I noticed that I had gone most of January without blogging. Unlike previous months there was a clear reason for the silence.
I wrote a post two years ago that I never published called “Goodbye Client Work.” It was my treatise against doing client work and freelancing. I included some really good links in that post. I linked to tweets/posts about the impossibility of estimating, the absurdity of customer requests, stories of freelancer burnout and even a Mad Men reference to Peggy’s conference room outburst about baked beans.
I enjoy talking about building premium plugins and presented about it last year. I love talking to developers about their ideas and brainstorming with them. After building a product the next logical question is:
I’ve built a plugin, now where should I sell it?
Most developers are very good at charging forward to building code and making a quality product. When it comes to sales and marketing we are much more hesitant. Read More
I got an email this morning that the leader of my city’s local WordPress meetup is stepping down. The email stated that if there was no one to take over the position the Meetup.com group would be closed. I looked at the subscriber count and there were 148 people signed up for the meetup. It’s a shame that these people will be disconnected. Read More
Yesterday marked the end of December, the end of 2013, and the end of a blogging competition I ran for WooThemes employees called Blogging for Benjamin. The competition goal was to “enliven the spirit of blogging in our company with a friendly competition and monetary motivation.” WordPress is the best publishing platform around and we all should take advantage of that to share our thoughts and expertise with the community. Read More
WordSesh is a day (24 continuous hours) of WordPress presentations from all over the world. Think of it as a virtual WordCamp that you can attend from anywhere in the world! No need for flight delays, smelly hotels, or bad wifi! You can watch via the live stream and interact in the chat room with all of the other attendees.
The next WordSesh will be happening this Saturday December 7, 2013!
I watched the first WordSesh last year from home. I remember carrying a laptop around all day to not miss a presentation. I was also caring my kids so I was watching the laptop while changing diapers and making lunches.
This year’s sesh will be even bigger than the previous one as there will be two tracks to choose from. There are several great presentations scheduled that I can’t wait to watch. You can view the schedule to plan out your time.
What to watch for plugin developers
The sesh starts Saturday at 0:00 UTC (7:00 PM EST) with a live episode of the DradCast which is always fun and entertaining! All of the segments will be fantastic, but since I’m most interested in creating and selling premium WordPress plugins the sessions that I’m looking forward to are:
- “Pricing WordPress Products” by Shane Pearlman 04:00 UTC
- “Characteristics of a Sustainable WordPress Product” by Matt Cohen 06:00 UTC
- “Debugging WordPress” with Mario Peshev 09:00 UTC
- “How to Build a Successful WordPress Plugin Business” by Louis Reingold 10:00 UTC
- “Profitable Open Source” by Frederick Townes 12:00 UTC
- “Freemium, a sustainable model for your plugin” by Kim Gjerstad 13:00 UTC
- “Plugin Development while Working Full Time” by Patrick Rauland 17:00 UTC
- “Writing Testable WordPress Plugins” Jonathan Brinley 20:00 UTC
If you miss any of the presentations don’t worry. Each presentation is recorded and will be released on YouTube after the event.
This year I’ll be participating in a round table discussion at 20:00 UTC (2:00 PM EST). I’ll be joining Brent Shepherd, Coen Jacobs, Patrick Rauland and Scott Basgaard to talk about the WooCommerce Ecosystem. We’re going to cover the state of WooCommerce and where we see WooCommerce going in the future. I’m excited to participate and have a fun and entertaining chat with these guys! Let me know if there you have any questions about WooCommerce that you’d like us to cover.
I highly encourage you to block out some time this Saturday to catch the presentations live. You’ll learn something new and get to interact with other people in the WordPress community!
Even though I talk about being a Solopreneur on this blog very often I haven’t been solo for about 13 months. I’ve been employed a support ninja for WooThemes. I consider myself unemployable, but WooThemes is just about the only company I’d consider working for. I enjoy the products they produce and everyone on the team is super talented. There are 33 in the company and the entire team is remote We’ve got 3 (sometimes 4) continents and numerous time zones covered. I love working remotely and having a flexible schedule.
