Interview With Tammy Hart
Tammy Hart is an Automattic consultant who recently gave a talk at WordCamp Atlanta about “WordPress & Working with Clients”. She had such a positive response to her talk that it prompted her to set up http://www.wpmethod.com – a blog for freelancers that work with WordPress. We highly recommend you to check it out.
She is also working on a new eBook about “How To Sell WordPress” which we are eagerly anticipating. She kindly took some time out to speak to us.
This interview is part of our series on A Better WordPress For Clients. Download the series for free now.
What do you think are WordPress’ strongest selling points to clients?
Well obviously the ability to just manage everything themselves, to be able to point and click and edit their own content, publish new content. Having that kind of ability and power, not only does it make it easier for clients, it also makes it easier for developers because we don’t get bogged down with hours spent on just changing one word in a link, which has to be changed in 50 files across the site for a static site.
I have used other content management systems that seem to capture some of that idea that they still live so much in the code and I think, you know one of the things, I strive for whenever I build a WordPress site is to make as much editable from the admin section as possible so that they don’t have to worry about knowing HTML or PHP or even CSS. If they want to add a new contact person on their contact page or a new blog post, with a few clicks they can do it themselves. It makes websites cheaper and it makes turn-around times for me a lot faster too because I can turn around more projects because I’m not spending hours and hours on maintenance.
But what would you say would be of some of the weaknesses of WordPress as a CMS?
It’s only have been recently that WordPress started getting actual content management functionality capabilities without having to hack at things with plugins and custom development, and so I think you know we’re making great strides in that area especially with the admin of custom post types and taxonomies. But I think in the past and still for some people that are used to other systems, it is still a bit of a weakness to be able to just create a panel for a certain content type and really customise the site. It is obviously a blogging platform first and foremost but I think we’re getting stronger in that area.
One of the weaknesses I also thought about WordPress as a CMS was the lack of page management tool. The ability for a client to come in and quickly understand, these are the pages on my website, how do I edit them individually? Are there any particular tools that you use in order to improve that situation.
Before we got the menu system there was a plugin I used called PageMash that would let you manipulate what is outputted with the wp_list_pages function. You could drag and drop the hierarchy and the position and you could also hide pages from the main output and then the edit button would take you directly to edit that page. I find that
Are you now giving access to the new menu system?
So far I have given that out, but it is too early to tell people’s response to it.
Normally when we come and pitch clients, we find that we’re not really pitching WordPress vs. Joomla or other open source platforms. We’re actually pitching against other web design companies who have their own proprietary CMS. What’s the best way you know of making the client aware of the differences between them and the positives of using an open source CMS like WordPress?
I am going to borrow this from a colleague of mine; he actually uses this when he talks about Drupal. He says “instead of having 6 programmers on your team, you’re actually going to have 10,000”. And that’s what you get with WordPress. You’ll get a community because it’s open-source. If you want a special functionality, it’s not a matter of paying a programmer 6 hours to develop it. It’s a matter of searching for 10 minutes and finding a plugin that does it or finding an answer on one of the forums.
The community behind WordPress is I think what really drives its success because I like to say that WordPress can do any thing. Not necessarily because a core vanilla install of WordPress can do it. It’s because somebody out there knows how and they blogged about it or the answers are out there somewhere. So that’s one of the biggest things I usually like to say when somebody asks, “What about WordPress?”… When you have something open-source where there’s hundreds and thousands of people that are touching it on a daily basis there’s just no limit to the possibilities.
What we found out when we go in and pitch to clients is that they are reassured when you emphasise the fact that because a site is built in WordPress, anybody can take it over in the future because it is a popular open-source CMS system. If you’re not happy with the work I’m doing, you can get somebody else then. Do you emphasise that fact at all?
That is not something I have said but I did have a similar experience recently. I just recently took a full time position actually as well as freelancing. One of the things that we’re doing right now is we’re transitioning everything from a proprietary content management system to Drupal and then WordPress. I came with practically no programming experience in this proprietary CMS at all and what I have to do is maintenance and I have to go in and figure out how to change this link, where is this content put and it’s such a mish-mash because I didn’t build this system, I’ve never worked on the system before and it’s so time-consuming to figure things out. So that’s definitely a good point to make that anybody who knows WordPress (and there are a lot of them) can figure out where to go, how things are working, can read the code and knows exactly what it’s saying and can take it and run with it quickly.
On a few occasions we have had clients tell us they have had a horrible experience in the past with their developers and they have been locked-in with a certain CMS where only one developer could look after it and their main worry is going through that same situation again.
From a marketing and sales point of view, that’s a really good place to have a client but as a part of the community, I just… I’m more behind the open-source type of thinking.
Have there been any situations where you thought that WordPress wasn’t the best fit for a client’s solution?
