Joe Casabona: Hey, everybody. And welcome to another episode of the WordPress Year in Review podcast. Today, we’re going to be talking about something I covered in the book, and that is the changing landscape of just the WordPress businesses. I think that it’s an important topic to cover and look at, as well as an interesting one. Because I know a lot of kinds of brick-and-mortar stores, people that relied on foot traffic definitely suffered a lot. But I was curious to look at how people in the digital space that did not require foot traffic, fared. And I was also curious to see maybe if people in the digital space could help those who required foot traffic. So we touched on this a little bit in the WooCommerce episode, the last episode. But you know, a lot of people made the push online and WooCommerce developers as Bob and Patrick pointed out a lot of WooCommerce developers had their hands full helping people get online. There was huge, huge growth in the e-commerce space. The pandemic accelerated e-commerce growth between four and six years by some estimates, according to Patrick. And so I’m curious to look at what other landscapes changed. So that’s what we’re going to talk about today.
First, I do want to thank the series sponsors today. They are GoDaddy Pro and Nexcess. You’ll be hearing about them later. I also want to thank everybody who pledged to the CrowdFunding campaign. This project would not happen without you. As we come to the end of this podcast series, the videos are done, and the final draft of the ebook is being complete. It’s really fun to see all of this come together. I think if I’m going to do this again at the end of this year, I will probably start earlier to make sure that we have something come out maybe mid-January. So as I record this, it’s the end of January. But anyway, thank you to everybody who pledged. I appreciate your support and your patience.
Okay. So let’s get in with it. Let’s get into it. The global pandemic accelerated a lot of trends and caused a lot of landscapes to change in 2020. In-person events barely existed. They were non-existent from March. And many people worked from home, spending and budgets were scrutinized. Processes changed. I know that I was personally affected in a lot of ways after traveling super regularly. I think if I averaged it out, it would have been monthly. I didn’t travel at all in 2020. It looks like I’m probably not going to travel very much, if at all in 2021. My first event was scheduled for the same week, the same week the lockdown started. So, you know, after it was announced that lockdowns would start in many states that second weekend in March, I was supposed to go to WordCamp Lancaster, and they canceled that event. I was supposed to go to Disney World at the end of that month. That didn’t happen. Two very different things, but still, nobody traveled. Right. Or very few people traveled.
With my wife being a nurse, I found I had dramatically less time during the pandemic because I watched my daughter, and now I watch both of my kids when she goes to work. And with much of my income coming from advertisers, I needed to brace for the fact that I might not see as much money coming in from that stream. Now, as it turned out, some of that was true. But a lot of companies had event budgets and they weren’t spending that money and they were looking for other avenues and podcasting. It turns out and this project turned out to be an avenue for that. But as I reflect, you know, I think that these are three big ways the WordPress business landscape changed in general with traveling, working from home being strapped for time and being budget-conscious.
So, first, let’s look at the significant reduction in travel. The significant reduction in travel to other ways to get together. Naturally, with most of the in-person events in 2020 being canceled, very little travel took place. For me, it meant fewer opportunities to network or at least network in the way that I normally do.
for event sponsors, they had to get creative with resources earmarked for in-person events. and when I reached out to the community for comments, Mike Demo responded. So I’m gonna, you know, I appreciate him calling in, you know. I’ll drop his audio here. Here’s what Mike had to say.
Mike Demo: 2020 spend has been a really interesting year for me. I used to travel about 150 days a year going to things like WordCamp, hosting conferences, and really being fortunate to interact with the community full time. Having to shift the human connection digitally hasn’t been easy. But it’s also opened up the ability to expand out just from the areas that I normally would attend. We, in the WordPress circuit kind of, have the habit of doing the same locations again and again. And the pandemic has allowed me to interact with people beyond just Europe and North America, which is where I normally physically visit to other countries and other disciplines. It’s also given me the ability to, you know, speak and be active in other industry conferences where I can learn to see how they are interacting with their community and grow.
Joe Casabona: Thanks Mike, for calling in and offering that fantastic feedback. Yeah. Mike, I mean, my travel is way more than I do. And so he had to shift, and I thought that that was really interesting kind of what he had to say about that.
Now, there are also companies like say, GoWP who have pivoted by hosting more webinars and virtual happy hours every Friday for people in their Niche Agency Owners Facebook Group. And this has been a really fantastic way for me personally, to connect with new people and see what others in the WordPress space are doing. I actually, as I record this, I’m just coming off of one where it’s great to see people on a weekly basis. I try to attend whenever my wife’s not working. Though my son did make an appearance in one where I was asked to speak and my wife was working. He napped for a little bit, but he joined and it was a lot of fun. I’m very appreciative to everybody who was understanding and happy to see my boy who was enamored by the microphone. In any case, those events have been something for me to look forward to a really great way to connect friends I normally see, as well as people I don’t know, or did not know before this at least.
