I recently had the very great pleasure of interviewing Beka Rice a.k.a the WooCommerce whiz at SkyVerge. SkyVerge needs no new introduction to anybody who has been working with WordPress for longer than an hour and SellWithWP is almost like the Holy Grail of e-store owners!
Today, we at WisdmLabs have a tete-a-tete with the Breaking Bad fan and lover of Oxford commas about the parameters of a successful plugin, some must-have blogging practices, and the best way to juggle multiple roles. 😛
#1 How did you get started with WordPress? What was the trigger for starting Sell With WP?
Beka: I’d used WordPress for a couple projects in college, so I was familiar with it — I felt like it was “Microsoft Word for websites”. However, the first sites I ran myself were made while I was teaching high school Chemistry and coaching varsity softball. I wanted an easy way to manage class documents and to share our softball schedule and roster, but the website builder our school used was difficult to use and inflexible. I set up WordPress sites for my classes and softball team to share documents and progress updates with students and parents.
This experience with WordPress and my teaching skills led me to writing plugin documentation for SkyVerge, which is where the idea for SellwithWP.com came about. Our merchants were reading all sorts of articles on best practices, but had no idea how to implement them. We wanted to be different and focus on super-actionable content: not only “here’s what you should do,” but “…and here’s exactly how to do it in your store.”
#2 What is your typical workday like?
Beka: I don’t like to start work immediately in the morning, so I enjoy some coffee and read when I wake up, then I head down the street about a mile to my office to get started for the day. I batch emails in the morning, check in on our development and support teams, make sure any immediate tasks that need assistance or review are handled, then afternoons are focused on “deeper thinking” tasks like product planning, writing, or strategy.
#3 You are known to wear a lot of hats; Product Lead and Head of the Support Team at SkyVerge, Lead Editor at Sell With WP, and an independent blogger. How do you juggle these roles on a daily basis?
Beka: Very carefully 🙂 Sell with WP has taken a bit of a back seat for the past few months as our team at SkyVerge had doubled this year, so I’ve been focused a lot on onboarding, training, and building team leaders within our company. My favorite area of focus is product development, so I’m happy to be hiring my replacements now for other roles, then focusing more on product development and writing, which I really enjoy on a personal level.
I’m sort of obsessed with efficiency, so I think that’s helped with managing time across a couple disparate roles; I try to batch similar tasks where I can so I’m faster at them, and do really intensive “sprints” of a few hours of my most important work, which helps me then shift contexts to different types of work as well.
#4 You have developed a lot of plugins and tested even more. According to you, what makes a plugin successful?
Beka: This is a great question! There are a few important components that I think everyone should take to heart:
- Focus on your user and try to feel their pain — every setting in your plugin, every configuration step, is a friction point. If you can make a decision that works for 80% of users for a setting, cut it out (and apply_filters() of course) so your products are simple to use and make it quick to get started. “Decisions, not options” is a common mantra, but I think sometimes it’s forgotten in practice.
- Every plugin you write, you should use and user-test extensively. It’s important that you do everything that a user would do: turn every knob, flick every switch. See how many steps it takes to configure, then think about ways to cut those steps down. Not only will you catch bugs and edge-cases, you’ll be sure you understand the user journey with your software.
- In terms of “commercial” success, you also want to be cognizant of market fit. There’s some great software out there that doesn’t solve a need most stores have, so it’s not “successful” in that regard (even though it may be a great product). If your product doesn’t have a huge addressable market, you may want to consider this when determining price point to make sure it’s viable for you to maintain long-term.
#5 What was the biggest challenge you faced professionally and how did you overcome it?
Beka: I think one of my biggest challenges has been working on our team growth at SkyVerge over the past year. The more people we bring on, the more work it is to manage and ensure people are all moving in the same direction, and our team faces so many problems we’ve never encountered before.
Our primary focuses are our WooCommerce plugins and Jilt, so keeping the team focused on what’s most important while working on different products, maintaining high standards for development and support, and continuing to build a team culture we love takes a lot of care, planning, and commitment. I love the people I work with, and I think we’ve built an amazing team, but getting here with how rapidly we’ve grown required some hard work and difficult decision-making.
#6 What is your approach/though process to writing a stellar blog?
Beka: It depends, I suppose, on what kind of blog you want to have. Is it scratching and itch, sharing information, or directed towards a specific goal? Determining what your blog should do informs how you structure it. In my case, the blogs I’ve managed are focused at building trust with readers and a brand they recognize. As a result, we asked, “how do we build this trust?” We try to only include content that’s really valuable for our readers, not solely focused on value for us, advertisers, etc., and that’s really actionable. If you’re building a blog for readers, respecting your audience has to be at the center of every decision you make.
#7 Do you have any must-follow blogging practices?
Beka: Use Oxford commas 🙂 Also, read every post out loud before publishing, you’d be amazed at how much it can improve your writing and uncover mistakes.
#8 What pointers would you offer fledgling WordPress developers?
- Constantly make yourself uncomfortable. Seek out projects you’re not sure how to do, and try to do them. Find examples of code that does something similar, and try to reverse-engineer it to see if you can do the same thing. These lessons are worth paying for, whether it’s buying other plugins, tutorials, or books.
- Seek out mentors. Nothing accelerates learning like someone who can teach you and help you ask questions of yourself. This is hard to find, so if you do find a mentor, make sure they know how grateful you are for them. I’ve been fortunate to have a few excellent ones, and they make a world of difference.
- Learn WordPress conventions deeply, such as how to properly use actions, filters, and WP-specific functions. However, also learn about other ecosystems, platforms, and frameworks. Taking the best of everything you learn will make you better and a more well-rounded developer in the long run.
Thank you Beka, for taking time out of your busy schedule and giving some great advice to us and all the developers and bloggers out there!