Justin Ferriman

wordpress

Once upon a time, calling someone on the phone was the way to go for receiving technical support. I can remember being on the phone with Dell all the time because something was always happening to my desktop computer.

Without fail, these support reps would always insist that you turn off the computer, unplug it, then plug it back in. I now realize how that Level 1 Dell support rep was providing the equivalent of a canned reply that gets sent out today for common troubleshooting issues.

In WordPress, this is the equivalent to: try deactivating all your plugins, then reactivating one-by-one until you find the culprit.

Not that anything is wrong with that advice. Given the nature of WordPress, more often than not an issue is the result of a conflict. The problem is that people often do this process on their live site instead of in a staging or developing environment, and this results in additional frustration and angst.

Which actually brings up a point worth mentioning: if you don’t know how to have a clone of your WordPress website on a development environment, then you should not be using a self-hosted version of WordPress. Just go to WordPress.com instead, where you’ll get 80% of the functionality without all the headache.

But by in large, support for WordPress products doesn’t include chat or phone. The vast majority are ticket based, with some still utilizing forums.

At one point or another, I used every method of support (phone, email, forums, chat).

In the early years of LearnDash, a forum was used to field support requests, with occasional Skype calls if necessary.

That wasn’t sustainable.

I then tried supplementing a ticketing system with chat support. I figured it would be a way to differentiate from the competition. From a pre-sales perspective, chat was outstanding, as I could close multiple sales before lunch. The problem was that after the purchase, these same folks tried to use chat for getting help as well, and they became increasingly frustrated when told that they needed to open a support ticket.

Now, I can concede that some of the support requests were simple enough, so it was possible to just answer it. If the request was more complicated, then I would raise a ticket for the customer. As smooth as that process sounds, it started to create a bottleneck. Also, I found that these individuals had different expectations about the time to resolution for their issue (often wanting same-day service). They would continually open chat again to check on the status.

What I noticed was that the chat functionality actually slowed down the entire support process as it created an extra, unnecessary touchpoint. If this was just one or two people, then it would probably be no problem. However, LearnDash is not some small-time plugin. Some issues are very complicated and require a lot of digging to resolve given a customer’s particular WordPress configuration. And therein lies the issue.

The WordPress business model is not a feasible environment for offering chat support.

In the world of WordPress, one of the largest cost drivers for a company is support. A popular WordPress company needs more people working in support than a SaaS – plain and simple. Why? Because the WordPress value proposition requires it.

Everyone wants their own unique WordPress configuration, but the reality is that not everyone is good at it. They’ll install duplicate plugins, never update the site, use garbage hosting, and so on. Inevitably, this increases the chances of something going wrong.

Support reps have to learn about the issue within a different context for every support request. This takes a lot of time from very skilled individuals. Multiply this by hundreds of tickets per day, and you can see why WordPress companies have so many folks working in support.

If you want chat support, you’ll have to pay at least $1,000/year.

Offering responsive chat support with so many unknown variables about the environment, and at a cost of just a few hundred dollars per year, is just plain bad for business. That may look different though if the everyday WordPress user is cool with paying a minimum of $1,000 per year.

For some, that expense might be worth it. In fact, I once considered offering chat support for that price as one of the purchase options for LearnDash, and I am confident that it would have been chosen by a segment of customers. The customer gets the chat support that they want, and the company gets more money. That sounds like a win-win, right? No. It’s not. It would have still been a loss to the company, especially at the low $1,000 price point.

First, if you have customers from all over the world, then you need to make sure that they receive the same amount of chat support time. This essentially means that support would need people working around the clock. Not just support people, but mid-level management as well to oversee these folks and to help with escalations. These employees then have to interface with leadership (the bulk of which working in U.S. timezones). The logistics get muddy, fast.

Secondly, let’s not forget that the vast majority of WordPress users do not have $1,000+ to spend on a single plugin, and as such it simply does not make sense to build out an infrastructure to support only a minority of the customer base.

