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But does the client know?

waiting for you to call

Yesterday I was on a call with a client when I was reminded of a lesson I had learned early on at my last job. It was a little more than a decade ago, I got to my desk around 8am and checked my email. There was an URGENT email from a client, we’ll call him Ted, about a problem on his website. Not knowing what was causing the issue, I immediately dove in and started researching the problem. 90 minutes later, I hadn’t solved the issue yet. This is when my boss walked in to my office and asked what I was doing. I told him about the issue with Ted’s site and let him know that I was working on it. He then asked, “Does Ted know?” I wasn’t sure exactly how to respond, but I knew mine was going to be the wrong answer anyway.

waiting for you to callMy boss explained that he had just got off the phone with Ted. Ted had just returned back from lunch and still hadn’t heard from anybody at our office about the issue. Ted was not happy which lead directly to my boss not being happy either.

Did I mention that Ted lives and works on the East coast? With our offices being 3 hours behind Ted, that fact was not working in my favor here.

This was a weird spot for me. I was caught a bit off guard. I had come in to work, saw a problem and immediately started working on it. In my mind, I’m the hero in the story. I explained myself by saying, “But I don’t know what the issue is, so I don’t have anything to report to the client yet.”

My boss then went on to explain, “If you didn’t let the client know you are working on it, in his mind, you aren’t working on it.

In the moment I didn’t fully grasp it. Even now, I’m sure I don’t always heed that lesson. But the kind words from my client yesterday let me know that in this case, that lesson helped smooth out a potentially touchy situation.

Keep your eyes open for the opportunity to send a 30 second email that can save you from getting chewed out by your boss, or your client.

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How we came to pull the plug on Event Ticketing

End of the Road

I’ve been asked several times why we decided to finally pull the plug on our event ticketing plugin. Rather than have to tell the story over and over, I figured I’d just write it up so I could just send people the link when they ask. So, as requested, here’s the story of how we came to pull the plug on the Event Ticketing Plugin.

In the Beginning

A few years ago, my company wrote a plugin that let site owners sell tickets for events right from their website. It had some rough edges, but it worked. People were using our plugin to sell tickets to thousands of events. We received a ton of great feedback about the plugin over the years. Mixed in with the feedback was requests for more features. Here is where things started to decline.

I told you that the plugin had some rough edges. One of the roughest edges was how some of the data was being stored behind the scenes. It would make adding new functionality challenging. So, after a couple years of limping along without a lot of new development on the plugin, we finally got a group of us together last January and started to rebuild the plugin from scratch. This was no small task, as you might imagine. 3 of us worked 12 hours a day over the course of 3 days and at the end of the weekend we had a solid base. We felt we were in the neighborhood of 60-70% done with the project.

The problem is, we all had other work to do. So, come Monday, we went back to the real world and got back to work. We had set aside some time on Monday evenings for us to hop online and code away on the project. But it wasn’t too long before our team of 3 became a team of 2. Really, since I was mainly working on smaller front end pieces, the coding was in large part being done by just 1 person.

Progress was getting harder and harder to see.

One plugin becomes two

Our initial plan was to release the new version as an upgrade to the original plugin. Which meant, we needed to have one hell of a conversion script that would convert the data from the old data storage method over to the new. We worked on the conversion script for weeks (months?). And even still, it wasn’t perfect. The longer it went, the more scared I got.

What scared me was the idea of upgrading all our existing users and having something go drastically wrong and maybe even losing their data. If they were right in the middle of sales for an event, this could be tragic and it would make me feel terrible. I knew we could do more testing and probably solve for 90-95% of all cases, but there were always going to be fringe cases and my biggest concern was that if something big went wrong, we’d have to basically drop everything else we were doing (client work) to fix the issues.

This is when I made the first big shift in direction. Rather than releasing it as an upgrade, we’d be releasing this as its own separate plugin. Two plugins, two code bases, two completely unique sets of support requests. Even though I know this was the right thing to do as to not screw our clients, had to do over again, I don’t think this is how I would do it.

Screw it, it’s time to ship!

Since we decided to release the new plugin as a separate product, we knew that we could release the plugin sooner because it would have a much slower adoption rate. Our thought was that we could get the product in the hands some real users and get their feedback. We had tried releasing a beta version and, as expected, we received very little feedback. I get it, people are busy and this plugin isn’t exactly something you install and can check out in 5 minutes. There is a lot to it. So, if we were going to get any consistent outside input, it was going to have to be from real users.

