In this episode, I talk to Anne Dorko of Dialect and Without Boxes who has been using WordPress to help create her digital nomadic lifestyle.
Anne shares her story of how started from nothing into getting into WordPress and create a business out of it. Anne has worked her way up by creating WordPress themes and plugins via Dialect Pro and helping others to achieve their online objectives whilst also dreaming of being a freelancer and a digital nomad.
Some of the things we talk about in this episode include:
- how the opportunity to experiment and “break” WordPress has helped her to grow her knowledge and subsequently her business
- how she likes to alleviate any fear that people have when it comes to working with their own website
- building plugins and themes which have helped to create passive income
- overcoming her imposter syndrome to help those around with their online projects
“Success is very relative to what your goal is. If my goal is to make $100,000 on a website and I get 100,000 visitors but no money from it, sure, someone might look and say, “Wow, you have a really successful website, you have so many visitors,” but I’d say that wasn’t my goal. My goal was to raise a certain amount of money”. – Anne Dorko
- Dialect Pro: https://dialectpro.org/
- Without Boxes: http://withoutboxes.com/
- Anne Dorko on Twitter: https://twitter.com/annedorko
- Dictionary Pro (plugin): https://dialectpro.org/resources/dictionary/
AHMED: Here we go. We’re back on again. This is the IgniteRock Podcast. This is Episode 9, and we’re back on again, talking to more awesome individuals who have created awesome stuff using WordPress.
Welcome, everyone, to the show. This is Ahmed Khalifa of IgniteRock. Welcome. I’m so, so excited that you’re here as you can tell. We’re going to have a very, very fun interview today. We’re here with Anne Dorko who’s a bit of digital nomad that has been using WordPress to create a freedom of herself. She had a couple of projects on the line which she will explain a bit more in detail. It’s going to be an interesting one.Click Here to Show Transcript
If you want to find out the shownote, it will be on igniterock.com/episode9. Let’s hit the interview. Hope you enjoy it and I’ll catch you at the end of the interview to fill in any gaps that we have left.
Here we go, everyone. I have Anne here on the line. Very, very excited to talk to her. Something that she’s been doing quite different to everyone I have interviewed in the past but she has a couple of projects online. I’m not going to explain it all, I’ll leave it to Anne.
Anne, thank you very much for joining us today. I really appreciate your time. I’m sure in your journey, your knowledge and your wisdom. Definitely want to start off with just tell us a little bit about your background and how you got to where you are today.
ANNE: That’s a great question. Happy to be here. Let’s see. I started out, I went to college in San Diego, California, and I went for Media Arts degree. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I just knew that I liked art and that was about all I had going in. I was pretty young. Had no real direction. Once I got in school, got through the original art design classes, I started taking the web design classes and I really, really, really excelled really quickly there. I loved it.
One of the extra-curricular challenges that my teacher gave to me was to attempt to create a WordPress theme that matched my HTML CSS design. Without any guidance about anything, he just said, “You get all this extra credit if you can make that happen.” I dove right in. That was my first time using PHP. I got hooked on creating these WordPress themes. It was so fun. You could do so much with it.
Over the years, and that was back in 2006, 2007. I got into WordPress all the way back then. It’s been almost 10 years now. It’s really crazy to think about. I was really hooked on how … WordPress is open source so you can really dig in. There’s such a big community there of people who are also learning alongside of you or have more experience and they’re willing to help out.
I got really hooked on what was possible on WordPress. You can build so much on just using the tools that are really there. That’s kind of how I got started on WordPress. It’s just been my default tool to build most of the websites I’ve worked on since.
AHMED: As I said, you’ve got mainly two different kind of projects that you’re working on. Could you explain on two different websites, what is it that you’re doing right now?
ANNE: On one website I have dialetcpro.org. That is my site. Over the years I’ve worked with a lot of clients and they’re very scared about editing their content. They’re very scared to touch their websites. They feel like they’re going to make it explode. It’s this kind of fear of the internet. It’s this fear of working with a website when really WordPress makes it almost as easy as editing an essay in a Word document.
This blog that I’ve started here is designed to help reduce those fears, introduce the concepts to show that really it’s not as difficult as you think it is. Honestly the skills you should be more concerned about are what kind of content is good content. How do we talk to people on the internet and reach those kinds of people. The technical skills is really just a small part of that and ultimately shouldn’t be what stops you from being successful online. That’s what I’m doing with that.
I’ve got some plugins and themes that I sell there to help make those things easier to do so that you really don’t have to code all of those special features yourself when you do want to build something a little more advanced with your site. That’s Dialect Pro in a nutshell.