For a business to realize profitability of chat support, they need to build the business around that offering to take advantage of efficiencies of scale. Bolting on live chat support as a “feature” is the opposite of this. It creates far too much overhead.

As long as WordPress businesses care about being profitable, they will not offer chat support – and that is in your best interest.

Listen, I get that there are people who really want chat support. You may be one of them! But you know what you also want? The teams that build the software to remain in business.

It’s Pareto’s principle, and it’s in your favor.

In exchange for an insanely low price, you get enterprise level software, continual development, and competent support on an insanely complex ecosystem of software. The only cost to you (aside from low license payments) is that you don’t get chat support.

But if more support is something you prefer, then my advice would be to take the money that you saved by not paying $1,000/yr for a license and hire a part-timer from UpWork to help out if problems do arise on your website. Let them handle the entire resolution process, and allow them to open tickets with the various support desks if necessary. This way you get white glove support to all the plugins on your site, not just one.

#WordPress


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WordPress has been a part of my life in one form or another since 2006 when I started my first blog on WordPress.com. I went from a user of their hosted service, to self-hosting websites for family and friends, to starting (and eventually selling) a premium plugin company.

The WordPress web is everywhere. I can’t help but notice when websites are running WordPress and one of the hundreds of plugins that I know…

“Oh, I bet this site is using Gravity Forms…”

::checks source code::

“Yup. There it is.”

Despite its obvious flaws, WordPress is still the best no-code platform for building a business – I would never argue against that. But as I look at what may lay in store for me in my career, I really don’t see myself working in WordPress anymore. In fact, I question whether I want to be in tech at all.

Seeking inspiration outside of tech.

Something that I know about myself is that I tend to gravitate to projects where I can express my creativity. I find joy in the process. Building and growing something (a product & brand), and ultimately automating as much as possible so that it is no longer dependent on me.

This expression of creativity is easy to accomplish in tech, and in my case, WordPress. Well, at least it used to be.

The reality is that I am burnt out from WordPress and have been for some time. The challenges of the industry aren’t something that excite me anymore. I will always be a user of WordPress, but I think I need an extended break from working in the space.

To be fair, I am pretty much out of it already. I am involved with LearnDash still as an advisor behind the scenes, but that role doesn’t fill up my time. I do have bi-weekly WordPress-focused conversations with my friend Ross Johnson at NoFilter.fm, but I wouldn’t really count that as working in the space. It’s just a venue for casual reflections and sharing of success stories in the hopes of helping others.

I have thought about the possibility of getting into a SaaS project. That sounds like a fun challenge, but the more I think about it, the more I know that the fast-moving world of software will bring with it the same stresses that I had in the past.

I know the mentality that it takes to deal with things like security issues, constant new competitors, disgruntled customers & employees … and frankly, I’m just not there. Maybe one day I’ll feel up for the challenge again, but after nearly a decade of dealing with the negative aspects of software, I just can’t bring myself to do it.

All this is to say that I’d rather be a customer of tech solutions, not offering one.

Keeping busy, and keeping an eye open.

At present, I am helping Lorena with her online courses. I must say that I really enjoy that process for a variety of reasons, but mostly because of what I mentioned earlier: my love for the building and selling process. I honestly can’t get enough of it and feel grateful to have the opportunity to continue selling online.

In addition, I am also exploring non-tech related projects that may excite me. I am still trying to figure out what that is, and if I am honest, it can be frustrating at times as I am eager to start with something, but I just don’t know what at this point. I have to remind myself that this is okay because I know that these things can’t be forced. At the same time, they don’t just come out of nowhere. A little effort is needed.

After selling software, I am finding the “old-fashioned” industries to be quite appealing. Real estate, for example. I also like challenges, and an industry that is outside the tech space will test my entrepreneur skills in new ways. I have always thrived when I had to “prove people wrong” (even if only proving it to myself), and getting involved with a different industry gives me that opportunity.

