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Episode 150 – Cate and Topher DeRosia
A Conversation with Cate and Topher DeRosia The DeRosias are the founders and stewards of HeroPress. If you don’t already know about it, HeroPress tells the stories of people who have leveraged WordPress and its community to change their lives and achieve their goals. Through these stories, global connections are made and conversations are had that build a stronger community, more employment, and educational opportunities, and easier access to resources. Show Notes Website | HeroPress Twitter | @mysweetcate Twitter | @topher1kenobe Episode Transcript Tara: This is Hallway Chats, where we meet people who use WordPress. Liam: We ask questions and our guests share their stories, ideas, and perspectives. Tara: And now the conversation begins. This is Episode 150. Tara: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Tara Claeys. Liam: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Liam Dempsey. Liam: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Liam Dempsey. Tara: And I’m Tara Claeys. Today we’re joined by Cate and Topher DeRosia. The DeRosias are the founders and stewards of HeroPress. If you don’t already know about it, HeroPress tells the stories of people who have leveraged WordPress and its community to change their lives and achieve their goals. Through these stories, global connections are made and conversations are had that build a stronger community, more employment, and educational opportunities, and easier access to resources. It’s a great resource, a great organization. We are such fans of HeroPress. Thanks for joining us. Hey, we’re glad you’re here. Cate: Thanks for having us. Topher: Thanks for having us. Tara… Liam: You are very welcome. Go ahead. Topher: Tara, you did an essay on HeroPress once. Tara: I did. Liam: Tara is awesome. Thank you for sharing that, Tara. And thank you for flagging that up, Topher. And welcome to you both, Topher and Cate. Thanks for joining us here today. Topher: Yeah. Liam: This is where we would normally say “tell us a little bit more about yourself.” I feel like because of your great work with HeroPress, most of the folks probably listening to our show or at least our regular listeners are going to know who both you Cate and Topher are. So we’re going to do things a little bit differently on this, our 149th episode of Hallway Chats. What we’re going to do is in our little role change, we’re going to ask Cate and Topher really to interview Tara and I. And not so much from our individual perspective than individual lives, but really as the cohosts and organizers of Hallway Chats. So we’ll be really answering our two signature questions, not from our own personal perspectives, but rather from the perspectives of managers of this happy, little show. So if everybody’s all with us here, then I will turn the mic back over to DeRosias and invite them to get this interview underway. Cate: So my first question would be, why did you start Hallway Chats? Liam: And I’m going to turn that question over to Tara to start. Topher: Well done. Tara: We had a lot of free time. No, no. Well, in part, to be honest, inspired by what HeroPress was doing. And also at the time, for me personally, I listened to every WordPress podcast there was. And at the time, there were maybe four or five that I really listened to really regularly. And I noticed that a lot of times it was the same people on those podcasts each time. So I thought it would be kind of nice to hear stories of people that I meet at WordCamps and in Slack groups who aren’t on podcasts. So I kind of had this little idea of doing something like unsung heroes or something like that, not to take the word “hero” into it. But sort of just the idea of your everyday WordPress person that’s just like you and that can inspire you to see what they’re doing and what they’re struggling with. So that was my idea initially. Liam reached out on Twitter—I told the story a couple of times—but Liam reached out on Twitter. We had met at a couple of WordCamps. You know, we’re friendly, didn’t know each other too well. And he said he was interested in doing a podcast and I reached out to him. We kind of talked about it and he was interested in the same idea. So we made some adjustments to the concept a little bit and came up with a name and really wanted to do something to give back to the community and give people an opportunity to have their story out there, to share, they can send to their friends and family and people can listen to while they’re out walking their dog or something. That’s the genesis of it from my perspective. Topher: I have one now. I’m assuming you did research before starting this about what’s involved in time and money and all that stuff. Is there anything that jumped out of the dark at you two months in and made you go “Whoa, I didn’t expect that at all. Do we really want to keep doing this? Is this worth it? Anything really jump out at you? Liam: I’ll take that. I will share that Tara, is wonderful in so many ways, but one of her best qualities is if you look up in the dictionary the word “organized,” it’s just a picture of Tara. With Tara, she and I were able to really plot out kind of all the things logistically. How much time this is going to take? How much money is it going to cost? What do we need to spend? What equipment do we need to buy? Do we need to buy that end of equipment or can we get something a little bit this or a little bit that? So we had done all the homework. And Tara and I were working on it probably for about six months, just shy of six months before we launched our first episode. We even recorded some test episodes that never went live just to say like how bad are we at recording podcast episodes. So we had done a lot of that. From my perspective, no, I never had a “oh my gosh, we’re totally in over our heads. This is terrible.” I think that said though, one of the areas where we have consistently struggled is around finding new guests. We don’t want to talk to the folks that are on every podcast. They are wonderful people and have a lot of great things to share, but we want to talk to those that we don’t know. And we very much did not want it to be the friends of Tara and Liam show. Especially since COVID hit, we’re not going to WordCamps. We’re not meeting a ton of new people. You certainly can meet people online and meet people on virtual WordCamps, but it’s not the same, “Oh, I sat down. I just happened to bump into this person and had a two hour chat. Oh my gosh, are they amazing?” So that’s an area where we’ve consistently struggled. I think we’ve done pretty well all things told but it’s been a real challenge. And I think we underestimated just the challenge of that. And certainly, you know, we had no idea that COVID was coming. So we were not able to really prepare for that in any kind of meaningful way. Topher: That’s interesting. Are we going to someday see a producer’s cut, early release of Hallway Chats? Those episodes that didn’t get released. Liam: Somewhere in Google Drive. Tara: They are with my pets. So they’re not that interesting actually Topher: Isaac Asimov has a book that’s out that is really, really early stuff that he didn’t want published. But people wanted it because he’s Asimov. He wrote the intro for it and he’s like, “I have no idea why you people want this trash.” Tara: We have talked about outtakes or things like that, but there haven’t been that many. We only release the audio, but we do have the video of all our calls, of all of our conversations. Cate: I do like the potential idea though of branching out to pets in the future. Like if things gets really slim or you know, particularly busy week, we can sit the dogs down and ask them how they feel about being a part of our crazy family. Tara: My cat was just up here on my desk. Cate: Right, exactly. Tara: So he really wants to be part of it. Cate: Cats do seem very interested in podcasts. This could be a whole new. Tara: Yeah, for sure. For sure. Topher: So I have another question—something I always wondered. It’s related to run costs of owning the podcast. Obviously, you want to have decent hardware. So you think, “Oh, I need a microphone.” What are some costs that surprised you? I mean, you need a website. You need a place to put mp3. You buy hardware. What else is there? Tara: I don’t think any cost surprised us necessarily. The one investment that we make in every episode, which is really our largest outlay of funds is to have our podcast transcribed. So we’re very grateful to Evalyn Maina who lives in Nairobi and transcribes our podcast for us every single time and does a really great job. Before that we had a young man who also was overseas. I’m trying to remember where. He was in Eastern Europe somewhere. So we have been very happy to spend that money because we really feel it’s important to offer that transcription, that written visual version of the podcast. And that’s really the main expense. We’re grateful to Liquid Web for supporting us by giving us hosting for our website where we hold our podcast. We use Blueberry for the hosting of the audio, which is not terribly expensive. I think it’s about $12 a month. So it’s really the costs are relatively manageable and low and we pay for that ourselves because this is not a business venture for us. But it’s been fine. If we did more with the podcast, I think there could be more expenses related to it. Topher: Sure. Tara: We used to publish every week. And that was because of the transcription cost that was more expensive. So not for that reason. But just because of what Liam described in terms of scheduling, we change every two weeks, and that cut the cost. Topher: I’m amazed at how inexpensive drive space is these days. When Mp3 started coming out, being popular in the 90s, I was working at a hosting company, and relatively speaking Mp3s were huge compared to like a Photo. And you pay hundreds and hundreds of dollars a month for an archive of mp3, a podcast, or whatever. And you’re saying now it’s $12 a month. That just blows my mind. Cate: So have you learned anything about yourselves while you’ve been doing Hallway Chats? Topher: Or each other? Cate: Or each other. Because I’ll be quite honest. I mean, Topher and I have been married well over 23 years, and I’m still learning things about him that I can’t believe that I didn’t know. Things like “this is my favorite food.” And I’m like, “That’s your favorite food.” I’m like, “How did I not know that?” But yeah. Tara: Liam, do you want to go first? Liam: Sure, I’d be delighted to. So, Tara and I, as she mentioned, didn’t really know each other when we started. We were WordCamp acquaintances. I could see her from across the conference hall and say, “Yeah, I think that woman’s name is Tara. I think she’s from Baltimore, Virginia, DC kind of thing.” But beyond that, we didn’t really know each other. We were part of a Twitter conversation. And… January of 2017, Tara? Joe Casabona was on the conversation and maybe a few others, and we were just thinking about podcasts not really sure where to go, yadi yada. Topher: In hallway chat? Liam: Yeah, yeah, on Twitter. Without vitriol. So we just started to get to know each other a little bit. In those early days, we were talking every week or every other week and sending some emails. And it was a mixture of: do I like the show’s concept? Do I really want to do this myself? Do I want to do this with this woman Tara? Does she want to do it with me? Do I like her? Well, like her enough to want to work with her as closely as we’ve ended up working. I suppose on a deeper level, it was also is she committed to matters like community individuality respect for humanity, for people, for all the individuals as individuals as I think I am? A little bit that is, you know, you just have to start to talk about things and see how it goes. And I’ve been absolutely delighted to become as good friends as I am now with Tara. We could have hours and hours of conversations about how profoundly generous and kind and thoughtful and caring she is. And I don’t use those words lightly. She thinks about things from a generosity standpoint two and three steps ahead of most people I know. She doesn’t really sector that off. It’s not like, “Oh, these are my WordPress friends, so I’m nice with them,” or “those are my running friends and I’m nice with them,” or “these are my family. In my experience with her, she’s been that generous person at every turn. That’s been pretty amazing to see and pretty amazing to watch and pretty amazing to learn from. So, I’ve learned a lot about Tara. And I love her a lot. She’s amazing. Cate: I couldn’t agree more. I don’t have the pleasure of knowing Liam as well, but the last year or so I’ve really had a chance to get to know Tara and her support as I’ve dove into things over my head that have… has just been huge. You know, just the unconditional support and encouragement. So I’m glad that Liam got to learn that. I’m just so thankful for it. So now you get to talk Tara. Tara: I’m all red-faced and just about in tears. That’s awfully amazingly kind. I’m a bit speechless about that. It’s certainly wonderful to hear that from someone like Liam who I consider a very dear friend and someone who has, for all of the nice things he said about me, I think he’s inspired me to think about things from a position, as he says, of love, to come at things first with love. I think about him a lot and how he has changed me in that way, I think. Not that I haven’t thought about being a kind person for a long time. But having more top of mind. And Liam’s very strong attention to value and his very thoughtful approach to everything that he does is something that I’ve learned and been inspired by. He’s also really fun to chat with. He’s a great conversationalist. He asks really good questions, not just of our guests, but of me. I’ve reached out to him as a friend separately from the podcast at times when I’ve struggled, and he’s always been extremely supportive and patient with my struggles. So I think I look forward to continuing to be in touch with him and for a long time to come because he’s just an amazing spirit and my life. And I am very grateful for his guidance, really. So, for every nice thing he said about me I can send it right back to him. And I’m so grateful to him for sharing this podcast with me because I wouldn’t have done it by myself. He’s brought so much to it. So yeah, both of us paying attention to the community has been something…it’s been nice to share that attention to giving back and to paying attention to who we’re chatting with and learning about them. And we’ve had some amazing guests and conversations that will always stick with me. So yeah, thanks for asking that question. Topher: You both sound like really nice people. Cate: You know, what I really like about all of that is that’s a lot of the reason that we put effort the last couple months into doing more of HeroPress is, you know, as a family, we have gotten so much out of just being involved in the project—the people who’ve been able to meet the friendships, the business relationships. Just that access to new perspectives and new resources that are out there. And we kind of looked as a group at where we were with the girls being older now and not having to manage family. And we can kind of move the focus we were putting into building our family and to building this stronger element of the community, and open up these opportunities that we’ve had for other people to be able to enjoy them and to be able to benefit from them. And hopefully, in the end, help everybody in the community benefit from them. Tara: Yeah, I love interacting with your girls, and having met them and sort of your family. It’s not many communities where you have whole families that are known and contribute in very valuable ways to the community. So your whole family’s involvement and embrace of our community, the WordPress community, is really notable, I think. Cate: And part of that comes actually from the reverse, where… Topher: I was going to say that too. Cate: Yeah. When they went to their first WordCamp, it was Chicago in 2014. It was my first WordCamp as an attendee. And they were 12 and 14 at the time, and they just were able to… because the community is safe, I mean, you still have to be cautious though the community is safe. So they were able to just go attend their own events. They made new friends. They met people in the community before I did. I remember the first WordCamp US, they were there, and we didn’t have to watch them closely. I would find them off in a corner learning something from my design friend. Or they would have questions, people would just take them aside and help them learn. The more we can do to help facilitate that for other people, it’s just huge. Topher: I’m always surprised and happy when I learned that my kids know people in other countries that I don’t know. Tara: Wow. Topher: They made their own friend in Nigeria. Tara: That’s awesome. Topher: It’s cool Liam: That’s really a pretty amazing way that your family has explored and involved itself in the WordPress community. I think that’s pretty unique in that approach. I’ve taken couple of my children to WordCamps. They were there but mostly because I brought along a dozen of donuts. And they did enjoy WordCamp US because that sponsor row for one of my children was like, “Wow, this is like Toys “R” Us, and yeah. All the sponsors were, “Have this and have that. Come play this video game. No, keep playing. Have fun. Yeah, you’re going to win it” kind of stuff. So, yeah, it’s great. I’m so delighted that your family has embraced it in that way from what Cate had shared. That it’s really driven your relationship with each other to a more profound level. That’s so exciting to see and so exciting to hear about. Thank you. Cate: I get so excited because I think about where I was at 19. Even as an educated person, or heading off to college, I was always a good student, all those things, there are things that are in front of them, like starting a business, learning about a business that comes from the internet, but also comes from the community that we’re a part of that just weren’t there if I had wanted to do them. And the opportunities for them to just do something huge with their life is amazing. Of course, they’re now both loading trucks at FedEx at the moment. But you now, you need people who are doing that too. But it’s just the options just sit there for when you’re ready. Liam: Absolutely. Topher: Yeah. For me, it was a real joy to have my family join what was becoming my life because, you know, I go away to WordCamp, and so it’s a wonderful fun time, and I’m off having a great time and my wife is home with the girls. That’s not fun for her. For a while, as I recall, Cate wasn’t sure that she’d be interested in going to a computer conference. It’s just not her thing. She’s not a computer nerd like I am. But having them come along, especially having them enjoy the community and want to be there, made it so that I didn’t feel like I have to quit this and rush home to give my partner a break or even just because I want to be with my family. My family was there with me and we were doing something fun. It’s like those families they go RVing together and love that life. If they didn’t all love it, then it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun. And we all love it. Cate: Yeah. In fact, the girls are starting to get a little antsy that there haven’t been any events lately. And so they’re excited to get… Particularly Emma. Emma is much more reserved. She likes to just be. She’s more cerebral. She’s very happy. Happy like I am to be back behind the scenes a little bit more. But even she was saying how she can’t wait for there to be another WordCamp so that she can go somewhere Liam: Yeah, she and lots and lots and lots and lots of people around the world it’s hard to believe we’re a year under COVID already, at least here in America. Other countries have been dealing with it longer. Well, we’ve talked a lot about community and building community. When we started this conversation today, we talked about how Topher and Cate were the founders and the stewards of HeroPress. While certainly the community contributes to HeroPress and it makes it what it is. And it takes a dedicated effort and a lot of time and energy to provide that platform for the community to share and connect. With that in mind, Tara and I are really delighted to share the news that Hallway Chat will be joining the HeroPress umbrella of wonderful content. And perhaps even more excitingly is that Tara and I will be stepping down as hosts and the wonderfully talented and generous Cate and Topher will be taking over. Tara and I are kind of staring at each other through the Zoom window here and we’re both kind of stunned to hear me say that aloud and to realize, not the finality of it because nothing’s coming to an end but the gravity may be away. I’m going to just stop talking for a second and see if Tara has some things to share. Tara: That’s twice my face is turned bright red, and I’m tearing up in this episode. I don’t know if I’ve cried twice. I know I have cried on some episodes, but maybe not twice though. I’m super excited for Cate and Topher to make this part of HeroPress. The timing is just great for us and for them. And it’s a bittersweet moment to be stepping away, for Liam and I to be stepping away as cohosts. But I feel like this child is ready to graduate and move on. And we’re really grateful and excited that Cate and Topher are going to do this because it is a natural fit for HeroPress and what they’re doing with HeroPress. So thank you for joining the Hallway Chats family and bandwagon and taking up the mantle. Cate: And it really does feel that way. You know, we love Hallway Chats. As we’ve talked about a podcast, Topher has always wanted to do a podcast with HeroPress. There just was not enough hours in the day, enough resources to go around to make one more thing fit. But as we’ve been looking at ways to expand it and make HeroPress more of an asset in the community, something like Hallway Chats was on our mind, but we didn’t want to compete with Hallway Chats because we love what you two are doing. So, to be able to bring it in, put the resources for people because both girls are interested in being involved in it to, you know, to be able to expand to the people who are involved and to open up some opportunities for you two to move on to your next amazing thing, it makes everything better. Every time I talk about things, it’s always an and these days, where it’s not HeroPress or Hallway Chats, it’s HeroPress and Hallway Chats. It’s not Cate and Topher battling Liam and Tara in some kind of weird smackdown, it’s us doing this, and then you each doing the new things. We’re also much richer when we just keep expanding and growing that way. Tara: Yeah. Topher: When Hallway Chats first came out, I thought, “Ah, what a great name. That’s exactly what we would have wanted for HeroPress. And quite quickly, I applied to be on the show and was told no. And the reason was that you were trying to reach out more to people who aren’t on podcasts all the time. Exactly as you said. And I thought, “Oh, that’s exactly what I wanted for HeroPress.” Like Kate said, “I’ve always been a bit envious of what you’re doing and wanted to have something similar. So I am exceptionally delighted that this worked out. We had been talking about starting a new podcast that’s going to be a little different from Hallway Chats. That’s kind of how we got to here is I spoke to Tara and I said, “Hey, you know, we’re thinking of doing a podcast.” And she said, “Oh, really? We should talk.” And that’s how we ended up here today. But I can’t think of a better model for a HeroPress podcast than this. So I’m really excited. Tara: Yeah, thanks. Thanks. Yeah, thanks for reaching out. That was fortuitous timing. I messaged Liam right away when you reached out. Each year we’ve just told ourselves, we commit to another year of doing this together. And so when it comes up before the next year, we start having thoughts and conversations about what we would change or do differently, or whether we would continue or not. So we were just embarking on those conversations when you reached out. And I think we both have things going on separately with each of our own businesses, and community commitments, and that type of thing. And so we were thinking about stopping. So to be able to pursue other things and still have Hallway Chats live on is great. As we’ve talked over the past couple of months and kind of put together all of the processes and systems that we’ve put in place, as Liam mentioned, he kindly said that I’m super organized. I probably I’m like to a fault. But in some ways that’s helpful because you can get a whole set of processes that you can inherit, good or bad as they are, but that’s really… You know, when you asked earlier about what was surprising or investment, the time investment in putting together all of the processes and learning how to do things so that you can get it down to a very quick and easy, repeatable process. It’s kind of what we’ve done over the past three years. So hopefully that will be helpful as you move forward. Cate: I, for one, don’t think you can spend too much time organizing. I’m both thrilled with what you’ve been able to hand over to me, but also deeply, deeply on board with the systems and processes. Tara: You have to let me know what you improve upon because there’s definitely stuff to be improved upon. Topher: Another fortuitous thing about the time that we were thinking of doing a podcast and about the time we talked to you, a friend of mine in India, who was one of the organizers of WordCamp Mumbai approached me and said, “Hey, I want to do a podcast with you about HeroPress people and kind of make it like a Hallway Chat. I said, “Oh, really? Maybe this is the time.” Liam: Yeah. So what’s happening with that? We haven’t talked a whole lot about it. I told him that we were working on this. We got a bunch of ideas. He might be another host. Tara: That would be cool. Topher: We’ve talked about the girls being involved. We don’t want to have four or five hosts and one guest. But maybe we rotate hosts. In one week is Cate and I and one week is Cate and Sophie and then maybe this other guy. Tara: Cool. Topher: We’ll see. Tara: That’s wonderful. Liam: I’m super thrilled to see how the show evolves over time under your stewardship and to see the exciting new ways that you take it and the way that you support the community and bring it close together in ways that Tara and I could never have imagined. That’s really I think what I’m looking forward to the most. Tara: Mm hmm. Cate: We had some ideas. We’ve been talking about maybe a family podcast. I would like to try something where it’s literally sitting around the table chatting about WordPress, have some hosts. So we might try some different formats. I know to get started we’re going to look at maybe some people that you are familiar with in the community, but that are doing some different kinds of things in that community. It would seem that COVID has been an opportunity for a lot of people to start thinking outside the box when it comes to events and meetups, and what does community look like, and how we can come together. So, I’m not quite as outgoing as Topher is, so it gives me a little time to get comfortable with the whole format. But also I think it’s nice to take a look at just the new things happening. Tara: Yeah. I know you’ve been really involved with Big Orange Heart. So I’m sure that that connection also has introduced you to a lot of people in the community and are doing amazing things for the community. That would be great to chat with on Hallway Chats. Cate: Yeah, it’s been crazy. I’ve talked to more people during lockdown than I think I did in any given year. But between I was initially involved with organizing WordCamp US. So I got into more of that angle, which brought me into helping out with Big Orange Heart. So the number of people I have met doing things has just exploded. Topher: Something that I’ve been struck by in years with dealing with HeroPress is what it means to be a well-known person. I’ve run into communities that are very insular. The Nigerian WordPress community is very large. There are a ton of people doing really great things, and inside that community they kind of all know each other. And so if you would ask one of them, “should we interview this person?” they’re like, “Ah, they’ve been on a podcast a lot.” But you wouldn’t know them. So I want to delve into those communities. I don’t want to find those people who are doing great things in some other community that you’re never going to run into by accident. I don’t know. Connect the strings around the world from place to place. Tara: Yeah. Well, you have such an archive of HeroPress stories. I mean, it would be really interesting maybe. Liam and I talked about this. I’m just like, but it’d be really interesting to like go back to somebody who wrote a piece for HeroPress couple of years ago and see what they’re up to now and chat with them. That’d be kind of cool. You’ve got such a worldwide audience with HeroPress that I think you can take Hallway Chats all over. It’s great. Topher: Yeah. Cate: Well… Topher: We’re going to…Go ahead. Cate: I was thinking then as we… something we talked about as we launch life in, you know, living out of the RV and traveling around, maybe we can get into some more impersonal Hallway Chat conversations, you know. Tara: Mm hmm, love that. Cate: You know, just pull up next to a coffee shop and have a chat. Tara: Yeah. Wow. Awesome. Great ideas. Topher: There are two or three sequels essays on HeroPress. People who’ve come back years later and done one. And I can see this being a replacement for that sort of thing. Because they’re cool stories but a lot of times, it’s more of the same. “WordPress continued to be awesome in my life.” But a podcast would be a different way to say that. So I can see totally going back into the archives of HeroPress and finding people that… sometimes I don’t talk to people for a couple of years after an essay and say, “Hey, what’s going on?” Cate: Yeah. One thing we want to be really careful with and we kind of started at the very beginning is making sure that as we look at expanding HeroPress that there’s something more. That we make sure that all of the offers, all the essay contributors are included in that process, and get to be involved in ways that fit them best, you know, so that as new things are opened up, they have first opportunities, they have the opportunities to be a part of Hallway Chats. Because, I mean, it’s great that we had an idea and HeroPress happened, but without people contributing essays, without the community really being behind it, HeroPress is nothing. Topher: I recently went to look up a HeroPress contributor from four years ago. I pulled up an essay, and there are all the links in the sidebar, you know, and I clicked on her Twitter handle and it was closed. Like, “that’s sad.” And I clicked on her website. She had her own little agency and it was gone—404. And I checked Facebook, gone. I thought, “Oh, no.” She’s in England, so I went to the UK slack. I said, “Does anybody know this person?” And somebody suggested a guy that I talked to who happened to have the same last name as her. And he said, “She’s doing great. We have a 2-year-old now.” And I thought, “Oh, boy, that’s so much better.” Cate: I was going to say having a 2-year-old is not better. But I see where you’re going with that. Tara: You had me worried for a minute. Cate: Yeah, profoundly beyond the 2-year-olds make things better stage. Liam: I don’t know. Every stage is just magical in its own way and a headache in its own way. Cate: I’m enjoying the magical stage where the kids go out and buy groceries and bring me back a Starbucks. Topher: They did that during this podcast—while we were recording. We got a text that said, “We’re going out for coffee. We’ll be back.” Tara: Wow. We did not build in that support stuff into our Hallway Chats process. That’s definitely something to add on, I think. Nice. Cate: I’ll add it to the checklist. You know, this is my first contribution to an organizational process. Tara: Coffee delivery midway through. Liam: Value of team. The value of team. Cate: Exactly. So are we at a good spot to talk about what you two are doing next? Tara: Sure. Liam: Sweet. Yeah, I think so. Tara: Yeah, Liam go ahead. Liam: So what’s next? What’s next? In recent years, I have really started to focus a bit more locally in a geographic sense and a little bit less centric on the internet itself. So less focused on WordPress and the WordPress community in a global sense, and more kind of who are the folks and the businesses and the community directly around me. Again, in a geographic sense. I don’t really know why. I didn’t wake up any day and say, “You know what, here’s where I want to go.” But I think over time, influenced by the fact that I’ve now lived where I live today in suburban Philadelphia longer than I’ve lived anywhere as an adult, it really feels like home to me. I could see moving at some point, but I have no immediate plans. So it was just kind of a… what’s that silly little song? “Who are the people in your neighborhood?” Topher: Yes. Liam: And just kind of getting around that. So I’ve been doing some networking, doing some podcasting locally, doing some community work, getting to know some more of the nonprofits in the area. And really that’s where I’m going to continue to explore and put in my own time and energy, particularly as we try to transition out of COVID and see what that all looks like. So many businesses and sectors really got hammered by all the different challenges of the pandemic. That’s what is on my immediate horizon in terms of community activity and podcasting. Tara. Tara: So, a couple of years ago, year and a half ago or so, I started niching down my WordPress website agency Design TLC to focus on building websites and working with small schools enrichment programs and education-focused nonprofits. That is a mouthful. But it is something I feel pretty passionate about. I had worked with a few organizations within that industry category and decided that’s what I wanted to do. So I’ve been spending the past year and a half or so really getting to know that community and engaging with that community in order to be a thought leader there and to meet other thought leaders there. I’ve made some friends with some people who consult with small schools in various ways. So I’m actually launching another podcast around the same time that this episode will air. So no resting on my laurels, but also utilizing those processes that Liam and I created to do a new podcast called Mindful School Marketing, which will be talking about marketing for schools, but also talking about all the things that help people be better marketers, better people, doing things more efficiently. This is network success that we use on Hallway Chats, just finding success however you define it, which is a holistic thing, right? If you are healthier, happier, more mindful, you will probably be better at what you do, whether it’s marketing for a school or working at FedEx, or whatever you’re doing. I think that it’s really important to think about that. So it’s very broad, which is kind of nice in a way to have that broadness of topics to cover. So we’re just getting that underway and just starting to record some episodes next week, actually. So yeah, from one podcast to the other. But this one is definitely a community-focused podcast, but it also for me, to be honest, is also a business endeavor. So I’m looking forward to that as well. Topher: Don’t forget to add the coffee delivery to your new podcast. Tara: I’m going to add. Already noted. Already noted. Coffee delivery. Cate: That’s just so exciting. Those are both areas that I think you get glossed over and areas that can really use some extra attention, particularly coming out of the pandemic. The pandemic really highlighted some weaknesses there that I think you both are going to do an excellent job of helping to turn around. And it’ll be exciting to come back and see how it’s gone and see what impact you’ve been able to have in a new community as well. Topher: Maybe you can be on Hallway Chats in a while. Tara: Yeah. Well, we appreciate your support. Thank you so much. Do we want to wrap this thing up and get it ready to go? Topher: Let’s do it. Tara: All right. Well, normally we ask people where they can be found online, but when this airs, you can be found on Hallwaychats.com. Topher: That’s right. Tara: Anyplace else you’d like people to follow HeroPress? Cate: Yeah. We’ve got all the HeroPress things. So HeroPress on Twitter. We’ve got a website and I think we have a Facebook page. I’ve recently made a LinkedIn page. It’s really funny HeroPress has always just kind of passively happened in our life and it’s a very strange getting everything organized and figuring out where the weaknesses are, what we still need to focus on. Yeah, HeroPress and Hallway Chats will both be around together working together. Topher: Years ago when HeroPress first started, I thought, “I need to be absolutely everywhere.” So I created a Tumblr account, an Instagram account, and all kinds of stuff. I didn’t really do much with them. But just this week I’ve been experimenting with a new plugin from Emile called Revive Old Posts, which will go into your archive and bring one out. You can connect it to all kinds of stuff including Tumblr, and Instagram, and all that. So just to test it out. I did that. So, HeroPress essay one came out today, pushed to Tumblr and also Russian social network called VK, which is very popular in Europe. So I expect we’re going to start being a lot more places. Tara: Cool. I can’t wait to see what… Liam: Great things already. Great things already. I’m thrilled to see where it goes. Topher: Your best path is Google HeroPress and pick the network you like best. Tara: All right. Okay. Well, this has been a monumental episode and talked more than we usually do. But we are excited for you and we’re grateful to you. And apparently, Amazon is too. Topher: Great. Tara: I did not follow my instructions in muting my phone. Topher: Thank you. Thank you both for what you’ve done and giving us the opportunity to continue to make it great. Tara: All right. Well, until we meet again. Liam: Thank you for taking over the mantle. Cate: Thank you. Liam: Tara, it’s been a huge pleasure. Thanks. Tara: Thank you, Liam. Love you. Liam: Love you too. Tara: All right, I’m going to be to stop recording. Farewell. Tara: If you like what we’re doing here – meeting new people in our WordPress community – we invite you to tell others about it. We’re on iTunes and at hallwaychats.com. Liam: Better yet, ask your WordPress friends and colleagues to join us on the show. Encourage them to complete the “Be on the show” form on our site, to tell us about themselves. The post Episode 150 – Cate and Topher DeRosia appeared first on Hallway Chats.
