In this episode, Saron chats with Lead Web Developer, Sarah Greer. Sarah talks about her coding journey and how she juggled her passion for coding through freelancing while homeschooling her children. Sarah talks about why it was so important to her to learn to code and to have a career outside of having the title of “mom”. She also shares her experience going from freelancing to working full-time and the reasoning behind the switch.
[00:00:05] SY: Welcome to the CodeNewbie Podcast where we talk to people on their coding journey in hopes of helping you on yours. I’m your host, Saron, and today we’re talking about freelancing while homeschooling with Sarah Greer, Web Developer at Data Driven Marketers.
[00:00:19] SG: I don’t know if it’s totally great to be defined by your job, but I just love this job so much. I would never do anything else. As a woman telling people you’re a web developer, I think it’s inspiring to other women, at least it would have been to me if I had heard that. I would have thought that was the coolest thing ever.
[00:00:37] SY: Sarah tells me how she was able to find something just for her through web development and why she made the switch from freelance to full time after this.
[00:00:53] SY: Thank you so much for joining us.
[00:00:54] SG: Thanks for having me.
[00:00:56] SY: So let’s start all the way at the beginning. Tell me a little bit about your interest as a kid. What were you into?
[00:01:02] SG: Oh, wow! As a kid, I was into reading. I loved reading. My first job, I was convinced I was going to be a disco dancer.
[00:01:10] SY: Oh, fun!
[00:01:12] SG: Yeah, not a lot of work going on now for that. We moved around a lot when I was a kid. I’ve lived in California, Ohio, Nebraska, Florida, and now I’m in Georgia.
[00:01:22] SY: Wow!
[00:01:23] SG: So yeah, I had kind of an interesting childhood, got to live on all four sides of the US and really reading was probably my number one thing all along. That was that consistency. There was always the characters in the books and I could take them with me. So that was my primary interest as a kid, but I did learning and school up until high school. Yeah, that was pretty much me. I wasn’t a big tech person for sure. I didn’t play a lot of video games. Game Boy, I didn’t have that, but I did like to get immersed in stories.
[00:01:59] SY: So I know that you went into sales as your first profession. How did you get into sales?
[00:02:06] SG: That was what was available at the time, interestingly enough. I sold furniture for a second and then cell phones and then the internet was starting to be this bigger thing, late ’90s. So I got in on the ground floor of that and I had an account so I knew exactly what it was I was selling. So I feel like I was a really good candidate for that and fortunately they agreed. So that’s how I got into that.
[00:02:30] SY: In the ground floor. Tell me more about that. How did you get your first opportunity?
[00:02:34] SG: My husband was working there. At the time he wasn’t my husband, he was just my boyfriend, but he was in tech support. So I kind of had a connection that way, but they were just looking for agents both in sales and customer service. And I felt like I would be a better person for sales because I was coming from selling cell phone service. So that was what I was used to and understanding, but I thought it would be easier because I would just be on the phone answering the calls. But because I really liked the service, I felt like it would be easy to sell because I used it so I could tell them anything they wanted to know.
[00:03:07] SY: And was your plan to stay in sales?
[00:03:10] SG: I don’t know. I mean, I was 21, 22. I don’t know if I had a plan to be honest. I just wanted to work at the same place my husband was working. And it was a really cool environment. They brought in food all the time. They didn’t have lights on. It was very underground and retro. It was just a really cool place to work. But I didn’t really have any aspirations to be in sales the rest of my life. I don’t think I had. Yeah.
[00:03:34] SY: And how long did you stay in that role for?
[00:03:36] SG: I was in sales for about a year and then moved into selling DSL. Because when I’m talking dial up accounts, that’s what we were selling. And then I moved into the DSL department, which was brand new, which was high speed. And then from there, I actually moved over to customer service. I didn’t like selling DSL because it was a much harder sell at that time. So I didn’t enjoy it.
[00:03:58] SY: So how did you end up getting into tech on the coding front?
