Building the Number 1 WordPress Learning Website with Shawn Hesketh

How I Built It
How I Built It
Building the Number 1 WordPress Learning Website with Shawn Hesketh

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Shawn Hesketh is a good friend of the show and an excellent educator and mentor. His widely popular site, WP101, teached thousands of folks how to use WordPress. In this episode, we get pretty deep into the woods on how he built WP101, and in typical Shawn fashion, he imparts some great advice all along the way. This one is a little longer that usual, but it’s packed full of fantastic content, including his recording setup.

Show Notes


Joe Casabona: This episode is brought to you by our great sponsors. BoldGrid works as a suite of plugins designed to help you create WordPress websites faster and easier than ever. BoldGrid will improve your workflow by providing direct access to free themes, page templates, photography, design elements, forms, galleries, and much more right from your dashboard. And the BoldGrid page builder allows you to easily drag and drop and edit the content as you see fit all with that having to use shortcodes. Head over to That’s

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Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks “How did you build that?” Today, I am so excited. My good friend, educator, cigar aficionado, Shawn Hesketh is on the show with me today. Shawn, how are you?

Shawn Hesketh: I’m doing great, Joe. Thanks for having me on, man.

Joe Casabona: No problem. Thanks for being on the show. I’ve got to admit the reason that I started this podcast was because when I was launching WP in one month, I was like, “How does Shawn do it on WP 101?” And I was like, I just want to ask him but I don’t want to just be like asking a million questions. So I started this podcast as a quest to get those questions answered. So I’m very excited to have you on the show. [laughing background]

Shawn Hesketh: That’s awesome, man. I love it.

Joe Casabona: Cool. So for those who may not know who you are or what you do, what you’re about, why don’t you give us a little bit of an introduction to all of that stuff?

Shawn Hesketh: You bet. Well, my name is Shawn Hesketh and I help beginners learn how to use WordPress to build their own online presence. In 2008 I created a video tutorial series called WordPress 101 that has helped more than a million beginners learn how to use WordPress to build their own website whether that’s a blog or business site or even a full-blown E-commerce site. So I originally created the site to serve my clients and customers. And over the years we’ve continued to reach out to put these videos to work for more and more WordPress developers and agencies throughout the WordPress community. So it’s been a wild ride for the last eight years.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, that’s awesome. And you are, I mean anybody who does client work I feel if they’re not doing the videos themselves they’re referring people to WP101 which I would strongly recommend ’cause they’re well done there, they are updated and all that. And you know, I don’t want to fanboy out too much but I will get, will get into all that. But what was kind of the impetus behind starting WP101?

Shawn Hesketh: Yeah, great question. So before WP101, I was a freelance designer, 26 years of freelance design. I was designing websites from the mid-’90s all the way through the 2000s and in 2006 or seven I think is when I discovered WordPress. So I began designing and developing WordPress sites for my clients and that would usually be followed by an in-person kind of one on one training session teaching them how to use WordPress so they could go back to their side and make changes, update the content on the website. And while the clients love that training, I kept kind of getting the same feedback which was “Wow! this has been like drinking from a fire hose” you know, just so much information to cram into a couple of hours face to face right? So there going, what happens if you know a week from now when you’re gone I’ve forgot what you told me, I forgot how to edit a post, how to make a change in a page. So what do we do then? And so originally I went looking to try to find a series of video tutorials. I thought for sure someone has created some screencasts that kind of cover that WordPress basic content and I can just send my clients to this screencast series whenever I’m done. And so I was kind of surprised actually to find out that there was only one other site at the time, believe that or not. I mean this is kind of crazy to even talk about because eight years ago, so much has changed in the last ten years with regard to online education. And today, there are so many options for learning WordPress and others, right? But back in 2008, there was only one other site that I could find that was, it was halfway decent but their videos were badly out of date and they really weren’t done very well. And so I had a background in audio and video, I thought “Hey, I could probably create a series of videos that are better than these.” And that became kind of the first driver for WP101 realizing that one of the differentiators would be the need to keep these videos up to date with every release of WordPress, right? So to date, we’ve now updated the videos I think a total of 24 times. So with every major release of WordPress, we’ve updated the videos since 2008.

