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I'm Brian Gardner, Founder of StudioPress, Partner at Rainmaker Digital. Ask me anything!

Dec. 16, 2015

I'm a designer and a writer, but most known for creating the premium WordPress theme market.

I'm living the dream in the suburbs of Chicago with my wife Shelly and 11 year-old son Zach.

Most people know me as a Starbucks addict or Sarah McLachlan fan -- both of which would be right.

So what else do you want to know?

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29 votes   Flag
Matt Medeiros

Hey Brian,

We've known each other for a while, dating back to the digital nomad blog concept and possibly even a few "chapters" before that. I wanted to say thanks for always speaking from your heart -- and not being afraid to do so.

Over the years as I watch you (and your team) evolve, I'm curious, how do you validate that *next* idea? What math or spaghetti-against-the-wall method do you use to allow yourself to commit to it? Do you start with "how can I say _no_ to this?" Lastly, for the partners at RM, are these personal brand missions critical to the overall business and do you all discuss each?

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Brian Gardner

Hey Matt -- good to hear from you!I don't think there's a way to validate an idea ahead of time, so for me it's pretty much as you said -- throw it against the wall and see what sticks. Thankfully my role in our company isn't to create every idea, rather ones that pertain to design -- primarily StudioPress/themes.

It's no secret over the years I've redesigned my blog umpteen times, and to be honest it's only partly because I'm creatively schizophrenic. The primary reason I do this is to test design ideas and gauge the reactions I get from my audience.

As for personal brands, I'm a huge advocate of companies encouraging the employees (or partners in my case) to build them. I think the stronger the personal brand, the stronger the company brand. I think that relationship should be a symbiotic one, where the company pushes the personal brand and the person pushes the company brand. I know I go out of my way to do both, because I think they are both beneficial to each other.

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Lara Kulpa

Hey friend! I'm probably going to hit you where it's unexpected right now, but I find myself stuck in a situation and am thinking you can help.

You know I've been a SP/Genesis user since day one, pretty much. I love it. I love all the themes and the ability to totally customize what I'm doing. However, I'm running into issues where clients want the whole drag-n-drop page builder elements of themes like Enfold and Divi.

I can't stand using them. I've successfully convinced many to leave them and come to the Genesis side (hehe).

But they're growing in demand, I think.

Any plans on incorporating/developing a clean plugin for Genesis for this stuff, or is there one? Or should I just tell those people to find someone else?

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Brian Gardner

We've been asked this a number of times over the years, and the reality is that it's something I doubt very highly we'll ever do. We simply have too many other priorities on our plate. Do I think it could be a valuable thing? Yes, absolutely!

Which means I think (cough) this is a golden opportunity for a developer in the Genesis community. Someone who sees a void with high demand, and wants to supply something of extreme value.

Hint, hint.

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Lara Kulpa

I was hoping you'd say that, because I knew it was something likely off the table for you guys to take on. I just hope some awesome developer comes up with this, and soon!

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Brian Gardner

One of my favorite parts of the Genesis community is that (smart) developers have seen voids in the market and have taken initiative themselves to serve the audience. Think Shay and Foodie theme, or Norcross and Design Palette Pro. We go out of our way to help promote and share the good things we see in the community, and a page builder would be no different.

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Jon Dalrymple

Hello Brian!

Thanks for making StudioPress and the Genesis themes. They have helped me in my Design business tremendously.

I'd like to learn the Genesis platform and how to design themes for it, actually just being able to customize them to whatever my clients want is my goal. But I don't know what is the best route to take without spending years becoming a developer. Is there a way to learn to modify StudioPress themes quickly. And is there a place to learn the genesis platform inside and out?

Thanks for your help.

Jon

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Brian Gardner

Here are two very trusted Genesis developers doing what they do best -- teaching folks how to build websites with Genesis:

1) Carried Dils -- www.lynda.com/Carrie-Dils/965233-1.html
2) Jesse Petersen -- teamtreehouse.com/jessepetersen

As for me and how I learned? The old fashioned way. Rolling up my sleeves, getting my hands dirty and doing things by trial and error. (and a whole lotta Google)

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Jon Dalrymple

Thanks for the links Brian. And the suggestion to roll up my sleeves. I'm there already. Just frustrated at how slow it's going for me.

