Special thanks to Patte Shetler for transcribing this episode!
Amy M.: 00:01 Welcome to Women in WP, a bimonthly podcast about women who blog, design, develop, and more in the WordPress community.
Angela B.: 00:12 Welcome to Episode 5 of Women in WP. I’m Angela Bowman.
Tracy A: 00:13 I’m Tracy Apps.
Amy M.: 00:16 I’m Amy Masson.
Angela B: 00:21 I’m so excited to have our guest today, Bethany Siegler, because we go way, way back in our WordPress careers. Bethany is the owner of Unique Think online marketing and web design. She specializes in helping low-tech folks get comfortable with their WordPresss websites. Welcome to the show Bethany.
Bethany S: 00:39 Thank you.
Angela B: 00:42 We start each episode with asking about people’s journey into WordPress. I know that you came from an interesting and unique background and we’d love to hear how you discovered WordPress.
Bethany S: 00:54 Sure. So my background is in entertainment marketing. I worked with major label artists in the mid-90s. I’d love to say that I worked with Bonnie Raitt and all of these major label artists, but I felt like I needed to help the smaller guys. So I went to work for an independent record label. That was a fantastic opportunity. But I was, let’s say for lack of a better word, frustrated with what we called the webmasters back then. So I wanted to learn how to manipulate the website or to change the website because I am a marketer first and foremost. As a marketer, I always want to be changing things on the website and I want to be running these great promotions and I found that it was a lot easier to go to the fan sites. We were working with cult artists who had a very strong fan base. The fans, they were able to manipulate their websites a lot quicker than we were. Our website, our webmaster that’s what we called them back then, if we asked them to make any changes it took six months. If we wanted to run a promotion it took six months or if we want to change a comma, it took six months now.
Amy M: 02:17 Wow!
Bethany S: 02:18 Yeah. I was really frustrated because we’d come up with these great ideas. We created this magnetic poetry kit for one of our artists. I thought this will be great! Let’s do a virtual magnetic poetry kit contest. And so we said let’s put that online and it took us forever to get that to fruition. I understand now that the technology was a lot more difficult back then and even doing a magnetic poetry kit today and having people submit using the words and dragging and dropping would probably take quite a while to create. But, again even making a minor change would always be really difficult. So I decided I was going to teach myself a little bit about creating websites. That took me first through FrontPage and then to Dreamweaver. At this point I had left the record label and I was on my own journey of creating what would become Unique Think, though it wasn’t called that yet. While I was doing that, Dreamweaver came out with a tool called Contribute. Contribute (I don’t know if you guys remember that tool) but it would allow you to assign segments of the webpage to allow the client to get in there and make adjustments without knowing code. I thought Oh! Contribute is definitely the solution. I’m 100% behind this. Then I had the opportunity to work with a New York Times best-selling author in about 2005. His site had been built by an agency who built it in HTML. But they added a WordPress blog and made the site look like the blog. They said if you want to run the blog that would be great. I was like great! Fantastic! I have been wanting to get into this whole blogging thing. In 2005 it was still relatively new to me as a marketer. I went in the back end and I saw pages. I saw that you could create a page but they hadn’t done that. Like I said, they had built the site with HTML and they had built the blog portion with WordPress. When I got on the phone with the web designer, he told me it was because pages had just come out. So he didn’t even know that you could build a full site with WordPress. He was now as excited as I was. So then I saw it as a really powerful marketing tool. That’s where I went with it. I thought all right. This is great! Now I can build sites for my clients, hand it off to them and have them maintain it themselves. I just started digging into it and trying to understand it. But I was a non-tech person. Again, I am a marketing dork, not a geek or nerd. I didn’t feel comfortable with technology and it took me from that time in 2005 which about May, until 2007 to actually start building sites in WordPress. I was in WordPress.org. I was using WordPress.com. I started a bunch of blogs but I hadn’t really looked at installing WordPress. I was using a small hosting company at the time. To get WordPress on it took their assistance. It was a big struggle. From there, I was fortunate enough to take a CSS class with this person at this local organization called Boulder Digital Arts. He talked about his WordPress class. I said “Oh my God. I didn’t know anybody was teaching WordPress. Let me take your class”. That helped to shift me a little more. When I met Angela then I felt like my business really started to shift because we were able to share information and teach each other what we were learning. So it was really helpful.
