually have some kind of skill and (2) can find people who are willing to pay for it. If possible, start your business while you’re still employed full time – build up your savings account so you can float through the rocky months. Have a fallback plan in case things don’t go the way you plan, then make a fallback plan for that one as well.
Overall, if a person has a good idea, the skills to put it into action, and the ability to stay focused and work independently, I’d say there will never be a better time than right now to give self-employment a shot. Get prepared – don’t just quit your job tomorrow without knowing what you’re going to do – but if you truly want to work for yourself, you’ll never be satisfied until you at least try it.
Further Untemplater reading
How To Switch Careers: Real Life Advice To Help You Succeed
Tips For Overcoming Stress As An Entrepreneur
The Risks Of Starting A Business
Untemplaters, do you have any questions for Andrea? How many female business owners do you know? Have you ever thought about starting your own company?
Buck Inspire says
Terrific interview Sydney and Andrea! Learned a lot and it definitely sounds like you made the right move. I enjoy my job so won’t me making the leap anytime soon. Your designs are nice and clean. Will keep you in mine if I ever need a redesign!
Lance @ Money Life and More says
I am so ADD that staying focused would be the hardest part for me. If it was my only income though I think I’d be so scared I’d force myself to be focused!
We’ve talked about this before, but I have the opposite problem – I hyperfocus to the exclusion of all else (including remembering to eat at times!) because I’m so worried about getting paid. It’s really hard to turn it off when you don’t earn a steady salary.
Kathleen @ Frugal Portland says
Great interview, Sydney! It’s feast or famine, Andrea (combined with the fact that I like my day job a great deal) that keeps me from making the leap. Oh, and also I don’t know what I would actually do. 🙂 I am inspired by you!
Liking your day job means a lot! I never really enjoyed the career I chose… I won’t say I made the wrong decision, because I learned a great deal, but this is a much better fit for me.
Nice article. I agree with you about the nature of the “feast of famine” lifestyle that you get when you start your own business.
You don’t appreciate a regular paycheck until it’s gone.
Completely agree with you there – I still wouldn’t trade what I have now for my paychecks from my old job, but I definitely miss knowing that money is coming every 2 weeks! It’s a hard adjustment but worth it for me overall.
Thanks for the interview Andrea! It’s crazy how changes in regulations can have such a direct impact on businesses. Sounds like you were smart to leave your old career when you did. You were able to use your skills to turn a tough situation into a positive one by taking action.
Would you rate your state as business friendly now that you own your own company? I know the incorporation process and tax pains can vary a lot by state.
Thanks for having me! I enjoyed the chance to talk more about my business and what I do all day now that I left my job. 🙂
I’m in Kentucky, and so far being a small business owner here has been very easy. There is a website dedicated to small business issues, and after reading there, I applied for the LLC online, paid the $40 fee, and was approved in less than an hour. I didn’t need a separate business license since I sell services and not tangible products, and because of that I don’t have to charge sales tax either. I opted to be taxed as an individual, so I just pay in my quarterly taxes per my accountant’s instructions and that’s pretty much it! I made things a lot more difficult in my head than they were once I got started.
Financial Samurai says
Nice interview Sydney, and great insights Andrea!
I totally get “Feast or Famine” as I go on my entrepreneurial journey as well. Somedays, I’m scratching my head thinking “where did the traffic go?”, “Why isn’t anybody buying my book when they hate their jobs and it’s money back guaranteed?”, “Time for ramen noodles time!”
When things don’t go well, it’s so motivating to try harder!
I’d love to know more about the web hosting business, as I use InMotion. They are good, and have good customer service, but my sites will inevitably go down once a month or two for an hour at a time or more. Is that just the way the hosting business is? No such thing as always up, b/c there is always crap that happens?
Do you have to buy multiple servers as your webhosting business grows? Where are they housed? Can I go out and buy my own server and host myself? What are the capital expenditures that make doing so not worth it?
70 hours a week reminds me of my first job! Out of the 70 though, how much do you think you dislike? I’m liking around 90% of my worktime now, b/c if I don’t enjoy it, I get to just stop!
Definitely agree with you re: trying harder when things are tough. Some of my best ideas have come from the days when I was freaking out and/or thinking I’d have to go back to work. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you REALLY don’t want the alternative!
Right now I rent server space from a “server farm” in Texas. I actually just recently moved myself and all my hosting clients to a different server with more space; I don’t like operating at more than about 65% capacity (just because I want things to remain reliable).
Personally, I’m surprised that you have so much downtime unless you’re consistently exhausting your memory allocation. The sites on my hosting have been down one time for a couple of hours, and that was because of a configuration error I made. Otherwise, I restart Apache once a week (usually during the middle of the night to minimize disruptions) and monitor constantly to make sure all the sites are up. With the exception of the downtime I mentioned, my sites have had 100% uptime – I assume the same is true for my hosting clients.
I don’t know that it would make sense for you to change what you’re doing now, but it depends on your setup. I’m assuming you’re using a VPS or dedicated server through InMotion? If so, I’d be asking them what’s causing the downtime and/or looking through the server logs to find out what’s going on. Sometimes the smallest settings can cause a server crash (as I just learned), but those servers are not optimized for WordPress automatically. It definitely takes some research to get the best settings in place depending on your traffic levels.
Financial Samurai says
Gotcha! That’s a good idea to leverage a server farm to keep costs lower. I suspect that your most valuable asset is your design expertise, and service attentiveness. I am for sure going to you if some malware affects my sites!
I’ve got some programming/table error that is recurring on Yakezie.com and I don’t know how to fix it. It’s a custom design that is getting old as new plugins get updated. Might have to do an entire redesign of Yakezie.com, but I’m scared everything will break!
You recommend I restart Apache once a week? My MYSQL gets bogged down with too many queries around once a month which shuts everything down for 30min-1 hour.
How big is your database? They tend to get pretty bloated over time. I worked on one recently that was almost 2GB – it blew my mind. Did some cleanup and got it down to about 50MB, which had a huge impact on the site’s performance.
What you described is exactly why I don’t like creating themes or designs from scratch; with a well-supported premium theme, you know your stuff will be updated to reflect changes in WordPress or changes to plugins. When someone creates one for you, it’s up to them to manually make those changes. And if it’s a design created only for you, they aren’t getting emails and error logs from a ton of people to let them know there’s a problem.