015: Building a Business with Heather Acton

In episode 15 of Women in WP, we talk to Heather Acton of Helio Interactive, about her engineering background, how that translated into building a WordPress development business, and the realization that staying small is okay.

About Heather Acton:

Heather Acton is the founder and technical director of Helio Interactive. Heather grew up on the mean streets of Lindenhurst, IL. Like any kid with a passion for music and minimal parental supervision she learned how to pirate massive amounts of music. Turns out that deviant behavior was perfect training for today’s digital engineers.

Find Heather Acton: Helio Interactive Inc. | Twitter | Instagram | LinkedIn

Chicago, Illinois

Heather Acton
Women in WP | WordPress Podcast
015: Building a Business with Heather Acton

Show Notes

People, places, things, tool, and stuff mentioned in this episode:

  • Divi Theme and Divi Builder – Popular theme and page builder tool. We dish on Divi quite bit this episode. Sorry folks. The original Elegant Themes were coded quite poorly and were frustrating to work with. Divi has gained a lot of popularity, but our consensus is that it creates a nightmare of a site to work with.
  • Dropbox – Place to share files with others.
  • Slack – An application for teams to chat and share resources.
  • Atahualpa – Popular end-user friendly theme in 2009 (no longer developed as of 2015) also last ruler of the Inca empire who reigned from 1532 CE until his capture and execution by the invading Spanish forces led by Pizarro in 1533 CE
  • WordCampsWordCamp is a conference that focuses on everything WordPress. WordCamps are informal, community-organized events that are put together by WordPress users like you.
  • Underscores theme – A starter theme meant for hacking. Popular among many developers.
  • Advanced Custom Fields plugin (ACF) – Allows you to create additional fields for editing. It’s something in just about every developer’s toolkit. Easy to learn and use.
  • SSL certificate – Important for all sites to have installed as it encrypts the communication between the browser and the server.
  • Google Analytics – Let’s you measure the traffic to your website. You can connect your website to a Google Analytics account using a plugin, the most popular of which is Google Analytics by MonserInsights.
  • Google Data Studio – Google Data Studio allows you to create branded reports with data visualizations to share with your clients. Read more here: https://searchengineland.com/google-data-studio-258871
  • Drip –
  • G Suite –
  • WP Engine –
  • ThemeForest – A place we suggest you avoid. They sell thousands of WordPress themes that are all developed to different standards and can be challenging to work with.
  • Squarespace – A proprietary web hosting option with beautiful templates. We often recommend this to clients who don’t yet have a website and are just getting started.
  • Nathan Ingram – Nathan is a WordPress business coach and has developed many courses about the business of WordPress. He is a frequent presenter at WordCamps around the country. Check out his many talks here: https://wordpress.tv/speakers/nathan-ingram/, https://ithemes.com/author/nathaningram/, and here
  • Facebook Business Page
  • Gutenberg Blocks – Blocks are pieces of content that you insert onto your WordPress post or page.
  • Learn JavaScript for WordPress – Check out Zac Gordon’s course!

Best quote this episode:

“WordPress is easy to use. It’s not easy to build.”


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:                                 00:13                       Welcome to episode 15 of Women in WP. I’m Angela Bowman.

Tracy A:                                    00:18                       I’m Tracy Apps.

Amy M:                                     00:19                       I’m Amy Manson.

Heather A:                             00:21                       Our guest today is Heather Acton, founder of Helio Interactive. She builds custom themes for awesome clients of all sizes. She’s been a WordPress user for over a decade. She is a WordCamp organizer and speaker and has a passion for music and lots of it. Welcome, Heather.

Heather A:                             00:39                       Thank you very much.

Angela B:                                 00:41                       We like to start off each episode by asking our guests to tell us about their journey into WordPress. How did you get started?

Heather A:                             00:50                       Kind of in a lackluster fashion? Probably like most of us. My background in my first life I call it was as a mechanical engineer. So that’s my degree. And I worked for Proctor and Gamble and in the corporate environment for 10 years. I really liked the engineering environment and work itself, but the corporate lifestyle and climbing the corporate ladder wasn’t for me. But I didn’t know what else I wanted to do. So I waited until I had kids and took advantage of a one-year maternity leave policy to dabble in some other things. And it started with when I bought up about a million baseball cards and repackaged them into thousand count boxes and sold them on Ebay for $10. A lot of fun. I just had a hobby as a kid that I like, so I kind of delve back into, into that.

Heather A:                             01:43                       But it was a lot of manual work and there wasn’t, wasn’t helping pay the bills necessarily. I did a little bit of Pampered Chef as well. It was fun, learned how to cook some things and got some cool supplies, but it also wasn’t something that I felt like was going to stick with. And just on a whim, I felt like I’d always wanted to build a website. This was back in 2008. I had kids and Facebook wasn’t really prevalent with a lot of our family yet. So I thought, well, I’m going to build a website to showcase our family basically. And as I was starting to learn html, I got a little bit of that, but this has to be more dynamic and blogs were getting to be really popular. So I thought, oh, it’s probably a blog I want to do. I had a friend on Facebook who talked all the time about WordPress and I thought, oh, I bet WordPress is something that could help.

