We Discuss The  Future WordPress With CEO & Co-Founder of WebDevStudios

Brad Williams is the Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of WebDevStudios (WDS). Brad is responsible for defining the vision and direction of the overall company. He works closely with Marketing and Sales with a strong focus on Business Development. Brad has helped grow WDS from a coffee table startup to one of the oldest and most respected WordPress Agencies working with clients like Microsoft, Viacom, Campbell Soup Company, Starbucks, and the NBA. Since 2017, Brad has been a member of the Forbes Agency Council.

Prior to WebDevStudios, Brad was the IT Director at a major eCommerce company based in Indiana, where he managed all online web properties, warehousing systems, and internal servers and networks. Brad is also a US Marine Corps veteran and graduated from Military Occupational Specialty School as a 4067 Computer Programmer. Brad served one tour in Kuwait/Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom where he learned to program with a gas mask on!

Jonathon: Welcome back folks to the WP Tonic Show. It’s our first episode in the New Year. Its episode 460. I am really pleased, I have got a really great guest. A special guest, somebody who I even read his books or book about WordPress. That’s Brad Williams, CEO and co-founder of WebDev studios. Thanks Brad for coming on. Can you give our listeners and viewers a quick intro about yourself?

Brad: Thanks for having me. I’m like you said, I’m Brad Williams, CEO, cofounder of WebDev Studios. We’re a hundred percent WordPress design and development agency. I’m one of the older, older ones in the space. We were actually going into our 12th year this year, which is pretty amazing. And we started in 2008 officially. So it’s been a really, really fun ride. I’ve also written, coauthored a number of WordPress development books, like you mentioned the professional WordPress series by Rocks and Wiley, which we’ll talk about a little bit as well.

And I love WordPress. I’ve been very involved in all the mountain Philadelphia. I started the WordPress Philadelphia Meetups group actually will be 10 years this year. So in a few months we’ll be celebrating our 10 year anniversary. I organized the first five Word Camp Phillies or co-organize the first two Word Camp US events that were in Philadelphia. I was involved in word sash and just a number of stuff. I’m really a big fan of WordPress open source and everything that involves with it, especially the community.

Jonathon: That’s great Brad. Unfortunately the better looking half Adrian couldn`t join us. So you just got me listeners and viewers. Before we go into the main part of the show. I just want to mention a couple of our sponsors. And our main sponsor as you should know is Kinsta Hosting. And Kinsta only specialize in WordPress hosting. We host the WP tonic website with them. We have been with them for the past couple of years. They decided to be our main sponsor again in 2020, which is fantastic news. They are just fantastic hosting providers. If you’re looking for real quality WordPress hosting. If you got a WooCommerce site, a membership site, you need better quality hosting. And that’s what you get with Kinsta. They provide it through Google clouds, but what you get is fantastic interface. And the main thing is you get superb 24, seven support for yourself or for your clients.

So if that sounds interesting, go over to Kinsta, have a look at their products, buy one of them and also tell them this is the important thing. Tell them that you heard about them on the WP Tonic Show. Our second sponsor is a new sponsor. And that is from one of my friends that comes on the round table show Spencer forum. And him and his crew have launched a fantastic product called Launch Flows. And basically what he does if you’d been using cart flows and I think you should, it put carts flows on steroids. And it enables you to do some amazing stuff. So if that’s interesting for yourself or for your clients, go over to launchflows.com. Have a look at what they’re offering and maybe buy it. So onto the main part of the interview.

I have got a frog in my throat. So Brad, let’s go to the main part of the show. So you’re in the higher end kind of web development agency area. Do you think you still have a lot of problem explaining why you should use WordPress when you’re looking at these bigger projects and these bigger clients?

Brad: Yeah I don’t know. I mean, if you look back, you know, we’ve been doing this for 12 years now, so certainly in the beginning, you know, first four or five years it was a lot of kind of selling people on WordPress. And why they should use WordPress. I think now WordPress is so popular and so widely adopted, it kind of speaks for itself. Now when you do get up into the enterprise space, there is a lot of competition from, you know, Adobe and psych core and some others that have massive marketing and sales budgets and teams.

And they’re right there pushing their products as you would expect. So I think there is more of a selling aspect in that front just to explain why something like WordPress and open source is ultimately going to be a better solution in the enterprise face or for that particular client. But by and large, I mean, you know, WordPress really sells itself. People that seek us out, they know what we do. They know we specialize on WordPress and they’re looking for agencies for that very reason. So we don’t have to sell WordPress as much as we need to sell ourselves to them.