We removed the data conversion piece, wrapped up a number of smaller items and decided that it was time to push it out the door. It had been nearly 10 months since we started the rewrite, but it had been closer to 24 months since we first started talking about rewriting it. Holy shit did that feel good.

Of course we received a couple bug reports. Nothing big. We knocked them out, pushed out an updated and things seemed good.

It starts to hit the fan

Even though we released it as two separate products, and even told people that it was NOT an upgrade to the previous version, some users found the new version and right in the middle of their current event ‘upgraded’ to the new version. Let me just tell you, the results were not good.

Then, we received a support request that pointed out an issue that we didn’t know about. I entered it in to our ticket system like normal and assigned it to Justin. He took a look at it, looked at some code and reported back that the issue was not small. It was a section of functionality that somehow we never noticed didn’t get built.

Let’s jump back in time

A few months before we released the new plugin, back when I was starting to get scared about the fall out from releasing such a major upgrade to thousands of users, I floated the idea of stopping development on the plugin. I knew how precious little time we had and our once a week hack sessions really felt like it was difficult to get any real traction with the plugin. We discussed it, but ultimately I think our pride won out and forced us to keep plowing forward.

I should have caught on earlier

You know how when you are excited about a project, you’ll find time to work on it as often as possible? That’s how I am right now about a plugin I’m working on called WP Time Tracker. That is also how I was about Event Ticketing… at the beginning. But, as development slowed, and as progress slowed, so did my drive for the project. The biggest problem with that being that I was the one who was the biggest champion for the Event Ticketing plugin. I can see the amazing potential for the plugin; pro versions, paid add-ons, etc. I can see this being a huge money maker. But if I’m not thinking about the product day and night, why should I expect anybody else is?

As Justin told me about the big bug, I could hear it in his voice. I wrote about that conversation we had on 9seeds:

I asked Justin, “Are you still excited about working on Event Ticketing?” He didn’t even have to answer. When it took him more than 2 seconds to answer, I knew he was looking for the right way to let me down easy.

We spent the next 30 minutes talking about it, trying to rationalize keeping the plugin around. But ultimately, I explained it like this: “At the moment, the Event Ticketing plugin is a mediocre product. Since you are the person doing 90% of the development, if you aren’t excited about the project, there is no way we will ever make the plugin anything other than mediocre.”

Let me say that last part again in bold this time…
… if you aren’t excited about the project, there is no way we will ever make the plugin anything other than mediocre.

Get an Outside Opinion

Justin and I ended that conversation with “let’s think about it and discuss it next week.” But I was pretty certain I knew what needed to happen. Still, I wanted to talk to somebody who had no skin in the game. I reached out to a good friend and we hopped on a call. I explained the situation at great length. He just listened. I told him probably way more than I needed to. He just listened.

When I was done blabbering on, he took over. He threw out a few options as to how we might be able to salvage the plugin with new resources. He talked about targeting the plugin at a very tight niche and investigating to no end. He talked about how I might go about handling an end of life plan for the plugin. All of it was fantastic advice.

Did you notice that at no point did I say that he told me what I should do? That never happened. Instead he laid out options that I might not have thought about that could potentially salvage the plugin in one form or another, but also gave me some things to think about if I decided that killing the plugin was the thing to do.

I got off the phone and immediately sent a text to Justin. We didn’t need to wait until next week. We both knew what needed to be done and waiting another week wasn’t going to change that.

In the end

We set out to do something and it didn’t happen. Well, not how we wanted, anyway. And for that, I am bummed. I know we did the right thing. But that doesn’t help that feeling of failure.

But instead of focusing on the negative, I’ll focus on what we did accomplish. We built a plugin that was downloaded nearly 25,000 times. Tens or even hundreds of thousands of tickets were sold through our plugin. We saved event organizers a ton of money when they were able to sell tickets without having to pay a ticket processing fee.

But in the end, all good things must come to an end.

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Can you do whatever you want with your business?

cah

Have you ever played the game Cards Against Humanity? It’s a card game where each turn one player will read a card and the other players will all play one of their cards that they think the first player will pick as ‘the best.’ As an example, the first player might play a card that reads “Daddy, why is mommy crying?” And the other players will play cards such as “Hospice Care” or “A big hoopla about nothing.”

OK, those are two of the tamest answers in the entire game. You see, the game is for adults. A more likely response to the question above might be “Penis Envy” or “An Ass Disaster.” OK, these two are also pretty tame. Before we get too graphic, let’s just say that there are absolutely NO limits on the possible answers.

