“Learning to Use Something New Can Be a Heroic Effort and Every Hero Needs a Good Sidekick”, – Interview with Ben Fox

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Continuing our Interview Series with the most eminent WordPress experts, today we are happy to share our conversation with Ben Fox. A serial entrepreneur, co-founding FlowPress, WP University, and SIDEKICK.pro, Ben is sharing his life experience and WordPress-related thoughts with us. If you’re just at the beginning of your WordPress career and are searching to get inspired – you should listen to what he says carefully. Enjoy the interview and feel free to leave any questions you may have in the comments section below the post.

1. Everything in our life has its beginning. How did you get started with WordPress? When did you realize that WordPress might become an essential part of your career?

This is actually my favourite story because it’s really the preamble to where SIDEKICK began.

I had just lost my job a few weeks earlier and walked into a tech meet-up hoping to make some contacts. I overheard a few people talking about building a new website and how they were going to outsource it overseas. Being me, I stepped in and politely suggested that I could build them a site for the same amount. THEN asked what they were going to spend (classic mistake which I quickly learned not to repeat).

After about twenty minutes of back and forth I had a cheque in my hand for $ 300.00 and headed home to build them a website. The only problem was, I had never built a site before.

Two minutes on Google brought me to wpbeginner.com and the rest is history. I had a new career path, I just had to figure out how to scale up.

18 months later when Bart and I formed FlowPress (For the Love of WordPress), we set one of our priorities to give back to the community that had given us our start. That’s how SIDEKICK was born and why we continue to maintain it along with with 20+ WordPress Basics Walkthroughs for SIDEKICK, for free.

2. What is the story behind SIDEKICK? Where did the name come from? What was the driving force that motivated you to launch such kind of web project?

Bart and I both worked out of the same space where we rented a desk to do our work. One night over a few beers we were talking about how our customers never read any of the material we sent them.

Bart said something like “It would be easier if I could just plug my brain into their computer and download myself.” I replied “Can you build that?” and two weeks later we had a working prototype of, what was at the time called, WPUniversity.

The project was always motivated by the desire to solve the pain of learning to use new, web-based software and the cost of supporting new customers.

When we realized we had something larger than WordPress we looked for a name that embodied what we did but was platform agnostic. We landed on SIDEKICK because learning to use something new can be a heroic effort and every hero needs a good sidekick.

3. There is a gazillion of open-source CMSs that are currently floating around the web. What exactly made you choose WordPress among all the other software available?

Well I don’t know about a gazillion, but there are quite a few out there now. When I stepped into WordPress it was the most popular, stable and seemingly best interface. Not to mention it had the most engaged community and there was tonnes of written support available.

I tried Drupal and Joomla but as a non-Developer, WordPress appealed to me. Of course, once you got past it’s basic blog functions (at the time) things got a lot more complicated, but by then I was already hooked.

4. For those hesitating whether to choose WordPress to settle their web project on – how can users benefits from building their sites with WordPress?

I’ll address this as if a small-business owner or blogger was asking me for their opinion. The answer differs when you start going up-market.

  1. Control. When you build with WordPress you own your content. If you’re unhappy with your current host, it’s easy to migrate.
  2. Customizable. WordPress is (relatively) easy to build for. If you need something off the shelf, it’s available. If you’d like something custom, there are tonnes of great developers out there that know PHP and WordPress.
  3. Usability. The WordPress Core development team is focused on usability for the end-user. Unlike some other CMS’s, the WordPress Admin Dashboard has evolved to be end-user friendly. Not just developer focused.
  4. Community. No other CMS has the size or depth of engaged community that WordPress has. This includes very inexpensive WordCamps, Slack and Facebook channels alive with tips and friendly banter and core set of users dedicated to moving WordPress forward at all levels.
  5. Market Size. WordPress dominated which means that if someone is looking to build a product for a marketplace, chances are they are going to consider WordPress (I recently did a market SWOT analysis) which means choice and quality of plugins and themes is going to be unmatched.

5.  In our constantly-evolving world of web technologies, WordPress CMS is evolving as well. Where do you see the WordPress CMS in the next 5 years? Do you believe the platform will be able to hold a large market share?

That’s a big question and impossible to answer with much certainty but here goes.

