“I’ve reached my goal, what’s next?” - Web Developer Jason Resnick
Web developer Jason Resnick had a big life goal. When he started a family, he wanted to be home to see his kid’s first steps and hear their first words.
To him (and to most of us, I’d imagine) that’s what’s important. Jason wanted to be able to shape everything else around that.
Rewind a few years to the late nineties and you’d find him ditching economics class to take casual HTML lessons from a friend via email. That’s where Jason fell in love with web development, and he soon began building a part-time freelance business around a full-time job.
When the time came to leave his job and take the business full-time, Jason had the skill-set to do the work, but none of the business and sales knowledge needed to bring it in.
We talk about how he’s developed that knowledge and built a sustainable freelance business that’s full of efficient processes. And how he now, having reached his life goal of building that flexible career, is determined to help other freelancers do the same.
MORE FROM JASON RESNICK
TRANSCRIPTION OF THE BEING FREELANCE PODCAST WITH JASON RESNICK AND STEVE FOLLAND
Steve Folland: How bout we get started hearing how you got started being freelance?
Jason Resnick: Sure. Well I got started quite early on I guess. Showing my age a little bit, but the mid to late 90s where the web was such a new thing it was kind of like having a pool in your backyard is this is why this .com thing and I had a skill set that people wanted and I always knew at an early age where I knew that I wasn't really ... I don't want to say fit, but I knew I didn't want to sit at somebody else's desk. I knew at some point in time I wanted to break out on my own and run my own thing and freelancing at that point in time seemed like a viable way to do that. I just had local businesses saying "Hey, I hear you do websites," and at that time, it was front page and Dream Weaver and all these old tools that nobody uses or even hears about these days and that's how I got started.
Steve Folland: So were you doing something before that or was that a fresh out of college type?
Jason Resnick: Well, that was fresh out of college. I fell backwards into the web because I went to an engineering school, but I went in for computer science, but I always like engineering, mechanical engineering and I guess halfway through I realized computer science wasn't my thing. I enjoyed programming and all that, but it was ... I don't know there was just something that wasn't clicking in my head. Then when the web came, and I'm not suggesting anybody do this at all. If you're going to school, go to class, but I was cutting my economics class and going up to the computer lab and just waiting for my next class. Mind you, my economic class was a long distance learning class, so it was the most boring two hour TV show you could ever imagine.
Jason Resnick: What happened was I went up to the computer lab and I was just messing around one day and my high school friend emailed me and said "Hey, check out this website that I made." I looked at it and I was like "Okay, it's got animated gifs and a clock and just a mish mosh of random things posted on the web, but I thought it was cool. I was like "Hey, how'd you do that?" And he wound up teaching me HTML through email during my economics class that semester. I was like "This is awesome. I put code on the screen, I hit a button and refresh and it works?" So that's when I fell in love with web development and I just started.
Jason Resnick: It's funny because hearing your episode, and I knew that this question was coming, I was trying to think back at very very very first project that I ever did online and I want to say that it was actually a local restaurant. They really just wanted to put their menu online. That was it. Nothing else, no pictures, no nothing. From there, it just stemmed because it was just a word of mouth thing "Hey Jason did this and made that." That's how it all started and I did that alongside my full-time job out of college and it got to a tipping point where I said "Hey. I think it's time to try this out."
Steve Folland: That's so cool. So you weren't knocking on doors to find the work or placing an ad or whatever. Word of mouth was enough.
Jason Resnick: Yeah. As I said, I was working full time. I wasn't available during business hours. Also my full time job was in web development. I was learning on the job so to speak, at least the skill sets, applying them at night time. I was answering ads in craigslist at the time, but yeah for the most part, it was just work of mouth. It still is to this day to be honest with you.
Steve Folland: I mean, it must have evolved a lot. We're talking about '97, '98 somewhere like that are we?
Jason Resnick: Yeah about '98 to 2000, 2001.
Steve Folland: Yeah, so how did it change? There was that tipping point when you think "Right okay, I'm gonna do this," but then suddenly it's real. Then suddenly you do need all that money because that's your sole income.
