Finely Tuned Consultant: Lisa Sabin-Wilson
Hey Folks, this week I’m talking with Lisa Sabin-Wilson, one of the WordPress designer extraordinaires out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and hyphenator extraordinaires! She’s the gal behind WordPress for Dummies, which has a 5th edition upcoming. She wrote that book in a stroke of brilliance and has been *caching* royalty checks ever since. Lisa spent 10 years as a Registered Nurse before her design hobby evolved into a full-fledged business and she made the entrepreneurial leap in 2004. She’s one of the 20,000 that Matt Mullenweg mentioned in his keynote at WCSF this year who make their living on WordPress!
Lisa also listens to a lot of Pink Floyd, does yoga, and is a Texas Ex-Pat who has found herself a home up North in Almost-Canada. We’d call her a traitor, but that wouldn’t be very WordPress of us 😉
In Lisa’s own words:
I am a designer and WordPress developer. I split my time between developing WordPress sites for clients, and writing books about WordPress for users. Also, I do yoga.
Now, onto Lisa’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?
The first time I got excited about WordPress was the first time I used it, in 2003. Back then, I was a Movable Type user and whenever you made changes to the template on Movable Type, you had to rebuild every single archive page in order for those changes to reflect site-wide. When I switched to WordPress, I discovered that rebuilding was a thing of the past, I knew it was a keeper. It was in 2004 that I decided to make a career out of building sites in WordPress and started doing it part time and achieved my goal of making it my full time career in 2005.
Where do you go first to get your WP news, insights, and updates?
The very first place I go is WPCandy. Ryan Imel typically has the most up to date information and news about WordPress, plus he does a great job of putting the spotlight on some of the lesser known WordPress consultants, services, plugins and themes that are out there today.
What WP consultants deserve more love than they get? Who should we be paying attention to?
If you’re not already paying attention to the team at iThemes – you should be. They are doing some pretty brilliant WordPress work that covers a lot of ground from plugins, themes and training/education, all revolving around WordPress. They are no small player in the game and have been around for a long time – I find their suite of plugins, in particular, to be ‘must have’ items on many of the sites I develop.
What performance tips would you give to other pros (as related to speed, scalability, security, plugins, backup, etc.)?
Never underestimate the need for a good, reliable backup system because you never really know how badly you need a backup of your site until you NEED A BACKUP OF YOUR SITE. It’s always better to have that back up than to be sitting there saying “Man, I wish I had backed up”. If you are doing client work, in particular – clients always appreciate you taking the extra step of putting a mechanism for back up in place for them. This can be accomplished through many ways from a hosting provider who backs it up for you on a regular basis, a plugin that performs and delivers automated backups or through manually backing up (ice!) – either way, backups shouldn’t be left to the client to deal with .. put something in place for them before you sign off on the project.
Confess to us your biggest moment of WP fail?
It was a pretty big one and happened back in 2005 when I was pretty green at this, and I still cringe when I think about it. I migrated a client from Expression Engine to WordPress, as well as migrating them from one hosting provider to another. It was a lot of database work because, at least back then, the export process from Expression Engine to WordPress was pretty involved. I did the CMS migration on their old hosting account and once we confirmed success on that, transferred them over to their new hosting provider. The entire process was timely but went surprisingly smooth – until 30 days went by and the client cancelled their old hosting account once he was comfortable with the new one. Both hosting providers used a unique mySQL host and, at the time, I was used to using ‘localhost’ 99.9% of the time… his old hosting account used something like: mysql1234.host.com
When I made the transfer from the old host to the new one, I failed to change the DB_HOST in the wp-config.php file. The site was working fine on the new host, and I was completely unaware that the WP installation on the new host was using the DB_HOST at his old host – so in those 30 days before he cancelled his old account, all new content was being saved to the database on the old host. Once he cancelled his old account, and his old database got deleted – it took me awhile to figure out why his WordPress site was lacking any content at all.
3 years of archives …. POOF.
Did I keep a backup of the old database? Yes – but the only copy I had was the pre-WordPress migration … so I had his old Expression Engine database backed up, and that’s it. I had to do the whole thing all over again, complete with the loss of 30 days of content. Thankfully, much of that content was cached in Google’s system, so I took the time to re-create most of the lost content from those 30 days.
The entire process was very timely-consuming, and not too mention embarrassing. I was pretty green and it’s hard to even admit this massive FAIL – but you can bet that I’ve not ever made such a mistake since then. (btw – the client was refunded in total for what he originally paid me for the project even though it ended up OK in the end).
If you were going to spend this weekend creating a plugin that doesn’t exist, what would it be?
A Multisite plugin that allows for easy placement of global items such as global navigation menus, global widgets, global pages, etc. For example, the Network Admin can designate a particular widget as ‘global’ – in that it will show up in a predefined space on every site within the network. I accomplish those tasks now through development, but a point and click interface for it that it easy for the end user would be cool.
Do you use Themes & Child Themes, Roll your own, or both?
I tend to roll my own 95% of the time unless there is an existing theme (free or premium) that gets me at least halfway towards the requirements of a particular project, then I may use an existing theme if it cuts down on my development time. Most often the work I do is so customized that using existing themes is more of a headache than if I were to roll my own.
What’s your favorite theme or theme framework? Why?
