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I'm Lisa Sabin-Wilson co-owner of WebDevStudios. Ask Me Anything!

Oct. 7, 2015

Thank you to ManageWP for having me here for AMA today - I've never actually done one of these, so looking forward to it!

I'm Lisa Sabin-Wilson and am the co-owner and Chief Operating Officer at WebDevStudios, a WordPress agency specializing in custom website design and development. At WebDev, we mainly work with enterprise level clients who are using WordPress to publish content on the web. Clients like Microsoft, Discovery Channel, Uber and MSNBC, to name a few. I'm excited about the work that we're doing at WebDev.

I'm also the author of several books on the topic of our favored CMS, design and web development - WordPress For Dummies is my most popular title and I've been writing and updating that book since 2007; my other books are WordPress focused as well: WordPress All In One and WordPress Web Design. In 2009, I published BuddyPress For Dummies, as well - but that title is no longer an active one (and it's very, very outdated). I do a bit of public speaking at conferences on the topics of WordPress, Business Development and Design.

I joined WebDev in 2012, but prior to that I ran my own small freelance company called eWebscapes where I did much of the same type of work I'm doing now: custom websites for clients, all powered by WordPress. I've been using WordPress since 2003 and all of my skills around WordPress and design have been self-taught and picked up through trial and error (and a lot of destruction!)

I live in Wisconsin and I'm a true fan of Packers football (green and gold 'till I'm dead and cold!). When I'm not at my computer working, I like to spend free time with my family, gardening in the spring/summer and do a bit of skiing in the winter (but mostly watching football or attending games at Lambeau Field in Green Bay!)

I'll be available for the next several hours to ask questions, so Ask me Anything!

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32 votes   Flag
Ryan Love

Hey Lisa, thanks so much for doing this, looking forward to seeing the questions put to you!

I'm going to be greedy and ask two questions!

1) Given that you've worked in web design/development since 2003, what 3 things do you know now, that you wish you knew when you got started?

2) Is there anyone you'd like to see in an AMA here?

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LSW

Good morning, Ryan - you're welcome and thanks for asking me to participate today.

3 things I wished I knew in 2003 when I first got started....

I was pretty green to web development back then, with only about 3 years of some serious tinkering with CSS and HTML markup prior to the release of WordPress. It took me a long time to really understand WordPress core, primarily because I didn't have a good base knowledge of PHP. I think I could have achieved more things in my development work and emerging career back then if I had a better fundamental understanding of PHP and the logic behind it. CSS & HTML came pretty easy to me, and even the hierarchy of WP themes and the template tags were pretty easy to understand - but I was stymied for a good amount of time in any real custom features until I had a better understanding of how it all worked.

Second, I wish I had been more prepared for running my own business. These days, everywhere I look on the web there are resources, training and advice for new entrepreneurs in internet tech, particularly in the WP community. But back then, I either was not looking in the right places or it just didn't exist - so I made it up as I went along and learned some of the hard lessons not through the benefit of someone else's experience, but because I went through each challenging step of it myself. It was exciting and actually quite fun, looking back - but I think I could have progressed quicker with the help of some of the fantastic resources I'm seeing out there today.

Third, I wish someone would have told me how difficult it was to write a book about technology! I really do enjoy it, a lot - and over the years have learned so much - but it's quite a challenge to write a book about software that is constantly changing and evolving. Most often, the software is changing as I am writing. If someone had sat me down back then and said "Lisa, this is going to be really challenging" - it wouldn't have changed my mind about doing it, I just would have, maybe, felt better prepared for the road ahead of me, which might have softened some of the frustrations and stress I experienced about it early on.

And, finally, who would I like to see in an AMA here? Matt Danner, the Chief Operating Officer at iThemes. I think he has a lot of valuable things to share about running a business in our WordPress industry. Hit him up on Twitter @mattdanner

Thanks Ryan!

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Robby McCullough

Hi Lisa! Thanks for doing an AMA!

+1 for Matt Danner! He's got a great wealth of knowledge and he's stand up dude.

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LSW

You bet, Robby - happy to do it :)

Please do me a favor and harass Danner about doing an AMA someday for me? I'd love to read his answers to some of the questions people put up! :)

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Robby McCullough

Will do!

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Ryan Love

Thanks for that very detailed response Lisa!

And I've added Matt Danner to my list!!

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Nemanja Aleksic

Thanks for the AMA, I recommend WordPress for Dummies all the time as an entry level WordPress book :)

1) What did the initial writing process of WordPress for Dummies look like?

2) How did you decide to bring aboard Dre Armeda?

