Q1: What is your background, & how did you first get involved with WordPress?
As a teenager, I loved building websites. Not for any particular purpose, I just loved learning HTML and CSS and seeing what I could create. I built so many sites – I was good at starting them but always abandoned them when new ideas came to mind and I wanted to build something better. When it came time to choose what I wanted to study at university, I was torn between pursuing a career in writing (I’d always loved writing stories) and following my love of technology. So I chose both – I majored in journalism and computer science.
After graduating, I worked as a newspaper journalist, which I absolutely loved. Meeting people and writing their stories for a living – I was living the dream. In my spare time, I continued working on websites. Mostly sites for community groups and friends. By that time, I’d moved on from Geocities and Blogspot and had started using WordPress, mostly because it was easy to customize and I could set up self-hosted sites with little effort.
It wasn’t until 2012 when I started working professionally with WordPress. I decided to leave journalism and try my luck in web development. I landed a job as a Wordsmith at Incsub, the parent company of WPMU DEV. I went on to become Managing Editor and looked after one of the largest WordPress resources online (5000+ posts and counting!). I enjoyed working with ridiculously talented people building really cool products for WordPress. But after 4+ years, I said goodbye to WPMU DEV in November and started my own business.
Q2: What should readers know about all the stuff you’re doing in WordPress these days?
I recently started my own business, Words By Birds. My focus is on creating high-quality content for WordPress businesses, including blog posts, sales and marketing copywriting, content strategies… Pretty much anything that involves words for websites and products.
Last year was a rocky year traffic-wise for many websites thanks to Google updating its quality algorithms more and more regularly. Since Google’s Penguin and Panda algorithm changes, SEO has relied primarily on quality content. Not on stuffing the right amount of keywords into unnaturally-written articles, and building as many (often spammy) backlinks as possible, as was the case a few years ago. So my focus with Words By Birds is creating the kind of high-quality content that people enjoy reading and believe is authentic, valuable and informative, and at the same time quenches Google’s thirst for quality.
Q3: What challenges did you face in getting to where you are now professionally?
I’ve been lucky in my career. I’ve worked with some incredible organizations and mentors that have given me the space to learn and grow, both in journalism and in web development. So I haven’t faced any major challenges in my career.
More recently, starting my own business has been a challenge. I’m new to entrepreneurship so getting Words By Birds off the ground has been both challenging and hugely rewarding. Initially, I partnered with Jenni McKinnon, another fantastic WordPress writer who’s based in Vancouver. But there were a lot of challenges around setting up a business together internationally. So we decided to keep it simple, run our own businesses (she now runs WP Pros(e)), and we collaborate on joint projects and ventures when two heads are better than one.
Q4: Has anything surprised you while coming up in the WordPress world?
Watching WordPress evolve over the years has been more eye-opening than surprising. Over the past couple of years, a lot of larger companies have swooped in to acquire smaller WordPress companies. WordPress has certainly changed dramatically since the grassroots days when developers almost fell into running businesses that used the platform. I do hope that we can hold on to the diversity of small and larger businesses that exist in the WordPress ecosystem.
What has caught me off guard, though, has been the amazing friendships I’ve made since I started working with WordPress professionally. I’ve been really lucky to meet a lot of people I’ve worked and collaborated with over the years. I’ve got WordCamps to thank for that, not to mention the six months I spent working and traveling in Europe while I was at Incsub.
What I’ve been most surprised about is how quickly I found clients after starting Words By Birds. Businesses are recognizing the need for well-written, high-quality content and rather than opt for low-end bloggers who slap words on a page, they are turning to businesses like mine for the kind of useful and valuable content that ranks well with Google. So it’s fortunate after all that I chose to follow my two passions, writing and web development, as they’ve allowed me at this point in my life to create a business that meets a growing need.
Q5: What does the future look like for you in the WordPress world?
I’m genuinely excited to see what 2018 has in store for me! Now that I’ve got Words By Birds to the point that it’s ramen profitable, my next focus is on investing in branding and a site redesign. I’m not a designer so the site I’ve thrown together needs a lot of love!
My goal this year is to be the best provider of quality content for WordPress businesses. But there’s only one of me so no doubt there will be challenges around how to scale. I also want to create and sell resources that help business owners who want to create their own quality content but aren’t sure how.
Q6: What do you look for in a WordPress host?
It really depends on the website you need the hosting for, but generally I prioritize four things: reliability, performance, price and support. Over the years, I’ve had a lot of hosting accounts with different companies and spent a lot of time testing hosting packages while working on posts and reviews for the WPMU DEV blog. I found that the best hosts always provide top-notch support and go out of their way to help you.
I don’t usually waste my time with cheap hosting. In my experience, it’s more trouble than it’s worth. When I’m helping community groups and friends set up new websites (which I still do from time to time), I often tell them that while they might not be paying me for my time, they shouldn’t skimp on quality hosting. Because if traffic can’t reach your website because it’s down, then you are effectively closed for business. And that, in a nutshell, is why quality hosting is so important.
7. What do you enjoy doing when you’re away from your laptop?
I know it’s a cliche, but like many business owners I spend too much time working. It’s rare you’ll find me very far from my laptop. Luckily, I have a very patient partner! So when I’m not working I try to relax and make the most of it.
I love hiking and camping. I recently hiked the Overland Track, a six-day, 65km+ trek in Tasmania where I’m originally from. It was incredible waking up to mountain views, fresh air and wildlife every day, not to mention being out of mobile range for almost a week. It was bliss being completely offline.
On weekends I like to get out of Melbourne with my partner. He surfs so we often drive to far away beaches in remote locations. There’s nothing better than lying on a beach towel and reading a good book. I also love films, riding around Melbourne on my bicycle and, of course, coffee – you can’t live in Melbourne and not love coffee!
8. Whom should we interview next & why?
Brent Shepherd, founder of Prospress. He’s the brains behind the hugely popular WooCommerce Subscriptions extension and is doing amazing things with Robot Ninja, the first automated testing solution for WooCommerce stores. He’s also a lovely guy and introduced me to the deliciousness of Mission burritos when I was in San Francisco last year.