Setting goals together
As a step to increase communication and camaraderie the support sub teams started having weekly meetings. Our CHO Mike Krapf would set an agenda of relevant topics and we would meet over Skype or Google Hangout. Mike recently challenged us on setting goals and some of the ninjas set goals to blog more often.
Later we started rotating the meeting leadership responsibilities and I volunteered to lead. I shared the concept of a ‘home base’ and ‘outposts’ that Chris Brogan had shared years ago. I encouraged the ninjas to build their home blogs as a way to share ideas with the WordPress community, build their reputation, be ambassadors for Woo, and flex the writing muscle. Since our support is via a help desk it’s important for us to have big league writing skills.
Leaders are more than just readers
After I led the ninja meeting I started thinking about why I’m so excited about writing. I’ve often said that “Leaders are readers” meaning that if you want to be an effective leader then you need to be constantly learning new things and exposing yourself to new ideas and knowledge.
Reading is a good thing, but left alone it yields a full mind that benefits only one person. The ideas and knowledge gained by reading need to be digested, debated and shared. There needs to be an outflow and expression of everything we learn. That’s where writing comes in! Leaders aren’t just readers; leaders are communicators. And the best form of communication we have is writing.
A friendly blogging competition
After this epiphany I had an idea for a way to encourage my fellow ninjas so I created a blogging competition called “Blogging for Benjamin”. The competition is simple:
- Everyone can blog daily on their home blog a maximum of once per day (31 blog posts)
- Posts can be scheduled for the future, but not back-dated
- The post can be about any topic
- The post needs to be a minimum of 300 words
At the end of the month I’ll tally up the ninjas blog posts and the top three will win a monetary prize. I wanted to make it interesting so first place is $100 (a Benjamin).
Why are you doing this?
I’m trying to improve my blogging and communication skills and recently tried to embark on a month of daily blogging. I have a high level of respect for daily bloggers and aspire to get there one day. My initial daily blogging effort didn’t last long as it was like trying to get up from the couch to run a marathon. Plus, there were some life events that happened that took away all of my extra time. I didn’t have the writing conditioning to be able to overcome this and needed to take a different approach.
You might ask: If blogging daily didn’t work for you why would I be encouraging others to do it? My goal isn’t to turn all of the ninjas into daily bloggers. My goal is to enliven the spirit of blogging in our company with a friendly competition and monetary motivation. I hope that on the other side of this month that the guys who blogged a few times per month will start blogging even more and the guys who blogged once per year (or never blogged) will start blogging a few times per month. If that happens then we will all be winners!
WordCamp Europe was held this past October 5th – 7th. This was my fifth WordCamp of 2013 and by far the biggest one. I’m late posting this partly because of something that happened the first day of the camp. Because it’s almost two months after the camp my memory is a bit foggy, but I still wanted to reflect on the awesome time I had at the event.
I’m finally making a change I’ve been mulling over for several months. I’m switching platforms for my plugin shop from Magento to WordPress and will be selling plugins with WooCommerce.
Evolution of a site
When I began freelancing six years ago I started Grow Development as a freelance web developer business. I was building Magento sites for clients when I needed my own site so it was an easy choice to build my own site using the same platform. Magento isn’t the best choice for a portfolio site, but the CMS features were usable and I used the ecommerce capabilities to accept payments from clients. I had WordPress installed in a subdirectory for a blog and even though there are methods for single-sign-on and data sharing between the two platforms I was still running two separate sites.
When I quit client work to focus on building products I changed the site to a pure ecommerce site and not the portfolio-Frankensite I had cobbled together. Since most of my products sell on other marketplaces I sell only one plugin on my own site. Magento hummed along just fine albeit was a little overkill. Using Magento to sell one digital product was like using an 18 wheeler to deliver a hand written note.
Time for a change
Being a WooNinja with WooThemes supporting WooCommerce extensions I now spend the majority of my time in WordPress. Beyond spending most of my development time in WordPress I also spend time in the WP community at WordCamps, in IRC, and local meetups.