33 minutes | a month ago
Episode 149 – Stephanie Hudson
Introducing Stephanie Hudson Stephanie is a geek, entrepreneur, inventor, and craft beer lover. Her passion is helping grow agencies to scale and thrive through her white label company, FocusWP. Show Notes LinkedIn | Left Brain Facebook | Stephanie Hudson Website | Focus WP Preferred Pronouns | She/Her Episode Transcript Tara: This is Hallway Chats, where we meet people who use WordPress. Liam: We ask questions and our guests share their stories, ideas, and perspectives. Tara: And now the conversation begins. This is Episode 149. Tara: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Tara Claeys. Liam: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Liam Dempsey. Tara: And I’m Tara Claeys. Today we’re joined by Stephanie Hudson. Stephanie is a geek, entrepreneur, inventor, and craft beer lover. Her passion is helping grow agencies to scale and thrive through her white label company FocusWP. Welcome, Stephanie. Thanks for joining us today. Stephanie: Hey, you guys. It’s so nice to be here. Liam: Stephanie, what a pleasure to meet you. Thanks for joining us. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself, please? Stephanie: Well, I have been in the WordPress space for about as long as there’s been a WordPress space. I’ve been making websites since dial-up days, which makes me feel super old. But currently I’m a Divi girl. I am on the Divi Chat Podcast. I like Divi but I’m not a hater of the other builders and things like that. I think we should all be able to get along. I’ve run an agency. I’ve freelanced. I’ve done all the things. I’ve had a full-time job with a boss who watched over my shoulder all day long. So I’ve done all of these things. And then I started to sort of take all that knowledge and mix it together. We have a white label company, my business partner and I, where we do services for agencies. So I really am having a great time helping agencies to scale and grow. One of my favorite little pet projects is to take freelancers who are super insecure and give them a little pep talk before a proposal is due or something and help them to get more money, because they never think they’re worth it. So I’m just in general kind of a geek. Tara: Well, and super positive too. I can tell you’ve got a lot of great energy. So that’s great. I think we have all of the major page builders represented here. Because I use Beaver Builder mostly, although I’m going to try Elementor soon. And Liam is an Elementor user. So we can now get along. Stephanie: It’s hard days for Elementor right now. Tara: Yeah, they’ve had a little rough time. Stephanie: But Divi people understand because we’ve been bashed forever, you know? Tara: Yeah. Well, the Divi community is huge. I mean, it really is… Stephanie: It’s amazing. And it’s such a nice culture. I mean, when anything gets to a certain size, you have your haters and your trolls. But for the most part, it’s been incredible. And I really am not a side taker. I think it’s so silly that people think that’s worth fighting over. In fact, I just posted in a Facebook group this morning. Somebody was like, “Oh, I want to try a builder. What should I use?” And it’s like kwa kwa kwa. Every side is like… And I said, “You know what, pick a tool and go with it.” You can build a great site in literally any of these builders. I just decided early on to stick to what… I was building sites in WordPress in general. I’m not like the best developer ever. I’m not the best designer. I’m more of the visionary type, and I can just get crapped on. But I was like, “I’m sick of trying to figure out a new theme every single time.” So I needed to find a company that had a lot of themes. And there was Elegant Themes, and they had a dozen or more, maybe 20 themes. So I thought, “I can serve any client I need to with this little toolkit.” And then before you know, it came Divi 1.0 and I was like, “Oh my gosh.” Because I think they were pretty much the first builder. Tara: Yeah, there are some others. Stephanie: But that was the first one… Tara: …the other ones. Stephanie: Oh, I don’t care. That was the first one I’ve ever seen it. And it was a very early days for that whole concept kind of. Anyway. Then I’d learn about other ones and I’m like, “I want to try that.” And I was like, “No, I’ve invested in this ecosystem. I’m just going to go with it.” Tara: Awesome. Awesome. Liam: I couldn’t agree with you more there. Stephanie: I was going to say, what? Are we going to fight? Liam: No. I don’t want to say they’re all the same, but they’re all hammers, right? Stephanie: Exactly. Liam: Or they’ll screwdrivers. Stephanie: Exactly. Liam: The amount of time it takes to learn how to use a new hammer and a new screwdriver often isn’t worth it. So I agree with you. Find one that works for you and run with that and let the others live for sure. For sure. Stephanie, I want to ask you about inventing? Stephanie: Okay. Liam: What have you invented? Stephanie: Oh, my gosh. Liam: Tell us about that. Stephanie: I’m going to have to ask you to sign a NDA first possible. Liam: Only if it’s 14 pages long. Stephanie: I’ve said for years I need to marry a mechanical engineer or something because I can dream up so many things, but I don’t know how to make them. I’m that person that has notebooks full of doodles of all different things. Okay, I’ll give you a couple. I’ve invented an automatic rocking chair rocker. Really useful things like that I have invented in my mind. My all-time favorite one is a new umbrella. I’ve redone the umbrella. It’s such an annoying tool that we have. The driest spot on the umbrella is taken up by the stick. You can’t ever get there. Most of my things are improvements on things that already exist but I reimagine them. So anyway, that’s like one of my favorite little goofy things to do. I love it. Tara: It’s really cool. Stephanie: I mean, they never come to fruition. And I’m just one of those people that gets mad when stuff is made. I’m like, “That was my idea.” Tara: Wow. Stephanie: Nobody ever believes you though. Tara: Stephanie, what was your path to WordPress? How did you even get started with WordPress? Stephanie: I had a full-time job. I lived in Atlanta, I worked for Georgia Tech. I was the web developer for the College of Engineering. We had to rebuild that site. Somehow we evaluated a bunch and I ended up using Drupal. So Drupal was the go-to for a couple of years. And then I came to my senses, I found WordPress and I moved in that direction. And I have never looked back. That’s not true. One time I did look back. Somebody said, “I have a Drupal site. I need some help,” or you know, some small little thing. And I was like, “I built a huge Drupal site back in the day. It’s unrecognizable and you can’t do…” I had a little stint with Joomla. Remember the good old Joomla too? Also terrible. So anyway, I made my rounds. And that’s just where I ended up. Tara: Nice. Well, we’re glad you’re here. Stephanie: Thank you. Me too. Tara: How about the WordPress community? So you’re in the Divi community. Before you discovered that, were you involved in the WordPress community at all? Meetup? Anything? Stephanie: Not a ton. I really got into the community through Facebook. It blows my mind actually how useful Facebook is to me for my business and for my sanity. But none of the front-facing, none of the grandmas posting things that they forwarded without fact-checking, none of the pictures of kids, none of the politics, none of this stuff that everybody thinks is Facebook. But it’s all the behind the scenes. It’s all the groups and the messenger chats that you have, and all these connections that you make. It’s unbelievable to me. I’ve never been much of a Twitter girl. It’s like never clicked. You know how we all have our ways. We all have our platforms that we like and stuff. As far as community goes, though, I just think you can’t be Facebook for the groups and things like that. It’s just been so incredible. I am involved in the Divi community, but not exclusively. There’s so many general WordPress things. Actually, I have a Facebook group myself, because I got a little frustrated because it was like if I wanted to ask questions or reach out to people about this plugin, or speeding up a WordPress site or using this WooCommerce tool, so many groups were so niched down that it was… There’s a lot of Devi groups that I’m in and there was so many people that became like a hashtag in there—NDR (Not Devi Related). So it was like, because they wanted…everybody had a… There’s just so many other things to talk about. If you build WordPress websites, whether you’re a freelancer or a small team, whatever, there’s a business there. There’s so many other things. Like, how do you set up your billing? What do you use for bookkeeping? What email program do you guys use? Do you use anything for your productiv…? There’s so many business things to talk about. And sometimes you just have what I call a bad entrepreneur day and you just need to be around other people who have been there or you need to have a cry or have somebody send you some good memes to cheer you up or something like that. You know, say like, “It’s alright, this project sucks. The next one will be okay.” You just need that. So I created a little group called Focus on Your Biz because my company is called FocusWP. Anyway, that’s where I spend a lot of time to. Sort of that’s my little tribe in addition to all the other specific things. But I love it. It’s fun. Liam: Yeah, I get what you’re saying about, you know, niche groups are great when you need that, but I could see how it’s a challenge. Because you join a new group and you don’t want to just jump in and like, “Hey, here’s all my needs. Can everybody help me right away?” Stephanie: Exactly. Liam: There’s a certain like, “Let me see if I can answer a question for somebody else. Let me contribute to the conversation. Let me build some respect in this community.” And then by that time the deadline and the need has gone. So it’s kind of helpful to have a group where it is more open-ended. and that can take time to grow. How are you going about growing that? Stephanie: It’s growing kind of slowly. We only have a few hundred members. Now we’re close to 400, I think. And part of me wants to grow… you know, I look at I see some of these other groups, and they’re like, 2,000 people, 10,000 people, all this stuff. But then again, I’ve heard people say that 500 mark is nice—other colleagues that have groups. Because once you get past that, you have to start moderating. You have to start dealing with the struggles of it and stuff. I’m a big networker. I’m very open to just sort of meeting people and having conversations. It almost always ends up something cool happening. I love it. So anybody that I talked to I’m like, “Hey, you should join my group.” And I send them a link and they do. So it’s sort of just been most everyone in the group has been brought in by me. Some people invite others and things like that but… And I talked about it on the podcast., the Divi Chat Podcast, a bit too just because that’s in my little intro. So it’s just growing slowly. It’s not a revenue generator for me or anything like that. It’s just sort of a nice place to be. Liam: Yeah, I like that. Before we hit the record button, Tara was anxiously looking forward to hearing about your affection for craft beer. Maybe we can steer the conversation that way a little bit. What about craft beer do you like? Do you make your own beer? Do you just enjoy the different types? Stephanie: Oh, no, no, no, no. A few years ago, I was thinking about truly trying to niche my agency. I have an agency called Sweet Tea Marketing. Because we’re in the south. We’re in Charlotte. I had a different business partner in that business and we were so tired of how many clients we get that have been basically just screwed over by their developers before. It gives our industry a bad name. It’s almost like we’re the used car salesman of the internet. Nobody trusts us. They always think we’re trying to get one over on them and things like that. So we were trying to go with, like, “Ah, let’s go with Southern integrity and all this stuff.” So the fact that it was a beverage name was kind of… It was just something Southern. But then it ended up going down a road where I really wanted to niche down and find something. I’ve said for a long time, like, everybody always wants to figure out, “Oh, how do I pick a niche? How do I pick a niche.” And I’ve always sort of said, like, “If I had like two or three sites in any industry, I think I could make it a niche.” Because that’s what you need really. You just need some experience in that industry and some contacts and stuff. So we happen to be working with a few breweries. And I love craft beer. And there’s an explosion of it, I mean, everywhere in the country, but Charlotte was really a big growth center there. So I joined the Guild. I went to the conferences and I sort of spun off a side thing where I called it Sweet Tea Craft Marketing. I ended up doing a video series with some guys in the industry. Because I would have beers with these guys and I thought, “Wouldn’t this be kind of funny to do a tasting show where one of them was a Cicerone trained beer…? Oh, he’s going to kill me that I can’t remember the name. But anyway, he’s Cicerone trained. So he’s like up there. Not that like top level where there’s only like 19 in the world, but he’s the one right below that. But still impressive. And then there was another guy who was a home brewer. He was a Cicerone server. Which for those who don’t know, Cicerone is like a sommelier of wine. Cicerone is the beer version of that. So I said, “You know what we should do, guys? We should review beers together, and like have your perspective as this big shot, have your perspective as a home brewer, and then I’ll be like, ‘yeah, tastes good.'” So I learned so much about beer and all that. It ended up morphing into I was talking about the packaging and the branding and all that stuff. It’s how the whole thing ended. It was just super fun. It was just the thing we did to just give a little recognition in the industry. Tara: That is really fun. What’s your favorite beer at the moment? Do you have one? Stephanie: I am an IPA girl. I know everybody. I like a juicy IPA. It’s not a real impressive favorite, but I can’t help it. I love it Tara: It’s kind of like what happened to Malort, right, with that thing? Stephanie: Yeah. Sideways? Tara: Yeah. It’s now the same thing with the IPAs, but I’m in that camp as well. Like a hazy IPAs. Stephanie: Hazy, yeah. I just love them. They’re so good. I don’t need a lot of fruits or fancy stuff. The milkshake one I don’t need. I don’t need all that. I just like the good old hazy IPA. Give me that any day. Tara: Yeah, yeah. Well, that’s fun. That’s cool. Liam: I’m at the other end. I’m more of a malt drinker, malt beer, Vienna Lager, Malt’s, and old beers. That’s what I like. Yeah. Stephanie: Nice. See, now that’s so much cooler of an answer. Liam: It is what it is. I don’t know that I did. It’s like cool. It’s just it is what it is. If it’s an IPA, it’s got to be a double because I don’t like the really tart… It’s not the tartness. It’s more the dryness.. Stephanie: Bitter. The hoppiness. Liam: Yeah. So for whatever reason, if they double the IPA, whatever that means, it drinks a little smoother. Stephanie: I’ll have to send you guys a link to the show notes to these series we did where I’m a dork and I don’t know anything. They just make fun of me the way I describe them, because they’re like, “Oh, I got banana notes.” I’m like, “What? This is in your beer?” They can just taste things that I can’t taste. It’s amazing. Tara: My husband is a home brewer and a beer… Stephanie: Oh, cool. So we always have beer on tap, which has been really nice during the pandemic because you can have… I’d say it’s nice because you can just have a little bit. You don’t have to commit to a whole bottle. But you can also have a little bit and then a little bit and then a little bit. Stephanie: And then a little bit more. A little bit a lot of times. Tara: Yes. So he taught me how. I’ve done it once. But he’s got it down to us… Stephanie: You know, you look at the brewery, like the stereotype of the guy with the beard and the tattoos and all this stuff and the beanie, and there’s a certain connotation of that. I’m telling you what, these guys are chemists. They’re unbelievable. Tara: It’s a science project and it’s also a janitorial kind of thing too. There’s a lot of cleaning and sterilizing that goes into it as well. Actually, I’ve gone to some meetup type things, presentations with women brewers. So that’s also a really growing trend as women. Stephanie: It is. Women in the industry is huge. Tara: That’s how it started. Men only got involved in making beer when it started to become an industry. Stephanie: I know. Tara: Women started it. So in honor of women’s history month I will… Stephanie: That’s right. Yesterday or something was International Women’s Day. Tara: Yes. Yes. Cool. Well, we could probably talk about beer and make Hallway Chats into the beer podcast. Stephanie: Speaking of Hallway Chats, though, the hallway chats at the brewery conferences, oh, my gosh. You go to a brewery conference, it is so different than a WordCamp. You get there and when you get your little swag bag for attending the conference, it has a cup. And you just walk around. It’s like a branded cup or mug. And there’s just people pouring beer the whole place, all over. You just drink the whole entire time. So it was a fun niche to choose. Tara: It is. Liam: Yeah, that’s a smart move. I like that. Stephanie, I want to ask you one of our signature questions if I can. Stephanie: Sure. Liam: And it’s around success. The question is really, how would you define success? What is your definition? It can be a mixture of a personal definition or a professional definition? Or maybe for you it’s a combo? How do you define success? Stephanie: That’s such a hard question. Can’t we just keep talking about beer, Liam? I think you guys are muting because they can’t hear you laughing at my jokes. I need the feedback, you guys. Come on. Liam: I unmuted. Go ahead. Stephanie: Okay, good. Stephanie: Success. Success. How do you define success? I mean, you got to wake up in the morning and feel good about what you’re doing. You got to go to bed at night feeling like you accomplished something. To me, I mean, if we’re talking success, we’re in the United States of America, there’s going to be dollars involved. So what is success for me financially is I want to be able to not have to worry about my bills, I want to be able to take care of my family when they need it, and I want to be able to take a vacation once in a while. The V word that we never get to really talk about. So success is how you feel about what you’re doing, to me, and to have something that you can really be proud of that you’re doing. I like helping people so that brings me a feeling of success a lot of times. Liam: Let’s talk about helping people. You mentioned at the start, or Tara read at the start of the show that you’ve got a business that helps agencies grow. Tell us about that. What does that mean day to day for you? What does that look like? Stephanie: There’s a good backstory on it, especially appropriate for this show. Liam: Please share. Please share. Stephanie: I was at a WordCamp and there was a little… It wasn’t exactly a hallway. It was before the sessions began. There was a little Divi coffee and donuts meetup. So I went there and I was by myself. I am clearly not shy. I’m not a shy person. I’m very gregarious. But like in a conference setting, it’s like I can’t figure out the psychology of it. But it’s so awkward to be by yourself and to approach a group of people. But I have found that if you just have somebody standing next to you and two people approach your group, it’s not weird. I don’t know what that is. And you’re thinking I’m crazy right now, but the next time we’re ever allowed in public, you watch. It’s totally true. It’s just not as awkward. So there was another guy there who I had just sort of met just casually. We were both at the coffee thing or whatever and we just chatted just for a couple of minutes. And then I walked away and I realized he didn’t know anybody there either. And a lot of the other folks did. I went back up to him and I said, “Hey, would you like to be my conference buddy today?” And he looked at me and said, “I’m sorry., what?” And I was like, “Yeah, do you want to be conference buddies?” And he was like, “Sure.” So we hung out all day. I mean, through the whole conference. In our little then the hallway chats that he and I had, we were talking about our agencies. My agency, I had systematized maintenance and care plans. I loved care plan. This is before care plans were like… I know it sounds so hipster me. It was before care plans were cool guy. But I was really into it. They were super profitable for me. He was in the camp that like they were a pain in the neck. So we talked about all this stuff, we talked about our pricing, we talked about all these other stuff. Then like a week after WordCamp was over, he sends me a text and says, “I just sent you an email. Don’t freak out. Read it.” And I opened my email, and he sent me a business plan. He said, “Let’s take this model that you’ve built, let’s perfect it, let’s build more stuff around it, and let’s do this as a business.” So we started doing care plans. And we found out that it really was a useful service for people. We white labelled it, so they get all the credit. We put their logo on their ports and everything. But then we started to realize like, now that they trusted us with their websites to care for them, they would also say like, “Could you help me figure this out? Or could you do that?” or “I have this bill. Do you guys know anybody?” So we started doing little side projects and we realized, like, gosh, there’s so many more ways we could help. So we added on development services. And then we added on copywriting services. Because these are the things that are hard to find. There’s a million developers, but to find somebody that you can trust that isn’t going to flake on your project, or that has the skill set that they say they have, or there’s quality control involved. I mean, we’ve all had projects where we hire somebody on a recommendation, or just we found them on Upwork or whatever, and they flake midway, and then you’re up pulling all-nighters the rest of the week to get the deadline done. So we wanted something that was reliable, that was really beneficial to these agencies, and something that they could mark up so they could scale and grow. Because so many of them are just one-man shops. And there’s just a capacity there. Like you really only have so many hours, and you’re really never going to take a vacation if it’s all on you. So to help them realize you can take on more work, you can offer services that you aren’t really maybe confident in. All of those things. So it went from just care plans to these services. Then I started to realize they actually need like pep talks and a little… It’s not coaching. I do coaching, but I have been sort of leaning down a little bit of that road to say, like, “Here’s how you do this.” We just filmed a video series with someone who… it’s just going to be like a little one off thing. It’s like I helped her create a proposal. And it’s like she would come back to me after meeting with the client and I’d say like, “Okay, that was good. Now do this.” We just did little things because there’s so many folks that are just insecure for no reason. We’re all in our little bubble and sometimes you just need somebody to say like, “Hey, you’re doing great. And Gosh, darn it, people like you.” Liam: Thank you Stuart. Homage to Saturday Night Live. Appreciate that. Stephanie: That didn’t answer your question at all actually. That doesn’t tell you what my day looks like. But that’s what we do. Liam: We can extrapolate it from that. That’s a good answer. I’ll take it. Thank you. Stephanie: I still do have my agency. I love having an agency. It’s always been my thing. We are helping clients too. But lately, people come to me for a quote, and I’m like, “Oh, I don’t want to do that. I want to go work with agencies.” Liam: Let’s talk about that. How do you balance that? Because I mean, we have a passion, and it sounds like your business and your passion is focused now on this business, on FocusWP. But if somebody comes to you and says, like, “Look, I got 10 grand, or I got 5 grand, or I’ve got 2 grand or whatever it is, we trust you, can you do it?” It can be a challenge to say n… And if big enough, they’re good people, and you’ll like them kind of thing, even if it’s not where you want to focus, how do you handle that? How do you approach that? Stephanie: Well, I’m actually in a big transition period right now, because it’s been possible to do both up till this point. And I’m sort of hitting that phase where it isn’t. So outsourcing. With FocusWP, that’s one of the things I preach, and I do it. I happen to be fortunate that I have this awesome team, you know, like all these teams actually of developers and writers and everything. So I do use that to fulfill a lot of my projects. I’m in the process now of getting it, like really tightening up all of my systems and things like that. And then at some point in the near future, like within the next year, we’re going to have to have a talk about either just scaling back or selling… Some change is coming. It’s all brewing right now. So I am in a bit of a transition phase. Tara: Yeah, transitions are challenging, interesting, fun, all of those combined. What’s your biggest challenge? What do you find challenging? Stephanie: Saying no. Tara: Okay, that was a quick answer Stephanie: Well, yeah, because I like helping people. And people come and they’re like, “Oh…” My favorite phrase always is “what if?” So people come and talk to me and I’m like, “What if you did this?” So it’s hard for me to not like… I can get on a call with somebody who needs one little thing and we can turn it into a big project, which is a really nice treat to have. That’s something I’m proud of that I can do. But at the same time, it’s hard to… I’m really trying to stick to what my agency is best at, which is branding and web. Like, let’s just stick to that. Let’s stop helping people figure out how to run a podcast on their own. Let’s stop figuring out how to help people set up their Google Mail. Let’s just stick to what I’m good at, and let other people do the other thing. That’s one of the things I’m really working on right now. Tara: Great. Thanks for sharing that. I’m going to ask you another question that we ask all our guests, which is about advice. And if you have received some advice that you’ve implemented, that you’ve taken to heart, and that’s helped you that you would share with us. Stephanie: This is a weird one. I’ve talked about this on a couple of other podcasts I think. It always seems to work. It wasn’t advice somebody directly gave me. But about, gosh, 15 years ago, maybe I read this book called “The year of Yes.” This kind of ironic since I just said saying no is my hardest thing. But I didn’t mean to pair those two up that way. But this book was written up… not even about business at all. It was written about dating. This girl was always choosing people that were bad for her and she realized she had a pattern. And she thought she knew what she wanted. But when it came down to it, clearly she didn’t because she kept getting into these terrible relationships. So she spent an entire year and said yes to everything. Not everything. But any person. Tara: Yeah, I think I heard her on some podcasts. Yeah. Stephanie: Any person who approached her. She lived in New York City so there was a lot of interaction with strangers and things like that. So she went on a date with a cab driver, with a homeless guy, with a rich guy. And the person she ended up with in the end—I won’t spoil in case you want to read The Year of Yes—it was somebody that she would have never in a million years thought would work. She’s super happy with, and all that. That was a good mindset shift for me when I read that book, and it affected me in different areas of my life to stop thinking that I know what I want or need. There’s just so many opportunities and so many different things. Liam: Yes is good. Yes is a powerful thing. I know we talk a lot about saying no, but saying yes can get us out of our comfort zone, can push us a little bit, and can open up new doors that we might not otherwise have ever thought about. Stephanie: I call it ‘being proactively open-minded’ is my phrase that I’ve coined. Liam: I like that. I like that. Because it’s easy to think of ourselves as open-minded, but to do it right, we have to be aware of where our limits are and acknowledge that they’re not as open as we think they might be. Stephanie: And sometimes being open-minded is like we’re open to things that come to us if we think about being open-minded. But that’s why I think of being proactive about being open-minded. Again, with the theme of this show, is like getting into those conversations with people in the hallways at WordCamps and meetups and things. Like you guys started a whole podcast because of all the good that comes of that. And it’s different now because we can’t be in person, but you can still have that. You can still approach people. You can still build relationships. You can still network. You can still get involved in the community that is online at least. The things that come from it are incredible. I mean, I have a whole new business and a whole passion because of a conversation that happened at a WordCamp, and then the relationships in the tribe I’ve built is all just from doing that online. It’s really a super powerful thing. Tara: Thanks for sharing that. I totally agree. And I think part of that open-mindedness too is listening. Listening to what other people are sharing and hearing their stories and their ideas and seeing what you can take from that and implement in your own life, which I’ve really… I mean, that’s part of Hallway Chats for me is hearing people’s definitions of success and thinking, “Huh, that’s interesting. I wonder how I could implement that in my life.” So I think that’s also being open-minded is listening. I appreciate being able to listen to you today so much. Thanks for joining us. I’m sorry that we are out of time. Stephanie: This was fun, you guys. Tara: Yeah. Thanks so much for being on Hallway Chats. Where can people find you online, Stephanie? Stephanie: You can find me at focuswp.co or you can hit me up in my Facebook group. It’s called Focus on your Biz. Tara: Great. Liam: Stephanie, thank you so much for joining us. What a pleasure to get to know you today. I really appreciate it. Stephanie: This was fun, you guys. Tara: Bye-bye. Tara: If you like what we’re doing here – meeting new people in our WordPress community – we invite you to tell others about it. We’re on iTunes and at hallwaychats.com. Liam: Better yet, ask your WordPress friends and colleagues to join us on the show. Encourage them to complete the “Be on the show” form on our site, to tell us about themselves. The post Episode 149 – Stephanie Hudson appeared first on Hallway Chats.
32 minutes | 2 months ago
Episode 148 – Bet Hannon
Introducing Bet Hannon Bet discovered WordPress in 2008 and has been involved in the WordPress community since 2013 at meetups, WordCamps, and on the support team. Bet runs an agency, Bet Hannon Business Websites, where she specializes in WordPress and accessibility. Show Notes Twitter | @bethannon Website | BHMBizSites.com Preferred Pronouns | She/Her Episode Transcript Tara: This is Hallway Chats, where we meet people who use WordPress. Liam: We ask questions and our guests share their stories, ideas, and perspectives. Tara: And now the conversation begins. This is Episode 148. Tara: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Tara Claeys. Liam: And I’m Liam Dempsey. Today we’re joined by Bet Hannon. Bet discovered WordPress in 2008 and has been involved in the WordPress community since 2013 at meetups, WordCamps, and on the support team. Bet runs an agency, Bet Hannon Business Websites, where she specializes in WordPress and accessibility. Bet, welcome. Bet: Hey, great to be with you guys today. Tara: So nice to meet you Bet. I’ve been a fan and a follower, and it’s really great to see you face to face on a Zoom. Bet: Thanks. Tara: Can you tell us and our listeners more about yourself and Bet Hannon Business Websites? Bet: Yeah. I discovered WordPress in 2008. I had a 15 year plus career in nonprofit management, and near the end of that time, I’d been doing drag and drop websites and email newsletters. My organization downsized my position at the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008 and I kind of fell into… People would pay you to do those things independent of being a part of their staff. I went to a weekend conference, and I met a guy that I knew was an iOS app developer. We were talking and I was telling him what I was doing and he said, “Oh, you should be doing those websites in WordPress.” And I said, “I don’t even know what that is.” So we both way back home and we had a phone call where we both at the same time logged into the back end. It before Zoom and all those things, right? So we logged into the back end of his WordPress website, and my mind was blown. It was just love at first sight. I got involved doing WordPress websites. And then went to my first WordCamp in 2013. Went to WordCamp LA, and just started meeting people in the WordPress community. It was just an amazing thing to me and always still is every time I go to a WordCamp, just to meet people from all over the world. Even when you go to small little WordCamps, people come from really far away sometimes, and or just doing super cool things with WordPress. I just really love talking to people, as Liam knows. Liam and I met in 2015 when we were both on the check-in desk for WordCamp US in Philly. Tara: Ah, okay. That’s I think when I met Liam for the first time as well was 2015 WordCamp US. Or maybe it was Philly before. Anyway, my first WordCamp was also in 2013, and I started using it a little bit later than you were, in 2010. So I’m curious about that experience of having worked in WordPress on your own for five years or so before discovering that WordPress community or WordCamps, and if that changed the way that you work, the way that you use WordPress, what you do that I guess the quality of your work, perhaps. How did that impact your work discovering WordPress community after viewing it by yourself or without the community? Bet: Well, I had kind of been involved a little bit in the community in the sense of I found the support forums. And I’m not even sure really where I kind of ran onto those. But I discovered that I could put things together in terms of getting answers to questions or issues that have come up. So I had been already beginning to kind of do that a little bit. And I’m not even sure how I heard about WordCamp LA. But there was a community of people. I was living in Fresno at the time and there was a kind of a growing tech community there. Some folks that were really working at and have actually done been quite successful at doing tech education and entrepreneurship and kind of trying to grow the tech economy there, but in particular, reaching out to underserved communities to help people find ways to make good living that they might not have otherwise already had. You know, people from generational systemic poverty. I had been involved in some of that community and had connections there a little bit. But yeah, it was just going to and just meeting people. There were some particular plugins and themes that I had kind of found and were using. And then when I went to, not so much at WordCamp LA but then the next year in San Francisco, met the developers of the products that I use. And they were interested in talking to me. I was like, “Oh, that’s really different that they really were just eager to chat with people and open with…” I was seeing people who I knew that this developer and another, and developer A and developer B had competing products plugins, and yet they just seemed like they liked each other and they tease one another, and they joked around and supported one another. I just really loved that sense of community. It was in San Francisco that I had volunteered and then someone said, “Are you staying for contributor day?” And I already had my train ticket back to Fresno. And I said, “No, I can only stay for part. What is that?” And they said, “Oh, these teams.” And they introduced me to the teams. And I thought, “Oh, I teach people about WordPress a lot. Maybe I should go to the training team. So I started the training team, and it was pretty clear that was more doing learning plans, lesson plans. And I was like, “Oh.” Yeah, that didn’t connect so much for me. But just at the other end of the table was the support team. Those are the people that do the forums. And they were having a lot of fun and joking around it. I ended up kind of just migrating down the table and got involved with the support team and answering questions on the forums and volunteering on that. Just really that sense of community. And then every time you go to a WordCamp and you’re meeting some of those same people, but you’re also meeting new people. Actually, I will confess, I’ll make a confession on your podcast, that there have been a few WordCamps where I never actually went to a presentation. That I actually only ever did the hallway track. And I was perfectly fine with that. Liam: Can I ask, since you’re confessing, and we’re going to go all candid now, Bet, did you even look at the schedule? Bet: Sometimes, no. Or I would say I probably looked at it to see if there was anything that really caught my attention that I really wanted to go see. And I do go to presentations. I’m not saying I never do. Liam: I know that. I not trying to make it bad. Bet: No, no, no, I don’t think it’s bad to go and really just have this be about you’re there, you’re connecting with people. I mean, that’s a big piece of what the WordCamp is. It’s not just about educating people in terms of making presentations. But what it’s about, you know, connecting and making those connections and figuring out how you can make a contribution, but also when you’re networking and you can meet the people from your hosting company, and you can meet the people from the plugins that you’re using, or the themes that you’re using, or learn about new services in the new vendors’ area, and those kinds of things. I just really love going. And in the last, I would say, three years, I really started focusing more on… I really like traveling. But if I go to WordCamps, I can write that off as a business expense. Tara: I hear you. Yeah. Bet: So, let’s just go to pick WordCamps until COVID. I would look at where are the WordCamps that I might want to travel. So I’ve been to London, I’ve been to Paris. It’s been kind of fun. Liam: That’s a great way to do it. Bet, I want to ask you about accessibility. We mentioned or I mentioned specifically in your introduction that you focus and specialize on that. Talk a little bit about that, because accessibility and web has been around for a while but it’s relatively new-ish in terms of wider profile, wider understanding, wider acceptance, wider appreciation for the value. Can you chat a little bit about those things as well as how you came to focus and specialized on that? Bet: Yeah. In early 2017, I think, we had a client that we had been doing administrative maintenance for quite some time come to us—water district in California, a large agricultural Water District. And because of the way they are connected to the state of California, they were going to be required to make their site compliant under California section 508 standards. So they came to us and asked about that. They wanted to do a redesign and make their site compliant, and I said, “Well, we don’t have any experience doing that but maybe we can help you find someone.” And they said, “No, we really like you guys and we like the work you’re doing. We’d like to all learn at this together,” which was this amazing opportunity for us. So our team dived in and we did a lot of training and a lot of learning about accessibility and worked with the client. Their IT team is fairly sophisticated too. But lots of things. Like they have a long history of putting out PDF reports. So they had thousands of PDF reports, none of which were compliant. And putting together lots of agendas in because they’re part of the state of California and under their charter, there’s transparency rules. So they have to have things that are out there and have to have them out in accessible ways. So we dived in and we were learning a lot about accessibility. I kind of had a sort of passing acquaintance. I think I’d heard about accessibility at a WordCamp or meetup before. But when we dived in, I first got my glimpses of what inaccessible website experience means for somebody who has a disability. And we’re not talking about just people who… you might typically we think about people who are blind or have mobility impairments. But when you think about people who are temporarily disabled because they broke their hand, and they can’t use a mouse or people who have situational challenges, like they have a screaming baby. When you start thinking about accessibility and all the ways that it impacts people and how it really can make real differences in people’s lives, we were just hooked. Our team just got hooked on that sense of what a contribution… You’re putting out a good karma, but you’re doing something that really impacts people’s lives. So it’s not just about making websites to sell widgets anymore. Widgets in WordPress are different, but you know, economic. It’s a business. Liam: I know where you are going. Tara: Yeah. Bet: So it’s not just about selling widgets, but it’s about helping people learn how to do accessibility and kind of moving people into thinking about accessibility. We’ve kind of been growing and specializing about that. I’ve long heard in terms of business that you need to niche down and specialize more. And we never really worked with any one vertical. We worked with a lot of nonprofits. We worked with a lot of different levels of businesses. But yeah, accessibility has really kind of gotten to be our thing. So we have folks on our team that really specialized in a lot of the mechanics of that, and our content, people are helping people. Because when you do accessibility well, it also often really helps your SEO. So the content people are helping to do that. We offer training. It’s been really exciting to feel like you’re making a difference in the world as a part of what you do for a living. Tara: Yeah. Accessibility is a huge topic. I think it’s intimidating because you hear lawsuits and things like that. I know there are lots of agencies that are leaning towards that and there are tools right that you can use now. I saw a presentation from Amber Haines. She has some kind of a testing tool. What kind of process do you go through to make it less intimidating for your clients? And since that’s your specialty, are you finding people are finding you and coming to you for accessibility specifically? Or is it “I need a website,” and then you tell them about accessibility, and they’re like, “Oh, well, then I definitely want to hire you.: What’s that process like? Bet: Well, we get both ends. We’re getting a few people finding us that are already interested in accessibility, but then also we do a lot of educating with people along the way. Usually, when you talk to them, they’re a part of that. When we were starting to learn more about accessibility and get involved in the WordPress accessibility community, one of the best pieces of advice I ever got was, as a developer, never put accessibility on a proposal as something that can be optional. When you start to think about it, it’s sort of like, why would you want to make it easy for the client to say, “Oh, I know. I don’t think I need that. I’m going to throw these people with disabilities under the bus. So we just don’t ever do that. That was really some of the best advice I got was we stake our reputation as developers on doing things excessively. So we go in saying, “We’re only going to make accessible websites.” However, of course, you get clients to come back. Like we have a client now who we’re working with them and they came with their own design pieces that had already been done. And of course, their main button color doesn’t have enough color contrast. So we said, “Well, you need to darken that color to this much.” “No, we’re not going to change that.” Then I make them sign a release that says, “We’ve informed you that this color does not meet WCAG standards, and you release us from all liability in the event of a future lawsuit. You’re going to pay all of our expenses because you know that if they got sued, we as the developers would get called in to do something.” Anyway. Liam: But I don’t want to ask you the specifics in that. But that strikes me in this day and age as a client that… I mean, when your vendors say, “If you really want us to sign a release that says we can.” That’s really interesting. Have you had more than one client willing to sign that? Bet: Only one. Because usually, when you get to that point, they go, “Oh, maybe I should take this seriously.” Liam: “Maybe we need to talk to counsel about this.” Tara: But these folks are fairly large. So I’m not sure what the story is on all of that, but I was really surprised that they were willing to sign it and go forward. But maybe they’re going to come back and visit that later. So we kind of work with that. So people come. We’re educating them a little bit. And then I can’t remember the rest of the question, Tara? Tara: Oh, it was a lot. It was a couple of questions. I was asking you also about tools and how people are finding you that way. Bet: So there are a proliferation of accessibility testing tools out there. One of the big ones is wave.webaim.org. That’s one of the big ones that you can test. And then there’s aXe Lighthouse, and some other ones. The really important thing to remember is that those automated tools can only help you find about 30% of the issues on any website. So much really just has to be human tested. One of the examples I would give is sort of like an automated tool can tell you whether or not you have alt tags on an image but it can’t tell you about whether they are helpful alt tags. If the alt tag is “fivetoblablabla.jpg,” the title of the image, that doesn’t really help. That’s not really compliant. They only catch some percentage of those. You always need to have some sorts of human testing going on. Tara: Yeah, interesting. And I know it does conflict with designing a lot. It’s very challenging. Bet: You know, the perception, the thing that we kind of fight about… I’ve been toying with maybe we should find a way to put in our tagline, you know, accessible and beautiful. Because I think the presumption is that if it’s accessible that it’s ugly and plain and very 2009. And that’s just not true. You can make really beautiful things that are accessible. Our developer has been working on doing a lot… One of the things that’s notoriously not accessible is sliders, which of course, we would rather not have them do. But there are accessible ways to do sliders or there are accessible ways to do, quote, “rotating testimonials” or some of those kinds of things. But figuring out how you can do those in accessible ways is… Tara: Interesting. Thanks for sharing all that information. I’d like to ask you a question that we ask all of our guests, which is about your definition of success. And that can relate to as a business owner, as a human being, as a member of your community. However you define success in your life, if you would share that with us, and how you implement that philosophy. Bet: I think success is when you’re able to make a positive difference in the lives of other people, whether that’s my family, or my community, or my customers or my employees. Just really being able to help make someone’s life better. So when we’re trying to work with all the accessibility stuff, that’s a huge piece of success for me. But also I hired and brought on employees in the business. I think we’re in our third or fourth year of offering health insurance benefits, right? So being able to do that. When one of my employees was able to buy her first house, I think I was as excited as they were. That part of what I had done in building this business made it possible for this person to buy a house. Those kinds of things in terms of really just making a difference. Making a difference. Liam: I like the constructive nature of that, the very tactile nature of making a positive impact in someone’s life. And it can be big and it can be small. How do you assess a day when inevitably you’ll have helped some people? Depending on your day, you might have set a few people back. And maybe there’s other people who just kind of shipped passing in the day through no fault of anybody, just no good or bad. How do you then evaluate whether a day or a week or a month or a year has been a success? What does that look like for you? Bet: I don’t know exactly where it comes from, but I really don’t hang on to the hard stuff, awful stuff too much. There are occasional ones where it just really sticks under your skin. Liam: You’re human. Bet: I am. I am. Well, we won’t go into those stories. But I think even if it’s just one person, right? I happened to go out to do an errand this morning, went by the grocery store, it’s like moving a cart for someone. It doesn’t have to be big. It’s completely like really small things. I feel good with that and I hang on to that. That makes the day successful, even if there’s other things that are not as pleasant or not as easy, or I may have… Sometimes when you’re the boss, you have to come in and say things, you know, “We’re going to do it this way.” My kids are grown now, but I certainly had to do that with my kids when they were growing up. Liam: I get that. I like that. I think it strikes me that your approach is really relevant in that we just don’t know. What seems little and simple and throw away to us in the moment can be so impactful to somebody else who, at that point in time, they’re having a terrible day, and that you a stranger, move the car out of the way so that they could get in and not have to dig their car or get out and move it themselves. It restores their little faith in humanity kind of thing. I think those are really important aspects to keep in mind. So thank you for walking us through. Bet: Sometimes you do things that you hope will later come back to be little things like that. So like, we became grandparents for the first time in May last year… Liam: Congratulations. Yaaay! Bet: Thanks. She’s adorable. Our kids live east of St. Louis. So I mean, it’s a long way. And of course, COVID is restricting travel stuff and all of that. She’s nine months old now. But maybe after she was about four months old, I got the idea. Have you ever seen Postagram where you can like use a photo and send a postcard? So I have the app on my phone. And I used it before. So I got to where I was sending Lauren who’s like not able to read and very, you know, not even really paying attention to things very far along, I Postagram every week or so with a little message on it, and it has the picture. And then I sent her mom a little plastic storage cabinet so you save all of those and pull them out and read her messages from grandma. Tara: That’s a wonderful idea. Bet: It’s kind of like you hope that the little things that you do, especially when your grandparenting from far away, some of those little things will kind of keep building up over time. Tara: Yeah, that’s lovely. It strikes me also in the things that you’ve mentioned that there are two different approaches to this idea of having a positive impact on people. One of them is a conscious effort and the other is sort of a natural effort. And maybe doing more conscious things leads to a habit or a natural. It’s not like you go to the grocery store saying, “Today I’m going to the grocery store, and I’m going to help someone with their cart.” But you do go and say, “Maybe this week, I’m going to send my granddaughter a card” or “this week, I’m going to send my friend a card who I knew was having a hard time” or “I’m going to choose someone to do something nice for. So I think the combination of the two really makes it the most beautiful thing because giving it a conscious effort I think is super important in terms of just your own personal growth and feeling good about helping someone. But mixing in those little impulsiveness, instinctual things, I think they can’t be measured in the same way. So thank you for sharing that with us. Bet: You’re welcome. Tara: That’s really excellent. I appreciate that. I’m going to ask you the other question we ask everyone, and maybe it’ll be along the same line, but it is about advice. And we’d love it if you’d share with us some advice that you’ve received at some point and that’s meant something to you and that you’ve implemented in your life. Can you share something like that with us? Bet: It wasn’t something I heard from anyone explicitly, but for a very long time I’ve really sort of lived, business wise, but also kind of personal life, under promise and over deliver. I used to be ages ago a person who would overpromise and then get so overwhelmed that I would not be able to sometimes follow through on everything, or I would just break myself trying to get it all done. So under promising when I sort of like internalize that, it’s like, “I got to have a realistic boundary about this.” That helps me be really conscious about that in terms of all of that. But then delighting people. People are delighted. Other people in my life, clients, family members, when you over promise and under deliver, that’s a bad relationship. People don’t feel good. Nobody feels good. When you under promise and over deliver, everybody feels good. So if I could kind of live with more of that sort of advice, that’s… And I think it’s really important for people who are freelancing or doing development stuff thinking about that too. Tara: It’s helpful. Do you do that in self-talk also? I don’t know, I’m trying to think of some ways. For me, let’s say, I’m going out for a run or something like that, or I’m doing a race, and I’ll say, “I’m not going to be fast.” And I tell myself that because I don’t want to just be disappointed in myself. So do you also apply that to yourself? Bet: I try. I say, “I’m just going to get on the treadmill for 10 minutes. Just 10 minutes.” And I was really good at the beginning of January, and then… that’ll crash. That’s what I tell myself in my head. “I only need to do 10 minutes, five minutes. I could just do five minutes.” And of course, invariably when I get there, I do a little bit longer. But you know, it’s kind of like, yeah, I do try to get myself motivated that way. Tara: Yeah, yeah. You do the same strategy with yourself. Bet: For sure. Liam: I really like the undersell and over deliver or under promise and over deliver. Bet: Under promise. Liam: Yeah, not undersell. Under promise and over deliver. You talked about that as something that you’ve always been able to do? What was that journey like for you? What was that transition like? Was that something that you just made a call one day and like, “You know what, I’ve been burned enough by my own approach, I’m doing it different” or did it take time? Bet: I don’t know that I was burned, but it was definitely just feeling the stress of it. That it’s more stressful. And realizing, “Oh my gosh,” if I did even just a little bit more than what I had said, if I deliver this project a week before I said I would deliver it, how excited people are? I would much rather people be excited like that than to be more complicated or have those negative sort of interactions with people. Liam: Yeah, I get that. I get that. And speaking of positive feelings, we are running out of time. I can’t believe it’s been 30 minutes already. But thank you so much for joining us. Before we say goodbye, can you please share where people can find you online? Bet: Yeah. You can reach me on Twitter at @BetHannon. Our website is bhmbizsites.com, and there’s a contact form there. Tara: Great. Thank you so much, Bet. Great having you today on the show. Appreciate it. Hope to meet you in person soon. Bet: Me too. Liam: Bye for now, Bet. We’ll see you soon. Bet: Bye-bye. Tara: If you like what we’re doing here – meeting new people in our WordPress community – we invite you to tell others about it. We’re on iTunes and at hallwaychats.com. Liam: Better yet, ask your WordPress friends and colleagues to join us on the show. Encourage them to complete the “Be on the show” form on our site, to tell us about themselves. The post Episode 148 – Bet Hannon appeared first on Hallway Chats.