Jonathon: Alright, that’s great news. So I noticed you also, you and your team, you write a lot, you publish a lot you do a lot of content marketing. Has that also been a decision that you pursued over the past few years? And has it really benefited the company?

Brad: Yeah. So I’m glad you brought that up cause I’m really proud of the content we produce on our blog. And I have been for a long time. The content on our blog and the content we put out to the public. We’ve actually been doing it for quite a while. And it’s been, you know, there’s a lot of reasons why. Obviously marketing is a big component of that. Being able to write about not just about what we’re doing as a company, but being able to write about maybe different technologies. We’re experimenting with or playing with or different solutions we put for clients. And unique and interesting ways or technologies or services. We’re using and want to promote. So obviously there’s the marketing aspect of that.

Like it’s getting our name out there as thought leaders. It’s keeping our name out there with fresh content. It’s certainly great for search engines and traffic. But there’s a lot of other wins beyond that. It’s a great outlet for our team. Again, our developers take a break from the grind of writing code and hitting deadlines for clients. And maybe sit down and write an article about Gatsby and experiment with a little bit. And why people should, you know, look at something like Gatsby and how it could benefit them. So it’s a nice break for them. It’s also a great way, in my opinion, of giving back. Because we’re sharing knowledge with the community. Whether it’s WordPress specific or not, you know, some of the posts we’re writing about aren’t just necessarily WordPress specific.

It’s more just generic kind of development topics. So it’s a great way to give back. To help people out there with things that we’ve learned or some code examples. Or to get someone started on a new technology or new topic. So it’s always been a big part of what we do. We like to allow our team to time to write those posts. It’s a good thing to do if there’s gaps in between client work, it’s good downtime process to do so. It’s we have seen a lot of benefit from it, you know it just, at the very least, it puts us out there as thought leaders. And that we really are passionate and truly enjoy what we’re doing. And you know, I love the content that we produce.

We have an amazing team. Laura over on our marketing specialist helps head that up from the editorial front. And she helps kind of come up. It helped work with the team of engineers on topics and help basically says like get the meat in there. And I can help with the readability of it. Cause it’s obviously writing, getting the facts on paper is one thing. But getting it in a way that’s easy to read and like flow as well as is something I can take a little bit of more work. So it’s fun to do. We enjoy doing it, we’ll continue to do it cause it ultimately does benefit us in a number of ways.

Jonathon: That’s great. On a sideline, where do you think the Tavern`s going? Cause don’t get me wrong. I love Justin. I think he’s one of the most generous and upfront people in the WordPress community. But just recently, you know, obviously I think his official title is editor. But I’m a little bit confused where they’re taking the Tavern. Well, where would you like the Tavern to go if you were personally had some control over? Where do you think it`s focus should be?

Brad: Yeah, the Tavern. WP Tavern is interesting. I’ve been around since pre Tavern. Well, I met Jeff Rowe online Jeff Chandler, and prior to him launching the Tavern, I remember when he came up with the idea of what he wanted to do. Bouncing it off of me and we were kind of, I was giving him some ideas and thoughts around it. This was very early on. Like, this is before I even started WebDev studios. This is like 2006 or seven timeframe. So I’ve been there from the beginning and I’ve seen the kind of different evolution of the Tavern from where it started and kind of the different ups and downs it’s had over the years. I think one of the challenges the Tavern is probably always going to have is the fact that it’s, you know, ultimately it’s owned by Matt Mullenweg. Now I haven’t seen any kind of bias.

Jonathon: I have not either. I have been surprised in the how the stuff that they’ve been able to cover really.

Brad: Yeah. And they’ve publish some controversial stuff. And I think if he did have his hands, then he probably wouldn’t have allowed that. So I think that’s good. We want to have kind of an unbiased approach to news in the WordPress space. I think there’s always going to be room for something like the Tavern of that. That new source that is laser focused on WordPress. It’s definitely grown up. When Jeff launched it and for the first however many years it was very much just kind of Jeff’s take an approach on plugins and products. And the direction of WordPress and just kind of his thoughts.