[00:04:02] SG: Well, back when I was in sales, one of the perks of having an internet account was free web space, but nobody knew what that was. So I decided I would learn. I would figure out what that meant to have web space. And I learned how to build a website. I was using this old program called HotDog, and I just learned HTML enough to build a website and put it up there, and then I thought, “Well, this is really neat. I should make a website that’s about me that I can share with family because I was going to get married soon and we wanted to start a family.” So I thought that this was perfect. It not only gave me an opportunity to sell that account, but also to share that information, which I thought this is the future. It’s easier than printing pictures. You just put them all on the internet. So that’s how I got started.
[00:04:52] SY: And when you were learning these things, how were you doing that learning? I feel like these days we’re so spoiled with tutorials and forums and communities and all these kinds of places to go. But back then when the internet is just getting started, where did you go to learn how to do these things?
[00:05:07] SG: I think it was just the program because there weren’t resources on the internet. I probably bought a book as well. Maybe something like Internet for Dummies or Websites for Dummies, but I’m not even a hundred percent sure. When I want to know something, when I want to learn something, I’ll make it happen. So I just took it upon myself to figure out what out there is about HTML and how can I get started. And I was just figuring out how to make buttons that would change in some way when you touch them. So CSS was just starting and I was starting to get in on that.
[00:05:41] SY: And you mentioned that you were getting married, you were hoping to start a family, you wanted to share these moments, what were some of the things that you put on your website?
[00:05:48] SG: I shared updates for when I was pregnant, I shared my birth plan, stuff like that. I would share photos of me along the way because not all of our family was living here, so I was hoping they’d be able to see it, although a lot of them didn’t have the internet. And then when he was born, my son was born, I shared photos of him. Another thing I put up there was sports photography. I really loved to take photos of the local sports teams. We had a hockey team at the time. And I really enjoyed taking those photos and sharing them to a certain extent, even sharing them with the team, though I didn’t realize that they would be clever enough to find the parts that were personal. So then they knew a lot about my pregnancy. They were very kind about it, but it was like, “Oh, maybe I’m putting a little too much on the internet.” [00:06:37] SY: Yeah. Yeah. No, I understand that.
[00:06:39] SG: For a long time, I thought maybe I’ll be a photographer, but it was very hard to get into sports photography as a woman, especially at that time. And then I really didn’t like to take photos of anything else, my babies, but I wasn’t into taking photos of weddings and things like that. So that kind of went to the wayside.
[00:06:58] SY: Got you. Got you. Okay. So you have this website, you’re taking these photos, you’re showing them off. Were you intending on switching careers at this point or what was kind of the motivation behind this new hobby that you had?
[00:07:13] SG: Nothing, just to sell those accounts. And then honestly, it was just to keep it up for family and put the photos up for my friends to see, the sports photos. So I didn’t have a plan. And then it wasn’t actually too long after I had my son. I mean, he was four and the company moved all of their call center stuff out overseas. So I actually ended up being laid off and decided at that point that I would just focus on raising kids. So I had my son and we were still trying to have a second and then I was just going to be a stay-at-home mom. So I really didn’t think about it. And once I was a stay-at-home mom, I was really too busy to even keep up with it. I did record similar things when I was pregnant with my second one. But by the time my third came along, I wasn’t even thinking about it anymore.
[00:08:03] SY: And so you decided to become a stay-at-home mom. I heard that you also homeschooled your kids. Is that right?
[00:08:09] SG: Yeah, from the very beginning. I just decided, “Hey, I could do this.” My son was as every little boy is, very energetic and active, and I look at him and I would think, “He can’t go sit in a chair for six hours a day. No, my baby needs to be all over the place.” S I just decided to homeschool. I didn’t know anybody who was doing it, but I thought I’ll figure it out. And when they’re ready to go to school, I’ll let them go to school. But they never did.
[00:08:39] SY: Oh, wow!
[00:08:40] SG: So yeah, I graduated my son. My daughter will graduate this year. I have another daughter coming up right behind her, and then I have a fifth grader.
[00:08:48] SY: So you have four kids.
[00:08:49] SG: I do. I have four.
[00:08:50] SY: Wow! That’s a bundle. And that’s a lot to homeschool and kind of keep up with on a daily basis as well. That’s a ton.
[00:08:56] SG: Yeah, it was. We did a lot of what they call “unschooling”, which is kind of following what the kids interests are and then learning everything around it because everything has history. Everything has math. You got to write about it so you have to spell and grammar. So we kind of did it that way and it was much easier before the pandemic as everything was, but we did a lot of traveling and field trips and things like that. But the one had graduated and then I’ve got those two and they were in high school. So those kinds of things were calming down anyway. And then my fifth grader, I feel so bad for her because she really did miss the bulk of that. But we’re plugging along.