So for my part, I started doing more webinars and I offered free 15 minute calls for people who want to start a podcast. Agency owners like Maddie Osman of the BlogDmith did something similar offering free consulting on SEO. And of course, there was a dramatic increase in virtual events and online summits. I participated in several, including Page Builders Summit, and WordFest, and they have genuinely seemed to be successful. As I record this actually, a WordFest was last week and there was very, very high praise for that. So, kudos to the organizing teams there. And I suspect that we’ll see even more in 2021.
According to Brian Richards, the organizer of WordSesh and WooSesh, he said in a text chat to me, “Starting in February 2020, physical events around the world either made the leap to virtual or canceled altogether. This led to a revelation for many virtual events are not suitable for physical gatherings. They are something else entirely. Looking ahead to 2021, I expect we will see numerous events not only continue along the virtual path but also forge a few new paths with how they deliver content.” Instead of trying to replicate physical event experiences within a digital space, Brian says these events should be designed to offer opportunities and experiences we cannot have in a physical event. Brian is personally looking forward to producing and joining events that provide more interactive opportunities and guided instruction or conversation rather than one-way presentations. And interactive opportunities sound fantastic.
Moving into 2021, (I’m no longer quoting Brian here. These are my own thoughts) Now, moving into 2021, we can expect more digital content conferences and pitching as people begin to figure out the best way to network without in-person events or meetings. So I am very excited to see what’s going to happen in the digital event space and the event space in general moving into 2021.
Now, we’re going to talk about a change in business processes in just a minute. But first, I want to give you a word from our sponsors.
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And thanks to GoDaddy Pro for their support of this podcast and the entire WordPress Year in Review project.
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All right. So now let’s look at a change in business processes. Something else that many businesses found or focused on was a change in processes. Like I said, at the beginning of this episode, the pandemic accelerated many things that were already in motion. First, small businesses and agencies could have meant facing down a bad business model. Here are several thoughts from Paul Lacey who took on some government assistance and made a hire to help him improve his business process.
Paul Lacey: Hey, Joe. This is Paul Lacey. Thank you for doing this cool project. It’s really cool and, really glad to be able to sponsor it, and really looking forward to seeing what you produce. So yeah. I wanted to record you an audio comment and, (Inaudible 16:10.32] on work and business. How has your WordPress work business changed in 2020 due to the global pandemic?
Well, yeah. So, it was definitely been an immensely challenging year for work in business. I wouldn’t say that we’ve suffered in sales so much. But I think what happened with us is that the pandemic kind of exposed my business. And my approach to work was kind of like a sinking submarine slowly going deeper and deeper and deeper. And the pandemic as with many things with technology and all sorts of things, it’s brought forward accelerated processes. And I think it allows me to see that really, if I carry it on, probably within a year, I could be in serious business trouble and be looking at, you know, shutting the whole thing down. And that was without the pandemic. Pandemic kind of put pressure on, forced us to look deeper at things, forced me to look deeper at things and ask some really deep and difficult questions of myself and my own approach. And I think it’s really been kinds of almost like a burst of, you know, high pressured air into the ballast tanks of a submarine and just a kick up the butt. You could also say to my business, I saw the direction it was going and looked at, you know, how do I fix this? And really I needed some help. I needed some additional human resources, some strategic resources. And thanks to the pandemic. There were loans and funding available here in the UK. And so we actually took some, a big loan from the banks backed by the government to make sure that we survive through the pandemic and survive in the coming year. Because I really felt that without that direction it was going, even though the brand was growing, I saw that there were some deep-set problems. And some of that was my exhaustion a lot of the time, and just, you know, mental beat down on myself. And I needed some
help. But this time, not some help just in hiring developers or designers, we’ve shown them before, but hiring some strategic and business development and project management help. So we took on a line, me and my business partner, and we hired someone who has been an absolute breath of fresh air and has put in all sorts of processes.
And all I can say is that as a result of that, we are in a much better situation to survive. With or without the pandemic, having its effect, who knows what will happen in 2021. All in those that, thanks to the pandemic putting immense pressure on us, where we are in a better situation as a business. However, who knows what the environment will be like to work within. We can only do our best. And that’s what we’re going to do.
In terms of usage. So WordPress usage hasn’t changed whatsoever. I’m just constantly in WordPress all the time, whether it’s my hobbies or my work. The community, I think personally has suffered immensely from the Pandemic. You know, I’m lucky, and you’ll probably be lucky, and a few other people who are lucky do things like podcasts and do things like panels. So I do a weekly panel where I’m co-host with Nathan Wrigley on this weekend WordPress, which was previously called WP Bill’s Weekly News, which is a live panel that we stream onto Facebook and YouTube. And then it gets repurposed into an audio podcast after that. And every week, I get to hang out with Nathan and usually two other guests. Sometimes our returning guests, sometimes there are people that I’ve never met before. And that is the nearest that I’ve got to engaging with real-life people in the community.
