I just got back from WordCamp US where I spoke about the seemingly little things that I think contributed to our growing a vibrant, active WordPress community in Atlanta.
Remember when you didn’t know anyone else doing WordPress?
I sure do!
Like most of you who work with WordPress now, I didn’t start out doing WordPress.
I am actually a Clinical Psychologist and I practiced for years and then started a Medical Records software company, which I sold after ten years.
And how did I get off my island to where I am today, where I just had the privilege of speaking at e biggest WordCamp ever with over 2,000 people
At that point in 2000, I knew I didn’t want to go back to doing psychotherapy, so, I burned my ships letting my psychology license go, which was a huge risk since I had no idea what was next for me.
As a hobby, I loved building and renovating property. A few years earlier, I bought an old warehouse to build out a bigger office for the business and a loft for my family to live in. And when I sold, I finished that building and moved on to do some other development projects.
By 2005-6 I saw the overbuilding and crazy mortgages that couldn’t last and I knew I had to hustle to sell the properties I had on hand or I could get stuck with them.
So what does any good marketer do? I Googled my business name. But to my surprise, what came up number one was my dog’s blog on Dogster!
I asked everyone I knew to tell me why that happened. When my business website that I had created myself with Front Page was number 40 on the fourth page of search results where no one would ever go.
That was the day when a light bulb went on for me. I found out that Dogster, was a content management website and its fresh organized content made it come up better in search results.
At that point, I knew then that this was a game changer. Not just to help me but I knew that . . . everyone was going to want this type of website!
But at that point I knew I wanted a content management website and thankfully, I chose WordPress as the platform that I would use to redo my site. Now WordPress powers over 25 % of all websites on the Internet but at the time, it was just an up and comer. I dove into reading everything I could get my hands about WordPress and set about learning to use it.
Fast-forward another couple of years to 2008, when the economy did hit the fan. I had sold most of my properties and I was pretty much out of a job again so I hung out every morning in in my friend Joe’s coffee shop.
I would find myself talking to friends and family about their businesses, and their marketing and of course the topic of websites would come up. I would give them my free advice, and since I talk loud, people would over hear me, get interested and ask me for my card. “I don’t have a card”, I’d say. I don’t have a business.
So finally, I said yes and took on a real client or two. I loved doing this perfect combo of psychology, technology and design.
I think I made three dollars and hour that first year and I had quite a learning curve to step up my WordPress chops to do this commercially
But the weird thing was I didn’t know anyone in Atlanta doing WordPress sites.
And it began to feel like I had been shipwrecked on a deserted island. Where were my people?
It was a bit of a process that involved changing my mindset, using resources that I and others had, and making adjustments that I want to share with you to help your community grow. This is a story with 10 important takeaways to help you invent or reinvent your WordPress community.
What happened was that someone told me about the Meetup website and I looked and actually found signs of life out there with a WordPress Meetup held once a month in a coffeeshop across town. Jackpot!
There were ten people signed up. I was so excited and couldn’t wait to go meet people and learn from them.
I got out in rush hour traffic, found the location, went into the coffee shop and it wasn’t at all what I hoped it would be.
It was loud, really loud. There was nowhere for everyone to sit and It was terribly frustrating to have all this WordPress talent at my fingertips and we couldn’t have a conversation much less a presentation.
I went back the next month. Same thing. So the next time the Meetup invitation came through I ignored it feeling very disappointed that it wasn’t what I wanted and needed.
I groused about it for several months and then another light bulb went on that maybe I could help.
After all, I have a big loft where we could have the meetings there and actually have a presentation and meet each other and learn from each other and hallelujah.
I called Jack Kennard who had started the Meetup and offered to help.
He said YES and I hosted a meetup at my place every month for over five years, and last year, we found new spaces and I turned over the Intown Meetup to new leaders. This Meetup now has 2,225 members and there are now people leading 3-4 other Meetups each month.
After leading the Meetup for a year, Russell Fair and I said yes to organizing the Atlanta WordCamp which I’ve been doing for the past was past four years. Just recently I have turned over the lead to others on our committee. Because of our strong community and fantastic committee, last year, WordCamp Atlanta sold out 580 tickets in three hours!
