The interviewee we are proud to present today is Shannon Mattern, a virtual assistant who knows firsthand how much the work goes with building a WP website, creator of the Free 5 Day Website Challenge, a WordPress pro and nerd running WP BFF Academy. In this interview, she talks about how to take the maximum of the WP CMS, shares her recommendations and insights on how to create an alluring website by oneself, shades light on her own experience and memories on the road to WordPress. Enjoy the read.
Shannon, it has been 9 years since you started building websites with WordPress. Do you remember yourself as a beginner? How different were your WordPress ideas and generally the comprehension of this CMS solution? What goals did you set at that time? Did you manage to accomplish as much as you expected to?
I first learned to build websites back at The Ohio State University in the Communications program using Dreamweaver and writing CSS, HTML and ASP.net which is quite labor intensive and honestly, I’m not cut out to be a programmer (my sister got those genes in the family). So when I first encountered WordPress several years ago I remember thinking that it was going to be the tool that would allow me to capitalize on my love of creating websites without the hassle of coding.
As a beginner I remember just trying things, breaking things and being extremely thankful that people answer each other’s questions online and write detailed tutorials so that I could find the problem I was having and try all the various solutions. I saw it as way more than just a blogging platform, which at the time is how the majority of people were using WordPress.
At that time I was working in the marketing department of a law firm, so my goals weren’t very lofty. We needed a solution to accomplish a couple things that our standard website couldn’t, so I dove head-first into WordPress. I’m sure it took me way too long to build that first site and the several after that, but being a salaried employee it didn’t matter as much as it would have if a client were paying me.
You’ve created and are currently running the Free 5 Day Website Challenge and the WP BFF Academy. Could you tell us a bit more about it? How did the idea to create such projects appear? What is the idea behind this web project?
I started freelancing about two years ago while still working my day job. I love building websites, but I quickly discovered that freelancing takes up a ton of time, it’s not easy to do outside of business hours and I was getting burnt out. I was also listening to a podcast called Smart Passive Income at the time which made me start thinking about how I could serve a lot of people and do what I love at the same time. That’s when I decided I would teach WordPress to beginners and shorten their learning curve.
People are intimidated by WordPress because there are millions of choices for themes and plugins, and there’s no phone number to call for support! So I decided to call myself WP+BFF (WordPress BFF) and created the 5 Day Website Challenge to teach how to create a basic but comprehensive WordPress site. The BFF Academy contains more advanced courses on implementing different plugins, integrating email marketing and how to use WordPress to build your business online and create passive income.
You are a pro in everything connected with building WP websites. What was the first website you’ve constructed? Were there any WP tutorials or resources that impressed or helped you greatly?
Like I mentioned earlier, I worked at a law firm and they were working on a case where a couple was being prosecuted for running a Ponzi scheme. It was our firm’s job to take custody of all of their assets and protect them until the final judgment came down, and then liquidate their assets to pay back all the money they had stolen from their investors. The very first WordPress site I created contained all the legal documents and updates surrounding this case so that hundreds of investors had a single resource they could refer to to get updated information on the case. Most people would find that to be a pretty boring website – and I probably used the standard WordPress template, but I found the entire case fascinating, not to mention the tons of content that I had to organize using posts and categories, etc. I loved it.
What does WordPress CMS mean for the online world and for you in particular? Do you think its role will be different and change in the upcoming years? What does the future hold for WordPress?
WordPress has removed the web designer as the gatekeeper to the internet. Just as Uber has disrupted the transportation industry and AirBNB has disrupted the hotel industry, WordPress has been quietly disrupting the web design industry over the past several years as more and more people become confident they can learn to do it themselves. Web designers are going to have to increase their skills and become theme, plugin and app developers in order to stay relevant because WordPress just keeps getting easier to use and more stable with every release.
There are thousands of sites, blogs and various groups associated with WordPress. Which are your top 5 ones? Are there any for you to attend on a regular basis?
My top 5 WordPress resources are:
- WPBeginner.com – fantastic tutorials
- themefoundry.com – best free theme out there: Make
- eleganthemes.com – really great detailed tutorials
- wptavern.com – WordPress news
- wordpress.org – while I prefer more detailed answers than what most people provide in forums, I can usually decipher what people are saying.
What is your personal perfect formula for designing a WP website? What is the right steps order in construction? From your experience, what are the most common frustrating mistakes and how to avoid them?
In the 5 Day Website Challenge, I teach a specific set of steps designed to get people up and running fast. After domain, hosting and WordPress installation, we configure WordPress settings and then I go straight to teaching exactly what plugins people need and show them how to upload and configure those plugins. Then we install a theme, but we don’t start working on customization until after we have created all of our pages and menus. Then we gather our fonts, color scheme, logos and featured images, and only then do we start customizing our theme. After that’s done, we add our content to the site while learning all about how the text editor, media library, etc. work together. Then we work on SEO and submit our site to Google.
The most common mistakes are choosing the wrong theme, and focusing on the design before you build the foundation. People quit because they can’t figure out how these more advanced frameworks work. And they also quit because lots of tutorials try to teach them every last bit about WordPress before they start building their site. That’s a lot of information and can be extremely overwhelming. You absolutely do not have to understand the difference between a widget, page and post before you get started.
Currently, there are more than 40,200 plugins in WP Directory. It turns to be really tough and confusing to choose the right and good ones. What are the most preferable WP plugins to maintain of your own?
My system for selecting plugins is pretty simple: Does it do what I need? How many downloads does it have? How many stars? Download, install, activate, see what happens! If it breaks my site, on to the next plugin! And then I only recommend the best to my audience – they can all be found on my resources page at www.wp-bff.com/resources
What is the secret on designing a really stylish WP website? What free themes are best to use? Which 5 are your favorite? Which color matches and combinations you enjoy the most?
The secret is to use great graphics. That’s it. Most sites are image-heavy and if you have bad graphics you’re done. If you’re a solopreneur, invest in a photographer to build the know, like and trust factor. I have one free theme that I will recommend and that’s Make by Theme Foundry. Easy to customize but tons of options, drag and drop and you can make it look however you want it to look. And their support and documentation are top-notch. My favorite place to find color palettes is www.colourlovers.com.
As long as you’ve got quite an ample experience in building websites, have you ever faced website migration? What’s your attitude towards an automated CMS conversion? Do you think it’s crucial to migrate design or it’s ok to make it from the scratch?
Yes, I have, and I have quite a few people contact me because they started with another CMS and want to move toward WordPress. My attitude toward an automated CMS conversion is this: why not try it? If it doesn’t work, you can start over and make it from scratch. It’s important to know that not always going to work, but it’s a good first step. But I still think you need to build the foundation of your new WordPress site first, and then try the migration. But some people want a new site because they want a new design too. So it just depends on the person.
And the last question. What was the best WP advice you’ve ever get and follow until now? What could you recommend to our readers from your own experience?
The best advice I’ve ever gotten is “Progress, not perfection.” I would tell your readers to be patient, persistent and know that they can figure it out, and there’s a lot of people out there willing to help.
It was a huge pleasure for us to interview Shannon. We want to thanks her for the awesome answers and wish huge inspiration for her further destinations:)