An interview with successful freelance web developer RJ McCollam

Show Notes:

RJ McCollam is a freelance web developer working from Broken Arrow, OK. Having freelanced since 2008 he has also focused on helping other freelancers through his podcast, blog, course, and project management app Hector. He shares his actual experience in an attempt to encourage those wanting to either start freelancing or move into full-time freelancing focusing on useful advice and attainable goals for someone just getting started.


1.Tell me about Hector and why you developed it.

2.As a WordPress developer, how do you separate yourself from the sea of competition, especially overseas contractors willing to work for pennies on the dollar

3.At what point did you decide to become a full-time freelancer?

4.What has been your biggest success as a freelancer and what contributed to that success?

5.You have a blog titled Complacency killed the freelance star. Can you explain the dangers of staying comfortable as a freelancer?

6.How can our audience follow you online?

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In today’s episode, we’re joined by RJ McCollam. He’s a freelance web developer working from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, having freelance since 2008. He has also focused on helping other freelancers through his podcast, his blogs, his courses, and his project management app- Hector. We will talk about how to start freelancing or move into full time freelancing. He wants to focus on useful advice and attainable goals for someone who’s just getting started.

Matt: Tell me about Hector and why you developed it.

RJ: Freelancers don’t typically work on teams. They are working with either a large group of people and for the longest time, everybody that I worked with always tried to find like this perfect way to manage all of our products that I couldn’t find it. If I was working with three different people, I needed client A to not be able to see client B, etc. I figured out that there wasn’t a way to see all of the things that were on my plate in one place, regardless of who I was working with. And that’s what sparked Hector.

Matt: That’s it sounds like a handy tool. You’re a WordPress developer at heart, right?

RJ: Yes, that’s what I love to do.

Matt: We get a lot of questions on how I separate myself from all the competitors. As a WordPress developer, you have no shortage of competitors, right? It’s the sea of competition out there, especially overseas contractors who well, let’s be frank, work for pennies on the dollar. How do you compete with that?

RJ: It’s easy. You do what you say you’re going to do. WordPress is a huge platform, which means there’s lots of competition. A lot of people don’t follow through, or they take the shortcut to get as little done as possible to get the invoice paid. Just being able to come through, listen to people what they want and deliver that. It’s simple. I wish I had some silver bullet answer, but it’s a silver bullet answer.

Matt: I tell my students all the time, don’t worry about your competitors. Just focus on your brand and what you can deliver, and it’ll all fall into place. It might seem like an easy solution. But really, that’s what you have to do. The people that want to hire people from overseas at $4 an hour, those aren’t your ideal clients anyway, right. So at what point did you decide to become a full-time Freelancer?

RJ: It’s kind of always been the end goal. I’ve been freelancing for just over ten years now. That’s always what I was moving towards. I’m having only made $15,000, the previous year to freelancing, with the support of my wife, I quit my job, we had three months of our bills paid, and it was like, it’s time to put up or shut up, this is either going to work and I’m going to do it, or I’m not. And six years later, I’m more successful than I’ve ever been.

Matt: Speaking of that success, what has been maybe the one or top couple contributing factors that have stuck out in your mind?

RJ: For me, it’s relationships. I wouldn’t be where I’m at without relationships. How do you set yourself apart from the competition? The key is relationships that I’ve invested in. I work with people all over the country; I rarely leave my house that often. And it’s because of these relationships that I’ve had opportunities that I’ve been able to step into and deliver. My goal is to build relationships that can last forever.

Matt: I think another answer to your question might be complacency. I noticed you have a blog called “Complacency Killed the freelance Star.” Can you explain the dangers of a successful Freelancer or even a growing freelancer on being complacent?

RJ: It’s tough. As a freelancer, you have your specialty, which you do. And regardless of what it is, everything changes- technology, skill sets, social media. If you get comfortable and you become complacent, you’re going to get left behind. It’s just a matter of time. So that’s my number one fear, if things are going well, I don’t want to rock the boat too much. I don’t like to feel like we’re just sitting still.

Matt: That’s great advice. But how can a freelancer avoid being complacent? What can someone physically due to practice not being complacent?

RJ: Practice. Push yourself out of your comfort zone. I’m a developer. That’s the easiest example to give and I build custom WordPress themes. And you know, WordPress is changing all the time itself. I need to be able to step into new technologies. That the way, when they do something, and I need to experience it. Maybe I don’t go full force into it. But you have to step out of the comfort zone and try something that you haven’t. Maybe that’s marketing, maybe that’s a different place to get clients or anything along those lines. But you just got to step out.

Matt: I do that in my personal life every year. I started doing things that I’m not comfortable doing. A couple of years ago, I made a goal to go skydiving, which I did. This year, I made a goal to do a stand-up comedy act, which I did. So uncomfortable. I think in terms of complacency, a lot of it is education- just understanding what’s out there and keeping up with the times. Tell me a little bit about your podcast and how often that’s updated in your blog and, of course, your courses. We want to hear all about that stuff.

RJ: The podcast has been dormant for about a year. However, I’ve transitioned from being a freelancer to an agency co-owner. But we’re revamping the podcast. As of October 1, we’re going to be doing two new episodes.

The blog sits dormant. I know that blogging is something that helps me communicate with freelancers. I remember being that guy driving to work every day. And just feeling like I was listening to these podcasts and getting useful information, but it just felt so beyond me. It’s really important for me through the podcasts, through writing, through Hector and through a course that I put out to make a full-time income as a WordPress developer. All that stuff is resurfacing; I guess you could say.

Matt: I love to see you get back into it. And you have a course for freelancers, is that updated?

RJ: It’s not updated. In a perfect world, I’d love to sit down and revamp it. But you can go to The courses are there; you can download everything. You can find information on how I approach business in terms of pricing, finding new clients diving more into relationships, and then how I develop a theme.

Matt: Is it specifically geared towards tech-freelancers or WordPress freelancers, more specifically?

RJ: That I think is relevant to any Freelancer, but it’s okay if you have some knowledge of HTML and CSS. And like I said, I show you how I do it, but a lot of it is why I do it the way I do it.

Matt: You have some new podcast you said and coming in October, right? What’s the name of that podcast?

RJ: It’s the freelance podcast, very easy to remember. It’s mostly going to be conversations between me and my partner. I’m bringing on an official co-host, who’s my business partner and we’re going to be discussing a bunch of different topics answering listener questions, the occasional interview, but it’s more or less going to be our spin on particular issues.


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