[00:09:32] SY: But you also got into tech as well. When did that come about?
[00:09:37] SG: My fourth had been born and I was listening to podcasts when I would drive and I heard a podcast where they were interviewing Adda from Skillcrush and she was discussing the need for more people in tech, specifically women, and we’re talking about this company that she had created that were teaching women how to code and I just thought it sounded so interesting that when I got home, I looked it up. And I did the practice test that they had at the time, and I realized that HTML had not changed all that much.
[00:10:11] SY: Oh, good! That’s great.
[00:10:57] SY: This idea of finding something that is just for you. Why was that so important?
[00:11:01] SG: Well, when you are a mom and you’re homeschooling, so everybody’s at home all the time, all together, it’s hard not to get defined that way. You can’t go anywhere without them. And all of my friends were also moms and homeschoolers. So you just kind of pigeonhole yourself in that way. Nobody ever said that to me, “Oh, you’re just a mom.” But it began to feel like that. It felt like everything I did was for them. And I wanted something that was just for me and I knew I wanted to contribute a little bit back towards the household as well because I missed working. So I thought, “Well, I’ll just freelance because I can do that from home. I can choose my clients. I can choose when I work.” And so it just seems like the perfect solution for somebody who needed a little something more, but needed it to be more on my own terms.
[00:11:54] SY: So you were really doing it with the hopes of turning it into a job. So it was going to be more than just a hobby like it was the first time.
[00:12:00] SG: Oh yeah, for sure. I definitely wanted to freelance. I thought maybe I would freelance forever. I thought maybe even one day I would build my business up enough that my husband, who also works in tech, would be able to work for me and then we would do everything.
[00:12:13] SY: Oh, that would be cool.
[00:12:15] SG: That didn’t work out quite that way, but that’s okay.
[00:12:18] SY: Got you. Got you. So when you were building these things, did it feel comfortable? Did it feel like you were kind of going back in time to when you were making those websites for your friends and family?
[00:12:30] SG: Yeah, it really did, but it was also so new and so exciting because it never stops. There’s always something new. So there was always something to learn. And that’s what I really enjoyed about it is that it was not static. It felt a little more static in the late ’90s and obviously wasn’t, it was growing, but I wasn’t seeing all of that because I wasn’t involved in it as much. I just kind of did it on my own, but this time I could really see because you can have access. There’s Stack Overflow and GitHub and these courses where you’re talking to other people and so many resources. So then I realized that there’s a whole world out there and it’s huge and I can learn everything.
[00:13:11] SY: Absolutely. What was it like to juggle renewing this interest in this field you were in while also homeschooling? Because I imagine four kids is a lot, a lot going on, a lot to keep up with, and now you have this new thing that you’re also learning. How did you manage to juggle both those things?
[00:13:26] SG: Very carefully. Since we didn’t have any other commitments, a nine-to-five job or anything like that, we were night owls. And so the kids would get up maybe around noon and maybe they would go to bed around midnight or something like that. But I would often stay up until two or three and do anything that I wanted to do then. And then knowing I would be able to sleep until 9, 10, 11, 12 the next day because nobody else would be awake gave me that space to be able to do things later at night because I’m just not a morning person. If I had tried to get up early, that wasn’t going to work for me. So a lot of the juggling happened late at night. You’re tired and your brain’s not always fully working, but I had good days and bad days, but I would take rest when I needed it. I had a kind of unwritten rule for myself where I would work with my computer unplugged until the battery needed to charge. And when the battery needed to charge, I had to get up and go away until it was fully charged and then I could come back. So I would force breaks like that.
[00:14:31] SY: I love that. That’s such a great idea.
[00:14:33] SG: Yeah. So that’s how I managed to juggle that. But it didn’t work every day. There was a lot more work happening on the weekend. So my husband was more available. And then as the kids got older, it just got easier. Mom’s working. You can’t go bother her.
[00:15:01] SY: So how long were you learning before you said, “Okay, I’m ready to launch my freelance business and I’m ready to take on my first client”?