Wherever I land, you can bet I will be documenting my journey here on my site. And while I don’t intend to work in tech for the time being, I will still be offering insights and opinions for entrepreneurs in this space (especially as it relates to WordPress) as I think there is value for others in sharing my honest, experienced-based takes.

And who knows, my path may lead me back to tech at some point. Possibly, even WordPress.

#WordPress #happiness


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I created my first WordPress blog like most people did: using WordPress.com. I remember the entire concept of blogging being pretty new back in 2006, and I cut my teeth in the industry by setting-up and writing with WordPress.

It wasn’t long after starting that I learned about the benefits of self-hosting a WordPress installation, and from that point forward (probably about 14 years now) that is what I have always done.

The way I see it, WordPress is still the best choice out there for building a website that needs to do things like generate leads, offer courses, content marketing, and so on. If you need a Swiss Army Knife, then WordPress is the way to go.

Today, I have a few sites going. Not from a pure blogging standpoint, though, as WordPress isn’t a good choice for that anymore (for this blog I prefer write.as). But I am helping Lorena with her online course program, and that of course is running on WordPress with LearnDash, hosted at Nexcess. That has been going well as it continues to keep my WordPress skills sharp, and seeing as her website is in Spanish, the added bonus is that I’m practicing my Spanish when working on it!

While I will always be a proponent for owning your data, self-hosting a WordPress site is a pain in the ass.

The truth is, it has always been a pain to self-host. I am reminded about this fact daily as I manage Lorena’s site. Maybe I am just jaded now, but I swear there has not been a single time that I have logged into that site where I wasn’t greeted by a barrage of update nags.

On one hand, I am delighted to see developers continuing to work on their product, but on the other hand, I see it as a daily homework assignment where I need to go run the updates first on a staging environment, backup the live site, and eventually (after troubleshooting any issues) update the production site.

I have to be honest, this shit is annoying.

I am not a developer, nor pretend to be one. Furthermore, I don’t love working on WordPress backend stuff or doing QA testing. When something goes wrong, it’s stressful. Yes, I figure it out, but it’s always a mental drain.

This frustration was at the forefront of my mind recently as I wanted to create a small, two-page website: just a homepage and a blog. I considered using another website platform and even researched a few of the main competitors to WordPress. I didn’t need anything fancy, nor countless plugins. Just something simple.

After a few days of research, I thought about the possibility of using WordPress.com for this purpose. Funnily enough, it wasn’t the first option to come to mind, but I created my free account and went to have a look.

This is why most people should use WordPress.com (at first).

First, a disclaimer: WordPress.com isn’t super easy to use, in that it won’t be intuitive to a first-timer. I knew how to navigate it because I’m seasoned with WordPress. I’ll refrain from getting into the weeds on that topic, as it would result in an additional 5,000 words.

Potential learning curves aside, the more that I dug around in WP.com, the more I realized that most folks would probably benefit by starting off there, and then moving to self-hosted at a later date.

Why do this? To save time and money. WordPress is an industry of distractions, especially given the premium theme and plugin market. I can’t tell you the number of times I have seen people just jump between different plugins trying to find “the right one”, when in reality it didn’t even matter.

When you’re on WP.com, your options are limited. Yes, you can still go down a rabbit hole of functionality, but not to the same extent – and there is a 0% chance that you’ll break something else on your website since the WP.com ecosystem prevents this, which means:

  • No installing endless plugins
  • No support tickets with different vendors
  • Less wasted time
  • Less wasted money

People who have dreams of starting an online business can start doing just that when they use WP.com, especially if they are going to rely on content marketing. Spend a day or two getting things configured, then get to work creating content!

Don’t worry about installing (illegal) Google Analytics, just use the WP.com analytics.

Don’t fiddle around with the endless number of WordPress contact form options, just use the WP.com contact form.

Don’t install every social sharing plugin available, just use the built-in post sharing features.

See what I’m getting at? No more pointless activities – just get to work!

The mental freedom of WP.com is why I am using it.

