Welcome to the sixth edition of Pagely’s 8 Questions series, and today we have none other than Shawn Hesketh, founder of WP101.
Shawn is a graphic designer turned WordPress guru, with his fantastic WP101 resource helping hundreds of thousands of WordPress users find their feet. You can find out more about Shawn by visiting his personal blog or following him on Twitter @leftlane.
In today’s interview, we’ll be covering how it all started with WordPress for Shawn, how awesome the WordPress community is, and Shawn’s thoughts on the future for the platform. He’ll also be pointing out where many WordPress users are going wrong, so there’s a lot to take away here.
A massive thanks to Shawn for agreeing to participate in this interview; here’s what he had to say.
For readers less familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself and your WordPress background?
Sure. For more than 25 years, I worked as a freelance graphic designer, creating logos and identity systems, print materials, and branding strategies for my clients in and around the Greater Houston area.
In the mid-90s, I began designing websites for my clients, first using WYSIWYG apps like Adobe Pagemill. As the complexity of my clients’ sites increased, I began using more powerful apps like Adobe GoLive and Dreamweaver.
Over the next 10 years, clients began requesting the ability to edit their own content — without having to hire a professional web designer every time they needed to make small changes. So, after experimenting with several other content management systems, I was thrilled to discover WordPress.
Compared to Joomla, Drupal, and Expression Engine, the WordPress UI was relatively simple and fairly intuitive. My clients agreed. So I began recommending WordPress for nearly all my web design projects, and have never looked back.
In addition to design services, I also began providing onsite, one-on-one WordPress training for my clients.
But I quickly realized that one-on-one training simply doesn’t scale. And, it’s nearly impossible to remember everything you learn during a 4-hour class. It’s like drinking from a fire hose.
So in 2008, I created the “WordPress 101” video tutorial series. Since then, WP101 has helped hundreds of thousands of people all around the world learn how to use WordPress to build their own website or blog.
You’ve been in the WordPress community for several years now, but could you tell us how you first became involved with WordPress?
As I mentioned earlier, I began experimenting with different CMSs in the mid-2000s. Tools like Joomla, Drupal, and Expression Engine were quite complicated and had a steep learning curve — something I knew my clients would not enjoy.
So imagine my relief when I finally discovered WordPress in 2007. I believe WordPress was at version 2.3 or so.
Compared to those other CMSs, WordPress was incredibly easy to use. My clients agreed. So I began recommending WordPress for nearly all my web design projects, and have never looked back.
During your time in the community, what different areas have you been involved with?
Thanks to the success of WP101, we’ve been able to give back to the community in many ways, including sponsoring and attending dozens of WordCamps across the country.
I also participate in the NUX working group, identifying ways to improve the WordPress experience for new users.
Over the years, I’ve partnered with many WordPress companies to create tutorial videos for some of the most popular WordPress themes and plugins.
And the WordPress 101 videos have been viewed by hundreds of thousands of beginners all around the world, enabling them to build their own website or blog.
I’m also a member of a WordPress mastermind group, in addition to several Slack channels and Facebook Groups, where I get to interact with like-minded WordPress business owners, exploring ways to better serve our families, customers, and the WordPress community at large.
What has been the best thing about working with WordPress for you?
Without a doubt, it’s the people… the community that has grown around this platform. I don’t know of another software community that is as accessible, friendly, and genuinely concerned with each other’s growth as the people who make up the WordPress community.
Even among competitors, there is a high degree of mutual respect, which enables us to share and learn from each other, even while we’re seemingly in competition. We often refer to this as “co-opetition”, and you’d be hard-pressed to find this in other industries.
How has the WordPress community changed since you started?
Obviously, as WordPress itself has grown, the size of the community has greatly expanded. Today, you can find a local WordCamp or Meetup group in just about every corner of the world.
We’ve also seen a number of conferences and events that are geared directly toward specific audiences within the community. PressNomics, for example, brings together WordPress business owners unlike any other event. PrestigeConf and the upcoming LoopConf also come to mind.
There are also dozens of Slack channels, Facebook Groups, forums, and blog resources that make it easy for beginners to ask questions, get help, and quickly begin using WordPress.
What advice would you give to anyone getting started with WordPress? Which direction would you yourself go if you were starting over again?
First, ask questions. As I mentioned, there are dozens of ways to connect with other people who are using WordPress — whether to build websites or earn a living. Find a WordCamp or Meetup near you and connect with other WordPress users in your area.
Next, check out the gold mine of learning resources that is available for beginners today! When I first began using WordPress, there were very few online resources besides the official WordPress Codex.
For those looking to launch a WordPress product or service, take the time to look around and see what others have already done in this space, rather than simply diving in headlong and reinventing the wheel. Reach out to those individuals and discuss ways to collaborate. You’ll be surprised just how receptive and helpful they might be.
What do you think the biggest mistakes WordPress website owners are making?
I think the biggest mistake most website owners make (myself included) is simply not publishing content on a consistent basis. It’s helpful to create a content calendar that simply reminds you to write and publish content on a regular basis.
BTW, this article by Siobhan McKeown contains some of the best advice I’ve seen for creating a strategy for your WordPress blog.
Beyond that, one of the biggest mistakes I made early on was failing to build an email list. As important as it is to publish content on your site on a regular basis, it’s equally important to leverage email to connect with and communicate with your audience.
It’s by far the most effective medium for soliciting personal responses and facilitating meaningful, two-way conversation with your audience, so it deserves your attention from day one.
What do you think the future of WordPress holds? What would you like to see?
Obviously, no other platform comes close to the market share WordPress has garnered, and it continues to grow year after year. But, that does not mean that WordPress is without competition. And if WordPress is to survive and thrive in the long-term, it must continue to evolve and mature to better serve its end users on two ends of the spectrum: low-traffic blogs and small websites, but also the enterprise space.
That’s definitely a challenge, but one WordPress is uniquely positioned to tackle.
One of the most promising innovations is the WP REST API that is currently under development, which will enable the creation of highly customized interfaces specifically created for niche markets like Happytables has done in the restaurant space.
This will result in an explosion of services that enable site owners to edit their own content or even build entire sites without ever touching the admin interface as we currently know it.
Personally, I would love to see WordPress ship with front-end editing tools that would reduce the number of trips between the admin area and public view of the site. Minimizing — or eliminating — the disconnect between the admin area and the live, public view would also go a long way toward improving the experience for new users, making it easier for folks to begin using WordPress “out of the box.”
And that is the mission of WordPress after all… to democratize online publishing.
Once again, a big “thank you” to Shawn for his time, and for providing us with some excellent answers.
A recurring theme in these interviews: successful WordPressers immerse themselves in the community. They don’t just create a product or service then sell, they actively participate in the WordPress community, getting their name out there and eventually reaping the rewards. Check out the WordCamps website and see if there’s an event near you any time soon. They’re great fun, you’ll learn a lot, and they’re a great opportunity to network with like-minded people.
If you want to learn WordPress, I really do recommend you check out Shawn’s WP101 website, especially if you want to learn by following along with video tutorials. You can also follow Shawn via his personal blog, ShawnHesketh.com, or on Twitter, @leftlane.
Thanks again for reading, and I’ll see you again next week!