35 minutes | 2 months ago
Episode 147 – Patrick Rauland
34 minutes | 3 months ago
Episode 146 – Ken Elliott
Introducing Ken Elliott Ken lives in Columbia, South Carolina, where he is a full-time webmaster at a law firm. He’s also a co-owner of BKreative Media Solutions, an agency that supports small and medium businesses with digital branding solutions. He’s a core organizer of his local WordPress meetup, which is on a bit of a hiatus to the COVID. Show Notes Website | BKreative Media Solutions: bkreative.net Twitter | @kennethspeaks Instagram | kennethspeaks Preferred Pronouns | He/Him Episode Transcript Tara: This is Hallway Chats, where we meet people who use WordPress. Liam: We ask questions and our guests share their stories, ideas, and perspectives. Tara: And now the conversation begins. This is Episode 146. Tara: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Tara Claeys. Liam: And I’m Liam Dempsey. Today we’re joined by Ken Elliot. Ken lives in Columbia, South Carolina, where he is a full-time webmaster at a law firm. He’s also a co-owner of BKreative Media Solutions, an agency that supports small and medium businesses with digital branding solutions. He’s a core organizer of his local WordPress meetup, which is on a bit of a hiatus to the COVID. Welcome, Ken. Ken: Thank you. Thank you. I’m glad to be here. Tara: We’re glad you’re here too. Thanks so much for joining us. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself? Ken: Yes. Pretty much what I do is provide brand solutions to small and medium-sized businesses that are looking to kind of grow and scale for those companies that they don’t know where to get started with their actual online branding space. I provide them with kind of general solutions to get them going so they can kind of reach out to their audience. Tara: So are you more of a front end web person than a designer? Or do you also…I see your T-shirt. I know no one else can see that see this. So tell us a little bit about your skillset when it comes to being a webmaster and also doing the branding that you do. Ken: Yeah, absolutely. I started out doing web development pretty much we’ll say 22 years ago. So I learned how to build my first website. I was in AOL Chat Rooms, which was super popular 22 years ago. And then someone else was doing a website, they said, “I build websites.” I was like, “Well, if you build a website, so can I.” So I ended up making my first website using Microsoft Word, which was the only way I knew how to make a website at the time. Then I also proceeded to learn how to go into the view source and grab code and go into the bookstore, looking at different resources at the bookstore on how to learn different coding. So you can kind of say I’m a bit of both. I learned HTML CSS before I entered college, and did not learn how to do PHP in databasing while I was in college. So I learned a lot of stuff pre WordPress—before I even learned what WordPress was. Tara: Wow, that’s great. You’ve got a pretty thorough background there going back a long way. How did you get started in the branding aspect of things? Ken: Well, what I ended up realizing was when I would build websites for some of my clients, they didn’t know what to do next. It was, “Here’s a website,” and it’s like, “Okay, thank you.” And then I guess they just assumed that the website would bring people to them. And so I was like, “Okay, so let me help guide you on how to reach your audience now that this website is here. Maybe you should put some more strategy into social media. Maybe you need some business cards and actually go and be in front of the actual audience that you need to reach out to. That way you could jump some business.” It’s not like the field of dreams with a website. It just doesn’t happen. You have to do the work to get people in. Liam: That’s a tough lesson for a lot of businesses to learn. I mean, maybe less so in a COVID world where everybody really appreciate the online factor. But if you’re going back 20 some odd years, you know, if I have a website, isn’t that enough? Yeah, that’s a tough lesson. I want to talk a little bit just for old times’ sake about buying books about writing code and making websites because I think the three of us have probably all done that. There’s a certain nostalgia that you stirred up in me, Ken when you mentioned that. Share with us about the books you bought, and what did you get? What was that experience like? Ken: I honestly wish I still had my books. I took them all in the office because it’s kind of like they are reminder of humble beginnings. So every time you look at the books, it’s like, “Wow, look at what I used to do 10, 20 years ago.” And then I look at how stuff is now where you could just easily go on Stack Overflow, or YouTube or whatever. You can just copy and paste code. So when you get the books back in the day, you had to actually read through and actually do trial and error. “Okay, let me type it in. Let me figure out if this works with the actual solution that I’m trying to get it to do. And if it doesn’t, okay, well, maybe I need to go find another book.” So it could be a costly investment for us on the front end. But it’s almost that reminder of “Wow, look at these pages I had to flip through and actually read the code and figure out what actually will apply to my solution.” Liam: Yeah, that’s definitely there. Right? “Am I reading it correctly? Did I missed something? Why isn’t this working and there’s nothing more on that page. I’ve checked the index and there’s…” Yeah, it’s a different world. It’s a different world. Tara: Tell us a little bit about WordPress and how you discovered WordPress and your history with it. Ken: I’ll say I wasn’t searching for WordPress. I think it was more so WordPress found me in that moment because I was in a kind of a bit of a point where I was trying to build, like everybody, a quote-unquote, “social media network.” At this time, it was kind of like a nightlife website in which the PHP in a database would manage all of the details of the website. That way, you wouldn’t have to worry about going in and out and whatnot, having to change the code and all of that stuff. And so I was trying to find an easier way to make updates to these websites without having to do a whole bunch of PHP coding. And so I realized that WordPress allowed for the ability to add content, make changes. You know, and it did all this stuff I already knew in PHP and MySQL. And so I just kind of got into it, tried it out, see how I liked it. Of course, I had to make some minor changes to it and the PHP to do exactly what I wanted to do. But that’s kind of was my entry into WordPress. Liam: And then how about the WordPress community? Where did that come about? Ken: Oh, wow. What’s funny was when I first was introduced to WordPress, it was 2010. And I was still kind of on the fence of “Okay, do I really like WordPress?” I feel like I’m cheating because there’s a part of you that wants to still do HTML hard code. You want to prove that yeah, I’m still the original. So I felt like WordPress is just kind of a cheapskate solution to web design. But then, as I kind of continued to learn and appreciate what WordPress was providing, I was already a big user of one of the hosting providers out there. So they sent me an email in 2016, saying, “Hey, you should come to the WordCamp meetup in Atlanta,” which was my first WordCamp ever. And I went. Just to say the least, that was probably a life changing event for me. Liam: Yeah, we hear that a lot. What caught your attention the most? What made the biggest impact on you that day? Ken: Well, when I showed up that day, of course, like any conference, you’re kind of overwhelmed with all that’s going on. You’re just like, “Wow, there’s a lot here.” Especially if you’ve been to Atlanta, you know Atlanta is one of the larger ones in the nation. So you’re talking about a good 300, 400, or 500 people. So I was like, “Wow, I didn’t realize this place could fit 300, 400, or 500 people. And so when I walked in, I was like, “Wow, I’m a little bit overwhelmed.” And then there was this one young lady, she walked up to me, I guess because she saw looked very puzzled. She was like, “Hey, you look like you’re a little bit lost.” I was like, “Yeah, I’m a little bit overwhelmed right now.” She’s like, “Hey, we don’t worry. This is where everything is at.” And she pointed me to “Okay, here’s the vendors. This is where the assessors are at.” As a matter of fact, she even took the time to escort me to where she was sitting out with a couple of other people from the WordPress community that she wanted to introduce me to. So it was almost like there was this natural loving care. Just care of, “Hey, you’re a part of the community. Let me show you the people who are here, and let me help guide you around what is a WordCamp.” Liam: That’s a great experience. That’s fantastic. Having been to Atlanta, I think I was there in 2018, it’s an enormous WordCamp spread over at least two and maybe like two and a half or three floors. There’s a lot to get overwhelmed by. I’m so delighted that you had such a welcoming experience. And that then at some point led you to think about getting involved with being an organizer yourself. We shared earlier in our conversation that you help organize your local meetup. Tell us a little bit about that. How did you get involved with that? Ken: So what I wanted to do was after kind of going to these amazing WordCamps in the region, I eventually was like, “It would be great if we have something like this in Columbia.” So I ended up kind of doing a little digging and I ended up reaching out to the original organizer of the one in Columbia. And I was asking her, “Hey, I see that you haven’t had a meet up in a little bit. Is it possible? Are you looking for help? Are you planning to have other meetups in the future?” So what ended up happening was she kind of had to step back because she was just like all of us, we’re so busy with so much stuff. You can’t do everything at the same time. And being that she was the only organizer, she didn’t have anybody to help a sister. And I said, “Hey, well, I’ve been to numerous WordCamps and WordPress meetups. I will love to assist if you need some help with anything.” She says, “Sure, absolutely.” So she added me on as a co-organizer. I think at this point, we haven’t had a meetup yet just because kind of COVID has put a lot of things to hold. But we would love the opportunity to do that. And that’s how I kind of got involved with the Colombia meetup for WordPress. Liam: I love that. I love that. Just, you know, “Hey, this is a great community. I had a great experience. I’m engaging with that community. We’re not doing anything locally. Can I help address that?” Fantastic. And then of course, you know, COVID changes everything. It changes everything. Tara, I’m going to share the mic a little bit. Now I’m going to keep hogging, apparently. Tara and I are waving at each other back and forth. Tara: I think you’re probably going to do what I was just going to do. So keep going. You’re on a roll. Liam: All right. So I was going to ask one more question before we got to anything else. Did you want me to jump into something specific, Tara? All right. Ken, you work full time at a law firm as a webmaster, and then you have this additional project or this additional business, I’m sorry, it’s more than just a project, on top of that. What’s your experience of “I’ve got this full-time job. I’m doing stuff I presumably like because I’m working there full time. It’s not fulfilling everything that I need or want. I’m going to do something else.” Can you just explain a little bit about kind of the intellectual emotional impetus behind starting BKreative? Ken: Yeah. My business partner was the one who approached me about BKreative. So really, when I started my full time a little over 10 years ago, it was the idea, “Okay, full time, I got to make some money because I have a student loan. I got to take care of my student loans, which of course, is what everybody’s mindset is when you come out of college. But then also, my business partner approached me honestly, either before or after I got the full-time job saying, “Hey, I see that you do websites. I do graphics. I would love the opportunity for us to kind of collaborate on this project and maybe build something.” And so really, I’m full-time in my business, but my co-partner has been kind of married hip to hip because we’ve been doing it the same amount of time. So kind of emotionally, I think both of them supply a need, where my full time I’m taking… I think you do both of them kind of together. So like with your full time, you take some of the business aspects of what you learn from the full time and you apply to your actual business. And you take all the coding from actually what you do as a business and you could apply some of those different techniques and strategies to the actual coding that you’re doing in a full-time. Liam: Did you know your business partner before you were approached to join. Obviously, you probably knew who they were but was it a close friend, longtime associate, something like that? So it was a kind of a natural fit it sounds like. Ken: We ended up actually knowing each other from a part-time job at a grocery store that we worked at. We were both baggers. He knew I actually did web design. I didn’t know too much about him doing graphic design at that point. But I guess, you know, through Facebook, because we kind of connected on Facebook or whatnot, he’s like, “Oh, yeah, I see that you do some graphic work. I do some web work. Maybe we should consider doing this project together.” Because I think he was doing like a website for his church and he understood the graphics. But of course, he’d understand the website aspect. So he reached out to me and said, “Hey, can you help with the website portion of it and I do the graphics?” I was like, “Sure, absolutely.” So that’s how we ended up kind of growing into BKreative Media Solutions now. Tara: Great. Good story. Thanks for sharing that. I’m going to pivot to a question that we ask all of our guests, which is about success. So I want to ask you what you consider a definition of success that you work with in your life and how you implement it in your life or how you view it. Ken: So when I first started out, I mean, you are right out of college. That’s even before, you know, success is all about how much you make, money, how much is in the bank account, all that stuff. I think now I’m kind of at a juncture, especially with the pandemic, it has given me time to do a little self-discovery and figuring out exactly what is most important for me in my life. So I tell people this all the time now, especially this year, if success is what actually makes me happy, what do I feel like? What are the things that I do that truly make me happy in life? And then along with that, what can I offer to someone else to make them happy? Which is the purpose. So I want to make sure that my passion, that what I do that help fulfill me also helps someone else fulfill their purpose in life. I think that’s what truly makes me happy. So when I do websites, websites are solely to help a small business or medium-sized business to grow, and hopefully, put them in a position where they can help someone else with their passion and their purpose. I think that’s what I kind of title success as is helping someone else to help someone else. Tara: I like that. I mean, it’s a win-win all around then when you feel good about what you’re doing. So when you are selecting businesses to work with, are they certain types of businesses that you’re helping? Or is there a broad range? Ken: I’m very particular in regards to I want to make sure that they know exactly where they see themselves let’s say 5, 10 years from now. It’s not just “Hey, I woke up this morning. I want a website.” “Oh, okay. Tell me more about what this website is going to be about.” And then, “Okay, well, where do you see this business going in five years?” And they can tell you. I like to have people and organizations that could easily rattle off, “Okay, this is my company’s mission. This is the vision. This is the audience. This is who we’re trying to strive to go after.” That way, when it’s time for us to build a website for whatever their goal is, we can just say, “Okay, understanding what your goal is, this is how we should lay out the website and workflow it this way so that you can reach the desired audience that you’re trying to capture.” Liam: Can I ask you a kind of a business workflow logistics question? Ken: Sure. Liam: How do you engage with your clients, your BKreative Media clients if you’re 40 hours a week in somebody’s law firm? Does your business partner lead on that? Is it mostly email? Because you’ve established a flow that I think a lot of our listeners would like to emulate in some way, and I just wondered a little bit how you manage that. Ken: I’ll say this. A lot of our clientele comes from word of mouth. And so when word of mouth is really good, it’s easy to get business. You don’t have to worry about, “Okay, well, let me put something on Facebook to find some leads,” or “let me cold call people who might be websites.” You just rely on your clientele to do it for you. So if you could do one really good website and ask that person, “Hey, do you know two or three other people who could use our services?” And then hopefully, maybe you can ask them for a virtual introduction, or “hey, can I get their number so I can call them and get in touch with them?” that makes it a whole lot easier instead of doing so much of the, “Okay, who’s going to be the next lead? Who’s going to be next person? I got to go here to search actively for this.” It makes that process a whole lot easier. Liam: Yeah, I like that. And I want to ask you about that. Because it’s one thing to ask a client with whom you’ve worked for the last few months, “Hey, can you give me a recommendation?” And then they might even say, “Yeah, I’ll introduce you to these three other folks.” What’s that first phone call like? How do you deal with that? I mean, if you’re used to email, if you’re good at text message, and all sudden, it’s a phone call, and “hey, hire me because I’m good” or “hire us because we’re good,” That’s a different kind of conversation that can be a challenge. Have you done that? And what has worked for you? Ken: Actually, phone calls are better for me. Here’s the thing about phone calls. Because during that time, just like any face to face, like when you’re hearing people’s voice, you kind of get an idea of their passion for their project. So when you hear my voice saying, “Hey, I would love to do your website. I’m interested in your actual project. If you would, can I get your email, all this information, and I’ll send you this questionnaire and we can go ahead and get started on your project, start kind of figuring out if we want to do it,” that type of stuff. I mean, they’ll get an idea, okay, this individual is truly invested in what we’re trying to do and then they’re more inclined to actually… Because you know how email or text is. I’ll come back to it when I want to come back it. Necessarily, you can put your phone on the side, you can never… But for most people, when they get a phone call, they’re going to pick up the phone because in most cases the phone either vibrates or rings and it lights up. So you can’t help but pay attention. With a text or email, you can choose if you want to answer it or not. Tara: Yeah, I’m looking at your website now and your phone number is very prominent. So I imagine you’re encouraging people to call you. And that makes a lot of sense. Do you find that the people who call you are good leads, they’re ready to be in the market to hire? Are they kind of – what do they call it? What do they call it when you’re checking the tires? What do they call it? Ken: Kick the tires. Tara: Kicking the tires. Ken: I’ll tell you. It depends on who they are in kind of what they’re looking for. So we use our website not so much as a lead magnet, but more as a reinforcement of what we’ve already talked about prior to. So when a lot of people, we talk to them on a phone, you say, “Hey, we heard what you wanted, we’re interested in helping. Have you taken a look at our website?” In most cases, they have. So we say, “Hey, take a look at our website. Let us know what you think. If you love what we do, which I’m pretty sure you will, just give us a call. We’d love to chat with you.” Or we’ll say, “Hey, we’ll shoot you an email with our questionnaire. You can fill out the questionnaire.” And hopefully, between those two items, they’ll follow back up with us. And if they don’t follow back up, I give more week. I’ll come back in a week. “Hey, just wanted to see what’s going on. I know you’re busy, life is busy, so I want to make sure that you’re still interested in that website.” And then if they are, they’ll most likely finish the questionnaire. If not, then we might try another couple of weeks to say, “Hey, hope you didn’t forget about us. I know life is hard. We just want to make sure that you’re still interested in the website.” So it’s just kind of the repeat process of making sure that they’re still interested. Tara: Yeah, yeah. It’s like the consummate sales process, making sure you follow up with those leads and all that. So sounds like it’s a good process that you have in place. Ken, I want to ask you about underrepresented in tech, which is how we found you. I know that’s a new initiative by Allie Nimmons and I think Michelle Frechette. I really love what they’re doing. And so I want to ask how you found out about that, and what it’s meant for you if you’ve heard from other people. Talk a little bit about that, if you would. Ken: Yeah, absolutely. I want to say that Michelle and Allie actually reached out to me, which they’re awesome. I’ll just go ahead and give them… Tara: Yes, they are. Ken: I’ll give them as much kudos as possible. Haven’t chatted with them because I hadn’t been on Twitter as much. I’ve been on Clubhouse. Tara: Oh, my gosh. Have you? Okay, I have that too but I haven’t gone down that rabbit hole yet. Ken: Yeah, stay away from that rabbit hole because you can spend a ton of time on there. So make sure you put limits on that. But when I am on Twitter, I would reach out to them out again. And a lot of times, I’ll just reach out to them in messengers just to say, “Hey, how you doing? Just making sure you are good.” Checking in because I like to check in with everybody. But they ended up reaching out to me and saying, “Hey, we have this new initiative, we want you to test it out and see how you like it because we want to help underrepresented communities to be recognized in spaces where we all feel we should be in.” Anyway, it should be equal in that aspect. So the big thing was, “Hey, test it out. Let us know what you think. Let us know if the workflow is good. Is it something that you would use? Of course, I said yes because it is something I’d use. But anytime, anything I could use to help, actually, for the betterment of an underrepresented community, I am willing to help as much as possible. Liam: Yeah, we’re so glad that you did. We’re delighted that you’re here. Ken, you and I had chatted in advance of this call. And one of the challenges that we have with Hallway Chat because we don’t want it to just be the Tara and Liam friends show is we don’t know who we don’t know. And because the WordPress community is global as well as it is local, it’s tough, especially with no more WordCamps. We can’t meet you in the hallway at WordCamp Atlanta, at least not in the immediately foreseeable future. That the kind of tool like underrepresented in tech affords podcast folks and other people who really do want to step outside of their own circles and engage with people who are hugely valuable in every sense of the word, it’s great. So we’re delighted that you were on there. We’re delighted to have found you and we’re so delighted to be spending time with you today. Ken: Thank you. I appreciate it. Tara: Yeah, it’s a great website. I was introduced to a lot of people that I hadn’t heard of and was happy to read about their skill set and what they’re doing and looking for. How do you know Allie and Michelle? Have you met them in person at WordCamp or just from online? Ken: Most of the people I meet are online, which is really funny. And kind of is, you know, hindsight 2020. I regret it now. But I wish I would have went down to Miami in 2020. If I’d have known that would have been the last major WordCamp pre-pandemic, I would have been right there. I didn’t go into Greenville. And I’ve met a lot of people in Greenville doing the same thing. What’s really funny for me is I do a lot of conversations in the hallway, which is exactly like I’ll go into sessions. But then I’m so excited to catch up with all of my peers or friends in the WordPress community. I think I’ll spend 75% of my time in the hallway talking with everybody who I haven’t seen in so long, just catching up making sure they’re good, to make sure they’re well. So I’ll love to introduce myself to people. So when I see them online, I try to make sure, “Hey, when I see you, and hopefully, post-pandemic, two, three years, hopefully, that’s when we’ll be back together, but hopefully when I see them again, I can like, hey, a big hug. Maybe hopefully we can do a hug. We’ll see. Tara: Yeah, I know. I know. Liam: Ken, hallways and WordCamps are a great place to get advice. And I’m going to use that to segue into our second signature question. And it’s around advice. And it’s what advice have you been given or have you read or have you picked up from someone else and successfully implemented in your life? What’s the best bit of advice that you’ve heard or received and worked into your life? Ken: Wow. I feel like it’s hard because I know sometimes they’ll say, especially in tech, that you should always be changing and you should always be kind of in a pivoting position where you’re always able to receive whatever or learn whatever because nothing stays constant. So always be in a place where you can always change. But even for me recently, I think the one I’ve kind of picked up on more now is being empathetic and being compassionate. Always be because you never know when someone just needs a can word, or just needs an ear to listen to. So just sitting there, hearing what they’re saying. Sometimes, “I understand, I agree, I feel your pain.” And really, that’s what customers want a lot of time because they don’t know what they want until you tell them what they want. So they have this big idea in their head but the idea hasn’t been conceptualized enough for them to understand, “Okay, this is how this will look.” And so they come to us with the idea of “okay, can you tell me what this big idea in my head is? And can you help express it to me? So my job is to listen intently and hopefully, based on what they’re giving me… Because, you know, sometimes you can’t get in their heads. Their minds are always larger than what they’re saying. And so I’m trying to get as much out of them from their words so I can actually piece together what they need done. So I think compassion and empathy, just understanding what the issue is and kind of understand what their pain points are, figure out what they’re trying to really accomplish helps you to understand what the overall goal and what their real purpose is. Tara: That’s good advice. I think it applies to so much these days. I think a lot of us don’t take the time to listen or think about where someone else is coming from. And it gets us in a lot of the troubles that we see happening around us today. So it applies to business as a client service company, and it applies to being a human being in the world. So I appreciate your sharing that on both levels. Thanks so much. Ken: Absolutely. Liam: Yeah, I couldn’t agree with you more than an active commitment to empathy is… It’s never going to go wrong for you. You might not get what you want out of this relationship or that relationship, but that may just be because the other side of the equation. And giving people the time and trying to see their point of view, even if you don’t agree with it is I think always a worthwhile endeavor. I get that. Thank you for sharing that. I appreciate that. Ken: Absolutely. Liam: Ken, we have just a few minutes left in our time together. It’s hard to believe that 30 minutes is almost gone. I wanted to ask you—you seem a very positive person and clearly you’re empathetic—what’s one really good thing that has come out of just COVID world for you? Obviously, maybe not unbalanced, you would want it in light of all the tragedy and toughness that’s happened. But what’s one good thing that’s happened for you either personally or professionally? Ken: I think it goes back to, like I said, last year. I had my mind made up on so many things that I wanted to accomplish in 2020. It’s just like, “Yay, new decade, new year, we’re going to do so many amazing things in 2020.” And you’re so excited about it. But then you realize, when the pandemic actually hit, “Oh, my goodness. It wasn’t meant to be.” So it gave me an opportunity to, as I mentioned earlier, rediscover what is really my purpose. What’s really the reason why I’m here? Why am I here? Who am I supposed to be serving? Who am I supposed to be taking care of? Who am I supposed to be helping to grow and build in their life so that…? Sometimes you know how we are, especially in social media. We always want to be in the limelight. We want to be first and we want to be seen, and we want to have a million followers. Oh, Whoop-de-doo for a million followers. But how are you impacting those millions? I would rather impact 50, 100 people and have them really appreciate what I’m offering to them and doing for them as a service than to impact without a million people who don’t even know what I do on a day to day basis. I think that’s really important is to be in a position where you’ll always be of service to somebody. And I think that was the most important thing from the pandemic is to remember it’s not about me; it’s about how I’m helping those around me. I think that’s just super important. Tara: That’s excellent. What an excellent wrap up to this conversation. Thank you for sharing that and inspiring others to take the same approach and the same view of the pandemic and of moving forward out of it, too. So thank you so much, Ken. It’s really been a pleasure to have you on Hallway Chats today. Thank you so much for joining us. Where can people find you online? Ken: You can find me under my handle @Kennethspeaks on Twitter, Instagram. You can probably find me on Facebook as well and on LinkedIn if you want to follow me there. But I’m using Twitter more than any of them. That’s pretty much the big ones. We’ll see if Kenneth Speaks gets a website in the future. We’ll see. Not sure. I have a couple of website projects, personal brand projects that must be. So we’ll see what happens. Tara: Great. Thanks again for joining us. Ken: Thank you so much. I appreciate it. Liam: Thanks, Ken. What a pleasure. Tara: Bye-bye. Ken: Bye-bye. Liam: Bye-bye. If you like what we’re doing here – meeting new people in our WordPress community – we invite you to tell others about it. We’re on iTunes and at hallwaychats.com. Liam: Better yet, ask your WordPress friends and colleagues to join us on the show. Encourage them to complete the “Be on the show” form on our site, to tell us about themselves. The post Episode 146 – Ken Elliott appeared first on Hallway Chats.
34 minutes | 3 months ago
Episode 145 – Kyle Maurer
Introducing Kyle Maurer Kyle is the Director of Operations at Sandhills Development which is a WordPress plugin company. He loves bringing people together and has a passion for making music and craft beer. Show Notes Website | KyleBlog.net Website | Sandhills Development Podcast | WP RoundTable with Tara Claeys Podcast | The Get Options Podcast Preferred Pronouns | He/Him Episode Transcript Tara: This is Hallway Chats, where we meet people who use WordPress. Liam: We ask questions and our guests share their stories, ideas, and perspectives. Tara: And now the conversation begins. This is Episode 145. Liam: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Liam Dempsey. Tara: And I’m Tara Claeys. Today we’re joined by Kyle Maurer. Kyle is the director of operations at Sandhills Development, which is a WordPress plugin company. He loves bringing people together and has a passion for making music and craft beer. He’s also officially the biggest Hallway Chats fan, yay for us, and he could not be more excited to be on the show today. Welcome, Kyle. We’re so happy that you’re here. Thanks for joining us. Kyle: Thank you, Tara and Liam. I’m so thrilled to be with you all today. This is amazing. Liam: Kyle, we’re absolutely thrilled to have you here, and my ego in particular is grateful for your presence. So flattery can continue as long as you would like to do. It is very welcome. Welcome. Kyle: I am happy to. I have an abundance of comments and just thoughts on this wonderful show. I would love… Liam: To interrupt you, maybe you can start by telling us a little bit more about yourself beyond what Tara has already shared. Kyle: Well, that’s totally fine. That’s what the show is about, right? I have a story that’s no more interesting than the next person’s and we can run through that I suppose. I’ve been doing the WordPress thing for a while just like you have and all the other amazing guests that you’ve had on this fantastic show. I was fortunate in many ways when I was younger, but if there is one thing I look back that I lacked, it was probably role models and mentors. I spend a lot of time in my early career wandering about not knowing what to do or where I was supposed to end up. I milked cows, I ran registers, I shelved books, I powerwashed houses. I did all this random stuff not knowing where to end up until I finally got…not finally. I was pretty young at the time. But I got married and bought my first house and started to get really serious about needing to accelerate my career development. I did a lot of research and eventually found that if I learned just a little bit of web programming in my spare time, it could open doors much faster than the dead-end jobs I was working at the time. I don’t remember why. I started with PHP, took some tutorials, dropped some acronyms on my resume, and immediately had takers. I turned an internship at an agency into a position and a full-time position, and then a director of technology role, and then eventually had to leave that company because I caught on to how shady the owners really were. But then I started my own company with an abundance of unearned competence and ran a marketing agency with a business partner for five years. And that was the time period when I got the most invested into the WordPress world. At the time, when we started our business WordPress was emerging as the leader of the options at the time but was by no means ubiquitous dominator in the scene that it is today. So it was a little more chanced that we ended up choosing it from the beginning. But we built many, many, many websites on WordPress and I got interested in plugin development. I did all the things that you can do in the little WordPress world over those five years, and then eventually joined a plugin company when I decided I didn’t want to do that marketing agency thing anymore. I wanted to work for a product company and with some great people that I could learn from and grow. And it’s been fantastic so far. We make a lot of great things here at Sandhills Development. I work with some of the best people in the business. I love the role that I have, which is really at the end of the day, trying to make sure everybody’s job is rewarding and fulfilling, everybody loves what they do, everybody works together efficiently and this company continues to grow. Kyle: I know Sandhills development does a lot of WordPress plugins, but I also know that Pippin has started his own craft beer company as well, brewery. And I’m wondering if you were already a craft beer fan before that, or is that something that you…you mentioned it in your intro. Is that something that you had to do in order to stay as an employee of Santos? Does everybody have to be a beer drinker and a beer crafter? Kyle: You have to be a beer drinker. That’s the requirement. I’m kidding. I’m kidding. There are plenty of people in the company who don’t really have a passion or an interest in the beer-making and that side. But we do have a craft beer culture I think within our team, currently 28 people distributed around the world. The company does own two brewery locations both in Kansas. I’ve been able to visit both of them and enjoy lots of Sandhills beer over the years, which is some of the best out there. If you ever have an opportunity to pass through Kansas, make sure you find a way to stop by and pick up a can or two. Tara: Yeah, that sounds great. I know Liam and I both enjoy a good beer. I’ve heard of it and would love to try it sometime. I’m a fan of the company as well. I do a lot of great things. I also am a fan of yours, as you know, because I have listened to a couple of your shows, and participated in them as well. And I know, you’ve spoken a bit about the transition from being a business owner to being an employee of another business. And I wondered if you’d talk a little bit about that, because I like hearing what you have to say about it, what it’s meant for you. Kyle: Okay, sure, Tara. Thank you. And I do want to say that I’ve been a fan of yours as well for a long time—your company, the way you run your business, and the shows that you participated in. That’s a really good one. I’ve had a lot of other peers in this industry who have left entrepreneurship behind. And I’ve joked with some of them at times about creating like a former entrepreneurs support group to talk about this sort of stuff together. But being an entrepreneur does change you. Being on that side of the table running the business, somehow there’s no really going back after that. You’re a different type of worker. But I did learn a lot of lessons in that transition. Maybe the principal lesson that I learned was that what was ultimately important to me was ownership, not in the sense of legal equity in a business, but ownership over what I was responsible for. That’s what’s most important. I want and need the freedom to do what I think is right to make the impact that I think is needed and help them in whatever way I think is best for the business. So as long as I have ownership over my domain, whatever my responsibilities are, I am satisfied and happy at the end of the day. And other things matter. I want the opportunity to continue to grow, I want to be able to learn from good people around me, but ownership does matter but not in the sense that I thought when I was younger when I had a lot of pride in the fact that I didn’t have a boss to answer to. I built too much pride in that. It was caught up in my identity. And I had to decouple myself from that and from my business, which was actually a painful process. It took years for me to actually do. Even when I was aware that I wasn’t doing really what I felt like I was supposed to be doing with my life, to just separate myself from the brand I’d made was extremely difficult. Liam: That’s a topic I feel like I could go for hours, if not weeks on end with you is where does the role of humility come into life work and everything, and the painful journey that that is for all of us? Thank you for sharing that so candidly with us, Kyle. I wonder if I can riff on that and talk a little bit about you talked about how your perspective as an employee, as a worker, as a professional has changed and that the lessons that you learned as an entrepreneur you’re bringing to your new role or your current role where you have that level of control and you can make the kind of difference that you want to make. What’s carried through? What are some of the perspectives that you bring with you and continue to add value to you and your team and your colleagues at Sandhills are trying to achieve? Kyle: I like that question. This is, like you said, the kind of thing that we could talk about for a while. The first examples that come to mind things that have carried through, after running my own business for five years, my perspective changed radically. A lot of that does stay with me. I think I continue to look at the whole company, not just specifically about my area of responsibility. I think that that has carried through my passion for the success of this enterprise. I’m thinking about it holistically. So even if my responsibilities are just marketing or just support, or just development or something like that, I’m still thinking about how this fits into the bigger picture and what impact this is making to the company and the success of all of us. Because I look around and want all of us to succeed and want this company to move forward. So I think that having been in that leader role for a while helped me understand that perspective and also have a lot of empathy for our founder, who I know that when you’re at the top of the hierarchy, you get all of the worst tasks to do, all of the most stressful decisions to make the biggest challenges float up. I have been able to provide a lot of assistance and help in this context. That’s why I’m in the operations role. It wasn’t my original role at the company. I started doing part-time support, and then took on a marketing lead role before I was offered the operations role. I think that my ability to perform in this role has a lot to do with how I have experience thinking holistically about a business and doing everything that I can to try make it succeed. That’s one example. We could probably go on and on about that. Liam: I like we could, especially if we had a couple of beers in front of us. Kyle: You know it. Liam: Let me ask you what is our signature question or one of them, Kyle. You’ve covered a lot of ground in your intro and it sounds like you were talking about not just career success, but also your own life journey. And that’s really what this question is about is definitions of success. Kyle, what is your definition of success? Kyle: Success is being on the Hallway Chats podcast, of course. Tara: Thanks, Kyle. Liam: All right. Now, we’re just getting into boldface… Tara: You’ve made it. You’re done. Kyle: Yes. Here I am. It’s quite a treat. I really mean that very sincerely. I gave this question a lot of thought, because, of course, I’m loyal listener to this podcast and of course, I don’t show up to meetings unprepared. The question about success is such a good question. And it’s trying to come up with an answer that is not a cliché. At least from my perspective is not very straightforward. But I believe that success is not like a finish line you need to try and cross one time. There’s not a before success and an after success. It’s more about succeeding in your current moment. Maybe it’s a journey, I don’t know, I feel goofy putting it this way. But it just doesn’t have a finish line. As long as you are moving forward, you are succeeding. So to me, the question is, am I succeeding right now, and not have I achieved something specific, or have I crossed a specific line? I evaluate my own success based primarily on my self-esteem, and secondarily on my freedom. If I finish my days with this feeling like I can hold my head high, then I’m succeeding. I want to feel like I am making a difference doing good work, bringing real value, and so on. This is something that I’ve grown to appreciate as I have changed roles and done a variety of different things in my career. I’m in a job now where I’m able to finish most days feeling like I did all right today, I helped, I contributed, I delivered some value, I justified my existence, whatever you want to say. Like I am proud of what I have done, I’m proud of who I am, and the contribution I’m making, and the role that I’m playing. I don’t know if that’s an unusual way to look at it or not, but it is a strong signal to me that I am succeeding. Because there’s been so many chapters in my life where, you know, we all appreciate how elusive this feeling can be. We always second guess ourselves and fall into the comparison trap and find reasons to, at the end of the day feel like we missed the mark. But I feel successful now because most days I’m proud of what I have done and who I am. And secondarily, the freedom aspect. I think a lot of your former guests have mentioned how important it is to be free to do what you want and look at that as a success metric. Maybe to have the means and the confidence and the opportunities that really matters and to be able to say no to things. Freedom is extremely powerful Tara: Yeah. Agreed. Agreed. I like your definition of success and it’s ongoingness. I definitely share that approach. I read your year in review. You are among our first guests of 2021. And a lot of people have written yours in review about a year that is notoriously…well, notorious 2020. And, you know, not to get into clichés there as well. But you wrote a very descriptive, heartfelt, and just fascinating review of your last year. I would like to ask you a couple of questions about your year because your family has grown and talking about flexibility with your career and having the ability to have your family grow as it has. If you’d like to share that with us. I know you and Liam have something in common that you both have a lot of siblings. So you come from large families, and I find it like what your family has undertaken with your children. And I’m just curious how you’re incorporating that into your approach to 2021 and your view of success and your career. That’s a lot. Take what you want. Go with what you want. Liam: And I’m just going to throw in a challenge. Can you do that in 10 words or less? In Haiku format, please. Tara: Interrupt. Kyle: Oh, my gosh, you guys. You’re not making this easy. But okay. Okay. Thank you, Tara. There’s a lot. There’s a lot to… I don’t even know where to start to be honest. This is not just in this context. This is coming up all the time. Every day I’m having a meeting with somebody who’s asking the same question. And I never know how to answer this. What’s going on? How are we doing? I don’t even know how we’re doing. I don’t know how we’re getting by. I’m just trying to make it to bedtime every single day. That’s all that matters. That’s as far ahead as I’m thinking at this point. But last year was challenging. There’s no doubt about it. It was surprising. It was unusual. A lot of things didn’t go as planned. Hardly anything did go as planned at all. You alluded to a few different things that I don’t know whether it’s timely or useful to recap in their entirety. Maybe the most life-changing for me was this unexpected significant growth of my family. We started the year looking into foster care and hoping that we could bring a second child into our home. We’ve been pursuing adoption again for the second time. We have one daughter already. And we thought, two kids, we can do that. That would be great. It’d be great for our daughter to have a sibling. Let’s look into that. And then summer came along and we got our license for foster care and our agency immediately asked us if we would take a placement of two boys, ages two and three, which wasn’t exactly what we had envisioned, but we still agreed to take it on. And a couple of weeks later, we were contacted by our daughter’s birth mother, who after telling us that she was expecting and asked us if we would adopt that child as well, the biological sibling of our other daughter, which there was no way we could say no to. And then a week later, she found out it was twins, and then another week they were born. So within the span of one month, we went from one kid to five kids. Of course, that’s not what we expected to happen. That’s not what we planned to happen. But somehow, we’re figuring out how to make it work. It’s definitely not easy. I don’t know how to do it. But you find a way. You all find a way. We’re still kind of in the same circumstance seven months later. Tara: Thanks for sharing that. I know you might be a little bit tired of sharing it. It is a fascinating story that is unusual and inspiring at the same time. I think people take on things not knowing what lies ahead. That’s a lot. That’s a lot. Not only do you have five kids, but they’re all quite young. It’s a good thing you have flexibility in your job, I guess. Kyle: That was great. That’s great work has been fantastic. I’m in a very privileged position to be able to do whatever I need to do. If I need to take time off, I can. If I need to work flexibly, I can’t. We’re all stuck at home anyway, but I can work, I can continue to be productive. I’m able to support this household. And things work out. I think a lot of other people would have a much harder time with it than we do. We still have a hard time with it. But we manage. I guess I don’t know what else to say about it. Liam: Kyle, thank you for sharing that. That’s a very moving story. I hear tiredness in your voice. But I hear love and I hear humility, and I hear acceptance in a good way. Not acceptance in a negative way. But you and your wife I’m guessing accepted that which is coming your way because they’re children, they’re humans, they need love, they need support. And I just hear you saying, “We’ll find a way. We’ll find a way.” And I love that. Thank you for bravely putting yourself at the feet of others. It’s not easy to do. Kyle: Geez, you guys are so nice. Thank you, Liam. That’s very kind. Tara: They’re really cute too. I’m sure at times you are overwhelmed and at times it must be just unbelievably cute sometimes too. Kyle: Yeah, there’s no doubt. Those twin babies are adorable. Twins are pretty fun. Actually. I’ll give them that. Liam: Are they fraternal? Kyle: Yeah, yeah, we have a boy and a girl. Liam: Okay. That’s good. That’s good. That’s good. Kyle: That’s great. Liam: Let’s move a little bit and talk about beer. We’ve talked about how Sandhills brews beer, but I have a feeling that I think I heard you say that you’re a bit of a home brewer yourself. Did I make that up? Tara: In your spare time. Kyle: What is that? What is that? I forget. Yeah, definitely. I’ve brewed my share in the past over the years. I used to co-host a local WordPress meetup for some years, and I have a friend named Peter who started that group back in 2012. I helped him co-host that for about eight or nine years or something, until last year, whatever that would be. He taught me all about WordPress, basically everything that I know. And he introduced me to WordCamps, which changed my life. And he taught me how to homebrew beer. So I can’t give Peter enough credit for introducing me to all these things that became a big part of my life. But at this point, I probably brew my batch every year. So that gets me by. In these times where there’s not a lot of socialization, it’s just beer for me. It’s more than that I can drink on my own. Liam: Yeah, fair enough. I brewed beer once, maybe twice. I made two batches. And I enjoyed it. But at the end, I kind of did the assessment and I’ll just save my money a little more and buy good beer than just wait too long to do all the work. If you love it. It’s fantastic. But I just didn’t love it enough. But for those who do… Tara: A lot of work. Kyle: It is. Tara: It’s a lot of work. Kyle: When the batches doesn’t work out, it’s pretty disappointing. Tara: Yeah, yeah. My husband makes it every other week or so. I forget, every few weeks. So we have it on top. Which is nice, because then you can just have a little bit. But I don’t think it’s necessarily like a financial savings or anything. It’s a lot of time, but it’s a hobby, and a science experiment ongoing. I made it one time. I learned. But I don’t think I could replicate it. It’s fun. Kyle: I want to talk more about your guys’ show. This is such a cool show. Tara: Thanks. I was going to ask you about your show. Kyle: My show is not as good as your show. Hallway Chats is really special. And I don’t know that you guys get the credit that you deserve for putting this together and doing it so consistently for so long. I used to have an interview show too. It was not nearly as good as this. It was long time ago. But you know, there were always interview shows at the time. And back then I used to listen to and watch the DragCast and Matt Report and WordPress Weekly, and WPBacon and WP Elevation and all those. And it seems to me like it was generally the same people appearing on every show. I really wanted to see how far I could go without ever repeating a guest. And it turned out to be not that hard for me, mostly because I was able to get out and meet a lot of people. I was pretty social. But then you guys started Hallway Chats and it was so much better than what I was doing. Tara: No. Kyle: I started to feel more like the community didn’t need what I was doing. You guys were taking care of it. They should all just listen to you instead. I eventually hung that up. Tara: Oh, Kyle. The Roundtable was an inspiration for doing Hallway Chats. I think the conversations that you had we’re really similar. Liam: Totally. Tara: And you’ve continued with Adam doing The Get Options Podcast for a long, long time. And that’s one of my go-to shows. It’s a good combination of entertainment and information Kyle: Tara, you’ve been a great guest on both of my programs. You appeared on the Roundtable Show back in March of 2018, I think, and several times on Get Options. But yeah, you guys have been going since June of 2017. That’s amazing. So consistently, so many episodes and so many great people. Hats off to you. And if you don’t mind, I want to just comment on how good you guys are at this. I really think you are. Liam: We know there’s no fee for paying it. We don’t pay our debts. Go ahead. Go ahead. Kyle: If someone has run an interview show for a long time, I did it for I think five years and hardly missed any weeks in that time period. And I know how challenging it can be. You know, finding guests isn’t always easy, scheduling can be quite the hassle, expanding beyond your own borders, which is something that you’re enthusiastic about. That’s not easy to do. Also, not all guests are really great at being interviewed. I know this from experience. I had guests who would take my first question about their origins and just ramble on for about an hour about that and no more input from me, and then other guests who over and over gave me like one or two-word answers to my questions and forced me to do all the work to get anything interesting. I know when you show up week after week, you’re not going to feel 100% interested and enthusiastic every single time. That’s a real challenge. But you have to do your thing anyway. But in spite of those challenges, you both do this incredibly well every single week. And you’re both so genuine and have a real knack for making the show interesting no matter what or who the guest is. I think you both have really special qualities. Liam is kind of like the Terry Gross with your creative thought-provoking original questions. And Tara may be more of like a Joe Rogan type because you like to connect with and relate to the guests no matter what the subject matter is in really special way. I think you two are the pinnacle of WordPress podcast hosts. Tara: Ah, thank you very much. Thank you. That’s awfully sweet really. Liam: Very, very kind of you. Thank you. It means a lot. Kyle: I thought of a suggestion too that I wanted to throw at you. I love your anniversary episode. That’s fantastic. You guys did that some months back. That’s really, really special. I would suggest that you guys consider doing those a little more frequently. Maybe every quarter or something like that, have an episode where it’s just the two of you reflecting on takeaways from recent episodes. I would love to hear that. You guys have such great takeaways and get a lot of good advice from your very thought-provoking questions from your guests. Tara: That’s a great suggestion. Thank you. And so now you’ve just given me the segue for one of our other signature questions, which is advice. So Kyle, do you have any advice that you’ve received and implemented, that you would share with our listeners and with us? Kyle: Of course, I’d be happy to. The advice which had the greatest impact on my career was expressed by multiple different people in different times in different ways. But the essence of it is that I think you should—at least this really speaks to people like me who are very ambitious—you should do the job you want not the job that you have. Originally, this came in the form of a suggestion by a mentor of sorts who told me that I should probably dress for the job that I wanted when I had an in-person job at a library. So I was skeptical, but I took his advice. And instead of shorts and a T-shirt, I tucked in my shirt and put on a button up and I started dressing a little more professionally. The effect was almost immediate and surprising. It kind of blew me away how differently I was treated in the workplace and how soon it was that young Kyle was invited to be on this task force or join this committee or interview for this position, and so on and so forth, and be generally respected by peers. Another context I was given very similar advice about making your boss look good, do their job. Don’t wait to be given the promotion to start doing that work. Do the work that is above your paygrade. Look at the organizational hierarchy. And if you want to get to that next level above where you are now, start doing that work. Immediately, let’s start doing what is a higher role is responsible for than what you are currently working on. That’s what I strive to do. Tara: That is interesting. I could really dig into that a little bit and maybe debate you on that to some degree. Because I think it’s great advice to have to do the job you want not the job you have. When you are working in an organization, though, how do you avoid, to put it kindly, pissing people off by doing more? I think I’ve gotten in trouble in the past for being somebody who is pretty proactive, sees a problem, and wants to solve it. And there are people who may not appreciate that effort because they’re threatened by it or you’ve somehow maybe not done it the way that they would have. So what do you think about that? Has that always been helpful advice or can it go the other way, do you think? Kyle: Well, it certainly can. And there have been cases where I have experienced maybe, I don’t know that I want to say, being unappreciated or my efforts not being appreciated. But generally, I take a lot of that as a signal that I am in the wrong place or maybe working for the wrong people if that is generally their attitude. That’s a problem with them and not a problem with you. Not all of us have the flexibility and freedom to just say, “Okay, too bad, I’ll go somewhere else.” I acknowledge that. But my point is that it’s their problem and not yours. This is something that you do want to be careful with and tactful and respectful. And you have responsibilities that you must take care of them first and foremost. But if you have higher aspirations like I do, then don’t wait for those opportunities to be given to you. Take them. Tara: Fair enough. Liam: I think there’s a tact to, well, if I want to do Kyle’s job, yeah, I don’t want to step all over his toes and show up with the meeting agenda. But I can know that the last three agendas he’s always talked about this. So I’m going to make sure that I have constructive advice or ideas or I’ve done the homework on that. Or I know that Kyle always wants to see this done, so I’m going to do that right. And then support him on the things that matter to him. I love that. I love that. For me, that gets back to one of the pieces of advice that I received years ago was “no matter who’s paying your salary, you always work for yourself.” And that’s not a selfish like, you know, me first and the gimme, gimmes kind of thing. But it’s maintain that perspective of—to what you were saying, Kyle—ownership. Own it. Drive it forward, make it your own, but ultimately know that you’re working for yourself. Kyle: Absolutely. Yeah, that’s what I believe. I don’t know that it’s perfect for every personality of people at different stages in their careers. But if you’re like me, this is what works. This is what has made a difference to me. Tara: Thank you. Thanks for sharing that. We are almost out of time and I want to ask more questions, but then we’re going to go over time. Liam: I feel the same, Tara. I feel the same way. Maybe what we should do is ask Kyle to share where folks can learn more about him and connect with him online. And then after we stop recording, we’ll just keep chatting to him. Tara: Okay. Kyle: Perfect. That’s fine. I’m happy. Liam: Kyle, where can folks find you online and connect with you? Kyle: Great. I am online all over the place. It’s Kyle Maurer. It is pretty easy to find in some searches. But I have a blog, kyleblog.net. I am occasionally not that much on the social media stuff, but I’ll be available on Twitter @MrKyleMaurer. I’m in a lot of Slack groups you can probably find me in too. Tara: Great. I’m so glad you joined us because now my day is made by just feeling good about myself, which you are very good at doing. So thank you for all of your kind words. And back at you, you are a wonderful person and we are very fortunate that you joined us here and that we call you a friend. So thanks. Kyle: Thank you so much. Liam: Thanks, Kyle. Tara: See you in person sometime. Thanks. Kyle: Thank you. Tara: Bye. If you like what we’re doing here – meeting new people in our WordPress community – we invite you to tell others about it. We’re on iTunes and at hallwaychats.com. Liam: Better yet, ask your WordPress friends and colleagues to join us on the show. Encourage them to complete the “Be on the show” form on our site, to tell us about themselves. The post Episode 145 – Kyle Maurer appeared first on Hallway Chats.
