Heather Acton Interview
Meet Heather Acton (@HeatherActon): mom, businesswoman, staunch WordCamp Chicago supporter, and founder of the WordPress Lake County Meetup. Learn how Heather got started, how she’s built a thriving business, and her advice on how to be successful making things with WordPress.
Tell us the story of how you got into working with WordPress.
In 2008, after having my second child, I embarked on creating a family website. Much of our family is across the country and adverse to Facebook, so I figured a website would be the most efficient way to share lots of family moments from afar. After doing a fair amount of research and learning HTML, I stumbled upon WordPress and started to put together my first self-hosted site.
After building “The ChicagoActons,” my first WordPress site, and sharing it with some family and friends, I got a few requests from close connections to build a WordPress site for their purposes — a band, a nonprofit, and a small business. I was excited to do so, since I was home with two small kids and often “brain bored.”
By 2009 I had a solid flow of business and have had exponential growth since then. Today, I have four-six contractors working with me at any given time and I support my family of four with my WordPress-centric web strategy and development firm, Helio Interactive.
You’ve co-organized and lead organized WordCamp Chicago — why do you choose to give so much to the WordPress community and what’s the most important thing you’ve learned from that experience?
I co-organized WordCamp Chicago in 2011, was the lead organizer in 2012, and mentored the new lead organizer in 2013. I’ve given this much to the community because I wholeheartedly believe in the karmic nature of the WordPress community AND economy. I feel extremely blessed to have never had to struggle to get business, and truly believe it’s because I take time to mentor others and organize events that help others learn how to build with WordPress or grow their own WordPress-based business.
You’ve founded the WordPress Lake County meetup. What advice can you share with other WordPress pros thinking about starting a meetup in their area?
The most important thing a potential meetup organizer can keep in mind is that they will always get back much more than they give by running the meetup. People are SO appreciative to have a place to go to learn about WordPress and connect with others using it; it feels wonderful to be one of the people providing this opportunity. And, there are always business leads that come out of running a meetup, so it’s not time wasted; consider it a very fun and rewarding marketing activity.
As part of your services you do development, site maintenance and repair, and training. Which of these disciplines do you love most and why?
Recently I’ve been working with companies to go beyond the typical technical website development and maintenance activities, to more of a full web strategy consultant, and this I love. As my client base grew and I got more ingrained in clients’ day-to-day businesses, it was clear that my real strength is in understanding how to grow a business via the web. And, it’s where I get the most satisfaction — when a company’s bottom line is improved due to a combination of a solidly built website and a well thought out and measured conversion plan.
If you could offer one piece of awesome free WordPress training advice, what would that be?
Just one??? If I have to keep it to just one, it’s to learn by doing. You can read 100 books and 1000 articles, but you won’t really learn how to be a great developer unless you put your skills to work and DO. Take on projects before you think you’re ready. Try things that you’re not sure you can do. Fail a lot, but rejoice when you finally get something to work!