Jason Resnick: Yeah. There was one tipping point where the company I was working for in 2002, they essentially lost it. It was a large firm that put all their eggs in .com explosion market and I was working for them for about two and a half years. I saw the company go from about 600 people to 2,500 people. By the time it was my turn, there was like 400 people left in the company. I was like "Hey, I got the skill set, I've been doing freelancing on the side, let me ... this is it. This is my opportunity." I was in my early 20s so no responsibility, no family, no mortgage. I was just like "Hey, let me give this a go." I found that the skill set wasn't the problem, but as you said, I needed to get the money, I needed to do the sales, the marketing, all businessy type things which was a shock for me. I had no idea how to do any of that stuff, at least not in a professional way. I saw how other people were doing it, but I wasn't trained in that sort of thing.
Jason Resnick: It was about two years into that I wound up saying "Okay, I need to pay rent. I need food." So I had to go get another job, but I went back with the idea that I'm here to learn all those businessy type things. That was really the eye opening part for me to really figure out how I could run the business that I want to run, but be able to have predictable income, do the sales, do the marketing, do the administrative work essentially all by myself.
Steve Folland: So you were freelance, but then you went back in house in order to learn how to be more sufficient?
Jason Resnick: Yes.
Steve Folland: From a business point of view when you were freelance again. What were the main things that you think you picked up that made a difference?
Jason Resnick: Oh a lot in sales. As someone who has introverted tendencies, I'm not gonna knock on doors, I'm not gonna pick up a phone and randomly call numbers. It's not gonna happen, but I wanted to try to figure out. "Okay, this is the sales process. You get a lead in, you have x number of calls or x number of emails, those kind of things, and then you go to a contract, and then you sign the contract, and then you on board them. This is an evolving thing over a number of years that I've not just learned and saw how other people were doing it, but how that would work for me and how it felt natural for me. That took a long time. I went in there with the idea of talking with sales and marketing teams, befriending people, and asking a lot of questions in and around that stuff and trying to figure out "How can I use this for myself?"
Jason Resnick: Learning also a lot about profits and revenue and budgets and things like that that I wanted to know because I wanted to be sustainable, I didn't want to face that same dilemma again where like, "Hey, I need to eat and I need to pay rent." So that was, it was an education over ... I would say about a good four and a half year period before I decided to go out on my own. This time, it was essentially my own terms.
Steve Folland: Yeah, so second time around, what year was that? 2000 ... I'm doing the math now.
Jason Resnick: 2010.
Steve Folland: So it's 2010 and you're like "Right. This time I'm doing it on my own terms." How did you go out and get those clients? Was there something that you were doing in advance?
Jason Resnick: In part, yes. As I said, I was doing it on the side along the whole time and I was basically waking up, going to work at 7:30, eight o'clock in the morning, coming home at five, having dinner, and starting up again at six and working until three, 3:30 in the morning. It was getting to a point where I was just like "Okay, I need sleep. I really am tired and I can't keep doing this and burning the candle at both ends," and that's when I was like "Okay, I'm gonna go out and give myself a birthday gift and I'm gonna quit by that day.
Jason Resnick: I was getting clients not just through word of mouth, because I was actually building in my own word of mouth referral email systems. Basically just reaching out to past clients and leads and things like that, but also I was ... I'm a developer, so I had built in systems into my business that would essentially alert me when there were opportunities online that would come up, but I didn't necessarily have to be there, so things on Twitter or even in Craigslist, things like that where certain key words would be posted in an ad, I would get an alert about it. On that time, it was my phone. I still use that same system, but I tried to figure out a way to, as I said earlier, learn sales the proper way, but try to make it my own.
Jason Resnick: Again, I'm not going to go knock on doors. It's not my style, it's not my thing. So sales for me now essentially is a part of that sales system, that automated system that does searches along the internet for certain things, but it's also building relationships and networking, especially with vendors of platforms and tools that I use and their support teams. These are things that I use for my clients all day long and every day, things are bound to happen and I'll reach out to support. As a by-product of that, that wasn't planned, but when their customers reach out to them with customization and things, they're not gonna do that, but if I'm on that person's radar through support and they know that. "Hey, Jason keeps popping up everywhere and he's asking intelligent questions and he's doing some things. Maybe he can help this customer.
