A sign saying thank you

The Importance of Generosity and Gratitude in Business

There are billions of books, articles, journals, and thoughts about how to run a successful business and be the most profitable. Search “run a good business” in Google and you get 441,000,000 hits. Clearly, a lot of people have a lot to say about this, yet there isn’t enough time in a lifespan to cover it all.

While I’m by no means an expert in the business realm, I’m a small business employee and I have a tangible experience and perspective in the job market. So, naturally, I do have my own two cents on the subject. Generosity and gratitude can have one of the most profound effects on your business, beyond what is easily measurable.

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a team of people around a wooden table with a white woman writing on a notepad and the post title "So You Want to Hire a Contractor"

So You Want to Hire a Contractor… (Part 1)

If you are running a small development or design agency (or working solo, but looking to grow), you may wonder when you’ll be able to actually hire employees. Hiring a team–even one person–can be intimidating.

You may be worried about taxes, whether you can afford it, or how you’re going to find someone who is a good fit. You might be panicking at the amount of work you have piling up while knowing it simply is not possible to hire a team member and offer them the full benefits of a regular employee. You know you need additional hands on deck, but you’re not sure you can start fleshing out a team of full time employees

That’s when it’s time to hire a contractor.

Getting started

One of the easiest ways to find someone who is a good fit is an obvious one: ask around. It’s likely someone in your industry has a solid lead on who can help you out.

You can contract for whatever help is needed the most.

Here are a few things I’ve seen developers hire contractors for in the past:

  • Development
  • Design
  • Social media management
  • Content management
  • Writing
  • Customer service
  • Tech support
  • Project management
  • Virtual assistance

Word of mouth is a great way to find folks, as is reaching out to any professional communities you’re involved in for recommendations.

While trying to find someone within your network is a good start, it’s also worthwhile to put out a call to online job boards (or even just a call out on your site). While we’re all inclined to invest more trust who is only a few degrees of social separation away, you want to have options. You never know who is lurking out there and will jump at the opportunity to work with you. Maximize your opportunities to create an amazing team by utilizing both your network and platforms that expose your call for a contractor to a new audience.

Vetting

A huge aspect of productivity and success is having an incredible team. Although someone may not be formally joining your company, working with them even on a part-time or short-term basis means that you are working as a team.

A part-time or short-term team member can still have a huge impact on the work you’re creating and your clients’ experience. You want to make sure that they’re a good fit! If you don’t put the effort into finding a contractor that will enhance your team, you’ll wonder why you bothered at all. A bad personality or work style fit can create stress and unrest, and diminish the overall quality of your work. You want someone who is going to work well with you and deliver the goods.

Do your research

Do they have a website with samples of their work? Resumes are great, but often incomplete–especially if they’re performing a specific kind of work (development, writing, etc.). You need to see samples of the work they’ve done in the past.

Keep in mind: if the work is live on a client’s site, it may be different than what the contractor intended. How many times have you recommended something to a client, only to have them shoot it down? Or, worse, go in a completely different direction that you think is questionable (at best)? We’ve all been there, and as we know, clients get veto power. They’re hiring us to create what they need and want, and sometimes we disagree on the best way to accomplish that.

You may come across a sample that makes you go, “Buh? What is that?” Make sure you compare other pieces of their work to that, and look for consistency. Ask yourself, “Is this a deviation or a norm for their work?” You want to make sure that you’re not judging them based on decisions that weren’t entirely their own.

If you find a sample that makes you go, “??!?” to be anomalous, you can bring questions about it to your interview.

Doing this research gives you a fantastic starter for your first conversation with them, as you can ask them how they created this work, what kind of challenges they experienced while doing so, and other relevant questions. These questions offer insight into not only the work itself, but how they conduct themselves professionally and when facing adversity.