Heather A:                             02:31                       And sure enough, as I read more, I’m like, Yup, that’s it. SoI just kind of started there and I used the Atahualpa theme for my first family site. One of those, it’s like the pre Divi stuff where you, you know, you could choose a color and not have to know CSS and all that stuff and just did not know how to code well enough yet. But it worked. And I got up first website, it was called ChicagoActins.com I don’t think it’s up anymore and I don’t know. So I have an archive, but it’s, it was the thing that kind of made everything roll. My neighbors saw that I did that and they’re like, hey, we have a band. Can you build us a band website? I’m like, sure. So I built them a band website for a $50 Buffalo Wild wings gift card.

Heather A:                             03:15                       It was pretty awesome. And that’s kind of where it all started. Every referral path just kind of kept going. People hear that you can do it and they want you to help cause they don’t know how. The first few years was, you know, kind of chump change and just learning a lot. And then probably by about 2012, things really started to take off. And my husband at the time was working full time andI was home with kids, so it’d be like he’d go to work, he’d come home and then I’d go to the computer. Or weekends were my computer time or kids napping was my computer time. But that got really tough. So we made a decision to have him leave his full time job and let me kind of run with this WordPress development thing full time.

Heather A:                             04:02                       So we did that for a couple years and it was super stressful because I wasn’t yet making enough to pay the bills, but I had to ramp up really quick. But I did it and it was a fun. It was a stressful couple of years. Hired first employee. That’s I think really when things started to go really well. Fast forward to now I got a full time project manager and another full time developer and then we pull in contract developers as we need for plugin specifics or things like that that might fall just outside of our capability range. We partner with a creative agency so we kind of act as one company with them and share a Dropbox, share via Slack, all that good stuff. We refer each other clients or use each other on projects. I kind of like where things are at right now. I don’t have any huge desire to grow a ton, do tons of inbound marketing or any of that. Our referral sources have worked out really, really well and we just kind of count on that. And as long as we remain steady, I think we’ve got a good group and are doing good work for good people and that’s what we want to do.

Amy M:                                     05:09                       Awesome. Your path was so similar to mine. My little fun hobby when I was home with kids was I was going to be a secret shopper.

Heather A:                             05:18                       Ooh, that’s fun. That is fun.

Amy M:                                     05:20                       It turned out that’s much more nerve wracking than you think it’s going to be. So I did not secret shop very much, but you know, I was also home with kids and built up from there into a full time job where, you know, for many years I was just wrangling kids so I know exactly where you’re coming from. I feel we’re very kindred spirits.

Heather A:                             05:41                       Absolutely. Absolutely.

Amy M:                                     05:43                       Does your husband like full time stay at home dad during that time when he left his job?

Heather A:                             05:47                       He was for two years. Yeah, he was. He eventually went back at the point that our kids were in school. There was really no need for somebody home all day during the day. So when they went back to school, he went back to work.

Amy M:                                     05:59                       And were you working at home when they were all at home?

Heather A:                             06:03                       Uh no. I got an office that would have been impossible. Yeah. Yeah. I definitely needed another spot other than there. There might’ve been a short amount of time when I tried to work at home, but you know, inevitably you have a door closed and there’s knocks and they’re screaming in the background when you’re on a call or whenever. And Yeah,

Angela B:                                 06:27                       I was gonna say that I’m a former Atahualpa user as well.

Heather A:                             06:33                       All right.

Angela B:                                 06:34                       I didn’t know what it meant. I couldn’t really pronounce it, and I’m still don’t know if I’m pronouncing it right, but I had no idea what that meant. And then I was planning this trip to Peru in 2009 I thought I’ll read a history of the Inca people. And it turns out Atahualpa was the emperor of the Inca civilization when the Spaniards invaded Peru and, and he was killed; and the Spaniards took over Peru. So Atahualpa was the dude for, he was, you should read about him. He’s actually pretty interesting, but he kind of felt like the Spaniards were just like so many flies and knowing him and like, Whoa, why are they interested in all this gold? Like for them, gold was just a thing like.

Heather A:                             07:26                       I wonder why the author picked that name for the theme or like what’s that about.

Tracy A:                                    07:34                       Like is there a hidden meaning in this?

Heather A:                             07:38                       Well, I think, I think that the Atahualpa theme is dead now. Like the real Atahualpa,

Tracy A:                                    07:43                       So there you go. It was this foreshadowing, right?

Heather A:                             07:47                       Yes. Maybe that was it. That was, that was it.