Joe Casabona: Wow! Well, hopefully, your job will get a little bit easier and not harder with the new WordPress release schedule, right? It was, they were on three times a year no matter what, and then they just announced that they’re going to change it to just kind of whatever, whenever they feel a major update is needed.

Shawn Hesketh: Yep, which is either gonna be awesome or is gonna be a nightmare. So we’ll have to see how this pans out. It will continue to update the videos anytime there are changes that affect the kind of the UI, the user-facing elements. So anytime that happens will update the videos.

Joe Casabona: Nice, nice. And so you’re kind of scratching your own itch which is I think if I were to rename this podcast today, I think it would be called that ‘Scratch Your Own Itch’ But you had a background in audio and visual. So what kind of research did you do to kind of get this off the ground?

Shawn Hesketh: Yeah. So it’s really born out of necessity. Originally you know, just the need to educate my clients to provide a resource for them after we did this in-person training. And of course, after a short amount of time, I thought, well I can just skip the in-person thing and we can just send the videos of the clients directly to these videos. But as I started talking to some other friends of mine in the WordPress community, people like Bill Erickson who’s a phenomenal Genesis developer really well known and well respected, Bill said “Hey man, this is great! I want to be able to send my customers to these WordPress tutorial videos ’cause I need the same thing for my clients but I don’t want to be recreating the wheel. So how about you just set it up as a membership site and I’ll send my customers your direction?” So that’s really where the idea came from. So from that conversation prior to that I originally thought that it would just be for my clients only, right? So I wasn’t really setting out to make a, you know, membership site that was going to serve millions of people. I just was looking to serve my clients and make their lives better. 

So while I would say it’s scratching your own itch and reality it’s about serving my clients and serving my audience in the best way possible, right? So it really had very little to do with scratching my itch or getting something off my plate as much as it was more about “Hey, here’s a need, you know, here’s something that’s being requested and so here’s what I can do to kind of solve that” came from the relationship with my clients and customers. And then that got extended because of the relationship that I have with others in the WordPress community. So I think that’s kind of the key differentiator. I think, to think about what we create in terms of these products and services, not just in terms of how it makes our life better or enables us to have the rock star lifestyle that we want you to know, make money while you sleep. And in all those other myths that are, you know, associated with creating an online course like this or a membership site. And I say myth because nothing could be further from the truth. right?

Joe Casabona: Right, right.

Shawn Hesketh: While you may make money while you sleep, you also get support requests and questions while you sleep. And so I wake up to an inbox every morning filled with WordPress questions. And so there’s a lot of myths surrounding all of that. At the end of the day, it’s not about that. It’s about serving the audience that you’re connected to. And so that’s what we’ve done with WP 101.

Joe Casabona: That’s great. And so really not to burst anybody’s bubble but if you are setting out to have a four hour workweek by starting your own business, you’re probably in for a rude awakening because it is, it is about, I mean the relationships that you forged within your community and with your clients. And you know, the reason that you know we know each other is ’cause of the relationships that we forged through going to these conferences together and stuff like that. So…

Shawn Hesketh: it’s absolutely right

Joe Casabona: Cool. So I would love to talk a bit more about your equipment, right? Because we’ve had, you know, I’ve had however many you know about 30 or so episodes at this point live or on-air and we’ve talked all about the tools that are used for WordPress and themes and things like that. But these kinds of tools that you have like in the real world are very interesting to me and there’s so much information and so many different types out there. So how did you go about choosing what equipment you were going to use to record these videos?

