I met Heather Acton at WordCamp Chicago, in 2011. I think what stands out with Heather is that she is really a warm person and has a lot of great insight. You can just randomly sit at a table and find that she’s extremely approachable.
Heather’s participation with WordPress and her surrounding community is fantastic. Being an organizer of WordCamp Chicago comes with a LOT of responsibility. Sure, there’s a supporting team, but she really goes above and beyond for the community. If it weren’t for people like her, I probably wouldn’t have much camaraderie with my Chicago WordPress friends.
Aside from being an organizer, Heather volunteers her time to speak at WordCamps. Her talks have a nice range in them, showing she’s no Spring chicken when it comes to using and working with WordPress. You can find some of Heather Acton’s WordCamp talks on WordPress.tv.
For me, I believe Heather Acton is a WordPress Rockstar, so that is why I’ve asked her to be a part of the WordPress Rockstar Interview series.
A Little Bit About Heather Acton
Heather Acton is the CTO of ODEA (http://teamodea.com), a team of marketing strategists, creatives and technologists who believe being bold is the difference between existing within an industry and breaking through it. Her roots are in (mechanical) engineering and WordPress development and as a result she lives and breathes solving technical issues that solve real business problems. She believes in the karmic nature of the WordPress community, so organizes WordCamp Chicago and speaks and volunteers at other events throughout the US. When she’s not engrossed in a project with her team, she’s found cuddling with her kids or enjoying a craft beer.
Interview with Heather Acton
NILE FLORES: I’m sure you’ve had this question before, but I like to ask this here: How did you get into using WordPress?
HEATHER ACTON: In 2007, shortly after having my first child, I decided to finally learn how to create a website. I wanted to share pictures of our growing family with family members across the US, so though a website would be the most fun way to do so.
I started by learning HTML and CSS, then quickly stumbled upon WordPress and ultimately launched my family site as a self-hosted WP site. That, as I see it now, was the start to the freelance portion of my WordPress career.
NILE FLORES: How do you juggle being a parent and your job with WordPress?
HEATHER ACTON: For a few years I was home with babies and doing freelance WordPress work. My husband worked a normal 9-5, so I wasn’t able to get much done during the day, but when he came home I’d usually start my workday(night). Those nights, coupled with some time on the weekends, was enough to get started.
I still had plenty of time with the kids and was able to grow my freelance business. In 2012 my husband and I flipped roles and he stayed home with the kids while I moved into working full time as a freelancer. That’s when business really started to grow, and when I met the folks who are now partners in our agency (http://teamodea.com).
NILE FLORES: If there were one thing about contributing to WordPress that you liked the best, what would it be, and why?
HEATHER ACTON: Ultimately it’s always about the gratitude that folks have when you are part of helping them grow whatever they’re trying to grow. Whether it’s a non-technical business owner dependent on their site for revenue, or a beginning developer, or just a WordPress enthusiast, I love to help folks excel at their craft. This is why I focus most of my contribution time on WordCamps (organizing and speaking) and on meetups.
NILE FLORES: You’ve been a WordCamp Organizer. For those who want to put together a WordCamp, can you give a few tips to newbies on what they may want to do in order for it to be successful?
HEATHER ACTON: Find a past organizer that is willing to be a mentor to you. When I first organized WordCamp Chicago in 2011, I knew almost no one in the community. Dre Armeda reached out to me and offered help, and I couldn’t have been more thankful. Even though I felt like a complete noob, he was supportive and available, and it’s what helped my first camp be a success.
NILE FLORES: While not everyone has heard your talk on Financial Business Planning for Freelancers, you’ve done this talk a few times at WordCamps. Can you summarize what this talk, and why it’s important for freelancers to put a plan like yours together?
HEATHER ACTON: This is actually my favorite talk of all that I’ve given, as it hits a chord with almost every person freelancing. At some point in all of our freelance careers, we find ourselves working like mad and not necessarily seeing the fruits of our labor in financial terms. So we consider quitting – getting a full time job in the industry, going back to a past career, etc.
It’s a shame, as most of us are really passionate and very skilled at what we do. This talk helps kickstart the thought that we need to plan for a real salary, benefits, and expenses and charge a rate that supports those. I supply a simple spreadsheet that lets folks input their projections and discover what they need to target from a revenue standpoint and what hourly rate supports their projections. It seems to have resonated well, and I hope it’s helped some folks stick with it.
NILE FLORES: What is something unique or weird or fun that most WordPressers in the community don’t know about you?
HEATHER ACTON: I’m pretty much an open book, so not sure there’s much that isn’t out there. 🙂
Alright, maybe one thing… I enjoy the teen Disney shows that my kids watch. As in I watch them even when they’re not with me. Favorites are Austin & Ally, and Girl Meets World. Ha! 🙂
NILE FLORES: What kind of features are your favorite in WordPress, and what would you like to see with WordPress in the future?
HEATHER ACTON: My favorite features are those related to custom post types, taxonomies, and custom fields. The extensibility and flexibility makes it possible to make the admin area so easy to use for clients, and I think that we should place as much focus on usability on the admin side as we do on the user side. What good is a website that an owner can’t easily and efficiently manage?
I’m so grateful that Heather took the time to answer all these questions. Thanks Heather!
Please feel free to leave questions for Heather if you have any.