Tracy A:                                    07:50                       So I have a question of, so growing your business, like what kind of things from going just solo to adding employees, like what kind of struggles? And like how do you even start that process? How is it? Is it stressful?

Heather A:                             08:11                       Very very. Which is why I have these dreams. I think back when things started to really take off and revenue was good, I had these dreams of how it’d be awesome to have like 15, 20, 30 person team. We tried, but it was just too stressful. I think the, the hardest part of it was finding folks that are self starters. This is like such trite stuff, right? But it matters. It’s like just be able to figure your way through some problem. There’s no way you can train somebody on every single little type of issue you might run into on a WordPress site. So being able to figure out the root cause of a problem and fix it the right way is, it’s a skill, it’s an engineering skill. And I’m finding that mindset in folks that are reasonably priced enough for a small business is tough. It is really tough.

Heather A:                             09:07                       I feel lucky right now with the project manager, and the developer I have, and the few contractors, they are all those type of folks. They’re varied level of actual experience, but their mindset is all the same. Like, if there’s a problem, we’re going to dig in, figure out how to fix it and maybe they don’t know the code to write to fix it. But that’s not that it’s the easy part, but that, that we can always find somebody to write the code if we know what the solution should be. So I would say it’s like financial, there’s a weird parts of growth to that. You hit a point where you’ve got, you know, you’ve got too much work for just yourself, but you don’t have enough in savings to say, oh I feel okay hiring somebody or you don’t have enough volume for a full person.

Heather A:                             09:50                       So you kind of dabble with the contractor thing. But contracting is typically more expensive, and people have other projects that yours don’t get priority. It’s painful. It’s really, really painful.There are certain folks that are built for it and I think if you’re, the type of person that really wants to grow a business, like those are things you have to tackle and that’s what you focus on. For me, I’ve always been at least 75% development, so I don’t necessarily want to spend a lot of time on recruiting and HR issues and stuff like that. I just want to solve problems for people and try to surround myself with other people who do the same.

Tracy A:                                    10:31                       It’s funny you talk about just digging in and because this is something I noticedAnyone who starts their own company or who does freelance stuff, like you have no other choice. So it kind of baffles me then I’ve gone into like corporate world where the people were like, oh, I don’t know how to do that. Maybe like, find out, figure it out, Google something. And that, this is one reason why I’m like, I wonder why more companies, even like, so even in corporate or in larger agencies,r even even just like nonprofits that need someone to do their website, that kind of stuff. They’re always looking for a full-time person, but with a really low salary because they, that’s what they can afford. And so I did one time, I, for quite a while, for a few years, I was working 20 hours a week for, you know, someone and had health insurance and didn’t get paid very much. But it was something that, that was a good base. It was enough to get me my main thing. And then I, like I had, there was no conflict of interest by running my own thing and doing that stuff. I don’t know why more companies, even established companies don’t even consider doing something like that.

Heather A:                             11:54                       Yeah, that’s a really neat arrangement. It’s, it’s a, it’s a little bit of the best of both worlds. If you’ve got that base and something you know, you can count on and that way of freelance work ramps up, you’re okay still. But if it’s nonexistent existent for a bit, you’re okay to kind of helps with those hills and valleys and health insurance getting paid for is nothing to balk yet.

Amy M:                                     12:14                       Oh my goodness. I exactly don’t get me started.

Tracy A:                                    12:18                       We were at cross fit the other day and like these like young kids are lifting all this weight. And I was like, I’m not gonna do that because I pay my own health insurance.

Heather A:                             12:29                       That’s smart. That’s smart.

Amy M:                                     12:30                       Well I love what you said about, you know, having this goal for this big agency and then realizing that the right solution was to stay small. And I’ve been talking to a lot of people lately that feel the same way and I kind of feel that same way. I kind of had this idea that, oh, I’m going to bring in all these people and we’re going to grow and make so much money and then realizing I don’t want to manage that many people.

Heather A:                             12:49                       Exactly.

Amy M:                                     12:51                       It’s, I think that there’s this push for everybody to do more, do more, do more. And I think so many of us are realizing now that that’s just not the best solution.

Heather A:                             13:01                       Yeah. And some of it rolls into life as a whole as well. I personally, I’ve had a huge shift over the last few years just, and I was obsessed with my business and WordPress development and WordCamps. I went to, you know, probably four or five, six a year, spoken a few every year and things have just really adjusted. My kids are at an age where they’re not going to want to cuddle with me too much longer. So I try not to ever work when they’re with me. I try and make sure we take good adventures on weekends and I’m not working on the weekends and things like that. So it has become not to de glamorize it, but after 10 years it’s a job and it’s a job that I like and I’m good at and I’m happy with it. But it definitely is not all of life.

