We Discuss WordPress & Also Running a Membership Site With 750 Members

#536 WP-Tonic Show With Special Guest Jamie Marsland of PootlePress

Jamie Marsland the founder of Pootlepress. PootlePress are passionate about WordPress. We’ve trained over 2500 people on WordPress in the past 4 years, we have over 750 members to our online training Academy and our plugins are used by thousands of customers worldwide.

Johnathan: Welcome back folks the WP-Tonic show, this is episode 534. I got my co-host Steven Sauders with me and we’ve got a great guest. We got Jamie Marsland of Pootlepress and Jamie’s like me from the UK so hopefully he won’t be too insulted by my sarcastic humor, we never know. I’m sure he can handle a bit out himself. So, Jamie, would you like to quickly introduce yourself to the listeners and viewers?

Jaimie: Sure, I’m Jamie from Pootlepress, we’ve been going 10 years based in UK. We started off as purely a WordPress training company and I started 10 years ago face-to-face training mainly around the country and onsite with clients as well. And then over the last sort of five or six years, we’ve morphed into a training and product business so we now build plug-ins and we have a theme for WordPress as well. And if you look at our business from a revenue point of view, then we are probably 65, 70% plug-in revenue and the rest training these days. So, we’ve kind of switched a bit into more of a product business over the last 10 years.

Johnathan: That’s fantastic. And Steven, would you like to quickly introduce yourself to the new listeners and viewers?

Steven: Yes. Steven Sauder from zipfish.io. We try to make WordPress blazing fast by optimizing the code that’s running on your site as well as the server and all the backend components.

Johnathan: That’s great. And before we go into the main part of the interview, I just want to talk about one of our major sponsors that’s Kinsta Hosting. Kinsta has been sponsoring the show now for over three years, they are a specialized WordPress only hosting company that provide really quality hosting to the top level, they host the WP-Tonic website. And if you are looking for a hosting provider for your WooCommerce for your clients or for yourself, WooCommerce, learning management system, anything that needs some extra resources you should look at Kinsta. Superb infrastructure based on the Google cloud, fantastic interface, custom interface UX design, easy to use, powerful, and the support is fantastic.

Johnathan: If that’s interesting, go over to Kinsta, have a look at some of their packages, I suggest you should buy one. And the main thing, if you do that is to tell them that you heard about them on the WP-Tonic Show. So, Jamie, so you said your… the founding of the company was based training. Can you give a bit… a quick bit of history, how you got into the crazy world of WordPress and how you got in initially into the training area?

Jaime: Yep. So, yeah, okay. So, I guess 15 years ago I was running a publishing company and we were mainly an online publishing company. It wasn’t my company; it was a publishing company owned by somebody else. And we had bits of online to that business, but we also had traditional events and magazines and paper, remember those things, and as part of that company, we had a [inaudible 03:43] SP content management system called Ektron, which I believe is still going, and we had a team of developers developing it, mainly using it for websites. And during that time, when I was running that business, I discovered WordPress one weekend and I started to sort of unwrap it. I get under the hood a bit and realized what I was able to do very quickly with it was taking our very talented development team months and months to do with this [inaudible 04:13] SP content management system, which was I mean, Ektron was a great system, but it was still commercial so you had to pay, I can’t remember exactly, but it was probably $10,000 per year for site or something like that for a license.

And then I discovered WordPress, which was… seemed to be easier and quicker, and this is the early days of WordPress, I guess, really. And I was able to go back and show people stuff much more quickly than we could develop internally so I sort of started to fall in love with WordPress and brought it into that company. And when I left that business about 11 years ago, I wanted to do something around WordPress, wasn’t exactly sure what around WordPress and then I had the idea that I would do training around WordPress. And initially I thought I do training for corporates because that was my background, I had a corporate background but one day I decided to just test some Google ads and put out a sort of public course on WordPress and within about six hours, I started getting bookings from people that wanted to learn to build their own websites with WordPress. So, it kind of… it was a big signal that there was a market and the guys in that market at the time were charging sort of 500 pounds for a day’s training on WordPress and I went in at 95 pounds, so disrupted the market pretty quickly and went from there really.