Even though I don’t do client work anymore I manage over a dozen WordPress sites for friends and family. When I looked at a lineup of the sites I run my plugin shop was the odd man out. It was a lone red line in a sea of blue. I recently added an InfiniteWP control panel to manage all of the WordPress sites and that was the last straw. I was ready for a change.
DDD: Developers Doing Design?
I said I’ve been mulling over the move for a few months, but the reality is that I’ve been fidgeting over a design for the site. My wife has the gift of speaking the truth and often reminds me that I’m a developer not a designer. After trying a few premium themes and pondering hiring a designer to create a custom design I decided to go against her sage advice and do the design myself. Since I’m not a designer my ‘process’ took several months and made little progress. Because of this I kept putting off the move.
Finally a good friend who is a talented designer stepped in and offered advice to help smooth the edges of my work in progress design. Emboldened by having a design I wouldn’t be embarrassed to show off at a party I coded the site using Underscores as a base because I wanted the site to be responsive and I wanted to learn the theme.
I had to build WooCommerce compatibility into Underscores and tweak several of the WooCommerce templates. I’m still finishing some of the design and content, but am excited about the new look and feel.
The purchase process in WooCommerce is very similar to the former one. Customers can access digital downloads as soon as the purchase is made. I’m using my Pushover for WooCommerce plugin for sales notifications while I wait for the native WC app. I’ll blog about any other tweaks or modifications that I make.
Selling plugins with WooCommerce
My reasons for switching platforms are:
- Easier Management: Using the InfiniteWP control panel I can automate many admin tasks and have a single point of access for the rest.
- SEO: There’s probably a comparable plugin to Yoast’s SEO in the Magento world, but I don’t know what it is, and don’t want to spend time finding/learning/working with it.
- Same Payment Gateways: I use Stripe and PayPal for collecting funds and WooCommerce has both so this was a lateral move.
- More Simple File Structure: Magento’s unique theme/plugin structure is infamous. I like having all files for a plugin or theme in one directory.
- Mobile App: I use the WordPress iOS app to check vanity statistics, reply to comments and record ideas. Also, I’ve seen an upcoming WooCommerce iOS app that I’m excited to use.
- Support Site: I’m going to be building a support site to compliment my products and that will be built on WordPress.
Overall the move will save time and mental energy by having all sites on a unified platform. I will still be developing plugins for Magento and am very excited about the future of Magento 2, but my day-to-day sales effort will be with WooCommerce.
WooThemes has a tradition of getting the whole team together for an annual WooTrip. Past years trips have been skiing in the Alps, visiting London, England, and visiting WooHQ in CapeTown, South Africa. This year WooTrip 2013 was planned to bookend WordCamp Europe 2013 in Leiden, Netherlands.
When it was decided six months ago that this year’s WooTrip would be to WordCamp Europe I was very excited because I love traveling to Europe and I would finally get to meet all of my coworkers in person. It had been seven years since I’d been to Europe and I’d never been to the Netherlands before.
We stayed the week in the city of Leiden in South Holland. It’s a university town that is very pedestrian friendly with picturesque buildings and canals. Our hotel was a block away from the main train station which was a very convenient location.
We arrived during the 3 October Festival which commemorates the Siege of Leiden during the Eighty Years’ War. We couldn’t have chosen a better time to show up! Growing up in San Antonio I’m used to city-wide festivals, but this festival was truly extraordinary. The entire city center was dotted with amusement rides, food and beer booths, and live music stages. It was an electric atmosphere to welcome us to the Netherlands!
Friday night we walked around town and the best part was dancing on a gigantic metal barge that was set on a canal in front of a stage that was
Since I packed light I had to do some laundry on Sunday. It was a bit of a hike to the nearest laundromat that was open on Sundays, but I didn’t mind because Leiden is fun to explore by foot. It was a brisk morning and was fun seeing more families out in the streets. There were also several people boating in the canals in kayaks and small motor boats.
