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SilverStripe can change your life

Colin Burns is a digital nomad and respected SilverStripe community member, who travels the world...

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by Colin Burns

Posted 7 December 2011

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Colin Burns is a digital nomad and respected SilverStripe community member, who travels the world while making a living out of building websites and web projects using SilverStripe. Colin is originally from Australia and now travels the world with his wife and two children.

You'll have to let me indulge a little in this blog post to first explain how SilverStripe has changed my family's life. I would like to provide you with some background before I get to the crux of the story.

In 2002 I started a small web design company in Brisbane, Australia and built a multi-site CMS designed specifically for web and graphic design companies to resell to their clients. Although I had the best intentions for my business, I was never able to get it much larger than two employees. Even then, the profit margins were too thin to be sustainable. By 2008 I had worked extremely hard for six years in my business and, all too common for small web businesses, I spent more time putting out other people's fires than working on my business.

In the middle of 2008 I began talks with a much larger firm about an acquisition. They liked the software I had built and they were trying to become more product oriented. We came to terms and I started working for them on finalising and marketing the CMS that I had built.

A little over 18 months later the code base was showing its age and the marketing just wasn't gaining momentum. I left the company and got back into the freelancing arena, a difficult decision after investing so much time and money into my CMS over the years.

Difficult decisions beget fabulous opportunities

After working for a larger web development firm, I realised that as a small business I was charging entirely too little to be able to cover costs and become profitable. So my first change was to become a little more arrogant. Rather than basically begging people to give me their work, I gave them a quote for what I thought my time was worth. They could then take it or leave it. 

A couple of days after leaving my CMS behind, I had signed almost $25K in work. And instead of $25K worth of work being for 8-10 different projects (which would have been the case pre-2008), it was now only two, albeit reasonably large, projects. 

The search for a new CMS

Now that I no longer owned the IP to the CMS I had built, I needed to find a new CMS to built my new projects on. I was 100% certain from the outset that I would not be using Joomla, Drupal or Wordpress (for a variety of reasons of which I am sure you are all painfully aware), and started investigating some other CMS's and Frameworks, like ExpressionEngine and CakePHP. I really liked the look of ExpressionEngine, although at the time it was pre version 2 and I thought it had some user interface issues. The other problem I had was I didn't want to use a blogging platform that needed to be hacked significantly to get it to do basic page functionality like most of my previous clients had needed. 

That's when I discovered SilverStripe.

To tell you the truth, it really was the interface that sold me. I knew straight away that my clients would find it intuitive and would be able to make the required changes to their site without too much training or handholding.

So how did SilverStripe help me change my life?

For almost two years now I have been travelling the world with my wife and two young children. We are currently in London and in one weeks time we fly to Macedonia to spend three months exploring Eastern Europe, before returning to Penang, Malaysia where we have set up a base. Late next year or early 2013, we plan to head to North America and travel around in a motorhome for a year or so.

A lot of this is due to the decision I made to use SilverStripe as my CMS. The sites I have been building are significantly more robust than the sites I used to produce, which mean much less maintenance and much more profit from each job. It means that I get to spend more time with my children and more time building new projects for myself, with the view to pursue them full-time in the next 12 months, rather than to continue building projects for other companies.

I currently own three websites from which we plan to make our longer-term living. The initial blog that we started when we first started our trip in January 2010 ( was originally built in Wordpress, but about two months ago I migrated it to SilverStripe using @ajshort's [] WordpressConnector module []. After a little bit of configuring and then a couple of hacks to bring in the email addresses from my Wordpress comments table life was great. I love the fact that I now have the freedom to build in new functionality that was just too much hassle or a pain in the butt to build in Wordpress. 

Our second site is; a community site for long-term travelling families (and surprisingly there are 100's of us out there). Again thanks to a number of different people I have been able to build some pretty cool functionality on this site, including the ability for a specific family to update their location (and map it) on their profile by simply sending a tweet. Check out this page [] on the site if you want to see an example - again this is based on a module by @ajshort. Over the next few weeks I am going to be rolling out a "Yahoo Answers" style clone on  to give travelling families the opportunity to ask anyone and everyone in our community a question.

I recently purchased my third website called which is a site that helps people to become 'location independent' or to become a 'digital nomad'. Over the next six months I will hopefully be completely re-designing this and bringing it into SilverStripe to allow me the flexibility to add functionality that the community needs and wants.

SilverStripe changed the way that I build and think about websites. Rather than spending most of my time fixing bugs, I now spend most of my work time either dreaming up new things to build for myself or getting paid by my clients. Finding SilverStripe has allowed me to shape my life the way I want it. Less time spent working, more time spent with my family doing things we love, like travel.

Life is full of opportunities, and it is about seeing something as an opportunity and acting on it.

Thank you to all of the SilverStripe community, from the core developers, module developers and the people answering questions in the forums. In your own way, you have helped me, and anyone else who chooses, to change their lives.

*When time permits I am going to try and release the code for the Current Locations and the Question and Answers as modules, but in the meantime if you would like the code, feel free to just shoot me an email at I would be happy to share it with you.