And that’s what I went off and did for three or four years. Trips around the country running about three or four courses a week face-to-face with 10 to 15 people in a room, mostly beginners from all walks of life, trying to learn how to set up their own websites. So, I discovered an untapped market which is still there to be honest, if there wasn’t a global pandemic, I’d still be… I was still doing this a year ago or six months ago. And there is a big market for people that don’t want to learn online, they want that face-to-face handholding experience of being taught in a room. And it’s a fantastic way to understand how people use WordPress to actually stand over their shoulders and see what they’re struggling with. And that fed into the product business as well.

Johnathan: Really fascinating. Over to you….

Jaime: Yeah, so that’s how I got into it.

Johnathan: Alright, over to you Steven.

Steven: Yeah. How did you make the transition from being like more on the consulting side to building out this whole suite of plug-ins? Like how do you decide to start like transitioning that way and was that like a very intentional thing? Or is it something that you just kind of all of a sudden found yourself in?

Jaime: Yeah, we kind of… it’d be nice to say it was intentional, but we… so back then, because we’re talking a long time ago, we were… the theme market was very new. So, we had WooThemes in the market and some other guys, but we really liked WooThemes who are now WooCommerce, and we were using a few of their themes. In fact, the first theme I ever used was a theme called Gazette, which was one of their magazine themes. And then they released a thing called Canvas, which was kind of the first theme… and Canvas was like a black one of the first themes that was very customizable. So, it started off with like a blank canvas, but you could customize stuff and it wasn’t done through the customizer, there wasn’t a customizer, it was done in the backend and you could set the fonts and you can change the layouts and cool stuff.

So, we started kind of, as part of the course, we were teaching that because people, one of the frustrations, probably the number one reason why people came on the course or still come on the course is they want to reduce their ongoing costs with agencies. They were being charged for small little changes and they want to take control of that stuff themselves. And so, as part of that, teaching canvas gave them the tools to be able to make these changes themselves to a large degree, without having to go to agencies and pay lots of money so, we started using canvas more and more in our training. Coming from the training, I also ran a service called WordPress Express, which is where we sat with the client face to face just private one-on-one. And we built their website with them in a day, which we still do actually, which again is just a great way to build websites with clients. So, they’re literary sitting there and you’re building it with them, so it’s part training and part building.

So, we were using canvas for a lot of these express days but there were some things we wanted to do in canvas that we couldn’t do and so, we started to build off first tiny plug-ins. In fact, the first one was a thing called Menu Customizer, which just gave you more control over the menu layout, some cute stuff, which again, people were telling us they wanted to do, but the product canvas didn’t do it. So, we built a little plug-in for that and that’s how we got into it. That, first little plug-in that we built went pretty well. I mean, in terms of developing a plug-in, it’s incredibly nice because we knew there was a demand for it before we built it really, it was very niche and targeted plug-in, we could target the market with it…

Steven: That’s really cool that like being in like the more, I guess we can go like consulting, like where you’re doing these sessions with people. Like you’re hearing everybody’s frustrations and what they’re mad about, or like the stuff that they want to do that they can’t do and then all of a sudden, it’s like oh yeah, like we can build this one little plug-in that solves this one problem that you know is a problem. It’s not just you sitting in an office being like oh, I think this is a problem the world has. Like you knew it and that’s a really cool space to be in that I think a lot of people aren’t. A lot of people make these assumptions about markets, but because you already had this kind of inbuilt market and this interface with those people.

Jaime: Yeah. And actually, we built reflecting on it. We produce one piece that one piece of content which was called, what was it called? It was called 65 Canvas Tips and Tricks, and it was basically a whole bunch of little CSS tweaks that we could… but over the years, people have been asking us how you do them. So, we put this post together and that drew quite a lot of traffic in organic Google search to it and we built a mailing list off that just one piece of content, really. And again, when we had products ready to answer those questions, we had a mailing list that we just mailed them and said, do you want this thing that we know you want? And they kind of bought it. So, it was… and we’ve kind of repeated that in terms of our content marketing as well. That’s kind of worked well for us when we’ve been quite niche in that stuff we’ve developed.