While the game itself is a lot of fun, you should follow the antics of the company that produces the game. Their tag line is “a free party game for horrible people.”, seriously, what’s not to love?

I gotta have it

When I was first introduced to the game, I was at a conference. When I returned home, I went to the mall and hit up every game store we could find. The first 3 had never even heard of the game. In the 4th store a guy had heard of it and told us “You can’t buy it in stores, you have to buy it online.” So, back home I went to place my order.

Slightly annoyed that I couldn’t buy it at the store and drive home with it, I logged on to their site to place my order. While checking out the site I noticed a link to download the game in PDF format.

Let me get this straight; I can’t buy the game in a store, but you’ll give it to me for free on your site. OK, you got me, I’m intrigued.

I downloaded the PDF, and sure enough, there were all the cards. But do I really want to print them, cut them and play using some very flimsy cards? Nope. I placed my order and the game was on it’s way to me.

A short time later I was back at their site to buy their first and second expansion packs. Like I said, the game is a lot of fun.

Pay what you want

Near the end of last year, I received an email from the company talking about a special holiday card expansion set. Of course I was going to buy it. When I went to the site, I found that they weren’t just selling it for a specific amount, they had set up the option to allow people to pay what they wanted. That’s right, you could pay any amount at all. Zero on up. My first thought was, you guys are insane! I payed for my set (5 or 7 dollars, as I recall) and they arrived a short time later. After the sale was all over, they posted the results for he Pay-what-you-want holiday pack sale.

Spoiler alert, they aren’t crazy. The sale turned a profit to the tune of $70,066.27. But if you read their stats page, you might back to thinking they’re crazy. They donated all the profits to Wikimedia. (watch the video at the bottom)

For me, it wasn’t just about the money they earned and then gave away, I loved that they took a crazy chance. A chance that could have gone very, very wrong.

Black Friday, uh, sale??

Did you get inundated with emails for Black Friday sales? I know I did. As somebody on Facebook suggested doing, I used it as a perfect time to unsubscribe from the bulk of them. But of course, one of those sales stuck out for me. The guys from CAH were at it again. The headline reads:

Today only! All Cards Against Humanity products are $5 more.

Nope, that’s not a typo. On Black Friday, the day where people are just itching to spend money on anything that is on sale, they took a major risk and RAISED their prices. Even though I already own the game, I wanted to buy it again at the higher price just because I loved what they were making a joke on a day where most companies are very serious about making sales.

So, did it pay off for them? Of course it did. They posted an article talking about the idea behind raising the price and, of course, a graph of their sales. Their sales on Black Friday itself were just about the same as the previous year. But unlike the previous year where the following day saw sales drop off, this year sales shot way up. Was that just people waiting a day for the price to go back down? Who knows.

Once again, they took a chance that could have had a very negative effect on their business.

So let me ask you, do you think Apple could get away with doing something like this? How about Walmart, Best Buy or Target. Or, if you want to think a bit smaller, what about a local restaurant? Would people pay 25% more for a burrito because a company decided to be funny?

Alright, we aren’t really talking about burritos here. What I’m really curious about is, could you do this with your business? Would you even think to try something like this?

I like watching and learning from companies like this. So that, hopefully, the next time I have the opportunity to do something unconventional, I don’t just mail it in. But instead, take the unexpected path.

Oh, and if you haven’t done so already, buy Cards Against Humanity.

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Getting past first impressions

Smiley Face

The year was 2008. I was in the process of organizing a conference centered around WordPress and was reaching out to some people who I wanted to speak at the event. I really wanted somebody to talk about eCommerce, so I reached out to the guys at Instinct. At the time, they weren’t just the biggest player in the game, they were about the only game in town. I asked them to come and speak and they agreed. I was stoked. Until I got an email a few days later that said something to the tune of “We are based in New Zealand, so instead we’re going to send one of the people who helps out in our forum who lives in Texas.” I was not happy. But, if it meant the difference between having somebody come and speak about eCommerce vs not having somebody, I was going to have to suck it up.

I didn’t know the person they were sending. Actually, at that point I didn’t know hardly anybody in the WordPress community. But I was so put off by how I felt I had been wronged that I immediately had a negative perception of the person they were sending. No fault of his own, I just feel like I’m being thrown ‘some guy’ who I’ve never heard of.