As I thought about how all of this happened, I realized that there were some important tips that I wanted to be sure to pass on to our new leaders. These simple tips have been important in our developing into such a tight but welcoming community.
The tips start by saying yes. Jack said yes and I said yes and I am so glad I took the risk and asked him if I could help.
- Need Leadership. Offer to help. Someone has to be the bottom line but the only way for you to grow a community is to get others involved with you. And, someone has to be in charge.
I had a place that we could hold fifty people and have a presentation. So I hosted the Atlanta WordPress Meetup group at my place every month for over five years. Now, we have found some other fantastic meeting spaces.
2. Find a space that makes it easy to have a good discussion/presentation.
Some people can attend during the day and some only after work. Some on weekends and some never on weekends. Hopefully more Meetups can spring up to meet everyone’s needs. So schedule yours and publicize it, invite people.
3. There is no perfect time to schedule a Meetup. Just do it.
At our first meeting we kind of screwed up and misjudged the WordPress knowledge level of our attendees. We opened up the organizational meeting by asking what people wanted to know but instead of having them tell us, we asked questions, such as “Who wants to learn to develop themes? Who wants to learn to know how to use custom post-types? Who wants to build plugins?” Almost everyone raised hands. Wow, we thought. This group is ready to rock and roll.
We then scheduled a presentation and posted it on our Meetup site.
But when the presentation delved into a bit of code, we saw people’s eyes dilate with fear. We realized our big mistake. When we asking if they wanted to learn this and that, they had no idea what we were talking about. Sure they wanted to learn about theming and building plugins and they were very enthusiastic but they were no where near that level of ability yet.
We reevaluated and began offering topics, and levels of instruction, that we clearly identified as suitable for beginners or for intermediate and above.
Another way we adapted to different levels is that on occasion, we’d schedule a presentation in two parts. The first 40 minutes would be the basics of the topic. We’d then take a break and during the second half we’d cover the more advanced material. Beginners could slip out if the second half was too much for them. Over estimating the knowledge and skill level of our attendees led to Tip 4.
4. Describe your presentations in enough detail to make it clear what the topic is and what the skill level of the talk ie. beginner, users, developers. Post the meetings well enough in advance to attract people.
Since it was so important to find out what our attendees wanted to learn it helped us know who was coming to the meetings and what they needed. How did we make sure this would happen? The next few tips are simple but important.
5. Greet people at the door.
Find out who people are, why they came and what they need. Then help them find it. This is important for encouraging people come back. Hook them up with each other to build connections. And encouraging people to speak. It all starts with the initial meeting. Make this a priority.
Remembering each other’s names goes a long way to have people come back. We even used real reusable tags on lanyards so that people felt like they belonged. I have the memory of a gnat so I got name tags for everyone so I could learn everyone’s name.
6. Use name tags, so you and everyone else can remember people’s names.
People are coming to Meetups for more than just the topic. Networking is awkward for most people even though most of us want to have a connection.
So set aside some time to network before the presentation. Knowing that everyone would be traveling in rush hour traffic for an hour or so, after work, we took donations and had pizza and drinks and let people unwind and network and unwind for the first 20 minutes or so and this was really important to developing relationships in our community.
7. Have networking time before, with refreshments.
At the beginning of the presentation take a few minutes and do introductions. If your meeting is large at least introduce the organizers and the new people and find out why they are there. Start connections between people.
8. Make time for Introductions.
We also told people that after the presentation if they had burning issues they could hang around and ask one of the experts and we would point out who would be on hand to help.
9. After the presentation, leave time for people to mingle and get their burning questions answered.
Have a corner where beginners can talk to someone. Try and hook people up who have a question with someone that has the experience to answer it and can meet with them for a bit after the presentation.
Finally, and most important is Tip 10.
10. Know you will have lots of beginners. Remember when you were one and Take care of your beginners.
I can’t describe the multitude of riches I have received from my involvement in the WordPress Community. Today, I run a small WordPress agency with a great team that included my 27-year-old son who has worked with me now for almost five years. I have a widely read newsletter that continues to work to grow my own business. We do work for amazing companies.
Every time, I said yes to this community, I got back more than I could ever imagine.
I encourage each of you to get involved in your city and help in whatever way you can to make your community great.
Offer to Help – Say Yes you’ll be glad you did.