Angela B: 06:53 I just remember as you were talking about the learning how WordPress worked, I do have a distinct memory of you and I sitting at this café. Café Solé. I’m like opening up the header.php. I’m like Bethany, “There is this thing.” I think it’s called…I forget the function back then. But it was like WP menu or WP page list or something. I’m like, “We can put in the parentheses the pages that we want to show or exclude or include.” You had to know the ID numbers. It was just like wow! We can control what pages show up in the menu.
Tracy A: 07:34 It’s the Future.
Angela B: 07:37 It was before menus existed you know. It was like you really had to do it in the header file. We were both like looking at it. Like, yeah that’s where you do it.
Tracy A: 07:48 I remember even just the fact that there was one place where I could put the pages, even if I hardcoded them in, I only had to change one file when I added something or it changed a page title or something. I was like, this is amazing!
Amy M: 08:01 It was like the Renaissance.
Angela B: 08:03: It was like the Renaissance!
Bethany S: 08:04: I remember before I met Angela trying to figure anything out because I didn’t have the language. I didn’t have the words or the terminology. I spent months trying to figure out how to change what I was calling either the banner or the logo at the top of the page not knowing that in WordPress it was considered the header. It took forever to just understand something like that and to try to find the language. So having somebody that you could then bounce it off and hear the terms that they were using that really helped as well.
Tracy A: 08:44: Yeah. That was one of things that I noticed. Because yeah like most of my development seems to be a lot of copy and pasting into Google. But if you don’t know what it’s called it’s not super helpful. I agree. Because even like the tech you know, like you said, the documentation or if you don’t know where to connect to where do you start?
Bethany S: 09:07 Exactly. When I teach my class, I teach to the non-tech folks. I teach to the business owners who are really intimidated by technology how to run their site after it’s been built by somebody else. I started with a glossary of terms because I know that was my biggest struggle.
Tracy A: 09:31That’s really smart.
Angela B: 09:34 Well Bethany and I had a unique beginning, which we met in an all women’s designers group. I mentioned that in our very first episode I think. It was just kind of amazing at that time because it was just like 2008 or like 2007. Just finding another person who used WordPress was like wow! You know about this and you use it? You’re building sites with it? I had maybe built like two or three sites at that point. Bethany had been certainly more familiar with the whole evolution of WordPress than I was. But it was it was huge! We’ve talked about that a little bit in this podcast. Like the networking that women do as being so valuable. I just wanted to ask you about that as well, because you had an opportunity to network with more than just me. You know, we can we have a pretty good community.
Bethany S: 10:40 Yeah. The organization that Angela was referencing, the Boulder Designers group when I first heard about it, I still didn’t consider myself a designer. So I emailed them and I said I heard you are starting this group and you know I’m a marketer but I do this thing called WordPress. They were like I don’t know what WordPress is but, yeah. Come on. Come and talk us. When Angela showed up and said she was doing WordPress too. It was like Oh My God! Somebody I can talk to about this. This is great. It became so much more than that. We ended up partnering on projects. More importantly, whenever there was a situation (whether it was with a client or with technology or with a hacker…our first hacking experience was a treat) it was a holiday weekend and also my birthday. It was Labor Day weekend.
Angela B: 11:48 Tim Thumb?
Bethany S 11:47: Yeah. One of my sites got hacked. We had no idea that any of this could happen to then. It was 2008 or so right?
Angela B: 11:59 2009 The Tim Thumb hack?
Tracy A: 12:02 Yeah that’s right. I remember that.
Angela B: 12:05 That was like in the fall. Yeah.
Bethany S: 12:08 Yeah, yes. And so on we got on the phone with each other and started talking about it. She said I’ve got to pull my sites. She started going through her sites. I was like oh! I guess I should go through the rest of my sites. What it was, was a site that was in development. So obviously, nobody would find it.
Angela B 12:29 So how could possibly get hacked?
Amy M: 12:33 I love that you guys kind of created your own WordPress community before the WordPress community was really even a thing.