Shawn Hesketh: Great question that I love geeking out about this stuff. So this is, you just hit a sweet spot for me. But with that let me give this as a caveat before we deep dive into the geek-tech, right? A mentor of mine once said if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly. And I think sometimes people can get hung up on getting the right gear before they begin, right? So I want to kind of just throw that out there. 

The best way to get started with podcasting or recording screencasts order is with the tools that you can get right away. So I started like everyone else with experimenting with USB mikes. So I had originally a blue snowball and then when they came out within fact the mic, it’s hanging in front of you, right now, is the yeti which is a phenomenal mike. I used that for a while as well. Those are great solid USB mics that had really large diaphragms, kind of keep tech for being able to make your audio sound as good as possible without those pops when you use the plosives and things like that. So I started like everybody else using a USB mic. the beauty of that is so easy, right? You just have a microphone, plug the cable in your computer, hit record and you’re off and running. 

I’m also a big fan of kind of continually iterating, continually improving, and continually learning. And so that’s how I’ve arrived at the gear that I currently have. So this was just about making sure that the quality was better with each recording. And as we’ve done that over the years, I’ve been able to invest some money into the recording setup that I have today. So today, I use a Shure SM7B microphone which is really a broadcast quality mic. You’ll find it in a lot of recording studios, it is not a USB mic. It uses a big chunky microphone cable or an XLR cable at the side and that means it won’t plug directly into my computer. So I have to have an interface and audio interface between my computer and my microphone. And so for that I used the duet by Apogee. Apogee makes some really super clean digital to analog converters so it takes that signal from the microphone that XLR cable plugs into that converter. And then from the duet, we can then go into the computer and can record from there.

And then one other piece that I’ve added in the last year that’s made a significant difference, this particular microphone requires a lot of power to really sound its best. And so it does best if you have a preamp. And preamp is just another inline device, another box that you put before the converter. And so I bought the Grace design in 101 which is again just a phenomenal clean preamp. It doesn’t add any coloring to the microphone and it just reproduces my voice as it is. So out of the microphone into the preamp, out of the preamp into the converter, out of the converter into GarageBand.

Joe Casabona: Nice, nice. And all of that is to, you know, you go through the effort because from what I understand it requires kind of less editing and post-production. Is, is that accurate?

Shawn Hesketh: That’s right. So the better quality gear upfront, the less editing, less, you know, magic. We have to do editing to make it sound good. It sounds pretty decent out of the box, that’s less editing and production that I have to do later.

Now in GarageBand, I do use a couple of professional quality plugins. One is a limiter which works as a compressor so it takes the quiet passages when your voice gets kind of quiet, the really loud ones, and it compresses those making those a little more even so that your audience isn’t being guard if you should raise your voice and there’s no straining to hear. So it automatically kind of brings up the lows, the quiet sections, and automatically compresses the highs. And then it does one other really cool thing, and that is every audio file that I export from GarageBand, it makes sure that it goes out at exactly the same level. This is important because if we’re recording videos, we’re updating our videos with each cycle. And if I only need to update three or four videos, it’s important that the audio quality sounds the same and not different than videos that I might have done a few months ago. And so by using some tools like that particular plugin in GarageBand, I’m able to ensure that the audio quality sounds the same every time I record.

Joe Casabona: Gotcha, that’s fantastic. That’s a lot of great information for anybody who wants to get into the home recording setup. And I know we’ve spent a lot of time on that. I could talk to you for like an entire show just about that. I’m quickly becoming an audio file. Thanks to, like people like you, and Matt Medeiros and Brian Krogsgard. So I can figure out the whole of the show on that. But I do want to talk to you about, you know, you work from home, I work from home for a company. But a lot of freelancers out there at least used to have a harder time kind of connecting talking to people within their space. And so this idea of a mastermind group has become very popular. Just talking to other people in general, right which was another reason for this show. So who do you talk to? Are you part of a mastermind group to bounce ideas off of people?