In February 2012, the theme team at Automattic announced the release of the Underscores theme (or simply, _s).
It’s a starter theme for WordPress and has pretty much everything in it that you could possibly need for a starter framework.. It’s an HTML5 theme with copious code commenting that I find really helpful (and educational!), the generic framework allows for adding in your own responsive CSS stylings and there’s just gobs more features in this theme that the WordPress theme team has poured 1000’s of hours into. Pretty much, if it comes from Automattic, you know you’re getting the latest and greatest in terms of features, as well as the most cutting edge theme development to learn from and adapt to your own projects. Best of all, it’s GPL and the free price tag can’t be beat.
Backup Buddy from iThemes Pluginbuddy – – see my earlier comments about having a solid backup mechanism in place. Plus, the restore/import feature build into this plugin makes it super simple for me to transfer client work from my localhost or a staging environment to the client’s domain very quickly without losing any content, settings, widgets, menus, etc. Bonus: it’s Multisite compatible.
Least favorite plugin?
There are no least favorite plugins – – there are only plugins that I prefer not to use 🙂
What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever done with Custom Post Types?
I recently used Custom Post Types on a client site (not yet launched) for podcasting. He is a Fitness DJ and creates mixes and playlists for all different types of exercise routines from biking, running, walking, circuit training and more. He separates his playlists into Free downloads and Premium downloads, utilizing the iTunes subscription model for his Premium stuff. We used Custom Post Types to separate out the mix/playlist content from his regular blog, and used custom taxonomies extensively to allow him to drill down the types of mixes and include specific information like BPM (beats per minute), length, difficulty and category. Using the taxonomies for this post type allows us to create archives for them and to make them searchable. Combining Custom Post Types with custom taxonomies and adding in some great custom meta fields in the mix really allows us to create an interface for the client that is super easy to use and manage content. Custom Post Types is one of my most favorite WordPress features to come around over the past few years.
What do you think is the biggest challenge that WP consultants will face in 2012?
Just keeping up with emerging technologies (mobile, responsive, etc) and keeping up with the fast paced development in WordPress so you stay on top of all the cutting edge, new stuff is a challenge when you’re a busy consultant. I always say that 20% of my job is learning and educating myself on new features, methods, concepts – and it changes so fast. It’s important for consultants to build time into their schedule for continued education to stay on top of it all.
If you could change one thing today about WP, what would it be?
I love WordPress just the way it is today.
Where do you see WordPress going in the next 2-3 years?
A billion users. 🙂
Tell us a story where you saved the WP day for yourself or on a client project. What made the difference for you?
WordPress saves the day in pretty much every project I do. Clients come to me with a laundry list of items they would like to accomplish for their site. They usually don’t know WordPress very well, so are generally unsure whether WordPress can handle their requirements, or not. It’s a very rare moment where I have to say “No, you can’t do that with WordPress” – because if it hasn’t already been done through a developed plugin, or hook or theme – then WordPress is typically flexible enough to be able make it happen, for the most part. I love when clients come to me with a question about something they want on their site and they are very worried they won’t be able to achieve it and I can say “Yes, no problem – WordPress can do that.” … or “Yep – there is perfect plugin for just that thing” – they love it.
What’s the biggest misconception you encounter about WordPress, and how do you clear it up for your clients?
WordPress is Open Source, that means it’s insecure. I run into this all the time, particularly at the corporate level. I do a lot of educating about the security of WordPress, overall and it always comes down to education about the development cycle of WordPress and the importance of keeping the WordPress core, plugins and themes upgraded to the most current version. Explaining that security vulnerabilities happen when clients do not upgrade their software – the vulnerability lies in outdated development. Stressing the importance of upgrading is something I do on a daily basis.
If you were interviewing another WordPress developer for a job, what is the first question you would ask and why?
I typically start out by asking to see a portfolio of work – but will ask them to show me the latest project they did with Custom Post Types, or Multisite or something that requires more advanced knowledge than simple, basic theme development. If the developer has the work to show me, then I can delve into how they accomplished certain features and ask to see the code – – or the conversation goes the other way and I find out that their skills aren’t quite that advanced, yet. I do several types of client work ranging from very basic implementations of WordPress to very advanced custom development … so just because a developer doesn’t not yet have advanced skills doesn’t mean that i cannot use them in my company, it just means that I am limited in the type of work I am able to assign – while, at the same time, working with them to advance their skills and experience so that I am able to use their talent in more advanced work later on. Either way, I need to have a very good grasp on where their skill level is at before I unleash them on a project.
Y’all can check out Lisa’s portfolio of work and pick up a copy of WordPress for Dummies.
Join the conversation.
There are 2 comments
This was fun – thanks for including me in your “Finely Tuned Consultants” series . I enjoy reading these when you post them!
BTW – we’re about to roll out the 5th Edition of my WordPress For Dummies book (the 4th Ed. has been on the shelves for the past 1.5 years) .. small, but important detail (at least to the author! ha)
Wow, the infamous Lisa Sabin. My introduction to wordpress was through her dummies book and a year later that foundation helped me to navigate, create, hack, and crash the site I manage today. I’ll probably get a lot more out of it if I take a gander at it today.
Keep up the good work Lisa and WP Engine team