32 minutes | 4 months ago
Episode 144 – Heather Steele
Introducing Heather Steele Heather is the founder and CEO of Blue Steel Solutions. Heather started her marketing agency 10 and a half years ago because she was tired of seeing great people fail just because they couldn’t clearly communicate their value. Show Notes Websites | bluesteelesolutions.com, problemsolvermethod.com LinkedIn | HeatherSteele Preferred Pronouns | She/Her Episode Transcript Tara: This is Hallway Chats, where we meet people who use WordPress. Liam: We ask questions and our guests share their stories, ideas, and perspectives. Tara: And now the conversation begins. This is Episode 144. Liam: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Liam Dempsey. Tara: And I’m Tara Claeys. Today we’re joined by Heather Steele. Heather is the founder and CEO of Blue Steel Solutions. Heather started her marketing agency 10 and a half years ago because she was tired of seeing great people fail just because they couldn’t clearly communicate their value. We’re glad you’re here. Thanks for joining us, Heather. How are you? Heather: I’m great. Thanks, Tara. Thanks, Liam. I’m excited to be here. Liam: And we’re so excited to have you here today. Very nice to meet you. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself, please? Heather: Sure. I’m Heather Steele, as Tara said. I run an agency called Blue Steel Solutions. We help businesses create really great messaging for their websites and funnel programs that make people want to learn more about their business, helps drive leads for them, and ultimately grow their business. Liam: What caught my attention when you were saying that…well, when Tara was saying, to be perfectly honest, that you started it 10 years ago when you were noticing and struggling at the fact that so many people were struggling with their messaging. I wonder what were you doing before you started your own business, where that particular issue around messaging came to your attention and was something that you decided you needed to fix. Heather: I was actually working in house at a broker-dealer. So we were an independent broker-dealer that supported financial advisors who basically were running their own business, their own advisory services, but we provided some backend support to them. One of the things that we did was help them with some marketing. I would see a lot of people who came from a captive world, which is, if you think like Merrill Lynch, some of the ones where they’re direct employees, and they have lots of support, everything’s kind of handed to them and all they have to do is run their book of business, then suddenly, they go independent, and they’re a business owner, things are a lot different. They’re having to go out and generate their own leads and grow their business themselves instead of just focusing on kind of their day to day workload. I would see people make this transition and it didn’t always go well. It was difficult. It was something that they really struggled with. Because you had people that were top performers that had always done really well and then all of a sudden, things aren’t working very well for them. I would see that there was other marketing companies who would kind of come in and just act like vultures and take advantage of these people, and charge them outrageous fees to give them very templated, cookie-cutter solutions that didn’t actually do anything to help them grow their business. So now these people felt like, “Well, I’ve wasted my entire marketing budget, I’m still not getting anywhere with this business, and I’m starting to feel really like I just don’t know what I’m doing. Maybe I’m not as good at this whole running a business thing as I thought I would be.” So that was really what I was driven by when I started this company was to provide, not only great services but to help those people to see that it’s not that they’re doing something necessarily wrong with their business or they’re not great at what they do, they’re just not necessarily great at communicating their unique value. So that became the cornerstone for kind of everything that we do. Everything starts with that messaging, great content that makes people really want to learn more, that says, “I think you can solve my problems, and I need to learn more about that.” And then we build out from there for websites, landing pages, email campaigns, you know, everything that’s going to help them generate more leads for their business. Tara: It’s so thorough what you’ve described. I love your approach and your enthusiasm about getting this messaging out there. Can you talk a little bit about how your business has grown and how you have transitioned into working with different types of clients and how they find you? Heather: Yeah, definitely. I think I started kind of like everybody does, where it was, “Outsource your marketing department to me and I will figure out a way to do everything. Most of it’ll be done pretty well. Maybe not all of it, but it’ll get done.” Over the years, like everyone does, I kind of every year try to stop and look at okay, what am I delivering that’s helping my clients grow their business? What’s really standing out as something that’s actually helping them? And where can I be profitable and efficient with how I’m delivering those things? Also, where do I feel really confident? When I sit down to write the proposal, if I’m feeling really anxious, if I’m feeling nervous, if I’m feeling like maybe my pricing isn’t right, maybe I don’t really know enough about this approach or the solution, those are things I need to take out of my offering. So every year it’s it’s gotten more and more and more narrow as I look at those things and take away different offerings. For example, for a long time, we did SEO, part of it in-house part of it with an agency that we outsource to. And every single time that I wrote one of those proposals, I felt really anxious because I didn’t quite feel like that was our best area that we were really strong there. So we took it away. And we’re able to focus more on the things that we do really well and then let the other work go to the people that specialize in those things. Liam: So I feel like I could talk proposals all day long but that’s not really the focus of our show. I want to ask you one question about taking SEO out and not necessarily that it’s SEO, but you’re taking out a service and freelancers growing their own businesses into businesses and small businesses. You know, those little services can be the hook that may be you make a couple 100 bucks on a 1000s of dollars project on, whatever that little service hook is, but it’s the decision making. “Well, if I can get it all at once, yeah. I’ll go with Heather. I’ll go with Tara. I’ll go with Liam, because it’s all in one.” How do you approach that psychologically when you know you’re risking sales? No, okay, probably, in retrospect, you’re going to do better because you’re not going to stress about SEO in your case. But how do you approach that? What does that decision process look like for you? Heather: For me, one thing that makes it easier as I do have a great network. So over the years, you meet other people in this space. Especially in the WordPress community, I mean, it’s kind of like no other business community where everyone really does want to help each other. And there can be really great positive relationships. So anything that I’m not able to do, I can feel pretty comfortable that I could go to my network and find someone that can help fill that gap. And then we can do a really good job of integrating with and working well together. At the end of the day, if that’s not the right fit for a client, if they really want everything under one roof, then I’m okay with letting that go. We’re at a point now where definitely there were hard times to do that. But over time as you grow and build a reputation and it just becomes easier to get leads and to get new customers, it became something that I was just really comfortable with saying, if the way I do business isn’t a good fit for you, then I’m not a good fit for you. And that’s fine. And I’ll help you even find someone who is a good fit. But I’m not going to continue to do things that either I don’t feel comfortable delivering or that you can get better from somewhere else. Tara: It’s so liberating to be at a point where you can say that, right? Heather: Yeah. Tara: When you start out, that’s not where you start. That’s not where most people start out when they start their business. But it is such a great feeling to be able to say that. And it takes a lot of confidence to get there. And I know your business has grown to get to that point. What are your favorite and least favorite things to do in your business? Heather: My least favorite, I’ll start with that, is actually writing proposals. I don’t know why. I just always found it to be a labor that is not fun for me. I don’t know. It’s very necessary but it’s not my favorite thing to do. I really love problem-solving. When someone has a unique issue, whether it be something that they need to do on their WordPress site or if it’s something that they’re just trying to accomplish in their business, trying to put the pieces together and problem solve is something that I just really enjoy. It can almost be to a point distracting for me, because, as you all know, Tara, if someone has a tricky problem, I’m like the first one to try to jump in and figure it out even if it’s not what I need to be doing that day. Tara: Yes, you’re amazing that way. As a matter of fact, I have a very recent experience with that wonderfulness about you. Heather and I are in a business and WordPress slack group and she is very active there in helping people solve their problems. I don’t know how you fit it into your day to do that, but you’re like multi-talented and knowledgeable in so many different things that you’re a great resource and you’re nice to share your knowledge with everyone. Have you had mentors or people that have guided you as you’ve gotten to this point? Heather: Definitely. No one that’s been kind of a stand in long term mentor but just people that, again, especially in WordPress, that are so open about their own businesses, their own experiences, and what they’ve learned from. I think one of the first early on people that I connected with that really helped me to learn the ropes of this was Carrie Dils. I mean, she was like an open book, gave me leads, helped me with problems. It’s just a really great person to be a sounding board and a friend in the space. I mean, there’s so many people like her too, that it might just be a brief interaction that we have that they dropped some little piece of knowledge that sticks around forever or those more long term relationships. There’s just too many to even name. I think it’s kind of the community as a whole has been a good mentor. Tara: Thanks for mentioning Carrie. She’s actually been a longtime supporter of Hallway Chats, and one of our guests. So shout out to Carrie Dils. Liam: Absolutely. She’s a fantastic person. I got a lot of time for her. I miss her podcast. I used to spend many, many an hour listening to… Tara: Me too. Liam: Boy, I can see the graphic, but I am struggling to come up with the name of… Tara: Office Hours. Liam: There you go. There you go. Tara: So just said something about restarting it, which would be great. But she used to do it live and I would tune in live. I met some good friends there. I mean, some of my very first WordPress friends I met through the interaction on Carrie’s podcast. Heather: So fun. She actually lived about 45 minutes from me for a very long time. Now she’s in California. I’ll forgive her for that. She was really good at connecting local people. She’s just an awesome person. I could talk about her all day. Liam: Heather, I want to ask you one of our signature questions. But before I get to that, I’m going to take a little Liberty here and ask you: given that you shared that you really like solving problems and problem-solving, and in an era of Zoom calls and Slacks and emails, and Twitter, and all the craziness in the world generally, how do you structure your day or time to be able to problem-solve beyond the quick fix that helps the client but doesn’t really move the project along? How do you get problem-solving time into your day? Heather: That’s a great question. So my schedule is actually something that’s kind of an anomaly for people that know me. I only get about three dedicated work hours a day. I have a special needs child who’s here all but about those three hours a day and makes it very difficult to sit down and focus. So I learned a long time ago to be very good at time blocking. So I give myself basically 20-minute blocks for those three dedicated hours, which, you know, you guys are getting a couple of blocks today. I’m very good at structuring how I’m going to spend that time and – what is it? Is it that Graham’s theorem of every task will expand or contract to the time that you give it? So I’ve learned how to take, you know, if I’m going to write an article or blog post, it’s going to get done in 20 minutes. If I’m going to focus on a problem, I’m going to get myself 20 minutes. And hopefully, I can get it done in that time. If not, I’ll move it to a later time slot. But that’s helped a lot. Time blocking is something that works really well for me. I’m a procrastinator big time so I need those very stringent guidelines on how to use my time too. And I’ve also just become really good at multitasking on the phone. So that’s something that I can use throughout the day when I’m running around, helping with my kiddo and, making sure he’s taken care of and not destroying the house. I can be on my phone and my Slack groups and chatting with people or making notes on my phone. I do a lot of my brainstorming. I use an app called Sphere that’s really nice for kind of visually storyboarding out content or ideas. I do a lot of that in kind of micro-moments on my phone as I can, and then use my time blocking hours to really dive in and get more deep work done. Fortunately, I’ve been doing this long enough that most of what we offer to our clients is very structured. It’s very, almost productizes. If we’re going to do a funnel campaign, it’s not like we’re starting from scratch and saying, “Okay, well, what’s this funnel going to look like? What are these emails going to be? I don’t know.” No, we have a very succinct, structured approach to it. So it’s not that I’m needing the time to sit down and think up a brand new strategy. It’s really just kind of taking, okay, what are the building blocks that we always use in these kinds of projects and how are we going to put it together for this specific need? Liam: Thank you for that. I want to be mindful of your time here. We’re grateful for the gift of it. Heather: Oh, no… Liam: No, I’m not saying that to be rude to you. I do mean it. Your time is a gift to us and to our listeners. So thank you for that. And now I will ask you one of our questions, and it’s about success. I wonder, how do you define success? Is that a personal definition of professional definition? Maybe you mix the two. How do you define success? Heather: It’s definitely a mix of the two. I’ll be completely transparent that I’m very profit-oriented when it comes to my business. I feel like that’s a good indicator of success for me. As special needs parent, I have a child that’s going to need me for the rest of my life. They will need full-time support for the rest of his. So making sure that every minute that I put into my business pays back over and over and over again is super important. So I consider that to be something that is very closely tied to my personal success. I also really just love influencing and helping others to get to a point where they feel confident in their business. And so anytime that I am able to share an experience or give advice or share something that I did horribly wrong so that someone can do it differently, I feel like that’s also a piece of my success. Anytime that someone tells me that something I shared or helped them with has helped them feel more confident in what they’re doing in their business, that’s the other half of it for me. Tara: You know what I find – I don’t know the right word – fascinating, interesting inspiring is the combination of profit-driven business with the desire to be helpful and kind and good. I think a lot of times when you are driven by profit, it’s assumed that you are cold and that you are not also altruistic. As you’re describing that you are and I know that you are. So I’m wondering how that comes back around and how those things work together. Because sometimes I feel like if I want to be helpful and good I’m not making any money, right, I’m offering to help, and I’m not charging for that, or I’m not charging as much. So can you talk a little bit about that balance and how you work that out in your own mind and in your business? Heather: Yeah, definitely. I used to be very bad about just giving. Give, give, give all the time. We would do workshops and webinars and give away our templates and eBooks. Every bit of knowledge was just given away. It became really apparent that when we did that, just gave and gave and gave and gave that people didn’t really appreciate or even understand the value of what we’re giving. So I had to kind of reel that back in and take more control over it. So I kind of consider now that anything I can give in like a bite-sized format is appropriate for me. If it’s I’m going to take 10 minutes and show you how I did something or I’m going to write a blog post or an article or share something on a podcast like this, but if it’s I’m going to complete a project for you, or I’m going to take on workload, that’s not the right fit for me. I’m never going to be the person that says, “Hey, nonprofit, I like what you do, I’m going to build you a website.” That’s not what’s right for me. But those kind of more bite-sized pieces that I can give to people and hopefully help them in that way, that fits really well with my schedule. It’s a good brain break when I can take that little moment and then it feels good. Usually, it comes back around. People like people that are nice. So I get lots of referrals and help from the community I think because I’m willing to jump in and be helpful where I can. To me, it’s not giving away the whole farm because people won’t find value in that. They typically won’t appreciate it. But giving just small pieces here and there where I can and making it as meaningful as I can and not really expecting much out of it, it does come back around. Liam: You spoke volumes there and I won’t try to recap it. You did a great job on that. Thank you. Then one thing I just want to go back to you shared that your profit-driven and then you went right into explaining your family situation and your son and that his needs are the drive behind the profit. I see that very much is a passionate or compassionate side of money. It’s not I need money so that I can live a lifestyle or be able to say I made X or I made Y this year, but it’s fulfilling a very real need that a parent has to want to provide for their child. That’s pretty impressive. I love that you’re just putting it out there that, you know, I have to make money and therefore I don’t give away a website to a nonprofit because… Heather: I am the nonprofit. Liam: No, I didn’t mean it like that. But I really liked the way that you qualified the why behind profit, because money is just a tool. The way that you described it made it very clear that you are a very loving parent. And I respect that a lot about you. Heather: Thank you for that. And don’t get me wrong, like if I can do that and go to the beach a few times a year, then I’m going to do that. Tara: There’s nothing wrong with that. Liam: Ain’t nothing wrong with that. Ain’t nothing wrong with that. Tara: Making money to enjoy your life is perfectly fine. Heather: I think I’ve mentioned this to Tara before, but there’s not a whole lot of role models of people who have, I don’t want to say been Uber successful, but even just living a comfortable life with someone that they are going to care for forever. That requires a different lifestyle. Like what my husband and I have with my son, there’s not a whole lot of people that you can look to to say, “Okay, that’s how that works.” Part of what I would love to do is to be able to share with other families like this is one way that you might make it work to have what you need to take care of your children but also to be comfortable, to be able to work a 15 hour Work Week, and still meet everyone’s needs, and be able to be comfortable. Because most special needs families barely get by. I mean, that’s just the way it is in our country. There’s not a lot of support. Therapies are very expensive or insurances, incredibly expensive. The school districts don’t supply our special advance, very, very special needs kids a whole lot. It also parents. So I think if I can figure out some ways to make this work and share those with other people, I would love to be able to do that and to be able to show other moms, especially that that diagnosis is not a life sentence of being broke and never having a purpose in your life outside of your children ever again. There’s other things you can do. It’s not going to look like the typical situation of most people’s workdays or most people’s businesses, but there are some things you can do that’ll make it work. Liam: Thank you. Thank you very much for that. Tara: I’m struggling with some words to reply to that because I find it overwhelmingly positive. Wonderful. That’s so hard to find I think when today, as well as when you’re in a situation where you do have a long-term care plan that you have to have for your child. Wow, hats off to you, Heather, to be able to face it with not only a positive attitude but a desire to help others to have a positive attitude and to have a positive life. So I think that’s just awesome. It’s amazing. Thank you so much for sharing that. Heather: Thank you for letting me know. Liam: You’re very welcome. You’re very welcome. Tell us a little bit about how you drifted into or jumped into or dove into the WordPress community. Heather: I way, way backtrack. I always thought I wanted to be a veterinarian, so just go for pre-vet. And in my junior year of college, I had randomly gotten a job working in our technical writing lab on campus. I finally decided to admit that I really am not that good at math or science, which is pretty important to go into vet school. So I made a sharp right turn and decided to do technical writing for my focus. I started doing a lot of contract and freelance work while I was still in school just to kind of catch up because that’s what you have to do when you’re changing your major at the last minute. I ended up with a job at Match.com randomly in their marketing department. I just really loved what they were doing. So I started kind of shifting gears and taking what I learned in technical writing, which I think is why messaging is so important to me because I’ve got a really strong foundation in communication and how to communicate to people in the way that works best for them. Anyway, took that right turn into marketing while I was still in school at the time finishing up the new degree that I was working on. We had a group project that it required us to build a website. The guy in my group that took on that part of the task, he built it on Joomla. And I was like, “Wow, I’ve been using Dreamweaver to kind of mess around and do some little sites on the side. This seems a whole lot better.” So I started using Joomla just doing kind of freelance sites and sites for myself, kind of fun stuff. I did one for a company that I worked for. So when I actually started my business, I was still using Joomla. The first couple of sites that I did for Blue Steele were Joomla sites. I had a client who had the requirement of using WordPress. So it was like, “Well, it can’t be that hard. It’s like a blog software. And I’ll check it out.” The first time that I went to just look up something, you know, when you’re doing any kind of development work, you get stuck, you go to Google, and you’re like, “How you bla, bla, bla, bla, bla.” And I found these communities that actually had help in English, which most of the Joomla community I think at that time was just not English speakers. It was very hard for me to find help from people that actually spoke English. And it just was this amazing community of people that wanted to help each other, that would answer questions. The platform was honestly much simpler and easier. Joomla had just gone from like their 1.0, and then 1.5, and then 2.0 and it was like he had to rebuild the site every single time. So WordPress just seemed like such a better solution. So I made a switch and just said, “You know what? I’m not going back to Joomla. I’m just going to use WordPress until I find something better.” That was probably nine years ago. Tara: I’m gonna switch to another question that we ask all of our guests in a second but…well, I’ll just switch to it now. And maybe it will relate a little bit to what you’re describing with your experience with WordPress community. Can you share some advice with us that you’ve received and that you’ve implemented that’s helped you in your personal or professional development? Heather: Oh, man, picking one thing is hard. I think instead of something that’s helped me kind of along the way, because I just can’t really think of anything off top my head, I heard something recently that just made so much sense and was so simple that I wish I had thought about it sooner. But I heard a guy, his name is Hal Runkel. He’s actually like a parenting expert, but he was on a business podcast. He was talking about leadership. He was talking about how anytime you’re going into a confrontation or a potential confrontation, that your only job is to have the lowest heart rate in the room. He says this from the standpoint really of parenting, which obviously hits home for me quite a bit, because my heart rate gets pretty high a lot of the times. But even just from the standpoint of those difficult conversations with clients, negotiating with clients, writing a proposal, sending stuff off for review, like all these situations that I find myself feeling anxious and nervous about, just that idea that if my only job, the only thing I’m focusing on is making sure I have the lowest heart rate in the room, I am the calmness, steadiest person, that’s going to drive trust, that’s going to drive respect, and that’s going to keep me from feeling exhausted at the end of the day. That’s something that I wish I had heard a long, long, long time ago because it’s so common sense. But it’s something that I think I’ll try to remind myself of every day. Tara: Yeah. How do you control that? Do you have a tech technique, like breathing or how do you keep your heart rate down? Heather: I don’t know, vodka. To me, it’s more of a just I can tell myself like, “Hey, chill out. You’re overreacting. Calm down.” Tara: Yeah, the mentality. Heather: I like to think what’s the absolute worst thing that can happen? They could cuss me out, they could scream at me, they could hate what I’ve done, they could think I’m too expensive. And all that’s gonna do is make me either decide they’re not a good fit for me, or it’s gonna make me make my approach better next time. Not a whole lot worse can happen. When I can put that mindset to it, it is pretty easy to just kind of, “You know, okay, whatever. We’re gonna do this and it’ll go well. And if it doesn’t, the next one will.” Tara: Yeah, cool. Thank you. Liam: That’s a really good approach. Just maintaining inner calm, inner peace, and giving yourself the space to answer and respond in ways that you’re going to be happy with the next morning or the next evening or whatever it is. Thank you so much for sharing that. We are running out of time here, surprisingly. I didn’t realize how quickly this half-hour has gone. Heather, before we say goodbye to you all, thank you for joining us today. And ask you to share where people can find you online, please. Heather: My website is BlueSteeleSolutions.com. You can also find me on LinkedIn just @heathersteele. Tara: Great. Thanks again, Heather. Really appreciate your joining us and so glad that we’re able to share your story here on Hallway Chats today. Have a great day. Heather: You too. Liam: Thanks, Heather. Bye for now. Heather: Thanks, y’all. Tara: If you like what we’re doing here – meeting new people in our WordPress community – we invite you to tell others about it. We’re on iTunes and at hallwaychats.com. Liam: Better yet, ask your WordPress friends and colleagues to join us on the show. Encourage them to complete the “Be on the show” form on our site, to tell us about themselves. The post Episode 144 – Heather Steele appeared first on Hallway Chats.