And now it feels more like an official kind of publication where there’s editorial. And the topics are clearly I’m sure worked on together as a group. So where it’s going from now I don’t know. I think Justin is a great writer and I really like some of the more technical stuff he’s been putting out. Which I think has been kind of lacking over the years. So having someone like Justin with his technical chops, being able to write, you know, and speak to that I think is awesome. But you know, I guess we’ll see cause it isn’t a bit of a transition now Jeff no longer works there.

Jonathon: Maybe I’m being a little bit harsh. I just think it’s the new design in some of the articles, but it’s still early design.

Brad: It’s definitely a version one. It’s a bit jarring. Like, you know, we’re used to the Tavern, the wood grain. Tavern where you would expect it to feel like, and now it’s just kind of generic. But I think it was to his point of the post, it was like, just to get it migrated into the new setup and the new theme and that way they can iterate on it a little bit quicker. So I’d expect it to get a little bit better over, over time.

Jonathon: Now another area I would like to seek some insight from you is you get a lot of freelancers that are looking to join agency like yours. And they can suffer rapid burnout. Now, would you agree with that? And secondly, how do you deal with bringing in new talent and seeing that, because it is a bit different if you’re kind of freelancing and you join something like your agency. How do you do with the difference in culture and the requirements?

Brad: Yeah, I mean it’s a good question. We hire a lot of freelancers. I generally like hiring freelancers because they not only have the, assuming they have the technical capabilities that we need. But they also have the ability to work well with clients. Or else they wouldn’t be successful at freelancing. And the majority of the time when a freelancer is looking to join an agency like ours it’s really because they want to get back to what they love doing. This is building awesome WordPress websites. Whether it’s the design, the front and the back and whatever that means to them and their skills. They want to get back to what they’re doing. And the challenge of being a freelancer is the challenge of running a business.

You know, it is the non-fun stuff of contracts and negotiations and sales and getting paid. And all that stuff that is not glamorous, but it’s a component of running your own business. And a freelancer is no different than an agency. It’s just one person versus a group of people. So when a freelancer joins our team, obviously we offload all that stuff. We get them back to doing what they love, which is writing code or designing or whatever that looks like. So we have people on our staff members dedicated to the other piece. Like a lot of what I do is on the contractual side of things in the sales side. And again, that’s the kind of non-glamorous part, but it’s super important for a company to be successful.

So I think that’s a lot of the reason, you know, when freelance is looking to join a company like ours. That’s usually one of the number one things they bring up is they’re just tired of all the other stuff that comes with having your own company. And I get it, it can be exhausting sometimes. So the thing about us is we’re a team so we can work together, we can support each other in the ups and the downs. So generally speaking when we bring in a freelancer, they generally fit in pretty well. I think they’re so excited to get back to what they love doing that. There’s always a lot of energy when new team members join for them and for us. It’s bringing in new ideas, fresh ideas, someone that’s really excited to be here and try something different.

And ultimately it’s contagious. Like when people are really motivated and positive and just super excited. That’s contagious, you know, and it’s good, you know, the good to bring in some fresh blood on occasion.

Jonathon: I get the impression that you are saying, you know, and also the last bit about your own culture. Is like bringing freelancers you haven’t observed many negatives about the onboarding experience.

Brad: No, I mean if we look at the negative side of it. One area that you definitely have to focus on is just making sure that they’re going to fit into the way you work. Your processes, your tools. And I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a really big negative, but some people come in and they’ve done things a certain way for however many years and they’ve worked on their own.

So now it’s one kind of understanding our processes, how we need to work with our clients, how we work internally together. You know, how we work with code, code management, all of that stuff. Our process of updating clients and screenshots and all that, you know, time tracking, which is one that everybody hates, but it’s a necessary evil. You know, so that type of stuff is really where the learning curve is at. It’s not necessarily what they’re building. It’s working with within the processes that we’ve established because they’re there for a reason. They’re there because they, you know, they work. So that, that’s an area that we always make sure we pay close attention to. When we, when we onboard. And that’s really just anybody, right? Whether they’re a freelancer or somebody coming from another agency or whatever everybody works a little bit differently. And so it’s just making sure that they get comfortable with how we work.

Jonathon: That’s great. We’re going to go for our break folks. When we come back, we can be talking about Brad’s new revised book and also what he sees maybe as the trends in WordPress in the coming year. We will be back in a few moments, folks.

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Jonathon: We’re coming back. Adrian`s not with me. The good looking one, the intelligent host, but you just had to deal with me Mr. Grumpy Englishman. But there we go, I think Brad as handled me quite well actually. So Brad, like I said in our pre show chat, I think your book was one of the second or third book I had bought when I was active WordPress developer. So you decided to do a revision. Why did you decide that? And secondly what are some of the key bits that you’re proud about in the revised book?

