Entrepreneur Inspiration: Ramona, the webdesigner who started without a laptop or the internet
Ramo comes with my personal recommendation
I would like to personally say how much I recommend Ramona’s work as a webdesigner. Her work speaks for itself (see this blog) and she is always happy to answer any of my silly panicky questions at any time or to fix things when I screw up.
She works hard and is an incredible professional, who is efficient, and absolutely an inspiration for me; as I interviewed her and read her story, I marvelled at her gumption, perseverance and sheer chutzpah.
Trust me when I say that this woman does not let anything deter her.
If you need webdesigning help, tweaking, or optimizing your site to be responsive, I highly, HIGHLY recommend Ramona not just because she’s a friend but because she’s awesome.
Tell us about who you are
My real name is Ramona Jar (Embers, if you translate in English), but I’m more known online as Dojo.
I live in Romania, a small country in Europe, I have a 2 year old daughter and a husband. We’ve been together since 2002, but decided to have a child only when we felt we’re ready for it, both financially and emotionally.
I’m what you guys call a work from home mom (web designer and blogger).
Tell me about your work
So I thought I’d gather all my information and prepare a course for them, while also being available to do one on one coaching for those who want it.
When did you first start freelancing?
My first web design clients came in 2004. After 3 years I created my small LLC in Romania and only took it more seriously in 2009, when I lost my job.
So, my freelancing career started 12 years ago, part-time, and I moved to full time work in the past 7 years.
How was it when you first started out?
It was pretty weird to be honest. I NEVER prepared for this, nor dreamt of this path. I was in the radio business (had a daily show) and the job was as cool as you can guess.
“Not to mention back then we had 3 radio stations in the city, so I was a bit of a small local star.”
The pay was OK, compared to our wages, and I had to put maybe 3-4 hours/day of work.
The remainder would be spent online, learning about web design and managing my big websites network.
My first client was my brother-in-law, who told me there’s money to be made and I should think about starting a business. I gave him that ‘tell me what you’re smoking, it must be good‘ look, since I never thought of myself as a business woman.
My first years online were pretty tough.
We didn’t have an internet connection at home (only businesses could afford it), so I’d stay few more hours at the radio station to work on my sites.
I didn’t even have a computer back then, the pay wasn’t that awesome to afford one, and I was also in college (paying for my tuition).
When I met my boyfriend (now husband) he was upgrading his old computer and this meant ditching the old one and getting a new desktop computer. He gave me the old crappy one with a really old display.
But it was terrific for me, I finally had my own ‘stuff’. Needless to tell it would crash 3 times/hour, but, hey, I had a computer.
Was also able to secure a dial-up connection, so I’d be able to log in few times a day.
Back then you’d pay for each minute you spent online, so I’d log in after 10 at night (it was 10 times cheaper) and would quickly save the pages I’d need to read and then log off.
Even with these hurdles, I was so obsessed with web design, that I slowly started getting some clients and some traffic for my websites.
In 2004 I took a 3 year loan to get a laptop (wanted one to also take it with me at the radio station) and my online career really took off. No more ‘freezing’, enough memory to run my software etc.
“Looking back I realize it was pretty rough, but I never felt it back then.”
I didn’t have money, so I never worried about having to work here and there, I never had plans, just let the ‘wave’ take me where it would take me.
What’s are your biggest wins in freelancing?
Win #1: Money
Even if I don’t make as much as people in the US make, compared to our wages here, I’m doing really well.
On my worst months I’d make my old salary, I had some really great months as well, when I earned 4-6K. Which is huge, provided my fist salary was 100 bucks and the last one was about 400.
Win #2: My own time
I worked a regular 9 to 5 (OK, 8 to 4) for a year (web designer at a college friend’s business) and it was pretty rough.
Usually I’d have to stay 4 hours at the radio station, which wasn’t an issue since the work was really nice (broadcast music and talk to a mic).
It was tougher with the vacations, since we’d have to do our shows and everyone wanted to have some off-time during Christmas, Easter, New Year’s etc.
So we’d negotiate and take turns.
Now, having FULL freedom over my time is really a great perk. It allowed us to travel for months (6 months in NYC, 3 years in a row) and it also allows me to raise my child personally.
We have fun together all day long and I do some work when she’s napping or sleep at night.