Ask for references

And make sure you check them! Even if you get a word of mouth recommendation, make sure you ask for a few additional references and follow through on tracking them down. You want to know that your contractor can consistently deliver good work and maintain relationships. Several good recommendations can give a lot of insight as to who they are and what they’re like to work with.

For example, what most of my references will tell you about me (both good and bad):

  • I’m a consistent, open communicator.
  • I’m also an overcommunicator, meaning I check in a lot and tend to follow up with the persistence of a hungry bed bug out for blood (or a puppy looking to play ball, if you’d prefer a less disgusting analogy).
  • I work hard to make sure what I’m delivering is the best it can be, and have an eye for additional opportunities (don’t get them started on how many times I’ve said, “That’d be a great blog post!” in the middle of a meeting).
  • I’m opinionated and outspoken, which surely can be annoying, but it comes from a place of advocacy and wanting things to be as high quality as possible.

Does this mean I’m a good fit for everyone? Surely not! A good fit for some, but not for others. It’s good information to have either way. A “good fit” is entirely determined by your personality and working style.

Another example:

If you find out that your contractor is a bit lackadaisical with communication, but always delivers work on time, you’ll have to determine what’s the most important to you. Would you prefer someone who communicates well but is sometimes flexible on deadlines? Or would you prefer someone who doesn’t communicate as much, but always shows up exactly when they say they will?

Of course, ideally you’ll find a candidate that checks off all of your boxes, but people are fallible creatures. If you know what your values are, you’ll be able to parse the information recommendations provide and apply it to your dream team scenario with ease.

Conduct an interview

Get on the horn and talk to your potential candidate! Even if most of your communication while working will be done virtually, take a moment to hop on a call. You want to get a sense of who they are through their tone and the way they verbally communicate. You’ll want to use this time to set your expectations for them. This is also an opportunity to ask questions about their experience and the way they approach problem solving and conflict.

Make sure you’re upfront about who you are and how you work, too. Give space for them to ask questions. Remember: This interview is their opportunity to interview you, too. It’s about finding a mutually beneficial set up, not just about you finding a crony. It needs to work for everyone.


In part two, we’ll cover what you need to get organized and logistics for hiring contractors.

Have any questions about the start of this process or any burning questions about hiring contractors? Drop it in the comments!

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Yes, You Want Your Business Site on WordPress

WordPress is powering more than a quarter of the web, but many businesses have shied away from taking the leap. Overhauling an entire site to move to a new content management system (CMS) can be intimidating. Businesses have a wide variety of concerns that prevent them from making such a big technology shift–even if the shift would be beneficial in the long-term. There are also a wide variety of myths surrounding what WordPress does and how it can benefit a business (or, rather, how it won’t).

I’m here to give you a few reasons that you want your business site on WordPress:

WordPress isn’t just for blogging

Although those of us in the WordPress industry already know this to be true, there are a lot of non-WordPress folk who still believe WP is just for blogging. Many of them aren’t even clear of what WordPress is.

WordPress provides all kinds of opportunities for your entire site, and it’s not just a place to host thoughts scribbled in a blog. Whether you want a member site, an e-commerce store, or a sleek, beautiful design to represent your company, WordPress can do all of that–and more. Since WordPress is endlessly advancing and changing, the bounds of what it can do are determined by the skill and creativity of the person building on it.

The learning curve is a little steep, but it’s worth it

Although WordPress boasts a five minute install, the average person is going to spend a bit longer setting it up. For someone who doesn’t have the technical savvy, getting a WordPress site set up the way that they want can be a challenge.

Don’t let that stop you from taking it on!

One of the best parts about WordPress is that it’s open source software, which means the source code is available to the public for study, alteration, and distribution. Most of the folks in WordPress are deeply committed to advancing open source software and giving back to the public by making it better and faster. The best and brightest professionals are giving their time to make a free software the absolute best it can be–which benefits all of us.