32 minutes | 5 months ago
Episode 143 – Machielle Thomas
Introducing Machielle Thomas Machielle is a mommy, a marketer, photographer, and a dreamer. She’s currently the senior brand manager for Bluehost, and most of her time is spent chasing her tiny terrorist, or finding the best tacos in her hometown of Austin, Texas. Show Notes Twitter | @machiellethomas Preferred Pronouns | She/Her Episode Transcript Tara: This is Hallway Chats, where we meet people who use WordPress. Liam: We ask questions and our guests share their stories, ideas, and perspectives. Tara: And now the conversation begins. This is Episode 143. Liam: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Liam Dempsey. Tara: And I’m Tara Claeys. Today we’re joined by Machielle Thomas. Machielle is a mommy, a marketer, photographer, and a dreamer. She’s currently the senior brand manager for Bluehost, and most of her time is spent chasing her tiny terrorist, or finding the best tacos in her hometown of Austin, Texas. So glad to have you here. Thanks for joining us. Machielle: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it. Liam: Machielle, it’s our pleasure. Thank you so much for spending time with us today. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself beyond what Tara shared? Machielle: Yeah. I always laugh when someone else says tiny terrorist because all of my friends finds it funny. My son is four and we live here in Austin. He’s a very rambunctious 4-year-old. He’s like the epitome of a little bitty terrorist. I call him my little ankle biter because I try all the time chasing him around and him jumping on me. I was born and raised in Austin, Texas, where I currently live. I currently work for the Bluehost brand. It’s been for a few years now that I’ve been there, been to a ton of WordCamps, and spoken at about six or seven of them, I think. Really missing them this year. It’s been a really, really hard year after going from 10 to 15 camps to none. But yeah, I’m just a daydreamer and I love writing, reading all things, all things on the internet really. Tara: Oh. How did you get started in WordPress or tech? WordPress, I guess, let’s start there. Machielle: I actually was a user. I used WordPress for a financial services company that I worked for about eight years ago. And I use it just to manage the blog. Then I started working as a contractor for a couple of marketing agencies in Austin as well. And I used it again to manage their blog and posting. That way I didn’t really understand or really had never even heard about the community behind WordPress, and the people behind it until I started with Bluehost. I started with Bluehost four months after my son was born. It was a really weird time for me, obviously. There’s a ton of hormones going on, and exhaustion from not sleeping. I kind of was like thrown into this world I didn’t really know anything about. I thought I was just going to be managing content and it turned out that I was also being invited to camps. I went to my first camp in Phoenix in October 2017, and they were like, “You should speak next time.” And I was like, “Wait, what? Me? Are you sure? I don’t know anything about WordPress. I’m not a developer. I’m not a designer.” And were like, “No, anybody can speak about anything.” That was the one year they had a really quick turnaround on their camps. They did October and then February the next year. And I came back in February and I did content for the modern world. And it was all about content in this new age of media and understanding your target audience and stuff like that and how it can really impact you. So from there, I’ve just been all over the world at camps. Last year was my first WordCamp Europe. That was my first time there last year in Berlin. It was awesome, amazing experience. But I’ve been to I guess – what? Four WordCamp US at this point. It’s been great. I love being a user. I love helping people learn it. It’s part of my job as well. So yeah, it’s great. Liam: I’m interested now that you’re that you’re working with Bluehost, they’re a provider of WordPress hosting and many other services, and given your senior brand manager role at Bluehost, are you actually in WordPress anymore? Are you higher up now that you don’t get to log in, you just review and write from further afield? Machielle: So I actually don’t really write that often. I do use WordPress still. A lot of my job it isn’t a newer role. I manage WordPress content, specifically for the most of the time that I’ve been at Bluehost. But I kind of think we’re at a point where we’re having to figure out how do we make products or services that are easier for people who are managing multiple WordPress sites, web professionals, and people in the WordPress space, and the community. We actually did come out with a new product recently called Maestro. It’s kind of like an all in one solution for web professionals. So the idea there was no matter who your clients are hosting with, you can kind of go in one place and manage all of them and kind of make your life a little bit easier in WP admin. So I write things about our products. I write content about our products or things that we’re coming out with. Mostly there’s like campaigns. I work with our content team still. I still manage content for the most part. We have writers there, but I also still use WordPress. I was in WordPress today a couple of times. I’m not that far removed yet, Liam. Liam: Well, I wasn’t sure if your team was like, “Oh, no, she’s getting into WordPress, make sure we hit the backup button before we let her in?” Machielle: No. I actually spent most of my time trying to write content for how to use WordPress for an everyday user. In WordCamp US 2019, I think, we brought our blueprint for beginners, which was the blueprint for beginner WordPress users. And that book was my first baby on teaching people who don’t build sites. So I do write about WordPress a lot, but I also use WordPress a lot, too. Liam: I believe you. I believe you. Machielle: I’m also a serial domainer. I have like 17 domains in. That’s why I was like, “This is actually really nice because I have a lot of domains, and going between all these different accounts can get really exhausting.” Tara: I think I’ve heard people having hundreds of domains. So 17 is not actually that many, right? Machielle: Thank you. I say the same thing. Tara: It makes you feel better. It’s not a lot. Machielle: Everyone makes fun of me. Tara: I finally just let one go this week, actually, because it was a $35 one and I thought, “I don’t really think I’m going to use that one.” Machielle: That’s fair. I’ve had a couple of those. Liam: You get an employee discount on domains. Machielle: No. Liam: Or it’s just the way that domains work? Is it all you pay as you go just like everyone else? Machielle: Yeah. I think legally, everyone has to pay for domains, which is why a lot of people don’t really have free domain offerings. It’s kind of like you get the hosting, but you pay for the domain. So yeah. Tara: Most domains are not that much. But yeah. Machielle: 12 bucks, then domain privacy… Tara: But they add up if you have a hundred of them. Machielle: I’m really trying to stop myself. I have a new idea day. It seems like they pop up and I’m like, “I got to buy the domain before somebody else get it.” Tara: I know. I do that too. Well, because it’s like, okay, $12. So, what’s the big deal? Machielle: Right. I do that too. Tara: Yeah, that’s true. That’s true. So what’s your background? I’m impressed that you went to a WordCamp…I mean, I met other people who have done this, but not in like a six-month period of time, where you went to a WordCamp, and then six months later you were talking to people about what you know, which there’s always a lot of imposter syndrome, especially I know, like the first time that you’re speaking in front of a crowd and acting like you know what you’re talking about. I’m sure you do, but you kind of wonder. So talk a little bit about that process and how you learned to be a writer and to be a marketing focus writer, and to talk about it. Machielle: I think, for me, it was actually pretty simple. From the time I was in middle school, high school, I always knew I wanted to be an author. I kind of took this journey of “you can’t make money writing” with family. “You can’t make money writing, you got to get a real job.” So I was like, “Okay, well, I’ll go to school for finance because I love money, talking about money and helping people organize money and things like that.” And I started it, and I was just like, “As much as I love this thing, this is not like my why.” So I switched and I went back to media study. So Mass Communications, and PR, and advertising was kind of my focus. I think I just always knew I wanted to write. I think the thing that I needed to understand is that anyone can write anything if they understand who they’re writing it to or for some. If you can identify who that person is, what their problem is, and how you can solve it, it makes it easy. So I think when I went to that first camp, I was watching people talk and I was like, “I could do this. This is something that scares me. I should run towards it. I should do it.” I’ve spoken before, but never at a place where I don’t know how many people may come. I don’t know how many people will be in this talk versus that talk. So it was really a lot of unknowns for me. My biggest fear, actually was the QA because I thought that everyone was going to ask me about something in WordPress that I didn’t know yet, or didn’t understand yet. And it didn’t happen that way at all. Everyone wanted to know about SEO, everyone wanted to know about, how can I start ranking? How do I figure out a target audience? What tools do I use? So after that, I was like, “This is actually really comfortable.” And then I started branching out from not just talking about writing or content, but I had to talk about finding in the right clients and how that can affect your business long term. I also sat on the women WordPress panel. So how to talk about setting yourself up to be paid properly really as a woman in tech. So I’ve kind of like allowed myself to spread my wings a little bit and say, “You know, I don’t have to just talk about the one thing. We all have multiple things that we understand that we can share with someone else.” Liam: There’s so much there. Something that you said really caught my attention. Wow, that scares me. I should run towards it. I love that. You’re amazing. Machielle: Thank you. Liam: I want to go back again a little bit to your introduction about photography. I have dabbled in photography, but it’s been years, and it was never beyond something fun, which is an end in and of itself. But tell us about your photography and how you got into it. What do you like to do? And what makes you happy in and about photography? Machielle: Yeah, thank you. This is actually a huge passion of mine. I don’t really talk about it enough, I don’t think. I started with photography when I was in high school. I learned in the darkroom. I didn’t understand digital or anything at the time. So I loved the idea of seeing nothing and then starting to see an image come out. Originally, when I decided to go to school, I was really torn between photojournalism and media studies or mass communication. So what that is, is a really big struggle for me, because I didn’t know that I wanted to work for a news station but I really liked the idea of storytelling. And I feel like images do that. And I just found a way to kind of use that in a new type of business. So basically, I am a wedding and portrait photographer. So I shoot weddings and I shoot senior photos for graduating students, and families irregularly. But I have a whole collection of things I’ve never shared. And those are the things that I love the most. It’s not people usually. It’s animals or nature, or a piece of tree bark that was just following the right way or things like that. So I really liked the idea of finding beauty and everything and just really understanding that everything has a story behind it. So like when I’m shooting someone’s wedding day, I try to find the storyline of it and use that for journalism that’s in my head to create their perfect album, if you will. So that’s kind of what I shoot and how I shoot. I try to stick to real colors. I don’t over edit. I like to really focus on what people actually look like on that day and really just capturing a part of themselves, making them laugh naturally, having them interact with each other naturally, and just capturing those moments. Tara: You have a lot of creative outlets it sounds like. It sounds like you have more business job now as you’ve moved up in Bluehost and some tech too. But you get to write and then you get this photographic outlet as well. Where does that come from, and where does that fit in? Have you always been a creative person? Is it the way that you were raised? Is it that you learned in school? Talk a little bit about creativity and what that means to you? Machielle: I definitely think it’s innate. I felt like it’s something I was born with. I wouldn’t say my family is super creative people. My sister is. She is really good was designing a home or flower arrangements. She’s really good at that, creating beautiful cards, homemade cards, and some of that. That’s not my style at all. I don’t do any of those things well. I think my biggest struggle was I was always creative. I always knew I was creative. But I think like most creative people, you question yourself and there’s a ton of imposter syndrome that comes from like, “This is not good enough. This is not my best work. And so I just won’t share it at all.” If I literally told you how many novels I’ve started and rip them up and started over because I’m like, “This is going to be terrible. It’s going to be the worst thing ever.” And I think as I’ve gotten older, I’ve just gotten to a point where I’m like, “If it’s terrible, it’s practice work.” Like everything that I create is from a moment that I felt at that time. Whether it’s good or bad, it’s mine. It’s my moment to share or not share. I think that it gives me a lot of peace I think by seeing something come…especially things like photography and writing, to see like a storyline kind of unfold or an image kind of come out of nowhere. I try to be intentional about everything that I do everything that I write. Like what is its purpose? What is the value? That kind of thing. I do still get to be really creative actually at my job outside of writing. I do a lot of video directing and getting to know our customers and telling their stories, which is something that I really, really love to do. So I get to do it in a lot of different ways. I’m actually surprised I’m not in creative overdrive, where I just can’t create any more, because I’m doing it everywhere, for myself, at work, with my kid. You know, how do we make a new puzzle for you today? Whatever it is. Tara: I was going to ask you how being a mom fits in because you added that to your introduction. And I appreciate that a lot and chatting about your little boy and how that fits into your creativity. Certainly, it can inspire it, I’m sure. But also, at times, you’re probably exhausted. Machielle: Most of the time I’m exhausted. But you know what? I think when I had him, the thing that pushed more creativity forward was just seeing…and I think anybody who’s a parent or around children can see this. When you’re around kids, especially little kids, you start noticing how they notice everything in the world. And it’s such a big deal. And you’re like, “It’s just a cloud.” And then you start to really sit back and think like, “Wow, how about overlooks cars every day? How do I not notice that that tree does that thing?” I think he helped me to slow down a lot and to start taking in more things and appreciating the things that are miraculous to him. And like seeing that light in his eyes when he sees something new just kind of inspires me and it makes me realize that’s how people are. Even adults can feel like that when they see something new or they feel a new feeling, or they see you know, some video or some photo that really ignites something in them. And I think that that’s what I try to hold on to Tara: Yeah, yeah, thanks for sharing that. And thanks for talking about creativity. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. I feel like I’ve gotten less creative over time, because I do it for work. So I think having that sort of as your side thing that you keep as part of your life is really important to do. When you turn your passion into your career, people say that’s a great thing to do. I think it’s hard to maintain the passion for the creativity when it comes to that. So yeah. Machielle: That’s why you have to have your own projects. If you’re only doing it for money, you’ll get burned out pretty easily I think. Liam: I think I’d agree with that. And this seems a good way to segue into a question about success. Machielle, I wonder if you can share with us your definition of success. And maybe that is a professional definition for you, maybe it’s personal, maybe for you it’s a mix of both. How do you define success, Machielle? Machielle: I’d say I felt like success is relative. I think where people’s values lie, that’s what they deem to be success. I think, for me, success looks like waking up every day and not feeling exhausted in the sense that I’m dreading doing the things that I have to do. I think success feels like peace. It feels a little bit like stress-relieving a little bit, if you will. I think success to me is like obviously there’s a financial part of it, where I can take care of my family, I can do the things that I need to do, but am I passionate about what I do? Do I understand my why? Do I understand why I’m doing the thing? And am I being able to be pushed forward constantly? Because I feel like we can become stagnant if we’re doing the same thing, if we’re surrounded around the same environment. But I really feel like if you can constantly be pushed forward and you’re not dreading doing the things that you need to do or want to do, then I feel like to me that’s peaceful. I would define that success for me. Liam: Yeah, I like that. Thank you for sharing that. Tara: Yeah. Liam: A question popped in my mind as you were talking was that sense of you shared…and I’m going to paraphrase very badly. But as long as I’m moving forward, as long as I’m feeling up for the challenge, as long as I’m waking up with energy to go about the day and meet the challenges, I’m successful. How do you discern between just you’re up late with your son, so you’re tired versus this is not success, this is not where I need to be? How does Machielle start to think about and address that? Machielle: I’m very big on your gut. Your gut tells you everything you need to know, whether you’re stressed, somebody makes you uncomfortable. My gut tells me everything. I think I am just really in tune with myself to say, “I’m clearly tired. I didn’t sleep. Well, this happened, XYZ happened.” I think it comes down to when I start…there are moments when you wake up and you feel exhausted. Maybe I didn’t say that the right way. But you’ll wake up and you’ll feel tired or exhausted or… Liam: Yeah, I know what you mean. Like you’re up late before you’re physically tired. But it’s emotional, and all that comes with it. Machielle: And to be honest, even when you love your job, or love what you do every day, whether it’s a job or not, you can still feel emotionally tired. Even if it’s not that you didn’t rest, there’s still emotional things that are happening within you that make you exhausted or whatever. I would say that for me, it comes down to like when I start doing the work, do I get the energy that pushes me? That’s also how I read people. I want to be around people that when I start talking to them, I feel renewed, and I feel more energy than I did before I started. And so I feel like work is the same way. When I start doing it, can I get into a groove and start feeling more comfortable with it? Or do I still feel like, “Man, it’s just too hard. I don’t want to do this today.” And there’s always days like that. But when the majority of your days are that way, I feel like that’s a sign that you’re not doing what you should be doing. Tara: I love your energy and your perspective on sort of moving forward and energy. I can sense that I get a lot of energy from you, too. So I’m glad you’re here to share that with us. How do you work with your local community, your local WordPress community? You’re in Texas, right? Machielle: I am. We’re in Austin, and there’s not a huge community here. We do have WP Engine here as well. So they’re really strong into it. I don’t know if either of you have met Devin Sears. Tara: Of course. Machielle: I thought so. I mean, I’ve seen both of you around as well, but…he’s our field marketing manager. He actually organized WordCamp Austin this year. Honestly, I think being here makes it harder. When I go to a camp, it’s easy for me to be super involved. But when I’m at home, it’s like family ties and all the things that you have to do at work. It gets really hard for me to do that. I’ve gone to a few meetups, but I haven’t really been able to really cement a place here. And I don’t think it’s anything to do with the people or anything like that. I think it’s just when you’re in your element sometimes you go through the motions, and you kind of…when I step out of that, and I go away to a camp, I don’t feel the guilt, like the mom guilt of being away from my child or not doing the things. “I need to clean my house. I didn’t do that tonight. I got to go home.” So I won’t say that I have a really strong tie here but I think they’re great. I think they’ve done great work here. I hate that we didn’t have a camp last year, but I’m glad that we were able to bring it back this year. Tara: Yeah. Is your job remote? I mean, maybe right now it is for sure. Machielle: Right now it’s remote. We do have an Austin office. That’s where our marketing team sits. But we’ve been home since the first week of March. And we don’t really have any plans to go back for at least another year. Tara: Wow, a year. Machielle: It’ll be a while. I think they’re trying to play it really safe, which we all appreciate. And there’s really not a need. We have six offices worldwide. We’re on calls with different offices everywhere. So really, I mean, you just go in the office to hop on a call with someone else. So it really worked for us. I think our productivity is still up to par if not better really. Tara: WordCamp Austin, was that the virtual one they had where they had the people playing music in the…? Machielle: Yeah, yeah. Tara: I got peeked into that one. Machielle: Yeah, it was the music. Tara: Yeah. Cool. Machielle: I mean, it only makes sense for Austin. Love music… Tara: That’s why it stood out to me. I don’t have the attention span for Zoom WordCamps. But that one intrigued me. So I did check it out. And that’s the one where they had like the rooms you could go in? Machielle: Yes. Yeah. Tara: That was very advanced. Machielle: Yeah, Zoom fatigue is real this year. It’s very real. Tara: Yeah, yeah. I mean, people are making the most of it for sure. Machielle: Absolutely. Liam: I want to get to the real heart of the matter here and kind of go back to what we started with. The best tacos in the hometown of Austin Texas. Tara: Yes, tacos. Liam: Calling you out on it, Machielle. What do you got for us? Machielle: Oh, man, I feel like everybody’s going to troll me for this if I say the wrong answer. It depends on what you’re eating. I like a place up the street for me for breakfast. And it’s called El Rincón. Liam: It doesn’t matter if it’s breakfast. Lunch, and dinner. All this is great. Machielle: Breakfast tacos are our thing. You got to love the breakfast tacos. Torchy’s is really popular here. So it’s taco deli but Torchy’s is like really, really popular in Austin. I love Torchy’s Trailer Park taco. So it’s like fried chicken with avocado and kaiso and lettuce and tomato. It’s a whole thing. It’s great. It’s amazing. So I will say I like Torchy’s for that kind of thing. But there’s also a lot of really small taco shops that are just…I don’t even know their names to be honest. Taco trucks that are just really good. Tara: Are you born and raised there? Machielle: I was. I’m one of like probably 20 left, and 19 of them are my family. Tara: You don’t have that in Texas accent. Is Austin agnostic on the accent? Machielle: Everyone tells me that. I feel like there’s an accent here but I guess I didn’t realize I didn’t have it. So I’ll take it. I’m international. No one knows where I’m from. Tara: Nice. Well, now we know where to go when we come to Austin for tacos. So thank you for that advice. Now, I’m going to ask you for some other advice. Machielle: Oh. Tara: We ask our guests to share with us some advice that they’ve received and implemented into their lives that they can then pass along to people who are listening. Machielle: Oh, that’s a good one. I’m going to say this is a hard one because I initially want to go for something that my grandmother or my mom or somebody told me, but I’m actually going to go with something that I actually did not talk to someone about. It’s something that I read before and it made me completely change the way I viewed myself. And it basically talks about, like, whenever an opportunity presents itself, there’s always going to be a cloud of uncertainty or fog of uncertainty with it. I kind of combine that with everything that’s beautiful or great is on the other side of fear. I think those two things and say that when something feels scary or uncertain, that’s usually when opportunity comes up. You can kind of rise to the occasion or you can back down from it. So a lot of times I walk myself into positions that I’m not qualified for. And I don’t mean necessarily in work, but I just mean in life. I try to find things that are bigger than me and I’m like, “I’ll go into it. I’ll just go into it.” Because if it’s not scary, if it’s not uncertain, then that means I’m probably just being too comfortable. I would say that that’s kind of the thing that’s always driven me to push myself forward. Liam: I like a lot of what you say, Machielle. Machielle: Thank you. Thank you. Liam: There’s something about that which is truly beautiful is on the other side of fear. I like that. I’m going to go towards things that scare me. I’m going to go towards things that are bigger than me. I like you. Thank you. This is wonderful. Machielle: I appreciate that. Thank you. Tara: Sure. Thank you. It’s good advice. It’s very hard to absorb that. I think that it’s very important. As a mom to raise your child to have that attitude as well is good. Because I think you can get overwhelmed with social media on how you don’t measure up. So that’s really good is to have the competence to go for things that aren’t comfortable. Thank you for sharing that. Machielle: Thank you. Liam: How do you head check yourself on that? Inevitably, when we try to take on something that is above where we are right now, we’re going to slip and fall at some point. Machielle: Absolutely. Liam: We stub our toe or slam our elbow into something. How do you deal with that? How do you cope with that? How do you figure out for you this is just a slip up versus oh, this is not the mountain I need to climb? Machielle: Right. Right. I think the biggest thing is to understand your capacity. There’s something about saying, “Obviously, I’m going to run towards things that scare me.” You can’t do everything, right? And I think that when you stop taking things personal, even failures, which I like to call practice rounds, you take your practice round, and it’s like, I could take this personal and say that I wasn’t good enough, this is not what I’m good at, or I should have done better. But if you really focus on, like, “I have the capacity…” If I really felt within myself that I have the capacity to do this, then I really just need to put in the work, put in the focus, put in the drive that I really need to be successful. And understanding when you need to ask for help. Whether that be a mentor, or even…I mean, I really feel like it’s really easy these days because you don’t have to have a personal mentor anymore. You can go on the internet and find 100 TED Talks that inspire you. You can call your mom and say, “Oh, tell me I’m beautiful. Tell me I’m great.” There’s so many ways for you to get that ego boost that you kind of need to push forward. But understanding your capacity and not taking things personal, even your practice rounds. Tara: What a great connection! I never thought about that that way before that as to take it personally. What a great thing to move on from failure and not beat yourself up for it and think that you can’t keep going. So yeah, thank you for sharing that. And speaking of keeping going, we can’t keep going because our time is up. Machielle: Ooh. Tara: It’s been wonderful to chat with you and to meet you. I’m so glad you joined us today. Where can people find you online? Machielle: I am most available on Twitter @MachielleThomas. My name is spelled a little more complicated than most. So it’s @MachielleThomas on Twitter. Tara: Great. Thank you. Thanks. Machielle: Thank you. Liam: Thanks, Machielle. What a pleasure getting to know you. Really appreciate your time today. Machielle: You as well. Thank you. Tara: Bye. Machielle: I can’t wait to see you guys in real life. Tara: I know. Liam: I know. I know. We’re going to come to WordCamp Austin and have tacos. Machielle: Do it. Tara: We can’t wait. We can’t wait. Machielle: We’re going to do a taco tour. Tara: Bye. Machielle: Bye everybody. Tara: If you like what we’re doing here – meeting new people in our WordPress community – we invite you to tell others about it. We’re on iTunes and at hallwaychats.com. Liam: Better yet, ask your WordPress friends and colleagues to join us on the show. Encourage them to complete the “Be on the show” form on our site, to tell us about themselves. The post Episode 143 – Machielle Thomas appeared first on Hallway Chats.
32 minutes | 5 months ago
Episode 142 – C. Shakhawat Sultan
Introducing C. Shakhawat Sultan C. Shakhawat Sultan is the business development manager at CodeRex. He works hand in hand with the developers and the marketing team to create useful plugins. He is passionate about WordPress and loves to contribute to the community. Show Notes Twitter | SultanRoyal1 LinkedIn | C-S-Sultan-Royal Facebook | CodeRexCo, RexTheme Websites | CodeRex, RexTheme Walk to WordCamp Europe Preferred Pronouns | He/Him Episode Transcript Tara: This is Hallway Chats, where we meet people who use WordPress. Liam: We ask questions and our guests share their stories, ideas, and perspectives. Tara: And now the conversation begins. This is Episode 142. Tara: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Tara Claeys. Liam: And I’m Liam Dempsey. Today we’re joined by C. Shakhawat Sultan. Shakhawat is the business development manager at CodeRex. He works hand in hand with the developers and the marketing team to create useful plugins. He is passionate about WordPress and loves to contribute to the community. Welcome, Sultan. Thanks for joining us. Shakhawat: Thank you, Liam. And Hi, Tara. Nice to be joining you, too. Tara: Thanks for being here today. We’re really glad that you’re here. I know it’s late where you are, so we’re grateful for you staying up or waking up to be with us. Shakhawat: I’m excited to talk with you guys. Tara: Oh, we’re excited too. Thanks. Would you tell us a little bit more about yourself? Shakhawat: Yeah, sure. I’m Sultan, a business development manager at CodeRex, and I work as a product manager at RexTheme which is a sister concern of CodeRex. So right now I’m in charge of developing plugins in my company and helping out my marketing team and developers to interact properly so that plugin development can be done properly. Besides that, I just completed my graduations. And not really that old I would like to think. Tara: Do you want to tell us how old you are? Shakhawat: I’m 27 right now. That’s a great age. Liam: That is not as old as I am. Tara: For our listeners, where are you located? Shakhawat: Right now I’m talking with you from Dhaka, Bangladesh. This is where I was born. My whole life I grew up here. So that’s what I’m talking from. Tara: Great. Liam: And it’s very late where you are, so thank you very much for joining us and accommodating our little show to be so pleasant. Tara and I are in early afternoon. What are you? About one in the morning now? Shakhawat: It’s 12:30 a.m. right now. Tara: Okay. Great. So tell us a little bit about how you got started in computer stuck, WordPress, all of the above. Shakhawat: To be honest, this industry is pretty new for me. In WordPress, I am only here for about two and a half years. Before that, I used to be part of international call centers. In fact, we used to be the guys that used to call you guys to cell phone plants and stuff like that. That’s what I was part of. Then, all of a sudden, I decided to change the industry as that cannot be taken as a career. I wanted a career that had a future. So I had to switch industries. And meanwhile, continued my education. And here I am today, thanks to CodeRex. The owner of CodeRex knew me personally, so he mentored me from nothing to where I am now. I know about WordPress or digital marketing is basically what I’ve learned from Mr. Lincoln, the owner of CodeRex. That’s how I got into the WordPress industry. Over time, I’ve seen that things are very different in your community. I mean, if you look at other communities, people are always looking at how to deface another company and grow themselves. But the WordPress community is something where I see that everybody’s trying to improve together. And that’s what intrigued me into staying in this industry, to be honest. Liam: Yeah, that’s a really interesting point around the supportive nature of the WordPress community, especially from business to business and agency to agency. And, yeah, inevitably, there’s a little bit of competition. We want to have the best plugin or a couple of the bigger agencies might put in for work for some of these bigger enterprise clients. But by and large, it’s a supportive environment. I’m glad that you’re experiencing that as well. You said that you just finished your studies, you just got a degree. Did I hear that correctly? What did you graduate with? What did you study? Shakhawat: Computer Science and Engineering. This is my background. Tara asked me question that how did I get into tech. I was excited about computing ever since I was in school. So back then I used to learn coding using Visual Basic. Then, eventually, I had to learn C programming on my own. Due to my jobs, I couldn’t continue my studies for a while. But then when I got back to the university, I thought, let’s get on track with the one that I’m passionate about. So I had to get into Computer Science and Engineering. Liam: That’s cool. So you’re in a business development role now. What does that mean? What does that look like day to day for you? Shakhawat: Basically, I have three roles in the company now. Business development is the main role, where I have to look at how the company is presented to everybody. I have to think about how the company can grow. For example, CodeRex is a web development firm. So I have to decide how I’ll present my company to the people that are coming to us, or how people will see that this is a reliable company. Along with that, I also need to maintain the fact that people who are working here are thinking positive about the company itself. So even though I’m not the project manager—we do have a project manager—both of us play hand in hand to make sure that our employees are always motivated, and they love to work in this environment. So that’s the main role that I follow in business development. Aside from that, obviously, we have client meetings, finding new ventures for the business. Those things are the general responsibilities of business development that I do have today. Tara: So are you utilizing your coding and programming skill set or not as much anymore, it sounds like? Shakhawat: Basically, since I’m more into marketing role…The RexTheme side, they are into plugin development. So I’m actually taking the lead in the marketing of all the plugins. We have about five. Under me, there are a few people who are acting as product managers. I’m also acting as a product manager for two of our core plugins because they’re more complicated. Initially, when I joined here, I wasn’t really the business development manager. When I joined here, I was just a marketeer. I was taught to be a digital marketeer. Eventually, it was decided that maybe I could go into a larger role, and went into business development besides marketing. So the marketing side has never left me. It’s still there. I use coding to a minimum of let’s say two front end basis. That’s HTML and CSS. I don’t really get to code within the plugins and stuffs. We have developers for that. They are like 10 times more experienced than I am. So why put my hand into something that can be done better by somebody else. Tara: Yeah, that makes sense. I understand that. Do you prefer the marketing? Are you enjoying it? Shakhawat: Oh, definitely. As I said, I was part of a call center, and it’s all about marketing. So I’ve been in the marketing for over 10 years now. Of course, I love it. I’ll just like to share one interesting thing. When I joined digital marketing, it became so different. You see, when you are a salesman, you can actually say that okay, I’m confident, I’ll get five sales today. But when you’re in digital marketing, it’s not about sales. It’s about presenting your company and growing. And it’s so different, that you do not really target for number of sales. You actually target for reaching a lot of people, letting people know how useful you are, rather than they should buy it and pay your money. So that’s what I’m more focused on right now. Liam: I love that perspective. That’s fantastic. What is marketing for a development agency, a plugin agency looks like in a COVID-19 world where you’re not going to WordCamps, you’re not going to local meetups, you’re not even probably going to visit the big businesses in the area that might need your services, that might benefit from your services, but you’re not going to come down and have a cup of tea or a coffee with them? What does that look like for you? Shakhawat: I’ll just show you both ends of the swords. You see, during the lockdown, the web development side of her company suffered a lot because web development only occurs when businesses are running well. And the website we make are for business that have physical business. So during COVID, they decided that to cut up their expenses they don’t need to develop a website with a good agency. They rather stay with what they have. So any web development agency suffered a lot during the lockdown. But, again, when you go into plugin development, it really depends on what plugins you have. Certain plugins are essential and helpful during the lockdown. For example, if I say Zoom, Zoom is an application that could be used more during the lockdown than before. Again, our company had the fortune to have WooCommerce related plugins such as Product Feed Manager, or we had a VR plugin for WP VR which people can create virtual tours. Now, these are certain things that actually boomed during the lockdown. Real estate properties were selling only because they had a way to showcase properties online. Nobody were visiting at that time. So virtual tour or virtual reality, in fact, saw a big rise in usage. Then, the online market during COVID, UK, US they saw a huge rise in online sales. So any company that had products that are favoring for ecommerce or online sales, they actually did pretty well. The marketing wasn’t that difficult, because all you had to do is reach out to the people that have online shop. And most of them are interested because now they’re looking to sell more. They have more opportunities. But then again the downside is people who doesn’t have those sort of plugins. If you look at plugins that are for personal use, those plugins are going to be in very, very bad shape during the lockdown. Because people who use plugins for personal satisfaction or personal use, there’ll be like, “Okay, I’m losing money. So right now I can live without it.” That’s the scenario actually. Liam: That’s interesting. Go ahead, Tara. Tara: I was going to ask if you and your team have always been remote. Or is that…? Shakhawat: No. We had to be remote during COVID because our country is not really in good shape in terms of maintaining COVID. Even though the death rate is low in our country, but the affective rate is really high. So we had to make sure that we don’t let our employees get affected. So we have to move remote during that time. But it did hamper our performance a lot. Because what I believe is in terms of marketing or project management, if the people are in front of you, it’s easier to understand their mindset than when you are talking online. Because at that time, you don’t get the picture their body language, or the tone. It’s really difficult. So when we moved remote, it did affect our business. But as we said, we tried our best for our safety. Right now we’re not working remotely. We are working from our office. Liam: So let me ask you about WordCamps back when we all used to go to them. You started part of our conversation talking about how you find that the community is quite supportive of itself and those in it. Share with us your first experience of a WordCamp. Was that something that you decided to go on your own? Did CodeRex send you? Did you bring it up to them and said, “Hey, maybe I should go to this”? Talk to us about that. What’s your experience like? Shakhawat: I’ll tell you certain things. It’s pretty interesting. I didn’t go to any WordCamp outside my country. That’s the downside of it because I’m not experienced enough. But there was a WordCamp situated in Bangladesh, Dhaka. I’ll tell you my company was responsible. My company and there was another company. Actually, it was a total of about five web development companies that joined together to organize the whole thing. And CodeRex was one of those companies. So we had to work hand in hand in preparing stuffs for that WordCamp itself. Then again attend that as a company. That was pretty fun. But I’ll tell you a funny story. That day I had a medical emergency with one of my family members, so I couldn’t attend the WordCamp from the beginning. Then when I managed to find some time to go there, it started raining like cats and dogs. So midway, on my way to WordCamp, I was already soaking wet. Then by the time I reached WordCamp Dhaka, it was probably the last two sessions going on. So I almost missed it. It’s sad, but yet…you know, I enjoyed the day for some reason, because I was excited about the event. When you have something hard to get, you love it more. When I went there, it was still bust. A lot of people came in and they were all interested in knowing about each and every company. We got to meet some pretty good people from abroad as well. So it was fun. I mean, it was interesting. That was the first time I went to a WordCamp. Before that I did attend WordPress meetups, but those are all local so you don’t see foreigners there. Before that any WordCamp to place. I was responsible for arranging the content for the company. But basically, it was the owner who visited. Lincoln himself went there. I don’t know if you remember that Walk to WordCamp event by Marcel Bootsman. Marcel is basically a close personal friend with Lincoln. So we were one of the sponsors for him. And we were covering for that. I was actually keeping track of each and everything Marcel was doing. I had to prepare content on a regular basis, keep my owner updated about what he’s doing. We had to make sure that Marcel gets all the support he gets. It was a pretty neat event and a noble one. Liam: Didn’t he walk…? Marcel, I think, lives in Holland, right? And he walked to WordCamp Europe. You know, walk like hundreds of kilometers to raise money for some organization. I can’t remember specific, but that’s it. Right? Shakhawat: Right. Right. So yeah, we were covering all of that. And that was pretty exciting for me, because it was not about to sponsor walking there. I could see that people were actually reaching out to him and donating money to him because they knew that the cause was to allow some people to visit WordCamp that cannot afford to go there. You see, in the WordPress community, there are people who are really rich and there are people who have a hard time. And Marcel did this event, which actually got a pretty good amount of donations. I could see the WordPress community opening up. Even you know that people open their selves to Marcel saying that they could live at their place on their way. So those things were really amazing. We didn’t expect that. I was thinking he’s going to get money to go and stay in hotels and stuff. But no, people were actually letting him live with them. So that was a big thing for me. That’s when I knew that the community is actually very different. Tara: Yeah. Yeah. I remember that now. That does speak volumes about this community. And everyone that we’ve talked to on this podcast, who has interacted in any way with WordPress, I think has felt that support that’s very unusual in other places. I would like to ask you a question that we ask of everyone, which is about success. So we like to ask our guests how they define success and what it means in their life. Shakhawat: To me, I would go a different approach with success. You see, many people say that being successful is when you earn a lot of money and stuff like that. But to me, you get success every day. You see, everything you do has a purpose. To me, success is when the purpose is met. Now, it could be as simple thing as waking up at 9 a.m. If my goal last day was I’ll wake up at 9 a.m. tomorrow, and if I manage to wake up, that’s a success. So it sounds very vague. But then again, if you look at a bigger picture, today, if I wanted that, okay, today, I’ll go to the office, and I’ll make sure I’ll present my product to people and they will like it, they’ll like my presentation. If they actually do like it, that’s also a success. I think every day you have success, and you will have failures, and you will have opportunity to learn. So success is something I would say is not a single goal. Success is when you reach any goal that you had planned for, and it worked out. Not on its own; on your own efforts. So that’s what I define success by. Liam: I really like that. As you were talking, I was listening and jotting down, and I interpreted what you said as mindfully achieving our purpose. Mindfully achieving what we set out to do. And I really liked that because you’re pointed then make success very much almost a constant ebb and flow and it requires mental attention or requires energy, it requires dedication. But it also means that there’s another opportunity right around the corner. Shakhawat: I’d like to add something to that as well. Liam: Please. Shakhawat: You see, when I say that successes every day, it doesn’t just mean that I’m just saying it for the sake of saying it. If you can be happy about every little thing you achieve, that motivates you more to do better in the next thing you do. So let’s say today, you decided that okay, my target today is completing…let’s say you’re writing articles and you plan that today I’ll complete two articles,” if you manage to do that, and you take that as success, then the next day you will take another challenge and you will feel more confident that okay, I managed to get this many success yesterday, this will also be a success. Motivation is something that helps you achieve things that you don’t usually get being depressed or intention. To be frank, in WordPress, more people are developers and they talk in their language. When you’re creating a program, you’re trying to find an algorithm. And if your intention that, “okay, let’s say today, I don’t have time, amount of time,” if you’re worried like that your algorithm is going to get messed up no matter how much you try. But if you think that, “okay, I have enough time, I’ll do it if I’m motivated,” you will see that you need less attempts to successfully find an algorithm and start coding as fast as you can. So when I talk about success every day, the more success I can claim, the more confident I get. And that’s when I start to see that every activity has a purpose. And I have to judge each and every purpose to define my success rather than thinking that, all right, my ultimate goal is being a millionaire. Now, that’s not a success definition to me. Tara: I like the idea that every day is an opportunity, and an opportunity to learn. We have a tradition in my family here during the season before Christmas here, where we light candles, and we talk about three things that we’re grateful for. And we’ve added in “what did you learn today?” and I have found that to be very challenging. But yet, if you really think about it, you can think about something that you did learn. It might not be something monumental, but it might be like, I learned that pancakes with bananas burn more easily than pancakes without bananas, or something silly. But you can think about something that you learned every day. So I like that idea of success. And I think part of that is thinking about what opportunities you have every day to learn. So thank you for sharing that. Shakhawat: It’s great. Liam: I made pancakes breakfast today. Tara: I saw that Liam. Actually, it was my daughter who had the pancake experience yesterday. That wasn’t my own lesson. Liam: Well, do you have to learn directly, Tara? Or can you learn by observation? Tara: Indirectly. This is true. This is true. Yeah. Can you talk to us a little bit about CodeRex and what kind of plugins they make? Shakhawat: Okay. I’ll just, again, break down to CodeRex is basically for web development. Our sister concern is RexTheme, where we develop plugins. It’s the same company. It’s just we made it separate so that it’s easier for our clients to understand. So when you go to CodeRex, it’s about any types of websites you need developed, maintenance, or anything, that’s done in CodeRex. CodeRex is a company where people come to higher quality developers. We mostly provide white label services to other agencies as well. So that’s what CodeRex does. We also decided that since it’s where we are in the WordPress niche, so why not go for a plugin development? That’s when RexTheme came up. RexTheme is the sector where we have a set of developers and marketeers that are dedicated to individual plugins. Let’s say right now we have about five plugins. Three of them are for WooCommerce. Our most prominent one is WooCommerce Product Feed Manager. Then we have a VR plugin, WP VR, which is basically to create virtual tours. Then we have a plugin called Media Storage to Cloud. Nowadays people love to use Cloud a lot. It helps enhancing the website. The Media Storage to Cloud was basically aimed at people who wants to connect what is to their cloud storages. Apart from this, we have a couple of small plugins, such as Variation Swatches if you know what that is. Let’s say you have a variable product that you sell. Variation Swatches lets you present that with buttons. People can choose from buttons rather than a drop-down menu. So that’s a small plugin. But then we have another one which is very new, abandoned cart recovery. This is very useful for WooCommerce or any e-commerce actually, that when someone abandons a cart, you can reach them back. And we’re working on our funnel plugin, which is basically kind of be one of our largest projects so far. At RexTheme, our team is not really that large. We are a team of 15 altogether in the office. And we maintain all these plugins just 15 of us. The marketing team consists of four of us, including me. Then there Jahir and Rafi and Shammi. There’s four in the marketing. We have two lead developers that works in the back end. One is Sadi and other is Sakib. We have two front end developers. One is Tipu and another one is Belal. Then we have two dedicated designers. So you obviously know that UX designers are really important. So we have dedicated UX designers, which is Mahi and Shanthi. And recently, we hired someone for video editing as we are going into YouTube nowadays. So he’s Tareq. And on top of all of us, there is the project manager, obviously. That’s Farshid. That’s our team. Tara: Yeah, that’s a good team. I’ve imagined that virtual tour plugin is really popular right now with all of the COVID restrictions. I work with a lot of schools and they do virtual tours. I imagine a lot of organizations are doing that now. So I would guess you’ve seen an increase in that. Shakhawat: Oh, definitely. During the COVID actually we released a huge discount as well because we knew people want that. Keeping it expensive isn’t making any beneficial for us neither for them. So we gave a huge discount, and it really boomed. But now I think in WordPress, we have over 8,000 installations on the free version itself. And we have thousands more customers that are doing pro. That plugin really boomed during COVID. Yeah, it really did. Liam: Sultan, I want to change gears and ask you about advice. And it’s another of our signature questions. And it is around what advice have you read, been given, stumbled upon, had thrown in your face and successfully implemented in your life? What’s some advice that somebody gave to you or that you read that have made a real difference to you? Shakhawat: It’s an advice one of my colleagues gave during my call center years. Basically, it’s really simple. Accept your mistake. It’s as simple as that. I used to be an arrogant guy. Any marketeer who is a direct salesman, they’re very arrogant. They’re like, “I’m always right.” So the main advice that came up was that I was claiming that if I take this approach it will definitely work. And he was trying to say that, “No, this is the reason why you lost the customer. You should have gone in the other way.” And I wasn’t agreeing to that. I was like, “No, there must have been something wrong with the customer. I was right.” So that’s when he said, “Look, this will be helpful to you in future. Learn to accept your mistakes, and then you’ll see that you’ll find out how to find better opportunities.” And that has helped me along till now. I mean, when I came to WordPress, it’s not like I was perfect in learning. I mean, when you learn, you apply, you make mistakes, you learn more. So it was great that I got good support from the owner himself, Lincoln, because he studies a lot. He basically studies every day new things. So whenever I made mistakes, he came and pointed out that those to me. And if I was the same arrogant guy as I was in a call center, I wouldn’t have learned. I would be like, “Hey, he’s insulting me.” But he’s not insulting me. He’s just saying that this is wrong, maybe you should do this way. And that’s one advice that I think everybody should learn to use that, okay, if we make a mistake, it’s possible. Nobody’s perfect. So we have to accept that. It’s nothing insulting. It’s nothing to feel criticized about. You should accept it and then find a way that “okay, how do I not repeat my mistake? Or how to improve the thing I did?” Liam: I like that. I think a lot of the world could do a better job, myself included, about accepting our mistakes and learning from them. Or even just starting with accepting them rather than pointing fingers. That’s great advice. I like your work colleague from years gone by. Tara: Yeah. It’s a key customer service lesson in a way you can translate it to the same the customer’s always right. And it takes some humility to be able to do that, because we all, I think, have some innate desire to always be right. Liam: It’s helpful to be right, but…Sultan, we are running out of time here. And this has been an absolute pleasure. But before we say goodbye to you, can you share where folks can find you online? Shakhawat: Sorry. Liam: We’re running out of time here. We’ve been going back and forth. We’re coming up on our time. Before we say goodbye, I invite you to share where folks can find you online. Where can they learn more about you and engage with you? Shakhawat: If they want to learn about my work, they can actually visit my website, rextheme.com or they can find me on Twitter, @SultanRoyal1. They can also find me in our company page, either CodeRex’s Facebook page or RexTheme Facebook page. If I’m not there, they asked for me…I’ll always be there because I manage those pages. Liam: You’ll be there. All right. Tara: Well, thanks for joining us. It’s been great to meet you. I hope you have a nice sleep this evening. Shakhawat: I will. I was dying to sleep because the whole day I had to work really hard. No, I really enjoyed talking with you guys. And thanks for having me here. I hope in future we get another chance to talk. Tara: Me too. Liam: I do too, and I hope we get to meet in person before too long. Shakhawat: Okay. Tara: Take care. Liam: Bye-bye for now. Shakhawat: You too. Have a nice day. Tara: If you like what we’re doing here – meeting new people in our WordPress community – we invite you to tell others about it. We’re on iTunes and at hallwaychats.com. Liam: Better yet, ask your WordPress friends and colleagues to join us on the show. Encourage them to complete the “Be on the show” form on our site, to tell us about themselves. The post Episode 142 – C. Shakhawat Sultan appeared first on Hallway Chats.