Shawn Hesketh: Absolutely. And I think it’s critical like you said, you know, for those of us that work remotely or work from home, it’s important to be able to kind of keep our relationships and conversations alive. And if you’re not so, in Houston we don’t have necessarily the most robust WordPress community at the moment. And Houston is also such a sprawling city that it’s really difficult to connect with other people without driving an hour across town. So I think masterminds are invaluable for getting perspective, being challenged, being held accountable, bouncing ideas off of other people that you’re thinking about so that you’re not creating things you know, in a vacuum.

So yes I’ve been a part of one mastermind group for a little over two years. In fact the same for guys I’ve met every week, every Monday, for two years. And that’s been incredibly valuable as it helps kind of steer the direction of my product and also these other guys. And then this year I’ve actually agreed to participate in a couple of additional masterminds. I realize I have just a little bit more bandwidth, little more time available. I’ve decided to invest that in more of those conversations because I think they’re incredibly valuable. So the great thing about masterminds is it doesn’t take a lot to find these folks, right? You can get into WordPress itself in the slack channel. It’s pretty easy to find people who are doing what you do or do it in a similar way. 

And one of the things I love the most about the WordPress community is how approachable some of the Rockstar. We might look at them as rockstars, you might idealize him and hold him up on pedestals. And the reality is these folks are all approachable, they love to be asked questions, they love to talk to you. And while they may or may not be available to join a mastermind with you, it’s pretty easy to find people who are, and I think that’s an invaluable investment.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s, any advice I have or anytime someone seeking advice I should say just reach out and ask, you know, to whoever you are seeking that advice from ’cause especially in the WordPress community, you know, it’s a pretty open, it’s a pretty open community. So that’s fantastic. And I think I know the members of your mastermind, and you are three of four, so I’ll need the last guy to complete the set. So watch out for that in Season Three. Cool. So why don’t we get to the title question which is how did you build it? So, and this is specifically the website WP101?

Shawn Hesketh: Yeah, good question. So when we first began, we knew we wanted to build a membership site. We knew we wanted to host primarily video tutorials. So with those things in mind, I already had a background in web design obviously that’s what I was delivering from my clients. So we actually started with an off, off the shelf framework, the Canvas theme by WooThemes. Back in the day, it was very flexible and robust so we were able to customize that to kind of display the videos the way that we wanted to because video tutorials are the most important aspect of our website. I felt it was important that the videos appear at the top of the site for width so that they were responsive. So they would change depending on the device being used by the viewers. So whether they’re viewing it on a tablet or mobile device, the videos are still full width and still easy to view and access. So with those kinds of drivers for the design, I said about creating the kind of custom child theme that we used for WP101 in the beginning. 

As far as powering the membership side though, that’s where things get really interesting because eight years ago, there were really only a couple of options available for creating a membership site. And the most popular was Wishlist member. And the Wishlist member was incredibly robust, it was easy to set up, it took me all of 20 minutes to install and set up the membership site to password protect the video tutorials and make sure that only members had access to view these videos. They used at the time PayPal exclusively for payments and so this is one of the things that we kind of outgrew.

In the next year or two was we realized we needed to be offering the ability to also accept credit card payments that a lot of our customers wanted that didn’t have a PayPal account or just didn’t want to pay via PayPal.And so we had talked with the team and wishlist mirror about getting credit card integration via Stripe or something of this nature. And at the time they were working on it but it just wasn’t coming fast enough for us. So a couple of years into the process, we actually migrated platforms. We changed from Wishlist member to a completely custom and I highly do not recommend this route. But a custom integration with a subscription payment service called Spreedly and you probably never heard of Spreedly. At the time there were kind of two players in this subscription payment space. Recurly which you probably heard of and Spreedly which you have not and so we chose poorly. At the time it seemed both of them were offering similar road maps and both looked to be a similar product. We went to Spreedly, we just chose the wrong one. And So what happened is that product just stagnated over the next couple of years and now we’re about four years, five years in, we just got kind of painted into a corner with the payment system that now we had all these subscriptions, all this payment data in this proprietary third party system. no way to get that data out. And so looking at migrating a third time to a new platform became a really painful ordeal. And so we, man, we just wrestled over that for a couple of years before we finally get to make the change that led us to where we are today. So before I dive into where we are today I can see you have a question.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, so I did have a follow-up question. I also had an anecdote about choosing wrong ’cause I’ve always liked HD DVD was the thing that I invested heavily and then Blu-ray totally won. But you mentioned that you wanted to make sure your site was responsive which is excellent and relatively new at the time of you know, when you log driven maybe a little bit after you launched. But do you get a lot of mobile traffic?