The day of the event finally rolls around. My wife is working the registration desk and I’ve asked her to let me know each time one of our speakers checks in so I can come out and get a photo with them. When she calls me over to meet the eCommerce guy, he’s battling a cold. GREAT, I think to myself. I sure hope he can make it through his presentation. Ugh! He’s really wracking up the negative points.

Paraphrasing from Fight Club, And this is how I met Shayne Sanderson.

The tide turns

shayneShayne went on stage and absolutely killed it. He has a dry sense of humor and the crowd really liked him. So did I. That night, we hung out a fair bit at the after party. He and his wife ended up coming back to our hotel room where we hung out and chatted until… I don’t even know when. He almost immediately started working off those negative points from before.

At the time I met Shayne in January of 2009, I had been working at my then current job for 9 years. Things at that job had started to turn. I wasn’t loving my job like I was before. The place had been changing and I wasn’t sure it was for the better. Over the next few months, several things would take place:

1) I took an even larger interest in WordPress development. I had already been working with it for years, but my interest in learning more and more continued to grow. I was building sites for people as side projects and the number of requests was really starting to grow.

2) My love for my previous job was fading FAST. By the end of summer, I had used up the majority of my vacation time. This was new territory for me because I had always really loved my job, so I took very little time off. I always had multiple weeks of vacation time banked. I remember distinctly walking in to the kitchen and telling my wife, “I hate my job.” It was the first time I really came right out and expressed how I had been feeling. I’m sure she already knew I was unhappy, but I think the full weight of those words took her by surprise. I know they did for me.

3) Shayne and initiated a weekly chat session. We would hop on the line on Wednesday afternoons and just shoot the shit. We’d talk about projects, kids, life, jobs, everything. It was rarely about trying to find answers for anything specific, it was just a great way to blow of steam.

A funny thing happened

Summer was ending. Both of us were fed up with our jobs. We had started collaborating on side projects together. Then, probably on one of our Wednesday chat sessions, we came up with this crazy idea; we should start a company.

So, to recap, in January I had no idea who this guy was and wasn’t happy to have him come speak at my event. By middle of September we were starting 9seeds together.

Every single day, including the days where things seem like they are a complete cluster fuck, I am so thankful that 9seeds happened. I love what I do. Yes, even on those 16 hour days when trying to cram for a deadline.

I’ve often been quick to judge people. My wife has called me on this when we’ve been at parties and she says she can tell by the tone of my voice when I’ve made up my mind that I don’t like somebody. Sometimes that can be 2 sentences in to a conversation. I don’t know what scares me more, the fact that I do that or the fact that she can pick up on it. Regardless, it’s pretty shallow on my part.

Group project time

When I think back on the events that lead me to where I am today, I’m extremely grateful for all the people that I’ve met along the way. Some of those people I can honestly say changed my life.

I want you to try something with me. The next time somebody is thrust in to your life who, for whatever reasons, starts off on your bad side, I want you to give them a chance to work past that first impression. They may just change your life.

Then again, they may end up just being an asshole. Your results may vary.

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Watching it click

Light bulb

With WordCamp Vegas less than two weeks away, it’s pretty much on my mind 24/7 at this point. Just making sure I’ve got all the details sorted out, food and shirts ordered, schedule sorted… It can be a bit overwhelming. But there’s only so many times you can go over a list of tasks, right? RIGHT? Let me go look at the list again. OK, I’m back.

It’s true, WordCamps are a lot of fun. I’ve got friends from all over the country coming in for the event. I get to hang out with the awesome speakers and sponsors on Friday night. Then, on Saturday, we’ll have a blast at the after party. This year is going to be a bit extra special because on Sunday night I’ll get to have all but one of the 9seeds team under one roof for a little food and drink. So yeah, I’m really looking forward to the fun.

But you know what is going to be just as fun? Watching it click.

Easy vs. Familiar

I’ve often explained to people that using WordPress is ‘easy.’ But that answer can be a bit misleading. Sure, I find WordPress easy to use. I would hope so after using it for 10 years. If I didn’t find it easy to use and was still using it 10 years later, I’d probably also still be rocking the Zach Morris cell phone and using AOL to access the internet.

Do you remember learning to drive a stick shift? I remember it being pretty intimidating. The first few times you try it you stall the car trying to take off. You shift gears in a herky-jerky sort of way. Having to stop on a hill is cause for a mild panic attack. But over time, you stop grinding the gears. You stop stalling the car. You get familiar with how the clutch feels and acts and before you know it, you’re changing gears, changing the radio station while eating a burger and holding a 32 oz drink. It’s just become second nature to you at some point.

