A look back over the past two years and how we went from selling hours to packaging an internal tool and selling it as a premium WordPress plugin. Includes lessons learned along the way and some advice on how you can do the same.
Seven years ago I hired a business coach to help me through a difficult time in my career. I had started 3.7 Designs five years prior. What was a part-time passion project quickly became full-time. When a book deal landed in my lap I was unable to manage the many directions in which I was pulled. We discussed a multitude of topics, but there was a recurring theme: starting a product based business. My coach said this type of business really resonated with me. While I agreed at the time it felt like an unobtainable goal, so I spent years avoiding action. Today—in addition to 3.7 Designs—I operate SnapOrbital, a software company that has a growing inventory of products including our flagship plugin, Project Panorama. With humble aspirations to begin the company has grown. SnapOrbital is more successful than I ever imagined it would be selling hundreds of licenses per month.
When you sell hours it feels like you’re on a hamster wheel. Every project is starting from scratch. Time invested has a fixed return, and you’ll never make more for the hour you just spent than you already have. Scaling is extremely difficult.
Suffice it to say a product feels like the holy
Thoughts on how to continually improve your WordCamp even as you cycle through lead organizers.
The fourth WordCamp Ann Arbor just wrapped up, and the initial feedback is that it was the best one to date. Two years ago I wrote a post summarizing what I had learned leading WordCamps prior to stepping down as lead organizer. Now I’ve been involved in another two and have seen the camp I started grow into something much bigger than I had imagined. The truth is many great WordCamps lose steam and fade away after a few successful runs. Starting a WordCamp is difficult. Keeping one going is even harder. Yet somehow we managed to do so and looking back I can see several key things that lead to growth and improvement every year.
First and foremost you have to think about who’s your successor.
Develop a Line of Successors
The WordPress foundation strongly recommends a new lead organizer after two successive years. This is for good reason, no one should monopolize an area. It also creates an opportunity for new energy and ideas. That said I’ve seen more than a few camps fade away when an organizer stepped down and there was no one to take their place.
I had my successor in mind after the first year.
I knew Kyle Maurer was the right person to take over as lead organizer.
Tips and insights for WordCamp (or other conference) organizers after two years of lead organizing and two years of co-organizing.
I am writing this a few days after WordCamp Ann Arbor 2015. This was the second WordCamp where I was a lead organizer and the fourth WordCamp to which I provided overall assistance. Based on the feedback we have received thus far, WordCamp was a success. Attendees learned and networked, sponsors were able to support WordPress and get in front of the community, and speakers shared their knowledge and expertise. Since this is the fourth WordCamp I have helped run, I have a clear idea about the most important factors for the camp’s success and what things could have been done to make the next WordCamp even better.
Rather than keep the lessons learned inside my head, I figured others might find them valuable, thus this blog post. I’ve organized this guide based on the order of importance, meaning the most important lessons appear first. Without further ado…
You can pull off a WordCamp in two months, but who wants to attend a rushed camp? If you can’t start early, set a date for next year.
I’m writing this post less than one week after our last WordCamp and we’ve already started scouting locations and begun the application process.
Last year, we waited a few months before starting
Some thoughts on non-WordCamp conferences and how the community might benefit from having more of them.
2017 was the year of my foray into non-Camp WordPress conferences. They’ve changed my perspective on the WordPress conference landscape. Years ago when Pressnomics was first announced, I questioned the need for a non-camp focused conference. Couldn’t we discuss business topics at a WordCamp? Is this a way to get around the rules put in place by the foundation? Does WordPress really need independent conferences outside of WordCamps? While many of my WordPress friends attend more WordCamps in a year than I have in my career, I have witnessed an evolution of camps since my first attendance of WordCamp Detroit in 2010. Seven years ago the community was in its infancy, and the platform was much less capable. Since then, the landscape has evolved in a multi-dimensional way. Capabilities, audience, ecosystem, and everything in between has become more sophisticated.
WordCamps, by design, are inclusive of everyone at any level. The idea being you should be able to get something out of a WordCamp regardless if you’ve just discovered WordPress the day prior or you’re a multi-skilled WordPress veteran. This accessibility is a large part of what’s made WordPress so
A simple tutorial on how to restrict access to a custom post type using roles in WordPress. It shows how to use custom capabilities and add those capabilities to specific roles. It is a bit older, but I found it pretty helpful today.