[00:15:10] SG: I was still in the course when I decided to set it up because that was kind of part of it at the time.
[00:15:15] SY: Oh, cool. Okay.
[00:15:16] SG: You were supposed to build yourself like a resume. So I was like, “Okay. Well, here I go. I’m going to buy a domain. I’m going to build a website.” And so I was still in there when I thought I’m going to make this work, but it was one of the students there that was like, “I need you on this project.” So I was kind of like, “Okay, here I go.” And that was the first thing I added to my portfolio. And then I had a friend who was like, “Oh, you’re building websites? Well, our golf instructor needs a website.” And I’m like, “Okay, I’m the person.” So I just had a good group of people around me that were like, “Hey, we need you on this thing.” And I just said yes. I always said yes. No matter what it was I always said yes. So I think that’s how it really started. I mean, I knew I wanted to do it, but I also knew, despite my background in sales, that I wasn’t good at selling myself. So I knew I was going to need that.
[00:16:08] SY: It’s harder.
[00:16:08] SG: Yeah.
[00:16:09] SY: Yeah. So you ended up launching CodeGreer, which was your freelance company. Tell me a little bit more about it. What did you offer for your services?
[00:17:32] SY: It sounds like a big one. Yeah.
[00:17:33] SG: So he had like 45 pages, which I rebuilt, all of them.
[00:17:37] SY: Wow!
[00:17:37] SG: From scratch.
[00:17:38] SY: Oh my goodness! Wow! That sounds like it took a lot of work.
[00:17:42] SG: It did, but it was so much fun and so much experience and he’s still my client now. So it’s a great relationship.
[00:17:47] SY: Really?
[00:17:49] SG: Yeah.
[00:17:49] SY: Oh, fun! Fun! So I think that one of the hard parts about starting out in the freelance world is knowing when you are ready to charge for your work and how much to charge for your work. How did you figure out those things for that first client?
[00:18:04] SG: I didn’t have any idea. I’ve always been of the mind that you should just sort of be honest about it. And this was a friend of a friend. And so I just felt like I needed to tell him like, “This is my first project. Some of the things you’re asking me to do, I’ve never done before.” And then I tried to come up with a price that I thought was fair at the time, but didn’t realize the scope of the entire project. I mistakenly did not look at the entire website. So I had given him a quote for something that was way too low, but I just kind of set my hourly rates to what I thought would be good at that time. Low for a web developer, you Google that. And then I just set it at that and he agreed like with no questions asked. And then he said that the reason he decided to work with me was because I was honest about not having that experience, but that we would learn together. I mean, it’s just continued to work like that. So I definitely undercharged for that first one, but you know what? I’m going to be honest, I probably undercharged for every project because I ended up morphing into doing a lot of work with local businesses and they don’t have thousands of dollars behind them. So I moved from doing an hourly rate to kind of like a project-based billing, but it’s still, I mean, look, I wasn’t trying to pay the bills. My husband had that covered. So I was making money that was supplemental and I definitely wasn’t charging enough. And I knew that, but I found more pleasure in doing the work than getting paid for it.
[00:19:42] SY: What did you base your rates on?
[00:19:44] SG: I Googled it and it was like something between 40 and 100 an hour at the time. And so I just picked 45 and just started there. I have to be honest, most people, if they heard that number, they were like, “No.” I mean, if you just multiply that by 10 hours, which is no time at all. I mean, you can go through 10 hours super fast. That’s 450. And people would already be like, “Yeah, that’s too much.” So I would try to break it up. Like, “We’ll pay half up front and half at the end,” that kind of thing. But I wasn’t good at selling myself. So I did not charge enough. I got to the point where I would charge like a thousand dollars for a hand coded site up to five pages, something like that, or 750 to build a WordPress site because a lot of it was already there. So I would do stuff like that, package pricing, and then I would just work until it was done and that would be the amount of money. I do not recommend that. I would not use that as good advice. I’m just telling you what I did.
[00:20:43] SY: Yeah, it’s tough, especially in those early days. You don’t know what your work is worth. You don’t know what people are going to be willing to accept. You don’t know what the market is going to say for your situation, for your environment, for your economy. So it’s tough to kind of figure out what the right pricing was. When did you get the courage to raise your rates?