The work developers do requires expertise and skill, and when you hire them to do the work for your business, you pay for their extensive time and effort. In addition to that, they provide a public service by making WordPress, a free tool, widely beneficial and accessible to everyone. You may hire one developer, but when you work with WordPress, you benefit from the community work of countless brilliant minds.

If you stop and think a moment about all the people who generously give their time and knowledge, often without compensation, to create one of the strongest platforms available, you’ll realize it’s a community worth joining.

Since WordPress enthusiasts, professionals and amateurs alike, are so dedicated to enhancing the software and innovating with the tools provided, there are a ton of resources available for learning how to do what you want to your site. Sites like WPBeginner and WP101 aim to educate people on the fundamentals of WordPress, and if you do some Googling, you’ll easily find a wealth of answers to almost any question you have.

If you’re still worried about that learning curve, many WordPress developers and designers offer WordPress education as a part of their services, so the day to day dealings can be handled by you or your staff without a struggle.

WordPress makes content management easy

Yes, WordPress is a content management system, but that doesn’t just refer to blogging. “Content” describes nearly everything on your site–videos, photos, and text.

As a CMS, WordPress is the absolute best. Once you learn the basic terminology and know where things are in the dashboard, updating your site is easy peasy.

Even if you have a staff of Luddites, teaching them how to handle basic content management in WordPress is super simple! This means your staff will be empowered to make those changes and can handle the content on your site as a part of their duties. This means less oversight from you, which gives you time to focus on running your business. Empowering your staff to use your technology allows you to delegate responsibly and allocate your time to where you need it most.

Integrating with WordPress opens up your audience

One of the ways we’ve helped our clients is by building them their own WordPress plugin. This is particularly helpful for companies that offer a digital product or service and have a target audience that is building out their own business sites.

We have an example of this from our own experience:

Quantcast Corporation is a technology company that provides real-time measurement and analysis of advertising and audience engagement. Quantcast hired us to create a WordPress plugin that puts a JavaScript snippet in the header of their users’ sites. This extended their service out to the greater WordPress community and provided a huge benefit to their existing users. Quantcast users with WordPress websites can install the Audience Analytics plugin. Then, their Quantcast account is linked directly to their WordPress site and they can access their site analytics through WordPress super easily.

WordPress can scale–which means it can grow with your business

To make it do so successfully, though, you’ll definitely need the assistance of a professional. This part gets a little technically advanced, but Smashing Magazine took a look at what different developers have done to set up high traffic sites for success. WordPress isn’t the only key component in the fight to keep your site performant, but it’s not going to be what holds you back.

Getting on WordPress means being in good company

There are tons of businesses and major publications that are on WordPress, including:

  • WorldPay
  • Amazon
  • Disney
  • Politico
  • The NBA
  • Discovery Communications
  • USA Today
  • Microsoft Office Blogs
  • FiveThirtyEight
  • Airbnb

And many, many more. Big names take their technology seriously, and they’ve chosen WordPress to best serve their massive audiences.

So what are you waiting for?

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Why You Pay a Premium for Web Development Retainers

When folks think about hiring a service provider, they’re usually looking for help achieving one particular goal.

Whether it’s hiring a lawyer to draft a will, a contractor to remodel your kitchen, or a developer to build your website, the goal is to finish one specific project and set you up for future success on your own.

But what if you know you’ll need ongoing support from your chosen provider? What if you think this project isn’t the only thing you’ll need their expertise on?

That’s when you want a retainer.

What’s a retainer?

A retainer is a fee paid in advance to a service provider to secure their services. People most often associate retainers with lawyers, but all kinds of service providers offer retainer accounts, including developers. While a developer can build your site and send you on your way, retaining a developer’s services on a long-term basis is a fantastic way to make sure your technology is being handled by an expert as your business grows.