3) Have you considered branching out your business outside the scope of WordPress?

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LSW

Good morning, Nemanja - great questions, and thank you for recommending my book!
1) What did the initial writing process of WordPress for Dummies look like? The initial writing of WordPress For Dummies happened back in 2006-2007, that is when the first edition was written and published. Since then, I have updated the book to reflect current versions of WordPress over the years. The initial writing was hard and I had a lot of challenges around it. First, I had never written a book before - about anything, so that was a completely new process for me. Second, there weren't a whole lot of resources about WordPress back then, so I felt a bit of pressure to put out a resource that was really helpful to WordPress users and would help them understand the basics of working with it. That meant I needed to take everything I knew about the platform and organize it into a resource guide that made sense, and that spoke at the 'newbie' level to make sure everything was covered. It took about 4 months to write the first draft of the book and then I went through, roughly, 2 months of intensive editing from the copy editors and technical editors at Wiley Publishing (the folks behind all the For Dummies books) and it was finally published about 8 months after I started writing it. That's a pretty fast process for someone who was so new to writing books - - but when you put it in the perspective of online publish, it seems like a lifetime.


2) How did you decide to bring aboard Dre Armeda? Dre joined our crew at WebDev in August 2014. My partners at WebDev, Brad Williams and Brian Messenlehner, have been friends with Dre for several years, so naturally we kept up with his professional pursuits, and were already well aware of his talents in business and operations through his work at Sucuri and CubicTwo. Early in 2014, when Dre announced his departure from Sucuri, I think the immediate reaction between my partners at I at WebDev was "when do we want to talk to Dre about coming on board?". It was really a no brainer for us - Dre brings so much to the table. WebDev is a growing company and Dre had gone through that process of growing Sucuri into a very successful operation - we were at a point where we could really benefit from that experience and insight to help us grow and push ourselves further. It was a a natural selection, a great fit and one of the better decisions we made in 2014.


3) Have you considered branching out your business outside the scope of WordPress? Sure. I mean, as a business owner looking to grow your business further, you should always be looking at every available vertical to branch out to in order to improve profits and grow the company. That being said, we haven't done it and it doesn't look like we'll be doing it any time in the near future. Our entire team is extremely talented in the area of WordPress, and we are strong proponents of working to your strengths. The more we've worked with WordPress over the years, the more our company has emerged as one of the top agencies for WordPress in the world - you don't get that kind of cred by spreading yourself too thin. We are laser focused on WordPress development work right now and very happy doing so. There is life outside of WordPress and there is a lot going on outside the bubble of WordPress, sure - but currently, we focus on what we excel at, while always keeping an eye to the future.

Thank you Nemanja!

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Vladimir Prelovac

Hi Lisa and welcome to ManageWP.org AMA. Good to have you here!

1) What is the life of a COO in a WordPress company like? Also interested in a typical day example.

2) What are your tools of choice? Any secret weapons you'd like to share?

3) Favorite WordCamp?

4) Any plans for a second book?

5) Photo of your work desk please :)

Reply
LSW


1) What is the life of a COO in a WordPress company like? Also interested in a typical day example.
I primarily oversee and manage the operations within the company - workflows, processes, etc. My life as a COO at WebDev is very busy and spent in constant contact with our team members regularly, we wel ensure that everyone is sticking with our set processes and workflows in their day to day. Because of our growth, the refinement of those processes becomes extremely important in an effort to be as productive and efficient as possible during the work day. We strive to document a process for everything we do, from project management, project scoping, new business development, onboarding new clients, development workflows, onboarding new employees, etc, etc - - it's these processes that keep us consistent, focused and moving forward.

My typical day includes coffee first (always) - and then checking my schedule for the day, reading/responding to my email, meetings with my team on new/existing projects, meetings with various key players in the company on operational items, client meetings and planning sessions for upcoming projects and pursuits. I would say doing an AMA is an atypical day :)

2) What are your tools of choice? Any secret weapons you'd like to share?
In my role of COO, I have moved away from doing design and development and am focused now on the operational aspect of running a company. Naturally, my tools of choice these days include those that improve or enhance efforts towards communication and tracking. As a distributed company, communication is of utmost importance, so for that reason, I appreciate tools like HipChat, Skype and Slack that enable me to keep my ear to the ground. As well as tools like Zoom and UberConference for easy communications with clients and groups.

From a process and tracking perspective, some tools that we use that I like include Harvest for time tracking and project/team scheduling, Quickbooks for accounting, and Proposify for new project proposals.