Heather A:                             13:44                       And I think the more it would be irresponsible maybe in a way to take on a bunch of employees when I might not be willing to sink all of my time into the company necessarily. So we’ve got a good group that we support each other really well, very focused on life balance. I’ll take time for ourselves, but also realize that we’ve got jobs to do and hit deadlines. So it works out.

Tracy A:                                    14:14                       What kind of projects do you typically take on with the, with your company?

Heather A:                             14:18                       Yeah, we’ve got really three buckets. The first one is obviously custom theme build. So most folks that come to us for a full website, they need design and development. So we have our design team take care of that part of it and then we’ll do the theme build we still use. We did build our own little framework off of Underscores. So we do still use Underscores. We put Bootstrap grid in there a couple years ago and ACF layout fields. So there’s a simple builder in there, not the Divi builder or anything like that. It’s just to enter content in various arrangements. We call it our 30-hour head start on every project because every project has two columns with text and image. Every site has a hero, blah, blah, blah, all that. So that’s the first bucket. It’s probably about a third of the work.

Heather A:                             15:10                       The second bucket is hosting and maintenance of sites. So we hosted maintain about 55 client sites or so. We keep them on WP Engine and we take care of all the updates on a weekly basis, run the malware scans make sure the updates are viable, make sure they have an SSL certificate and it’s all green, all that good stuff. Like just help site health. So nothing hopefully ever goes wrong. Just a little more of a proactive approach. So that’s second bud. That’s the second bucket.

Heather A:                             15:45                       Third Bucket is like all the other random stuff that just because we worked with the folks, so like, Hey, can you do this too? It’s a MailChimp list management and automations and email templates. It’s Analytics and Google Data Studio. We’ve been doing some work with drip lately. So it’s all those ancillary systems, third-party integrations that folks need help with. API integrations if they, you know, if they’ve got something else going on in their site, but that, that part is just a big mishmash and that’s where we tend to pull in contract help with. Yeah, some of these API integrations are just way, way over my head, but we’ve got a guy who’s real good with that stuff so it works out. But yeah, that’s fun.

Amy M:                                     16:30                       One of the things that people are always asking for help from me is, is setting up their email and I really, really hate doing that. I mean, and they can never figure out how to put it in their phone. And I’m like, you know, if I was in the room with you, I could take your phone and I would get you all set up. And I’m not. But I find that just because we work in this field that people think that you’re going to be able to help them and fix like any technological problem.

Tracy A:                                    16:53                       The amount of people that have asked me to help them set up their printer is okay.

Angela B:                                 16:59                       I have the same thing with the email. I told someone I am not an IT professional. Right. And they just didn’t understand that because the email is so intricate as a part of the web, and they see web and email as the same thing. How do you handle that? Do you recommend any particular like G Suite or something like that?

Heather A:                             17:18                       Yeah, we recommend G Suite and generally if it’s a migration, we try to talk people out of migrating [email]. Honestly, it’s just not worth the pain. We’d try to pop all the emails over to somebody, you know, personal computer at one point and then just say start fresh. Yeah. Your sent mail is not going to be in your sent mail anymore from a year ago. But just move forward with that. But it’s funny on the IT support, literally like two weeks ago I had a 12-year old Macbook Pro sitting on my desk all taken apart from an old neighbor. She’s fresh out of college. Has no money. She’s like, “Hey, can you fix my computer?” I’m like, yeah, I can probably figure that out. But it takes like three days that I replaced the hard drive. It ended up being a hard drive cable, but it’s like, you know, we do, we have the mind for that stuff.

Heather A:                             18:07                       That’s the thing like once folks know you, you are a techie or are a developer, then, we can set up printers pretty quick. We can fix computers and that’s just how our brains work. Yeah.

Tracy A:                                    18:20                       I was going to ask, because mechanical engineering actually when I grew up, as I was a kid, everyone was like, I want to be a firefighter. I would, I wanted to be a mechanical engineer and everyone was like, that’s very specific. And I was like, I don’t know. What kinds of things have you from your, from your first life, what can has carried over into this life?

Heather A:                             18:41                       Yeah. I always say, you know, definitely from college, like the biggest thing in college I feel like that an engineering degree gives you, is that ability to think through a problem methodically and get to root cause. Then even testing I would say like test, writing out test scenarios for different things. It’s that mindset all the way through. When you’re in college and you’re doing all these weird equations, you know. I remember doing equations on like jet engines and like heat transfer and I don’t remember any of those equations at all. None of that matters, but I totally respect the path that they were trying to take our brain. That was essentially my job at Proctor and Gamble too. I was in initiatives and for a while ran a toilet paper converting line. So I took toilet paper from like these huge, like 80 inch diameter rolls to the little rolls that we get at home and wrapped him up and there’d be problems on the line. Like our wrapper would have what they called stops, where it would stop and it would happen a lot and they’d be like, oh, can you go and take a look and you’d look and you’d watch what happened and you’d just have to be able to figure out based on watching something and making it do different things what was causing it to stop all the time and then what’s the right fixed for it longterm. It’s the same stuff with code. I always say I used to solve problems related to the gears and pulleys and now I solve problems with code. It’s, you know, similar thing, just different application.