[00:21:03] SG: After the pandemic happened and I realized that my kids were older and they didn’t need me at home as much and I was still struggling to work this out. And I just knew that I was going to need to really put myself out there in a way that was going to allow me to take over if needed. There was no reason for that, but it felt like it was time. I felt like I had enough experience behind me and skills and it was getting to the point where I would look at job applications just to see what was going on out there and realizing like, “Hey, I can do a lot of this stuff.” And these people are going to make 65, 75, six figures. And I was like, “I’m not making that.” That’s silly. And so I thought about it long and hard and decided that freelancing was probably not going to be the way to make that kind of money because along with everything else on my plate, I also did not have time to go out there and sell myself that hard. And then the taxes and paying for all the things that were going to be needed to be able to push myself in that way. I was going to have to do a lot more legwork than just sit at home and hope somebody would contact me. But it was looking at the job descriptions really and realizing I had all those skills, but I was definitely not being paid for them. So that’s when I decided that I wanted to start looking around for a job where I could still work from home, but I could do this for a company and I could do the part I loved and they could do the rest.
[00:22:43] SY: Got you. Because you’ve been running CodeGreer for a while. I believe it’s been nine years now since you started that agency.
[00:22:50] SG: Yeah, it was nine years when I started working at Data Driven. So it’s been about ten years now. I don’t take new clients, but I still have my old clients, I still work with on a daily basis.
[00:23:01] SY: Got you. And so how long into doing CodeGreer did you decide, actually, I think I want a full-time job?
[00:23:08] SG: It was after the pandemic. Shortly before the pandemic, like really shortly before, somebody had asked me if I would be willing to work at their company just as like the front desk girl. And I was like, “Why would I want to do that?” And they said, “Because all you have to do is sit there and you can do anything you want while you’re there.” And I said, “Seriously? Okay, I can do that.” So they paid me to go into the office and sit at the desk, and if anybody came, I had to sign them in, and then I had to sign them out. But other than that, my time was my own. So I was like, “This is perfect. I will code from here.” And that was great. But when the pandemic hit, they didn’t need a girl to sit at the door.
[00:23:47] SY: Right. Right.
[00:23:48] SG: But I realized I really enjoyed that. I really enjoyed having a steady paycheck. I really enjoyed having that space built out because when you’re homeschooling, but you’re freelancing, your kids are still going to knock on your door. But when you’re in an office, they can’t do that. Or when you have set hours, that kind of thing, they can’t do that. So yes, I work from home, but also they know, like, “Mom is working from this time to this time.” So you have to pretend mom’s not here. So that’s when I knew. During the pandemic, I’ve got the bug for like getting that time just for me to do this thing.
[00:24:23] SY: And what kind of full-time job are you looking for?
[00:24:25] SG: Definitely one in coding. I applied at a couple of different marketing places because I also knew that I wanted to try to work on a lot of different projects. So I tried looking for things where I knew that they would have a lot of websites that they would be juggling. But I was also starting to get into accessibility and I started to look around and see if there were any positions open with any of the companies that check accessibility for websites. So I tried that, but I didn’t have enough experience for that kind of position.
[00:24:53] SY: And when you ended up starting that full-time job, was it what you hoped it would be? Did it kind of match your expectations?
[00:24:59] SG: Oh, it’s better than anything I could have ever hoped.
[00:25:02] SY: Oh, wonderful!
[00:25:04] SG: Yeah. They’re based in Arizona, and it’s fully remote. And with the time shift, it allows me to still sleep in in the morning and work up into the evening, and it’s just the best team. They’re very open and honest. And I have say in the work that I do and the clients that we work with. I mean, they’re just so great. We’ve done some super projects together. And I’m so excited about what’s coming next, but it’s just me. I am the entire web development department.
[00:25:35] SY: Wow!
[00:25:36] SG: Yeah. So it all falls to me, but it’s really cool too, because I get to kind of set processes in ways that I think they should be done. So that might be the way it is. So that’s kind of neat.
[00:25:47] SY: So tell me a little bit more about before you had that job, what it was like to set up boundaries? Because you mentioned when you’re working at home, your kids still got to knock on your door and say they want something or can you make me a snack or whatever it is. So how did you manage to find any sort of balance or separation or boundaries when you were working strictly as a freelancer?