I’ve started offering coaching as well for people who don’t feel still yet empowered just by reading the blog. They need a little more help with their individual sites. That’s where I’m taking Dialect Pro. It’s kind of online virtual training and coaching and that direction.
On the other side I have withoutboxes.com which I started as a personal project when I started travelling about four, five years ago. Just the idea that society hands us these boxes and we’re expected to live in a certain way. You go to college, you get a job, you work until you’re 60, you hopefully retire and then you’re tired and you don’t want to go anywhere. I wasn’t willing to accept that. It’s a little more tricky to earn money on your own and freelance and do all those things. I said I’m going to go figure that out even when it’s ramen for weeks.
Without Boxes started as this kind of project. Of course I ran it on WordPress. I’ve experimented with different ways to create projects out of this. The most recent thing I’m doing is collaborating to turn this into a more open platform where we can get multiple contributors telling their stories and doing similar things to really show the diversity of people out there doing positive and amazing things using what resources they have on hand. For me that resource has largely been WordPress. That’s kind of how that all ties back in together for me.
Ahmed: You’re very busy. If you ever visit your website you can tell. I’m a bit of a digital nomad. You’re a bit of a traveller yourself. I believe you are in Germany right now?
AHMED: I’m sure you’re not going to stop there. I’m sure you’re going to continue moving forward. That’s pretty cool, as well. It’s very interesting. You’ve mentioned umm, there’s a bit of an overlap of what we both do in terms of the content side of thing, managing your website and so on. Then with that you have something around user-generated content in there as well, which is really, really interesting, and you have that going.
You’ve mentioned several times WordPress is your go-to place. You’ve built themes, you’ve built plugins. Can you remember what was your very, very first experience with WordPress? How did you even get into it in the first place?
ANNE: It was back in college when my professor told me to try to build that theme. I had no idea what I was doing. I had never touched any of that before. That was my first experience with WordPress was diving right into the code. I was not a programmer at the time. I had no experience with that. I was barely doing HTML and CSS, let along actual programming.
The thing that I loved about WordPress is that it was so intuitive. Even for me as someone who’s very, very new to that world of programming at any level, very, very beginning level, it was so powerful and yet also intuitive and very … Trying to find the right words for it. I was able to play with things and break things without actually ruining everything, which was really, really powerful for me because it gave me the confidence to keep trying. I just kept trying to play with things. I would break things. I would fix them. That really gave me insight to how everything was put together.
Over the years I had these epiphanies where I was like oh, I’ve been trying to do this one way but really it makes so much more sense to do it this other way. It’s having those epiphanies over the years. They now feel very natural to me that I think about WordPress the way I do. On my mind often when I go back to someone who’s still a beginner with WordPress but it did take me those years to have those epiphanies and play with things and feel un-confident before I could feel confident.
Ahmed: That’s pretty good, though. At the end of the day, apply to anything in life. You should be able to try something, break it, fix it, you learn from it. From what you’re saying, that’s how you’ve learned all these tricks, epiphanies, as you call it. That’s how you got to where you are today, because you are allowed to break things. Not deliberately, of course.
ANNE: Of course not.
AHMED: Along the way you learned and you made a mistake but then you learned from that and then you keep on growing, which is great. I definitely agree that WordPress allowed you to do that. It’s very, very cool. Here’s the thing that hopefully the reason listeners can pick up from you is it’s for anyone, isn’t it? Anyone can pick up and you learn as you go along whether you are complete beginner or you are an expert developer or designer, whatever. You can learn as you go along, whoever you are.
I’m sure you’ve heard it. I’ve heard it plenty of times that people question WordPress. People question about is it safe to use, is there a problem for me, maybe I’m too beginner or maybe I’m too expert in a lot of things. What would you say to those who have doubts about using WordPress? What would you say to those people?
ANNE: It’s a good question. Honestly, it depends on what it is they’re trying to build. I think for most people in most situations, WordPress is a great solution. It is an older software that still manages to be modern. It’s very, very mature and very powerful. It comes with most of what you need in the box. If you are advanced and you are expert, it is incredibly easy to modify without losing whatever it is that WordPress is doing for you. It’s a great way to get up and running quickly.
The only situation that you wouldn’t want to use WordPress for is if you have some insanely customizable app that you’re trying to build. Maybe WordPress isn’t the right solution for you. If you’re trying to build a website just for your business, for a blog, WordPress is pretty fantastic. There’s a huge amount of resources and themes and plugins both free and paid for almost anything you can imagine, someone has built it or blogged about it or written a tutorial that’s going to make that possible for you no matter what point you’re at.
