Welp, I finally did it. 9 years of running my own little WordPress agency has finally come to a close. I have officially shut down the website, and have helped move my remaining clients onto their own platform.
I'd be lying if I said that this goodbye is more sweet than bitter, honestly. DesignFrame was a means to an end, for me. When I started the agency, I was freshly switched from Mechanical Engineering into WordPress Development. I had absolutely no credential at all, and found that it was (unsurprisingly) very difficult to find a job when I first started. I had a chip on my shoulder, needed money like right now, and was not about to go back to mechanical engineering. So I decided that if nobody was gonna hire me, then I was gonna hire myself.
And I got to freakin' work. And my god, did I work a lot. I picked up several clients over the months that followed, overwhelming myself, and working myself to the bone, never really making enough money since I was undercharging, but making enough to at least give me the space I needed to earn my chops, learn to code, and so much more about negotiation, business management, and a lot of other skills that have served me very well.
It was such a rush. This is well before COVID, and the act of working remotely was simply not a thing, and I was kicking myself every day for getting to work at home. It helped me gain the confidence I needed to flatly tell people "no, really, I can work remotely." and after this I knew I was never going back to the office again.
After a few years though, I was about 90% checked out. The newness of the rush had worn off, most of my clients were just maintenance contracts, and I was really, really burnt out. Combine that with the angst that I never wanted to run an agency, in the first place (remember, this was a means to an end). It felt way too much like the Point of Purchase display creative agencies I worked for as a mechanical engineer. Talking to other agency owners, and looking at the more respected ones made me realize that even if I made a lot more money, I was basically just transferring myself from being a technician in an agency-based company I didn't like to another one, and I wasn't a particularly good boss for myself at the time. Even as I was outsourcing the work to other developers, I kept finding myself feeling so frustrated with myself, passionately thinking what the hell are you doing? You're doing it wrong! This is not the business I want!
I was barely making ends meet, and at the time I was still living in my mother in law's house because we literally couldn't get on our feet because I was just not making enough money to propel myself out of that.
I was burning out, working in a business I didn't want, created out of circumstance, broke, living with my mother-in-law, and I was just kind-of hoping that something would come out of it to get me out.
Luckily, a presentation of one of the more complex projects I did for a client at DesignFrame is ultimately what got me hired to work on the AffiliateWP team a few years ago, and eventually (perhaps inevitably?) gave me the pieces I needed to bolster my resume well enough to get hired at GoDaddy. Getting my job at Sandhills gave us the much-needed security for me to stop grinding on DesignFrame so hard, outsource the work, and put it on autopilot. For about 6 months after getting that job, I literally turned off my alarm clock and found myself sleeping for like 12 hours a day. It was nuts, and kind-of eye-opening to just how much of a toll I put on myself running this business. A few months later, my family and I started traveling the country in a camper.
I guess I hung onto the business for as long as I did is because of a few things. I didn't want to deal with the breakup, I had a business partner who wasn't as convinced about letting it go as I was, and I mean it was still making me a little (grossly little) money passively from maintenance contracts. I figured I'd hang on to it as a placeholder for freelance work, and such.
That kind of turned on its head about 6 months ago, though. I realized that I found working within the confines of the business to be really limiting. I just want to write awesome code for people, and get paid well for it. I found that to be difficult to accomplish there because of all of the arcane "agency advice". You know, stuff like "you must charge per project" or "maintenance plans are the key to success", and a whole slew of stuff that was decidedly not code. I cut all that crap out, asked someone for a 10 hour/week hourly gig directly with me on a W9, and called it a day, and I couldn't be happier. I'm making a lot more money doing this than I was with the agency, and I'm spending a lot less of my precious time writing scopes and quotes, and that feels good.
So, with that, my partner and I talked about it, and she actually realized that she was ready to let it go this year too. So, I reached out to our last few remaining clients, helped transition them to their own managed hosting, referred developers when-necessary, and called it a day.
Goodbye DesignFrame. You were kind-of awful, but also so, so important to my career. I appreciate what you did for me, but I ain't gonna miss ya.