[00:26:11] SG: So the daytime was for the kids, basically. So they knew that if they needed me, they should come to me during the day. Well, we were together most of the time, but I just didn’t work during the day at all. And then when my husband would get off, five, six o’clock, we would have dinner and then it would be like, “Okay, mom’s going off to work.” I didn’t have an office. I would just go into my room. But he would take over at that point. So he would be in the living room with them, hanging out with them and anything needed then it was to go to dad and then it was kind of the same on the weekends. I would spend more of the weekend working if needed and they would go to dad for that. So we kind of set that up within our own family and it worked out really well. I mean, he also works from home, so they already had an understanding. He does have an office and so the kind of unspoken rule is if the door is closed, then you can’t bother dad. But if the door is open, feel free to go in. So we kind of did the same thing. If I was in the bedroom and the door was open, you could come in and talk to me, although you knew to go to dad first. But if the door is closed, like it is right now, they’re not to come in.
[00:27:20] SY: Were there any tools or resources that helped you kind of streamline your freelance business and streamline your homeschooling activities a little bit better?
[00:27:28] SG: Just the group that we were in for the homeschooling. They are still my best friends in the whole world. So we would plan activities together. And then it’s such a good community that if you just needed something like, “Hey, there’s this field trip coming up. Will you take my kids or I’ll take your kids?” The homeschooling stuff was probably the easiest because it’s not too difficult to follow an educational regime where your kids are kind of leading the way. They want to learn about X and so you just keep finding ways to fill in the blanks about X but then having those outings and stuff that there were some people that were really great at organizing that stuff. And then after a little while, we started a little co-op. And so some of the parents, they had interests of their own. Some were former teachers or love drama. And then they would set up classes and then we’d sign up our kids and then we’d just do this co-op-y type thing where everybody would get together and they would learn. So the homeschooling part was pretty simple. We did a lot of reading as well when we were at home, but the business stuff was really complicated. I mean, I did end up doing things for myself, like keeping snippets of code so that I could reuse it and spending any time that I wasn’t working, trying to take more classes from Udemy or Codecademy, things like that, where I could learn more to further those skills and things like that. Although I don’t find classes as helpful as just actually just jumping in and building it, like, “What is this thing I want to build? Let’s just do it and learn along the way.” So with my freelance stuff, the biggest thing that I had set was the time that I was going to work, but what I actually did was pretty much up in the air all the time. Sometimes I was learning, sometimes I was building, sometimes I was doing both. But the biggest thing to keep me organized was setting up a good file structure, keeping snippets so I didn’t have to recode things I had already learned how to do, having a process for communicating with clients, keeping them abreast of everything that was going on. The hardest part definitely for me was the, “Hey, you have to pay me now,” part, but I actually had really great clients and never had trouble with that either.
[00:29:41] SY: How many clients did you end up working with at a time and when you’re doing CodeGreer full time?
[00:29:47] SG: I usually only had three or four at a time because I knew I couldn’t juggle more than that. There were a couple maintenance and then maybe a couple of builds. I wouldn’t take on like four builds at a time. That was too much for me at that time. Yeah.
[00:30:05] SY: Coming up next, Sarah shares the strategies she used to sustain her freelancing career and advance her learning at the same time after this.
[00:30:23] SY: How did you level up while you were working? Because doing that for nine, ten years total is quite some time. Lots of changes have happened in the tech industry. Lots of new languages and frameworks have come and have gone, have risen in popularity, have kind of faded off. How did you keep up with just the industry while you were working?
[00:32:38] SY: How did you get comfortable saying yes to everything? Because I think if it was me, I’d be so scared, I’d be so nervous to say yes to a framework that maybe I don’t know or I’ve never heard of and kind of be forced to deliver on it. It would make me so nervous and uncomfortable. How did you lean into that?
[00:32:54] SG: I don’t know.
[00:32:55] SY: Okay.
[00:32:57] SG: I just do. I just say yes. I do that pretty much in everything. Somebody says, “Do you want to do this?” And I say, “Yes,” because I’ve never regretted saying yes and I’ve always regretted anytime I’ve said no. So I don’t know. I think it’s just who I am.
