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I am Sonja Leix, Independent Digital Strategist and Web Designer. Ask Me Anything!

Apr. 19, 2017

Hello! I'm Sonja and I work remotely designing websites for clients all over the world. I don’t specialize in an industry, the way I work is how I differentiate myself. In all things design I focus on a content and user centric design approach and use research and a deep discovery phase to inform my design decisions. I work directly with my clients in a very collaborative way, and occasionally join agencies on their projects as well. I cover the full project cycle from Discovery, UX, Visual Design, to Theme Development, but also often collaborate with other experts.

My background is design, I worked as a Graphic Designer for over 10 years back in Germany, where I grew up. I aspired to move into web design for a while before I created the opportunity when I moved to New York City in 2009. This is where I first learned about WordPress and connected to the local community. I can say with certainty and affection that the community drew me into using WordPress and actively being involved for so many years now. I certainly found family there and so much support.

I contribute back to the open source project in several ways. Currently my primary focus is helping organize WordCamp Europe in Paris. I lead the design team (amazing people!!) and am very excited to see you all in Paris in June (there are still tickets available!). I also contribute to the Polyglots team by translating plugins into German and from time to time speak at WordCamps and other events. The talk I’m most proud of, mainly because I felt the most vulnerable and I was able to connect with the audience the most, was my talk about the Impostor Syndrome during WCEU last year.

Being a freelancer hasn’t always been easy. I had to learn a lot of things the hard way and I am happy to help any of you avoid some of my mistakes. To me, as a business owner it’s curcial to create a network of support. I am grateful to have found that within the WordPress community and in other amazing mentors, so I’d like to pay it forward.

I left NYC a couple years ago to embark on a journey of ultimate freedom as a location-independent designer. 20 months, 34 cities, and 11 countries later I found home in Boulder, Colorado last Fall. I love what I do, the flexibility of working remotely and being able to make my own schedule is priceless! When I’m AFK I try to be in nature as much as possible. Boulder is an amazing place to live and be active. I climb, snowboard, bike, and hike. I also still travel a lot. I’m currently in Europe to prep for WordCamp Europe and visit family in Germany. Today I’m saying hello from Krakow, Poland.

Now it’s your turn. Ask Me Anything!

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24 votes   Flag
Adam W. Warner

I'm sitting on a plane getting ready to take off at 7:14am. Should I order a coffee or Heineken?

Have you run into any of the pitfalls of working remotely that some people experience? If so, which ones and how did you confront and fix?

During your outdoor adventures have you had any moments that scared you?

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Sonja Leix

Haha! Hi Adam, thanks for stopping by! I'd say get a coffee unless it's your day off.

There are definitely a few pitfalls I experienced while traveling and working remotely. I'd say unreliable or non-existing wifi is the hardest to fix. That usually meant to either take a forced vacation (which is not always possible) or to move on. Timezones can sometimes be tricky, but I personally don't mind getting up in the middle of the night to get on a client call since everything else is usually asynchronous allowing me to make my own schedule. Lastly what took me some time to figure out while I was a nomad, was finding my flow. I realized being in one place at least 3-4 weeks helped me settle in, explore the place, and be productive at the same time. You travel a lot for work too, do you have anything to add / share?

Luckily I haven't had any scary moments during any of my outdoor adventures. I must say that being in nature and doing some fun but somewhat dangerous sports, like climbing / bouldering, or riding through trees and amazing powder on a snowboard is always humbling. So I try and stay safe while still having plenty of adrenaline pumping through my veins ;)

Safe travels, Adam!

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Adam W. Warner

Thanks for the answers. I chose coffee btw ;)

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Sonja Leix

I had a feeling you would. :)

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Ann Taylor

Hi Sonja! A very interesting story, thanks for sharing it!

How many hours per week do you actually work ? Do you have any schedule? Do you have a base of clientele or it's always a matter of searching for new ones?

Thanks!

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Sonja Leix

Hi Ann, nice to meet you! Thanks for your questions.
How many hours I work per week? It fluctuates, always depends on how much work is on my plate. Most of the time it's about 40-45 hours a week, currently more. I try to take weekends off to be able to recharge. When I first started out as a freelancer I worked 16 hour days and weekends and you can imagine how draining that was. Over time I was able to gain more skills, up my fees, and as a result work less hours but with better results. Win-win :)

I don't have a fixed work schedule, but for me it mostly ends up being pretty normal business hours (which don't always align with my clients timezones). When I travel I try to work early mornings so I can take a break for fun activities and then work some more in the afternoon/evening.

I get a lot of business through referrals from past clients and clients also come back with new projects or redesigns. I have two ongoing clients, which send me work as they need me – it's not as easy to plan in but they are fun to work with. Other designers / developers sometimes send clients my way, either to collaborate on projects or because they are fully booked.

I'm very fortunate at this point in my business that I don't need to advertise or actively look for work, but it hasn't always been this way. Is this something you're struggling with or would like some pointers? In that case I would suggest to network within the community at meetups or WordCamps. Finding people with a complementary skill set will help find projects to collaborate on. There are also great platforms to pick up additional work like Codeable.io. In general not being shy to share what you do and how your skills specifically can help clients or agencies is always a good start.

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Milica Spasojević

Hey Sonja,
Thanks for coming to our AMA.