Steven: That’s really cool. When do you feel like you made that transition from being, like, you’re saying that most of your revenue now is based in that plug-in, so would you consider yourself more of a plug-in shop or are you still very much 50-50?

Jaime: Yeah, we’ve kind of in terms of my energy it’s 50-50, because the training feeds into the product business for sure. Obviously, I can’t do any face-to-face training at the moment so we’ve kind of… but at the same time that the pandemics made us, made me do more stuff online. So, over the last six months, we’ve done some really interesting stuff. Things like… so, I now do quite a few webinars, free webinars for our customer base and we have quite a big mailing list so we do free webinars and we can do, we can take really quite specific subjects that people are asking us about and run free webinars around them. And that just from a marketing point of view, it just enables me to have conversations with people really, which I’m missing days. We’ve done other things like I’ve done when it first hit, I did some free consultancy days for clients because I knew people were going through a whole heap of pain, like they literally saw their businesses jump… fall off a cliff in a day. So, we tried to help people out by that.

I ran a WordPress course for kids because they were off school. That was really great fun online and they were super sharp and brilliant. So yeah, we’ve kind of diversified the training in terms of it just broadens the stuff we can deliver because everyone’s happy to do stuff… well has to do stuff online. And we’re getting some… like for some of these webinars, we’re getting like 150 people on them, which it’s fantastic. So, we’re getting some good engagement as well. I’m not sure I answered your question, Steven. Did it?

Steven: Yeah, no, you totally did. Well, one thing that I noticed that was like super interesting is you have a very broad range of plug-ins that you guys have to offer. And there seems to me, and I’d love to hear like your take on this, like a little bit of attention because you have like a page builder plug-in, but also like you have the Gutenberg stuff, which Matt Mullen, like awesomely showed an entire [cross-talk 13:04] like that. Like, that’s huge. That’s so cool.

Jaime: I was there in Nashville. That was one of the most exciting 10 minutes of my life actually, because I kind of… I didn’t know he was going to demo our stuff. I had an inkling that really came up, so that was really exciting.

Steven: I can only imagine what that feel like to be like sitting in that crowd and seeing like out and seen that like…

Jaime: Yeah, that was great.

Steven: Holding that up for everybody. But so like, there’s like a little bit of like, you are kind of in this like page builder space, but also like latching onto what like Gutenberg is doing and like see like…

Johnathan: I was going to ask him that. You must have read [cross-talk 13:35].

Steven: Oh, sorry. Sorry.

Johnathan: That’s fantastic Steven, you read my mind.

Jaime: Yeah. So, page builder has been out for about four years, five years. So, we built that pre-Gutenberg, I guess. And we still develop it and still support it and people are very loyal to it, they love it and it’s really… it’s kind of pure drag and drop. So, it really is like you drag stuff around visually, it’s a very visually creative tool. But when I first saw Gutenberg starting to emerge and there were discussions around it, my view has always been, this is where we’re heading, so I wanted to invest early on in Gutenberg plug-ins, and now all the plugins we develop are Gutenberg faced. So, we’ve got… I guess what we’ve got…. we’ve got three… we’ve got WooBuilder blocks that lets you customize the product page with Gutenberg, we’ve got Storefront blocks, which lets you customize, it’s about 11 premium blocks that you can create a beautiful store. We’re just about to release new plugin called Woo-Hoo Bar, which lets you add cool notification bars with cool countdown timers, but based on Gutenberg again.

So, it’s all leveraging that’s kind of the Gutenberg platform. So, we’re trying to… I guess what I’m trying to say is we’re trying to lead our customers towards Gutenberg, but not just dropping where we’ve come from because not everyone wants to make that change [inaudible 15:09].

Steven: That’s for sure.

Johnathan: Well we’re about… I think it’s time for us to go for our break. 15 minutes has gone quick. When we come back, I’ll be asking Jamie about how the experience, his insights he can give for running a successful online course or courses. We’ll be back in a few moments’ folks.