[00:33:11] SY: Got you. And how did you get new clients?
[00:33:14] SG: Mostly referrals from the older clients, the group that I’m in, the homeschool group that I’m in. It’s just a surprisingly diverse, large group, and they knew people. So if they knew anyone, or I got referred from someone, and then they knew someone, and so that’s how it worked, I kind of, at the end there, actually ended up doing a lot of non-profit work. So I ended up working for a non-profit disability arts group, and then I did a lot of pet spay and neuter clinics, or shelters, or vaccine clinics, that kind of thing. I did a lot of those towards the end there. Once you have one, somebody would go to the website, the pet website, and be like, “Oh, who built that?” And then they would give them my name and it would just go from there. And I ended up getting clients in Texas and things, nowhere near me, referrals mostly. I really did not sell myself.
[00:34:11] SY: Is that something that you wish you’d spent more time on or did the referral system work fine for you?
[00:34:15] SG: I wish I had spent more time on it in the sense that I could have built my own business and I wouldn’t have had to go out and work. Not that I don’t like working, but I wouldn’t have had to do that if I had been willing to do that. But the referral system was good enough to keep me busy and allow me the space that I needed for the kids. But when I was thinking about how I’m not being paid for the work that I’m doing, that wasn’t going to work. I was definitely going, because obviously when you refer someone, they probably asked them how much it was, and I couldn’t just be like, “Well, for you, the price is…” [00:34:49] SY: Right. Right.
[00:34:50] SG: Yeah. I wish I had done better selling myself for sure.
[00:34:54] SY: I think one of the tricky things about being either the sole developer on a team or having a freelance business is what you do when you get stuck. How did you ask for help? How did you get unstuck when you were encountering something that you didn’t know how to do or hadn’t seen before?
[00:35:10] SG: Google was my friend, but I would also just reach out to people because I had the Skillcrush network behind me. At the beginning, I would go back there and I would ask a lot of them. And then before I was off Twitter, I’m connected up with a lot of people on Twitter and I would talk to them. And like I said, if I saw that they had done something, I would just reach out to them. One guy I knew, he did WordPress sites and it was my first WordPress build. And I needed to migrate it and I wasn’t sure if I was following the right steps. So I just sent him the link and I said, “Hey, you don’t know me, but I was wondering if…” And he was totally awesome and just answered. And so that’s kind of how it went. I just reached out. I was never afraid to ask anybody if they knew the answers and then just doing a lot of Googling. And I would ask my husband, but he didn’t know a lot about HTML and CSS, but he might be able to rethink how to look at the problem I was finding.
[00:36:03] SY: Earlier in this conversation, you said that you didn’t want to be defined as just a mom. You wanted to have something that felt like it was your own. Did you end up finding that with code? How would you define yourself now?
[00:36:16] SG: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I tell everybody that I’m a web developer, first. Obviously, I’m a mom. Obviously, I’m a homeschooler. But what do you do? I’m a web developer. Oh, really? Who do you work for? Oh, this marketing company in Arizona. And I just go from there. But when I was freelancing, I would do the same thing. I would tell people I was a web developer. They were like, “Oh, what do you build?” “Oh, websites.” “Oh, that’s cool.” “Which platform?” “Oh, no, you’re doing it by hand? You’re coding it all by yourself?” I’m like, “Yeah.” So it was a good talking point. I would put bumper stickers on the car, on my laptop.
[00:36:47] SY: Nice.
[00:36:49] SG: Yeah. So people would ask me about it.
[00:36:51] SY: Very cool. And how do you feel about that identity today?
[00:36:54] SG: It is the one I identify with the most, for sure. I don’t know if it’s totally great to be defined by your job, but I just love this job so much. I would never do anything else. As a woman telling people you’re a web developer, I think it’s inspiring to other women. At least it would have been to me if I had heard that. I would have thought that was the coolest thing ever. And I also think that as a person who people knew me as mom or homeschooling mom, and then they’re like, “Oh, you have other interests, other things. We could talk about this tech conference or we can share articles,” or something like that, instead of just looking at me like, “Oh, well, she just pops out babies.” [00:37:39] SY: Yeah. Yeah. What advice would you have for people starting a freelance agency today? There’s so many folks who love the idea of freelance for the flexibility that it offers, but also as a way to get some money in, trade their time for some cash, and it’s a great way to kind of get your foot in the door. What advice do you have for folks listening who might want to follow your footsteps?
