Student Success Spotlight with Torre Capistran

By Torre Capistran

Today’s student success spotlight is with Torre Capistran. It’s our hope that we’re able to share a different story each week of how a past student has been able to significantly grow their freelance business by applying the concepts they learned from Double Your Freelancing (check out last week’s with Ciprian Gavriliu). If you feel your story would be a good fit, share why!

“I used to charge $35/hour. Now I charge $2,000/week.”

Torre runs Hooked On Code. She freelances as a WordPress website specialist and business consultant focusing on how to make clients’ digital presences most effective. Even though she’s only been at this full-time for the past year or so, she’s made some huge strides and was smart to invest in DYFR early on in her freelancing career. Take it away Torre!


What got you into freelancing? Was it what you expected?

I built my first website because I had moved to Mexico on a whim (for love!) and wanted to find a way to earn income remotely. So, I gave affiliate marketing a shot. I was not good at it, because turns out I didn’t want to sell stuff, I just was really passionate about the topic at hand (health and fitness/the Paleo Diet).

I had such a great time building my first website, that when my now husband and I decided to move back to the States and start a private chef business, I built the site in four hours. I was completely hooked. It took a while before I had someone offer to pay me to build a site, and it was a friend of a family friend. I think I charged her $350 for her entire website…yeah.

After that I realized people would pay me to build sites, and that I was good enough to at least charge something. I had a friend or two hire me and I charged $35/hour ($10/hour more than what I was making at my full-time job, so I thought that was the biggest win ever).

After freelancing on the side for a year and a half, “moonlighting” so to speak, I had three people want to hire me to build websites at the same time. I realized that I was going to have to either turn them down, or quit my job. I did the latter.

“I realized that if I was staying up at night to do something else, that’s what my job should be.”

Was it what I expected? Um, at first I think it was. As soon as I moved on past those initial three clients, I realized that clients could be pretty shitty. I had someone ask me to build a simple site, I quoted $1,000 for an out-of-the-box solution. He asked me to do it for $450. I didn’t have another job, so I agreed.

Then I did about $4500 worth of work and built a customized site. My fault? Yes. I never realized how hard it was going to be to stand my ground with clients, and how many operating procedures I would have to develop to make the process of client acquisition and billing less painful.

However, I am beyond happy. I know this is what I should be doing and I can’t imagine working for anyone else again. I may change my mind if the perfect situation comes along, but this is what I love.

Being able to take a day off work when my grandparents are in town and go shopping with my mom and grandma, being able to schedule a chiropractic adjustment at 10am and not have to rush, working in bed when I wake up and having Family Guy on in the background.

And wearing jeans, sweet Jesus, wearing jeans! The little things matter to me and I am in love with my job.

What’s been most challenging thus far?

The most challenging aspect of running my business thus far has been sticking to my own rules. For example, if the client requests something that isn’t in the original project scope, I always want to try and fit it in without charging them more. Does this make any sense at all? No. Does it screw me out of money and strain the project and the relationship? Yes.

Would it really be that hard to simply state that the request is outside the project scope and could be addressed in a phase two after the project is done? Probably not. That’s just one small example of how I bend my own rules at my expense. I write detailed agreements and contracts and terms of engagement and yet I still find myself bending those agreements in favor of the client. I am obviously still working on my “everyone has to be happy all the time” complex…

I have also had to learn how to stay in tight communication with clients throughout the project to not only set expectations (so they aren’t expecting a completed site for review at the one-week-in-meeting), but also to educate them on best practices, how different decisions affect performance and usability, and simply why certain requests may not actually help meet the goal of the project.

Did you ever want to quit or give up?

The thought has crossed my mine once, and it was yesterday. I was at An Event Apart hearing Dan Mall talk and I felt so overwhelmed by the amount of things in the industry I didn’t fully understand. I thought, “I’m never going to be as knowledgeable or as good as these giants. I should give up and move on to something simpler that I can master quickly.”

That was obviously a whiny, irrational thought. I reminded myself something I honestly believe – that while I must learn from others and continually expand my skill set, I must also focus on my own growth and unique journey instead of trying to follow directly in the footsteps of someone else and their path.

“Direct comparison hampers growth.”