AHMED: I agree that someone out there has tried it in any way or form. If you Google how to do whatever it is using WordPress, there’s always someone out there who has gone through the experience and you can learn from it. I’m sure you feel the same way but the community behind WordPress is amazing. That’s probably one of my favourite point about using WordPress is that there’s always someone out there to help you, and someone who has done it and just help you go along, which is pretty great. Can’t complain about that, obviously.
Just wondering about your respective website. I’m always curious about how people came up with the brand name. How did you come up with the brand name of your respective website and what are the meaning behind it?
ANNE: For Dialect Pro, that one was a little bit random. I have my cornerstone product is a dictionary plugin that helps people create dictionaries on their website or glossary, encyclopaedia, whatever word you prefer to use. It makes it so you can add entries while you’re blogging. You can be managing this archive. I think communication is one of the biggest things that we’re lacking where we don’t study enough how to communicate well. The basis of communication is our words. It’s really easy. The same word can mean two different things to two different people.
If you’re establishing a platform of communication, whether it’s a website that’s static or a blog or whatever it is you’re building, defining where you’re coming from I think is really important and to get in a habit of explaining what you mean by what you say is I think invaluable to anyone who’s trying to make a platform for themselves online.
This dictionary to me is much more than just a little plugin. It’s to help you establish better habits with your blogging and communication. That’s kind of my cornerstone. When I was thinking about how to name my blog around this kind of concept, dialect, we all speak in different dialects. Our own dialect. The idea that you would become a professional at your dialect and explaining what that is, that’s kind of where Dialect Pro came out.
Then for Without Boxes, it was literally I can’t ever stop thinking about these boxes that society hands us. You are a man and you’re this old so you need to be doing these things and you need to be accomplished with this stuff or else you’re not successful. I hate that. For me it’s the literal idea of shredding these boxes and living without boxes. That’s where that comes from.
AHMED: It kind of reminds me of ‘Without Borders’, that kind of thing. That makes sense, actually. That’s actually really, really interesting. I can understand why you’ve gone toward that direction, it’s pretty cool. It does seem like especially in Dialect Pro, you have your general idea of the brand and your business, and then you’ve got lots of little things within it.
You mentioned your plugins, the dictionary one. Sounded pretty interesting. Is there something that you see yourself going towards in the future in terms of are you going to have a number of plugins and themes that you’d like to maintain? Do you think that it’s another source of revenue? How do you see yourself in terms of managing Dialect Pro, in particular?
ANNE: That’s a great question and something that I’ve been wrestling with a lot, ever since the conception. To me the dictionary plugin, I’ve had that running since 2012. It’s been around for a few years now. I have a small base of dedicated users who really rely on it to make their websites useful for their clients. That’s really awesome for me to see. I really do believe in my dictionary plugin. I have lots of little ideas for how to extend it but until Dialect Pro as a brand becomes a little more self-sufficient, it’s very expensive time-wise and resource-wise to maintain multiple plugins and multiple themes.
I have a lot of ideas that I would love to continue extending and working on these but until the brand itself has a little more funding and revenue behind it, I probably won’t be able to continue expanding that. It’s certainly something I see working on towards the future.
AHMED: Just to point out, I would definitely link to your plugin, your site on the show for anyone who’s interested to check it out. It sounds really, really interesting. I’ve played with it and I’ve read about it. It actually is really, really cool as well. Definitely recommend checking it out.
What advice would you say for anyone who want to start their own WordPress website, a bit of a fear and “I don’t know what to do about it”, what would you say to those who want to start and what advice would you give to them?
ANNE: A lot of people I think really get stuck on how will I technically build a website. I think maybe three or four years ago that was something that we would need to talk more about. There is honestly so much information once you understand what it is that you’re trying to do. If you even have the right four or five words in your head to Google, it is so simple. There are so many support teams and so many tutorials and so many blogs out there explaining the technical details of walking through how to set up your website in a technical way.
You have nothing and now you have a domain and now you have postings and those things. I don’t know that I would get into that advice necessarily because it’s been said so many times.
To me the most important part of starting a website is knowing why you’re starting a website. If you don’t have a really good reason or a goal, you have no way tot track whether it is successful to you. Success is very relative to what your goal is. If my goal is to make $100,000 on a website and I get 100,000 visitors but no money from it, sure, someone might look and say, “Wow, you have a really successful website, you have so many visitors,” but I’d say that wasn’t my goal. My goal was to raise a certain amount of money.