We’re coming back. I’ve had a really fantastic initial discussion with Jamie Marsland with Pootlepress. So, before we go into asking Jamie some more questions, I want to point out our second sponsor, which is Groundhogg. If you haven’t heard of Groundhogg I think you must be living under a rock, I think it’s one of the best native CRM systems that has appeared in the WordPress ecosystem. It was solely needed. If you’re looking to move away from a lot of the very expensive SAS CRM solutions out there for yourself or for clients, I suggest that you should really have a look at Groundhogg because it’s the features and what it offers is quite amazing.

So, go over to Groundhogg, have a look. If you decide to buy for yourself or for your clients, the main thing is, tell them that you heard about it on the WP-Tonic Show. So, Jamie, so running a successful course-based element of your business, if you’ve got any insights about some of the mistakes you’ve made on that journey and give some tips to our listeners and viewers that might be thinking about starting their journey on the online course.

Jaime: That’s a good question. I think probably… yeah, here’s a few. So, I think the first one is patience probably because I’ve seen lots of my clients actually have tried to set up some successfully, some not successfully online membership sites or online course sites. And I think people expect it to happen overnight a:nd they spend an awful lot of time over-engineering the website that they’re building for people, probably 80% and 20% on the sort of market piece and the ongoing, because this stuff takes time to build trust and build an audience with people before they’re willing to sign up in my experience. I can only talk about my experience and what’s worked for me. So yeah, I mean people generally over-engineer and I would say try and test the market in a very, very simple way as soon as possible. The other tip I’d give them is to try and sort of hone down on the benefits of what they’re going to get, rather than saying to them, they’re going to get 20 hours of course material, trying to tell them that they’re actually going to come out the other side as a fitter person or they’re going to… whatever the reason they’re going to take this thing for in the first place.

(19:31): So, the old benefits feature thing really, but you see loads of membership websites where they’re not actually stressing that stuff. They’re stressing you’ve got to go and watch 20 hours of this is the value you’re getting and the value isn’t the fact you’ve got to sit through all this course material. The value is the difference you’re going to be on the other side of it.

Johnathan: I think you’ve given some great insights. It’s a bit like as a web designer or developer saying to a client, they want a website and they want a website because obviously they’ve got a problem or they want the website to get more sales or they want a website for something and it’d be like saying to them, well, this process is going to take over a hundred hours, look at the great value you’re going to get, the hundred hours you’re going to be spending on this. Well, they’re just going to run away, aren’t they? To the hills, aren’t they?

Jaime: To say this is what you get in one hour. And if you’ve only got one hour, make it…this will only take an hour and you’re going to come out being able to deliver this much revenue.

Johnathan: So, it’s a real contradiction then. I think you’re spot on so many people they think actually I call them war and peace courses, it’s made up of four semi courses and then there’s 24 lessons in each course, but this is all the value you get because this is all what we’re putting into it and it just totally puts off the target audience normally [inaudible 21:08].

Jaime: They should do this with schools as well. They shouldn’t say you got to go to school for seven years to say you’re going to come out with a $50,000 a year salary if you actually attend. Yeah, so that’s an important one. I think as well look at different channels. So, I’ve kind of… YouTube is a big opportunity at the moment to start to build trust with people for sure. There’s lots of big opportunities around YouTube and this what we’re doing here is a big opportunity as well. So, I see a lot of people that are running asset businesses where the asset is them, whether they’re a life coach or whatever, and they hide themselves in their marketing whereas actually they’re the reason why somebody is going to sign up in the first place for them. Especially in England, maybe this is more of an English thing where people are very… the websites look very corporate and they’re hiding the personality of the person behind it and actually people want to engage with that person, that’s, that’s how they’ve managed to get to where they are and often, they’ll hide that in their marketing.

Johnathan: Over to you, Steven.

Steven: One question that I had is did you do the artwork that is like on the page builder that’s behind you on your home video, the video on your phone?