Shawn Hesketh: Yes we do and increasingly. So right, so today I want to say it’s on the order of 40% of our traffic is from tablets and mobile. So that’s significant for us. It’s not the majority obviously but it’s still incredibly significant. So yeah, we have a very, I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a mobile-first approach but that definitely kind of drives the design of the site.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, definitely. So I mean anybody out there myself included ’cause it’s not something that I had really considered, you know, I figured people want to learn, they’re going to sit down in front of their computer and they’re going to do the lessons and they’re gonna work along. But you know, if you’re putting out educational content, people are probably watching it on their phones, maybe they’re on a bus or on a plane or something like that. And then they wanna, you know they’re just kind of filling in time. So that’s a really really great point. So OK, so we are about four years in, five years in at this point. Spreedly is becoming a thing of the past, where do you go from there?

Shawn Hesketh: Where do you go from there? That was the question we wrestled with the last couple of years. So I worked really closely with my friend Chris Lema, kind of explained to him the ordeal that we had this problem, this challenge of we’ve got you to know, tens of thousands of members now in this subscription service. If we change and we pulled the plug on that, we could lose all of those recurring subscriptions and that was huge for us, right? Because they were all locked into a PayPal IPN. Every subscription created in PayPal has this IPN associated with it and that IPN is a little URL that they’re looking to ping on your site every time a subscription payment is processed. So when renewal comes up and they process that payment has been successful, they want to send that ping back to our site and let the site know “Hey, this person is active again” activate their subscription for another year. And if you change platforms in the meantime, then that IPN URL does not exist anymore. And that happens in fact as few as a dozen or so times PayPal can actually shut down your account. And I heard over the years of nightmare stories of other large membership sites that had that experience and it was really difficult for those folks. So we wanted to avoid that so we really knew that we needed to move strategically in our choice to migrate to a new subscription platform. Hopefully, one that was in service for years and not penus in a corner again.

So I worked with Chris and we looked at membership sites, membership plugins rather and LMS learning management system plugins which are relatively new to, in the WordPress space. LMS systems are obviously not that redundant like ATM machines. I just said LMS systems. But LMS’s are relatively new in the WordPress space in terms of integration with WordPress and there are a few solid choices today. 

And we were thrilled to have found a lifter, LifterLMS. And so a year ago, almost exactly one year ago in fact we migrated to LifterLMS and it’s been amazing. Their team has been stellar, the support we received over the past year has been incredible. They are very responsive to feature requests, specifically things that we need to serve our audience. And so I’ve been phenomenally pleased with LifterLMS. They support all the payment gateways that we need so none of that is an issue. We won’t get painted in that corner again. And so I’ve been thrilled with not only the experience of using LifterLMS to create courses and lessons. It just could not be easier, in fact this is one area where they’ve asked me for feedback and I said “I really had nothing to offer you in this regard because you’ve done a phenomenal job of streamlining the process of creating courses and lessons which is the meat of what we do.” And so their UI is just spot on. What we did is some custom page templates in the time, in between somewhere midway through our adventures with Spreedly, we actually did change the theme. So we migrated to Genesis. The Genesis framework is a child theme and that has been so much more robust, so much easier to customize. So we’re continuing to use Genesis, we were able to almost seamlessly plugin LifterLMS and continue using our same theme so that way it didn’t affect our members. They didn’t have a learning curve to learn how to use our new system and I feel like that was really important in the migration.