Yes, I’m usually dead tired, but it’s still great I can earn a living and be in my child’s life like this.
Win #3: Mobility
I love being able to work from anywhere in the world, provided I have my laptop and an internet connection. And being able to connect with so many people from anywhere on Earth is just amazing.
Back in school our English teacher would give use few addresses of pupils in the UK to write to. I didn’t make anything of it (I think my letter didn’t get a reply), but, after few years, I’d be able to connect with the entire world.
Used to be active in various martial arts forums and then tell my Sensei about how they do karate in Los Angeles for instance. Or Berlin. It was amazing to have this opportunity to learn.
Same with web design forums and other communities I joined. Even my clients come from all ‘corners’ of the Earth: US, Canada, Island, HongKong, Germany etc.
How can someone do what you do?
Many people are scared about doing freelance work, since they imagine they have to learn web design or programming. Sure, it would be great to do so, but there’s more to do online than code or use Photoshop.
I, for instance, was never able to learn programming.
Tried, failed. Multiple times.
And the realized I can be a good web designer and hire specialized help when needed. It will remain my biggest fail to be honest, but I can live with it.
You can earn money with copywriting, doing SEO work, data entry etc.
“Whatever you choose will work, but you have to do A LOT of studying and work.”
Before I had the baby I’d spend an average of 6-8 hours/day online, learning, doing, teaching others. In 14 years … that’s a lot of effort.
The secret is to find something you really love doing and it will never feel like work. Doing web design work for instance relaxes me, even if it sounds weird. I love it, so it doesn’t feel like real work.
There are a lot of great courses out there, you’ll have at least a year’s worth of information, if not more. So go for it and see what suits you best.
What do you make as a freelancer?
Before we talk about this, we need to put it into perspective.
In my country (Romania), the medium wage is about 400 dollars (and the gas is double, compared to the US), many actually make 200-300/month.
We do live in an utopia, since prices are sometimes bigger than in the US for instance (gadgets, clothing, even food, cars), rent is smaller, but real estate is pretty expensive as well. We are lucky that many of us inherit our parents homes (they took loans tens of years before) and don’t pay rent.
Last year was pretty rough, since it took me a while to really understand I cannot work 8 hours/day, so I need to be PRODUCTIVE.
I was able to make some changes in my business and it shows some pretty encouraging results.
I make about 20-24k/year, working from home, which is HUGE compared to what I used to earn or what others earn with their 9 to 5 jobs. We ‘lose’ about 40-45% in various taxes (the VTA is also big, 24% on some items).
The problem is that health insurance is useless here. The State forces us to pay insurance, but the medical services are pretty bad (the doctors are grossly underpaid and many expect bribes, the hospitals are dirty and old etc.)
My daughter was born in a private clinic and all the services (stem cells included) cost us close to 3,000 dollars. Which, compared to how many earn in my country is absurdly expensive.
So, you’ll pay all the taxes and pray you don’t get sick.
Otherwise it’s gonna be pretty expensive. We do have some private health insurance options, but not all are that reliable.
How did you figure out what to charge?
Phew, this is pretty tough.
The main reason I still don’t earn 50K/year is that I grossly undercharge. I have kept the same web design rates since 2004, which is not OK, especially since my experience and portfolio have grown exponentially.
Not being able to work more than 2 hours/day has forced me to reconsider my pricing and I’m slowly getting there.
“Just asking for what I know I’m worth, will probably double-triple my income.”
It’s my main goal for this year.
I do take into account our cost of living, my experience, my portfolio and most importantly how my clients benefit from my work.
Have also done some research in my specialty and there’s indeed enough room to grow my income by charging more.
I don’t negotiate most of the time, since, doing 2-3 websites for a client is the same amount of work for me.
It’s not like I’m selling carrots, so that I can discount easily, it means I do the same work and expect to be paid for it.
Not to mention that, having smaller rates, didn’t prompt too many clients to ask for discounts either.
I have been pretty active on Elance for years (got a 3 year contract out of there), but the new Upwork is not as good for my business (I really dislike the fact all our prices are public).
I do have a featured account there, but it’s not something I’d like to focus too much anymore.
Going up after high-paying clients is my goal from now on and most clients on such websites, while they are really cool people, are not willing to pay top dollar for our work.
How do you find time for yourself?
