I first met Dara online, in a group lovingly (and amazingly) named The Zero Fucks Club. And while it may sound like an apathetic crowd, it's actually filled with some of the most kind, thoughtful, and caring women entrepreneurs I've met. (Second only to the women in our Rock It! community.)
When we finally got to chat about entrepreneurship and life, I was fascinated by her journey. She had started out in an art history program in University, fulling expecting to stay the course and become a professor.
And then, something funny happened. She felt like the impact she'd be able to have in academia wasn't big enough.
So Dara finished out her program and began to think about what other skills she had that could land her a job. That's when she remembered her love for coding and web development in high school. In a wonderfully synchronous turn of events, Dara found a job doing web development for an art gallery of all places.
After freelancing on the side for a few years, Dara decided to take the leap into full-time entrepreneurship. She was kind enough to share more about her story below, as well as what she's most proud of and what she regrets over the course of being in business. It's definitely an inspiring read!
For those that may not be familiar, tell us about yourself and what you do.
Hi there! I’m Dara, and I’m a web developer who specializes in creating custom WordPress websites. That means that I partner with awesome web designers to turn their designs into super usable, speedy, accessible websites. I sometimes design as well, but most of the time I stick to code! Sticking to what you’re best at is half the battle, sometimes.
Aside from my biz life, I love photography, art, health + wellness, being in nature as much as I can, and attempting to befriend every cat I meet.
How did you get into web development and design?
I started my journey into the world of design and code as a kid having fun on the Internet in the 90's. It was mostly a fun hobby for me until I graduated from University with a double major in history and art history, and had suddenly decided I wasn’t going to grad school after all.
I floundered for a bit until I remembered that I had an in-demand, employable skill, which I then dove into head first. I caught myself up from 90's-style coding to 2000's-style coding — a lot changes in 10 years! — and found my first “real job” doing web design and development at an art gallery, of all places. (I guess that art history degree wasn’t so useless after all!)
What got me into web design and development was a combination of curiosity and necessity, but what’s kept me in it is feeling like I’m using my skills to make a difference in the lives of awesome people doing great things. I try to take on as many purpose-based client projects as possible.
How long did it take for you to make the leap into self-employment? What did you need to have in place for yourself — financially and emotionally — in order to feel comfortable about striking out on your own?
I got into self-employment very gradually, at a pace that felt comfortable for me. All in all, it took about 4 years from starting my first full-time job to taking the leap into full-time self-employment, and I was freelancing part-time for 3 of those 4 years.
Freelancing on the side while working a full-time job was time-consuming and stressful, but I’m glad that I did it. Part-time freelancing helped me build up both my design/coding skills and business skills, so by the time I went full-time, I knew about things like contracts, pricing, invoicing, and all those other “fun” parts of running a biz.
I also waited until I had a few months’ worth of savings before I quit my job. I did all of this on the slower side, versus just jumping in, and it was the right thing for me.
That said, I wasn’t able to really ramp up my business before I went full time and was able to devote more substantial time to networking, learning, and finding clients. So if you’re hitting a wall with the part-time biz life, it might be time to take the leap!
Four years in, what are you most you're proud of?
This is kind of meta, but I’m quite proud of having run a sustainable business for four years. I never thought that I had the “right” personality type for being in business (i.e. I’m sensitive and on the quieter side — not the in-your-face, bold person you think of as a “business person”) so it’s been really satisfying to prove that idea wrong! It’s also been satisfying to have had multiple years where I made more money than I ever did at my “real jobs”.
Anything you wish you would have done differently?
I wish I had joined a coworking space sooner! Working from home can be isolating, even for the most introverted of introverts.
Aside from that, I’ve made a bunch of mistakes along the way (like not having a tight enough contract), but I don’t really regret many of them because I think that you really have to experience making mistakes for the lessons to sink in. I read tons of blog posts and books before starting my business, and it didn’t even come close to the impact of actually experiencing it for myself.
What does the future hold for you, your work, and your life? Anything you've been dreaming of doing and/or any new projects in the pipeline?
The web industry is evolving so I hope to evolve along with it! Aside from client work, which still takes up most of my time, I’m working on my first online course aimed at WordPress developers to help them improve their workflow.
I’ve also been musing about some ideas outside of web development, which might be a different story for a different day. I think one of the best parts about working for yourself is the freedom to pivot and change what you’re doing so you never have to feel “stuck”.
Famous last words... What advice would you give to women who want to take the leap into full-time entrepreneurship?
Never underestimate the importance of connecting with other people in running a business — you can’t do it in a bubble. And don’t worry if you don’t think you have the “right” personality for business because there are so many ways to run a business and there are clients out there who are looking for someone just like you!