Will WordPress have a large market share in 5 years? Yes.

Hosting companies, product developers, not to mention Automattic are all heavily invested in it’s success. The question will be, will something come along that can start to chip away at the lead. I don’t see anything on the horizon that has the power just yet but that doesn’t mean there’s not some young, smart 12 year old girl or boy, already working on it.

6. The latest WordPress 4.1 edition comes shipped with a bunch of useful improvements. Which feature you like best of all and the one that frustrates you most? Which feature you wish WordPress had in its core?

Nothing, really. 4.0 added some great new features without taking anything away from what users are familiar with. Take the Media Library, for example. Yes, the Media Grid is the sexy new thing, but you can still use the traditional list view, if that’s your preference.

Users who are gluttons for punishment may miss the old, painful plugin browsing experience, however I think they’re the exception rather than the norm.

I’m also particularly excited for the API, it’s already opening up a wealth of new development options which is going to add some jet fuel to product and platform development in the WP space.

7. There are thousands of plugins available at the official WordPress repository. Which plugins you don’t miss to install with every WordPress installation?

  1. Backup Buddy (from iThemes) if you don’t already have a backup solution
  2. SIDEKICK for WordPress
  3. Sucuri Security
  4. Gravity Forms
  5. Google Analytics Dashboard for WP
  6. Yoast SEO

8. WordPress is currently recognized as the most popular and talked-about CMS solution with more and more people willing to migrate their current websites to it. Have you ever faced the problem of data migration across CMSs? Do you personally have the experience of website migration?

I think anyone that’s ever built a website has faced the issue of data migration. I’ve moved blogs from blogger to WordPress and (ugh) vice versa, I’ve also moved from Drupal to WP. I’ve also experienced total data loss and many wasted hours.

It’s all possible, it just requires patience and a plan. Here are a few hard learned tips:

  1. Create a backup and then TEST it.

  2. Have a plan. Write a step-by-step list of all the things you need to do in order to complete the migration. Including when and how to change your DNS settings and testing.

  3. Don’t migrate under pressure. Make sure you set client expectations. If you rush, you will make mistakes.

  4. Consider paying for it. There are some awesome migration tools and services out there, often they come with a price tag. Consider paying for one if it’s a critical move or your time and sanity is worth more than $50/hr.

If you’re doing a migration to WordPress or between WP sites, I personally have used and recommend the teams at Maintainn and WP Site Care.

9. Do you think that keeping the same design is an important part of migration from one platform to another? How do you treat an automated way of migration?

We don’t automate migration between platforms and WordPress. When moving from a different platform to WordPress, we typically have to build a new template and you can’t automate that. As far design goes, I think that’s a client-side choice.

Usually, when we’re migrating a client to WordPress, we present a wealth of new potential functionality that will be available. That usually prompts the client to make some changes before migration.

However, we recently completed a rip and replace from Cold Fusion to WordPress where the client wanted all of their web properties to look and function exactly the same. They just wanted the ease of managing a WordPress site network.

10. We are coming towards the end of our interview. Any personalities or resources out there for WordPress lovers to follow? What are your words of wisdom for those willing to start their careers with WordPress but something keeps them off the “Go” button?

There are so many great people in our community, here are a few I follow almost daily:

This is just a small sample of the awesome that’s out there. I would encourage your readers to find a few voices in the crowd they can relate to and start paying attention. Then start blogging on their own!

As for a quote to help get people onto the GO button, there are many out there that all have the right sentiment, here’s one of my favourites:

“I look at you and I see two men: the man you are, and the man you ought to be. Someday those two will meet. Should make for a hell of a football player.”

– Coach Jimmy McGinty speaking to Shane Falco in The Replacements

Many thanks to Ben for taking the time to share his experiences and thoughts with us. Keep reading our ongoing Experts Interview Series to catch the discussions with many other knowledgeable people in the WordPress industry.

P.S. Left with a strong desire to switch to WordPress? Consider CMS2CMS automated migration service to perform the conversion as easy and convenient as possible. Find more detailed information here and try your Demo Migration with no delay.

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Valentyna Tysiachna

Music/English/Life lover|Ukrainian student|MagneticOne Internet-marketer|
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