Joe Casabona: That’s fantastic. And it sounds like, so I think the big difference between your site currently and my site is you know, I’m learning, I’m using Learndash which I absolutely love. But I’m using Learndash with like I’m using it with WooCommerce and like a few other things and I’m going to roll out memberships if I haven’t already by the time this is airing. And I’m using like sky virgin Prospress for that at Chris’s recommendation of course. So I’m plugging in a lot of things into this site but it sounds like LifterLMS kind of does all of that.

Shawn Hesketh: This is one of the things that I really was drawn to with LifterLMS. The fact that somebody has those features, critical features when you’re running an online service, right? You want to be able to have Q & A forums where your members can ask questions and interact with each other. You want to be able to send out targeted emails at timely points during the course, you want to be able to award badges and certificates. These are all important elements of, you have a modern online course. And a lot of other plugins rely on either add-ONS or third party integrations and that’s where I really got nervous because I don’t want to, I wanted as few moving pieces as possible. Because then every time one of those pieces updates, then you’ve got the risk of something breaking on your site functionality and so I want to spend my time answering WordPress questions and creating new content for my members, not constantly troubleshooting broken pieces on my site. So I love LifterLMS, their kind of all-in-one approach. It’s all included, I don’t have to use a third-party email service to send out targeted emails at timely points in the course. And that’s one of my, one of the features I love the most and has probably made the most significant difference since migrating has been what they call engagements. 

And there are these emails that I can trigger based on student actions throughout the course. Obviously, there’s, when they start the course you could send out a welcome email. When they finished the course you could send congratulatory emails. But more importantly, if I’m covering a particularly complicated topic then I can actually send out an email when a student finishes that lesson, I can send out an email that just says “Hey, that was a really tough topic. Congrats on getting through that! Do you have any questions?” And kind of start this dialogue via email that’s been incredibly valuable. It’s helping to kind of put the human touch back into online learning. And I think that’s something that’s missing from a lot of online learning experiences, right? People sign up, you go through a course and then they leave. And there’s very little if any interaction, there aren’t questions being asked in. And I find that folks are less likely to jump into the forum and ask a question for the same reason nobody wants to raise their hand in a classroom and has a good question, right? You don’t want to be viewed as the dumb one in the room after asking a dumb question. And of course there are none, they’re all phenomenal questions. And most times I’m encouraging my students to repost their questions in the form, list a great question and I’d love to answer this. And by answering it in the forum, we have the opportunity there for the answer to benefit other people. So I know I’m kind of deep diving into this thing but that’s one of the biggest reasons why I loved the LifterLMS approach. The fact that it’s kind of all-in-one and they brought all that into their plugin without having to rely on a bunch of third-party services.

Joe Casabona: That’s fantastic. And I and that advice about the engagement is really spot on. I mean you gave it to me a while back and I’ve started to integrate it more. You know, ’cause you want the online learning environment to feel more like a classroom, you don’t want students to feel like they are siloed off from everybody else, so that’s great. We are, well we’re probably definitely gonna go over but that’s OK I’m having a lot of fun. I hope the listeners are too. 

So we’ve basically got the history of the site right? and we’ve talked about the transformations quite a bit. So we can kind of bypass that question which is usually on the list and we can go right to what are your plans for the future?

Shawn Hesketh: Yeah, great questions. So this year is really exciting for us because we’re growing in a couple of different directions. One, we will continue to add new courses. We’re just about to launch our brand new course on Jetpack, so it’ll cover all the modules of the 35,37 different modules in Jetpack. We partner with Zach Gordon who’s a phenomenal WordPress educator. He’s created that course for us and we’ll be launching that probably within the week. So really excited to get that course up and running for our members.