Bethany S: 12:41 Yeah. It wasn’t until sometime in 2009 that I ever heard of the WordCamp. By the time I had heard of it, it was already sold out. I was so sad. I called Angela and said did you ever hear of this thing? There is this whole community of people that do this thing called WordCamp. It wasn’t until 2010. When I found out about in 2009 I said I want to speak at 2010’s WordCamp. I saw that it was being advertised and I didn’t want to do it alone so I called Angela. I asked her if she would do with me. She wasn’t ready at that point for whatever reason.
Angela B: 13:33 I was like…so no way was I going to do this speaking in public. Bethany really tried to talk me into it. I was dead set against it. But then I had three of my friends that year that spoke. I was the only one who didn’t.
Bethany S: 13:51 So I proposed a panel with another friend of ours. It was fantastic to be out there in the community and to learn about what everybody else was doing. In the meantime, Angela and I were convincing everybody and anybody that would listen to us that they needed to be building in WordPress. There was point at the beginning where we would walk into coffee shops and we would be the only person talking about WordPress. Eventually we got to the point where we would hear somebody else talking about it. So Angela walked into a coffee shop one day and she heard somebody talking to their client about WordPress and she walked up to them and said “Hi. I just want to meet you. I am doing WordPress too. We should talk.” That ended up being a good friend of ours. We converted so many people who weren’t comfortable with WordPress. The women who started the Boulder Designers Group that introduced us originally, she had no interest in WordPress. One of them said to us I’m building in HTML and I know how to build an HTML. Why would I ever want to start using something I’ve never heard of? I said because the clients are going to start asking for it.
Amy M: 15:22 You were very omniscient.
Bethany S: 15:24 Yeah. Well, it just seemed like the right tool. As a marketing person, I want to change things quickly. It had everything that I needed in it.
Amy M: 15:36 Did you at any point dabble in any other CMS before you kind of landed on WordPress?
Bethany S: 15:42 I had some people who came to me who were using Joomla; who were using another proprietary tool that I’m not even going to mention that I had to work with because the clients were using it already. I found them all frustrating. Then I tried Squarespace because somebody came to me and was using that. I was so limited to figure out how to do things because at the time Squarespace was just not capable of doing. I said to a client I just spent nine hours trying to figure out if I could do this one thing. I really don’t want to keep building your site in Squarespace. I know it started there. It’s going to be so much quicker. I could’ve been done already over in WordPress with what we are trying to accomplish. Yeah. I was convincing people that they needed to be using it.
I was one of those people along with Angela who was telling everybody you have to use WordPress because it’s so simple (which now kind of bites us because WordPress has gotten more complex over the years)
Amy M 17:00 That’s my favorite tagline is to say WordPress is easy to use but it’s not easy to build.
Bethany S: 17:04 Exactly.
Tracy A: 17:08 I found the same thing. When I started doing client work, I was teaching myself. I did HTML when CSS came around, right? But it was HTML, tables and that stuff. But yeah. Everyone wants to have the power. Like what good is a tool, an online tool if you can’t actually use it? The end-users are not developers most of the time. As you said they’re marketers. What I find is like WordPress is the one platform that was the easiest for my clients to understand. Also there was the fact that there was such a community. I could say take a look and find a WordCamp in your area or find a WordPress Meetup and ask people. Even just like the whole proprietary thing. It’s like well now if I get hit by a bus tomorrow and I’m using all of that…like now they’re stuck. They need to find someone else that does the exact same thing. I was like the WordPress community is so vast. You can find so may people to take over after me and that’s ok. I want that because that’s a better experience. That’s what really drew me to over to WordPress as well.
Amy M: 18:28 Yeah. I also dabbled in Joomla on my path to WordPress. The reason I ended up sticking with WordPress (this was before I knew about the WordPress community) was because it was so easy. My client’s could login and add their blog post and change their page content or add a new page and it was easy. They could not figure out Joomla. They were very confused by it. So.
Tracy A: 18:49 I was confused by Joomla. I had to do a Joomla site once. I was like I have been doing this for so long and I still can’t. I don’t know.
Amy M: 18:59 I did a few but I don’t think any of them are still active. So that’s good.
Angela B: 19:03 I think one time I shocked Bethany a little bit because I went to the Drupal Meetup. I went to one Drupal Meetup. I’m like you know I wonder if we need to learn this thing called Drupal?
