Natalie of Simply Schedule Appointments Sharing Her Story
Natalie MacLees of Simply Schedule Appointments

Natalie MacLees – Founder of Simply Schedule Appointments

I am Natalie MacLees, the founder of Simply Schedule Appointments, but my friends and family affectionately call me “Nat.” Experiences in my childhood highlighted the inequities in the world for me. As I grew up, I got more and more determined to do whatever I could to make the world a better place for everybody.

For Website Weekend 2016, I designed a t-shirt that read: “The best way to change the world is to show ’em how it’s done.” That’s a great summary of my approach to life – I’m not one to spend a lot of time talking about things I’ll do someday. I’d rather just do them.

Natalie MacLees Advice

Natalie MacLees Advice

I do whatever I can to fight for underrepresented and underserved communities on the web. I’ve worked with organizations that serve people with disabilities, civil rights organizations, and other nonprofits that are working to make the world a better place. I helped get more women into the tech industry as a founder of the Los Angeles chapter of the Girl Develop It.

The Journey Began

In junior high, I teamed up with my friend, Kim, to create Dynamic Duo Designs – we sewed, designed, printed, and sold handmade t-shirts. That was my first foray into selling products and running an actual business. I loved it. I started to dream bigger and spent a lot of time daydreaming about owning an ice cream parlor. I planned out what sundaes I’d serve, what the decor would look like, how the menu would be designed.

During college, I sold baked treats on campus. I spent a couple of hours each night whipping up brownies, cookies, and muffins that I’d sell at the student center each morning. I had so much more flexibility than I would have with a regular part-time job, and I was having fun at the same time. I knew that working for myself was in my future, but I wasn’t sure how to get there.

Building websites became a hobby for me when I was in college. Within a few years of graduating, I had my first few freelance website clients. Given that building websites was so much fun, it was mind-blowing that anyone would actually pay me for doing it. I couldn’t believe my luck.

After everyone recovered from the dot com bubble bursting, I got my first full-time gig doing website work. I worked at Penn State University building websites for the Chemistry department, where I learned a lot about web accessibility. I had a job at a tiny landscaping equipment manufacturer designing their website, catalog, and packaging.

I worked at a project management company building out an application to manage their complex hospital construction projects. I worked at a web agency for a bit, then moved on to a Fortune 100 company, and finally to a startup.

I kept moving from job to job to job because I couldn’t quite find what I was looking for. I loved the work I was doing, but I was often frustrated by office politics and decisions being handed down from higher-ups who were ill-informed. It was just never the right fit.

I got to the point where I was ready to take a risk. I’d been taking on occasional freelance clients on the side for years, and I finally had to admit that it was time to try working for myself full time. I handed in my notice with no real plan for moving forward and booked a month-long trip to Italy.

I spent the first part of the trip recovering from years of being overworked and stressed out. The second half was spent getting really excited to come back home and start working on my own business. I also ate indecent amounts of pasta and gelato.

I built my first website with WordPress in 2006 when a friend of a friend approached me about helping her set up a poetry/photography blog. After some research, I thought that WordPress seemed like the best fit. I customized the Kubrick theme, and my client was super happy. My overall experience working with WordPress that first time was a pretty good one.

Over time, I started using it more and more often. Then finally, clients began coming to me, specifically asking for WordPress sites. When I launched my own business, it was naturally WordPress-focused.

The Need for Simply Schedule Appointments

Simply Schedule Appointments Logo

Simply Schedule Appointments Logo

I met Nathan Tyler at a WordPress meetup in 2012. As we got to know each other, we decided to do a small project together as an experiment to see if we worked well together. We met for a few hours once a week at a coffee shop, and in a few months, we built the Draw Attention plugin.

With that successful project under our belts, we decided to tackle something more significant. We separately brainstormed ideas for what we might build next, and we both independently came up with appointment scheduling. Coincidentally, we had both done recent client projects that required online appointment scheduling.

We had a difficult time finding a solution that was robust and flexible without being overly complicated. So we set to work imagining what such a solution might look like.

Our biggest challenge early on was that we initially decided to build Simply Schedule Appointments as a single page application using the React framework. We both struggled with React and learning how to use it to build a full application.

We wasted a lot of time trying to learn React and how to best architect a complex application. Months into our struggles, we came across the Vue framework and decided to give it a try. We scrapped everything we’d done in React so far and started over with Vue.

Moving to Vue was definitely the right move – it’s so much easier to work with, and we’ve been able to build out some really nice features. Our primary focus is on making the tool simple and straightforward to use. We want people to be able to get set up and be ready to book their first appointment in under five minutes.

We want Simply Schedule Appointments to be straightforward and easy to use so people can focus on running their business and booking more appointments rather than spending time learning how to use the tool.

When people do have questions or run into trouble, we make customer support a top priority. We try to get back to people quickly and help however we can. We even hop on screen-sharing sessions with our customers if we’re having trouble finding a solution. That’s really important for business owners who rely on Simply Schedule Appointments to run their businesses – they can’t afford to wait around for a couple of days for a solution or an answer.

Myself with my Brilliant Team

Team Simply Schedule Appointments

Team Simply Schedule Appointments

For a long time, Nathan and I did everything ourselves – the plugin development, the marketing, the customer support. But now we have help, and it makes such a difference! We have amazing people who are way better than we are at things like marketing and support, and things are moving forward so much faster now.

We’re so grateful for their help and everybody’s willingness to pitch in and do whatever needs to be done. Our team helps to shine light into our blind spots and guide our way forward while freeing us up to do more of what we’re best at.