[00:38:01] SG: I would definitely say yes. If something comes up and you don’t know how to do it, just say you’ll do it and then figure it out and then ask the questions. We’re going to help you. Reach out to me. Reach out to people in your network. Reach out to the other students if you’re taking a class. If you’re on this other social media platform and you see somebody has some experience in that, ask them because we want to help you. I’ve never ever experienced anybody telling me that they just don’t have the time for that. We love to talk about what we do and we love to help people. We’re not going to code it for you, but we’ll definitely show you where we got the information that we have or how to search for it or something like that. So definitely say yes, even if it’s scary, even if you don’t think you know what you’re doing, you’ll figure it out. There’s so many resources out there. And then the other thing I would say is definitely find a way to sell yourself. If you don’t already have that in your bag of tricks, maybe take a course or read something about it or something there because freelancing is not easy and it’s really about selling yourself. I mean, yes, you’re selling this website or this app that you’re building, but you’re also selling yourself because they’re putting all that trust into you for this digital, it’s not something they can hold. It’s not tangible. So they need to know that they can work with you and trust you. So if you can find that balance of selling yourself and your product and then saying yes to all the things, I think that’s a really good way to start.
[00:39:38] SY: Great advice. Thank you so much for that. Now at the end of every episode, we ask our guests to fill in the blanks of some very important questions. Sarah, are you ready to fill in the blanks?
[00:39:52] SG: Absolutely.
[00:39:54] SY: Number one, worst advice I’ve ever received is?
[00:39:56] SG: Don’t get spoilers. I dislike this advice a lot. I love spoilers and I am not a huge fan of surprises, so spoiling something doesn’t mess it up for me. It allows me to kind of follow the story and then pick up on the smaller details. So yes, my kids, they make fun of me all the time, like, “Don’t find out what’s going to happen at the end of this movie.” And I’m like, “But… but…” [00:40:22] SY: But I want to. Yeah. Number two, best advice I’ve ever received is?
[00:40:27] SG: To hold space for myself. I actually gave this advice to my daughter who was starting a new job. And when the woman reached out to her, she had put her on the schedule for days that she had told her she couldn’t work because she’s still in school. And I said, “This is a really good example of how you have to go ahead and hold that space because your boss, she’s not going to do it for you, not right now, maybe down the road.” And so I said, “We have to contact her and let her know that you are not available. You are still in school and these hours will not work for you,” and that kind of thing. And that’s the best advice that I ever got was to make sure that I had the space for me because I never would have been able to do any of those things. I never would have been able to. homeschool and freelance or work from home if I wasn’t able to hold that space around me because I do have a good support system behind me, but not everybody will do that for you and you have to do it for yourself.
[00:41:22] SY: Absolutely. My first coding project was about?
[00:41:26] SG: It was for six-word memoirs, actually.
[00:41:28] SY: Oh.
[00:41:50] SY: Oh, you got the hard part?
[00:41:52] SG: Yes. Yes, I did. But I said yes.
[00:41:54] SY: You said yes. Wonderful. And how did it turn out?
[00:41:56] SG: It turned out great. We both learned a lot. We had to learn how to use GitHub and push and pull to each other and things like that. So it was really fantastic. And I actually recently looked up the website. It does look totally different. So they have redone it, but it was a great project. And you know what, to be honest, she did all the communications with the client from the very beginning, which I should have known right then and there that I much preferred having that middle person making all those sales decisions so that somebody could just be like, “Okay, here we go. Here’s the code.” And then I could just do that.
[00:42:29] SY: One thing I wish I knew when I first started to code is?
[00:43:23] SY: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I’m with you. I did the same thing last night and it was a pain as it always is.
[00:43:29] SG: Yup.
[00:43:31] SY: Well, thank you again so much for joining us, Sarah.
[00:43:33] SG: Thank you for having me. It was great to talk to you.
[00:43:35] SY: You too. You can reach out to us on Twitter at CodeNewbies or send me an email, email@example.com. For more info on the podcast, check out www.codenewbie.org/podcast. Thanks for listening. See you next week.
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