Working with WordPress is the same way. For brand new users, hitting the dashboard and seeing the dozens and dozens of settings to play with can be very intimidating. ‘Easy’ isn’t likely to be the first word they would use to describe it. I find it important to remind myself of that fact before attending WordCamp or any WordPress meetup. A great number of the people in attendance don’t have that familiarity to lean back on. Much of what will be talked about at the event is going to go over their head. But then…

The presentation starts. The crowd is listening intently. People are scribbling notes. Slides go by. Then the speaker says something that 99% of the crowd simply takes in stride. But for one person, that one sentence, that one slide, that one thought… for that one person it is the difference between being confused and knowing.

Click!

I’ve presented at several WordCamps and I speak regularly at our local WordPress meetup. If you ask me why I speak at them, it’s for those exact moments. Watching somebody’s face as they get that clarity, I find it intoxicating. After you see it once, you’re going to want to see it again and again.

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The VegasGeek top 10 movies of 2013

fightclub

December is such a great time of year. You get the holidays, of course, but something else I always look forward to is the ‘best of the year’ posts. Best movies, best albums, best celebrity meltdown, sports team, goals, assists, saves… I could go on and on. I freakin’ love the top 10 lists.

I was kicking around the internet yesterday, as I sometimes do, and I found a page that listed every movie that was released in theaters this year. It even included the movies that are scheduled to be released before the end of the year. I found the page because I was at Best Buy over the weekend and noticed that the movie Jobs was out on DVD, which made me think, “wow, I didn’t ever realize it was released to theaters.” So I wanted to make a list of other movies I may have missed this year that I wanted to see. But as I scrolled the page, I ended up making two lists; Movies I saw in the theater, and Movies I want to see. So of course, I thought it would be fun to list out the movies I saw, in order, and give my two cents on each.

Before I get started, I need to tell you what I learned while doing this, because there were a few things. But the big thing… making a top 10 list is hard. Sure, I know the 1 or 2 that are on the top of the list. And, figuring out which two were at the bottom was pretty easy, too. But holy crap, the middle is difficult! Did I really enjoy We’re the Millers more than Kick-Ass 2? So, as you read my list, there are a stack of movies in the middle that could have been listed in a dozen different ways.

Anyway, let’s get started.

My Top 10

10. Gatsby
I haven’t read the book and haven’t seen the original, but I did enjoy this one.

9. Kick-Ass 2
-sigh- I was SO looking forward to this sequel. I liked it, but not nearly as much as the first.

8. Hunger Games – Catching Fire
I liked the first installment a lot. This one was good and really makes me want to see the 3rd. When the dome came crashing in, it had a bit of a Truman Show feel, which I liked.

7. We’re the Millers
Jason Sudeikis cracks me up. Jennifer Anniston is pretty damn hot. Good cast, silly fun movie.

6. Red 2
And the sequels keep on comin’! I liked Red 2 almost as much as the first. Almost. That’s saying a lot.

5. Monsters University
Has Pixar made a bad movie? Seriously, they seem to knock it out of the park every single time. If it says Pixar, I’m going to enjoy it. Period.

4. Despicable Me 2
When the first DM came out, the first trailer I saw for it looked terrible. It tainted my view of the movie. We finally went and saw it and I really enjoyed it (edit: my wife informed me that we did NOT like the first DM. Not sure why I don’t recall it that way.). I didn’t have to be talked in to going to see the second. It’s fun and funny.

3. Fight Club
Back in theaters for a couple days to celebrate the 20th anniversary. It is my favorite movie of all time, so it goes on the list. I felt bad letting it slip to #3.

2. Metallica – Through the Never
The story line was so-so, but holy shit, the 3D concert footage and the sound was absolutely amazing. If you get a chance, watch all the behind the scenes footage on youtube about how much work went in to building that stage. If there’s a better concert film, I haven’t seen it.

1. Star Trek – Into Darkness
I’ve never really been a Star Trek fan, but this and the previous movie have me rethinking that statement. Can we force J.J. Abrams to make 20 of these films? I’d see them all, in IMAX preferably.