Advice for Business Owners

I dreamed for so long about owning a business and working for myself – my biggest regret in life is that I waited so long to do it. I was afraid, and I let that fear hold me back from doing what I really wanted to do. Starting my own business was absolutely the right decision for me – while I had never managed to keep a job longer than three years.

I’ve been going strong working for myself for eleven years. If it’s something that you want to do, go for it sooner rather than later. There’s never going to be a time where everything lines up perfectly, so don’t wait.

As you first get started, you’re everything – the manager, the employee, the intern, and the CEO. It’s easy to get caught up and push yourself too hard and burn out. Take some time every week to step back and ask yourself, would you treat someone you had hired the same way you’re treating yourself? Would it be fair to give an employee the workload you’re tackling or holding them to the same expectations that you’re setting for yourself?

It’s also easy to think that an unmanageable situation is ‘just for now‘ and to put off hiring help or taking steps to fix it. Before you know it, you’ve been running yourself ragged for months or years, and things start to fall apart. You begin to feel trapped and suffocated by your business. It’s important to recognize when you’re overwhelmed and take steps to fix it as soon as possible.

You cannot push through burnout – you can’t just buckle down and work harder to get through it. You’ve got to cut yourself a break and find ways to set boundaries around your business and ways to take care of your health, both mentally and physically.

I think there’s a particular challenge, too, for business owners who are single without children. Many people see a singleton’s free time as less valuable or less important because it’s not spent with a significant other or with children.

It’s easy to let yourself think that way too and to think that it’s okay to spend all your evenings and weekends working. But the hobbies and activities you choose and the friends and family with whom you spend your time are just as valid, valuable, and important as anyone else’s. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries and carve out the time and space you need to feel loved and fulfilled.

 

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WordPress & Beyond

Any open source project is only as good as the people who are contributing to it. WordPress has been lucky enough to attract an astounding group of talented, friendly, smart, and generous folks. The close-knit community is no doubt what’s given WordPress its sticking power – I can hardly think of another tool or project that has been so strong for so long.

But technology always changes, and who knows what tomorrow might bring? For right now, WordPress is a vehicle that helps to move my business along. As things change, we’ll continuously re-evaluate how we’re building our products, our audience, and growing our business.

My Love for the WordPress Community

My first encounter with the WordPress community was at WordCamp San Francisco in 2007. It was a single track, and there were a couple of hundred attendees. I was impressed by the generous and friendly people I met. I learned a lot and was inspired to get more involved. I’ve met many of my closest and dearest friends through the WordPress community.

In 2009, I took over the first WordPress meetup group in Southern California. I ran that group on my own and with partners for seven years. During those seven years, I was the lead organizer for WordCamp Los Angeles in 2013 and 2014, and on the organizing team in 2015.

I speak at WordCamps regularly and also contribute to the Accessibility Team. I’m one of the lead organizers for the first-ever upcoming WordPress Accessibility Day.

How I Keep Myself Updated

One of the things that first attracted me to web development was that it’s always changing – there’s always something new to learn, and never time for being bored. I have a few different ways of staying up to date. I listen to piles of podcasts, including Women in WP, Boagworld, and Kitchen Sink WP.

I subscribe to a select few round-up type newsletters that send me a curated list of a handful of articles to read each week. These include Accessibility Weekly, JavaScript Weekly, and CSS Weekly. I belong to web dev-related communities, both online and off. And I regularly invest in continuing education for myself with workshops, classes, and conferences.

It can get overwhelming, so I do try to limit how much information I take in. It’s no good if you spend all day reading about the latest JavaScript libraries and build tools but never get around to making anything!

I keep an eye out for when a particular technique or tool starts getting mentioned with regularity – that’s my cue that it’s something I might want to check out and learn more about. Before diving in, I try to understand if something is a fit for the way I work and if it will be a help to me. I don’t let myself feel pressured to learn something I don’t find appealing even if everyone else is talking about it.

I Have a Life Other Than the Work

Once upon a time, I thought an evening on the couch watching Netflix or an afternoon spent at a picnic with friends was a guilty indulgence that I could scarcely afford. The pressure for entrepreneurs to be always on, always productive, and always hustling is real.

I’ve since learned that taking time off and taking good care of yourself are not luxuries, but necessities. I’m now diligent about taking time off and making sure I’m taking good care of myself. I set strict boundaries around my work schedule and prioritize spending time with friends and family and pursuing my interests. You are the number one asset in your business – it’s essential to take good care of yourself.

I share my home with two cats, Sir Oliver Reginald William von Hoppington III and Princess Mabel Magdalena McPuffington. You can call them Ollie and Mabel.

Mabel & Ollie

Mabel & Ollie

I love cooking and baking and take an occasional cooking class to learn something new. Most recently, I took an Indian cooking class and learned to make paneer and naan from scratch along with a few other delicious dishes, like an amazing sweet potato chutney.

I read tons of books of all different kinds – novels, biographies, short stories, business, science, and history. I knit a lot and crochet a little and belong to a couple of knitting groups. I take dance and yoga classes. And I travel whenever I have the chance.

I Reward Myself by

One of my favorite rewards is to venture out into the world to a new place I’ve never been to. I love learning about new cultures, trying new foods, and making new discoveries. I can’t wait until travel is a possibility again.

I also like looking for ways I can contribute to making the world a better place. Whether that’s through volunteering, donating money, or helping to spread the word about a cause. Most recently, I was working a weekly shift at an animal shelter, helping to care for and socialize kittens. Because of the pandemic, the shelter moved to a foster model, but I’m looking forward to that reopening.

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