Another question I had was if there were any plugins for mobile responsive menus that work with Genesis themes. I'm thinking of more than just the hamburger icon, but also one that adds the icon to the right of .header-image .site-title, (etc). And also adds a search icon to open the search bar. I have never seen one, and it seems like it should be a part of the StudioPress themes out of the box.

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Paul Oyler

With your current minimalist approach to themes, with no sidebars, where do you see churches and other like sites putting important but peripheral information such as service times, physical location, special events, etc. And still keep essential information about the organization front and center?

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Brian Gardner

I want to make it clear my choice to go "No Sidebar" is a personal one, and it's something on a conceptual level I encourage others to consider. Do I think every website on the internet should go no sidebar? Absolutely not, as I realize there are markets (churches, online magazines, etc) that clearly warrant the use of a sidebar because of said peripheral information. More than anything, No Sidebar is more of a figurative thing, than a literal one. It just so happened (for me) to start with the latter.

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Julie Sherman

Hey Brian! I've been hustling at design/development for 6+ years and feel like my business is having a mid-life crisis! What's your best advice for giving a creative a swift kick in the rear to take their business to the next level? Where do you glean your creativity from?

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Brian Gardner

I recently did a live webinar where I talked about this specifically.

As a runner, I compare a lot of things to "the wall" that happens in a marathon.

So to answer your (first) question, the answer is simple. Just keep running. (insert Dory quote from Nemo here.)

If you want a better answer, here it is -- take a risk. Maybe it's a big one. Maybe it's a small one. But do something different. As the old saying goes, "nothing will change if you change nothing."

As for creativity, I just do what I want/think is best. I didn't go to school for art, design, or anything creative. Maybe it's a gift I have then, since technically it wasn't something I was taught.

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Julie Sherman

Thanks Brian! Is your webinar available for replay? I'd love to watch it! I'm definitely at a wall!

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Brian Gardner

I did it through our Digital Commerce Academy, which I believe will have a replay -- digitalcommerce.com/academy/

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Omaar Osmaan

Hey Brian, great talking to you! I'm stepping into the premium WordPress theme shop- would love to know from you-

(a) What are the most critical things that new WordPress shop owners should be focus on early?
(b) Due to all the fancy themes out there, how tough is it to reach audience who loves minimal themes?
(c) Any tips/suggestions?

Thank you!

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Fran

Hi Brian,

First I'd like to thank you and the Genesis team for creating something that has allowed me to work from home, support my family, and watch my little guy grow.

I'm curious about your thoughts on the rise of drag-and-drop design, with sites like Squarespace and the Divi themes, do you ever see Genesis going that route, either by a special theme or through the use of a special plugin?

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Brian Gardner

I think the general publishing space is big enough to accommodate many forms of publishing/developing. I think Squarespace is intuitive and easy for extreme DIYers, but it also has a number of limitations/disadvantages. As I mentioned in my response to Lara, I'd love to see someone (paging Andrew Norcross) take stab at something like that for Genesis.

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Ray Uotila

Hi Brian,
I consider myself as approaching intermediate as a WP user.
What continued education/learning do you recommend?
Thanks.

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Brian Gardner

Hey Ray! I dropped a few links to Genesis specific learning resources above in a previous comment -- and those are by far the best things I can recommend. If you're asking more about WordPress in general, I'd say the Codex and other tutorial/video based resources would be the place to start.

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Alex

Brian, I've become a big fan of your work and outlook on life over the past year or so. You seem to be living the life—drinking Starbucks wherever you want and creating amazing stuff all the time.

Here are my questions: where do you find your inspiration? And how do you recommend busy people make time and find inspiration to do similar creative work? I have a lot of ideas up my sleeve, but can't seem to find the time to work on them due to putting in long hours at work. And when I do have the free time, that's usually when I'm the least motivated or inspirited to create.

Another: how do you recommend people build communities on their sites? I've read a lot in the food and lifestyle blogger realms on how they've built their audiences. Many of them state that it was a lot of elbow grease in the form of commenting on every blog imaginable and trying to drive traffic to their site. That doesn't seem like a very authentic way to get people involved and interested in what you have to say (nor do I have time to comment for hours every day on blogs). If theoretically you have the quality content piece nailed down, how do you get the eyeballs in front of it?

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Brian Gardner

I think "living the life" is subjective, and many folks would disagree about the Starbucks part -- mainly those who brew their own coffee like my friend Jeff Goins.