Amy M: 19:15 Oh no.
Angela B: 19:16 I went to this Meetup and there were are all these…(well mostly dudes) there were a couple of women. But it was like that joke how many engineers does it take to screw in a light bulb? It was like yeah. It takes like 12 or 15 people to put up a single simple brochure Drupal site. I took a Drupal class. I really tried. Bethany was just like watching me. She was like shaking her head, “I don’t know what she’s doing.” But yeah. “Good luck with that Angela.” I got over it really quickly.
Bethany S: 19:49 I had a client over at the University of Colorado who came to me. They wanted to figure out what platform they should use. So we were discussing it. In the end we ended up choosing Drupal. But I didn’t decide to learn Drupal for that project. I went and found a Drupal development team and pulled them in. I stayed on as the project manager. So I have worked with other platforms. I understand when one needs to be used. But I think the majority of the time WordPress is the solution.
Tracy A: 20:21 So as a marketer, because I see things from like a development and design standpoint, but as a marketer what is your favorite and most used feature of WordPress?
Bethany S: 19:49 The blog. I mean you know I say that but it’s so interesting whenever I have clients or students rather. So I have students who come into my class and I take a poll. I say you know how many people are here for blogging? How many people are building a website? How many people are using it for both? It’s really amazing how many people are using WordPress without a blog. They don’t understand the value of how they can use it until it’s explained to them. Though things have changed and maybe some people (there’s the guy from duct tape marketing who’s calling them hub pages now). He’s talking about categorizing your content within your site when you’re talking about these different subjects. Well how do you do that? You do that with WordPress, right? You do that with the category tag, right? You’re arranging your site using categories and using tags so that people can get deeper into the content that they need, that they’re looking for, to help them on the journey. So I think you know it’s still the blog that is my favorite feature of WordPress.
Amy M: 22:09 I wanted to ask you little bit about what you do with teaching. I know you and Angela both teach. I used to be a teacher myself but I taught middle school. I found (I have done some adult ed not with computer skills…well somewhat computer skills) but back when I was a teacher, kind of helping other teachers learn things. I found that teaching adults was so much more difficult than teaching kids. So would you like to tell his little more about what you’re teaching people in regard to WordPress.
Bethany S: 22:37 Sure. You know, it’s really interesting that you say that because I’ve had the opportunity to talk to kids about websites and they pick it up so fast. I think that with the adults, maybe it’s the fact that I consider myself a non-tech person. You know? I come from non-tech world that I really resonate with them. With the adult who is running their business, doesn’t want their website to be a 24 x 7 job. I can relate back to when I started working with websites and WordPress specifically. The questions that I had and I think too many times developers especially (not to knock them) but developers remember where they are. They are not remembering where the person they’re talking to is at.
Tracy A: 23:43 Absolutely. I agree as a developer person. The “developer-ish” person.
Amy M: 23:50 “Developer-ish”. I think we need to use that term more. I like that.
Angela B: 23:52 I like that.
Tracy A: 23:56 All right. We should make T-shirts.
Bethany S: 23:57 “Developer-ish”
Amy: Watch for “Developer-ish” T-shirts coming to the WomeninWP.com website sometime soon.
Angela B: 24:07 All that we need is the related tagline: “I know what a semicolon is.”
Bethany S: 24:14 So as far as teaching the adults, I really resonate with it. Teaching the non-tech folks specifically there are so many people who can teach the developers. Angela’s amazing at doing that. She loves working with the developers. She happens to be somebody that can cross over both worlds. But a lot of times when you have developers teaching they want to be showing you all the cool features. They’re not taking the time to slow down and remember that it’s a different approach. You have to repeat things. So I tell them there are three ways that you can do this. I’m going to show you this one way. There are two other ways, but I’m just cannot to keep focusing on this. You know? Who is it? Tony Robbins says that repetition is the mother of skill. That’s really what you have to do with the non-tech folks. Just keep reminding them this is where you go to add a page. This is where you’re going to go to add a post and they call it a blog. In my class I have to say it’s a post. The reason I’m going to keep drilling this into you, if you say blog I’m going say post because when you get in the back of WordPress you’re not going to see anything that says blog. As silly as it sounds, they have to really understand where they’re going. So many times I’ll have clients who will say (you know it doesn’t happen quite as much nowadays and I wonder if it happens with you guys) and maybe it’s because I keep drilling into them but I have people who used to call me up and say I started writing something I can’t find it. I would find it in pages instead of posts.