As for anyone who doesn’t do that, I really feel that they’re missing out big time and will be struggling. I’ve only got a few seconds left. So honestly, that podcast has been a lifesaver. It’s really kept me connected. But every single podcast, I miss the general inhuman connections. That’s it. Good luck with the project, Joe. Thank you for everything. Take care.
Joe Casabona: Thanks so much to Paul for those thoughts, that thoughtful response. And what I really want to call out here is that he says kind of as a result of how they reacted to the pandemic, they’re in a much better situation to survive. So the pandemic putting immense pressure on them, put them in a better situation. And I think that’s really great. Yeah. I think it’s happened a lot. Again, drawing on my own experience, I took a hard look at my expenses, and I cut anything I didn’t need. And then I used those recovered expenses to make a few key hires including a video editor and a virtual assistant.
When I spoke to Brad Morrison, Founder of GoWP on my own podcast, back in May, we talked about what to focus on interest session. And he mentioned the importance of looking at cash flow, taking care of your customers, and embracing adversity to make you and your business stronger. And I will link to that episode in the show notes here over at [wpreview.io]. But I think he makes a lot of good points in that episode about pivoting during a pandemic and an economic downturn. He offers a lot of really good advice. So, I think that that’s really important.
And again, moving into 2021, you know, we’re not necessarily out of the woods yet. We maybe have a better idea, and we’ve got a lot of good news with the vaccine, but I hope that people continue to look at their business processes to see kind of what they should and should not be doing.
And the last thing I want to touch on here is that more people are working remotely. Now, I’ve worked from home for the better part of my entire professional career. And I don’t think I would be able to talk about the changes in the business landscape without at least mentioning remote work. While many companies in the WordPress space were already mostly or fully remote, the rest of the world got to take a peek into what it’s like to always work from home. And there are significant benefits to this. Hiring from anywhere in the world for example. Not having to pay those high rent costs, and allowing for a more flexible schedule. We even saw some stunning photos of a reduction in smog due to less commuting. And really, again, I will link to that in the show notes, really stunning stuff like more beautiful views of skylines and things like that. However, there are some drawbacks. Employee productivity was down for a lot of the pandemic because many can’t get into the same kind of workflow. It turns out there was an increase in shorter meetings because you can’t drop by a coworker’s office or meet them at the proverbial water cooler. I was actually shocked because my friend, Dave, who works for a big corporation, when they moved to a remote, I said, “I bet you have a lot more time on your hands.” Right. Cause people aren’t constantly interrupting you. And he said, “My day is basically all 15-minute meetings. I couldn’t, I was floored. I couldn’t believe it.” And then there’s the physical health of people who aren’t doing things ergonomically that’s a little bit worrisome. So aside from the interruption factor, or the external environment factor, right? It’s hard to focus when you have kids running around upstairs for example. There are people who aren’t working in a place that’s fit for work. I spent some time hunched over my laptop at my parents’ house in December and it was awful. And then I realized that people were working like that for eight months. I have a standing desk. I have a good chair that I sit in all day and this is what people have at their office. But when they have to have a makeshift office, and maybe they’re just working at their kitchen table or their dining room table, that’s not good for your body. That’s all to say that while many think remote work is great, some would like to be back in the office. I believe ultimately many companies will arrive at some sort of hybrid model, allowing employees to work remotely for some portion of the week and requiring some office time.
And along with that, along with working remotely, there are also some bigger questions that need to be answered around communication policies and boundaries. It was already hard to leave work at work. But if you’re not used to home and work being in the same place, it gets even harder. I offered some tips on my blog back in May. Again, I am fortunate enough to have a separate office space in my house so that when I leave my office, I’m effectively leaving work. And I’m self-employed. I get to make my policies and I strongly encourage my wife and my kids to enforce those policies. But ultimately, if you don’t work for yourself, it’ll be up to managers to define and enforce healthy work habits. I tweeted recently that I wasn’t sure I liked the notify anyway feature in Slack when a team member has notifications turned off. I got pushed back on that, that it’s helpful when something is important. And indeed that might be the case. The only problem is that the sender is deciding what’s important and not the recipient. Ultimately there’ll be some growing pains, but the end result will be a good one for people and for the environment. As for those of us who have worked from home for a long time, let’s help our new compatriots with the transition.
So those are the big high-level changes I wanted to cover as far as what changed in the WordPress space? Sure. In the greater business space, maybe, about how the WordPress community specifically pivoted with less travel with their business processes and with working remotely, which is something a lot of WordPress companies have experience with.
So that’s it for this episode. For all the show notes, you can head over to [wpreview.io].
Thanks so much for calling. Thanks to GoDaddy Pro and Nexcess for sponsoring this episode in this whole series. Thanks to everybody who supported this project via the CrowdFunding campaign. I really appreciate it.
And, until next time. Get out there and build something.