As for inspiration, I find it everywhere I look. On the internet, in a magazine, at the mall. It's really a sickness at times, because even last year when I was (heh) taking a day off work and went sledding with my family, I saw a font on a sign on my way down the hill that I wanted to use.

Ideas. Yeah. My achilles heel, because I have so (so, so, so) many of them and it's really hard to decide which ones to go after and which ones to not. I remember a story a long time ago when Brian Clark asked Chris Brogan how he decides what to say "no" to and his response has stuck with me. "If it doesn't serve (or build) my audience, then I pass it up."

Building communities -- pretty much the same as learning WordPress or many things in life. Elbow grease and doing it the old fashioned way -- earning it. I do think that using (as much as we hate to want to) existing social media platforms such as Facebook is a good way to go at it. If the community is there and using it, why not?

Here's a great podcast from Jeff Goins and Joshua Becker about that -- goinswriter.com/how-to-use-facebook/

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Desiree Jester

Hey Brian!

I'm a huge fan of your work both with No Sidebar and Studiopress as a whole :) I see you constantly cracking out gorgeous themes and thought provoking posts which leads me to my question.

Do you ever feel creatively stuck? Or feel like you are longing to create something but don't exactly know what that is? I would love to know your thoughts on how to create consistently and with quality (not just putting something out there for the sake of having it out there). Thanks so much for all you do!

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Brian Gardner

I feel creatively stuck pretty much every day of my life. The depth of the valleys will vary from time to time, but yes -- I want to bang my head against the wall all the time.

The hardest part of design (or anything creative, really) is that it's an abstract concept, completely different from something like numbers and accounting. Much like a potter's hand, I continually refine the things I work on. Quote often I'll start in one direction, and then turn a corner with it.

dribbble.com/shots/2371095-Digital-Pro became this --> dribbble.com/shots/2392678-Digital-Pro-Light

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JazzFan Junkie

Hello Brian. Which would you rather fight: one horse-sized duck, or 100 duck-sized horses?

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Brian Gardner

The latter -- easier to divide and conquer.

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carrie dils

Heya Brian,

Two questions for ya!

1. Do you see a point in the future where you'd open up access to the Rainmaker codebase to developers (not for contributions - just the ability to see it and develop with it in a local environment)? Rainmaker is a cool SaaS offering for your customers, but it's an unwelcoming environment for developers due to lack of access/control.

2. What do you see as the biggest gap in service offerings around Rainmaker that an entrepreneurial-minded Genesis designer/dev could provide? (i.e. site setup, strategy, integrations, etc)

Cheers,
Carrie

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Brian Gardner

1. The million dollar question, and honestly one that is above my pay grade. I understand why you are asking it, and want to punt that question to Chris Garrett, who is in charge of Rm development.

2. I know it's a stretch (as it was even for me when I put a few of my sites onto it) to think of Rainmaker as a tool for users, rather something to develop or build on. I think there are so many businesses and entrepreneurs who need to focus on the fundamentals that we teach at Copyblogger and Digital Commerce Institute and spend less time thinking about the things they think about.

I know this may seem like a "dodging" response, but the reality is that far too many folks focus on how things look, and how to get eyes to their website without really understanding how important content, authority and a smart plan is.

To be more specific, I think the things you mentioned (setup, strategy and integrations) is really where a smart developer can make a lot of money. Charge for your expertise (that I know you have a ton of, btw) rather than your ability to move a piece of code.

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carrie dils

> I know it's a stretch (as it was even for me when I put a few of my sites onto it) to think of Rainmaker as a tool for users, rather something to develop or build on.
> Charge for your expertise (that I know you have a ton of, btw) rather than your ability to move a piece of code.

Very valid points and you're correct on both counts, but I think the flagship RM sites customers see (and then want to replicate) are sites that've had the benefit of heavy customization and that creates a disconnect from what customers want to hire developers to accomplish and the services developers are able to provide.

And yes, folks would do well to focus more on the fundamentals than the shiny things. :)

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Erin E Flynn

I wanted to jump in on this as I've now got a few clients on RM... It seems that those who are willing to invest in a platform like RM (and have money to) are wanting custom design. The included templates just aren't doing it for them. It's not just aesthetics, but marketing strategy. Since dev on RM is a struggle this is hard to offer. Really hoping for the local development option as well to make things easier on my clients, me, and the RM support team (who are all awesome, BTW).
My clients love RM once they're on it--just a struggle right now getting the initial design and setup. But now they don't have to worry about ANY of that tech stuff, which is awesome and lets them focus on their content. :)

Also agree there's a lot of opportunity for developers and setup of RM sites. At this point it's all so new there don't seem to be many of us out there working with RM!