Custom post types extend the capabilities of WordPress in terms of what types of content can be published and managed, but these days at 3.7 we find ourselves working on projects that need more granular permissions related to custom post types. The most common situation I’ve run into is a particular user (or group of users) needs the ability to manage specific custom post types but shouldn’t have the ability to alter the rest of the site. For example, you may have someone in an organization that needs to manage job listings (a custom post type) but shouldn’t be allowed to edit posts or pages.
For this example, I’ll base the situation off our project management plugin Panorama. Many of our customers need users to manage projects, but don’t want them to have access to any other types of content. There are some good tutorials out there, but many of them are a few years dated and I found a slightly updated approach was necessary to make this work.
What We’re Aiming For
In the case of Panorama, we wanted our “projects” custom post type to be managed by Editors, Administrators and a new role of “Project Managers.” Project Managers
Many first WordPress interactions start with a common question, "Are you a designer or a developer?" These two categories get most of the respect and attention, ignoring an under represented but massively important group in the WordPress ecosystem. The WordPress assembler is often overlooked and doesn't have a title that speaks to their skill.
Having recently returned from WordCamp US, I find myself wondering if we’re not paying enough respect to an important part of our community. Having met lots of new people, I noticed that how one uses WordPress comes up within the first few minutes of conversation. Many of those I met responded by saying they were a designer, developer, blogger or end-user. There was a group however that would struggle to describe what they were, often citing that while they weren’t a designer or developer they provided business with WordPress solutions or consulting. I see two problems with this situation. First, the group often seemed embarrassed to admit they weren’t didn’t design or develop. Second, they had no idea what to call themselves.
More than Instruction Followers
This group has loosely been referred to as the “WordPress Assembler,” which is an adequate but less than stellar title. From my perspective, it has a slightly negative connotation. It describes a process rather than a skill. You might as well call them “WordPress Instruction Followers.”
But let’s address the first problem. People who know how to solve complex problems without cracking open Photoshop (or Sketch) or writing a line
An overview into the process used to launch and manage WordPress VIP hosted websites, insight into when VIP is a good fit and challenges to expect.
From the inception of WordPress VIP I’ve wondered what it was like to work on a VIP-hosted project. The hosting platform is notorious for being strict on code and process. On occasion, 3.7 DESIGNS would start a project that seemed like a good fit for the platform, but inevitably the projects would never get off the ground. Last year we finally landed a project that was a good fit for WordPress VIP. Over the past four months we’ve engaged with the VIP team launching the project into a closed beta a few weeks ago. The fuzzy details of what’s required to host a VIP site are now vivid. I’ve developed better coding habits as a result. As the VIP platform continues to grow (especially with “WordPress VIP Go” rolling out–more on this later) I suspect more developers will be in my position—entering into a VIP project with a vague understanding of how things will unfold.
This post aims to detail both my experience and lessons learned while working with the VIP platform and team. I hope this will help you decide if VIP is a good fit and leaves you better prepared if it is. First, some very general background on the project.
The primary driver to use VIP was the need for an
Does your website plan start with budget, timeline and features? If so, you're focusing on tactics when you should be thinking about strategy. In this article we cover the most effective way to plan a website redesign including the three key elements you need to focus on first.
There is no greater factor in website success than the planning phase. You might be tempted to start planning with consideration to time, budget, and functionality, but doing so is putting the cart in front of the horse. Before you can figure out what you need to spend, how long it will take and what features the website needs you first need to decide what success looks like. Surprisingly enough, this critical aspect of planning is the most neglected. Your plan can only be successful through an understanding of all involved players; specifically, the needs of your stakeholders and target audience. The needs of these two groups should dictate what features are needed, which will inherently inform subsequent budget, timing, and other key considerations.
We’ve established understanding stakeholders and target audiences comes first. What is the best way to get started? I recommend looking at stakeholder needs first–let’s dive right in.