In the coming years, you’re going to see us adding new courses, not always product-specific. So up until now which you’ve seen is our WordPress 101 tutorials which obviously teaches people how to use WordPress, the dashboard, the functions and features of WordPress. We have similar tutorials for Yoast SEO, Woocommerce which is a very robust series created by Daniel Espinoza, a phenomenal WooCommerce expert, the Jetpack series.  But we’re also going to be shifting gears to talk more about ‘how to?’. So in the coming year, some of our courses are going to be focused on how to accomplish specific outcomes, not just these tools. And so we’ve been focused on product-centric or tool-centric tutorials and we’re trying to be a little broader and more helpful to our audience, to these students who have specific objectives, a specific outcome in mind and we want to meet them where they are. So that’s one way we’re going to grow through the addition of new courses.

The other is that we’ve begun translating our videos into other languages. So all of our videos are already closed captions and we feel that that’s really important to make him available to the largest audience possible. But we’ve also begun the process of subtitling, translating those close options into subtitles in other languages. So the WordPress 101 videos are now available in Spanish as well, via those subtitles. And so will continue doing that throughout the year. And adding additional languages as well able. So those are a couple of big ways that we’re going to be growing in 2017. I’m pretty excited about it.

Joe Casabona: That’s awesome, well really looking forward to that. By the time this show comes out, the Jetpack course will certainly be a, I’m guessing. So go and check that out, I’ll link it in the show notes. BM favorite question to ask and I know you’re full of them ’cause I’ve gotten a bunch of them from you already. Do you have any trade secrets?

Shawn Hesketh: Trade secrets. I thought you just, said build it and they will come right? [laughing background]

Joe Casabona: The Field of Dreams approach.

Shawn Hesketh: Absolutely. The Field of Dreams approach and then you realize that nothing could be further from the truth right? There are some things that you have to actually do to stand out and differentiate yourself from the noise that is out there today.

So trade secrets. Most of my trade secrets are not groundbreaking, they’re just things that my audience continues to tell me were significant differentiators for them. And so just a couple and I’ll just summarize them this way. 

Number one, quality matters. Number two, people matter. And I’ve got a bonus one here, I’m going to get into. But the first one is about quality matters. First of all, I mentioned earlier in the show that you know, a mentor of mine said if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly. Don’t get hung up on perfection before you hit the publish button was kind of the gist of that. He wasn’t saying crank out poor content or do it badly rather it should constantly be an iteration. So don’t let perfection keep you from getting started. That said, the flip side of that coin is that it’s very important to invest in quality. One of the reasons why WP101 has enjoyed the success it has over the years and why we’ve partnered with large companies like GoDaddy for example who licensed our videos and make those videos available to their customers is because of the quality of these WordPress 101 videos. That’s because I obsess over the things we talked about earlier, not just the gear but making sure that every video is carefully scripted, that the voice-over is delivered in a conversational way that’s easy to understand, it is crystal clear for a learner. And the screened, the on-screen actions are easy to follow by making the cursor a little bit larger making sure we use a plugin like a smooth scroll that makes those actions on-screen just you know, easy to follow from the viewer. All of those details add up to an experience, a learning experience via video that people aren’t used to seeing because they’re used to finding videos on YouTube that are homemade and filled with us in arms and are usually done in one take as opposed to our process where we script it, we record a voiceover, then we record on-screen actions to match the voice over, and then we export this high-quality video. So invest in quality because those details matter and they are in fact one of the things that can differentiate you from everyone else whether you’re starting a podcast. And paying attention to audio quality can be very important as you’re experiencing right now. Those details matter.

And then the second thing I say, people matter. This is almost it should go without saying sadly it doesn’t because what happens is we end up focusing on our product instead of the people we’re serving. sS we talked earlier about scratching your own itch, this is another of my big trade secrets. I believe that WordPress 101 is nothing more than a vehicle that enables me to serve people. And so I’m constantly thinking of the people that I’m serving first. I’m not creating my product for the purpose of, you know, generating tons of revenues so we could flip this thing in a few years or get some venture capital funding. I don’t think product first, I’m thinking people first. And I believe as you focus on serving your audience, building your audience that over time the product will mature of necessity, it will mature and grow but you’ll grow in a way that’s connected to the success of your audience. Not find yourself scratching your head wondering why you built it and no one’s here. So I’m constantly looking for ways to put the human touch back into every experience. 