Amy M:                                     20:09                       But you solved toilet paper problems and that is amazing!

Heather A:                             20:15                       There were some major toilet paper problems.

Tracy A:                                    20:18                       There’s a joke in there somewhere.

Heather A:                             20:25                       I don’t know how clean this show is, but we’ll keep it that way. I suppose.

Amy M:                                     20:29                       It doesn’t have to be very clean. It just depends on our guests. So if our guest is not clean. We’re not clean.

Heather A:                             20:35                       I gotcha.

Angela B:                                 20:36                       It’s our show. So far, no one is paying us to do this.

Amy M:                                     20:40                       We roll with it.

Tracy A:                                    20:42                       Amy wants to do another, another sponsor pitch.

Amy M:                                     20:45                       Women in WP after dark.

Angela B:                                 20:50                       Women in WP outtakes.

Tracy A:                                    20:53                       I love it. You know, it’s funny because you talk about that, like I never really made that connection, but whenever I work on anything in technology, I want to, especially being a designer and UX person, I realized I’m unique in this where I want to know how the system works in the back end because that’s how I’m going to figure out how to understand it on a new, better level, a deeper level so that I can make a user interface that we’ll do all those things and like,uand it’s interesting, like I print out all these like documentation on all these things and everyone just kind of looks at me like, okay, cool. I’m like, Nope, I want to learn it. I want to see like, I’m going to get in the nitty gritty.

Heather A:                             21:34                       Exactly. You have to, you have to.

Angela B:                                 21:37                       Yeah. I was wondering about, just you’ve been doing this for a while. We’ve all been doing this for a while. Probably about the same amount of time and there’s a lot of new kids on the block and they want to be doing it and sometimes the customers want to being doing it themselves. Do you ever come across situations in which customers don’t appreciate or respect the complexity involved with (I guess respect is a big word) with what’s happening. Like, “Can you just show me how to code that PHP template for my custom post type with all these special fields that I want add to it myself?” And, yeah, I’m just curious about how have you dealt with that.

Heather A:                             22:23                       You know from an overall respect standpoint, I do remember times getting started when you kind of have that imposter syndrome. Maybe it’s allowed at that point because you’re new or whatever. And I do remember struggling with folks just respecting, like they couldn’t understand why they couldn’t ask for anything and just have you do it and that some things were easier and some things were harder. A the years have gone on, whether it’s a confidence thing or whether it’s just that we’re much more picky with clients. We don’t run into that too much at this point. Folks come to us cause they know we’re going to do good work. I think maybe some of that goes with the price point too. When you’re only paying $600 for a site, sometimes you don’t get the best clients. When folks are, you know, are paying in the the five digits for a site, they know what they’re getting, they know they and they have high expectations but they’re also much more reasonable.

Heather A:                             23:16                       The latest client request I had of “can I do this myself” is, “Hey, we just want to change link colors sometimes in our navigation.” She’s like, “Can you just give us a way to do that?” And I said, oh, I said, “Look, I could show you how to do it. But,” I said, “there’s like six link states you have to consider it. So if you change one, you also need to make sure you change the hover, the visit, the focus, and the active states; and if you really want to do that…” She’s like, “Nevermind, sorry.” I think sometimes just being able to throw a little bit of jargon out there to make it clear it’s not the color picker that lets you change a color of a link. There’s a lot of other things to consider and what global effects does it have. You can just explain that simply to a client. It definitely helps and they tend to back off a little bit.

Tracy A:                                    24:09                       I always add in there something like, I mean, because you know, thinking through it in a UX standpoint of like, oh, the accessibility the like all of those things. And then people just, I can, I can just, I could just see them halfway through my explanation of it. They just zone out and they’re like, okay, they gave up. Like I don’t want to know anymore about UX and accessibility and design. Okay, here you go.

Angela B:                                 24:36                       I think that’s so funny you say that example, cause I had a client asked me the same question just a few weeks ago and actually gave them the CSS selector just for the, the link, the act of state. And so they changed it to a very light gray baby blue. And I’m like this isn’t very visible. So yeah, they can’t be trusted even if they are given the power. And I think you’re right about the price point. Like that’s huge. That it seems like it’s the people who really don’t have a budget for a site who really underestimate the complexity of it. And there is this sort of mythology out there about how easy WordPress is, and it is really complicated and it’s really hard to balance what we’re communicating in the WordPress communities about, oh look, this is easy everyone. We’re democratizing publishing and everyone should be able to build this fancy brochure site with these premade tools. But even given all the tools, it’s still really hard. And I’m glad that I’m in the custom theme development space too, cause I don’t really have to deal with those people as much. But I lead a couple Meetup groups where I do, and I do speak at WordCamps. And how do, do you ever find yourself speaking to the general public in the smaller people and what do you say to them and how do you explain to them when they’ve been presented with this concept of easy that they might have to pony up a budget.