3) Favorite WordCamp?
WordCamp Chicago, naturally. I was the original organizer of that camp in 2009 and 2010 and I love to see how it has evolved over the years since I stepped down from organizing. I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for Chicago's camp.

4) Any plans for a second book?
Well, I currently have 3 active books: WordPress For Dummies, WordPress All In One and WordPress Web Design For Dummies. I am constantly updating those books to reflect the most recent information - - I think an additional fourth book might very well put me in an early grave... so, to answer your question: not at this time :)

5) Photo of your work desk please :)
Not sure how to attach images in this forum - so here's a link of what my desk looks like right now. I just snapped this photo about 5 minutes ago for this request :)

My work space: lsw.d.pr/17c8D

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Ahmad Awais

Hey, Lisa!

Nice to have you here at ManageWP.org AMA. Below are few of my questions.

1— How do you guys at WDS differ yourself from other companies like CrowdFav, 10up, etc
2— Do you people have Enterprise clients only, or Small and Medium business clients too?
3— If you do have Small and Medium business clients, then how do you people distribute developers on project basis, does a developer works for a few months or more on one single project or does he work at multiple projects at the same time?
4— Dre Armeda became partner about a month ago, as a WordPress business owner I'd like to know what does a partner mean to you, how can one decide to make one, what are the ins and outs here. You may answer this question in WDS perspective (as in what would one need to do to become one) or as an advice to mulit-million dollar WP business owner (how and when to chose one).

Looking forward!

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LSW

Hi Ahmad - thank you for your great questions!

1— How do you guys at WDS differ yourself from other companies like CrowdFav, 10up, etc

There are several other fantastic agencies out there, as well - like Modern Tribe, Human Made, who are all focused in the area of WordPress in one way or another. In some ways, I feel that the core work we do is very similar and we are all working toward achieving similar goals for our clients. Each agency is going to differ in their approach, process and philosophy in getting from point A to point B in the work they do. WebDev is a small agency with 36 total employees (at the time of this writing - that may have changed in the few minutes it took for me to write this though!) - even at our smaller size, we accomplish a lot of great things!

At WebDev, I am fortunate enough to have partnered with some amazing people who also happen to be US military veterans - so a military comparison here is fitting: the Army, for example, throws large numbers at a problem, where the Marines send a smaller, skilled group to handle the problem. Personally, I view WebDev like the Marines in our space - we are a smaller, more focused and agile team of problem solvers and solution makers.

2— Do you people have Enterprise clients only, or Small and Medium business clients too?

Like any business, we definitely started with the small business client. It was a natural progression into medium, large and then enterprise level clients as our portfolio and presence in the space grew. Today, we do a mixture of Enterprise and medium-to-large business clients.


3— If you do have Small and Medium business clients, then how do you people distribute developers on project basis, does a developer works for a few months or more on one single project or does he work at multiple projects at the same time?

At WebDev, we have teams that are made up of project managers, designers, developers and the like. Each team is assigned to projects through the entire project life cycle, which means that they are involved from day one until it's eventual completion. Projects are assigned based on team availability. Small projects can be handled with a minimum of 3 team members, where larger projects will require the work of an entire team of 10-15 individuals - it really depends on the project size, scope and complexity.


4— Dre Armeda became partner about a month ago, as a WordPress business owner I'd like to know what does a partner mean to you, how can one decide to make one, what are the ins and outs here. You may answer this question in WDS perspective (as in what would one need to do to become one) or as an advice to mulit-million dollar WP business owner (how and when to chose one).

First and foremost, a partner in business means the people (or person) with whom you have a very high level of trust in almost every single aspect of life, personal and business. I've heard it said often that business partnerships are similar to marriages in that way - and I completely believe that, based on my experience with partners at WebDev. We currently have 4 partners at WebDev: myself, Brad Williams, Brian Messenlehner and Dre Armeda - there exists a very high level of trust, respect and loyalty among us all 4. However, I am not a partner at WebDev just because I think they are neat (they are) - - we made the decision to partner together because we have shared interests and each of us brings much to the table in terms of skill, experience, motivations, assets and personality that we believe will help us mold and shape and grow a company that we believe in, doing work that inspires us, collectively.

If you're asking in terms of how to become a partner? I can only speak from my own experience and say that I became a partner at WebDev because I had documented years of experience in this field and I brought those skills and experience to the table, along with an established client base that helped grow and push the company further.

Thank you, Ahmad!

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Ahmad Awais

Thank you, Lisa! For detailed answers.