Anytime that a client wants to have a front end interaction with what’s going on on the backend that’s pretty much when I usually say “you are going have to have something a lot more custom”. For instance, I had a client who had a really great idea for a recipe site and gathering information from a normal WordPress standpoint and then outputting it in a category and styling the recipe output was really simple. But one of the main parts is that he wants people to register with the site, and then edit and manage all of their favourite recipes and their own recipes all from the front end. I told him that maybe WordPress could do this but I think you’re going to be taking about 5 steps backward before you take any steps forward so I suggested that he maybe try to find a framework that was better suited to that. But pretty much any time, managing any kind of content, WordPress can do it. Even in e-commerce is one question that I get a lot.
What is your preferred solution for e-commerce?
I avoided e-commerce just because I always assumed that it was going to be a headache but recently a friend turned me on to a plugin called Shopp. It’s a premium plugin but it’s not too expensive. It’s a really streamlined process, it creates its own shopping cart pages. You add in the content and options and you are not limited to just showing a description, a thumbnail and a buy now button. It will choose like t-shirt sizes and things like that and then it will allow payments with paypal or authorized.net. You can also handle payments right from your website and you don’t have to go on to a third party site like paypal if you don’t want to. You forget you are using WordPress!
That’s the one that we recommend too. We tried WP e-commerce and I have to say, I’ve never actually managed to get it to work. I’ve seen the videos with the set-ups in five minutes but I’ve tried that in the past and it never actually works. I am sure it does now, but our preference is Shopp.
I’ve never actually used WP e-commerce myself but when I was in a WordCamp in San Francisco and the lead developer was there and he started out by saying “My name is … and I’ve helped in WP e-commerce and … I’m sorry! We are making it better!”
When you’re actually pitching to clients, do you have any tips on how to make a good impression with the client and how to make your pitch stand out compared to everybody else?
Well I’ll just be honest and say this, sales is what I am born to do, and I am sure a lot of developers are in a similar situation. I’m more of a problem solver, so I just go in and say I’m your friend, you have a problem I can solve that problem, let’s figure this out together. So that’s my angle and I love it because, and this is something I usually say in my talks when presenting on freelancing with WordPress is that, WordPress has a lot of amazing things and a lot of times it’ll save you time so just take the credit.
A lot of times the client will say “Oh I know this sounds really difficult but I need this to this, or that” and I’m reply “Sure! There’s a plugin for that, or I did it before, here’s an example!” The client loves you because you are providing a quick, simple, cheap solution to their problems!
We noticed on your WP message site you had an excellent post on client estimates and we particularly liked the bit about not being tempted to drop your price with fear of losing the project. What other tips can you give to small business owners that are just starting out in web design in order to make themselves appear more professional to clients?
The more confidence you have in yourself then the more confidence they’re going to have in you. Recently I was going to hire somebody to do some outsourcing and she wrote back saying “here’s my price and I can do this and that”. She made a lot of promises and I looked at her work and it looked good. I was impressed by it but then I wrote back to her saying “Thank you for your time but I have chosen somebody else.”
And then she wrote back, “I can cut my price and I can do it for $50 an hour instead of $75 …”. This did not reflect well on her. So I wrote back “I appreciate what you are trying to do and I understand that you probably need the work, but this the biggest mistake you could’ve possibly have made because not only are you saying your time is not as valuable as you originally said, but you sound like you’re desperate”. The positive initial impression has now gone.
Stand your ground and if a client says that you are a $1000 more expensive than they can afford right now, you know you say, okay let’s look at your projects and see what we can remove from your project that is not essential right now. The client will look at this; either they won’t agree with you or they will and maybe realise that every part of their project is essential and find the extra money for the project.
This has happened to me before.
In some cases, the race to the bottom is not really the race you want to win.
So, I really have two more questions and the next question is when you will be presenting at a work camp again in the future?
Actually, I’m presenting this weekend here in Birmingham. I’ll be talking about custom post types and taxonomies.
Okay.. Final question. When you handle a WordPress site to a client how do you handle the training of the client?
Well, because the way I market myself, people pretty much already know they’re getting WordPress when they come to me so a lot of them are most of the time familiar with WordPress already. If they are not then I talk to them through it on a phone call or sit down and show them how to do everything.
And a thing I like to do is use Jing to do screen captures and videos of what you’re doing. For instance, I was just doing it with a client and even though she’s local she really likes having these videos on hand so that she can check it later. She will ask things like “Tell me again how to change or re-crop the thumbnail etc.” So I made her little videos which she can save to her computer or she can refer to in the future.
That’s precisely why we produce the WordPress User Manual. We were getting similar questions over and over again and we were going through the process of making these 5 minute videos here and there and we found that we were repeating the same videos over and over again. Once we added up the time, because it’s not just a 5 minute video, it’s reading the emails, replying to the emails, making sure it’s understood. It made a lot of sense to produce the plugin.