Not every use-case needs a self-hosted WordPress installation, and this is particularly true with the website I mentioned earlier. I just want it to look decent for now and to not require any mental bandwidth. The site is about finished because I didn’t have to dick around with all the normal WordPress configuration stuff. If I ever want to self-host it, I can just use the WP.com export options.

If you pay for the personal account, that will set you back about $48 or something. Sure, there are little hidden attributes to WordPress on the front-end, but they are hard to see, and it doesn’t matter (you can get rid of those by paying for the business account, which is around $25/mo).

As to what my site is about — I’ll be sharing it in another blog post, so subscribe below if you want to be notified when that’s available.

Eliminate the noise, so that you can reach your first goal.

I’ll end this with a request: that you challenge your assumptions about the best ways to use WordPress. Not all situations require the same thing. Figure out what is most important for the present, and then choose your path accordingly.

Just like you wouldn’t go and create a full-blown iOS app before you have an audience, do you really need all those marketing plugins on your site from Day 1? Probably not. Eliminate the distractions and your energy will be hyperfocused on reaching your first goal.

#WordPress


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Over the past 15+ years, I have had the pleasure of meeting some incredibly smart people in the WordPress industry. Some of these people have businesses (such as selling courses), and others are building products for WordPress users (plugins & themes).

With recent news that WordPress now has 43% CMS market share, one thing is for certain: the WordPress business landscape is maturing.

We are seeing consolidation, higher pricing, more complex offerings, mature advertising campaigns, and more. It’s truly an exciting time!

There is also a lot at stake. So much so, that the people who have helped create this new, mature WordPress environment are feeling like they need to self-sensor for fear of retribution.

I understand this fear.

For many years, I would just sit, observe, and discuss with my friends in the WordPress space my unfiltered view about what was going on. Topics like:

  • Product pricing
  • Dealing with pain-in-the-ass customers
  • Gutenberg
  • Product sales and promotions
  • Maximizing profitability
  • WTF moments from Automattic
  • WordPress idealism
  • Unexplored opportunity areas

And the list goes on.

These backroom conversations that I had with my friends were incredibly helpful to my business, and in some ways therapeutic. The problem is, these conversations were behind closed doors.

There is a real, tangible benefit to having tough (somewhat controversial) conversations in a public setting. So far, very few folks do this in WordPress. For me, Matt Mederos from The Matt Report and The WPMinute is one of the few daring to occasionally broach these topics.

There is no shortage of podcasts in the WordPress space, but there is a shortage of conversations backed by proven success.

At the beginning of January, Matt put out a tweet asking folks what they wanted out of a WordPress focused podcast in 2022, so I threw in my two cents:

The more I thought on my reply, the more I realized that I could help bring this to fruition. Since the sale of LearnDash, I have more time. So, I got to thinking…

I should take the backroom conversations (the ones that helped me create a multimillion dollar, international brand) out into the public.

So, that’s what I am doing with…

NoFilter.fm — No BS WordPress Business Commentary

Every two weeks, I will host a gathering on Twitter Spaces to share proven methodology, tactics, and opinions directly responsible for generating multiple millions of dollars in revenue.

Co-hosting with me will be Ross Johnson from 3.7Designs.

Ross started as a freelancer right out of college and today with his wife runs a 7-figure WordPress design agency. He also has a handful of WordPress products that result in over $100,000 of revenue each year.

Over the years, Ross and I have bounced ideas off of each other as we grew our respective companies to millions of dollars.

Our goal is to help other WordPress entrepreneurs by discussing business topics that I wish were talked about when I was first starting. We will also discuss business themes as it relates to the industry as a whole.

The conversations will be recorded and published later as a podcast.

Here is what you should do next…

  • Follow the NoFilter.fm Twitter account (this is where the spaces will be hosted).
  • Subscribe for updates on the NoFilter.fm website (replays will be here and on major platforms such as Spotify, Stitcher, and Apple Podcasts).
  • Last, just show up and join the conversation!

I look forward to seeing you join us in the next conversation!

