One of the cool things about working with the number of WordPress consultants that we have the opportunity to, is that I often hear from our support team about someone who may be “flying under the radar” in the Community. Sharon Schanzer is one of those folks that deserves a bit of love, and since I’ve got this blog I can publish to, well…
Sharon is a NYC-based WordPress consultant, founder of the RLDGROUP, and serial entrepreneur. Her client list is consistent because people keep coming back to her with more work based on an amazing customer experience. In her background, she’s been a CEO of a Publishing Technology company for more than 10 years, and brings that business experience to round out her design and development chops.
In Sharon’s own words:
I never say “I can’t do that” or “it’s not my job.” It’s all about getting things done – I’ll figure it out! My nickname is “the go to gal” and my clients rely on me as a resource for pretty much everything you can think of (even for things outside of my normal domain.) “Ask Sharon…she’ll know!”
Now, onto Sharon’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?
About 3 years ago, when premium themes really started to evolve to the point that they are now where really nice-looking and high-end site can be deployed with drag and drop / widgetized pages and a relatively minimal amount of coding or customization. That said, I still always do a lot of customizing of each theme. Also, it was huge when WP added custom menus so we didn’t have to hack away at categories and parent/child relationships to get menus to work. It really springboarded WP from a blogging platform to website CMS platform.
Where do you go first to get your WP news, insights, and updates?
I get a lot of great info from various LinkedIn groups, the NYC WordPress meetup group and I also really like Smashing Magazine. And of course the WP Engine blog! (ED: Awwwww, shucks!)
What WP consultants deserve more love than they get? Who should we be paying attention to?
My go-to guru is Zach Berke at Exygy. He seems to know everything about WordPress (among other things) and can always answer any wacky question I toss at him or talk me off a ledge I’ve found myself on.
What performance tips would you give to other pros (as related to speed, scalability, security, plugins, backup, etc.)?
Well of course everyone should use WP Engine! Moving my clients to WPE has really taken a huge weight off my shoulders and the “premium” costs are more than made up for reduced maintenance fees. Security, performance, backups, staging, updates…what more can I say! That said, for anyone still running on other hosts my “must” list is to make sure to implement caching and a CDN, Sucuri.net (for security and uptime monitoring), Manage WP for backup, monitoring and “multi-site” access. Other trick of the trade include making sure all plug-ins are up-to-date at all times, not using the username “admin” for admin access and generally following best practices to harden all sites. Make sure to revisit your sites frequently to make sure everything is up to date (which can easily be done via Manage WP.) Also, I’m very diligent about optimizing images and using JPGs and PNGs appropriately.
Confess to us your biggest moment of WP fail?
It’s been a while but I was sloppy when I started and had a lot of sites hacked over and over again. I’m much more careful now, have Sucuri monitoring all of my sites. Plus WordPress has gotten a lot less hackable (thankfully!!)
If you were going to spend this weekend creating a plugin that doesn’t exist, what would it be?
I’d need many weekends!
I know there are a few plug-ins that do this, but I still haven’t found a perfect way to create “elegant” custom post types that can easily, without too much coding, be displayed in posts or pages. Ideally this dream plugin would really have a way to “magically” work well with the existing theme. I’d love to have a great plugin for creating beautiful, feature-rich team pages. ALSO, it would be great to develop a theme that would convert Shortcodes to HTML so that pages developed with Shortcodes could be displayed in a mobile theme without having to create a second version of the page (and having to manually remove the shortcodes.) I think there’s still a wide-open opportunity for someone to create a ROBUST, feature-rich and easy-to-use mobile switcher.
Do you use Themes & Child Themes, Roll your own, or both?
I always start with Themes & Child Themes. I often get clients asking to have custom themes developed but in my opinion, there’s always a way to start from an existing (premium) theme which saves money AND time. Part of the service I provide, as a graphic designer, is working with the client to choose the perfect theme as a starting point. Also, my feeling is that if we can start with a theme, then we get support and updates from the theme developer. If we develop a proprietary theme, then we don’t. This really goes back to my days as a tech consultant. Proprietary ANYTHING, IMHO, should be a last resort. Now that doesn’t mean that it’s never a good idea, but for my clients, who are mostly small and medium businesses who don’t necessarily have very defined brands, a purchased theme is almost always a good shortcut and a better option in the long-run.
What’s your favorite theme or theme framework? Why?
Honestly, I don’t have a “favorite.” Great themes are developed at such a rapid rate these days that I always go looking for new ones when I start a project. I do try to find themes with drag and drop/widgetized homepages and a good amount of shortcodes, so that my clients can easily keep the sites updated by themselves. I did just develop a site using “Storm” from Themeforest and it was a great theme with good options and great support. Ditto for “Pinpoint.”
I have a few. Ultimate Coming Soon Pro is great for development and maintenance. WPML for multi-lingual sites. WooCommerce for ecommerce sites. I love Typekit to easily add elegant typography to my sites. Disqus rocks. Yoast for SEO.
Least favorite plugin?
None spring to mind. If I don’t like ’em, I don’t use ’em.
What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever done with Custom Post Types?
I try to stay away CPTs if possible, so I don’t have a great example. (ED: Fair enough 🙂 )
What do you think is the biggest challenge that WP consultants will face in 2013?
I think the trickiest thing is keeping site design fresh. A lot of WordPress sites tend to look alike and “WordPress’y”
If you could change one thing today about WP, what would it be?
I’d love to be able to share one database among many sites. Not in a multi-site scenario, but rather to actually share the database so for instance one ecommerce site could have multiple storefronts, something that Magento can do.
Where do you see WordPress going in the next 2-3 years?
World domination! I can’t believe it when I hear that someone has recently deployed a static/HTML (non-CMS) site.
Tell us a story where you saved the WP day for yourself or on a client project. What made the difference for you?
My biggest “win” for one of my huge clients was switching them from an old “non-WP” host to WP Engine. As soon as we switched over their (15!) sites, I knew that their performance and support issues would be over!
What’s the biggest misconception you encounter about WordPress, and how do you clear it up for your clients?
Of course many clients still think that a) WordPress is just for blogging and b) that they “need” a custom theme developed. I try to educate them by showing them sites I’ve developed, that others have developed and by presenting theme options to them that I think they will like and that I know will save them money/time vs. custom development. Usually when they see how they can save money, and also how relatively easy it is for them to update the site themselves, they’re sold on WordPress.
If you were interviewing another WordPress developer for a job, what is the first question you would ask and why?
I’d focus on security and what they do to make sure their client’s sites are secure. Understanding about that, for me, differentiates novices from pros.
What did I miss? Here’s your chance to fill in the blanks and add something you want people to know about you!
I guess I’d like people to know that I’m a unique hybrid between a designer and a developer and I have deep expertise as both a print designer and hands-on developer & tech consultant. Because of that I think that I develop sites that are exceptionally nice looking and use photography and typography well and also my firm, RLDGROUP also can serve as a “one stop shop” for my client’s design and marketing needs.
Also, I really pride myself on providing EXCELLENT customer service, which often runs counter to the reputation that most developers have. I try answer all calls and emails within a few hours (if not immediately) and I try to provide whatever help I can, even if I need to refer a client out to another developer or resource who can help them. I never say “it’s not my job” or “I dunno!” which I why my friends and clients call me “The Go to Gal!” I always remind myself that keeping your current clients happy is a much better business model that churning through unhappy clients, which I why I get almost all of my business through word-of-mouth referrals.
Hey folks, mosey on over to the RLDGROUP and check out Sharon’s work. She may have to work you in with her close-knit clients, but that can only be a good sign!