Jason Resnick: That's a good lead generation avenue for me as well.
Steve Folland: Yeah, so did your services start to change?
Jason Resnick: Yeah. My services have evolved greatly, especially over the past eight years. At first, I was very much just a generalist web developer. I was doing PHP work, even some java development. Now where I help establish online businesses, essentially increase sales through shorter first time purchase journeys as well as repeat buyer journeys. So for me, it went from doing everything for everyone, now I just do something for someone. That for me has been huge for the business because I always felt like I was chasing my tail being a generalist because depending on the project I was on, I was bouncing back and forth a lot. Especially a lot with code. "Okay, I haven't done any PHP for six months, so what did I miss?"
Jason Resnick: Now that I'm focused in on a very specific type of client, which is a lot of membership sites, nonprofits, eCommerce website, I'm all day, every day those kind of clients and those types of tools. Become sort of the expert there.
Steve Folland: And so obviously there was that point, that transition point where you were getting just a few hours of sleep. Did you manage to sort of realign the work/ life balance when you were finally just being freelance or actually, did you find yourself still working all the time?
Jason Resnick: It took a little while to do that, my wife still tells me that I never shut off. She's like "Your brain is just always going." Yeah, I mean for me, the work/ life balance thing, I don't know if there's so much a work/ life balance as much as it's just a mesh when you're freelance. For me, I wanted to be home to see first steps, hear first words, be there for the family, have the time freedom to be flexible enough to do things. I didn't want to miss events at school or any of that kind of stuff. I wanted to be there for my family and be able to take a random Tuesday afternoon off because it's a nice day out.
Jason Resnick: It was funny, when we were coming home from the hospital with TJ in the car and I was driving home and I said to my wife ... I turned and said "So, I've reached my goal. What's next?" She was like "What are you talking about?" I was like "Well, I'm home and we're here, it's our first child and I'm gonna be able to see these things. That was my life's goal. So what's next?" She was like "I don't know, make more money?" But the reality of that was yes, I've seen the first steps, I hear the first words and that for me, that's what's important, and I shape all the other things around that.
Steve Folland: So what does you work day look like? Do you work from home?
Jason Resnick: Yes.
Steve Folland: So what's work like working from home?
Jason Resnick: Luckily my wife is home, so she's the primary caretaker and she wrangles TJ up. I'm in a sun room and I wake up early. I try to get up 5:30, six o'clock before they get up at all, so I know I can get a good solid couple hours of silence in. I'm very rigid about planning out my days like Sunday morning, which is something that I've been doing for years. I plan out the week and so my wife knows when there's calls or podcast recordings or things like that and especially events around things like ... we take TJ to what's called the Little Gym. It's just basically a padded room and they let these kid run wild. I know what the week looks like and my energy levels and focus is usually more towards the morning, so I try to get all that stuff done and the morning and the afternoons are a little less focus driven.
Jason Resnick: Yeah, he comes in to this room and he's got his train set and his little soccer goal here or football goal and he plays from time to time, but once there's a call then 'everybody out' so to speak.
Steve Folland: Yeah. So I like that though, so that's the morning and then the afternoon is looser, so then come the evening, do you go back to work?
Jason Resnick: Not usually. I've learned over the years, once four o'clock hits in the afternoon, I'm pretty much done unless there's some pressing client thing or a launch or something that's already planned. For the most part, once dinner time roles around, I'm not really opening up the laptop.
Steve Folland: Good for you. Does that mean saying no to some stuff like managing your workload that way?
Jason Resnick: Yeah, definitely. Learnt to say no more than yes, whereas before, it was probably the other way around. I've even said this on my podcast a lot is that if you want that freedom and flexibility and this is what I've learned is that you really have to be selective around the things that are important to you and maybe not so important. Just because it could be a yes, maybe it could be a yes tomorrow morning instead of today evening. Right, so I'm saying no a lot and it's because it's not necessarily important at that time.