Heather A:                             26:03                       Yeah. After I get off my rant about whatever ThemeForest them they bought. To me it’s really simple. It’s like if you’re trying to go anything exactly the way you want it, you want it 100% the way you want it.That’s not easy. It just isn’t. And if you’re willing to go grab a WP Engine account and get your site up and start blogging, that’s easy. You know, most, most folks can manage through that. But there’s definitely a balance between customization and just taking what’s out of the box. WordPress can be very easy, but it also can be very complex. I get a little bit disheartened sometimes with the WordPress is easy stuff and I think it’s a bit misleading and it’s kind of been part of the brand for so long. I get it. It sales. But, it almost demeans I think in some ways what, what we do and how complex things things could be. But again a lot of that goes with the client or individual and they’ll learn. They will try to do some things on their own and find out that it is not easy unless you’re staying within the bounds of the theme that you purchased or a few plugins.

Amy M:                                     27:18                       My motto is: “WordPress is easy to use. It’s not easy to build.”

Heather A:                             27:23                       That’s perfect.

Amy M:                                     27:25                       And I think people really get confused cause they’re like, oh, it’s so easy. Everybody says it’s so easy. And then they try it and it’s so hard because you know, they buy their $40 theme and install it. And even just buying the $40 theme, you know, it’s got 10 pages of documentation that they’ve got to follow that may or may not be written by somebody that spoke English as a first language and can be really complicated to follow. Even just installing, their easy out of the box theme. It can be really complicated. More complicated than they think.

Heather A:                             27:53                       Absolutely. Absolutely.

Tracy A:                                    27:54                       Then having to fill in about 7 million spots of with, you know, images and contents to make it look like the example.

Amy M:                                     28:04                       Yeah. Cause even when you buy the $40 theme, it just doesn’t magically appear like that. You still have to, you know, either put in all the widgets or add all the plugins and fill in.

Tracy A:                                    28:10                       Do I have to write all that content? Okay, I’ve got, I’ve gotten that. I was like, okay, well how many pages are like, oh you want this, this and this. Okay, great. Well this is all the content. Here’s the spreadsheet of all the content that you’ll have to write. Okay, maybe we don’t need that or that.

Angela B:                                 28:30                       We don’t really need an FAQ.

Amy M:                                     28:33                       Well and then, you know, the, there’ll be like, well the theme is only $40. So, I just want to hire you to install it for me because they can’t figure it out. And I would rather just, I won’t even do that anymore. I used to, “Sure I’ll help you out.” Cause I just always want to help everybody and it’s just not worth it because those things are so awful.

Heather A:                             28:51                       Yeah, they’re rough. They’re rough. We’ve inherited quite a few Divi sites. I’ve never built this site with Divi, but I’m kind of like, you had that I felt bad for folks that got left with a Divi site and their developer just took off or whatever. So like, yeah, we’ll take, we’ll take it on, but then they want to make a million design changes to it. Design changes that aren’t available in the 16 tabs or 42 open boxes in the Divi Builder. So making those changes to the development then are really a pain. And there are styles in the customizer, and there are styles in Divi theme options and their styles in the tab of that random little text box. It’s just, it’s such a mess.

Tracy A:                                    29:32                       And it doesn’t transfer well to something else cause it’s all. Yeah.

Heather A:                             29:38                       Yeah. It’s just a pain. It’s a pain overall. I like when folks hit us up early or if it’s at a meetup or whatever and they’re like, “Hey, I’m thinking about putting up a website. What should I consider?”And quite honestly, I usually recommend Squarespace over Divi and WordPress almost any day just because Squarespace, at least you go in knowing that you’re kind of in a box and it’s like go to Squarespace, pick out your template or whatever. Focus right now on your site map and your content and your imagery. Get that stuff set. Don’t worry a ton about your overall design, but once you’ve got those things, then you’re more set to go with a WordPress site. Cause you’ve got your part of it a little more complete and you’ve learned some things, then go do the custom route. But yeah, it’s tough. It’s tough. Oh, those builder themes.

Amy M:                                     30:31                       Oh, a good friend of mine recently, he’s a photographer and he was trying to build his own site and he was asking me for tips and then he, he went Squarespace after he couldn’t figure out WordPress, which is, you know, fine. And it’s really probably the right choice for a photographer that wants to do it yourself website. And he’s like, well, all the photographers now, they’re all running from WordPress and they’re all talking about how, you know, WordPress is terrible. And I said, well that’s because they’re photographers and they’re not web developers.

Heather A:                             30:56                       Right.