32 minutes | 6 months ago
Episode 141 – Rachel Makool
Introducing Rachel Makool Rachel is a senior community manager at GoDaddy and has been there for five years, managing the online community and other community programs. She’s been a community professional for over 15 years. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and loves to hike, travel, and she’s a collector of many things. She also sells odds and ends online and has done so for 20 years. Show Notes Twitter | @rachelmakool LinkedIn | RachelMakool LinkedIn OpenWeStand Small Business Community Learn and share in the GoDaddy Community Preferred Pronouns | She/Her Episode Transcript Tara: This is Hallway Chats, where we meet people who use WordPress. Liam: We ask questions and our guests share their stories, ideas, and perspectives. Tara: And now the conversation begins. This is Episode 141. Liam: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Liam Dempsey. Tara: And I’m Tara Claeys. Today we’re joined by Rachel Makool. Rachel is a senior community manager at GoDaddy and has been there for five years, managing the online community and other community programs. She’s been a community professional for over 15 years. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and loves to hike, travel, and she’s a collector of many things. She also sells odds and ends online and has done so for 20 years. Welcome, Rachel. Really glad to see you here today. Rachel: Hey, you guys. Really, really happy to be here with you. Liam: Oh, it’s a delight to have you here. Thanks for joining us. Rachel, can you tell us a little bit more about yourself, please? Rachel: Yeah. I’ve had a really interesting career path to share with you. I was in one career and then I got into marketing, and then that transitioned into this community profession that I’m in. It’s really been quite a journey for me. I have to say that I’m personally passionate about what I do. I just really love interacting with customers and people and believe that community is such a driver of business and learning and engaging conversation, and a great way to get to know others. Tara: I have appreciated getting to know you in the GoDaddy community, and can sense that that is something that you’re passionate about and really good at. Tell me a little bit about this community idea or this community profession. Because it’s something that I feel is well-known in our WordPress community, because we are a community, but I’ve never really otherwise heard about it as a thing. You’ve done this at other places, I assume. How long has that been a thing? Talk a little bit more about what that’s about and how prevalent it is or isn’t. Rachel: Well, I’m going to date myself here, you guys. I was at eBay the early days of eBay. I joined the company in the year 2000. That was really the start of kind of online communities—people getting together. Obviously, eBay was a new way for people to sell stuff online. People were learning together, and just grew this really powerful and impactful community where people would get to know each other, they’d shared challenges that they were having. Somebody else would try something, and they would share what they tried. It was amazing. And it grew really fast, and it was super inspirational. That really led to us doing a lot of things of trying to get people connected together. One of the things that we found was a lot of our customers were solopreneurs. They were by themselves, they were working out of their homes, and they just they get lonely, and they’d want to get to know other people. Over the course of the time, and I was there for almost nine years, I saw a lot of people become really good friends. Maybe they sold the same types of things, maybe they sold different types of things, but they all had in common selling online and trying to grow businesses. I was personally inspired by these stories, the growth stories of people. They’d start in their homes, they’d have to get a new warehouse, and then they’d have two warehouses and three warehouses and just continuing to grow their businesses. But again, the underlying power of it was that relationship building and people sharing and the excitement around it as their businesses grew. Tara: Interesting. I’ve never thought about eBay as being a community or the first of communities in that way. So eBay people as a whole, they are a community amongst themselves. The people who sell on eBay, that’s you’re describing. Rachel: Yeah. And then also kind of with GoDaddy, very similar. All small businesses, people who are again looking to meet other people, potentially learn some stuff from other people. And then also there’s a lot of people who are experts who have really gone through a lot, learned a lot and they’re happy to share with others, help others, mentor others in their journey. I think as a mentor too, you always learn. It doesn’t stop just because all of a sudden you’ve seen the master something. This year I think in particular for 2020 is a good example of challenges that we all face and how you have to psychologically think about trying new things and pivoting, even if you’re an expert in something. Liam: I think that’s a really valid point is mentors always will keep learning. I’d be really interested just to go back in time. Has social media community building becomes easier? It’s never easy. But community-building online in 2000, what did that look like? Rachel: It was really ruckus, to be honest with you. It’s funny. Again, it was all new to me. I was a marketer. I came into eBay as a marketer. I actually was hired, which was kind of an interesting connection to my collectibles, I was hired as a collectibles category manager, which collecting is all about community. I mean, people like sharing stuff and selling stuff back and forth and getting to know again people that collect the same kinds of stuff like you. So I came in with that mentality. But it was really interesting. I mean, there wasn’t a lot of real establishment about behavior online. The forums were really super basic. People just got in there and just did it. Then there were really early community managers that helped to drive conversation and just kind of keep people being good. eBay had a mantra of people are basically good, which I always really loved. And I really, really believe that. Tara: It’s a great mantra. Rachel: There’s always in life a small fringe of people that are not necessarily good, but most people are and want to do the right thing. Part of a community manager in whatever aspect of community you’re dealing with is to help people to keep on the up and up and keep the conversation positive and helpful and engaging. Tara: I am curious about the collectors. Can you think of a collector’s group or item group of items that surprised you or that’s surprising? Something that people collect that you might never think of? Rachel: Oh, my God. Tara, you mentioned in my intro I’ve been a collector for a long time, and I’ve sold a lot of stuff online. I mean, there’s stuff that even now, I’ll go to an estate sale, and I’ll buy something, and my husband’s like, “You’re going to buy that? Who’s going to buy that?” And it’s amazing the stuff that I have sold online of things that you would never think somebody would buy, but they do. I sell a lot of ephemera, you know, paper goods, and just crazy stuff. People buy a lot of stuff from hotels, and travel and all sorts of things like that. But I pretty much sold just about everything online except for a car. Tara: And that does happen too. I have a friend that bought a car on eBay. I think of the movie, the 40-Year-Old Virgin when I think of it. Rachel: Oh, yeah. That’s really funny. Tara: There was a store, “Sell it on eBay “or something like that. Rachel: But getting back to one of the things that you mentioned Tara is that, again, people like to come together and they like to talk about things that they’re interested in or passionate about. So a lot of companies have communities now. Liam, you were kind of talking a bit about social channels. The original community stuff was really on these forums. And they started way back in the mid-90s. Maybe even before that. There was a trend in the early 2000s with companies of having online communities. And then this social media thing started to boom, and everybody’s like, “Screw the forum stuff. Let’s just do social stuff.” So that kind of built. Meanwhile, there were a lot of companies that still had their communities. It’s been a very interesting trend now, where a lot of companies have started their own communities again in the last couple of years. And that’s because there’s so many social channels, it’s really difficult for companies to manage all of the conversations. In some ways easier to just have their own community where they can kind of talk and have their customers come and share. It’s always interesting to watch trends of what happens. It’s the same thing like with what you guys do of being part of WordPress community I’m sure. It’s really dispersed and it’s difficult to know for somebody who is newer in it, where should they go? Should they be in this group? This group? It’s really hard to give people advice on where to start because there’s so much conversation going on. Tara: Yeah. And it’s a great opportunity for companies like GoDaddy. I think I recall back when I first started learning about the WordPress community and using WordPress, Mendel Kurland had I think just started as the evangelist, I think, was the official title that he had, which really was like a community engagement professional. And it was a very, very big benefit for me and my relationship with GoDaddy in those early days, because I felt like I knew somebody at GoDaddy who cared about my experience. So I think there are multiple levels of benefits that having community managers, people who are focusing on that certainly is something that’s I think it’s relatively new. I think, in WordPress, it’s become very common. Most WordPress products, hosting companies have these community outreach. Customer service in some way, I guess it is, but it’s expanded so much beyond that. Rachel: Yeah, yeah, it’s really way past that, I would say. For people like what I do, it’s more of, you know, again, engaging people in conversation, having customers help each other, learning opportunities, and again, relationship building. The other thing that’s really interesting about most companies, and I will say this definitely for our company, is you guys might meet me and you guys might hear from me, and think, “Oh, are the rest of the people at the company, do they really have that same energy and enthusiasm about me as a customer.” I’ve worked in, you know, lots of different companies and I have to say that my energy and enthusiasm around customers is very much reflected in the people that I work with. I would not work at our company if I didn’t feel that way. And the same with our leadership. I feel like they really, really care about our customers and want to do the right thing. But again, the piece of it that I most love is you guys connecting with each other. Tara’s part of a program that I’ve run in the company, and mostly developers, the work that you guys do. The thing that I’ve loved out of the group is the relationships that have formed and the work that is being shared. Whether it’s you guys working on projects together, or it’s you can’t…it’s not the right project for you, but boy, you know somebody else that’s a friend of yours that you can trust that you would be happy to refer that customer to. And just, again, kind of watching other conversations going on the sharing and things like that. I really love that. If there was anything that I walked away from my role, it’s helping to make those connections. Liam: That’s such an interesting role for bigger companies. Because if we think about local business and local businesses doing business locally, it’s all about “talk to Rachel, she can help with this. Talk to Tara, Oh, yeah, she deals with that. She’ll fix that for you.” It was interesting to see companies like GoDaddy and others start to roll out that kind of customer service, community builder, relationship builder all rolled into one where normally it’s a few hundred dollars a year, and you never hear from the company. Like, I’ll buy your product in that and now there becomes a real relationship and it becomes an opportunity to go to the big company and say, “I’m having this problem. Can you help me solve it?” Where if we just gave our money and left it at that, there wouldn’t have the relationship, the company wouldn’t have the interest because they wouldn’t know who we are. And we wouldn’t feel comfortable going to them. So it’s so certainly as a business owner in a tech sector, where there’s lots and lots and lots of technical services that might meet our needs increasingly, I’m steering towards companies that have the support and the relationship where problems crop up or creep up that I can get the support that I need to address them without having to pay an arm and a leg. Always happy to pay for quality service. But just to see that not everything comes back to the dollar and it’s about relationships. So it’s really exciting to see that evolve. And to see it grow in different industries, too, for sure. Rachel: Again, coming back to 2020, and the challenges that everybody is having, it’s more important and powerful, now more than ever, for people to connect in and learn and share, and to not feel alone. I think this year just with COVID and so many small businesses having challenges to figure out next steps and how to do things. Honestly, for me, watching what’s going on…I know a lot of people are still suffering, for sure. But there’s been so many really cool things that have come out of it. People have tried new things and talked to others and gotten some really good ideas. One other things and Tara did this with us, we have a monthly virtual meetup that’s presented by one of our customers to share their expertise on subjects. It’s become a really popular avenue for our customers to join in here. Certainly we have a lot of expertise in our company as well, but you guys are the ones that are doing this every single day. You’re running your businesses every single day. So other people want to hear from you. They want to hear what’s worked for you, what challenges have you had, how have you overcome your challenges. And just the reality of running a small business right now. And it’s really, really impactful for a lot of people. And I know, they’re very grateful when they’re able to hear from people who have expertise. Liam: Running a business in COVID-19 is definitely a challenge to keep it successful. I’m going to use that as a point to ask you one of our signature questions about success. Rachel, how would you define success? It’s maybe you have a personal definition, you have a professional definition, maybe personal. Or maybe it’s a mix of both for you. How do you define success? Rachel: That’s really interesting. I ask myself that a lot. I call it stops and starts in my career. When I look at my journey for my career and I think like overall I’ve been successful, would I have at the stops point what I have felt like I was successful? Maybe not. But when I look back on, and this is why I think it’s really important to always really look back at your journey and being able to take out the parts that you see, like, “wow. That one thing that seemed bad at the time then led me down this path to something really, really good.” Or “I met somebody who really helped to change my thought process, my attitude about something.” So I feel like success changes every single day. Sometimes it depends on your mood. Sometimes it depends on the people you meet and interact with. I think setting goals for yourself is pretty important. But also just know that things happen in life sometimes that put seeming like stop signs up in front of you. As long as you can see around them and understand that there are green lights that happen and then you get to go again. But so much of it is just really attitude towards things. Liam: I especially like the looking back at the journey, I think, especially in a time like COVID-19 and all the other chaos right now that we can lose the forest for the trees. Maybe we’re not hitting new sales numbers because of the chaos of the economy. But if we set a few moments quietly and reflect and say, oh, well, we learned this and we’ve made a new relationship with these folks, and we survive six months so far of a global health pandemic, and our business is still here, that’s a success. I think that’s really valuable and often overlooked in terms of trying to measure success because it can be tempting to just measure by the numbers. Numbers are part of it but they’re certainly not the whole picture. Rachel: I think that’s a super important point. It’s always really good to have numbers and measure things business-wise. But I also think that from a personal perspective, just being able to look at “Wow, what did I learn from this? And really trying to pull out the good from the bad. I believe once we get past COVID, when that’s going to be, but I think many people are going to reflect back going like, “Wow, there was actually some really good things that came out of this.” A great example for where I live, the bay area has been incredibly expensive for small businesses and has pushed out a lot of small businesses because of rents and all sorts of stuff. Yes, COVID is terrible, and it’s hurt us, but at the same time, I believe it’s going to help small business to thrive more so in the Bay Area now because rents have come down. People who, for instance, in the restaurant industry have been wanting to create restaurants for a long time but couldn’t get into a space because it was too expensive, or couldn’t afford staff or whatever, now we’re going to have an opportunity to come in and start businesses and stuff. I personally believe there’s going to be a lot of really cool stuff that’s going to come out of this over the next couple of years. And we’re going to see a lot of businesses thrive. Tara: That’s great to hear. I like that positive message. I had not heard that about rents going down. That’s really interesting. Rachel: Oh, yeah, that’s happening everywhere. Liam: I would expect it’s probably happening in a lot of places as the global economy realizes, “Hey, we can be productive at home.” Like you, Rachel, I’m really excited to see where all this goes. I mean, because of COVID, we’ve taken that shot from work from home trend and sped it up a million times. And suddenly everybody realizes, we all need to be in this location to thrive as a business. We’re not going to do business the same way. But it’s different. I just want to share just briefly one of the positives of as much as we all loath being on yet another Zoom call, and we’re on a lot of…My own family, I’ve had a great opportunity to do regular Zoom calls with my wider extended family. So I’m getting to see my nieces and my nephews who I would only see once or twice a year. Now I’m seeing them every week, especially the really young ones that change. And they’re loving the digital attention. I don’t know that I would swap it. If we could go back and not have it. I don’t know that I would take that but trying to look for the positives and times of challenge. Rachel: That is so cool. I hadn’t even really thought about that. But that’s really true. Like I had a call with my brother and sister on Sunday—a zoom call. My sister lives in Alaska, my brother lives in Wisconsin, and we maybe see each other in person if we’re lucky, once a year one, every two to three years. So now to actually be able to see each other in person and talk and stuff like that is pretty cool. We wouldn’t have done that before. We’ve never even thought about doing that before. Tara: My family is the same. I’ve seen my kids more now than I did before COVID, even though they live across the country. So that’s true. I wonder though also because we are a little Zoom exhausted, what it means for communities because the communities that we have now are online. Some of my favorite relationships that I have are with people who aren’t in my local communities. So as we talk about communities, we become less engaged with the people across the street than we are with the people across the country or across the state or whatever. It’s a reshaping of community. I hope that we still have the opportunity to have that local connection, the local community to talk to the neighbors and reach out and have that connection as well. But I think that’s going to be harder and harder to maintain as we’re stuck inside. I’m inside in my office. I don’t see what’s going on outside. Rachel: That’s interesting, Tara. I totally believe that it will be restored because people even if you say you don’t…I mean there’s friends of mine that jokingly say I don’t like people. And it’s like no, everybody needs people and it’s good to see people in person. Even like in a city where I live, in my street, our houses are butted up against each other. Sometimes I’ll go for months maybe not seen somebody but I always say like, we have a dog. So getting a dog out for a walk is a really great way to get to know people in your neighborhood. Tara: Unless you have a mean dog like me. You have to cross the street. Rachel: Yeah, that’s not good. Mine’s actually a pretty noisy dog. But that’s a great way to get to know people. We have a park right up behind her house. I’ve gotten to know more people in the neighborhood since we got our dog eight years ago than we did 10 years before that. That’s like a mini-community of people that have dogs that have gotten to know each other. But I like that a lot because I live in a place that has earthquakes. I just go like, “If we were to have a big earthquake, it’s good to know people that are in the area, right in the neighborhood.” I don’t think that’s going to go away. In fact, my prediction is once we get past COVID, and everybody feels more comfortable gathering, we’re going to see a trend back to people gathering in person in their neighborhoods and doing fun stuff together because we’re all going to be like star for it. Tara: I love your positivity and optimism. It’s hitting me at a perfect time. Rachel: Oh, good. I’m glad. Tara: Thanks. Then I’m going to take you on to another question while you’re on a roll with all this great happy stuff Do you have some advice that you’ve heard or taken and implemented into your life that you’d share with us that’s been helpful or meaningful for you? Rachel: Yeah. One of my things that I say, and has really happened to me many times is when one door closes, look for new doors to open. I have found people who have that attitude definitely have new doors that open for them. I’ve also had people who I’ve known who do not have that attitude and continually seem like they feel like they have no doors opening for them. I believe in positive energy. If you have positive energy, no matter how down, you may feel at a certain point in time, as long as you’re open to new opportunities coming your way, that things will come your way. You have to do some work. You can’t just sit back and hope that something’s going to come your way. You got to go for it. I’ve certainly had multiple times in my career where something has, again, seemed to be bad, something amazing has happened. That’s actually kind of how I got into doing community as a profession. Liam: I love that you said “look for new doors to open.” Your further explanation, it’s not that new doors absolutely will open in easy, relevant ways. But they will open if you look and you consider your options and maintain a positive and open mind about what a quote-unquote, “good door” looks like. I love that. I just love that. Life is what you make of it. We can be handed the short end of the stick a lot. But sometimes the short end can prove we’re useful pry bar for the metaphor is going. I’m not sure. Rachel: Yeah. It’s been really interesting. I’ve had some people in my life that I consider negative people. I tend to try not to surround myself with that energy. But they’re constantly saying, like, “This didn’t work. This didn’t work. This didn’t work.” And it’s like, “God, maybe you need to have an attitude adjustment.” Because who wants to deal with that—that kind of negative thing?” And also, you guys are small business people, but for people who are wanting to stay and working for companies and are looking for a job, you got to put yourself out there. I said that always. You got to get out there. You can’t just sit back and hope somebody’s going to call you about a job. That might happen but it’s more of an odds play. The more you get out there and talk to people, the better chance you are going to have to get your next job. It’s the same thing with small businesses. If there’s something you really want to do, go out there and figure out how to do it. Start small. Trying to do grandiose plans from the very beginning. That’s really hard. But if you start small and talk to other people like you guys, you can make it and do it. Tara: Absolutely. Yeah, for sure. That’s definitely true for small business too. You really have to go out and put yourself out there as well. It takes a lot of a lot of confidence to do. Well, Rachel, we are wrapping up on time here. It’s gone by so fast. I love chatting with you. I’m really grateful that you could join us today and share so much positive energy. Good time for that. Thanks for doing that. Where can people find you online? Rachel: I’m on Twitter. You can find me on Facebook. You can find me on LinkedIn. I will put out a shout. We have an Open We Stand LinkedIn group, which I’d love everybody to join. It’s a growing group. We have a weekly meetup that we do that’s driven by a guy named Adam Griggs. He just interviews small business people and their stories. So, I’d love for you guys to be a part of that. Liam: Rachel, it’s been a real pleasure to spend time with you and to get to know you a little bit. Thank you so much for joining us. And as Tara shared, I’ve really enjoyed your positivity and the energy that you’ve brought to this conversation. Thank you very much for that. Rachel: Yeah, you’re welcome. It’s funny over my career, people always say to me, like, “Oh my God, you’re so positive” and I always joke and say, like, “I come home and beat my husband. You have no idea.” But all of us have challenges. I truly do believe that if you surround yourself with positive people, no matter how hard things are, you’re going to be okay. Let’s just get past 2020 and then just move on. Tara: Be hopeful. Rachel: Yeah, for sure. Tara: All right. Thanks, Rachel. Thanks again. Bye-bye. Rachel: Thanks, you guys. Have a good rest of the day. Take care. Liam: Bye. Tara: Bye. Tara: If you like what we’re doing here – meeting new people in our WordPress community – we invite you to tell others about it. We’re on iTunes and at hallwaychats.com. Liam: Better yet, ask your WordPress friends and colleagues to join us on the show. Encourage them to complete the “Be on the show” form on our site, to tell us about themselves. The post Episode 141 – Rachel Makool appeared first on Hallway Chats.
35 minutes | 6 months ago
Episode 140 – Hans Skillrud
33 minutes | 7 months ago
Episode 139 – Chris Ford
Introducing Chris Ford Chris spent the first 20 years of her career working as an agency and freelance designer. Five years ago, she took a hard left into project management. Today she’s a hybrid project manager and designer at Reaktiv, a WordPress VIP partner. Show Notes Twitter | @ci_chrisford Work | reaktivstudios.com Mentioned in the show | brenebrown.com and designisonefilm.com Preferred Pronouns | She/Her Episode Transcript Tara: This is Hallway Chats, where we meet people who use WordPress. Liam: We ask questions and our guests share their stories, ideas, and perspectives. Tara: And now the conversation begins. This is Episode 139. Liam: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Liam Dempsey. Tara: And I’m Tara Claeys. And I’m Tara Claeys. Today we are joined by Chris Ford. Chris spent the first 20 years of her career working as an agency and freelance designer. 5 years ago, she took a hard left into project management. Today she’s a hybrid project manager and designer at Reaktiv, a WordPress VIP partner. Hello – welcome! Liam: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Liam Dempsey. Tara: And I’m Tara Claeys. Today we’re joined by Chris Ford. Chris spent the first 20 years of her career working as an agency and freelance designer. Five years ago, she took a hard left into project management. Today, she’s a hybrid project manager and designer at Reaktiv, a WordPress VIP partner. Hi, Chris. I’m so glad you’re here. Welcome. Chris: Thanks for having me. I’m really glad to be here, too. I have missed interactions with the WordPress community. Liam: I think that’s fair to say that we all have. Chris, what a pleasure to meet you. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself? Chris: My name is Chris Ford. I started working on the web in 1996 when I graduated from design school. I was supposed to be a T-shirt designer at a skateboard company and then their web guy quit and suddenly I was the new web person on staff. Fortunately, there were like five tags, so there wasn’t a whole lot to learn at the moment. We’re very excited when animated GIFs and background images came out for a little bit of context. I did that at agencies in every industry from like skateboarding to scrapbooking, at agencies, and as a freelancer. Then five years ago, like I said, I took a really hard left into project management because I was interested in more of the business end of things. Like how do you run a profitable project, how do you managed timelines, how do you manage budgets, which is something I’ve always struggled with as a freelancer. Now I have just recently, within the last couple of months, started dipping my toe back into the design pond, relearning everything because it’s been five years, which means nothing is the same and everything has changed. I started in WordPress. I don’t even know how long ago but it was before StudioPress was StudioPress. I had been working as a professional scrapbooker, which yes, is an actual job. The craft industry is like the tech industry. There are bubbles in different crafts, and then those bubbles burst. So when the scrapbooking bubble burst, I knew a bunch of people with photography skills who needed websites. So I got me a copy of the Kubrick theme and added flash headers with navigation to them and started my WordPress journey. Tara: Wow. I have so many things I want to ask you about. Liam: I do too. I totally do. Can you start on scrapbooking, please? Tara: I know. Okay. Liam: Please. Please. Tara: Yes. I did a little scrapbooking, but not professionally. Now with digital photos, whoever…I mean, do people still do it? I mean, I assume people still do but it seems like a something that it’s not a thing anymore because nobody prints out their photos. Chris: Actually, I got into it because I started as a print designer and I loved paper. And I was working it this miserable job where every day I would go in and recreate rainbird sprinkler timers into flash. Like my whole job was to show you how the dial spins and the numbers flash and then you push this button. It was miserable and horrible. There was a scrapbooking store down the street so I would go and buy papers and things. Usually, I just hoard crafting supplies because they’re pretty but I actually used fees. And digital scrapbooking was just taking off. And that’s kind of how I got noticed because I do a lot of retouching and Photoshop was my thing. So I got to know enough people who knew that about me that when digital scrapbooking started getting more popular, I got more people calling me saying, “Hey, we need someone to write an article.” I was the art director for Digital Scrapbooking Magazine. Tara: Wait a second. Because I think scrapbooking and I think paper. So what is digital scrapbooking? Chris: It was basically you would go in and it was when skeuomorphic design was really big. So I could make things look realistic. So you would go in and make something that looks like a ribbon and put it on a page or design your own patterned backgrounds that look like paper. I would do a lot where I would design my own stuff and then print it out on a printer and make kind of hybrid pages with it. Tara: So the end product is still paper? Chris: It was super fun. Tara: Yeah. Oh, that’s really fun. No wonder you did it professionally. That sounds amazing. Chris: I’d print them out and… Yeah, it was super fun. I had a Michaels in my closet. People would just send me stuff because you would get published in magazines. It was a really, really fun three years until the money ran out, where I basically just got paid to paint things. I don’t know if anyone knows who Claudine Hellmuth is, but she’s this really amazing collage artist who does acrylic image transfers and packing tape transfers. It was you basically got paid to make crafts, which was the coolest thing in the world. But I had bills to pay so I couldn’t…It was a really competitive thing. And a lot of the people who were involved in it, it was their second job. Their husband was working, they weren’t really in it for the money. And I’m like, “Dude, this is my full-time job. I need to get paid, and I need to get paid on time. So that became a little problematic. So that’s why I transitioned out of it. But yeah, it was one of the funnest things I ever got to do. It was really cool. I was also the first openly gay, well-known scrapbooker. It was during this really weird time right before they legalized marriage in California, and had just legalized it in Canada. It was maybe a year before that, that I got really into scrapbooking. And the very first layout I ever submitted to a publication was accepted, and I got a call back a week later that the publisher decided they couldn’t publish it, because it would cause a lot of controversy. My very last layout ever published was of my wife and I getting married at the top of Whistler Mountain in the wedding issue with every other wedding that was in there. So it seemed like a good time to kind of be like, “Okay, first chapter last chapter. Peace out.” Tara: That’s an amazing story. Liam: Yeah. I feel like we could spend all the time on that alone. How cool that you start effectively being rejected for who you are? Your skills and your talent was, “Yeah, you’re great. We want you.” But when they know who you are, they say no. And then three years, I know that’s a long time to wade through what you had to wade through. But at some measure, that’s a pretty quick turnaround for an industry. I don’t want to make light of what you journey through. I certainly don’t know what you journey through. But that’s pretty impressive. You’re quite the trailblazer I’m learning in our little show here, Chris. Thank you for sharing that story. That’s amazing. Tara: Yeah. Chris: Honestly, it’s one of my career highs. That to me was a definition of a huge career success was just being really visible someplace where it was really not a comfortable place to be and someplace where you could literally lose employment for being out. There was one website that was like the gossip website because there’s never been as much drama in a workplace as there was in scrapbooking. Someone made a website about how I wasn’t really a lesbian, how I was secretly a trans man. And I was like, “Well, a. what difference does it make? And b. yeah, because it would be so much easier to break in as that than the other.” Like that was really my shortcut to scrapbooking success. And it was really just such a ridiculous…It was definitely the job that made me realize I’m never going to hide who I am to make other people feel comfortable. I’m never going to not speak my mind even if it puts my job in jeopardy. That was the point where I was like, “I am who I am and I’m not going to pretend I’m going to be someone I’m not to reach whatever financial success or title success.” To me, it just wasn’t worth it. So that was kind of one of those moments where you really figure out what matters to you and what doesn’t. Tara: Yeah, and to stick with it and to stay in that community, in that industry when you’re being treated really horribly. I probably may have a stereotype of what you think about scrapbooking, and I would imagine it’s mostly women. So to see that treatment coming at you from other women, I’m sure especially that might have been just salt in the wound too. Chris: I fell in with a group of misfits at the very beginning. We called ourselves the unscrappables because we were sort of the punk rock. Like we didn’t do what everyone else did. So that was kind of cool too. They’re the misfits all found each other. Like we had our little Island of Misfit scrapbookers. So people who had your back even though the larger community might not, same kind of thing. It’s like we talk about the WordPress community and every weird niche thing I’ve been a part of has that like little community with their hierarchies and they’re weird. But yeah, we were the fringe people. Tara: You were scrappy. Chris: Exactly. Tara: Sorry. Chris: That’s like a tough dad joke in the show notes. Liam: I just want to go back one more time and kind of touch on what you shared around “I’m always going to be who I am. I’m always going to speak my mind. I’m not going to hide.” That’s brave and it’s healthy. And this is not the show or the place, and certainly, you and I don’t know you well enough for me to ask us and expect a detailed the answer. But I guess I’m mostly sharing that comes at a cost. That comes at a real cost. Career, I know, it’s not everything. So most of the guests on our show is career is not everything. But a well-paying career makes a lot of other life choices much, much easier. I just want to commend you on that and say that that’s really cool, and really impressive and very hard to do frankly when the rubber hits the road. It’s one thing to say, “I’m going to stand up and fight,” and then you go look at the rent or the mortgage, or whatever the bill is and say, “Do I have to fight it this month?” So thank you. Thank you. Chris: That character is what you do when no one’s looking? Right. I mean, I remember being super, super broke. Like no work coming in. I was talking to this company, and someone made a super homophobic remark at the beginning of the meeting and I was just like, “I just have to let you know that I’m gay and I won’t be able to work with you.” And it was really hard to do because it’s like I got bills that are stacking up but you make that one compromise and then you make another compromise and… Tara: Where does that courage come from? Where do you think that…? I think that’s courageous to do that. It takes a lot of confidence or strength or something, courage, whatever. I don’t think I have it. That’s why I’m asking where does it come from? That’s really admirable. Chris: Probably me having a temper. Tara: Okay. Chris: I do. I have a really hot temper. And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten better at controlling it. But a lot of that is just kind of my flight or fight response being like, “Oh, heck no. No.” And it comes out of my mouth before I can actually think about it. So maybe it’s more reckless than courage. One of these days it’s going to wind me up on YouTube as a meme. Tara: Wow. Liam: I do want to ask you about your pivot to project management because that was really interesting to me. That, as I understood it, you noticed a skill set shortcoming in or understanding in how do you make it all work and get paid and get paid what you think you’re going to get paid and equate to the hours? And then you said, “Okay, that’s what I’m going to do.” Talk us through that. Because I would expect that you had to develop some level of skill and then have somebody hire you to do that job. What did that look like for you? Chris: So I was freelancing and I got a call from Chris Lema and the first words out of his mouth were: “I have a question for you. Please don’t hang up on me.” Which is always a good way to get someone to not hang up on you, because that’s an intriguing call. He said that we’ve done some coaching and we kind of talked a lot about like branding and things like that.” He basically asked me to come on as a project manager at Crowd Favorite. I was kind of in a space where with my freelance design, I just felt like I had sort of reached the limits of what I could do, I was a little bit burned out, there was like a certain ceiling on projects. I was being forced to design things that I knew how to build and not design things that I knew would do what I wanted them to do. So I was really open to the idea. Also since I’ve been in design school, like my dream job has been to be a creative director somewhere. And not like the kind of creative director who likes to show off what a great designer they are, of which there are a multitude, but the kind of creative director who works with younger designers and kind of mentors them and helps their career. One of the things I’ve noticed pretty consistently working on design projects, even at agencies was that design projects tend to not be super profitable. It’s just something I’ve noticed my entire life. Timelines go, budgets go. And I know me as a freelancer, I wouldn’t be able to let things go to make money because there was a certain level of pride I took in my work. So what I needed to learn to do was pick up the skills that would eventually let me be able to help run design projects that made money and got done on time and didn’t drive the designer crazy, and were still super high quality. You know, how do you coordinate a team? The cool sideline I found was that being a project manager is a lot about designing a user experience, both internal processes for your team, and the user experience for the client. Everything from onboarding to offboarding. So it just wound up being a really good fit. I’ve talked about like design and project management merging in terms of WordCamp talks. So if you’re interested in more of those, I will blab on endlessly on WordPress TV.< Tara: Yeah, we’d love to put those links in. I saw one of your talks on that subject as a matter of fact. It’s interesting for a designer to pivot to spreadsheet expertise. I mean, as a project manager to use that other side of your brain. So I can understand the appeal of that. Chris: I think that eventually, there are a lot of good designers out there. There are fewer good design managers. I think it requires a different skillset to be a badass design leader and manager than it does being a badass designer. One is much more about people who aren’t you. Like you’re trying to balance client needs and the needs of the people on your team. To me, those are the problems that are really interesting to solve. I still love design challenges. But one thing I’ve discovered is every problem I’ve had as a project manager has been some kind of communication problem. So figuring out. Like we talked about design, right? It’s got visual language, and it’s all about communication. There’s just a lot of really good lessons. That was actually a talk I pitched to WordCamp US because I knew it was coming. It was how being a project manager has made me a better designer. Because it’s had such a huge impact on both sides, like a willingness to…what did I call it the other day. I told my wife, I was really proud of myself because there was this SVG animation thing I wanted to do and the developer and I were having a really hard time getting it to work the way I wanted. So I know what it was. I told her, “I sacrificed the integrity of my design so that it didn’t affect the timeline and budget today.” And I was super proud. I wanted one of those I Adulted! stickers. So I sacrifice the integrity of my design. Tara: Yeah, you learn a lot when you’re the communication between the client and the designer. You learn a lot. You see things differently too when you’re so close to the design. Sometimes you don’t see that all the rest of the picture. So that’s really interesting. Chris, I’m going to ask you a question we asked everyone. We’ve talked, gosh, I could just keep going down either of these two things that we’ve talked about. It’s so interesting. It speaks a lot to your background and your personality and character and skills. And how does all that tie together? I want to ask you about success, and how you define success, what that means to you, and how you apply that to your life, your plans, goals. Tara: I definitely think not so much about financial success as financial stability. It’s easy to say money isn’t everything when you have some. I’ve been poor. So just like being comfortable without having to constantly live paycheck to paycheck and worry about making sure you’re going to make the rent. To me, knowing I can retire, I really don’t need a lot, but having that taken care of is definitely a part of it. Let’s be real. But to me, the main thing is there’s this designer Massimo Vignelli, and he and his wife ran a design studio together for years called Vignelli Associates. He did the original American Airlines logo. He did the New York transit subway map. He passed away when he was 83 years old. And was like really joyfully doing what he loved to do right up until he passed away. To me, when I think about success, I’m like, “Whatever it is I am doing at that time in my life, I want to do it with the same joy that he did his stuff.” There’s this great documentary called Design is One. I don’t think it’s on Netflix anymore. But he’s just such a like…you watch him and everything about him is just so happy and content, and you know that he’s doing exactly what he was put on this earth to do. I mean, my purpose changes every five years, I think. So you just kind of stay flexible. And whatever you’re doing at that time, I want to be doing it as joyfully as possible. Liam: Again, I keep feeling like as I’m saying I don’t know you that well, but on what you’ve shared with us, that strikes me as probably something that you’ve held inside you for a while, believed for a while, you talked about scrapping and designing websites and doing t-shirts designs. There’s a string of creativity and a string of design through it all. But that is not a straight line and it’s doing a lot of different types of things in a very wide creative sector. It sounds like that definition of success is probably one that you’ve developed over a period of time and have lived for a number of years as well. This is not a recent revelation or inner finding for yourself. Chris: When I watched the documentary years ago, that’s kind of where I had that realization, where it was just, I want to be that guy. At the end of my life, I want to look back and say I learned things up until the end, I was willing to be flexible up until the end, I was just willing to take everything that life had to offer. I want to slide into home base at the end dirty and beat up and having experienced all kinds of things. I’m a huge Brene Brown fan. One of her things is about if you’re going to be vulnerable, if you’re going to live a wholehearted life, you are going to get kicked into the dirt. You just have to keep standing up. So that’s how my whole life has gone, where it’s like, “Okay, this has gone horribly wrong. How do we get out of this?” Liam: You’re smiling as you tell that story. I love it. Chris: Well, if you don’t, you’re crying. Liam: Yeah, yeah. Best not to do that on podcast, too. Right? We’ve all been there. We’ve all been there. Let me ask you one of our other questions if I can. It’s around advice. We’re coming up. We got a few minutes left here. You’ve shared such valuable information and stories and things about yourself that I’m really interested in your answer to this next question. The question is, what’s the best advice that you’ve been given, or you’ve received, or you heard in a song, or you read in a book, and successfully implemented in your life? Chris: I think the best work advice I ever got was reading or someone telling me at one time nobody likes to feel stupid. Because I was not the nicest person in the world at 25. I thought snarky was a personality trait. That was a big lesson for me to learn is like you don’t like feeling stupid. Nobody likes to feel stupid. Give people the benefit of the doubt. That’s just one that whenever I think about advice comes to the forefront because it helped me change how I interact with people so much. And don’t get me wrong. The snarky 25-year-old Chris will still occasionally slither out. But for the most part, I try to remember that no one likes to feel dumb It’s a horrible place to be, and really it ends any progress on solving a problem as soon as you get arrogant and start treating someone as less than you are. For just general life advice, one of the things I started doing four years ago is opening up my bubble and following more people who aren’t like me on Twitter. Like seeking out black people, or trans people, or queer people, or different perspectives so that you can start understanding other people. We talk a lot about diversity and inclusion. For me, that’s just about understanding where other people are coming from. Trying to understand it as much as I can without having very lived experience. That’s made a huge impact in my life. Plus, I have been exposed to all kinds of awesome new music, and awesome new books that I never would have known about if I hadn’t opened up from the same people I always follow. Tara: Both of those things come from a place of kindness. I think there’s a woeful lack of it these days. It’s really helpful to hear. I think the idea of people don’t like to feel stupid comes from just being kind. But it gives it a spin that is really interesting to me, because I think we can come across as maybe not intending to make people feel stupid, but just coming across that way. So being aware of that is something I’m going to take out of this conversation because I think I’m guilty of that a lot. Something that you’re not intending to do, but you certainly can make people feel that way if you step back and look back at it. So that’s really helpful. Thanks for sharing that. Liam: I think that’s especially true in work environments or in design. As a senior designer, as an art director, the question is always, is it wrong? Or is it just different? Because that designer is bringing his or her, their experience. There’s definitely wrong design. But there’s a lot of right design. And that’s one thing I always struggle with is, is what I’m looking at and not liking wrong, or is it just stylistically something that I wouldn’t go with? That’s learning how to say that in a way that doesn’t attack the integrity and intelligence and creativity of the creator. It takes a little bit to figure out how to do that. Chris: I was really lucky I went to community college for a certificate in design. The woman who ran the program, Candice Lopez is just amazing. She built the design program up. One of the graduates was the 2012 Obama design director. It was just this scrappy design department. The best thing I ever learned from her if she could look at any design from any student, and find one nice thing to say about it, whether it was their use of type, for their use of color, or their choice of photography, or even just how neatly everything was presented. Like there was always one nice thing. Because there were times when you’d be looking at something up on the chalkboard and just be like, I don’t know how she’s going to do it this time.” And she always did. I really like that’s one of the top five things I remember from design school is just during a crit, if you can lead off with the nice thing before you have to get into the things that don’t work as well, it makes a huge difference. Tara: That’s great. What a great role model to head into your career to have somebody treat you that way. That’s great. You gave her a shout out. And use the word scrappy. So we’re back where we started. We’re out of time. Liam: That’s all we’ve got time for on Hallway scrapbooking. Thanks. Chris, before we say goodbye to you, please share where folks can find you online? Chris: I actually have let my old website lapse. So you get a 404 error because it’s not even hosted anywhere because I’ve had a steady job for almost four years. I am on Twitter, @ci_chrisford. Although it is primarily political, ranting and music commentary, and occasional design and WordPress stuff in there. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can check me out there and you’ll either love me or hate me within 30 seconds. Tara: Well, I think I follow you and I love you. I’m glad you’re here. Thanks again for joining us, Chris. Liam: Thanks. Chris: Thank you so much for having me. This was super fun. Tara: Bye. Liam: Bye, Chris. It was our pleasure. Tara: If you like what we’re doing here – meeting new people in our WordPress community – we invite you to tell others about it. We’re on iTunes and at hallwaychats.com. Liam: Better yet, ask your WordPress friends and colleagues to join us on the show. Encourage them to complete the “Be on the show” form on our site, to tell us about themselves. The post Episode 139 – Chris Ford appeared first on Hallway Chats.
