Today we have another well-respected member of the WordPress community answering our questions. Step forward WebDevStudios CEO and co-founder, Brad Williams.
You’ve probably heard of WebDevStudios already, right? They’re one of the best-known WordPress design and development companies, they’re heavily involved in the WordPress and BuddyPress core, and their team is behind some of the top-rated WordPress paperbacks — including Brad’s very own Professional WordPress series, aimed at design and plugin developers.
In today’s interview, Brad talks openly about how he first became involved with WordPress, how the platform has changed during his time, and some common mistakes inexperienced WordPress users are making.
A big thanks to Brad Williams for answering our questions. Here’s the interview in full.
For readers less familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself and your WordPress background?
My name is Brad Williams and I am the co-founder of WebDevStudios.com. I founded WebDevStudios back in 2008 and specialize in WordPress design and development. I am also the co-author of the Professional WordPress book series and the co-organizer of the Philadelphia WordPress Meetup and WordCamp Philly.
You’ve been in the WordPress community for several years now, but could you tell us how you first became involved with WordPress?
My first exposure to WordPress was at the Search Engine Strategies (SES) conference at Chicago in December of 2006. During the conference I noticed everyone had a blog, except me. After the first day of the event I went back to my hotel room, ordered a burger and a beer, and setup WordPress to power my blog at StrangeWork.com.
You have to remember back then WordPress was very much a blogging platform. At the time tags didn’t even exist in WordPress core. Even though 2006 was a long time ago, I was actually pretty behind in starting a blog. Blogging became fairly popular in the early 2000s, so I felt like I really missed the bus on starting a blog earlier.
During your time in the community, what different areas have you been involved with?
Over the years I’ve been involved in many different areas of the community. Starting out I was very active in the WordPress IRC channels. I learned a lot from the users who frequented those chat rooms and as I learned more was able to contribute back and help other users.
I have also been very active in the WordPress podcast scene. I was an original panel member on the WordPress Weekly podcast at WPTavern.com. I also co-hosted a few podcasts including WP Late Night on WP Candy as well as my current podcast, the DradCast.
In 2010 I moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I wanted to find a local WordPress community to join, but at the time there really wasn’t one in Philly. I decided to start the Philadelphia WordPress Meetup and help create one! Since then, we have grown to over 1,500 members and have hosted five WordCamp Philly events in our city! It just goes to show, if you can’t find a local WordPress community, get out there and help create one!
What has been the best thing about working with WordPress for you?
One of my favorite things about WordPress has always been the community. I’ve made many life-long friends in the WordPress world, including some that now work with me at WebDevStudios. The WordPress community, and open source in general, is a very open and helpful community. It’s all about giving back and helping others, and being a part of this community is the best thing about working with WordPress.
How has the WordPress community changed since you started?
The WordPress community was obviously much smaller back then. You could count the companies specializing in WordPress on one hand. There were no sites dedicated to WordPress news, no WordPress podcasts, and very few premium themes available. The WordPress world was in its infancy. Being a smaller community meant it was a much tighter community.
The community has grown quite a bit since those days. Most people these days, whether in the technology field or not, have heard of WordPress. There are literally thousands (maybe millions!) of people making a living off of WordPress. From freelancers to agencies, the commercial WordPress space has exploded the past few years and is only continuing to grow.
WordPress is no longer a blogging platform, it is a full-fledged CMS that is capable of powering any website imaginable. Being so flexible is the primary reason the popularity of WordPress, and the community, has grown so fast over the years.
What advice would you give to anyone getting started with WordPress? Which direction would you yourself go if you were starting over again?
The WordPress market is very saturated, and I’m not just talking about premium themes. There are thousands of development and design companies, freelancers, premium products, services, etc for WordPress. My advice would be to find a niche you specialize in and focus on that. Enjoy building websites for radio stations? Focus your business on building websites for radio stations. Focusing on a niche will help you stand out from the crowd and build a name for yourself and your company. It will also open up doors to expand in other niche markets as you grow.
Contributing to WordPress is also a great way to get started in WordPress. What better way to learn a platform inside out than to help make it better? There are a number of different ways to contribute to WordPress, so it’s not just for developers.
What do you think the biggest mistakes WordPress website owners are making?
Many WordPress website owners assume WordPress is a set it and forget it platform. With any software, there are always ongoing maintenance requirements to keep your software updated and secure. WordPress is no different and needs to be updated when new versions are released to verify your website is as secure as it can be. You wouldn’t stop updating Windows when a security update is released, so why stop updating WordPress?
I also think many website owners try to go cheap on a critical component of their website, which is hosting. Time and time again I see beautifully built websites hosted on a $5/month shared hosting plan. You spent your time and money to build a beautiful website, so why wouldn’t you want to also spend a little bit more to host with a solid hosting company, especially if that hosting company specializes in WordPress?
Hosts like Pagely really take the guesswork out of hosting a WordPress website. Not only do they offer top of the line hosting and support, but they also help with keeping your WordPress website and plugins updated. Spend the money on a quality WordPress host and you will quickly see the ongoing benefits.
What do you think the future of WordPress holds? What would you like to see?
The future of WordPress is looking very exciting! I think we are going to start seeing more and more people using WordPress as an application framework. With the soon to be released REST API, the WordPress dashboard no longer has to be the standard management interface for WordPress. You will be able to easily integrate any system with WordPress, allowing WordPress to handle the display side, and your system of choice the administration side. It will be very fun to see what new concepts people come up with in the future.
A big thanks to Brad Williams for finding the time to answer Pagely’s questions. There’s some golden information in there!
In my opinion, the biggest takeaway from today’s interview is Brad’s tip on specialization. These days, the WordPress market is saturated. Countless people make a living from the platform, and there are multiple solutions for just about everything WordPress-related. This makes it incredibly difficult for new developers to get established. If you try to be all things to all people, you’re going to face a long, hard slog if you want recognition as one of the leaders at what you do.
If, however, you decide to specialize in a smaller section of the overall market, it’s much easier to make a name for yourself. Competition is still fierce, but you might be competing with a handful of competitors rather than thousands. And, once you have managed to establish yourself in your niche, you’ll find it much easier to make a splash in the wider marketplace, if that’s what you aspire to do. Just because you start small doesn’t mean you can’t grow into something much larger.
And with that, let’s wrap up today’s interview. Before we finish, here are the all-important links again. Be sure to check out Brad’s WebDevStudios, AppPresser, and his personal blog — oh, and follow him on Twitter, too!
Thanks for reading, see you again next week!