I think one of the biggest mistakes we see young WordPress companies make today is that when they start talking about scale, as soon as they’ve got a certain number of customers, a 1000 or so they want to talk about hiring you know, a virtual assistant to start handling support tickets because that’s almost seen as a sign of maturity, right? Well, we’re becoming legit ’cause I just hired a VA to, you know, start offloading these pesky support tickets. And I still answer every one of our support tickets and I still answer the majority of the questions that are Q&A forum because I believe that’s the whole point. And at 50 something thousand members on our site, were still able to, I’m still able to do that believe it or not without sacrificing my four-hour workweek. So but I can still do that and you would be surprised how far you can go. 

So I would say go as far as you can with those things that enable you to constantly have a tight feedback loop with the audience you’re serving. So people matter, but the people first then you create solutions that answer those questions. So that’s my, those are my trade secrets. Invest in quality, and people matter.

Joe Casabona: Excellent, excellent. And as you said you might have a bonus for us. I don’t want to put you on the spot but I’m very curious.

Shawn Hesketh: Related, related to that. I picked up this line a couple of days ago, somebody said very simply, “Stop selling your product and instead focus on the outcome that you create for your customers.” And it really resonated with me because that’s what we’ve done with WordPress 101. So I’m less interested in whether or not you learn how to use WordPress because, to be honest, knowing, well very few people, some people actually do just get off and learning new technologies and that’s perfectly fine, it’s perfectly legit, some of us, and some of your listeners or these people. But for the most part, people don’t seek out to learn new tools, they seek to create an outcome. They have an end that might have gold. They wanna build a website, they want to be able to share some recipes with their family and friends, they want to build an online site to sell T-shirts. They have a goal in mind and then these are the tools that they need to accomplish that goal. 

So if we started changing the language on our site from, you know, I’m a web designer too, I helped create digital leads for your business, that’s outcome focus, right? Instead of you know, I’m a developer, I’m a WordPress developer, nobody cares if you’re a WordPress developer. What they care about are the outcomes that you create. I create business sites that convert or that load fast. “Oh, how do you do that?” So if we start focusing more on the language on our website, we communicate to build out what we do and this is just universal. First of all, it goes back to people’s matters. It helps us to connect with our audience in a deeper way, more meaningful way because now I’m connecting with you and your needs. So we’re outcome-focused not focusing on your product so a little bit of a change in focus. But I’m kind of seeing that everywhere and I think if we begin to think in that way, it will help us all become more effective at what we do.

Joe Casabona: That’s awesome. It reminds me a little bit of the book “Start with Why” right? You’re changing me, what do you do to…Why do you do it… So that’s very cool. I will link that book in the show notes too ’cause it has changed the way I think. So well we are over time but it was a great, great conversation. Shawn, thank you so much for joining me today.

Shawn Hesketh: Thanks for letting me go over, Joe. This has been a blast.

Joe Casabona: Hey, everybody. Do you wanna get out there and build something with WordPress? In my new course, ‘How to Build WordPress Themes, a Web Designers Guide, I teach you just that. In the course, we’ll learn how to take a static HTML site and convert it into a fully functional WordPress theme and plugin. Will start with a little bit about PHP and how it works. We’ll explore some great tools like underscores and then we’ll take a static site and convert it to a WordPress theme. You’ll become familiar with underscores, you’ll learn how to customize blog posts, pages, header, and footer areas, and create custom menus and widgets. You’ll build a plugin and you’ll even learn how CMV2, a popular WordPress tool for adding custom information works. And for a limited time, How I Built it listeners can get 20% off. Just go to That’s built

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