Amy M: 26:28 Oh yeah. All the time.
Tracy A: 26:31 It’s like the old where’s the any key? You know?
Amy M: 26:35 I’m curious. What is the most common question that your non-tech students ask you about WordPress?
Bethany S: 26:43 Oh. They want to know what theme to use.
Amy M: 26:45 And what do you tell them?
Bethany S: 26:46 Ha. I have a whole conversation about hosting which is their other question. Hosting and themes and explaining to them the difference in quality, the difference in support, and the difference in knowing that you can continue to use this and grow into the future. I actually have on my slide deck for the class I have what I call the college dorm of hosting, the townhouse of hosting. I live in a townhouse personally, you know? I happen to love my townhouse but there’s a difference between the townhouse and the gated community. So if they can understand the difference between that and get on the right hosting platform and/or same thing with the themes, right? It’s making sure that them theme developer is committed to that theme. That the theme developer has created documentation, whether it’s video documentation or written documentation, that they have a forum or support area where you can go in and ask questions, and the price of “free”, right?
Amy M: 28:10 For sure.
Bethany S: 28:11 You know? I do let them know about free themes that I think are worth looking at. This whole Gutenberg thing is obviously shaking that all up a little bit.
Angela B: 28:24 Yeah. It’s interesting with the theme thing. The thing that I encounter the most is that people think the theme is the photographs. So they’ll look for like a preschool website theme and they’ll send me a bunch of things they found on the Internet. They all look like just any average theme. It could be GeneratePress, or OceanWP, Avada, Enfold or any number of themes. The only difference between that and any other theme is that the one that they’re looking at has pictures of kids in it. So I try to convince them you know this isn’t about the photos. I did have one guy who called me for a consultation one time who was trying to pick themes off of the repository based on the photo. He had no idea that you could change the photo. That’s not why we pick the theme. It’s not for the photo. Yeah and to clarify with Bethany what you were saying about our teaching, I don’t teach developers. I teach want-to-be site builders. Maybe 10% of them are want to be developers. I’d say one in 10 students is maybe on a developer kind of track. But mostly and I’m kind of right there with you teaching real beginners and designers trying to make that (more the people who want to make the transition rather than business owners who just want to know how to manage their site). Yeah. That adult education piece is certainly challenging and the glossary of terms, definitely comes in the play. What we really want them to know is how to Google ultimately.
Bethany S: 30:15 Yeah. I do a whole section on that actually when I talk about themes and plugins and how I Google. It sounds silly but that’s what they actually need. They need to understand how to research and understand how to look for something.
Amy M: 30:26 That’s super important. I loved it that last week on our episode, Felicia noted that she learned it Google by Google. I love that phrase because I think that’s how we all learned it. We didn’t go to school for WordPress like your students are now. When you’re doing these courses are there different levels or are the all beginner courses?
Bethany S: 30:46 My class is for the non-tech person who most likely has had a site built for them or is considering WordPress but doesn’t even know what it does. Somebody told them that they should be using WordPress. Angela has a series of classes that range from non-tech folks who want to know more about, for instance, security. They are ready to learn more. I just tap on the fact that you need to understand about security but I don’t have time in my class. It’s a shorter class. So she then goes into that in her class, or how to do a portfolio or something like that. We are really fortunate that we teach at this organization that is open to us creating additional classes because we can pull people in. My WordPress class is actually capped because I want to keep it smaller. It always sells out.
Amy M: 31:58 Wow!
Bethany S: 32:00 This is going on 10 years. We’ve been teaching there for 10 years. So there is a need for it in the community even though there is that you can learn everything about WordPress online for free. These people don’t have the time or don’t understand how to do that research. So they come into the class wanting to understand the minimal that they need to know. But they walk out with all of these other resources like how to research, why you need to consider this type of hosting or this type of theme, or this type of plugin. Why you need to pay attention to security, you know? Things that they hadn’t even, or didn’t realize, that they were going to learn.