The also-rans

The other movies I saw this year in theaters are:

11. This is The End (fun stoner movie.)
12. World War Z (I’m not a huge zombie movie fan. was very meh)
13. Jurassic Park 3D (I didn’t care for the 3D treatment)
14. R.I.P.D. (I’d rather just watch Men in Black 4 instead)
15. Oz – The great & Powerful (yawn)

Still need to see

As I said, this all started out as a list of movies I wanted to see that came out this year. In order of release date, here are the movies I’d like to see:

- warm bodies
- identity thief
- 42
- Hangover part 3
- Grown Ups 2
- Jobs
- Rush
- Captain Phillips
- Carrie
- Oldboy
- The Hobbit
- Saving Mr Banks
- Anchorman 2

Based on how crazy December is going to be for me, Anchorman 2 is the only one that’s going to happen in a theater. The rest are going to have to wait for Netflix.

OK, now it’s your turn. Leave a comment and tell me what you think of my top 10 list.

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How I eliminated 100s of emails per month

White envelope in sky

When people ask me what I do for a living, I semi-jokingly respond “I answer emails.”

With a team of developers and a stack of clients, it’s a fact of life that I’m going to have to deal with a fair amount of emails. Keeping clients informed of what’s going on and making sure developers have what they need is a big part of my job. Email is the typical vehicle for getting that done. Ipso facto, I deal with a ton of emails. Since I deal with so much email on a regular basis, I’m constantly trying to find ways to eliminate emails. I wanted to share with you a few things I do that have drastically cut down the number of emails I deal with each month. Amazingly, both have to do with video. But I promise, both are dead simple.

Show me, don’t tell me

Let me know if this sounds familiar; A client asks you to build something, you deliver it and explain how to use it. A month later they email you asking you how to do it again. Rinse, repeat.

Back in 2007, I first wrote about a tool I was using called Jing. Up until 18 months ago, I could say that I used Jing pretty much every day. I no longer use Jing, but have switched to using SnagIt, which just so happens to be made by the same awesome people who make Jing.

Why SnagIt?

I’ve used a number of screen capture tools, and I find that SnagIt hits the sweet spot for me. It has enough features to do what I need, without being overly complicated. I love Camtasia, but for my day-to-day use, it’s far more than I need. SnagIt makes it simple to shoot a quick video with voice over and then either upload it to their paid service, which automatically copies the URL to your clipboard, or you can save the video and upload it to youtube/vimeo/etc. There are options to auto-upload the videos to youtube and other 3rd party services, but I honestly haven’t had need to use that functionality, so I haven’t played too much with it.

I use SnagIt in a number of ways;

1. When a client calls and explains a change they need made, if the change is visual, I’ll load up the client’s website and then use SnagIt to walk through and explain what the client needs done. I can then take the URL send it to the client to have them confirm that what I’ve explained in the video is what they are looking for. This eliminates both a series of emails trying to describe a visual change via text, and, stops us from doing double work trying to guess exactly what the client is looking for.

2. When we complete a project for a client, if we had to build any custom functionality, we’ll use SnagIt to record a walk-through video for the client showing them how the functionality works. This is also handy for new sites where the home page is managed with widgets or custom content areas. Creating a 5 minute walk through video will take you far less time than trying to create a PDF document with screenshots, etc. I’ll talk more about how I typically deliver these training videos to clients in just a sec.

3. We have a number of WordPress plugins that we work on as a team. As we are working on new functionality, I will often be the QA tester. If I run in to any bugs, SnagIt to the rescue. I’ll talk a quick walk through video and show the developer exactly what is wrong. They’re able to see the exact chain of events I went through to produce the error and see any error messages that may pop up along the way. Again, this is so much quicker than trying to write it up and explain it.

In the palm of their hands

Early this year I had a string of clients who were all brand new to WordPress. I ended up spending more time than I care to admit providing one-on-one training over the phone or on Skype. While I don’t mind doing one-on-one training, I don’t think it’s worth my time or the client’s money for me to be on a call explaining how to write a post in WordPress. That type of information has been covered a thousand times over! What I needed was a delivery mechanism. I found exactly what I was looking for in WP101.

video-dashboardWP101 has a series of videos that explain the basics of using WordPress. They make those videos available either on their site, or through a WordPress plugin. We subscribe to the plugin and install it on our client’s sites as we finish them up. Now, the client has a simple way to learn more about WordPress from right inside their WordPress dashboard.

In the screenshot you’ll see the standard videos that WP101 provides, plus the custom videos that we shoot. Since our client videos can sometimes contain private information, we use a Vimeo Pro account and mark the videos as hidden from Vimeo, and set them to only be viewable from the client’s URL. We then grab the embed code and add it to WP101. Now the client has all the automatically updated videos from WP101, plus the site-specific videos that we shot for them in one spot that’s easy for them to find and watch again and again.