I think contributing back to the community is so important, and I find that design is always underrespresented. I love that you have been giving back so much, and I am trying to do the same by organizing local meetups here in Belgrade. If you ever find your way over here , it would be our pleasure to have you speak at UX Belgrade - uxdesign.rs/

Okay onto the questions :)

1. How did you find the switch between graphic and web design? What was the biggest challenge?
2. You mentioned having some difficulties when you started out as a freelancer. What was the hardest thing?
3. What is your most proud design moment/project?

Thank you,
Milica

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Sonja Leix

Hi Milica, thanks for the invite, I'd be honored. Belgrade is definitely on my list of places to visit.
To your questinos:
1. Moving as a design into front-end web design has the big advantage that you have about half the skill set down. There are of course different design principles that apply to web design, but starting off you can fully focus on learning the technical side – the code. My biggest challenge was knowing where to start. Web design is exciting because it's constantly changing, but that also means it can feel like you're never able to catch up. And frankly you can't really catch up, but it's not a race. Talking to other designers/developers helped me realize it's about choose what languages / frameworks / etc. make sense and focus on learning those to build up a set of skills that make sense and are complimentary. For me starting out that was of course HTML and CSS and in 2009 still slicing up the design. Then I added PHP once I came across WordPress and the transition was then easier because I was able to play with and customize pre-existing themes.
2. I didn't make it easy for myself, I basically started my freelance journey by moving to a different country and into a very competitive city during a recession (after the 2008 crash), hah. The hardest starting out as a freelancer for me was trying to make a living, understanding where I'm at in the space and how much I can charge (charged way too little for a long time), and finding good clients. When I "have to" take on any project I could get it often ended up being low-budget rush projects, which were no fun. Sharing experiences with other freelancers helped me evolve and navigate the waters.
3. That's a tough one. I've worked on so many fun projects. But what was the most surprising/proud moment, was getting a job offer because of my active involvement in the local WordPress community in NYC from CBS as a UX Designer several years ago was awesome – and I couldn't say no.

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Aca

Hi Sonja,

Thanks for taking the time for AMA

Since you are designer, what attracted you to WordPress and why would you recommend WordPress from a designer's point of view?

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Sonja Leix

Hello Aca, thanks for saying hi!
I love WordPress because it is infinitely flexible in terms of what you can build – you can keep it simple, but you can also build complex platforms with it. Clients love it because they are able to manage their own content. From a design and UX perspective it gives you a great base. It's easy to build a responsive, SEO-friendly website, that can later be evolved and extended. WordPress puts a lot of emphasis on Accessibility, making the web a more accessible place for everyone – which results in better user experience as well.

There are also amazing resources for people working with WordPress out there. People are sharing their knowledge freely in blog posts, tutorials, and even their code. The community is supportive and helpful, which makes a huge difference.

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Marko Tanaskovic

Hey Sonja!

Tnx for setting down time to answer our questions.

Let's say someone likes the freedom freelancing and traveling offers and wants to try out if such lifestyle is for him/her.
What would you recommend to such person?

In other words, what pitfalls to avoid and what knowledge/attitude is useful or necessary to get by a little easier on a similar road?

Any tips and tricks?

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Sonja Leix

Hi Marko, that's a great question and a good approach if you're not sure if this is for you. I would advise to set a time limit – try it for 1-3 months. Pick a region you'd like to visit and make sure it's within your budget. I usually try and pick a place that has good co-working spots. This helps to stay productive and meet new people – it's tempting to not work and just explore your temporary home. For this lifestyle to truly be sustainable you'll need to find your flow and stay productive (of course you'd make your own schedule).

If you have a stable flow of work as a freelancer already, you should be fine. It's harder if you start out and it might be challenging at times to have a reliable flow of income. In that case do your research and find online platforms where you can find additional work.

I hope this helps. Feel free to ask more specific questions if you have more questions.

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Nemanja Aleksic

1) As a designer, what did you like the most about Germany, NY and Boulder?

2) In your opinion, what is the biggest UX failure in WordPress that needs to be addressed ASAP?

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Sonja Leix

Hi Nemanja, thanks for stopping by. Lets get right into it:
1. In Germany I worked mostly on print campaigns and magazine designs, so it's not quite comparable with my work in the U.S. Deadlines were mostly very tight I remember. NY overall was very exciting as a designer, so much inspiration and talent in such a small place, with a lot of opportunities to connect during Meetups and other networking events. Boulder is nowadays more my pace. It has a vibrant tech scene and amazing work-life-balance.
2. Hah, is that a trick question? Cropping photos comes to mind, that is kind of broken. I'm not currently as involved in the design team for core as I'd like to be so I'm a bit out of the loop.

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Mendel

Hey Sonja!

Thanks for doing an AMA.

As a community guy, I'm curious what motivates you to keep contributing to the Open Source community, and what got you fired up to start contributing in the first place?

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Sonja Leix

Hi Mendel, how are you? Great questions! WordPress for me, beyond being an incredible platform which makes my work so much easier, is a tool everyone is able to use (for free) and which allows me to make a living. I am grateful for all the opportunities I was able to take due to WordPress and naturally want to give back. As someone using the open source software I have an obvious interest in its continuous success. And of course it's also a lot of fun to contribute together with talented people and learn from each other.

What got me started? I think I've mentioned it a few times today :) it was the welcoming community I found that drew me in. People make all the difference and a lot of my closest friends are WordPress friends. You and I met through community events as well and became friends. I'm not sure if there's another community like this one out there. :)

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Sonja Leix

Thanks everyone for tuning in today during my AMA! If you missed it feel free to post any questions after and I'll reply to it when I get a chance :)

I hope to see you all in Paris in June. Make sure to say hi!

Thanks ManageWP.org for having me today!

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