Creative Partner Amy Gelfand is a WordPress Developer with broad experience in Web technology, marketing, and communications. Operating as Gelfand Design since 2009, Amy enjoys integrating her technical, design, and communications skills to devise creative marketing solutions for her clients.
VH: What does your business do for small business owners?
Amy: I’m a web developer—I specialize in WordPress theme development.
VH: Why do you people need a web developer in addition to having someone do web design?
Amy: I work with a lot of agencies that have a staff designer but they don’t have anybody in full-time development, so you’re actually only able to get to the point of mapping out the whole site and you need somebody to physically build it out. So that’s an easy answer. I like being able to step into an agency, do the part of the job they need doing, and then step back away.
With regular small business clients, my clientele is mostly agencies, who need that extra person on their team temporarily, and then I have my own clients, people who need a website but they’re much smaller clients in terms of project budget and these days there are so many WordPress themes that have a lot of a style built up in them anyway. So we don’t actually do a full on design job and I wouldn’t comment on that compared to what a web designer does, because it is not respectful to the people I work with who are actual web designers—their job is not easy. When I’m working with a budget that is really small, we can’t afford to do that extra step—it’s often not something that they actually need. They need a professional looking website. I try to get them what they need and not more than what they need.
VH: So a business owner might be able to do without a web designer—but you’re the person who steps in and makes everything function?
Amy: From my personal perspective, the people who hire me literally do not have a developer to turn their mock-ups into working sites. A lot of small business clients who have very small budgets can’t afford full-on design work from the ground up. There are tools we have to speed up deployment and still get them a professional looking site. I think that there’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t want someone to spend $5,000 when that’s not even what they need. And they don’t have $5,000 either. We’re talking about really small budgets. And I’m a very small business person, I don’t mind taking small projects, as long as I can reasonably execute them with the budget they do have. So I try to work with what they have and scope out what I can accomplish and not try to sell them the kitchen sink.
VH: Did you work in WordPress development before starting Gelfand Design?
Amy: This didn’t exist when I was in school. There was no way for me to prepare for a career in WordPress development. I actually have a bachelor’s and master’s in English. I was in a Ph.D. program but I realized it was not a good career path for me, so I left in my third year, found some jobs I didn’t particularly like, and then eventually I fell into coding.
I ended up using my job to get some extra college credit and different jobs. I realized pretty quickly after joining the regular workforce that I wanted to work on my own. It just took a number of years to get a good skillset and build a clientele.
VH: What misconceptions do small business owners have about whether or not they need a web developer?
Amy: Sometimes they underestimate the amount of labor time they will be putting into their website if they do it themselves. They should think about what their time is worth and is it worth taking time away from whatever they’re doing to earn money in order to do something that they don’t actually have a skillset for, and is it going to take them 10 times as long to produce something that is not that good looking in the end anyway?
It’s true that there are lots of tools out there so that a non-developer can go out and put a site up. That doesn’t really bother me because people often do figure out that maybe what they want in particular can’t be had right out of the box, so they do need a developer after all for the choices and things they need to do to configure a premium theme to look and function the way they want. It’s more complicated than trying to plug in what’s already there.
It just really depends on the client. Some people have very specific designs they want to execute and specific functionality that can’t be had just by plugging something in. I don’t have any clients who think they can do it themselves, because if they did, they would just go do that. I don’t want clients who don’t want me. I have some clients who work alongside me, and that’s another way that they’re able to keep their budget in line. But they may be working more on the content development while I work on other things. My specific job is working on WordPress themes, which is the software that actually skins the site, and adds functionality to how it’s built.
VH: Do you work only in WordPress?
VH: What does owning your own business enable you to do that you couldn’t before?
Amy: My biggest complaint about being in the regular workforce is that I did not have enough work to do and when I did not have work at work, I had to sit in a cubicle. I would rather have a job when there’s work, I work, and when there’s not work, I can go do what I want to do. So for me, starting Gelfand Design was about self-determination and being able to control where I am physically in the world. I like to be at home, I like to be surrounded by my furry friends, and I like to work when I have work, and not work when I don’t have work. I feel very claustrophobic in an office environment.
VH: What elements of your job do you enjoy the most?
Amy: I’ll give you two answers. My favorite part of my job when I have work is theme development. When somebody actually has a design to build from scratch and not just making tweaks to something they already have. Because then it’s like solving a puzzle.
And my other favorite thing about my job is the freedom to control my schedule. I am something of an introvert, so I do value solitude. And I’m not alone when I’m working, I’m constantly interacting with people but I have the serenity of my home office, which is important to me.
VH: Virtually Here is based in Massachusetts, so I’m curious, what is the freelancer/small business climate like in Texas right now?
Amy: I think the market for freelancers here is very good. I have a lot of local agency clients and I love them. They’re just wonderful to work with and they understand what I need to do a good job. I’ve had clients all over the country, and all over the world even. But the Austin area is a good place to cultivate a local clientele because there are so many businesses popping up.
VH: Do some business owners balk at not meeting face to face?
Amy: It depends on their comfort level. If they need to have somebody in the room with them, then that’s what they need. If they had an experience with a freelancer not in their city and they had trouble communicating with them, maybe it was the freelancer’s fault for not responding quickly enough, or maybe if you’re an e-mail person and I’m a phone person, then there is going to be frustration on both ends. So there’s no reason why somebody who is in a different city can’t work with you seamlessly and have constant interaction and a sense of closeness. But I would put that entirely in the client’s court, because if they’re not comfortable with it, then that’s okay. I’m sure there’s a good freelancer in their area. There’s enough for all of us here.
I enjoy working remotely with clients, I don’t feel bothered by the fact that I can’t see them or sit in the same room as them. My clients are terrific at communication, phone calls when they’re needed, we have video chats available if we need to see each other. I don’t have to physically work on something on-site. My husband is an engineer, so he has to literally be on the manufacturing floor to touch the machine. That’s not the kind of work that I do. It’s entirely the client’s personal comfort level and needs, that’s the important thing. It’s terrific that there are so many people available everywhere that they can pick exactly what they need in a service provider.
VH: Are there any skills you bring to your work that clients are unaware of when they start working with you?
Amy: I can help them organize their thinking and think about the website as an organic whole and how to use it as an effective marketing tool. So sometimes I can go in and just be the code monkey who changes red to blue and moves the sidebar over to another area. That is a valid part of what I do and sometimes that’s all I do. But if someone is doing problem solving, I can help them through their process. I can help them think things through and I can come up with solutions to fix the website and answer their client’s questions and needs, so it becomes an effective tool.
VH: What is your favourite area of work right now?
Amy: I love working on WordPress theme development, I started doing a lot of Genesis theme development—Genesis WordPress themes are more of a framework, the bare bones that you build on top of. It’s meant for developers to build on.
My favorite clients are agencies who don’t have a staff web developer. That’s my hands down favorite job, is just being part of the virtual team.