By providing our clients with the WP101 videos plus the custom videos we shoot, we’ve seen a dramatic drop in emails asking how to work inside WordPress. I consider this a huge win for both of us.

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Thanksgiving movie list fail

planestrains

Yesterday when I was thinking about my post for Thanksgiving, I thought it would be fun to do a list of my favorite Thanksgiving themed movies. I knew my #1 was going to be Planes, Trains and Automobiles, that was easy. But for the rest, I would just hit up the interwebs and see what other movies are turkey day related. I was picturing getting a nice long list of movies that I could pick through, find 10 that were my favorites and then do a little countdown.

Search: Best Thanksgiving Movies
Results: 592,000,000

Hey, that’s promising! Let’s click on a couple lists…

IMDB
This list is obviously crappy since it does not list Planes, Trains and Automobiles at #1. It’s not even #2 on the list. For shame, IMDB, for shame! Although, they did redeem themselves a little bit by listing Son in Law as #36. You’ll see why that’s important in just a minute. As I read the rest of the list I realized I haven’t seen hardly any of these movies.

Let’s try another list, shall we?

BuzzFeed
OK, this list starts at 10 and works it’s way down. #10 Son in Law. I may as well stop reading right now, I just know it. But, the list is only 10 items long, I’ll trudge on. Well, of the 10 they list, I’ve only seen 3. Scent of a Woman, Son in Law and Planes, Trains & Automobiles. At least they put the right movie in the #1 slot. But this list didn’t even include A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (which was #14 on IMDB). Ugh, this is hard.

OK, one more list.

AMC TV
#1, Planes, Trains and Automobiles. The rest, nothing I’ve seen. Crap.

So apparently, there is an amazing lack of quality Thanksgiving movies out there. Or, I’m just a shut-in and haven’t seen very many movies. But, I set out to do a top 10 list, so here we go!

  1. Planes, Trains and Automobiles
  2. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving
  3. N/A
  4. N/A
  5. N/A
  6. N/A
  7. N/A
  8. N/A
  9. N/A
  10. N/A

Happy Thanksgiving Everybody!

Disclaimer: I do like the movie Scent of a Woman, but can’t for the life of me remember how it relates to Thanksgiving, so I can’t put it on the list. Don’t like it, make your own list. :)

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Peaks and Valleys

peaks and valleys

On my company site, we get a fair number of people filling out our contact form looking for help with a project. Believe me, I consider ourselves very lucky to be in a profession where there doesn’t seem to be any shortage of work. As the forms come in, we do our best to review them, set up calls when needed, and, as often as possible, book the client for some work. In a perfect world, they’d come in all spaced out evenly throughout the week or even the month. But you know that’s not how it works. We’ll get 5 in a single day, and then none for a week. Or, we’ll go through a stretch where it’s 5 or more per day.

Dealing with the incoming leads is a good amount of work. But obviously, it’s some of the most important work we do, because without them, we don’t have clients. OK, that’s a bit extreme, but you get the point.

The Perfect Storm

In a post last week I was talking about a project that went off the rails. As is usually the case, when one project starts to get squirrely, others tend to follow. Until all of a sudden you’re looking at a handful of projects that are all running late. Throw in to the mix waiting for assets from clients, contractor availability and every thing else that can slow down projects and you have the perfect storm of crap.

It’s during these periods of volatility where I find it the hardest to work on new leads. As existing projects are slipping past due dates, the projects we had lined up after the current projects are inevitably going to run long, too. As that is going on, I have a bad habit of letting the incoming leads sit longer than I should. This is typically because I’m not eager to bring new clients in to the mix while we’re trying to sort out the clients we already have. If I’m not careful, what can end up happening is that we end up getting caught up without booking new projects to start after the previous ones finish.

Here’s a secret, that scares the crap out of me!

Build. Better. Reporting.

A few months back we released a product called WP Time Tracker. Even though we released it recently, internally our company has been using it for over a year to record the work we do for clients. I’ve been telling people recently, this is my favorite plugin that I have personally written. I use it absolutely every day and it continues to make my job easier.