34 minutes | 8 months ago
Episode 138 – Winstina Hughes
Introducing Winstina Hughes Winstina is an Assistant Regional Planner for the Maryland Department of Transportation. She created her first WordPress blog for a Geographic Information Systems assignment, and followed it soon after with one on community development and suburban planning. She has presented at WordCamp NYC, WordCamp US, and WordCamp Austin. A WordPress Meetup co-organizer, Winstina led WordCamp NYC 2018. Photo credit: Photo of Winstina by Tim Parker at the Open film premier in 2019 at WCUS. Show Notes Twitter | @planningwrite Website | WinstinaHughes.com Website | PlanningWrite.com HeroPress | We Are the Same Preferred Pronouns | She/Her Episode Transcript Tara: This is Hallway Chats, where we meet people who use WordPress. Liam: We ask questions and our guests share their stories, ideas, and perspectives. Tara: And now the conversation begins. This is Episode 138. Liam: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Liam Dempsey. Tara: And I’m Tara Claeys. Today we’re joined by when Winstina Hughes. Winstina is an assistant regional planner for the Maryland Department of Transportation. She created her first WordPress blog for a geographic information systems assignment and followed it soon after with one on community development and suburban planning. She has presented at WordCamp New York City, WordCamp US, and WordCamp Austin. A WordPress meetup co-organizer, Winstina led WordCamp New York in 2018. Welcome, Winstina. We’re so glad you’re here. Winstina: Thanks for having me, Tara. Thanks for having me, Liam. I’m excited to join you. Liam: We’re so excited to spend some time with you, Winstina. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself? Winstina: Okay, I can tell you a bit more about myself. I grew up in northern Jersey in south Orange Maplewood. My family immigrated from Sierra Leone, West Africa, and somehow fate brought me back to Maryland where we settled initially. So I am living and working in Baltimore. Liam: That’s fantastic. There’s a lot there that we could delve into. But let me just talk a little bit about growing up there since you started with it. How old were you moved from Sierra Leone? Do you remember your country of birth, or were you young enough to not have any memory? Winstina: I have memories of playing in our backyard. Like the lush greenness of it, the red dirt. Just kind of outside where we lived. I remember just how right it was. I remember listening to my dad calling to see how I was. Just the memory of knowing that my parents were with me, and just really happy to hear his voice. When we moved here, this is really where I grew up. Those memories are of like a child. When we moved here, that’s when things really start forming. That’s when I started thinking about school. As a kid, I think, when youngest, four or five, things are just kind of like impressions. But then we hit an age where we start understanding what’s around us and we start having a sense of the places where we’re going and the people that we’re spending time with. When we immigrated here, that was the time where things really started forming for me as a child and being aware of the spaces I was in. I grew up here and every part of who I am is really the experience of being raised here in the states and being raised in South Orange Maplewood. Tara: Have you been back to Sierra Leone? Winstina: I haven’t been back. I’m one of those children that hasn’t traveled back since I first came. Tara: Do you have family there still though? Winstina: I do. I do have aunts and uncles and I have cousins that are from back home. I have on some cousins that have traveled here and they’ve gone back. But I’ve lived here since we came and it’s been a continuous experience. Tara: Thank you for sharing your story of coming to this country and growing up here. Tell us a little bit about your experience. I think you talked, before we started recording, about going to school, to grad school. Can you tell us a little bit about your education background and how WordPress fits into that picture? Winstina: Yes. You mentioned that I’m an assistant regional planner and I went to college for city planning. I went to grad school as well for city and regional planning. It’s really a way of looking at the world, a way of looking and identifying spaces and areas that you can contribute to and you can improve. That’s what I really love about what I studied. I really enjoy the work that I do currently. I work for MDOT, and works specifically with state highway. We see the tangible results of the projects that we work on. Like when we go to meetings, the individuals that we speak with, there’s a realness to it as opposed to if I were in an office. We spend a fair amount of time in the office, but it’s not like a policy document I’m writing. It’s like I can go and see where I work is and I can listen to understand what the needs are of those who live in the communities that we go to. That’s really what’s always been exciting for me as a planner. I did some community organizing work as well. Not only that, I worked for the nonprofit in DC as an intern, and I had a chance to look at Housing Trust Fund. I had the chance to look at how they went about organizing around housing issues and even organizing around immigration issues. It’s so exciting to work in a field that touches on all those different areas. It’s that fluidness of the field, working in infrastructure or working with community issues, or working on economic development that led me to writing about what I learned in school. And then writing about it is what really got me more involved within the WordPress community. First, that JS blog that I wrote in college. Then when I graduated, I started writing a blog on community development for Maplewood. Just in the process of it, all the positive experiences moved me from just blogging on wordpress.com to building my own sites. There’s so much that evolved from that as well, from writing to becoming a meetup organizer and a WordCamp speaker. Just all those opportunities came from just blogging and sharing my thoughts about an area that I’m so passionate about, that I am so fortunate to work in. Liam: What a lovely story. I mean, you shared so much and I have thousands of questions, but we don’t have days to talk. Thank you for that. I love when you shared that it started with a blog post or a blog and it just went from there and writing about things that you’re very passionate about. And I can tell from your tone of voice, that community involvement, community development, these things really do matter to you. I would love to know a little bit more about what assistant regional manager for…I’m sorry, planner. I’m sorry I misspoke. Planner does. Because I’m thinking you’re talking about highways. But there’s a lot of roads that a State Department Transportation Agency has input over and control over. And it’s thinking about people’s lives and not just how much is this going to cost to build this new highway or to upgrade the highway. Can you spend just a little bit of time and talk to us about what you actually do, and the kind of day to day, week to week type of thing? Winstina: On a day to day, what I do is…there are a lot of different components to it. And you’re absolutely right. At the core of it, we’re impacting lives where we’re seeking to improve the quality of life of the people that we serve. A lot of it becomes a question of, how can we improve the experiences that they have as the residents of our state travel home, they traveled to work, they pick up their children or they’re going to different activities, or they’re going to the doctor? We’re really thinking about how we can get residents safely to where they have to go. I’m part of that process. It’s a very large…how to describe it? Our organization, our business unit, it’s a very large organization. We don’t really call it that. We call it business units. MDOT has several of them, and I’m just a small part of that. I’m a part that gets to go to a county, and really listen to what their concerns are, and what their priorities are. I’m a part of the whole that gets to attend Metropolitan Planning Organization meetings to listen to what their interests are, and to share what the status and impact of our projects are within the boundaries that they’re focused on, that they’re responsible for. There are 23 counties in our state, and Baltimore City is independent. Our division is really divided amongst these counties. We work together. But the needs are so diverse and the state is so large that we’re assigned to specific places. I’ve had the pleasure of going to Western Maryland and seeing beautiful hills. Absolutely beautiful. I’ve had the pleasure of going to the eastern shore and just seeing the water. I have the pleasure of going to the whole Washington Metro area south, and then going from very urban space into more of a rural space between our counties. Prince George’s County to Charles County. Maryland is a gorgeous state. I don’t just say that, for the sake of saying is. Having seen different parts of it. It’s like you really don’t get a sense of the whole geography until you have an opportunity to work for the business unit that I do, and then you have an opportunity to travel. And everywhere you go, it becomes very clear that the infrastructure that supports those areas supports them and in different ways. The roads that you have and the hills are different from the ones that you have in a more urban area just by virtue of the number of people that commute on it, as well as the geography itself from urban neighborhoods to more rural ones. Our work allows us to go to these specific towns or to offices and specific cities and to really have tangible conversations about what we’re committed to and the work that we’re doing together to meet the expectations and the priorities of the counties that we serve. It’s a very broad area if you think about regional planning. The business unit that I work for understands that. And just because of that, we’re assigned and we’re subject matter specialists for the different regions that were assigned to. That’s a lot of the work that I do as a regional planner. It’s not like agency-specific in terms of…it’s not like a document that comes my way. It’s the focus of the work that I do, and it’s how it ties into the major projects that my business unit works on, from capital projects, from roads to bridges. That’s the role that I fit into it. Tara: It’s really interesting. It’s something I never think about really. Hardly ever when I drive on roads. I drive through Maryland a good amount actually. I live in Northern Virginia. I don’t really think that much about the process that goes into planning the roads. I did have experience in my neighborhood several years ago where they were changing some of the corner configurations. And that was very contentious because the planners were trying to do some things to improve, to slow down traffic at certain intersections. And they were doing things. I don’t know if this is the kind of thing you do. But they faced a lot of pushback from neighbors and had support from others. And I’m wondering if, when you go into these situations, it sounds like you have a lot of interaction with the communities, if they welcome you, what that relationship is like. Because I think a lot of times local government, people have…there’s a pothole or they’re focusing on problems. So tell us a little bit about how you manage that interaction, what your relationship is like. Winstina: That’s a great way of looking at where planners work. And I’ll say that because as a student and now as a professional, I’ve had the opportunity to intern at the local level. Now I’m working at the state level. What you described is a planner who’s working within a locality, and they’re working with the roads and the infrastructure there. There’s some work that our offices are building and maintaining, but the type of experience that you just described is something that a local planner would be more engaged with. This would be someone who works in the town or works in the city, and they’re tasked with managing the relationships with the residents directly. And they are looking at making roads. Not just handling the potholes. But you have planners that are thinking about ADA compliant, sidewalks, you have planners that are thinking about Vision Zero initiatives. You have a lot of cities and towns that are now committed to zero deaths. And that means going about and understanding spaces differently. So what a local planner would do is go and look at how people are using the sidewalks, how they’re crossing the roads, looking at how drivers are turning, making a left turn or a right turn, or just really trying to understand the movement and how people are living their lives in those spaces. Then they step back and they think, “Well, what if we move the sidewalk here? What if we change the light? The amount of time in between the different signals?” Or “What if we put on a cross, one of those signs over here? What if we add an image of a bicycle as a way of letting pedestrians know that, yes, they’re crossing, but then, as a way of letting pedestrians also know they’re cyclists that are also going down the stretch of road? It’s a way for drivers to look up and see, “Oh, yeah, I’m having this space with people who are biking and cyclists and people who are walking, pedestrians.” Liam: I’m going to ask you about success. We ask all of our guests about their definition of success. And it might be a personal definition, it might be a professional definition, Winstina. For you it might be a mixture of both. How do you define success? Winstina: I see success as an ongoing experience. There was a time when I equated success to achievements. You know, equating it to graduating from college, equating it to getting my graduate degree, equating it to my first job, equating success to a relationship. “Oh, wow, I’m celebrating my friendship with my best friend. Like we’ve known each other for 20 years.” I used to equate successes to these milestones. But now I see it more as an ongoing experience. It’s not the amount of time that I’ve had her as a part of my life, it’s the experiences that we’ve had over these 20 years. It’s not the degree that’s that success. It’s the experience of having earned it and having achieved that goal. It’s not the job that I have. It’s the ability to see tangible results that we accomplish every day. That’s what I’ve come to see success as. Also I’m starting to see success as opportunity to experience and share the things that I now either possess or have achieved with somebody else. That’s how I see, and that’s how I just define success. Tara: Lovely. That’s great. I love the thought of experiences of success. I’m not sure we’ve heard that explained that way before, but I think it’s excellent. Thank you for sharing that. Winstina: Thank you. Tara: I’m going to ask some WordPress stuff now, because we don’t talk…this is not a WordPress podcast, but we talk to people who use WordPress, and that’s how we know you. So can you tell us a little bit? You’ve spoken at some WordCamps. So obviously, as we said in the intro, you’ve used WordPress. So tell us a little bit about how you found WordPress. You talked about your blog, how you found the community specifically, and got involved in speaking and being an organizer. Winstina: Well, I started using WordPress…after the course, I started attending meetups. I actually started using and creating and building sites when I started attending WordPress New York City’s meetups. Steve Brunner, he was the organizer that I had a chance to meet when I was attending those events. I ended up going to the ones after class and it was just great. It was an opportunity to kind of jump in and to learn and to experience what it’s like to build something and break it. You put a site online and you’re learning, you’ve never done it before, and it’s kind of like, “Well, what happens if I add this? What happens if I do that?” When you’re in a space that encourages you to just try it, then you do. And I did. That’s really what keeps bringing me back to meetups, to attending them, and to participating in our different events. Even attending WordCamps. I love to imagine ways of using the CMS and I love training others on features, and I love empowering people who are beginners and they just don’t know where to start, or they feel really overwhelmed. I love getting them to a place where they want to jump in like I did. That really speaks to having been welcomed into such a great community, and then being supported to continue contributing within New York City and being able to branch out of New York City into other cities as a WordCamp speaker. That’s really the flow of how my experience has been within the community. Tara: What did you speak about? Are they the same general talks, or what? Winstina: I always approach the world through the lens of a planner, and I approach using WordPress from the perspective of a planner that wants to engage communities. There’s a part of our work which is community engagement. In fact, it’s often mandated by the government. And community engagement reflects in different ways, whether you’re at the state level, or the local level, or at the county level. Whenever you have projects, oftentimes, the community has the opportunity, and in fact, they have to have a commenting process. You don’t have a choice in it. And this is how we’re better able to serve the needs of those who we meet by giving them spaces to comment. There was a time when you would have meetings and people would physically come. I love being in this time now, where social media is a way that you can get people to comment on a development that’s coming. I love, the idea of building a blog, which is where we’ve moved into. We’re even expanding beyond that into crowdsourcing. So I started looking at using WordPress blogs as a place for local people to come and comment on the plannings happening locally. Whether or not it’s a street, or it’s a house, or it’s an apartment building, or there’s a store relocating, having a place online where they can go and share their thoughts, constructive criticism or observations, it’s really great to create it and to see it. I started with the blog for Maplewood. And having these really amazing responses, like families, like moms and dads commenting, like our mayor commented. It was phenomenal to see folks just talking about what they’re observing and asking questions. Then it was great because it was pushing me to think differently and to seek out the right answers. Like doing research or talking to local experts to better answer the questions. The ability to do that is great. It’s great to be able to create spaces like that. I moved from building a blog to joining a competition. It was sustainable New Jersey and putting together an eCommerce site from the perspective of a planning department. There was a local government that was looking at ways of increasing economic development for residents. So I put together a WooCommerce site where residents could sell their products. It’s like using WordPress in these creative ways that give the everyday person like you and me a chance to share our thoughts or even support each other. That’s just really how it’s flowed from me. Liam: You do so much there. You’re such an amazing conversationalist and you say things at so many different levels. I’m not sure where to go. Winstina: You’re lying. Liam: I’m serious. I’m sincere. One of the things that I picked up on really was how your involvement with WordPress or using WordPress as a platform to garner feedback and have conversations from folks in the communities that you’re trying to serve through planning have forced you to think outside what is your definition of a box, and to consider what other people think of the box, so to speak. So really made you kind of think in new ways and do more work to get a better understanding of what quote-unquote, “the right answer” is. Winstina: Absolutely. And I work with engineers too. Planners are very conceptual, and we’re very creative. Every day I’m on calls with engineers, and they approach the world so differently. Our goals are the same. Our commitment is the same. What we are doing is the same. But they see things differently. That’s what we’re tasked with is seeing things outside of the boxes that we’re used to. Liam: Winstina, we only have a couple of minutes left, but you’re onto something that I want to ask for your insight on. Thinking outside our own mental box is hard. There’s a lot of work. There’s a lot of effort. Not just psychologically, but emotionally. We’ve got to commit to it. No, that person isn’t stupid. No, that person isn’t mean. They’re thinking about it in ways that they have experiences that I don’t have. I think at this point in time in our history, I think we can all probably agree that there’s a lot of value in trying to think as others think and appreciate their experience. Certainly in the United States, there’s a lot of people who struggled to do that. I wonder if you can share with us what either skills or tips you’ve gotten to kind of address that, to make that a little easier. Winstina: That’s a really great question. There is one point that someone brought up with me after a professional enrichment program. It was the last day and we were kind of reflecting on how great it was and how much we enjoyed it. They were also sharing their experiences with me, and he said something that was really great. He was like, “You know what you know, but you don’t know what you don’t know.” And that floored me. That is the first I would say tip that I’ve gotten from me to look outside of my box and to try to better understand other frameworks and to help me try to understand what’s around me. Now I’ll just ask questions like, “Is there a question I should have asked you that I didn’t?” That’s now how I approach conversations, you know, fully understanding that there are things I don’t even know to ask, there are things that I don’t even know exist. It’s the only way that I can manage that handicap is by asking the person who is across from me, the person who I’m on the phone with after we’ve talked, you know, is there a question I should have asked you that I didn’t is? Is there something that you want to share with me that I didn’t think to bring up? That’s really helped me a lot since the conversation. That was about a year ago that we had it. And it’s just shifted things for me a lot. Tara: That’s excellent advice. We always ask people to share advice with us, and I don’t think Liam was even heading necessarily directly there, but we got there. That’s fabulous. Thank you so much for sharing that. Winstina: I hope I answered the question. Tara: Sure. I have to say, is there anything that we haven’t asked you that you’d like to talk about? Winstina: Anything that you haven’t asked me but I’d like to talk about. I think that we’ve covered a lot. I know I talked a lot about planning and I love it. But I really enjoy being a part of this community. I’m going to miss not being able to go to WordCamp Philly and see. I’m going to miss not being able to go to WordCamp Baltimore and New York City. I’m just excited that we have moved into the Zoom space, having webinars and moving into these conversations. It’s just exciting for me. So I’m just looking forward to seeing how much more we can stay in touch with each other. I do want to share that New York City has Women of WordPress group. And we’ve gotten such great feedback from it, from women and other parts of the world. We’re looking at seeing if we can actually have events as a part of…just whole women from around the world just hosting events in their cities, but being one. That’s something that I would really love to share. I hope that the possibility is really expand with that. I hope there’s more that I can share in the future to see how it evolves. Tara: That’s wonderful. We’ve spoken to some women in other countries who are women in WordPress meetups, and it’s fabulous to see how that’s grown and become a thing. So that’s great that you have that going on in New York City. Thanks for sharing. Winstina: Thank you. Thank you. Our men are very supportive. Tara: You’re starting in Baltimore? Winstina: Well, New York is home. New York, New Jersey is home. And the great thing about it now that we’re home by ourselves with Zoom is that we’re no longer tied to geographic space. That’s one of the most beautiful things right now, I think. Tara: Yeah, for sure. For sure. Liam: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Winstina, this has been an absolute pleasure. Winstina: Thank you. Liam: You’re very welcome. Thank you. Where can folks find you online? Winstina: You can find me at a New York City meetup, whoever there. I have a website, winstinahughes.com that touches on the things that I’ve done. My handle is @planningright. I do some training as well with WordPress. So you can find me with my handle @planning right or on my website, winstinahughes.com. There are ways to connect there as well. Tara: Great. Thank you so much again. It’s really been delightful to share this time with you. Winstina: Thanks for having me. I’m excited. It’s great to talk to you, Tara. I enjoyed this. Thank you, Liam. Liam: You’re very welcome. Thank you for joining us. Bye for now. Winstina: Thanks. Bye. Tara: If you like what we’re doing here – meeting new people in our WordPress community – we invite you to tell others about it. We’re on iTunes and at hallwaychats.com. Liam: Better yet, ask your WordPress friends and colleagues to join us on the show. Encourage them to complete the “Be on the show” form on our site, to tell us about themselves. The post Episode 138 – Winstina Hughes appeared first on Hallway Chats.
33 minutes | 8 months ago
Episode 137 – Emily Hunkler
Introducing Emily Hunkler Emily is the director of growth at GoWP. She lives just outside Atlanta, Georgia with her two daughters and her husband. When not working, Emily loves running both on the road and trails. On weekends, she also loves hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Show Notes Twitter | @emalihu Website | Border Tramp Travel Guide (outdated information) Website | GoWP Niche Agency Owners Facebook Group Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience Preferred Pronouns | She/Her Episode Transcript Tara: This is Hallway Chats, where we meet people who use WordPress. Liam: We ask questions and our guests share their stories, ideas, and perspectives. Tara: And now the conversation begins. This is Episode 137. Liam: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Liam Dempsey. Tara: And I’m Tara Claeys. Today we’re joined by Emily Hunkler. Emily is the director of growth at GoWP. She lives just outside Atlanta, Georgia with her two daughters and her husband. When not working, Emily loves running both on the road and trails. On weekends, she also loves hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Welcome, Emily. Glad to see you today. Emily: Hi, happy to be here. Liam: Really happy to have you join us. Thanks, Emily. How are you? And tell us a little bit more about yourself, please. Emily: Thank you for having me. This is great. I am, like you said, live just outside Atlanta. I have two daughters. One will be turning four in November and the other one is 16 months. So that is a lot of what defines me these days I’d say. Apart from that, I am the director of growth at GoWP. I handle all the marketing stuff and community growth and customer success and that sort of thing. I live here in Atlanta with my family, who’s my two girls and my husband, Mark, who is from a small town outside Barcelona, Spain, where we previously were living for the last six years up until 2018. I’m originally from Ohio. I mean, that sums me up at the moment, I’d say. Tara: I was reminded of a guest we interviewed recently who is from the UK and he’s living in Spain as well. So I want to ask you a little bit about that experience. What sent you there and what it was like being an expat? Seems like maybe a more popular thing that I knew of with having two guests on our show who both were expats in Spain or at one time were. Emily: Yeah, it’s super popular in Spain specifically, I think too because of the weather, I guess, and cost of living and those sorts of things. For me, I had previously been working at a newspaper up in the Adirondacks as a newspaper reporter. I worked there for a year and kind of just needed a change. I don’t know if it’s the extreme winters that there are up there or what, but I was looking for something new. I originally went to Spain as an English language assistant. In the public school system there, it’s a program that they’re government runs. You can apply and they’ll place you somewhere. I had requested Barcelona and they gave me Igualada, which is a town just outside Barcelona. So not quite what you asked for, but it all ended up great in the end. I was there for one year doing that. Came back to the States and spent the next two years traveling through Central America and doing a travel blog on traveling Central American on $20 a day. Then decided that…I don’t know if I decided or kind of just got tired of living on $20 a day. Well, I should say that I had met Mark, my now husband the first year I was in Spain. Two years later, I decided to follow my heart and pursue that relationship further. But at the same time, kind of listening to my brain and enrolling in a digital marketing master’s program there as well. So I had my bases covered in case things didn’t work out one way or the other. But luckily they both did. So I ended up staying there for six years and having one daughter and getting married. That worked out great. And I love Spain. I would go back in a second, although for me, it’s kind of the work thing. I’m able to get a more ideal work or job I should say here in the States that’s really in line with what I want to do as opposed to the kind of jobs I was finding over there. Which were great but not exactly in line with…they weren’t keeping me engaged as much as I would want I guess I could say, Tara: You work remotely though, correct? Emily: I do work remotely. So I guess in theory, I could just go back. Tara: Maybe your husband can get a job there. I don’t know. Emily: Yeah. Tara: That’s really interesting. $20 a day. I lived in Europe for a year. I lived in France. And I remember also challenging myself out of necessity to live on even less than that. And also, how much of that was made up of alcohol. Emily: That’s it. The travel blog I had, it was for $20 a day in Central America. So it’s much more feasible than doing that in Europe. But the $20 a day always included like one of those big beers that you can buy. That was always included in the $20 bill a day. Tara: What an adventure. That’s really neat. Are you raising your children to speak Spanish and English, both? Emily: Yeah. Actually, Spanish and Catalan. Tara: Oh, yeah. Okay. Emily: My husband is a proud Catalan and his family and friends, everyone, obviously they all know Spanish and can speak it. But at home, at work and everything like that they all speak Catalan. So it’s important to him and to me that they learn that as well. So he speaks to them in Catalan. I speak to them in English. As they’re so young right now, we have a nanny, and she’s Venezuelan. We prioritize that to have her speak to them in Spanish. So yes, it is something that we’re really prioritizing in their lives. Liam: That’s a great gift to give your children the ability to have so many languages. And then inevitably, I imagine they will find picking up French and German and Italian or what other languages interests them as they grow much easier because their brain is used to. That’s a new word. I can learn that word. That’s a new structure. I can learn that. That’s fantastic. Emily: Yeah. I think so. I think it’s really important. It’s so hard to learn a language when you’re older, so it’s good to learn it earlier. Liam: When I moved back to the US, my family spent a number of years in the UK, my wife and I. And we had our two children there. When we moved back, my oldest was only going into kindergarten. So we went off to new parent’s night and that was very different for us because we never had experienced US educational systems as adults and as parents. At the end of the kind of welcome to kindergarten, we went up to the teacher and said, “Hey, we just moved back. We’re from the US but our daughter has never lived here. She has an English accent and she will say words to you that you will understand the words but that phrase means nothing to you. And you will say words to her and she will understand those words, but the phrase doesn’t mean anything to her. Just you know, give her a second.” And the teacher looks at us and says, “Well, have you tried or tested for ESL, English as a second language? Emily: Really? Liam: Okay, I’m going to start this over. You just move back from England… Emily: Oh, my gosh. Liam: All right. Whatever. Moving on. The show is not about me. I love telling that story. Your daughters are learning different languages. Tara: Your blog is the $20 day. Is that what started you into this sort of digital world? Is that how you then pursued your digital marketing certificate or degree? Emily: It is, yeah. I didn’t say this, but my undergrad was in journalism and I worked at a newspaper, like I said. Working at the newspaper, I mean, I loved it. and I have the utmost respect for every journalist out there, but the pay is really low and the work is really hard. That just discouraged me, I guess. I wasn’t in it for the long haul. And I wanted to kind of explore other things. So yeah, I did the travel blog, and that was my first foray into WordPress and to building a website and trying to get it out there, trying to promote it, get people to contribute and engage, all that kind of stuff. Emily: So through that I realized—I don’t know if it was a passion at that point—but an interest at the very least in digital marketing and those kinds of strategies, and wanting to be able to do more there. So through that, I was like, “Okay, you know, let’s…” I always saw myself getting a master’s degree in something, and that just felt right. So that’s what I went for. Liam: Yeah, I like that. Were you able to earn $20 a day on your blog? You started writing and just to share and just to kind of learn, but were you able to garner any kind of sponsorship or…? Emily: No. To be honest, I didn’t try too hard. I mean, I didn’t try hard. I didn’t do anything. The most I did in terms of marketing for that was putting stickers up in hostels, and doing partnerships, I guess you could say with hostels, and saying, “If you look through and say mention Border Tramp—Border Tramp is the name of the blog—if you mentioned Border Tramp, you’ll get 10% off your diving certificate or you’ll get 10% off this hostel or something like that. But in terms of myself earning anything, I never got to that point with it. I did garner definitely a following. The blog still gets traffic and ranks for some things because nobody else has the bus schedule in Nicaragua for getting to the coast. So people still hit it up for that. It’s outdated. So if you’re listening to this do not trust that bus schedule. But yeah, I never figured out the monetization of that blog. It’s a passion project, I guess you could say. Liam: Yeah, no, that’s perfectly fine. I just wasn’t sure where you took it now suggesting that you needed to take it in a single direction. Emily: It’s still running though. I could do something with that. Liam: What was the tech side of things in that? So if you’re on $20 a day, you’re moving a lot, you’re relying on other people’s internet. I don’t know exactly when you were doing this if the portable hotspots were a thing or at least reliable. So how did you manage that from a tech standpoint? You had a laptop and a cord but then what? Emily: It was a lot of mostly when I knew I’d be going to a location that would have more reliable internet. So not an island. Somewhere that was more of a city setting. Although I didn’t go to any major cities. I didn’t stay long in any major cities. But bigger towns where you could have a hotel room instead of a hostel that had a desk where you could work. And I would say, “Okay, I’m going to spend three days in this town and just update the blog.” Then I had a notebook where I would take all my notes, whenever I would get to a town, go grab all the hostels, get prices, get information on that, take my pictures out of my little SD cards. I was still using a digital camera then, plugging in you and all that kind of stuff. When was this? It would have been 2012 and 2013, I guess through those two years. Liam: So you were taking very much a journalistic approach rather than just waiting for you to go? You were… Emily: Yeah. I mean, it was a lot of work into it. Liam: Yeah, that’s awesome. I love that. I love. Emily: Yeah, it was a lot of fun. Again, the main goal was me traveling. No two ways about that. But I wanted to also feel purposeful, I guess, in doing that. So that was the idea behind the blog. Tara: And you were alone? You traveled alone? Emily: I did some alone. I did a few trips with my dad actually who he loves it down there. He’s an old hippie from the 60s and 70s. So he spent a lot of time down there during those times. He kind of instilled that travel theory in me of taking local buses, doing it on the cheap, staying at hostels, getting to know people, not staying at the resorts, and that kind of thing. We never did that growing up. So yeah, I did a few trips with him. I did one trip with my sister. So what I would do is go down for a couple two or three months at a time, come back home, work, save up money, go back down and do it again. You know, start where I left off the last time. I did a trip with an old neighbor of mine. So a childhood friend, we did a trip together because she was in between jobs. And she’s like, “Hey, are you doing this again?” I said, “Yeah, do you want to come again?” “She’s like, “Yeah, I’m coming.” She actually was in the process of getting her MBA and targeted to something she could get course credit for. So that worked out great for her as well. Tara: Wow. That’s great. What a great adventure on…it’s not your youth. Young years you had. That’s great. You have that always in your life to build upon and instill in your kids too. Have you been traveling with them? I guess not right now during COVID. Emily: Not right now. But yeah, it’s definitely something we try to do. So now our family situation, being that my husband’s family’s in Spain and my family’s here, our vacations, vacations like days off, paid time off or whatever you want to call it, right now we’re really limited to we go to Barcelona or when we were living in Barcelona, we go to Ohio. Those kinds of things. So we’re trying to as we kind of get settled and manage this better to do one trip that’s there. My work is flexible, but he’s an engineer. So through Coronavirus, his job is realizing, “Oh, you don’t have to be in the office.” So we’re hoping that maybe that will make his job a little bit more flexible, where we could maybe go to Barcelona, visit family but still be working during that time, some of it, and not have to use all his time off. And then we can do a trip as a family somewhere else as well. So it’s definitely something we want to instill. Liam: That’s definitely a challenge is when you live far away from family. Having done in the UK, you know, the vacation became travel to see family. And that’s wonderful. But at some point, we just want to go somewhere and just do us. Emily: Yeah. Liam: So I get that. That’s a tough thing. Emily: It’s a big challenge. Liam: To your point, COVID-19 might be really beneficial with your husband’s company in realizing, maybe you don’t need to be in the office five days a week and still do really valuable work. Maybe you can live six months in Barcelona and six months in Atlanta or something like that. A lot of opportunities there. So I’m excited to see where that all comes together. Emily: Me too. Especially being in a relationship where one of us is fully remote—right now both of us are—but one of us is fully remote and one of us is very tied to the nine to five office situation. So it’s like, “Oh, there’s so much potential, but we can’t realize any of it.” So yeah. Liam: Emily, I want to get into one of our signature questions with you if I can. And it’s around success. You’ve talked about your career a little bit, you shared with us about your family and your daughters and some of the things you’re doing there and your husband. I want to ask you about your definition of success. Maybe it’s a personal definition, maybe it’s professional, maybe it’s both for you. Can you define success for us in your own words? Emily: Yeah. I actually learned about this…I think we all know it, but I learned the actual framework around it when I was doing my masters. And it’s kind of the flow theory. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the author Mihaly. That’s not how you spell it at all. He’s Hungarian. It’s like Mihaly and then 17 consonants all in a row. But he wrote the book. I think it’s just called Flow. It talks about the channel of productivity that is sandwiched in between anxiety and boredom. So for me, success is kind of an ongoing definition where I’m constantly feeling challenged, but at the same time, I’m feeling capable of overcoming that challenge. And that applies to my personal life, it applies to work, anything. So where I’m kind of constantly feeling engaged, right? Like, I’m not just pressing buttons and pulling the levers and all of that. But actually, there’s a challenge, I know that I can figure out the solution, I can feel it inside me, but I have to figure it out. Obviously, you don’t have that all the time with every task in life, but making sure there’s some people going on, something that I’m working on somewhere in my life that has that kind of philosophy in it. Liam: That’s an interesting approach. So it’s a stasis of sort or stasis of uncertainty. Let me ask you a question that immediately popped into my head. Maybe that’s two questions. How do you deal with when there’s not enough certainty? You talked about there’s kind of two ends. One is uncertainty and one is predictability, maybe you got the word from, but it’s kind of that somewhere in between. So how do you deal with when you’re drifting one way or the other? What does that look like? What does that feel like and what do you do to say, “I got to get closer to that balance?” Emily: You can pull from everywhere in life, right? So when I’m feeling like anxious or uncertain or stressed at work and nothing’s coming and it just keeps getting harder and more frustrating, and I keep feeling more defeated or something, then maybe I’ll go for a run. I’ll put it aside and I go for a run. A lot of times for me that helps a lot. Or maybe I’ll go bake bread or something like that. Like go somewhere where there’s something I can control, I know that I’m good at it or I know it’ll make me feel good at the end. Maybe it won’t bring the solution but it’ll bring my mental state back to stasis, and then I can take it on again, I guess. Tara: I think we met running. So talk a little bit about how that works for you. Because I find that to get out and run, to do that when I have a lot going on is really hard. Because it’s hard for me to stop and to go do that. Once I’m out there doing it, it helps me. So do you run harder? Do you challenge yourself more? How do you work that into this process? Emily: I don’t think I ever necessarily run harder in that sort of situation. Whenever I run harder, it’s more so like a running challenge, like, “Oh, I want to get faster. So I’m going to focus on running.” But more so for me, running is kind of to refocus other parts. So I do run regularly. I try to go at least three times a week. Sometimes while I’m on that run, I don’t know if it’s a meditation or what, but thoughts come into your head, you start thinking. If the thoughts are going good, I’ll just keep running. And I’ll run longer. For me, it’s more of a distance thing. So if I feel like the run is being productive, I’ll run 10k instead of the usual 5k because I’m getting somewhere mentally with it, I guess. Tara: Yeah, I’m glad to hear that. I know in your intro we talked about the fact that you enjoy running, so I wanted to have you talk about that a little bit too. Can you talk to us about what you do at GoWP and maybe how that also fits into this whole idea of being challenged and uncertainty and all of that? Emily: Yeah. I’ve been with GoWP for almost two years now. I’m on the growth team. So that’s me and Brad, our founder, and Caylin White as well. It’s everything. It’s marketing, it’s customer success, and it’s sales. I don’t do a whole lot on the sales ends, but I’ve been involved there. We have a big community of our target audience, kind of if you want to call it that. But we have a Facebook group and we have them as partners in our client portal. And it’s always coming up with ways and new ideas of how to engage them and how to help them. I mean, I know you probably always say this, but it really is the heart our marketing strategy is to help our agency owners and let them be our evangelists, I guess you could call it. So coming up with new strategies of like, “What is it that could help them? What are some tools and resources that I feel capable of creating or figuring out how to create anyway or figure out who to ask to help me, that kind of thing, that could actually make a difference and help them out?” By that, then they say, you know, “Oh, we love GoWP. They help us with so many things. They have these great templates.” That kind of stuff. On my runs, I guess bringing it back to that, a lot of times I’m thinking about that and thinking about, “Oh, what are some other things that we know that this would help them but I have no idea how to create that or where do you take that.” And then on my run, I might think, “Oh, you know, who knows about that?” Some thought that would never come into my head. And be like, “Oh, I’m going to reach out to them.” And it’s just when you’re outside of the computer screen desk situation, you have different thoughts. Different avenues open up and new solutions kind of present themselves. Liam: Is running for you something you can do right from your home? I mean, I know you said you live in suburban Atlanta. So I know you can just run outside your house? Or are you the kind of person that wants to go and drive to the trail? What I’m getting at with this is when you need that mental shift, you need that break time, is that just running clothes on, shoes on, out the door, “mom will be back in whenever she’s back”? Or is it, you know, pack the bag, grab the water, get the keys, make sure I’ve got my cell phone? What does that escape approach look like for you or that rebalance approach look like? Emily: For me, it’s really just throwing on my running clothes and shoes and getting out the door. I live in, like I said before, the heart of the suburbs. And it’s a big suburban neighborhood. I mean, if I wanted to run like every single sidewalk in this neighborhood, it would probably be marathon. If I ever did that, but I don’t. But there’s plenty of it. We have a little trail system thing here. So sometimes I’ll run on the road and then come back on the trails, that kind of thing. I do love being able to jump in the car and go somewhere beautiful and really disconnect. That’s something that I don’t get to do as often. But I treasure those moments because they are something I did before having children and my husband and I would do it together and it’d be great. That’s something we don’t get to do too often now. Tara: Do you have a running group or running friends that you go with? Emily: Not here. Not here in Georgia. I still feel like we’re pretty new. But when I was living in Barcelona, I would run with friends there. I didn’t have an actual group, but I had some different friends here and there and I would say, “Hey, I’m going to go for a run. Do you want to join?” And we could go together. But here it’s kind of just when I see the opportunity, I grab it and go. No time to wait around. Liam: Emily, what’s your involvement with the WordPress community? I know you said that your travel blog was the impetus to kind of get into WordPress and blogging and the software side of things. I know that you’re active now through your job in the WordPress community, but how did the technology or what was the journey from those initial blogging days to involvement with the community? What does that look like for you? Emily: I would say I didn’t really get involved until starting with GoWP. I don’t think I realized there was such a community when I had my blog. I knew a little bit about it. I knew Matt Mullenweg. I listened to some of his interviews and stuff. I really admired the WordPress project, and I had an idea of what was going on. But I didn’t really know about WordCamp. I didn’t know about the thousands and thousands of people that are in this community and that are so wonderful. My first WordCamp that I went to was WordCamp US and it was in Nashville. So WordCamp US 2018, I guess it would have been. I was just three months into the job with GoWP. So that was like just jump in the deep end of the pool. And I very much had that imposter syndrome feeling. When I got there, everybody was best friends. I had no idea what was going on. I didn’t realize that if you’re there, you’re best friends with everybody. That’s just how it is, right? Like you just say hi, and everyone’s friendly and everybody’s welcoming. So I felt very much as an outsider to the community and didn’t want to impose myself. So I wasn’t able to make the most of that first WordCamp experience. I knew it when I was there and I knew it when I got home, but I’ve been to many more now and I feel absolutely at home. I love that everybody’s just there and willing to help each other. It’s great. I mean, it’s really one of the best things I’ve gotten from working with GoWP. Liam: WordCamp US or WordCamp Europe I’ve never been but I imagine these enormous WordCamps can be a bit much as a starting point. I could see you being overwhelmed by that and like, “How do all of you know each other?” Emily: Exactly. That’s what it felt like. It felt like everybody knew each other, everybody went to high school together and I was the outsider. Tara: Emily, I’m going to change gears and ask you another one of our signature questions, which is about advice. So if you can share with us, do you have any advice that you’ve received and implemented in your life that’s meant something to you that we can pass on to our listeners? Emily: Yes. This one is would have to say that I got this when I was working at eDreams, which is an online travel agent in Europe. They’re the biggest one in Europe. So it’s kind of like the Priceline or Orbitz I guess of Europe. I was working there as a – what was I? I can’t remember my title. Content creator, copywriter. I was doing the content on the site and the app for them. They had their own in house built CMS so everything was very specific to that company. So nothing I’d ever worked with before. You had to do everything via spreadsheets, all of the content on spreadsheets that was just very foreign to anything I’d done before. I remember one time I updated the content to the CMS and basically like a whole page crashed. And this is a page like literally millions of people look at. Nobody knew that it happened except for me and my coworker, Roy, who had been working there for quite some time. It was right after I’d finished onboarding this happened. And it’s just because I put a comma somewhere that it didn’t belong or something. And I was like, “Oh, my God, Roy, I crashed the site. This is crazy.” He was just like, “Did you fix it?” Like, “Hey, it’s fixed. It’s fine now.” He’s like, “What’s big deal?” I was like, “Well, it was down for maybe an hour or something.” And he was like, “What’s the big deal?” He was like, “Did you fix it.” I was like, “Yeah.” Just that concept of like, you’re working in this company, it’s a seven-story building, thousands of people working there, millions of people using the site, I did something that had a huge impact, but what’s the big deal? It’s fixed. Like, “Did anybody die? “No.” What happened? Nothing. It wasn’t like something that cost them money actually. It wasn’t like the order sheet was down or anything like that. And it was just that whole idea of like, “What’s the big deal? What’s the worst that can happen? Can you fix it, fix it and move on?” Like the stress, the worry, all of that is completely unnecessary and just hurting yourself and not helping anything. So I have taken that and just applied it to whenever I’m feeling stressed. And it’s like, “No, not a big deal.” Then relax. Everything’s going to be okay. Liam: That’s great advice. I think, especially when you’re working on a website. It’s easy to think that everybody’s paying attention to every little thing. To blow it out of proportion is easy to do. Emily: Yeah. Liam: There was no clock, like the clock ticks on our head when the website is down. Emily: Yeah, it’s a hard one. Tara: Yeah. Yeah. Thanks for sharing that. Thanks for sharing everything. It’s really been great job with you. We’re winding down on the end of our interview time today. It’s been great seeing you again. I hope to be able to run with you in person sometime again sometime soon. Emily: I know. Me too. Tara: Yeah, it’s a strange time. It’s a strange time. Thanks for sharing your exciting adventures. I hope you have many more. Where can people find you online, Emily? Emily: The best place to find me is I guess on Twitter. I’m @emalihu. That’s Emily Alicia Hunkler. So like the first letters from each of those. Then other than that, on Facebook, I’m in the Niche Agency Owners Facebook group every day doing stuff there. That’s the community we’ve built with GoWP. So those are the best two places to find me. Tara: Great. Thanks. Liam: Emily, thanks so much for joining us. What a pleasure to get to know you a little bit! Thanks for your time. Emily: Thank you, guys. This has been so much fun. Thank you so much. Tara: Bye. Liam: Bye-bye. Tara: If you like what we’re doing here – meeting new people in our WordPress community – we invite you to tell others about it. We’re on iTunes and at hallwaychats.com. Liam: Better yet, ask your WordPress friends and colleagues to join us on the show. Encourage them to complete the “Be on the show” form on our site, to tell us about themselves. The post Episode 137 – Emily Hunkler appeared first on Hallway Chats.