Tracy A:                                    30:57                       And they probably, you know, if they hired so on, they just installed the theme forest theme that, thank you. Yeah. To go through 17 tabs of settings, panels, just to set your site up.

Amy M:                                     31:12                       I never even recommend WordPress for a do it yourself or in fact, I just don’t think I would.

Heather A:                             31:17                       I agree. I agree.

Angela B:                                 31:19                       Same here. I recommend Squarespace. All the time.

Tracy A:                                    31:22                       I think that’s a really good like process though because you know, people don’t realize like, oh, I just want a website. Like, but why do you want a website? What are you trying to say? Like that like removes that the extra layer of like, now how is it going to look of no, just like what are you saying and gather that and that’s, that’s a really good way of, of starting them out because I think that that’s a good focus. That’s where you should be starting. Like what am I saying? And then then I’ll figure out how it’s going to look.

Heather A:                             31:56                       Exactly. Exactly. And the templates there are decent, it’s not like they’re bad. They look like a lot of sites on the web right now. So pretty much. Yeah. Yeah. But that way then they, they also realize Tracy you had mentioned about no, they need to write their content and things like that. And that makes it really clear, like separate the two phases of your project. Get all the content right and then take it the next step when you’re, when you’re making some money, have a little bit to invest in, do it right then go the next step and get a more robust, flexible base.

Angela B:                                 32:25                       I think that’s super smart. Nathan Ingram did a talk at a WordCamp that I was at recently and he talked about even before you start working with the client is this assessment process of even seeing if they’re ready a website. And, and it was fascinating to me because it was like, wow, how many people have I engaged and had a very frustrating process for many months or even longer who just simply weren’t ready. And I love, I’m just going to start using that. Like go to Squarespace once you can prove to me that you can pull together your content.

Tracy A:                                    32:59                       What they really needed was a Facebook Business Page.

Angela B:                                 33:05                       Yeah, exactly. It is. Sometimes I’ve said that to people. Maybe you need a Facebook business page, maybe you don’t even need a website or you’re not ready yet. I love that. So that is great. Validating.

Heather A:                             33:13                       Yeah, absolutely. Does anybody else feel bad recommending Squarespace given like, wasn’t Gutenberg like a direct attempt to keep market share away from Squarespace. And now here we are, a group of four developers saying to use it.

Tracy A:                                    33:33                       Something like that. Well, I mean honestly until, cause right now I’m working on updating my custom theme so that I can have Gutenberg blocks that I can control because again, like that’s you run into the same problem with, you know, Divi with all of, you know, 7,232 different options that I have and I’m just scrolling through and I’m overwhelmed like, no, here. Here are these things that are tailored to what you are trying to put out there like, according to you, cause you are a photographer. So these are the things that you will use. These are the layouts that you will use. Otherwise you’re right. Like I do kind of feel bad, but until I have something that I can say, here, use this because I know that it’s not going to overwhelm you. Yeah, it’s otherwise it just gets people frustrated and then it just, and then they get like, they get frustrated with WordPress in general and think that it’s WordPress and then they go to something else.

Heather A:                             34:40                       Exactly. They don’t realize that it’s the theme or yeah, that they’ve chosen that it’s brilliant with, with the Gutenberg blocks that are slimmed down with, with not so many options.

Amy M:                                     34:49                       And I’m just not in love with Gutenberg yet, so I’m not going to lie. I’m trying, but I’m just not there yet.

Heather A:                             34:55                       Yeah, us either.

Tracy A:                                    34:57                       Maybe we need that to be a side conversation where we just talk about, about, about Gutenberg and like strategy on like, okay, well how do we go forward? Alright.

Heather A:                             35:10                       Yeah. I wasn’t going to go on too much of a rant about that. I don’t know how many times that’s come up in previous podcasts.

Amy M:                                     35:18                       Not that many really. Rant away.

Angela B:                                 35:21                       Yeah. I do have a strategy which is basically, I’m just using it for the blog posts for people and that and it and it and there’s some nice features with the images and image galleries and there’s some blocks that are nice and it’s working really great for blog posts and people seem to be fine with it. They’ve had a little bit of frustration with uare they on the document kind of tab or the block tab? Maybe deleting a block, but you know, once you kind of get them a little bit oriented, I think it’s a fine editing experience that way. But in terms of trying to do layout with it, it’s just so squirrely and a lot of the Gutenberg plugins are a little buggy. And it would slow me down too much to try to build with it.

Tracy A:                                    36:09                       Yeah. I keep like clicking in random things. I was like, I don’t know where this is. Why can’t I just turn on the borders? So I just did that in my custom theme and just changed it and turned on some borders and then made it wider. Because also I was like, why is it 432 pixels wide? Like I want, I have a 30 inch monitor. Like give me a control of this.