Me time? I don’t have it 🙂
Kidding aside, I do try to be very focused, since I only have 24 hours in a day.
The reason my business is getting back on track is that I am prioritizing like crazy.
Right now my priority is my daughter. I am fortunate enough to be able to care for her and I’m not gonna miss this opportunity, especially since I’ll be a mom only once (we don’t plan to have other children).
” So the day revolves around her. “
I do the cooking while she’s playing with her father / grandmother (not too much, she likes to be around me most of the time), wash the dishes (don’t ask why, but I actually love doing the dishes and refuse to get a dishwasher) etc.
When she’s napping, I’ll try to squeeze in half an hour of work (an hour, if I am lucky).
Then, at 9, when she’s asleep, I’ll eat something, do the dishes, prepare her milk, sterilize her bottles etc. Then start my ‘Pomodoro’ timer and start doing some work.
I am using this strategy to get work in ‘bursts’, since I can’t do it otherwise. I have set a pomodoro to last 25 minutes and plan to get 4 during a day. This means less than 2 hours of HIGHLY productive work.
I try to take into account being very tired sometimes, sick, or daughter being ill, which means I won’t do anything but care for her.
While it seems very little, this work schedule still allows me to earn a decent living and, most importantly, be there for my kid.
” I do get some personal time, don’t get me wrong.
But it’s not the hours I used to spend.
No more Netflix for me, no more playing Travian.”
I try to read as much as I can about how to run a successful small business (and also make sure my course is top-notch), watch courses and spend time with my husband as well.
I’m clearly not to ‘riches’ just yet, but compared to where I started from, it’s a sweet spot.
Most importantly: I can be a mother to my daughter, a wife to my husband, cook healthy meals, play a lot with our toddler and earn some money on the ‘side’.
Where are you at now, financially?
Right now I am looking towards doubling our net worth.
This would allow us to save more aggressively and also consider moving to a sunny place.
We fell in love with Croatia and Spain during our travels (and I’m sure there are at least 100 terrific places to live in beside these) and would love getting to live somewhere near the sea.
The climate here is pretty rough (very hot summers and cold winters) and it would be amazing to move somewhere warmer.
The problem is that husband’s side of the business is local (he’s doing heating system checks here – something mandatory every 2 years) and he cannot run the tests remotely.
So, earning at least double would make him more relaxed and maybe he’ll consider getting back to trading coins, which would work from anywhere in the world.
We do need some funds to get his collection up to par, so that it earns him money once again.
Where are you going financially?
To be honest, I have absolutely no idea where I’ll be in 10 years, just hope we’re all healthy.
Ideally, we should be doing great financially speaking, since we are already doing pretty well and I see both our businesses growing nicely.
“But I don’t know if I’ll still be a web designer or a blogger.”
I have already switched ‘jobs’ in the past and am willing to do it again. I spent 9 years in school to become a teacher and never taught, because I got a better paying job as a radio DJ (and that has been my dream job since 15).
During my 10 year stint in the radio business, I discovered web design and, after losing my job, became a full time freelancer.
Who knows what’s in store for me … maybe I’ll become a fitness coach. Or get more schooling and become a therapist.
I can think of at least 5 more great business ideas that I could make work with or without more education. I’ve always been a fast learner, so …
What I’m almost sure about is not getting a job.
“I really like my freedom as a self-employed professional.
I’d not be willing to trade this position unless I’d be offered an insane salary.
And it would only be temporary ..”
I’m almost retired, if we look at my current work schedule 🙂
Will probably do work even when older, as long as my brain still functions. I’d love to either move to that seaside home we both dream of or get a nice small village house near our city, with vines and trees.
This is actually possible, since prices are small and, if I have a wi-fi connection (which we have almost anywhere already), I can do some work and spend time in the outdoors.
We’ll see …
Just as mentioned before, I just want us all to be healthy. If we are in good health, we’ll put bread on the table as well.
10 Quick Questions
What’s your favourite drink, hot or cold?
You’ll probably laugh, but I am a huge milk fan.
Cold or, even better, hot. With chikoree, cocoa, decaf coffee. I don’t drink coffee, am one of the very few adults who don’t need their ‘joe’ to start a productive day.
Favourite meal to eat or cook
Favourite game to play with your toddler
Mine or hers? 🙂