How web development retainers help you

Most developers offer a broad variety of services: building and designing websites, building apps, conducting code audits, debugging code, updating your site (particularly relevant if you’re on WordPress and things fall behind), and more. As your business grows, your technological needs will change. Justin talked about this in his most recent post covering code audits:

…Some plugins do well if they’re on a site that has no users logged in. However, if that same site has switched to a subscription model, it won’t have caching layers that allow the plugins to run as smoothly. Your client may not know this difference. All they know is that they made the switch when they needed to shift their business model. They didn’t recognize the impact it would have on their technology.

As your business changes, issues like the one outlined here may crop up–without you understanding what is happening or how to fix it. If your business goes through a sudden growth spurt, your site may not be able to handle the traffic or engagement, which could be financially devastating. And if your site goes down, if you don’t have technical support, you’re on your own, since most developers can’t drop everything they’re doing to work on your site (or if they can, they’ll charge a pretty penny for it).

Having a technical expert in your corner ensures that your technology will grow alongside your business. It means that you can either outright avoid or quickly ameliorate any pain points that arise, which makes your life less stressful, your business run smoothly, and your clients happy.

But retainers are expensive!

Some folks argue that retainers are a waste of time, since you pay for the hours upfront and if there isn’t work to be done, not all of those hours may be used. Although the nature of transactions like these is how they’re outlined in terms of hours, thinking of it this way is too simple. You’re paying for so much more than just the hours.

Priority and access

If you’ve ever desperately needed tech support and tried to find it last minute, you’ve likely discovered how difficult it is to get it done as quickly as you need it. If you have managed to find someone to handle it, they likely charged you a ton of money to handle the immediacy of the request.

Setting up a retainer with your web developer means paying for priority. They’re turning down other work in anticipation of being available to you.

At Zao, in particular, we provide a higher level of access to not only our time, but also, in immediacy of response. That different level of access means reaching us during a broader range of hours (particularly good in an emergency), as well as a quicker turnaround.

A working knowledge of your business

Any developer who is working with your site should make it their priority to know your business. They need to know your technical pain points and goals, of course, but they should also keep your broader business goals in mind as well. When you hire a developer on retainer, it means you’re keeping a consistent tap on someone who filters your professional objectives through a technical lens. It means they can anticipate your technical needs and potential obstacles you may face in the future–and help you plan for it.

It also means you have someone who knows your code inside and out, so fixes are a lot quicker and easier. It means your development is consistent in quality, delivery, and expectation.

No DIY worries

How often do you get your oil changed? Tires rotated? Do you do it yourself, or do you hire a professional to handle it so that you don’t have to worry about getting your hands dirty?

Maintenance doesn’t just apply to cars; it applies to your technology, too.

Of course you can handle the WordPress site updates yourself, but do you really want to add something to your ever-growing to-do list? And do you have the technical capability to handle it if an update shuts down your site?

That aforementioned access and expertise comes into play here, because with a developer on retainer, you can build maintenance into your agreement with them. Not only can they handle the basic tweaks to keep everything running, but they also have the skill and time dedicated to you to fix anything should an update go awry.

Retainers can be spendy, but they’re an investment.

Rather than handing over your arm, leg, and one extra pinky toe to pay for an urgent fix, retainers are an investment in technical partnership that prioritizes your emergencies and needs. They may seem spendier in the long run, but when you consider the cost of emergencies, it is pennies in comparison.

A one time buy is for vendors, but retainers create technical partnership

Paying for a retainer means essentially paying someone to join your team. One of our values is family, and that extends not to just our families, but to creating a kind of family in our professional sphere. We want to welcome our clients in, and do more for them than just build something and kick it out the door. We like offering more than a drive by snack; we want to have a family meal.

When our clients hire us on retainer, they’re paying us to take some of the focus off of our business to focus on theirs. We take their dreams and big ideas and translate them into something that has a tangible impact on their business. That takes time, priority, and strategy that simply isn’t possible for a short-term project.

We guide as they scale. We care about the success of their projects and business as much as they do. Like any family, we love being able to celebrate our clients’ successes as they happen just as much as we want to dig in and help when things fail.