Brad: Yeah, so the book we’re updating is this book, which is professional WordPress plugin development. So this was the first edition, the only edition. And this was released in 2011. And we actually did the majority of the writing in 2010. So it’s about nine, 10 years old. And in the world of open source, that’s an eternity. That is just in the world of technology, that’s like night and day. So this is a book that was always, kind of close to my heart. The first book I ever wrote was professional WordPress, which is kind of WordPress development in general.

Jonathon: That was the second book I bought.

Brad: And that one’s awesome. You know, we did three additions of that one today. But they covered a lot more than just plugins. They’re steams and there’s a lot of other development stuff that we’d dug into. Now it’s a lot of it relates to plugin. But this book is 400 plus pages of plugins, specific development. And you know, by and large, it’s one of the highest rated WordPress development books on Amazon. And has been and still is today, eight, nine years later. I get a lot of questions. Every Word Camp I go to, people are asking me like when we’re going to update this. And it’s what I’ve been trying to get push to make this happen. Honestly, it’s been probably three or four years now. So I’m really excited that it’s becoming a reality.

So it’s definitely going to be out this year. I’m working with Justin Padlock again, who we talked about a little bit earlier. And he had coauthored the first book. And then we also brought in John James Jacoby, Triple J as many people know him to help round out the group of coauthors.

Jonathon: Another great developer who have been on my round table show multiple times.

Brad: And that’s the first edition, one of the goals is I wanted to bring in the best of the best. To help me write this book. And I feel like we’ve done that again. So as you can imagine, eight, nine years later being a second edition, you start with the first edition and then you go through and update when needs to be updated. Well, the second edition is only a year or two later, there’s not as much update. But when it’s eight or nine years later, it’s basically a brand new book. Because everything is getting up including bringing a lot of the things that just didn’t exist back then.

Like the obvious big topics. And we have full chapters dedicated are the rest API just didn’t exist back then. And Gutenberg and the block editor, which certainly didn’t exist back then. And there’s a lot of other features that didn’t exist eight, nine years ago. So I’m really excited. We’re right there at the finish line with getting the first draft done. Actually the due date is next week. And then there’ll be a period of going through the final process of edits and things like that. So it should be out in the next few months. I’m very excited about it. I’ll be talking a lot more about it. You know, on Twitter and on social. So if you follow hashtag plugin Dev book you’ll see the three of us chatting about it. And we’re excited to get it out there.

Jonathon: Who is the book aimed at? Who is its target audience?

Brad: So it’s published under rocks, which is W R O X, which is a division of Wiley. And rocks is the programmer, the programmer side. And that’s where the term professional comes from. So this book is written for developers. It’s written for programmers. Now, it doesn’t mean on page one, we’re diving into these ultra-advanced concepts of development, but it does get pretty technical. So truly this book is for one, anyone that’s ever wanted to build a plugin in WordPress will understand how to do that really within the first couple chapters. It’s also for anyone that really wants to elevate their game. So if you’re already building for WordPress where there’s plugins or whatever, this book will ultimately help you level up. Because we do dig into some, some pretty heavy topics.

Gutenberg you know, it was a pretty heavy topic. There’s a lot more JavaScript in this book as you can imagine. Then there was eight, nine years ago when everything was just using jQuery and even pretty minimal. But now react and JavaScript or are big components of WordPress. And specifically the Gutenberg editor, so that we do a pretty deep dive into that. So I also like it because we’ve written it in a way where you don’t have to read it front, you can read it front to back certainly, but you don’t have to.

Like I think it’s a good reference. I still use it, you know maybe you forget how to add, how to work with the settings API. You can just go right to the settings API section, get what you need. In a way you go, you know, or maybe you forget how to work with how to add a menu or submit new or you know, how to position the menu. It’s a way you can kind of quickly reference and, and refresh on how to do specific things within WordPress. So it’s a well-rounded book and I think anyone that’s working in WordPress development I think is going to get something out of it.

Jonathon: I have been listening to a few podcasts. Some people, some murmurings that especially if you’re publishing it to the directory the actual process of getting it in plugging. Some of the technology’s a bit clunky now compared to get hub. Some people choose does to publish their plugin to get hub. Because they will be able to find it a little easier. Do you think this whole environment needs revision and modernizing bit?