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Rebecca Gill

Brian there has been a lot of chatter about Genesis, where it is heading, and it's future. So I'm curious as to what can be shared on the future of Genesis, upcoming changes, and how we developers can best prepare for any changes ahead?

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Brian Gardner

As you know, Genesis is rock solid -- so there's not a ton from a core framework standpoint that we'll be changing over the next year. (ie, no page builder, etc.) At some point, we might extract XHTML markup from it, but not tomorrow.

I think themes, markets and extendability is really where we'll see most of the transitions and growth. The evolution of design is continuing even as we speak, so I think adapting to the way websites look is really the changes will happen.

Obviously there might come a point where WordPress changes it's course (see Calypso) that we'll need to take into account, but for the most part we'll be following their lead.

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Chris Cree

Heya Brian! It's been a pleasure watching your business grow over the years. Your original Revolution themes helped me get my freelance business up and running when I didn't have a clue. And building sites and themes with your Genesis theme framework provided income for my wife while we moved across country to attend a Bible college. I expect the work will also help provide for my family as we head overseas to the mission field.

So mostly I want to say thank you for building something that continues to help provide income and improve my family's quality of life like it has for the past several years. I truly appreciate having the flexibility to prioritize my work/life balance that I've been able to achieve in large part because you pursued your own vision with such passion.

It looks like you just answered my main question about the future of Genesis. Obviously for someone who has so many eggs in the Genesis basket it's important to me to see the Genesis community continue to thrive as it has so far. Please keep up all the good work on that front! :)

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Brian Gardner

Thanks Chris -- it's been fun to have you around for all these years, and I'm trying to figure out a way for our paths to cross again soon IRL. I'm guessing Colorado is where we both want that to happen -- perhaps this? (digitalcommerce.com/summit/)

I have a call with Rebecca next week to talk about "stuff" so we can elaborate more about the future then.

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Chris Cree

I'm hoping we'll be overseas by then. But if we're delayed I'll take a look at that for sure.

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Ginger Coolidge

Hi Brian,

Wondering if a podcast with your buddy is going to happen in the new year?

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Brian Gardner

We really wanted to make it happen, but for reasons (his and mine) it probably won't. And that's a good thing, as I've been tossing around the idea of another one (more up my alley) anyways, which would be a fun thing if it pans out.

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Ahmad Awais

Hi Brian,

Thanks for doing this, I have a few questions.

— If you compare StudioPress with RainMaker which type of business model would you recommend (I mean nowadays)?
— What did you learn building a SaaS WP solution, the mistakes, if you start now what would you do in a different manner?
— WP MU vs Single WP instance via Docker, which one would you prefer and why?
— For someone who wants to take a leap of faith and start SaaS WP solution, what's your advice?

Thanks,
Looking forward!

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Ryan Love

Hey Brian,

A couple of questions for ya!

1) Given that the premium theme market is so different to when you started, (in that one now exists!) how as a developer/designer would you begin in the current marketplace? Especially considering there are so many great companies already out there, such as BeaverBuilder, Divi, iThemes, Themify, ThemeForest, StudioPress, etc.

Would you build a theme shop? Would you build a page builder? Would you develop a framework like Genesis all over?

And how would you go about marketing yourself to get customers and build your brand?

2) If you didn't build Revolution and go on to build StudioPress, what do you think you would be doing now instead?

3) How many shares in Starbucks do you own?

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Brian Gardner

1) I also discussed this on the live webinar I referred to earlier and the answer is simple. It's better at this point to be small fish and swim along a big fish. The Genesis Framework (and StudioPress and Copyblogger for that matter) are such strong brands there comes along with it a very fast current to travel. Our community has benefitted greatly from our efforts and it's provided an opportunity to reach a large audience with less effort than would be required from scratch. Developing themes on Genesis is a great way to easily be seen and have your work be distributed widely. Trying to build a theme company in today's market is much different than it was back in the day.

2) Very possible I'd still be in the same project manager job I was in 10 years ago.