33 minutes | 8 months ago
Episode 136 – Annejeanette Washington Collins
Introducing Annejeanette Washington Collins Annejeanette is a teacher at both the elementary and collegiate level. She teaches children at a school in western Florida, and college students in Fort Lauderdale. Annejeanette is a WordPress advocate, blogger, and WordCamp presenter. Show Notes Twitter | @ProfessaDiva954 Instagram | @ProfessaDiva954 Website | Magnificent Mom Moments Preferred Pronouns | She/Her Episode Transcript Tara: This is Hallway Chats, where we meet people who use WordPress. Liam: We ask questions and our guests share their stories, ideas, and perspectives. Tara: And now the conversation begins. This is Episode 136. Tara: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Tara Claeys. Liam: And I’m Liam Dempsey. Today we’re joined by Annejeanette Washington Collins. Annejeanette is a teacher at both the elementary and collegiate level. She teaches children at a school in western Florida, and college students in Fort Lauderdale. Annejeanette is a WordPress advocate, blogger, and WordCamp presenter. Welcome, Annejeanette. Thanks for being here today. Annejeanette: Hello, everybody. Tara, Liam, thank you so much for the invite. Tara: Thanks for joining us today. We’re really happy that you’re here as well. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself, a little more introduction? Annejeanette: Yeah. This is my 28th year of teaching in Broward County, which is sandwiched between Miami and West Palm Beach. This is my 18th year as a college professor. I love what I do. I definitely am an advocate for WordPress. I’m really blessed to be in this career for the long haul. And I’m happily married to a Major, and I have a miracle daughter named Jada. And love family, love the beach, love serving in the community. Tara: That’s wonderful. What do you teach? Annejeanette: So presently, I am a fifth grade teacher in western Florida. I teach ELA, language arts, social studies, and technology. At the collegiate level, I teach computer science. Tara: Tell us a little bit about your background in computer science. Did you learn that in order to teach it or how did that become part of your teaching repertoire? Annejeanette: About 20 years ago, at that time, I was a middle school teacher, my principal had noticed that I had a knack for breaking down computers, literally breaking them apart and putting them back together. So she encouraged me to pursue my master’s degree in educational technology and curriculum. When I turned 30, one of the goals that I had for myself was to go back and get my master’s degree. So that’s how I began this journey. And it’s been a fun ride for the past 20 years working with students, working with college students, working with nonprofit and profit organizations, and really learning and mastering the craft of educational technology. Liam: That’s such an evolving field, right? I mean, 28 years ago—I’m trying to think when that was—I mean, there were computers in the classroom, but not a ton. And there was internet in the classroom, but not a lot of classrooms and not trickled in and not reliable stuff in. Now we’re seeing in the last three to five months that that technology, because of COVID, is forcibly changing again. You have probably seen more than most people have seen. Talk about that, that evolution of technology, and what that looks like over the years in teaching. Annejeanette: When I went to college at the University of Miami, my senior year we had a computer lab that was using a little Apple Books. I mean, not Apple books. It’s like those hard Apple…I think they were Apple At Ease. They were just boxy and little. And then Hurricane Andrew hit. So we went from having computers to having nothing. When I graduated, I just remember, “Okay, where do we start?” So I landed my first teaching job in a middle school in Fort Lauderdale. They had a computer lab, but not as heavy as it began to happen in 2000. 2000 we had a whole overhaul where classrooms were actually getting computers. We had Apple with the colors in the back. You could pick your color to match your classroom. So I did that for a while. Then my district moved from Apple to Windows. So during this whole, as you call it, process, I’ve been learning how to do dual language in technology. You had to know Apple, and you had to know Windows. Liam: Those are really different in the early days. That was literally apples and oranges (no pun intended). Annejeanette: So I had to learn that so that I can empower and teach my college students, my middle school students. Even taught high school. So just had to really master learning two languages in technology. Then in about 2005, I was offered the position of the computer science teacher at the elementary level. And that’s how I ended up at the school where I’ve been now for 15 years. Even at the school that I’m at, it has evolved, where it was elective and now it is pretty much in everyday instruction I have to use my computer. And not just one computer. Sometimes I’m literally maneuvering three. Which leads me into the WordPress. Because when I first started WordPress it was just to play around with it, see what it’s about. Then now I find myself teaching my fifth graders how to blog their essays or respond to a classmate’s post or publish their STEM work—A STEM project that they’ve created where they put their research, and their PowerPoint, or their sway into the WordPress platform. So it has truly been a roller coaster ride, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. Tara: That’s so wonderful. I love hearing that you’re using WordPress with kids in school. It seems like something that is evolving. But I don’t hear that much about WordPress being used by kids in schools. So that’s really great. How did you discover WordPress? Annejeanette: Graduate school. I used it in graduate school. Then I introduced it to my college students because I was teaching them what…at that time, the word blog and vlog were new. So I had to teach them, “Okay, this is a blog and this is the software you can use.” Then I took a break from it for a while. Then 2016, 2017 is when I got very much involved, because of my daughter, with WordCamp. She was invited to speak and that’s what rekindled the fire again for me to use WordPress in my classroom and at home. Liam: Wow. I feel like we could do weeks of conversation on what you’ve shared in the opening minutes here, whether it’s technology or teaching or WordPress, and you teaching children to use it. There’s just a ton there. Annejeanette: It is. Liam: I’m always interested when I come to technology, and I use it a certain way, and I have my flow. And then I show it to somebody or teach somebody, and I come back a period of time later, and they’re doing something totally different that my brain just would never have landed on. I’m wondering since you’re seeing so many young people, whether it’s grade-schoolers or college-age folks using WordPress, I wonder…and this is kind of going to put you on the spot to think of something. So sorry about that. But what’s been some of the more interesting examples of somebody taking WordPress and you say, “Well, yeah, I guess I can do that. That’s amazing. I never would have thought about using it that way. That’s really cool.” Annejeanette: I would have to say going to WordCamp and seeing the high schoolers take the basics of it and create…I saw a young lady. She literally created her own business online e-business, e-commerce. She competed in… this was a virtual technology conference for high schoolers, won a scholarship right here in South Florida. The young people, it’s like a sponge with them. They just take it, they absorb it, and they make it their own. I just sit back and I’m kind of like the cheerleader. Do you. Or as I was saying, “Go on girl. Do your thing.” Because what we teach them is just to light the fire, then they just let it burn. Or basically like a thing of clay. We show them how to mold it wet it, sculpt it, and then make it into something that is theirs. Whether it’s a bowl, a vase, a cup. That’s pretty much the analogy I think I can use with WordPress that the generation born from 2000, I would say, moving forward, that’s exactly what they’ve done to any and everything they touch. This generation, my daughter would be in this category, my niece, Victoria would be in there this category, the students that I’ve had over the last 20 years, they just take it, they make it, and they own it. And I love it because what worked for me in 2000, or even in 2015 isn’t going to work into 2021. So my job is to just teach them fundamentals and then let them see what they can create and innovate on their own. Let them have some critical thinking with it. Let them think about what they’re going to do with it. And then let them use their imagination, their creativity, and just own it and make it theirs. This is an exciting time. If we continue to use that, I think it’s an exciting time for WordPress. It’s an exciting time for those of us in the field of educational technology, and it’s definitely an exciting time for those who have a passion with technology to really watch and see it evolve. Tara: Do you find that your students have an easy time or stumble at any point when they’re learning WordPress? Annejeanette: Oh they stumble. And that’s part of the process. I’m okay with them stumbling. But I realize there’s a tenacity with this generation. They stumble, they’ll get frustrated, and then they’ll get right back up again and try it again until it works for them. That’s what I’ve seen. T
28 minutes | 9 months ago
Episode 135 – David Zimmerman
Introducing David Zimmerman David has been working in SEO for about 12 years, five years on his own as Reliable Acorn. Over the past couple of years, he’s been speaking at WordCamps about SEO and client management. Show Notes Twitter | @reliableacorn Website | Reliable Acorn Webiste | Curious Ants Preferred Pronouns | He/Him Episode Transcript Tara: This is Hallway Chats, where we meet people who use WordPress. Liam: We ask questions and our guests share their stories, ideas, and perspectives. Tara: And now the conversation begins. This is Episode 135. Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Tara Claeys. Liam: And I’m Liam Dempsey. Today we’re joined by David Zimmerman. David has been working in SEO for about 12 years, five years on his own as Reliable Acorn. Over the past couple of years, he’s been speaking at WordCamps about SEO and client management. Under the current COVID-19 shutdown, he misses the friends he’s made in the hallway track. Welcome, David. David: Hello. Nice to be with you two, today. Tara: We are glad to have you in our virtual hallway. Thanks for joining us today, David. Can you tell us and our listeners a little bit more about yourself? David: Yeah, I see. I live in Charlotte, North Carolina with my wife who is just really of about nine months now. It’s been a great time to get to know my wife in quarantine over the last few months. It’s kind of a new thing for us. And we’ve been having a good time doing it. She has been here working from home, getting used to me, who’ve been working from home for a long time now. Tara: So you’re newly married, and then right after you got married you ended up in this work together? Did I understand that correctly? David: Yeah. Sorry, that wasn’t very clear, was it? We got married a few months before the pandemic. So about March when she was working from home, she got to join me who have already been working from home for a long time. So it’s been a fun way to kind of get to know someone even closer. Tara: Yeah. I know when you have a vacation where you stay at home you call it a staycation. What do you call a honeymoon when you’re stuck at home? David: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Tara: Well, excellent. Tell us about how you’ve discovered WordPress. You say you have an SEO agency and SEO doesn’t always mean WordPress. So tell us a little bit about your connection with WordPress. David: I’ve been kind of a half developer, half marketer for years, and then someone introduced me to the concept of SEO. It appealed to both my technical side and my content creative side. It was a kind of a weird culmination. As someone who came from that background, WordPress was a kind of a natural fit. It just was easy to use and had the flexibility where I could dink around with it. I don’t call myself a developer, I really don’t do that. But WordPress allowed me to have enough. For instance, I eventually built my own little theme from scratch just to really familiarize myself with how WordPress worked. I learned a lot in the process. Now the theme is really super ugly because I am definitely not a designer. But it taught me how WordPress renders things. It taught me how to speak to designers and developers who are building WordPress websites, so I can give them the best technical SEO advice I can being that I understand how the platform works. I took that and I started going and traveling around to different WordCamps around the southeastern United States and meeting friends, speaking on things that I was excited to speak about. Now I feel like I’m pretty involved in the community. I was on the organization team to organize WordCamps Charlotte this year. Was. So maybe next year. Liam: Hopefully next year, right? Hopefully next year. David, I want to talk a little bit about your diving into that WordPress theme and making that. I’m a big fan of knowing a lot about the ancillary roles to mine. I’m in the design and marketing side, not the development and marketing. Very much in the design and marketing. But dabble enough in code not to write a theme that I would ever put on a public-facing website, but to your point to be able to talk to developers and to talk to clients where we could do this technically and that technically. I know that is simpler than this other task I have no idea how to do either. But I know that that’s simpler than that is more complicated. I’m interested, when you were going to make this WordPress theme, was that just an educational idea? Or were you really thinking, “You know, maybe I’ll sell it” or “maybe I’ll design it up and use it on my own?” Where are you going with it? David: Because I knew it would be ugly, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to sell it. I actually stole someone’s design in a way. There is somebody who developed this idea called the fluid baseline grid. He developed this very simple CSS system that handled text really well and introduced me to concepts like letting and design concepts like that. It was also responsive before responsive was really a thing. It was mobile-first. It was my first experience with mobile-first web design. And that really changed the way things happened. So it was an intellectual exercise to understand WordPress, because I was taking these important concepts like mobile-first and responsive web design, doing it using someone else’s idea and trying to convert it into WordPress. So now when I go to a developer, I can tell you did not design this from a mobile-first perspective. And I can say, “Remember, Google is evaluating your site from a mobile-first experience when they’re deciding to rank your site.” So when you build a mobile-first design, what you’re doing is you are building it in light of how Google would like to think of your site rather than designers who build desktop and then crack it down to mobile, which ends up being usually a very cumbersome site. It can be a real big SEO problem. So that’s kind of how I approached it. Learning the things that then WordPress could do with that helped me a lot. For instance, one of the biggest SEO problems on WordPress is the idea that if you have an entirety of a blog post on a category page, and then you have the same blog post on a date page, you are duplicating your own content. Google doesn’t like that. Why would Google want to serve up those pages if it’s the same stuff on every other? So you have to use the preview. You can do that manually. You can go in there and then little line the read more tag. But Gosh, it’s a whole lot easier if you know there’s a function that you can put in your functions of PHP file to say, “Hey, only show the preview on archival pages.” Once you know that, oh, that’s a million times easier. And it was things like that I discovered that I could build into the theme. And now when I work with a developer to build a site, I say, “Hey, I need you to crack open the functions of PHP theme file and I need you to go and you need to fix this code problem.” Tara: That’s really interesting. When I think of SEOs, I think there are a lot of SEOs, maybe less nowadays, but that actually understand and know about those kinds of technical things that do definitely impact SEO. SEO agencies are often not building websites or understanding theming and functions file. So you’re way more of a developer than you let on at the beginning there I think, David? David: Oh, yeah. Well, you’ve not seen any of the code I’ve produced. Liam: Well, there’s certainly value in doing enough code so that it works, right? If you’re treating it as an exercise in learning, and not, you know, this is necessarily the fastest or the most efficient way to code or latest trend of coding. It’s really, what is this doing? How does this work? That’s a different project. Let me ask you one last question on this topic. And it’s really how long did you plan to spend on developing your theme as an educational exercise? And then how long did you actually spend? David: Wow, that’s a great question. I don’t remember. I did it while I was working at an agency before I went on my own. So that was kind of a fun hobby project. I don’t know now that I’m on my own if I would have the time or desire to do this. Because here I am sitting in my office all day. I don’t want to do this after hours. I want to go upstairs. I want to walk around. But I think it took me a good year of off time to work on it. If no one is looking at the technical documentation on WordPress site, it’s really good. Someone like me who doesn’t have a background in computer science can read it and follow it. Anybody can do it. It just takes time. My first foray into development was—and this will date me—writing programs with compilers. It literally took me two years to write a program that was 5k. It was teeny tiny, and it took me two years to do it. It was great. It was a lot of fun. It was, again, a hobby kind of thing. But eventually, it worked, and it actually became pretty popular and had a little bit of income. So, thankfully, if you have that disposable time you can dedicate to it. But maybe if you are a real experienced developer, it would a lot faster for you to build from scratch than it would be to try to take a theme and make a child of it, and then adjust it to what you need. Tara: Yeah. Do you do SEO for other websites that are not built with WordPress or do you exclusively work with WordPress? David: I really only have one or two clients who work on WordPress. I mean, I use it for all of my sites. But some of my clients, it’s one client had a really bad developer experience. I’m sure everybody who works in WordPress understand
35 minutes | 9 months ago
Episode 134 – Caylin White
Introducing Caylin White Caylin is the growth manager at GoWP. She’s a marketer and an artist who shares her art on CBCinked.com. Show Notes Twitter | @cbcinked Website | CBC Inked GoWP Website | GoWP Niche Agency Owners Facebook Group Preferred Pronouns | She/Her Episode Transcript Tara: This is Hallway Chats, where we meet people who use WordPress. Liam: We ask questions and our guests share their stories, ideas, and perspectives. Tara: And now the conversation begins. This is Episode 134. Liam: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Liam Dempsey. Tara: And I’m Tara Claeys. Today we’re joined by Caylin White. Caylin is the growth manager at GoWP. She’s a marketer and an artist who shares her art on Cbcinked.com. Welcome, Caylin. We’re glad to have you today. Caylin: Thanks so much. I’m so excited to be here. Liam: We’re excited for you to be here, Caylin Thanks for joining us. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself, please? Caylin: Absolutely. I am so excited to connect with you guys on this. I work at GoWP, like she mentioned, in growth and marketing. It’s been my world for, I don’t know, years. 12 plus now makes me sound a little ancient. I’m originally from Michigan, but I’m here now at Atlanta, Georgia. I’ve been here for quite some time—10 plus years. And I am a huge fan of WordPress. I think it’s been almost four or five yours now in this space. One of my favorite things to do is connect with people like you. So I’m excited to kind of dig into this. Tara and I met on the GoWP Niche Agency Owners Facebook group as part of the GoWP world. And then I got a chance to connect with Liam. So I’m excited to talk to you guys today. Tara: We’re happy to have you here. Can you tell us what growth marketing is? What is that? Caylin: It’s a new term. Do you like it? Tara: I do. I mean, I think marketing is about growth. So I’m wondering, is it redundant or what’s it? I’m sure it’s not. So tell us about it. Caylin: It’s a hybrid term actually. It’s a hybrid term. I don’t know if you realize this, but the word “sales” is starting to leave the vocabulary of selling. So it’s a hybrid term for sale and marketing. It’s a two-part role, which is kind of my favorite part, is you get to do the digital marketing like content and social media and networking and partnerships like this. And then you get to help those leads that come in and help answer the questions and jump on calls with them and have a chance to explain how we can help their agencies grow. We actually do a lot of calls with people that are just starting out and they are growing beyond their capacity. So it’s kind of fun to hear each agency owner’s story. You’ve got the sales and the marketing side in one, and then really they just created the term growth for all things growing. We want all avenues growing. So marketing and sales and happy customers. I actually really like the term. It’s been, I think, a year or two since they kind of transitioned from the sales and marketing manager, which is what I’ve been or just a marketing manager or sales team lead. Growth is definitely an all-encompassing sort of term for it. I like it. Tara: Is it replacing sales? Caylin: I don’t think so. I think it’s just transitioning the way that you sell. For instance, the way that I think of it is you don’t really pitch yourself any longer. It’s not the sort of that door to door salesman style, sales technique any longer. It’s about connection and human to human interaction, being real, and understanding how they think. I think it’s not about sort of the cold call any longer. That kind of sales mentality is just not the way the growth side does things. One of the things I love about GoWP is they’re always like, you know, you don’t have to sell them what you’re selling. Just explain how we can help. And if it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit. But it’s so nice to walk into each call that we have with an agency owner and just say, “Let’s take that off your plate for you and you get to go out and do the things that you love.” And so we’ve met a lot of great people along the way. But yeah, that technique is a little transitioned. It’s more about educating people, instead of “this is what we do. This is what we do. This is what we do. I’m selling.” It’s more so just, “Hey, we’re putting out helpful content, we’re educating you on how to do things and hopefully these free resources will help you do what you want to do.” For instance, just like you guys, you know, owning businesses and working and sending out work, that’s amazing. That’s exactly why we do what we do. And I love it. I love my role. I’ve been doing it for so long, it’s evolved so much and it’s exciting. I actually love the avenue that it’s taking online and in the social world, which is why I love the WordPress community because they’re so awesome online. Anyway. Liam: I like the idea of growth marketing because really sales at its most efficient is about solving problems, right, solving customers’ problems. And if they don’t have a problem that my business or your business, Tara or GoWP can solve, then we can still support them and be friendly and have a relationship. But there’s no point trying to sell them circle screws for square holes. It’s not going to work. They’re not going to be happy. We’re not going to be happy trying to explain to them how to get the screws into that square hole. So I really like that idea. Caylin: And then the other half of it is that if it doesn’t work out client relationship, 99% of the time, there are other ways that you can support them, promote them. I’m big in the content world. So writing blogs featuring. And then of course, our fun Facebook groups. Stuff like that. It’s been a nice balance between the two sort of partnerships and client relationships. That’s been fun. Liam: Yeah. And I think it takes the pressure off sales, not only to hit targets, although targets are important, right? If we don’t have enough sales, we don’t pay people. But also just the “Oh, crikey! She’s calling. That’s going to be a sales call.” If it’s just a good fit, then it’s “What are you going to charge me for that? How does that work with what I’m doing? Do I want to pay for that? Do I think there’s value there?” And we can talk candidly about it. It just makes it a lot more transparent and less pressure. Caylin: Absolutely. Liam: I applaud you and your colleague for taking that route. It’s certainly one that I use in my own business. Caylin: Yes. Awesome. Thank you. I coined it the human-centric approach. I don’t even know if that’s a word. If it is, I might have made about made it up. But we’ve been talking a lot in the Facebook group about profits and how to just help people. Chris Lemma mentioned, if you have to pitch the sale, you’ve already lost it. So if you’re on a call with someone and it’s someone that’s really truly interested, you’re basically just walking through the technical details seeing if you work well. That’s a great way to look at it. Liam: I really like that. And you know what, guess what, as we’re talking all about this, I realized that I don’t have a very firm grasp on what GoWP does. We’re not a sales show but maybe you can give us a thirty second, one-minute overview of what actually the company does. Caylin: I know a little bit about GoWP. I’m happy to help. We provide white label WordPress services. Basically, our motto is we just want to help grow agencies. Things that they don’t want to do: website maintenance, content edits. We just offered our new page build service, which is really exciting and very popular building out landing pages. The thing I love about the team is that they’re super communicative. I’ve never been with a team so much that just communicates about whatever it may be. Like, we need to help this guy, we have a new client or we want to send out mugs, or whatever it is to make us happy. The team is…this is why it works so well is because they have such great communication. That’s what we do. Our team is growing by the day. We’ve got new hires, I think one this weekend, one last week. So that’s really exciting to me. Of course, I love all things growth. So that helps, but that’s what we do. Emily, our director of growth, runs the Niche Agency Owners Facebook group, which is taking off as well. We have a lot of great members there. Where else are we? I think that’s where we’re at, and that’s what we do. Tara: How many people are at GoWP now? Caylin: Total, I think we’re almost at 15. Somewhere around there. It’s growing every day. Tara: That’s good. Let’s take a step backward and talk about your path and your background, and how you ended up doing what you’re doing, both in WordPress and in marketing in GoWP. Caylin: That is about a three-hour phone call. Tara: Give us the short version. Caylin: I’m just kidding. My adventure is long, has had many different paths. I’m sort of a hobbit when it comes to adventuring. But basically what happened was, I became…I’m from a family of artists. My mom was an art teacher; my dad wrote for all these different publications. So art is in our family. And with art comes creativity and comes selling online and comes learning about marketing and learning about sales. And so it naturally kind of just drove me to that. A
34 minutes | 10 months ago
Episode 133 – Anyssa Ferreira
32 minutes | 10 months ago
Episode 132 – Pritesh Vora
Introducing Pritesh Vora Pritesh leads growth marketing and operations at BlogVault, MalCare, WP Remote. Previously, he co-founded and sold Uninstall.io. He’s an entrepreneur at heart who loves challenging the status quo. Pritesh says he is a hardcore growth geek. Show Notes Twitter | @priteshvora Website | WPRemote Website | Malcare Website | BlogVault Preferred Pronouns | He/Him Episode Transcript Tara: This is Hallway Chats, where we meet people who use WordPress. Liam: We ask questions and our guests share their stories, ideas, and perspectives. Tara: And now the conversation begins. This is Episode 132. Tara: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Tara Claeys. Liam: And I’m Liam Dempsey. Today we’re joined by Pritesh Vora. Pritesh leads growth marketing and operations at BlogVault, MalCare, WP Remote. Previously, he co-founded and sold Uninstall.io. Here’s an entrepreneur at heart who loves challenging the status quo. Pritesh says he is a hardcore growth geek. Welcome, Pritesh. Thank you for joining us. Pritesh: It’s my pleasure. Thank you, Liam and Tara. It’s a pleasure to be here. Tara: Nice to have you here today. Can you tell us more about yourself, Pritesh? Pritesh: Absolutely. Hey guys, I’m Pritesh, and we are WordPress plugin makers. I’m from the absolute other side of the world, from Bangalore, India. It’s just about past evening here. I lead growth, marketing, and operations, as Liam said, for four of successful WordPress plugins of our company. The first one is BlogVault. It’s a cloud-based WordPress backup and staging service. The second is MalCare, which is a high-performance WordPress security solution. Third is WP Remote, which is a new Gen WordPress site manager solution for agencies. And lastly, Migrate Guru, which is a completely free migration plugin for the WordPress community. So that’s what we do. Tara: I just learned about Migrate Guru last week. And man, it was amazing. It was great. I’ve used BlogVault with different hosts, but I hadn’t been aware of that plugin. And it was a real lifesaver for me last week. So congratulations on that. Pritesh, tell us your background. How did you get started and all this tech stuff in Bangalore? Pritesh: That’s an interesting story. I’m an engineer by background —a software engineer. India is a decently sizable country. So, I was born in the eastern part of India, born and brought up, did my education in the eastern part of India, completed my engineering, and then got off. I was placed, through our college campus, in one of the largest software companies in India, where I had to go from east to the western part of India, in Mumbai, which is the largest city in India. I spent a few years there with that company. I got one of the best opportunities while staying in that company, and I stayed in United States for a few years, and went through Europe and United Kingdom. After spending around five, six years, it just felt like there was something which was missing in me. And I have always wanted to do more, contribute more, find ways in which I can contribute more, and make someone’s life better. And that’s when I jumped a ship from a multinational company. I was pretty comfortable in that place, and then jumped the ship from that multinational company and joined a really, really, really small startup, which was based out of one of the most premier institutes of India in the south of India. So I started from east, went to the west, and then moved to the south of India. We were working out of a small college dorm. Just two people trying to make a difference in the world at that point of time. With all the enthusiasm and excitement, the only thing we wanted to do was go by Steve Jobs’ words: “make a dent in the universe.” I can now look back at it and smile and say how naive that was, how childish we were. But I loved the energy and enthusiasm and the fun. The most important part was the fun that was involved in building that product startup and scaling it and growing it to do certain things. For various reasons, we scaled that startup, and then eventually we had to shut it down. It did not scale to the levels that we wanted. And that led me to get in touch with a couple of other colleagues who I had been working with. And that’s when I made my move to Bangalore. So, I came to Bangalore, we all got together, and we built another product called uninstall.io. It was the first of its kind product which helped detect mobile app uninstallations, and helped, essentially mobile app owners. So if you are an Uber, our product would let you understand who has uninstalled your app and why did they uninstall your app. So it was analytics around mobile app uninstallations. Again, it was a childlike moment when, with all the enthusiasm and excitement, we build this product and we scaled it. We were part of Microsoft’s accelerator. We raise some money around it from some of the prominent investors in the country and outside, including 500 startups from the United States. And eventually, the business was doing decently well, and then we got a nice opportunity where we were acquired by a company in Southeast Asia. All this while, I’ve been working on either mobile-related products, where mobile is at the center of everything that we do. Funnily enough for me, mobile was a really advanced technology or structure that we were working on. Then I met Akshat, who is the founder of this company, after my acquisition. He threw me a challenge of, you know, that we are about WordPress-based company. I’m going to be honest here. Literally, I had no clue about what WordPress is. And I used to think, “Isn’t that a really old technology? Isn’t that something which is used by people who are not able to get hands-on the latest like Angular.” There were a lot of buzzwords going around, right? NodeJS, AngularJS. So I had my own sort of apprehensions thinking, “I don’t know, do I really want to go take a step back and look at a technology which has been stagnant for quite some time, essentially, PHP related products? Or do I want to move to the next stage of technology, which is AI and ML, machine learning, and all those things?” But Akshat told me more about WordPress as an ecosystem as a product, the impact it has on the power of publishing that’s there. Although I’m going to be honest. I was still not convinced about all of that. But heck, yeah, I thought, “You know what, it’s a good challenge.” The product has been growing, the product is solid, the team is solid. They’re getting decent traction. And it’s a real challenge to see take them from where they, from X to 10 X. And that’s the challenge which excited me and I joined this company, I think almost two and a half years ago, when there was just BlogVault—that’s all we had as a product. After seeing the inside of WordPress, after spending some time, for more than two years now in WordPress, I understand how it feels and what the community is, and how wrong was I to just measure it based on technology. Liam: Pritesh, that’s quite a story you’ve shared with us, and there’s a lot of things I could spend all day chatting with you about. I do want to go back to one of your earlier statements that I wrote down. And I think it’s probably the biggest understatement we’ve ever had on this show. And you said, “India is a decently sizable country.” That’s hilarious. You’re awesome. I love it. But your journey to WordPress is really interesting to me because I am not a tech-focused engineer. I am a designer and a marketing consultant. Tara has a similar lien to me. That you kind of came to WordPress with what might be perceived as kind of a typical “Oh, it’s WordPress. It’s old. It’s out of date. It’s PHP. It’s simple.” And then you’ve learned and really enjoy it now. I wonder about, it sounds like your new role in terms of growth-focused is less code-driven, code-focused, programming-focused and more kind of marketing community-focused. Is that correct? And if so, how do you feel about that transition? What’s been that been like? Pritesh: For me, product is as the center of everything. And having an engineering background, a software engineering background gives me that edge where I’d love to stay close to technology. I’ve built, to the extent even when I left programming per se, the bug inside me made me develop a few automated Excel tools. Because I just love automating things. That’s why I’m always very close to the product as such. For my own startup, the startup before that, I was still in the marketing and business and growth role, where it’s a small team—you’re practically everyone, barring the coding part. And you play all the roles, including support. So the product has been at the centerpiece of everything. Things have really not changed. I want to use a product and be convinced and love and take that passion into the market. And to be passionate about something, it’s extremely essential for me to fully eat my own dog food. It’s not the best way to describe it, but yeah, until I eat my dog food, and I realized I cannot translate that passion into growing or translating it into the communication that we put into it. Does it answer your question? Liam: Yeah, it totally does. It totally does. It totally does. And those non-tech leaning folks who have never heard the phrase “to eat your own dog food,” which I remember the first time I heard it 10 years ago, and you just go, “What?” it means to use your own product or run your own code and use it in your own life. Pretty much eat what you cook kind of thing. I’m so
36 minutes | a year ago
Episode 131 – Cate DeRosia
Introducing Cate DeRosia Cate has wandered around WordPress for the last five years speaking, organizing, and being an engaging human. Currently, she’s building out a family business and investigating how to expand HeroPress into a new kind of membership site. Show Notes Twitter | @mysweetcate Website | HeroPress Preferred Pronouns | She/Her Episode Transcript Tara: This is Hallway Chats, where we meet people who use WordPress. Liam: We ask questions and our guests share their stories, ideas, and perspectives. Tara: And now the conversation begins. This is Episode 131. Liam: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Liam Dempsey. Tara: And I’m Tara Claeys. Today we’re joined by Cate DeRosia. Cate has wandered around WordPress for the last five years speaking, organizing, and being an engaging human. Currently, she’s building out a family business and investigating how to expand HeroPress into a new kind of membership site. Hi, Cate. We’re so glad you’re here. Cate: Hi, thanks for having me. Liam: It’s our pleasure, Cate. Thanks so much for joining us here. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself more than what Tara shared? Cate: Sure. I’ve been around website development since about 1996. My husband is Topher. He’s a longtime developer. I like to say that he started building websites before the internet had pictures. We’ve been married for 22 years. I homeschooled both of our girls who both graduated. The youngest graduated last year. So it’s really nice to be done with that. And I’ve been transitioning into whatever I’m going to do with my next stage of life. Having a family that’s so deeply ingrained in WordPress, I wanted to see if that was something that I could pursue too. I’ve done a lot of ad jobs. I’ve done some work for WPSessions. I’ve done some work for Tom McFarlin. I’m really good at content related things, a lot of the soft business skills, the things that are starting to develop in WordPress as viable potential career options. And it’s kind of led me to building out a family business that encompasses the development work Topher does occasionally along with the things my younger daughter Sophie is interested in, a more of a management implementation kind of level, and then the content work that I like to do. So it’s really helping do the extra things that websites need. It’s no longer enough to just have a website. You need to have a website where people want to be. And we’re looking at putting in the time to build out engaging websites or to add engaging aspects to websites to help improve customer loyalty and to actually better represent the business and its personality on the website. Then of course, we also worked via HeroPress. We’ve had here press for about five years. It’s been a really interesting adventure. It’s been a little bit like the mistress in our family. But it’s also something that we are looking at turning into something that is community membership-based where people in the community can support some new content initiatives to help build better resources for other people who are entering the WordPress community, particularly in places where resources aren’t as easily accessed. So, third world countries, just anywhere around the world. Even where I grew up just two hours north of where I am here in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the opportunities are difficult to find. And so if we can turn HeroPress into a place where not only people are inspired but can come to find actual practical help, we think it’d be a real asset to the community. Tara: Sounds like you have a lot to share. Liam: Can you share a little bit about HeroPress, if you would, just for folks who don’t know what it is. Maybe just a minute or two. I know we can probably go on for hours but just a minute or two. Cate: HeroPress is a collection of essays really in its simplest form, and always will have the aspect of being a collection of essays that people have submitted about how they have used WordPress to change their life, how they found work opportunity a creative outlet. It’s everybody from kids who were homeschooled finding a place in technology to single moms. Or I know one of the ladies had quit her job to stay home with her mom. When her mom passed away, she needed to reinvent herself, and WordPress is how she did that. We also have a lot of people, particularly from India or Indonesia where people have been able to not just build a career for themselves, but really build an opportunity for their extended family and even their communities at large. Because the opportunities for income when you can work remotely, it just improves everybody around you. Tara: I think Liam and I have taken inspiration from HeroPress and spoke to Topher earlier on in our journey down this road of speaking to people similarly, speaking to people all over who use WordPress and for whom WordPress has made a difference in their life. But HeroPress has become so broad. I mean, how many people have contributed to it? I mean, it’s got to be hundreds, right? Cate: I don’t have a number which I should have, but it is huge. What we’re finding is it’s not just helping the people who are submitting the stories, but automatic has it up on their internal Slack instance. And we’re hearing stories from people who are feeling kind of burnt out or feeling kind of frustrated with giving back in WordPress. You know, how challenging it can be to give back to an open source project. And then they’re seeing these stories and they’re not looking for a new job, they’re not looking to improve their life necessarily, but it’s improving their morale. And that’s just a huge outlet that we’ve never anticipated happening. Tara: Do you and Topher work together on it as a team? What role do you play in the HeroPress other than it being the mistress? Cate: We’ve been through a lot of startups and a lot of different opportunities, a lot of job changes. And so anything that Topher was doing that took time away from the family was challenging. Even if it’s only five hours a week. It’s difficult to have two kids you’re watching and just pull in an extra thing. But it’s something we’ve always all been committed to. Topher and I don’t necessarily work the best together. If we want to stay married, we do a little bit better if we keep things kind of separate. But what we’ve decided is I’m going to take over…we’re actually turning HeroPress into a business. Because with a nonprofit, we have to give up a lot of control that we don’t want to give up. We need to build a board, we have to do a lot of things that we’re just not interested in. But by making it a membership site and a business, he can continue on as the chief executive officer, and he would still be the primary person who handled essays and contacting people on that side of things. And then I would have my own lane, as it were, where I would come in as an operations person, the Chief Operating Officer, and handle more of the content creation, marketing, social media – all the things that I’m really good at that he doesn’t have the time for. He’s still involved. Maybe down the road, it would be something that he would take on in more of a full-time aspect, but right now the idea is that he’ll stay on his side and I’ll stay on my side and we’ll build something really cool together – apart. Tara: I like that concept. My husband and I are similar. We don’t work well together on projects simultaneously. We can get in each other’s way or no not necessarily compete with each other, but fight over his way. His way is going to go, I think. Cate: And we’re still going to collaborate. We actually had a conversation today when something came up that we’re still going to collaborate, we’ll still make decisions. The plan is we’ll still be together, but implementing it’s going to work a lot better if I have the freedom to do what I need to do and he’s is out of it a little bit. And then I don’t interfere. This has always been my challenge. I’ve never been overly involved in HeroPress because it was mostly essay based and I’m a writer. At my core, I’m a writer who actually does quite a lot of editing. And I wanted to stay as far away from his essays as possible because it’s really hard for me to not dive in and start editing and tweaking and manipulating and wanting things to go a different direction. And that’s not really what the essays are about. They’re supposed to be personal. They’re supposed to be real. Tara: I mean, obviously, you and I have met and spent time together and you’re well known in the WordPress community, and I think have become more so as you become more involved. But as you said, Topher has been in this space for a long time. How does that work for you guys as a couple and also as a family because your daughters now are involved in WordPress too? How much WordPress is in your house? What part of your life does that play and I guess how does that work together for your family? Cate: It’s really fascinating. Because our kids are interested, our family is very submerged in WordPress. My first WordCamp as an attendee was my daughter’s first WordCamp. So we all went to WordCamp Chicago in 2014, and they got to go and be attendees. They were 12 and 14 at the time. We got to our spot, we split up. They went to their sessions, I went to ours. And that’s kind of how we’ve handled it. So at home, there’s a lot of WordPress that gets taught. One of the things we’re looking at doing is a podcast ourselves kind of ar
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