Jaime (22:37): Yeah. So, those I didn’t… God, no, I mean, that is our artwork. So that those are the big guy, the monster is guy called Wilson and the small the small, the small girl is Pootle and they’re meant to represent the scariness of technology or the monster is the scariness of technology and Pootle is the guide through the maze. So yeah, we worked with a genius called Clive, who I’ve worked with lots and lots of years who does all my artwork and actually we worked on separate projects with him as well, nothing to do with WordPress. So, he’s just one of those genius illustrators. I love illustrators. I just think they’re just wonderful to watch, he creates all the artwork and we have a whole bunch of scenes that they appear in.

Steven: That’s awesome. It’s absolutely beautiful, it looks so simple.

Jaime: He’s just, I mean, one of these other projects I’ve done with him, we actually sell his artwork. So, he’s just [cross-talk 23:34].

Steven: In podcast land. You’ll have to go to pootlepress.com and check out that artwork. Shout out to the listeners here.

Jaime: We actually had a little comic strip at one point as well. [cross-talk 23:44]. Yeah.

Steven: That’s awesome. Since… one question I also had was you were kind of like an early adopter of Gutenberg, like for as somebody that like created a plug-in that was specifically for Gutenberg and not just adding some like nice little Gutenberg components because why not? Like you really like leaned into that. But Gutenberg has changed a lot from when it was first launched to where it is now. What is it like being on the plug-in side and trying to kind of stay on top of this ever-evolving new way of thinking about how to build a page out in WordPress?

Jaime: Yeah, there’s some complexity to that. So, it was really, really painful to start with both financially and technically and also mentally. So, I got actually blamed in some early reviews for building Gutenberg from people that really, [inaudible 24:37] about Gutenberg. So, they were blaming me, they were, they were reviewing…

Johnathan: It’s all your fault Jaime, we know [inaudible 24:46].

Jaime: They were reviewing our Caxton plug-in and blaming me for Gutenberg, which is [inaudible 24:51]. And we still get… there’s still, if you go…I actually did a video a couple of weeks ago where I went on and reviewed the Gutenberg reviews, it’s quite fun. So, I go down the reviews and I look at the reviews and try and because Gothenburg is a plug-in as well as being part of core for those that don’t realize, and I went down the reviews and trying to work out… going through some of the reviews and trying to work out actually what people didn’t like about it. And it’s very hard because it’s such an emotive thing. So…

Johnathan: I loved that you watch that actually. To say that some of the remarks are a bit vague would be…

Jaime: One of them was send it out and feed it to the sharks, which is funny but it doesn’t help developers in terms of specifically what don’t you like about it. So, how did we get here? What was the… what’s the question?

Steven: The question was just like, as Gutenberg evolve, like the challenges that come with that.

Jaime: Yeah. Yeah. So…

Steven: One being the reviews on your plug-in, people thing you’re personally responsible.

Jaime: And also…

Johnathan: It all your fault Jaime, I know t’s all your fault.

Jaime: I mean, building plugins is tough anyway, because you’re constantly getting praised and then literally the next minute, you’re getting punched in the face by somebody and everyone goes through that if you’ve released a commercial plug-in. But anyway, going back to it, yeah, in the early days it was changing fundamentally. So, it was breaking, they were breaking changes and that was really hard. So, we’d be really, we have a plugin called Caxton, which was kind of… that was our first plug-in and it’s a free plugin and that’s what Matt Mullen was demoing actually at Nashville, but we have one of the blocks in there as a shape divided block, which is still really cool.

But you know, so we’d worked really hard and then a release would come out and it would just break our plugin and the documentation wasn’t very good at the time with Gutenberg and so communication wasn’t very good, so that was really hard. It’s also complex because Gutenberg is part of core, but it’s also a plug-in. So, we’re kind of having to support multiple versions of Gutenberg. So, as a plug-in [inaudible 27:02] development, you’ve got quite a lot of technical overhead just to support that stuff, but it’s much more stable now. So, we haven’t had any breaking changes for probably a year, I think. So, we’re in a much, much better place.

Johnathan: So, would you say you, would you think, would you remark that you’re probably on reflection, they would have been better off just having it as a plug-in and not having it in core [inaudible 27:30]?

Steven: Well, that’s a big question. No, I mean, that’s a huge question. I think if you did that, it would never get into core. They would never get that because you just look at the reviews and they’re largely, I mean, I think the way… that was a big question. The way it was introduced to the community definitely could have been better.