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Eric Karkovack

Hi Lisa,

It looks like you and your partners at WDS really do a lot of traveling to various WordCamps and conferences. How much has that benefited your business and how important is it to continue to be out here speaking, etc?

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LSW

Hi Eric - thank you for your question!

You're right, we do a fair amount of traveling and speaking at various events, like WordCamps. An important aspect of what we do at WebDev is contributing back to the community in various different ways. Speaking at WordCamps and sharing our knowledge and experience in working with the platform is a small part of what we do to give back - plus, it's a lot of fun!

It has benefitted our business a good amount over the years, as it does help to get our name out there through the exposure the events and speaking engagements offer. It also doesn't hurt to be looked at as an authority in the space, and speaking at events like that certainly helps, in that regard.

There have been several clients over the years that have come to us as a direct result of our involvement at these events.

Thank you ,

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Arūnas Liuiza

Hello Lisa, and thanks for doing is. When You were first releasing a book with WordPress in its title, how did you go about receiving permission to use the trademark? Or maybe nobody cared about that in the good old days?

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LSW

Good question, Arūnas!

However, it is a question best asked and answered by the legal crew at Wiley Publishing. They are the Publishing house behind all of the 'For Dummies' books in the world.

Thanks!

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Robby McCullough

Hi Lisa! I am curious, how does your process differ when dealing with enterprise clients as opposed to a smaller (like mom and pop shop) client? Do you use the same WordPress stack, i.e., themes, plugins, etc? How could someone looking to take on bigger clients improve their workflow to achieve that? Thanks!

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LSW

Hey Robby - great question, thanks!

Over the years, we have developed a base project framework that we use in our approach to every project, no matter how big or how small. This framework helps keep our process and workflow consistent from project-to-project, using the same basic technologies, which empowers our teams abilities to consistently produce quality work, across the board. It's important for us, in a busy environment, to know that we can pull in a developer, mid-project, if needed, and have confidence that the developer will be able to acquaint themselves with the project in relative short order because they already know the base framework.

For example, our fork of Automattic's _s was incredibly useful and is still growing and being contributed to - you can review it here on github: github.com/WebDevStudios/wd_s

It starts with, as mentioned, a fork of Automattic's _s theme and we've added components to it that make our workflow consistent with every project we do. The following features to the framework help a great deal, like:
- Grunt
- Sass
- SassDocs
- Bourbon
- Neat
- Bower
- Live reload
- WDS Simple Page Builder support (github.com/WebDevStudios/WDS-Simple-Page-Builder)
- SVG support
- Image sprite support
- Script linting and CSS minifcation

Each of the above mentioned features are ones that we expect to utilize in every project and we attempt to keep the framework lean, while at the same time making sure that the tools and features help our development teams solve solutions that we see on a pretty regular basis.

We also have toolsets for unique projects, like a BuddyPress project, for example - check out our WDS BP Project Framework github.com/WebDevStudios/WDS-BuddyPress-Project-Framework - this plugin creates a new template stack for BuddyPress. BuddyPress will look into this plugin first for its template files and if the file doesn't exist it will default to the core plugin. This is a great solution when you're a company that works with BuddyPress sites (of all sizes) on a semi-regular basis.

Every project is different and unique in it's own way - but many times we're seeing the need to provide solutions to the same problems over and over again, that is where the framework comes in handy for us.

Thanks!

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Robby McCullough

Ooh, great stuff. Very interesting. Thanks so much for sharing. I'll have to dig through the _s fork when I have a few minutes. :)

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Matt Medeiros

Which NFL quarterback holds the record for most post-season victories? (Hint: It's a .724 win %)

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LSW

Hey pal - thanks for participating!

Tom Brady holds the record for the most (dirty) post-season victories * - - everyone knows that, Matt, but thanks for the question!

Matt, did you know that Aaron Rodgers, at his current pace, is on track to shatter most, if not all, QB records in the history of the NFL? Fun fact.

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Nile Flores

Hi Lisa!

While we both have been in the design and dev world for nearly the same amount of time, I've felt as a female that you're really a role model. I've respected you for years.

I have a few different questions. I'm breaking them up by their general topic.

I'm sure you've had this question, and this mainly isn't for me, but for some of the gals that ask me the question. Perhaps words from you will help them.

Question 1: As a female in the WordPress community, what 2 or 3 tips do you have for women starting up a WordPress web design or WordPress focused business today?

Question 2: I get women who come to me that have a hard time finding work, and find that the pie is small (scarcity mindset.) In your own words, for the female startup in WordPress (men could probably benefit from these words too), what is the best way to assure them (the web designer or developer) that they don't need to have a scarcity mindset?