Steve Folland: Yeah. You've mentioned your podcast a couple of times. When did that start and what are they aimed at?
Jason Resnick: Yeah, so I have two podcasts. One is called Live in the Feast, and that's a podcast for freelancers who are looking to essentially specialize and build a recurring base business. Most of my business is based off of recurring based services and I figured a lot of people were asking me a lot about how I've shaped my business. It got to a point, I said "Okay, well I can just share this to a greater audience and I love podcasting." Podcasting for me is fun. I had a podcast way earlier on when I started breaking into the word press space. At that time, it was just a bunch of us developers talking geek speak, but my name got spread around because I started meeting people on the podcast and things like that as an indirect result of that.
Jason Resnick: I was like "Hey, that's interesting. I never thought about that, but Live in the Feast, each season has a theme and then each episode is a deep dive into that, like a specific topic. That's that one. Ask Rezzz is a daily show, a weekday show where I answer one question ... so it's a short five to seven minute show, it's just a question that I've been asked in and around the community and I just answer it. It's less produced because it's every day and it's just quick, so for me it's a fun podcast to mess around with.
Steve Folland: Yeah, so they're obviously aimed at freelancers, and yet freelancers aren't your clients, but did that pull some sort of conflict in you as to how, for example your website or you social media or whatever should be?
Jason Resnick: Yeah, well because people were asking me a lot of different questions around how I built my business, and the real context of that was, they knew ... they were like "How do you charge what you charge monthly and how have why built a freelance business in New York City for so long?" If you look at the two questions, it correlates. The high cost of living in New York City, I have to charge higher prices, but that's not even the case. It's just the value that I put on the service or the value of the solution that I provide to my clients. I started making the podcast and then it turned into coaching, helping, and mentoring other freelancers and trying to build their businesses and I've always wanted a community to help other freelancers that I wish I had or been a part of when I first started out so that maybe I didn't fall down or just to be able to get over some hurdles or ask ideas.
Jason Resnick: "Hey, I'm presented with this client situation, how would you handle this?" I always wanted that community and that was something that I had wanted probably since about 2012, I was looking for that. The podcast evolved into what is called feast, which is that community where it's a slack community, but it's also a bunch of videos and swipe files and templates and things like that that are basically help other people. I'm a big believer in "A rising tide raises all boats." Most people are developers in there. A lot of people are working in the same space as me and I never look at them as competition. It's colleagues. We're bettering the industry of freelance.
Steve Folland: If somebody says "You want this particular service."
Steve Folland: "Oh, this developer, he's called Jason Resnick, check him out. Rezzz.com. Go take a look," but if I were to go to your site, it's very much aimed at what you just described, your freelance audience, your feast community and so on. It wouldn't be until I scroll and scroll and then I maybe click on services where I find the other things that you do. I'm intrigued as to that balance or whether you tried having two different things or what your clients, as in your web developing clients, find from it?
Jason Resnick: Yes. So that was something that I wrestled around with for years, to be honest with you. I didn't know what was right or wrong and I did try two different things for a while, but when I really looked at who was coming to my website, it was 80 prevent freelancers and only about 20 percent of people that would sign up for my development services. So that was one indication of where to swing the site to. The other was how I set up my sales process and word of mouth campaigns and those kind of things, people that would sign up for my services would get a link directly to something on my website. They wouldn't discover my website in general. They wouldn't come across my website and say "Hey, free consultation. Let's click on this link and have a conversation."
Jason Resnick: That was rare, extremely rare, so I just said one day, I said "You know what? I'm just gonna make the site this way and this is who I want to help and this is who's coming across my website through podcasts or blogs or in meet ups and things like that. That's how I'm gonna cater the website. The services clients, they're getting the links to the pages and the information that they need. I had some clients or leads say "I went to your website and I don't see anything about web development services. Am I at the right place," but that's very very far and few between, but they get over it. My clients, to be honest with you, they appreciate that they can see how my mind thinks, how I run business. Maybe it's why I'm not getting asked about the flaky freelancer as much because heck, they're seeing exactly how I run my business.