This week as we were getting caught up on a few of those lingering projects, we’ve started the process of doing the postmortem to figure out what went wrong and how to avoid it in the future. More specifically, how do we avoid it in the IMMEDIATE future as we have a number of ongoing projects that we are still working on. Justin, my partner, shared an email exchange he was having with another business owner talking about their sales funnel/pipeline and work capacity. His note to me at the top of the email said:

I had an idea to add two reports to WP Time Tracker:

Worker “capacity” basically showing an average of every workers weekly hours so we know how much they normally take on.

Client “demand” showing the same number over time to give an idea of how much time clients take up.

Worker Capacity is a fairly easy one. We want to figure out roughly how much time each of our workers has available on average in a given week.

Client Demand is a little different. We have a number of ongoing/long term clients that will send us a batch of work, then go dormant for a period of time, then come back with another batch of work. What we want to figure out is, when each client sends us work, on average, how many hours per week do we spend on them. Breaking that down one step further to show which developer are involved is also an interesting stat.

As I said a minute ago, we’ve been using the plugin for over a year to track each of our developers hours on a weekly basis. We track all that time against clients. Holy crap, we have a wealth of information locked inside a plugin that just needs to be let out. I’ve selfishly added these two items to the top of the feature list. But don’t worry, I’ll share them as soon as their ready. Hopefully they’ll do their part in helping us navigate the peaks and valleys.

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Refining my blogging process

WordPress

Did I mention that I’m really enjoying blogging again? Well, that makes it sound like there was a time when I didn’t enjoy it. Not true. I’ve always enjoyed blogging, but have typically been too busy to do it. Recently I’ve made an effort to move a couple of the things I LIKE to do toward the top of my list instead of the bottom. I bought a bunch of tickets to see the Las Vegas Wranglers play, too. That’s been on my list for a while now, so finally decided it was time to act on it.

I was chatting with Jon Brown the other day and he brought up my recent stretch of blog posts. I don’t recall all the specifics of the conversation, but we did start talking about process. Blogging isn’t just about writing. Sure, that’s the bulk of it, but there’s also things like picking a featured image, linking words and phrases to other posts or other sites, tagging, categorizing and, of course, proofreading. Although, if you’re a regular reader here, you probably think I skip the proofreading part. Zing!

I have tried so many different ways to try and blog regularly, if I had taken better notes along the way, it would have made a great article about how NOT to do it. Although, I’m sure some of the processes I tried would work for somebody out there, none were good enough to get me to blog regularly. So since I’ve apparently latched on to something that’s working, this is probably the process worth talking about.

Finding my process

I remember when I first got an iPhone, I was pretty sure that a lot of the tasks I normally do sitting at a desk would eventually move to the phone. But even though there are some great apps available for blogging, none ever really worked for me. I had a lot of problems with the early WordPress iOS app, so I was always searching for other apps to fill the void. I probably went through 20 or 30 different apps with nothing ever really sticking. Evernote was probably as close as I ever came to an app that helped me blog regularly from the phone. But the process of writing on the phone wasn’t very pleasant.

When the first generation iPads came out, I went through the process all over again. App after app I tested trying to find the perfect match for blogging. But no dice. I loved consuming content on the iPad, but could never really get comfortable creating content on the iPad.

So why not just write at the desk? Since that is something I do all day long for work, sitting at the desk another 30-90 minutes to write a blog post isn’t always what I want to do. I’d much rather be able to lay in bed or sit on the couch and knock out a post.

The Perfect Marriage

This summer I picked up an iPad mini. I absolutely love the form factor. I find it so much better than the full size iPad, it’s not even a close comparison. As I started using it more and more, I realized that I was able to hold it in both hands and type with my thumbs without having to stretch to reach the keys in the center like I had to with the full size iPad. I started using the iPad in the morning to go through Facebook and leave comments, send tweets, etc. So when I decided to get back in to blogging, I grabbed the latest WordPress iOS App and tried it out. I was thrilled when I was able to write a post, add links and categories and didn’t have any problems.

So my process now looks a lot like this. I lay in bed and use the iPad mini plus the native WordPress app. I write the entire post, add links and categories and basically get the content ready to go. I then switch the post status to ‘Draft’ and click save. This doesn’t just save the post locally, it pushes it up, in draft mode, to the server. Then, next time I am at my desk I open the post, give it a final proofread, add a featured image to the post and hit publish.

The WordPress app is damn good these days. If you haven’t tried it out in a while, you really should. I find writing on the iPad mini extremely enjoyable and that’s been a big help in keeping me blogging. I would like to get a bit better at dealing with images in the iOS app, but that’ll just come with practice.

How about you? What’s your process?