What were you struggling the most with when you ran into DYFR?

Pricing and billing. I was awful at it.

I could not figure out how to value or price myself and especially how to then present that to clients and stand my ground. I was honestly getting trampled on and was letting my clients set my project costs! Bad, bad, bad…

What are some big successes you’ve had recently? Did you do anything differently?

I just (last week) got my first $2,000/week job. I was handed check #2 today. Man it feels good… but honestly it just feels appropriate. Like, I definitely earn that $2,000/week, and I’m glad I am recognizing it.

What did I do differently? I stuck to my guns and was actually confident. The first three times I told someone my rate was $2,000 a week, I did not do it well. I hesitated, and then second guessed myself and negotiated.

That rate was probably not appropriate for the clients I met with (I am still figuring that bit out – some people don’t want to hire me full-time but they want my expertise, so I have to figure out how to do a half rate and not get swindled), but regardless I did not present myself with confidence. By the time I quoted $2,000/week for the fourth time, I was just fed up with bullshit and stood my ground – and it worked!

Has your income changed as a result of DYFR?

I have basically given myself a 250% raise… so yeah. I used to charge $35/hour. Now I charge $2,000/week.

I do small chunks of work for clients that don’t want to hire me full-time at $500/week, and I usually have a few of those at a time.

What are some specific tactics, strategies, or pieces of advice that have really helped you grow?

I fought pretty hard against myself with the whole rate change thing. I knew it was a good idea, but I just couldn’t handle having the conversation with someone about why I charge what I do and bill how I do (up front, weekly).

Advice? Get your shit together. Think through everything on paper. Figure out why someone would pay you – what will they get from working with you?

Be calm – never hunt for a job, and always approach a client with the knowledge that it may not be a good fit and that’s completely okay.

Save some money so that for the first few months you are comfortable not getting a job, because getting a bad job may not be worth it. Also, do lots of work. I screwed up so many times, and I’m probably the only one who knows it. Why? Because I fix it in the middle of the night and don’t sleep because I’m dedicated to quality.

“Don’t produce crap, be good at what you do and communicate with your clients.”

If you do not manage their expectations properly, you are setting yourself up to have an unhappy client.

I work on a referral basis, so everything I do is for the best interest of my client. If they are happy I know I will get more jobs and my business will grow. I share that with them at the beginning of the relationship so they know they can share their feedback with me throughout.

Specifically about my business and why I think I’m an easy “sell:”

I have tried to be a ‘unicorn,’ which to me means I want to be good enough at everything that even if I can’t do it myself I know what needs to happen so I can consult and subcontract accordingly. My unicorn-ness makes it easy for people to want to hire me, because they feel like they can just deal with ME (and I’m pretty socially adept for a web developer), and they can trust me to give them the advice they need.

What are you most excited about for your business in 2015?

I am gaining confidence and experience quickly thanks to doing lots of work and making frequent mistakes, and see a very prosperous year ahead where I can start moving my client base towards companies with larger budgets and a deeper appreciation and respect for the value that lies in their web presence. So, in short, I’m looking forward to working with people with deeper pockets who I don’t have to sell as much as I did my first clients.

I’m also looking forward to getting into the restaurant industry. My husband is a chef, and I’m nearly a professional eater, and I think I could have a lot of fun with restaurant owners helping them grow their businesses through a renewed and improved online presence.

TorreKean-Headshot-websiteTorre Capistran is the owner of Hooked On Code. She is a geeky, panda loving, overachieving, obsessively ethical WordPress enthusiast. Some have also described her as anal, efficient, and “wicked smaht.”

She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing from the SMU Cox School of Business in Dallas and worked for a family-owned, luxury automotive dealer group in Digital Marketing for a few years after graduating. She spent her nights building websites instead of sleeping, so when the opportunity presented itself she decided to start her own company doing what she loves most.

Torre loves building WordPress websites. She also loves working with businesses and entrepreneurs to develop their web strategies and create websites that meet their business goals while being modern, user friendly, organized, beautiful, responsive, fast, and manageable. While her passion is building websites, she also enjoys consulting on various other areas of business including business development, reputation management, SEO, and branding.

Feel free to connect with Torre on Twitter (@torrecapistran) or LinkedIn.