Jason Resnick: So I'm essentially attracting clients to me, service clients to me that they're already well aware of how I work and how I do things. Those are the kind of people that I want to work with anyway.
Steve Folland: Yeah, so let me gradually pack some of them. One that jumped out at me was when you said "Word of mouth campaign," which is different from I've ever heard before because most might say, "Oh yeah, it comes to me word of mouth," but the word campaign makes it sound like you have strategically gone out and done something to spread the word.
Jason Resnick: Yeah. Yeah definitely. It's not overly scientific, but it's keeping front of mind with past clients, past leads, even colleagues of mine to say "Hey," every quarter or every six months, say "Hey, just wanted to reach out, see how things are doing and if there's anything I can ever do, let me know." Just to be able to be out there and about in those kind of campaigns, that usually sparks a bunch of different conversations that I can have, and some of them turn into clients because it's not that I get forgotten by somebody that I know, but at the same time, it's like I'm speaking directly to colleagues and networking type folks, but they're in their own business and they're gonna get leads across their desk that may not be a fit for them, but could be a fit for me. If they get and email and say "Oh, yeah. Jason sent me an email the other day. I forgot about that. You know what? Send him this lead 'cause he'd be a better fit for it."
Jason Resnick: Those kind of nudge campaigns, those word of mouth campaigns, they do wonders, and it's such a simple process to do, it's just you have to do it.
Steve Folland: Yeah, so with that word campaign, is it something that you're monitoring or is it simply your mindset, that's what you're thinking?
Jason Resnick: I do monitor it. I monitor it in a way where it's "When was the last time I reached out to them? Did they send me anything?" It's not something by which it's like a cold outreach campaign where I'm looking at open rates and click rates and such because these are people that I know, and I will often tailor those emails, but it's a process in my business that I say "Okay, it's not November one, let me go into Pipe Drive, let me see who I haven't reached out to in three to six months from a specific group.
Steve Folland: Another thing was the concept of value based pricing, which is ... I don't think you used that phrase exactly, but was that something that you gradually came to when you first ... "Can you turn our menu into a website?" You might go "Okay, that'll cost this and it feels like "That's an hour of my time, five hours of my time, that this is how much it costs." It's quite a big shift to go towards what actually "I know what this change could bring," because of the amount of checkouts you'll get in your store.
Jason Resnick: Sure. Yeah. It was definitely an evolution of the business. I was hourly for a very very long time, but once I really started to specialize my business, that's when I was able to essentially get a proven track record of certain results. Once I knew what that proven track record of results were, it's easy to say "Okay, if I can get you an X number of revenue or customers through your store on a monthly basis, that is a certain percentage of what you got now, does this monthly price seem like a no brainer to you?" That's when the realization to me was even if it's a hours worth of work time, but it turns into $50,000 more for the client a month, then they could pay me $10,000. Any business would do that. Obviously that's a very extreme thing, but that's really what it comes down to is I try to figure out exactly what is important to the client and it's either usually more revenue or it's more time, which usually equates to more profits.
Jason Resnick: By more time, I mean something that I did that saved them time, usually a manual process, or it's a new revenue stream, so whether that's a site that currently has products on a one off basis, but maybe they want to build in a subscription model into their business. I try to figure out what that lead falls into those three buckets. Once I can do that, then it's a game changer conversation. The table's basically turned because now I can really figure out how important it is because I will ask that question. It'll come down to the point where "Okay, so if I'm looking at your numbers, I can see that you have the potential for this. You have the likelihood of this. Does this make sense for you?"
Jason Resnick: If not, then okay, then I'm not sure what else we can do. What else we're talking about here.
Steve Folland: Yeah. I like the fact that you cut your economics class, but you soon caught up.
Jason Resnick: That is true. Yes.
Steve Folland: Do you remember though that feeling when you were first thinking "No, I'm gonna charge this. I'm gonna say this figure to them, and what that felt like when you don't know what they're gonna do on the other end?