The Dutch love their bikes and one thing you notice is how everyone rides a bike. Young, old, male, female, they are all on bikes. It was amusing to see what people would do on their bikes:
- Talk on the phone
- Hold hands with someone riding a bike next to them
Friday a group of us took a 30 min train ride into Amsterdam. I hadn’t done very much research of what to do in Amsterdam so a small group of us hopped on a tour boat. We took an hour long trip through the harbor and canals. The boat tour was good for general highlights and to get familiar with the layout of the city. We got to see iconic architecture, house boats, and several landmarks.
After the tour and some lunch Dwayne and I got separated from the group and spent some time wandering/exploring the city. We found ourselves walking through Dam Square, passing by the Anne Frank House (line was too long to enter), following several canals, then making our way back to the central train station.
A few hours wasn’t nearly enough time in Amsterdam and I can’t wait for a return visit!
I’ll write more about the highlights of WordCamp Europe tomorrow, but it was great to be able to attend the camp with the WooThemes team.
Meeting the team
The best thing about WooTrip 2013 was getting together with the entire WooThemes crew. They are a bunch of super talented and fun people. The team is diverse as we are 30 people spread across 7 countries and 3 (sometimes 4) continents and have WordPress as a common bond. I had met the US based ninjas at WordCamp Atlanta, but this would be the first time meeting the team based in Europe and Africa.
The team first assembled at a cafe in Schiphol Airport. It was fun playing the “Who looks like their avatar?” game while we waited for everyone to arrive and found a place to buy a SIM card. At first it was surprising how many of us there were and It was difficult to move around as one group. Through the trip we split out into smaller groups for meals and activities and it was easier to relate to folks. I really enjoyed asking the non-US ninjas about where they live. In the back of my mind I’ve got a plan to do a “Woo World Tour” and visit all of the countries where a ninja lives!
Over the next several days we talked life, sports, WordPress, and business. Knowing someone only from Skype chats and Google Hangouts doesn’t match getting to know them over a meal or traveling with them. For a remote team meetups are vital for building connectivity and trust and both were built on this trip.
My talk from WordCamp Grand Rapids is now available on WordPress.tv!
This talk was a lot of fun and the camp was very well organized. I’ll be turning this talk into a series of posts over the next few weeks. I love talking with other developers who are thinking about plugin ideas and how to start selling them in the marketplace.
Saturday I participated in the first installment of WPSessions. I joined Topher DeRosia and Pippin Williamson as we taught on the topic of Building WordPress Plugins. My presentation focused on Actions/Filters, the Settings API, and the HTTP API.
WPSessions was started by Brian Richards from StarBox theme framework and WebDevStudios. His intent is to bring WordCamp-style presentations to the masses without the travel commitment. I love the excitement and connectivity associated with WordCamps so I was honored to be asked by Brian to join the project.
Details about the session
Each session was about an hour long which included teaching and time for questions and answers. The presentation was broadcast via Google Hangout with feedback provided by a tlk.io chat room. This was my first time teaching via Google Hangout so there was a little bit of a learning curve right at first. I used my 17″ iMac as the main presentation machine. I scaled down the resolution so that the video would be nice and crisp. I also had a laptop in front of me that I used to view my notes in a Google Doc, view the chat room to see questions from participants and access the presenters Skype chat. The setup worked very well and I didn’t have any lags in connectivity that I noticed.
I did have a hiccup where Keynote didn’t display on the video correctly so I had a backup PDF of my slides ready and to use with a single window screen share (feature of Google Hangouts). For coding examples I used a MAMP Pro local install with a demo WordPress install. I used my regular IDE (Coda) and a Terminal window to show code. I had some feedback that my color settings for code could be adjusted to make them more readable. Other than those few bumps the entire presentation was smooth.
A bright future
The next session on Building A WordPress Business has already been announced and it has a great lineup of speakers. I’ll definitely be tuning in to hear these guys talk about business. If you haven’t already bought a ticket I suggest heading over to the site to grab one!