Tracy A: 32:55 I think it’s just the different types of learning styles that matches…I mean sometimes I work or I can just teach myself something. But other times, I’m like no. I need someone to like break this down especially in the beginning because I don’t know what I don’t know.
Bethany S: 33:10 Yeah. And the people who are going to want those web or those graphic designers who want to go on to Angela’s track need to take my class before they take her class. It’s is a prerequisite because they don’t know what they don’t know, right?
Angela B: 33:30 Yeah. I need them to know the difference between a post and a page. And that there are settings and how to install WordPress and yeah, all that stuff.
Amy M: 33:40 Right. And there’s so much information out there but it’s really hard to sort through. So you know you might find something that says put this function in and you’re like uhh.
Bethany: 33:48 What’s a function?
Amy M: 33:49 Where do I put the function? I mean you know I’ve seen someone paste one in the stylesheet.
Angela B: 33:56 Yeah. And that’s something that I do and it’s interesting that the person who co-cofounded this Boulder Digital Arts he was just interviewing me for a little spot. They were creating a video about what’s the value of these in-person classes. I did say that when you take a class online, one, the attrition rate is huge. Hardly anyone finishes an online course and if you have to show up every week for six weeks you’re more committed to finishing it. I give everyone homework and stuff but that part you are saying Tracy of like kind of breaking it down for them and really explaining it A-to-Z; how it all works. Now I’ve had like maybe hundred people go through this course and maybe not all of them go on to continue to build sites but a lot of them do. They all build their freelance careers around the fact that they had this good solid foundation to start. Also, by being in a class together, Bethany and I see this in our Meetups too. I can tell them right there when they’re in the room. I can say ok. You’re more of a designer. You like to code but you do not have design skill. One time I stood in front of a class. I had like nine people. I just kind of shouted out each person’s skill like Wow! You’re a great IT person, and you’re a really great designer, and you’re a really good marketer. Look! We have an agency right here in our classroom. You guys can work together. Lo and behold these people go on to create these little ad hoc agencies and work together. I think that’s another thing that’s been really great about our community.
Bethany S: 35:39 Yeah. I totally agree with that. There are so many people that think that they need to understand every aspect about it. But the reason that I feel that Angela and my personal businesses are right is because we don’t have a business together. We partner in a way that when we need something that the other one is stronger at, we don’t try to do it ourselves. We pull that person in. We have graphic designers that we pull in for either a logo or page so that I can focus on the marketing end while I’m building a site. When I get to the point where I need heavier coding I go to Angela. If I need more sophisticated SEO I pull in somebody appropriate for that. So you know we have this whole community of people who are always not only learning from each other but partnering with each other as well.
Bethany S: 37:24 Yeah and making sure if you are going to places like WordCamp you can establish those relationships that are going to be successful. You try it with a smaller project maybe first instead of saying oh yeah. I’m going to use you for 75% of this project when you don’t know that person. Maybe you start with a smaller task and you get to know each other and you get to make sure that the relationship and style suits each other. We’ve been really fortunate Angela and I that we do. Early on, instead of taking each other as competition we realized we could collaborate with each other and build a community around it. We’ve had people who have come to us (I’ve had two people that came to me, they were mid-aged people and they where starting a new career) and they wanted to be my intern. I said all right. Great! This is what I’m going to require of you and this is what I’m going to offer you. As long as you can have that communication so that you guys both know what you’re expecting, I think that’s the biggest thing is when people try to partner with somebody they kind of wing it. But if you can make sure that it’s going to work for both of you guys and that you’re not handing them a task that they don’t want to do, you’re making sure that they are as passionate about whatever you’re handing off to them. That’s a skill set that they either really want learn if there interning or that they excel at.
Amy M: 39:26 Yeah. Like I’d really like to offload a person to do the transcript. We can hire that out.
Bethany M: 39:34 To an intern.
Amy M: 39:40 Well that’s really good advice and we’re pretty much out of time so I wanted to thank you Bethany for being with us today. It’s been really interesting talking to you. Bethany? If you can tell us where we can find you online.
Bethany S: 39:50 Sure. I am at uniquethink.com and on Twitter Facebook and YouTube also @uniquethink.
Angela B: 40:03 All of our contact information is on WomenInWP.com. Thank you so much.
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