-----------------

We've both seen a LOT of web design trends over the years:

Question 1: What was your favorite web design trend in the last decade?

Question 2: Some web designers have seen some of the actual design, as in use of palette and pattern, lacking these days? Do you agree with this? If so, why do you think this is occurring? If not, why?

----------

My next question is for myself. I'm writing a WordPress beginner ebook that is focused on specific core areas to bring a site from install to ready for business.

Question 1: How many people do you recommend that I should have do a technical review of my ebook?

Question 2: Is a foreword in a book by another person in the community recommended, or just an added bonus?

--------

Thanks! And, I'll see you in Philly for WordCamp US in December. :)

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LSW

Hi Nile - good to see your questions here - thanks for participating!


Let's get to it:

As a female in the WordPress community, what 2 or 3 tips do you have for women starting up a WordPress web design or WordPress focused business today?

If you're just starting out, assume that you are on equal footing with every single person in the industry, because you are. Have zero doubts about that - no matter what you read or hear. Don't default into thinking that being a woman puts you at some kind of disadvantage straight out of the starting block. You have talent, you have skill, you have determination and power. Enjoy your success, unapologetically and share it so that others can enjoy it, and learn from it, too.

Also, the WordPress community is probably the most friendly, diverse, open and accepting tech community out there. Step into it and soak up and learn everything you can, because it's yours for the taking.

==============================================================
I get women who come to me that have a hard time finding work, and find that the pie is small (scarcity mindset.) In your own words, for the female startup in WordPress (men could probably benefit from these words too), what is the best way to assure them (the web designer or developer) that they don't need to have a scarcity mindset?

Nile, I don't think I understand why this question was asked from a gender perspective? I think the perception that 'the pie is small' is one that is shared by many. I can only speak from my perspective and say that for the past 12 years in my profession in design and WordPress, I have been extremely busy - - and, at times, too busy. Every single development agency and freelancer I know says the same thing - they are all working hard, all day - every day. The work is out there and it does not appear to be slowing down anytime soon, from what I can see. I think the answer you are looking for is where to find the work or how to get your name out there so that the people that have the work bring it to you. Persistence is one key way, and networking within the community is another great way to start. Events, online forums and communities are great resources of work. WordCamps are also a great resource for work - - even back in the days of freelancing, I found a great deal of work by attending WordCamps and starting up conversations and networking.
==============================================================
What was your favorite web design trend in the last decade? Flat design is my favorite, so far.

Goodbye to drop shadows and farewell to bevelled edges of all depths!

==============================================================
Some web designers have seen some of the actual design, as in use of palette and pattern, lacking these days? Do you agree with this? If so, why do you think this is occurring? If not, why?


I'm not sure I agree. We do a fair amount of custom design at WebDev - - I'm talking actual Photoshop and Illustrator mockups and comps with revisions and large amounts of attention paid to palette, pattern, typography and styling. These things are still very important aspects to web design and branding. I think, sometimes, when you look at some cookie cutter themes or frameworks out there that - things start to look the same, same, same. People and companies who care about branding take a much different, and usually highly meticulous approach to design.

==============================================================

How many people do you recommend that I should have do a technical review of my ebook?


For my books, I typically had just one technical editor review my book. That person was vetted as someone with as high a degree of understanding of the platform as I, so I felt comfortable in knowing that this person had my back to catch any problem areas.

==============================================================

Is a foreword in a book by another person in the community recommended, or just an added bonus?


I certainly do not think a foreword is necessary - it's a 'nice to have'. A good foreword can be a nice introduction to the book and in some cases, it can add additional authority and endorsement to your publication, depending on who the foreword is written by.

==============================================================

Thank you for your thoughtful questions!

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Thomas Varghese

Hi Lisa,

Great to see you here. I would like to have some advice from you. I am working as a Web Developer past 3years and in last two years I am mostly engaged with WordPress related work. I have a full time job and also do freelancing in part time. Last year was a much fruitful year when it comes to freelancing as I got some good work from some good clients around the world. But this year things are not the same and I just could manage to get one good project. My long term goal is to work as an independent freelance developer with an agency of my own or to work for some remote agency with time and work place flexibility. I would like to know from you what approach should I follow at this moment to achieve this goal?

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Formidable PRO2PDF

Hi Lisa,

What is your firm doing now for clients who need dynamic PDF's from their online forms in Wordpress? We are currently looking for developers like you to collaborate with as we too concentrate on the business users of WP...

Let us know if we can work together in the future or if you have any suggestions for our plugin.

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