Amy M:                                     36:32                       I literally had to Google how to get three columns. Like I had two columns. I’m like, how do I get three? And I know it. I know it exists, but I should know how to do this. Why is it so hard for me that’s been making websites for 13 years? I can’t figure it out. I did finally figure it out. That’s my Gutenberg rant.

Angela B:                                 36:50                       It’s not intuitive the way they’ve done it is not intuitive. Everything’s hidden and disappeared.

Tracy A:                                    36:55                       I think it’s trendy and slick, but not. Mm.

Amy M:                                     37:01                       So it’s still not there for the for I think for the do it yourself. It’s still not a tool I would recommend for do-it-yourself-ers.

Heather A:                             37:08                       It’s like WordPress for millennials. Yeah. Nice and sleek, but yeah.

Tracy A:                                    37:13                       Like Tumbler. Is that still around? I don’t know if the kids are using it these days?

Amy M:                                     37:18                       If you can figure out Snapchat, you can figure out Gutenberg.

Speaker 3:                              37:21                       Oh my goodness. That’s probably true. Snapchat is a nightmare, too. Yeah,

Tracy A:                                    37:26                       Yeah. Like where’s the buttons? I just want a menu. How did I get there? I swiped somewhere. Now, where am I? I don’t know.

Amy M:                                     37:34                       All my mom friends and I were out having wine and the millennial waitress had to sit there and give us Snapchat lessons, and she kept coming back to give us more or less since, because we were just too dumb to figure it out.

Tracy A:                                    37:46                       She got a guy actually bought a domain, a crotchetycurmudgeon.com and that was going to do a video podcast where [inaudible] tweed and then just complained about the technology and the websites these days. I’d never really got off the ground.

Heather A:                             38:03                       I think that needs to restart.

Tracy A:                                    38:05                       Yes. Yeah. Okay. That’d be an offshoot of this.

Heather A:                             38:10                       Complain about Gutenberg. Snapchat. I love it.

Tracy A:                                    38:14                       All that new Facebook redesign. I don’t know were the I read it button went.

Amy M:                                     38:19                       And did you see where they put the groceries at the grocery store? They moved everything.

Angela B:                                 38:27                       We have talked about like our choices in our careers. We were talking with Tara about this with. You know, are we going to learn JavaScript and are we going to learn React? Are we just going to hire for stuff that we need? And you know, as we are settling into our careers just deciding where we want to put our mental focus and energy. And I think Amy said, Oh, you can do a lot better learning SEO. And how do you feel in terms of being a mature developer? Like the perception, do your clients appreciate the maturity that you bring to the projects? Do you ever find that you’re competing with younger developers? How does that end up playing out for you?

Heather A:                             39:11                       Yeah, I think there’s definitely the experience is definitely helpful. The years of experience and just the way we tend to talk to clients like adults. I tend to be very honest, very transparent. I would get the word “candor” all the time. People always say, I appreciate your candor which I think I know what that means, but I’m not entirely sure. I’m only half adult. But yeah, the, the respect is, is not typically a problem. And I’ll be honest, I don’t really, if, if we are technically competing with a younger agency or something, right. It doesn’t really bother me. I just like to make sure that folks are comparing apples to apples and making sure if they’re not going to go with us, that they’ve at least got a big document from us making them think about things that they should be asking this younger team about that cause they might not have the experience. Well that’s really it. I think that’s, that should be kind of part of what all of us do, just contributing to the greater good of the, of the web. And I’m hoping that no matter who ends up serving a client, they’re going to represent WordPress in a way that is positive and not negative. That’s only good for all of us.

Heather A:                             40:23                       You mentioned though learning JavaScript. I don’t, I haven’t decided on yet. Yeah. It’ll be like, you know, a JavaScript for WordPress, kind of like I learned PHP for WordPress. I don’t really know all of PHP, but I know PHP for WordPress.

Tracy A:                                    40:38                       I call it PHP light. Yeah. And I know WordPress. It’s PHP ite. Yeah, that’d be JavaScript light. Yes.

New Speaker:                      40:45                       It’s wp_php.

Heather A:                             40:49                       Exactly.

Amy M:                                     40:50                       Well, it’s been so great having you on today. Before we go, can you tell everybody where we can find you online?

Heather A:                             40:56                       Absolutely. Probably the best place is heliointeractive.com. Will don’t be judgmental of the four-year-old website that hasn’t been updated and forever, is the spot we can be found. Is that true for every development team too? Oh my goodness. On Twitter, I’m Heather Acton.

Amy M:                                     41:16                       That’s awesome. Well thanks for being with us today.

Heather A:                             41:20                       Thank you all. I really had fun with the conversation. I appreciate you having me.

Tracy A:                                    41:25                       Thanks for listening. Follow us on Instagram and Twitter or join our Facebook Group. We would be honored if you subscribe to the show. You can find us on Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play, and iTunes. Finally, if you want to be on the show or know someone who would visit our website womeninwp.com. Until next time.


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