Stakeholders and Objectives
There are certain outcomes you expect from your website whether you’ve clearly identified them or not. Some common examples include acquiring new leads, increasing sales, building awareness, or reducing support overhead. Your website
WordPress gives us a lot of control over scripts and styles through the wp_enqueue_scripts action, but sites with a lot of assets require reusing the same wp_enqueue_script and wp_enqueue_style functions. Thinking through a less repetitive way of handling the enqueuing of assets.
WordPress has several handy functions for granular control over external assets. Specifically wp_enqueue_script(), wp_register_script(), wp_enqueue_style(), wp_register_style(). These functions allow us to register assets so they’re available and can be added to the page where applicable. While these functions give a fair amount of control, if you have a complex site you can end up repeating the same four functions over and over again. This not only contributes to visual clutter it increases the likelihood of making a mistake like a misplaced argument or typo.
Realizing this at 3.7 DESIGNS, we started looking for a better way to handle asset registering and enqueuing. What we came up with is as follows.
Rather than repeating wp_register_ and wp_enqueue_ for each individual asset, we decided defining all the assets once via a multidimensional array would cut down on needless repetition and code bloat.
Each asset is defined using a nested array with keys for the relevant arguments passed into wp_enqueue__ and wp_register_. Let’s look and see what’s required to register a script.
We need a handle, file path, an array of dependencies, an optional version number,
Some thoughts on the value of custom solutions for business workflows and if WordPress is a viable platform to use.
WordPress was originally built for blogging. Eventually it evolved into a content management system. Now, many say its future is an application framework. It’s now quick and easy to assemble rich functionality using structured data, user management, and integrations with other platforms. There have been many discussions about using WordPress for consumer targeted applications, but little about internal tools for business which begs the question, “is WordPress not a suitable fit”? Or is the topic infrequently discussed? I have my own thoughts about it, but first let’s see if it’s worth building an internal application at all.
Why build a business application at all?
Before considering if WordPress is a good fit we must consider if you need a custom application for your business in the first place. After ten years of working with all shapes and sizes of businesses, I’ve learned that everyone has a unique approach to what they do. Two companies providing the same type of product or service might have commonalities in outcome but their process leading up to the end result is dramatically different.
There is a myriad of existing tools that handle core
Getting design feedback can be a painful and frustrating process. Typically frustrations stem from what happens before any design actually starts. This post discusses ways to tease out the most important elements of a website and establish expertise before you start designing, reducing headaches down the road.
The design phase used to be the most time consuming part of our project but now it’s the smoothest. Where we once sought buy-in along the way with wireframes, style tiles, and finally two finished design concepts we now only deliver a single, fully fleshed out concept. While internally designing with the same tools, we’ve honed our outward facing process so we only need to show the client our single, best idea. We rarely receive significant revision feedback, despite lack of client buy-in leading up to the delivered concept. Clients feel that we’ve delivered solutions that fit their needs and need little, if any, adjusting.
How is this done consistently? Our design discovery process. By the time we’re done performing design research, we have a complete understanding of the organization and their needs for the project at hand. Furthermore, we’ve structured the process to convey both expertise and intention. We make it clear that every design decision is based on experience and thought which builds trust and limits feedback born out of personal preferences or emotion.
So what’s our secret sauce? Read on and I’ll tell you more about our design
Some thoughts on when you might want a custom developed theme vs using an existing premium theme.
With an ample amount of premium WordPress themes available you might question the need to have a custom theme designed and built for you. While there are some great WordPress themes available, a custom designed and built theme has numerous advantages. Ducks and Decorated Sheds
A few years ago I attended a user-experience talk by Dan Klyne of The Understanding Group where he talked about an architectural concept called “Ducks and Decorated Sheds” by authors Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour.
Simply put, the architects looked at two different options for building usage–a completely custom building (ducks) or reusing an existing structure (decorated shed) to fit your business. “Duck” refers to the Big Duck building in Long Island which was originally constructed to sell ducks and duck eggs. The building is literally shaped like a duck and very explicitly communicates its merchandise.
Decorated sheds are generic structures that need signs and decoration to denote their purpose. For example, restaurants in a strip mall or big box stores.
This analogy very much applies to the custom vs. existing theme question. There are times when having