Dan Norris - Finely Tuned WordPress ConsultantToday, we’re reaching around the globe to Oceania, Australia, specifically, to chat with Dan Norris, longtime WordPress developer, and now the founder of a new WordPress support service, WP Curve. Dan grew up a hacker par excellence. In the pre-interview process, Dan told me about how he cut his teeth hacking his cars in high school, installing computers in them to make them faster and the like.

Dan’s first design business started out on ASP, moved to Joomla, but arrived at WordPress shortly after. Dan’s been building WordPress ventures since that day, and has now arrived at WP Curve, which gives agencies and customers 24/7 access to a WordPress developer for a monthly fee. There seem to be a ton of these services cropping up these days, and I’m curious to see which teams will get the business model right. I’ve got faith in Dan and his team, simply because I don’t think Dan likes the concept of “giving up.” That tends to help a lot.

In Dan’s Own Words:

My first business was a web design agency building sites for small businesses. I found WordPress in the early days when it was more of a blogging platform. As it rapidly grew and expanded, I stuck with it and I’m glad I did.

Now onto Dan’s answers!

When was the first time that you really got excited about WordPress and at what point did you decide to make it your career?

I’d spent years building sites using Joomla and although it was fairly powerful, I noticed my clients rarely took care of business for themselves. Small tasks like logging in to create a blog post or modifying text on a page were out of their reach. When we started using WordPress, I noticed clients were doing a lot more with their sites without calling on me to help. It was only a matter of time before WP caught fire… and it did quickly.

Where do you go first to get your WP news, insights, and updates?
I use Twitter – the accounts I follow are @wpmudev, @wpengine @wpbeginner and @wordpress.

What WP consultants deserve more love than they get? Who should we be paying attention to?

I think there’s a gap between the people who use WordPress at an expert level, but don’t brand themselves well. You should find people who are doing great things with WordPress and feature them. An example that comes to mind is John Dumas from Entrepreneur on Fire, he created a podcast from scratch less than a year ago and is now getting 250,000 downloads per month. He’s not a “WordPress consultant” by any means, but there are loads of people like him who are changing the world, thanks to WordPress.

What performance tips would you give to other pros (as related to speed, scalability, security, plugins, backup, etc.)?

My number 1 tip is to choose a good host and I’m not just sucking up. Cheap web hosting will be slow. It doesn’t matter how clean your site is or how many cache plugins you have installed. If you are on a crappy host it will be slow, so start with a good host.

Confess to us your biggest moment of WP fail?

Oh man! A few years ago, I had a developer who had all of the passwords for one of our servers saved in his unsecured FTP program. He got a virus on his computer that somehow copied down the passwords and used them to get root access to our server and literally wiped out the whole thing (40 odd clients). I had them all backed up of course but it took days to sort out.

If you were going to spend this weekend creating a plugin that doesn’t exist, what would it be?

A plugin that connected to Google Analytics, brought back a list of your top 5 highest converting blog posts and created a top posts widget listing those 5. I do this on my blog for my Agency Analytics app informly at the moment but it’s done manually.

Do you use Themes & Child Themes, Roll your own, or both?

Both as it depends on what our client needs. At WP Curve we only take care of maintenance and small fixes so we work with everything. It’s always good when a client has something like Genesis, but we don’t mind getting our hands dirty in the code – that’s what we are there for!

What’s your favorite theme or theme framework? Why?

I’ve always like WooThemes as a theme provider. Their themes are consistent, I know what people will get when I send them to WooThemes so I often recommend them. A lot of the time when people go theme shopping, they don’t know what they will get. I like WooThemes as a business and we try to model off them in a way. Find world class staff and have full control of the process for the customer because people want consistency.

Favorite plugin?

SwiftType because the WordPress search is horrible and the free version of SwiftType not only solves the search problem, but makes searching easy on the user.

Least favorite plugin?

I really like the post snippets plugin but it’s extremely buggy. If it wasn’t so buggy, I’d like it but I have to use it because I’ve got lots of code snippets in there.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever done with Custom Post Types?

I developed my own simple theme framework which had a bunch of cool features including using custom post types for slides and testimonials. They were the design elements you’d find on a lot of small business sites. I gave away the themes for free as a content marketing exercise for my web agency.

What do you think is the biggest challenge that WordPress consultants will face in 2013?

I think cloud-based tools are the biggest challenger to WordPress. Take ecommerce for example, only a few years ago people would always start with an open source ecommerce site. Nowadays a lot of people are starting with something like Shopify or BigCommerce. There hasn’t been one single provider who has come in and owned this space for normal small business sites. Small business owners are still generally getting their advice from consultants and setting up their own stand alone sites using WordPress.

I think this could change once cloud-based or hosted CMS tools become good enough to represent a legitimate threat to WordPress. WordPress has wordpress.com, but I think this can be confusing for people. If WordPress aren’t careful someone else may come along with a more simple, more compelling offer.

If you could change one thing today about WordPress, what would it be?

Widgets. They can be confusing. The inability to decide what pages they show and hide on and getting to them in the Admin is confusing. “Widget” is also a shit name. If you don’t know WordPress and don’t know what a widget is, you won’t be able to change the text on your page – this is often the most important text. There’s no editor and no ability to show or hide it on specific pages without plugins. We need to get to a point where people can see something on their site, click on it and change it.

Where do you see WordPress going in the next 2-3 years?

I would like to see seamless editing with no admin area and no saving – just click on text to change it. You can already do with some of the fancier WYSIWYG editors. How about just one WordPress? I think it’s risky to have wordpress.com and wordspress.org. When someone’s needs change they can have different plans for different customers. The initial confusion between .com and .org probably scares a lot of people away.

Tell us a story where you saved the WP day for yourself or on a client project. What made the difference for you?

Well this is our bread and butter. We’ve fixed clients sites who were showing the white screen of death, sites that have been hacked, sites that wouldn’t load and broken optin plugins. This is all in a day’s work for us!

What’s the biggest misconception you encounter about WordPress, and how do you clear it up for your clients?

The mindset of small business owners who see their website as something they have to tick off a list. I see websites as a tool to spread your message and your content. Installing WordPress is not going to do that – you have to keep working at it once it’s set up.

If you were interviewing another WordPress developer for a job, what is the first question you would ask and why?

I don’t use interviews to find good developers. Our business relies on world class developers to fix problems. I’m not interested in someone telling me how good they are – they have to prove it.

So we do paid trials. We give them a range of tasks, like coding in some social buttons, adding a favicon and fixing some broken CSS. I then pay attention to how they work. Whether they skip tasks that they can’t do, if they ask for help, if they cut corners and whether they install plugins when they are available instead of customizing. I usually throw them a curveball, like ask them to backup the site but don’t give them the right access to do the backup. Sounds harsh but these are the things we run into every day and that will tell me whether they have what it takes.

What did I miss? Here’s your chance to fill in the blanks and add something you want people to know about you!

WordPress is a great tool but for me, it’s the content that is most important for business owners. The reason WordPress is so good is because content is in its DNA, so focus on creating amazing content and customers will come.

Oh and one other thing. If you’re a web agency owner and you’re sick of spending time on odd jobs and small fixes, speak to my MVC (Minimum Viable Co-founder) Claff – we’re offering tailored support solutions for agency owners.

Thanks Dan!

You all can check out Dan’s newest venture, WP Curve, if you’re looking for the mid-ground between hiring a full-time developer, and getting support from someone like WP Engine!