3) Zero. But I rank on page 1 on Google for "Starbucks Addict" which is worth it's weight in ...

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Ryan Love

lol @ 3). You should for sure at least get a sponsorship! You could be the Jared of Subway, but for Starbucks.

And thanks for you're answers!

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Nemanja Aleksic

Who would be a better Darth Vader - Carrie Dils or Jesse Petersen?

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Brian Gardner

Good question. Wonder what they'd say? :-)

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carrie dils

May the force be with you (and also with you).

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Erin E Flynn

Hey Brian!

Glad to see you're doing this and appreciate the opportunity to pick your brain! Thank you!

Also wanted to say thank you for basically creating everything my business has been based on for the past few years. Gave my husband and me the opportunity to pack up and move where we wanted and create a life we love. :)

Questions:

1) How do you find a balance between great design and accessibility? Right now I'm really struggling with creating designs that look great, create a sales funnel/flow for my clients' sites, and are accessible. It seems like some things that are just common and expected and what you should do in terms of marketing (links opening in new windows, landing pages that don't have navigation, etc.) aren't great practice in terms of accessibility, and I now have an internal over-thinking struggle of balancing marketing design and accessibility design. Any tips going forward?
Maybe Carrie Dils will see this and pop in too? ;)

2) What is your biggest pet peeve on websites? Besides the typical music/videos autoplaying, slow load times, etc. Is there anything that really bugs you that most of us probably miss?

3) If you had advice for anyone just starting out in the web design business, what would it be?

Thanks! :D

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Brian Gardner

1) I wish I had the magic answer you're looking for, and to be honest, I don't have one. I know it's a struggler for others, as well as it's a struggle for me/us at StudioPress. I guess all I can is to get creative in a way that serves both angles, without leaving one behind.

2) Sidebars. (when they aren't necessary.)

3) Understand that you should be the only judge of your work. As creatives, we have a tendency to be overly critical of the stuff we produce, and in many cases (like mine) it can create self doubt. I have a hard enough time pleasing myself, let alone trying to please hundreds or thousands of others along the way.

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Erin E Flynn

Thanks, Brian!

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Davinder Singh

First revolution and then Genesis - both have been important part of my online business endeavors. So... Brian - thank you so much for creating awesome products!

1. What inspired you to follow path of a profound minimalism both is personal and professional life?

2. Will digitalcommerce shape into plugin based membership / ecommerce solution (re-packaged and updated "premise") ?

3. Why not get Carrie Dils or Jesse Peterson on Rainmaker digital team for one hell of interactive weekly video podcast? (Hint: DiviNation podcast is doing lot of things right in this sphere).

Thanks
Davinder

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Brian Gardner

1) Realizing that holding onto things (whether it be tangible or intellectual) was holding me back.

2) Not that I'm aware of. DCI is about education, more than anything else. And it leads folks to Rainmaker, which has it's own membership solution.

3) Only so much time in the day. ;-)

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Davinder Singh

Thanks Brian - keep rocking!

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Jamie Mitchell

Hi Brian

could really use your advice.

I have been building websites with WordPress since 2009

Been using Genesis (and following you) since the beginning (was using Thematic framework before Genesis)

built many, many websites for local businesses over the years.

can code a Genesis websites, customize, css etc like it's second nature to me.

yet I am flat broke, i'm so broke i am being evicted and kicked out, i don't even have money for food.

I haven't had a new project for 4 months, i have been doing this for longer than most and have a ton of experience.

I have to charge minimum amount on quotes just to get the job, which barely covers my time.

please tell me what do do Brian, your my only hope.

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Sallie Goetsch (rhymes with 'sketch')

You don't have to charge a minimum amount to get jobs. You can get jobs with better clients who have larger budgets. Clients who nickel-and-dime you aren't the ones you want anyway.

No doubt there's lots of good information on marketing yourself in the Copyblogger oeuvre.

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Mike Hall

Hi Brian,

I am new to your site and I want submit article and there is a message you need a 110 karma score so pleas tell me how to increase karma score.

I am waiting for your response

Thanks

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Vladimir Prelovac

Hi Mike

Please review managewp.org/guidelines on how to apply for posting privilege.

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Mike Hall

Thanks @Vladimir Prelovac

Thank you very much

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Surendra Soni

I run my life because of Genesis Customization service only . !!!

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