Johnathan: Well, I’m known for my slight large questions, Jaime.

Jaime: And, you know… but I think fundamentally it’s such a big change that unless you kind of have that leadership, it would never have happened. [Cross-talk 28:05].

Johnathan: Coming from, yeah.

Jaime: So, and in my view, it needed to happen. But I can certainly understand why people are really cross about it, but you come on one of my beginner courses, now we’re teaching Gutenberg and the science people are able to produce after one day, it was a mile away from what they were producing two years ago and a beginner…. I’ve never had anyone on a beginner’s course that doesn’t love it. I mean, genuinely, actually I may have had one person, but generally beginners absolutely love it and can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t love it.

Johnathan: Well, I think when all the initial kind of had to call it… I’m trying to find the right words to describe the initial reaction to Gutenberg and the process that led to it. Controversial, I know, I think it was really… it kind of triggered off a secondary discussion and argument and about how WordPress should be run which had really nothing really to do with Gutenberg really, but Gutenberg was the kind of trigger that launched some that had been growing and simmering in the background for quite a bit of time and then the two got fuse together. So, I think Gutenberg was attacked because it… unfairly to some extent, because it was seen as a way of attacking the leadership style and the way that WordPress is generally organized. Would you agree with that? Jamie?

Jaimie: I would agree with that. Yeah. Gutenberg was the poster boy of the point of the boil that was launched by that. And if you if you go and watch any of the questions after [inaudible 30:14] the word, you know, it got quite heated after each of those. So, absolutely, it was a festering thing that was going on before Gutenberg, but it certainly heightened it for sure.

Johnathan: Yeah. And I think that elevated the whole environment for Gutenberg and I think you can see that in a lot of the remarks left. I think they were more about the process that led to Gutenberg than Gutenberg…

Jaime: Well, it wasn’t transparent, the process and the thing with the WordPress roadmap. And you can sort of understand it. It seems like it’s hard to decipher how that roadmap gets from the outside, it’s hard to decipher how that roadmap gets sort of signed and sealed really.

Johnathan: It does. Hopefully you can stay on for some bonus content. Can you join me for about 10, 12 minutes?

Jaime: Sure, yeah.

Johnathan: That’d be great. We’re going end the podcast part the show now folks. Before we do that, I just want to tell you that I’m doing a free webinar with Adrian of Groundhogg on the sixth next Tuesday, the 6th of October at 9:00 AM. It’s going to be a feast about marketing automization, how you can use Groundhogg, to achieve that. So, if you’re interested in maybe in your clients or yourself to move away from these really expensive SAS platforms onto Groundhogg, this is the webinar for you. Basically, it’s going to be on the six of October at 9:00 AM, Pacific standard time.

How to you sign up? You just go to the WP-Tonic website and in the main navigation on the far right, there’s a button that says free webinar, you click it and you just sign up. You’ll be able to join us and you’ll be able to ask questions of Jaime, not Jaime, Adrian, sorry, folks. And it should be a feast of marketing automization. Please join us. So, we’re end the show now, so Jamie, how can people find out more about you and what you’re up to?

Jaime: You can go to our website, which is pootlepress.com. That’s P double O T L E press.com, one words. You can find me on Twitter at Pootlepress. That’s it really.

Johnathan: All right, that’s great and Steven, how can people find out more about you and your company?

Steven: Head over to zipfish.io, run our speed tests and we can show you how to make your site faster.

Johnathan: That’s great. I’ve sent him some clients, actually one I think so far. If you want to support the show, one of the best ways is to go over to the WP-Tonic YouTube channel and subscribe to the channel. All the latest interviews are published there first, plus our round table show, plus any training videos I’m doing are always published on the WP-Tonic YouTube channel. So, do us a favor and go over there and sign up for that. And we’ll see you next week with either a great discussion between me and Steve or great guests like Jamie. And remember you’ll be able to watch the bonus content of me and Steven and Jamie on the YouTube channel at the end of this week. We’ll see you next week folks. Bye.

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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