If you don’t know why you’re creating this website and what your goal is, you have no way to understand whether or not it was worth making for you. Honestly, having that and defining what that is and creating your own roadmap for how you would achieve that and ignoring the technical parts, because there are so many ways to set that up it’s going to be way less of a deal. It’s not as much of a big deal as people think it is to actually create the website. It is so much more about the process of knowing why you’re building it and what words you’re going to put on it and the content that’s going to be there and how you’re going to achieve that goal with the website. To really plan that out is much more important than the domain name, for example.
AHMED: I think that’s a very, very good point. People forget about when you start a website then you should really think about why you’re starting a website and what you plan to do. What you want to get out of it. A very good point. I have seen lots of cases where you just file the domain name, get a host and get a WordPress and then just see where it takes you. That’s good if you want to just play around and experiment and just to get an idea, totally fair enough. If you have an idea of what you want to do then, you need to think about who you’re going to get there first. Quickly buying a domain name and a host theme will not get you there. It might get you there but it’s going to be very, very difficult. Very, very difficult. Very, very good point, I like that as well.
I’m going to pretend you’re on a job interview. What is your biggest strength?
ANNE: My biggest strength is honestly it’s less to do with me personally. My biggest strength is talking to other people and helping them identify what those goals are and why and helping them self-reflect. I can talk about my ideas and my visions and my hypothetical situations all day long but what I perceive is only as good as what I’m able to think of and words only mean so much if you say them once and never do anything about them.
My biggest strength is talking to other people, helping them self-reflect and create manageable steps for whatever that vision is. So many people, they have a vague idea like oh, I hate my life right now. I wish it were this way. They’re unable to visualise how to create a path out of that. For me again, it comes back. WordPress has been the singular tool that I have used to create that kind of freedom for myself. I know that WordPress isn’t necessarily going to be the key for everyone. Some people, I think most people don’t understand how powerful a website can be or having those skills to create a website. It’s a very desired skill. A lot of it is just the confidence of doing that and you can freelance as a web developer or web designer even with very minimal skills these days.
Anyhow, to help people realise what their options are and how many options there are. Helping people self-reflect and decide what it is that they feel they are capable of and what they feel would make them happy. Those are the things that I’m best at.
AHMED: Valid point and so very, very useful thing to know. I particularly like what you said about people don’t understand how powerful it is to have your own website, WordPress or otherwise and just be online and have a presence. You know how it is nowadays. If you don’t have a website online you kind of don’t exist, really. How can people find you? It’s just the way forward. People look online. If they want any info, that’s how it is now and that’s how it’s going to be in the future. It all makes sense. I agree with that.
Another item, what’s your biggest weakness and how do you go around it?
ANNE: That is another great question. My biggest weakness is all of those, I see too many paths ahead of me. It’s that same vision that I’m able to apply to other people and help them identify what their options are, I am able to do that for myself almost too well. I’m constantly seeing all these alternatives and all these options and all these paths. Since I’m the Jack of all trades type rather than the master of any, which can be powerful but learning to work with that has been definitely a struggle.
Focusing on one thing to be successful at one thing has been my biggest weakness rather than being like, “This sounds like a really good idea. We should try that.” Then you get distracted by another one and then, in the end you have all these hanging projects that never went anywhere.
The way that I’ve worked around this is I’ve started collaborating and building a mastermind group and working together with people on different projects of mine, which keeps me accountable. When I get to the point where I’m too overwhelmed or I get distracted by another idea I still have to come back and keep working on that one pro because someone is there asking me, “Hey, what did you get done this week?”
Honestly, learning to stop relying on myself. I don’t have to be perfect. I don’t need to suddenly stop seeing all my options. I do need to learn to continue focusing on the ones that have potential and that are the most important to me and working with other people may feel like I’m giving up a little bit of my independence, but in the end it’s going to make me stronger and it’s helping me be more successful.
AHMED: Awesome answer. That’s the one I like. I totally get what you’re saying about how you have vision. A lot of time you focus on other people’s vision and your client’s vision. You forget that you should try to practice what you preach, in a way. Do for yourself. I would definitely also want to point out say that having a mastermind is really, really useful. I’ve got one myself with a couple of other people. It’s so good to have that accountability. I totally agree with you. There’s nothing worse than going to say to someone, “Oh yeah, I’ve got homework but I haven’t done it.” You’re letting yourself down, you’re letting the whole group down. Having someone to be accountable would be useful and it’s definitely keep you on your toes. Find one. Just find one online.