#WordPress


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I remember when Matt Mullenweg first announced the Gutenberg editor for WordPress, there were a slew of review posts (many critical). I have been largely quiet on the matter, as I have always felt that time was needed to give it a chance to fully develop.

When I heard news that the classic editor in WordPress was going to be replaced, I was pretty happy about it. Truth be told, the classic editor was so dated it was becoming embarrassing. While once a class leader, by 2018 it was more enjoyable to write in a Google Doc.

WordPress was ready for an upgrade. While I knew it would mean a lot of work for my developers to update LearnDash accordingly, I was pleased with the direction Matt and the WordPress core team were taking to remain competitive (and to keep their investors happy).

What I didn’t expect was a complete shift from the typical WordPress value proposition.

In my ignorance, I thought that the updated experience would focus on making a killer writing experience for bloggers. Something like Medium or Substack, but better. Something done the “WordPress way” that helped writers bring their words to life on the world’s greatest CMS.

What we got was something in-between a page builder and writing tool, and as of the date of this article, it’s not a class leader in either category.

You can’t be two things at once, at least not very well. Yet, this is what we have with the Gutenberg editor.

From Day 1, Gutenberg was sold to us as a front-end page builder.

First, it was pretty apparent to everyone that it was nothing close to a front-end builder. Like, not at all.

That was a mistake, and I think the core team realized it afterwards. Since then, corporate has changed that terminology slightly to “full-site editing”, and it has caught on. This is probably for the best, as there is nothing front-end about Gutenberg, but it still conveys a similar value proposition to users.

But not only were we promised a site builder, we were also told that the new editor experience was an excellent writing tool. It was clear to all of us in attendance during its unveiling that Gutenberg was definitely not that, either.

I was okay with this at the time because everything was new. It has been years since then, and Gutenberg has come a long way (in particular as a page builder). I have seen folks create some pretty attractive websites using it. I particularly think that Kadence does an impressive job with their layouts. Websites using Gutenberg also load very fast, which is of critical importance.

But I feel that these page building developments have come at a cost: the writing experience in the Gutenberg editor is pretty bad. Is it the worst thing out there? No. It’s sufficient, but its performance largely depends on your site and the number of plugins you may have installed.

Now, I know of regular bloggers who think it’s somewhat enjoyable. While that’s great, I have to ask: is the writing experience actually better than platforms such as Medium and Substack?

I put out a tweet about how I felt Matt’s Gutenberg editor was positioned more as a page builder, and not for writing. I received some replies from folks who said they have grown to appreciate it, like this one from my friend Alex:

This seems to be the prevailing sentiment. The experience is something that you get used to using. Though, I am not certain if that's the tagline WordPress would want to use:

“Writing in WordPress: you'll get used to it!”

The lack-luster writing experience is what gets to me the most. So much so that I don’t even bother using WordPress for this blog. I use WriteFreely instead, another open-source software but with an emphasis on writing and simplicity (I have a deep-dive article that I am finishing related to this. If you’re interested, subscribe at the end of this post to get notified).

All of this said, I always recommend WordPress to people looking to build a business that relies upon organic traffic from Google. And as a CMS, WordPress can’t be beat! You can create super advanced functionality without any code.

So, what is the real plan here?

I have to believe that there is a long-term plan with the editor experience that we are not privy to in the WordPress community. This feels especially true given the large amount of investment to come Automattic’s way in recent years. But to be fair, long-term plans are never shared from corporate. Two and three-year plans maybe, but not five to seven-year objectives.

And while the community has for the most part adopted Gutenberg, it did feel a little forced. Meanwhile, Elementor continues to crush it. This is starting to create an awkward scenario where Matt’s homegrown page builder is losing out to a third-party page builder for WordPress. It’s not a good look currently, but I do think that the gap is starting to narrow.

I continue to pull for Gutenberg. I know that it will grow as a page builder, and maybe along the way it can become a decent writing tool as well, but I am not confident that this is a top priority. Regardless, there are smart people behind the whole project, and it shows.

#WordPress


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