Brad: Yes, it does. I mean, I understand why it’s such a massive undertaking. Because I mean, you think about it, there’s what, 50,000 plus plugins in the wordpress.org plugin directory. And there’s however many themes. It’s all powered by SVN. In terms of how they’re pushing code, how those releases are pushing or pulling, you know, into the dashboards for updates and stuff. So to redo that, it would be a massive undertaking, a huge investment. So I get that it’s a challenge, but I do think it’s a hurdle. I mean, when you talk to developers these days and ask how many are familiar with SVN, there’s not that many.

Jonathon: You are about to get quite a few blank looks.

Brad: Yeah. So, you know, like you said, a lot of people release on. Now there are some ways, some clever ways that you can manage your code on get hub and push that through SVN toward press.org. So there’s some code and subscriptions tutorials out there that make that a little bit easier. But ultimately you do kind of need to know if you want to get in wordpress.org, which if you want to get the right amount of visibility on it, that’s really where it needs to be. So people could find it through their WordPress dashboard. That’s where it needs to be. So I do hope that they make that switch at some point, but I haven’t heard any anything about that happening anytime soon.

Jonathon: This is why I regret why Adrian couldn`t join us actually. Because he’s active plugging developers and plugging companies. So I was hoping he was going to push you. But I don’t think I am doing too bad a job. Am I? When I go into procurement it was reaction scripting. We’ve flashed basically and then I got into JavaScript and I remember reading books on Java script. This is when there was like four different domes and she had the program for four different ones. And I always wanted to shoot myself. I had this project and I really didn’t know what I was doing. I had a deadline and then they expanded into JavaScript. And in the end, I had to call friends and favors in. And anyway we got the project done, but it was a nightmare. But people should be so thankful that they do not have to write Java script for Ford separate

Brad: Times have changed for the better. I think.

Jonathon: These young girls and boys do not know what they are missing.

Brad: It was a different world back then. And to think how far it’s come. And what’s interesting about flashes if you remember flash was such a dominant technology, you know what, early two thousands, mid two thousands. Every site was like, you have to be on flash. It has to be like almost like a movie experience of some sort. And it was like 90% of the internet it felt like. And then once search really took off and Google’s specifically kind of said, well, if you’re using flash, we won’t be able to index you or won’t know what you’re doing on your website. And that killed it like quickly.

Jonathon: I think the two things that killed it really was that. And also, the iPhone when they appeared and that you couldn’t run flash on that, that was the kind of finishing moment when the knife was stuck.

Brad: Yeah. It’s still out there. I mean I have a four year old and you know, I’d find little toddler games and stuff that you can play online and a lot of them are flash and I always have to like do this song and dance to get flashed to work in Chrome. I think they’re ultimately removing it this year anyways completely. I’m sure there’ll be a way to re-enable it, but it’s still out there. It’s just certainly not what it used to be, which a good thing I think is.

Jonathon: I think we’re going to wrap up the podcast part of the show. Hopefully Brad can stay on for another 10 minutes. You can tolerate me for another 10 minutes? I’ve already teasing him. And we’re going to be discussing some of these folks about the future of WordPress where he thinks it’s going. He’s been part of the WordPress community for a long time. A great member. So Brad, how can people find out more about you, your company and what you’re up to?

Brad: Yeah, so companies webdevstudios.com. I’m Williams BA on Twitter, I’m Williams BA on most platforms. Look for WebDev Studios on those platforms. Check out our blog. We also push that out to Twitter and some other places, but you can go subscribe if you want to get those posts. But again, it’s some really awesome content. And I think you’ll benefit from it. And keep an eye out for a professional WordPress plugin development second edition, which will be out hopefully in a few months. I’ll be tweeting about that obviously a lot. So follow me on Twitter and you’ll get all those get updates.

Jonathon: Thanks Brad. Thanks for coming on the show. We’ll return at some stage. We’d be back next week with another of great guests offering great insight into WordPress, e-learning or how to run online business in general. We will be back next week, folks. See you soon. Bye.

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Every Friday at 8:30am PST we have a great and hard-hitting round-table show with a group of WordPress developers, online business owners and WordPress junkies where we discuss the latest and most interesting WordPress and online articles/stories of the week. You can also watch the show LIVE every Friday at 8:30am PST on our Facebook WP-Tonic Show page. https://www.facebook.com/wptonic/

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