If you had to start again, everything that you’ve been doing, what would you do differently? There’s so many things that you learn along the way and then you think back, oh, I wish I did it this way. If any, what would you do differently if you had to start again?
ANNE: I don’t know that I would have done anything differently. I only wish that I had had more confidence at the beginning that I was capable of success. I’m a pretty self-confident, independent, strong personality but even so, that’s how I present to pl and I think on the scale I have a lot of that going for me. There’s still a lot of self-sabotage that comes in when I doubt myself. I think well who am I to tell someone how their website should be, or who am I to make all this money? Who am I to charge this kind of money for the services I’m offering?
At the time I was very young. I was 19 years old and I felt like how can I, as a 19-year-old, advise a business owner on what they should be doing with their website and ask them for money? That felt very presumptuous of me to do so I didn’t. I could have been doing what I’m doing now and building up that business. It’s something that I love to do and I just didn’t realise that that was something I could turn into a business. I was young and I doubted my abilities and my skills.
The only thing I would have changed is taking myself more seriously and allowing myself to be successful where I was stopping myself because I didn’t believe that was something I had inside.
AHMED: I can understand that. I’ve mentioned in previous episodes, here’s another example of an impostor syndrome, really. You get that yourself and you question yourself, even though deep down really you have a lot of skills that other people would be happy to pay for, but we can’t help it. We’ve all got that impostor syndrome and we question our ability, we get scared. You get over it, you keep on going and you find you were wrong and you create a business out of it. Good on you.
If we get all romantic about it, what are you most proud about with your business or businesses or however way you would put it?
ANNE: The biggest thing I am proud of is even on projects that I have started and I just left online when I wasn’t able to continue working on them or when I wasn’t active with them, I have a huge heart for helping other people feel like they are able to do whatever it is that they love to do. By publishing my stories on Without Boxes or by publishing tutorials on how to do these things and create a plan for a website, all these things, whether it’s technical or just lifestyle inspiration, I’ve gotten so many random emails from people who out of the blue, out of nowhere I would be having a really off month. I hadn’t blogged in months. Someone would message me and say, “Oh, I saw your story,” or, “I read your tutorial and it changed the way I saw things. I was feeling incapable and now I feel like this is something I can do.”
Those moments and those emails, those are always what made me realise I can do this. I can be helping people. I can be helping myself. I can be moving forward and making a difference not just in my life but in other people’s lives and those are always the most proud moments that I have.
AHMED: It’s nice to hear these comments from other people. Not only you are helping them but you reassure yourself that you can do it. This whole impostor syndrome, you can get rid of it. Not really going to affect you at all. It’s very, very interesting because I have been around your website and seeing what you’re doing. It’s really, really cool what you’re doing. On top of being a bit of a traveller and nomad as well, which is always exciting to do as well.
I found it very interesting. I’ve learned quite a few things from you in terms of just go out there and do it. You can do whatever you can if you put your mind to it, which is really, really cool. Definitely want to say again I want to thank you for sharing your story and appreciate your sharing all these stories with us and learn from that, as well. I think a lot of us can learn from it.
I appreciate your time. Hopefully we can meet up again one day soon. If anybody wants to connect with you online, where can they find you?
ANNE: I’m on Twitter most of the time for social media @AnneDorko, A-N-N-E D-O-R-K-O. Then my blogs and websites are dialectpro.org and withoutboxes.com. There’s contact information for both of those projects on there depending on what it is you’re interested in learning more about.
AHMED: Fantastic. I will link to those in the show notes. Anne, once again, thank you for your time.
ANNE: Thanks for having me.
AHMED: And that is it. Thank you Anne again for coming on to the show. I really appreciate your time and for sharing your story with us, Anne. I picked up quite a few things in there but one thing I’ve learned is that impostor syndrome is in all of us. Anne had mentioned about how self-sabotage has pulled her down in the beginning a little bit but it’s because we all question ourselves. We all question about who are we to charge certain people for this service or this product. Everyone has something that other people want to pay for. Whether it’s your unique services or your product or just sharing your stories, so on and so forth. Only you can create a story. Only you will have that kind of style good. You are who you are and people will pay you for who you are. Just something to remember where you are on your own business.
If you want the show notes, they are available on Igniterock.com/episode9. Thank you for your time, for listening to me again and for listening to us talk. I’d really appreciate it if you could also leave a review on iTunes if you have enjoyed the show.
In the meantime, let’s rock with WordPress.