Jason Resnick: Yeah it was quite scary and unnerving to be honest with you, but I did it with good clients already. In other words, when I transitioned the model, I pitched it to certain clients of mine first that I thought would actually say yes, and it was really just a matter of having the conversation. I increased the likelihood of reducing the amount of no's initially, just to get that momentum going. Once that momentum going, my confidence increased in how I was essentially telling them what was gonna happen. From there, the rest is history so to speak.
Steve Folland: You know, we've heard about your work/ life balance and the fact that it sounds pretty sorted. Does that mean that you ever have brought on other people to help you or you're simply, that Sunday morning planning session is absolutely nailed it?
Jason Resnick: I've gone down the road hiring a contractor here and there maybe when I get in a bind so to speak, but it's just me, and I tell all my clients that. I've had clients say that they want to work with somebody that's and individual versus an agency, which to me is interesting. I've had the other side too. I've lost leads because they've wanted the agency and not just the one person. That I understand more, but yeah it's ... any time I've gone down the road of bringing a contractor on, it very much felt like what I left in the corporate world, 'cause I was essentially a manager. I was a senior developer, which did about 10 percent development work and 90 percent managing project and people and things like that, which is alright, it's just not what I really want to do.
Steve Folland: Yeah. And I noticed as well, so you offer packages. Was that something that you narrowed down? How do you choose which ones to put on your site?
Jason Resnick: Yeah, I basically wanted two options to offer people. The only difference between the two is really just the level of communication. This wasn't something that I could take credit of thinking about, but I asked my existing clients at the time before I had the packages. I just sat down with them and I said "Can I have 10 minutes of your time. I just want to ask you a couple questions." Those questions were really about "How can I be more awesome, why do you like working with me, what is it about you that stays on month over month?" Just from that feedback, people were saying "Yes, it's great that you send me daily emails or things like that or we have the once off calls every now and then, but it would be great if we had a weekly call."
Jason Resnick: I said "Okay, I guess I could work a weekly call in there somehow and is there a real time communication that we can have." I was like "Okay, I can create a designated slack channel and create time out of my week to have a half hour phone call conversation if that's what people are wiling to pay for, then there's the package for that. Everything else is the same.
Steve Folland: I love that, and it came from actually asking, which sounds so simple, but ... you know.
Jason Resnick: Yeah, yeah. I learned from much smarter people than me that you can only assume so much from your clients until you're at a point where you have to ask them what they want from you. If they like you and all that, then chances are that they'll tell you exactly what they want. It doesn't mean that they're gonna get it, but if enough people are telling you something, then hey, maybe just package it up and sell it.
Steve Folland: Just to come back to your side projects, the podcast and the community and all of that, it sounds almost like a job in itself.
Jason Resnick: Oh it's 100 percent a job in and of itself. I feel like sometimes I have two jobs, but it's funny that as much as I love the development side, I love the product side that much better. Getting off a phone call with a coaching clients or seeing somebody in the slack channel get a big win out of something, that to me makes my day. I love seeing that because it's so important to me of my compasses, my family, spending time, and having that time freedom that when that's realized in and around the community too, that's a home run for me.
Steve Folland: Yeah. You must be really good at staying focused and productive it feels like.
Jason Resnick: At times, yes. At times, no.
Steve Folland: No, that's good to hear.
Jason Resnick: Yeah, it definitely depends 'cause if we were to do this yesterday, I'd probably be pretty much big brain of mush because TJ was up all night, so that makes all of us up all night, so sometimes it does go out the window.
Steve Folland: Yeah. Now if you could tell your younger self one thing about being freelance, what would that be?
Jason Resnick: Learn to trust your gut. That's something that even if you're scratching and clawing and trying to make ends meet, most times your gut is gonna tell you right or wrong about any certain situation whether it's a lead that's may become a client or you're working with someone who maybe shouldn't be a client, those kind of scenarios to learn to trust your gut. For me, I've not listen to it and paid dearly in the end.
Steve Folland: Jason thank you so much and all the best being freelance!
Jason Resnick: Thanks.