8 Questions with SIDEKICK’s Ben Fox

Today I was fortunate enough to interview another well-respected member of the WordPress community, Ben Fox. Ben is a serial WordPress entrepreneur, co-founding FlowPress, WP University, and SIDEKICK.pro. If you’re looking to forge a career in WordPress for yourself, you should listen to what he has to say carefully.

In this interview, Ben will talk us through how he got involved with WordPress, the different areas he’s been involved with, and a few tips for any readers looking to get started.

If you want to hear more from Ben, I highly recommend following him on Twitter — @benjaminefox.

A huge thanks to Ben for agreeing to take part, and this is what he had to say.

 

For readers less familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself and your WordPress background?

Sure. I live in Toronto with my wife Dara who is also an entrepreneur. She owns and runs a fashion and art studio called Designher Co. Before I got into WordPress I did Event Marketing for ten years, working with brands like Best Buy and Live Nation, interspersed with a few other entrepreneurial ventures such as clothes jobbing, window washing and on-site tech support.

I’ve been involved with WordPress for just over three years now. Starting with my own freelance shop and then joining with Bart Dabek to form FlowPress in February of 2013.

I have little to no technical skill and was recently banned from accessing any code, at all, after bringing down our platform for 30 minutes during an attempt to “help” with a DNS switchover.

 

You’ve been in the WordPress community for several years now, but could you tell us how you first became involved with WordPress?

This is actually my favorite story because it’s really the preamble to where SIDEKICK began.

I had just lost my job a few weeks earlier and walked into a tech meet-up hoping to make some contacts. I overheard a few people talking about building a new website and how they were
going to outsource it overseas. Being me, I stepped in and politely suggested that I could build them a site for the same amount, THEN asked what they were going to spend (classic mistake
which I quickly learned not to repeat).

After about twenty minutes of back and forth I had a cheque in my hand for $300.00 and headed home to build them a website. The only problem was, I had never built a site before.

Two minutes on Google brought me to wpbeginner.com and the rest is history. I had a new career path, I just had to figure out how to scale up.

18 months later when Bart and I formed FlowPress (For the Love of WordPress), we set one of our priorities to give back to the community that had given us our start. That’s how SIDEKICK
was born and why we continue to maintain it along with 20+ WordPress Basics Walkthroughs for SIDEKICK, for free.

 

During your time in the community, what different areas have you been involved with?

As far as direct involvement goes, I’ve had the privilege to be part of the WordCamp Toronto organizing committee. I’ve also spoken at four WordCamps now (WCSD ’15 will be five) and
Prestige Conf. I’ve also attended 9 WordCamps in the past 18 months.

On a day to day basis Bart and I have a few advisors in the community that we look to for guidance and we also provide advice to other WordPress business.

My favorite part of the community though is the day to day interaction I can have with my fellow WordPress Geeks. I belong to WP Eagles, the Advanced WordPress Group and WordPress
Mastermind group. I’m also on a couple of Slack channels.

 

What has been the best thing about working with WordPress for you?

I could easily say that it’s an easy to use CMS or that the business market is ripe, but it’s more than that. I could build a product for any number of markets but WordPress feels like home.

If you’ve met me then you know that I’m a schmoozer. I love being part of a community that’s invested heavily in its own.

So for me, working with WordPress isn’t just about the tech, it’s an opportunity to work and interact with a diverse group of brilliant and fun people from around the world.

 

How has the WordPress community changed since you started?

The first things that come to mind are size and diversity. Bart and I joined the AWP Facebook Group two years ago when it had less than 1,500 members, almost all from the United States. Now it’s over 12,000 (including Matt Mullenweg) from all over the world and that’s just one example. You don’t have to look much further than the WordPress Slack Channel and its hyper growth and activity levels to see another.

Thanks to that scale, we’re seeing niche groups form within our community so much so that WordPress meet-up groups now hold many different types of meetings to appeal to their diverse membership.

 

What advice would you give to anyone getting started with WordPress? Which direction would you yourself go if you were starting over again?

Well, I wouldn’t charge $300 for a website, that’s for sure!

I think I would take the same direction, starting with agency services to get my foot in the door and then moving towards product. Beginning that way gave me a solid foundation in WordPress
and opened my eyes to the opportunities and challenges the WordPress market presents. Services are also a faster path to income then Products.

My advice to anyone starting out with their first WordPress site is to first, have a plan. It’s a big plugin repository out there and if you don’t know where you want to go, you will spin your
wheels trying out everything.

Second, content trumps design and functionality. If you want to be better than the next person, just hit the Publish button more often. I promise, you’ll see results.

If you’re just getting started in the WordPress business space, remember that a WordPress business is still a business — as comfortable and as cozy as it can feel working in WordPress.

Remember that you are selling a solution, NOT WordPress. Not everyone knows or cares as much as we do.

 

What do you think the biggest mistakes WordPress website owners are making?

Not publishing enough relevant content on a regular basis. Myself included. WordPress is about democratizing publishing. So Publish! Oh and Google likes it when you do that too.

 

What do you think the future of WordPress holds? What would you like to see?

I think the future is bright. The community is growing and like anything, is experiencing some growing pains. In the near term we’re going to see more passionate debates like the recent
Yoast auto-update action taken by the Core team. These situations are inevitable given the volume and diversity of WordPress uses and users and I think that’s a good thing.

We are a very involved constituency that wants the best for ourselves and I think most of us recognize that means doing what’s best for the CMS that empowers us.

That said, I don’t envy the Core team leaders over the next twelve months and I encourage everyone to be respectful in the commentary about those that work incredibly hard to keep
WordPress sailing along.

As far as what I’d like to see; I’d like to see the shared and managed hosting companies step it up another notch. There’s been some talk lately about how WordPress is going to fend off the
likes of Wix and Squarespace. I believe that a successful defence is going to require a strong offence and that starts with the hosts.

Specifically, I think WordPress is at a place now where there are awesome products in the ecosystem plus a wealth of diversity in the customer base. Hosts can be the catalyst that brings
those products together with their hosting packages in a way that helps new users setup the site they need quickly at the same time, supporting the businesses that build the products (plugins/
themes) that make WordPress so attractive to use in the first place.

 

Final Thoughts

Another big thanks to Ben Fox for taking time out of his busy schedule to provide some excellent answers to our questions! Personally, I find it incredibly inspiring to hear Ben’s story, especially considering Ben openly admits to having “little to no technical skill”. Even if you’re brand new to the community and have no idea how to code, there’s still a place for you.

If you want to see Ben’s latest project in action, be sure to head over to SIDEKICK.pro. It’s a fantastic resource for anyone looking to learn WordPress, and you can try out the service for free, too. You can also follow Ben on Twitter if you want to hear more from him.

I hope you enjoyed Ben’s interview and his incredibly thorough answers! We’ll be back with more interview insights soon!

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