Macbook laptop sitting on a brown table with WordPress dashboard open next to a cup of coffee, with the title "Yes, You Want Your Business Site on WordPress" across the lower center of the photo

Yes, You Want Your Business Site on WordPress

WordPress is powering more than a quarter of the web, but many businesses have shied away from taking the leap. Overhauling an entire site to move to a new content management system (CMS) can be intimidating. Businesses have a wide variety of concerns that prevent them from making such a big technology shift–even if the shift would be beneficial in the long-term. There are also a wide variety of myths surrounding what WordPress does and how it can benefit a business (or, rather, how it won’t).

I’m here to give you a few reasons that you want your business site on WordPress:

WordPress isn’t just for blogging

Although those of us in the WordPress industry already know this to be true, there are a lot of non-WordPress folk who still believe WP is just for blogging. Many of them aren’t even clear of what WordPress is.

WordPress provides all kinds of opportunities for your entire site, and it’s not just a place to host thoughts scribbled in a blog. Whether you want a member site, an e-commerce store, or a sleek, beautiful design to represent your company, WordPress can do all of that–and more. Since WordPress is endlessly advancing and changing, the bounds of what it can do are determined by the skill and creativity of the person building on it.

The learning curve is a little steep, but it’s worth it

Although WordPress boasts a five minute install, the average person is going to spend a bit longer setting it up. For someone who doesn’t have the technical savvy, getting a WordPress site set up the way that they want can be a challenge.

Don’t let that stop you from taking it on!

One of the best parts about WordPress is that it’s open source software, which means the source code is available to the public for study, alteration, and distribution. Most of the folks in WordPress are deeply committed to advancing open source software and giving back to the public by making it better and faster. The best and brightest professionals are giving their time to make a free software the absolute best it can be–which benefits all of us.

The work developers do requires expertise and skill, and when you hire them to do the work for your business, you pay for their extensive time and effort. In addition to that, they provide a public service by making WordPress, a free tool, widely beneficial and accessible to everyone. You may hire one developer, but when you work with WordPress, you benefit from the community work of countless brilliant minds.

If you stop and think a moment about all the people who generously give their time and knowledge, often without compensation, to create one of the strongest platforms available, you’ll realize it’s a community worth joining.

Since WordPress enthusiasts, professionals and amateurs alike, are so dedicated to enhancing the software and innovating with the tools provided, there are a ton of resources available for learning how to do what you want to your site. Sites like WPBeginner and WP101 aim to educate people on the fundamentals of WordPress, and if you do some Googling, you’ll easily find a wealth of answers to almost any question you have.

If you’re still worried about that learning curve, many WordPress developers and designers offer WordPress education as a part of their services, so the day to day dealings can be handled by you or your staff without a struggle.

WordPress makes content management easy

Yes, WordPress is a content management system, but that doesn’t just refer to blogging. “Content” describes nearly everything on your site–videos, photos, and text.

As a CMS, WordPress is the absolute best. Once you learn the basic terminology and know where things are in the dashboard, updating your site is easy peasy.

Even if you have a staff of Luddites, teaching them how to handle basic content management in WordPress is super simple! This means your staff will be empowered to make those changes and can handle the content on your site as a part of their duties. This means less oversight from you, which gives you time to focus on running your business. Empowering your staff to use your technology allows you to delegate responsibly and allocate your time to where you need it most.

Integrating with WordPress opens up your audience

One of the ways we’ve helped our clients is by building them their own WordPress plugin. This is particularly helpful for companies that offer a digital product or service and have a target audience that is building out their own business sites.

We have an example of this from our own experience:

Quantcast Corporation is a technology company that provides real-time measurement and analysis of advertising and audience engagement. Quantcast hired us to create a WordPress plugin that puts a JavaScript snippet in the header of their users’ sites. This extended their service out to the greater WordPress community and provided a huge benefit to their existing users. Quantcast users with WordPress websites can install the Audience Analytics plugin. Then, their Quantcast account is linked directly to their WordPress site and they can access their site analytics through WordPress super easily.

WordPress can scale–which means it can grow with your business

To make it do so successfully, though, you’ll definitely need the assistance of a professional. This part gets a little technically advanced, but Smashing Magazine took a look at what different developers have done to set up high traffic sites for success. WordPress isn’t the only key component in the fight to keep your site performant, but it’s not going to be what holds you back.

Getting on WordPress means being in good company

There are tons of businesses and major publications that are on WordPress, including:

  • WorldPay
  • Amazon
  • Disney
  • Politico
  • The NBA
  • Discovery Communications
  • USA Today
  • Microsoft Office Blogs
  • FiveThirtyEight
  • Airbnb

And many, many more. Big names take their technology seriously, and they’ve chosen WordPress to best serve their massive audiences.

So what are you waiting for?

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Crucial Questions You Need to Ask Before Getting a Code Audit

Code audits are one of the main things Zao offers to our clients. Many of our clients are strategically looking at how they can expand their businesses, and a crucial aspect of that is making sure their technology is not hindering their growth.

There’s a lot of muddled information about what a code audit should look like, and many clients start their search for a code audit without any idea of what to expect, what questions to ask, or what they should be looking for when vetting developers to do the job.

Are you looking for a code audit? Here’s what you need to know and ask before you sign that check:

Code Audit Questions Clients Need to Ask

— What is the final deliverable I can expect from this audit?

Depending on your developer, the final deliverable can range from a simple confirmation that everything is working as it should to an in-depth delivery document that details what is working, what isn’t, and appropriate recommendations for improvement.

Nowadays, we all research what we’re spending our money on before we pay up. Whether that research is looking at Yelp reviews of local restaurants or comparing the best and the worst Amazon reviews on new products, we want to make sure we’re getting the best bang for our buck. So often, though, clients don’t ask what they can expect to receive when it comes to code audits.

Maybe you just want a developer to look things over and confirm if everything is solid. That’s great! If you find a developer that will simply send over an email with a 👍🏼 and “Everything’s cool,” then they’re a good choice for you!

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If you’re looking for a more intensive analysis of your current code, you’ll want to find a developer who provides that. Since there’s no industry standard on what deliverable comes with a code audit, you’ll need to investigate to find the developer that is providing what you want.

Here at Zao, our code audits come with an exhaustive document that assesses our clients’ current technology with a specific eye on their needs and challenges, and includes recommendations that pragmatically account for budget, time, and priority.

We also provide a timeline that, should the client choose to work with us on implementing those recommendations, gives a realistic perspective on how long it will take for those technical goals to be accomplished. Lastly, we detail in each recommendation how and why this change adds value to our clients’ businesses.

— What kind of code do you audit?

Investigating the details of what to expect from your code audit is vital because some developers only offer specialized code audits. Some developers exclusively audit plugins, themes, or apps, whereas others are focused on auditing detailed eCommerce integrations or your entire site.

If you know you’re looking for a specific kind of code audit, finding a developer who specializes and focuses on that kind of development is key. If you’re looking for a full site audit, but the developer you’ve contracted with focuses specifically on auditing Genesis themes, you may not get the most effective and comprehensive audit that you need.

— Can you provide more details on code audits you’ve done? Do you have a sample I can look at?

When you find out more about the scope of a developer’s experience and take a look at a code audit sample, you’ll get a better understanding what the end deliverable will be–even beyond the initial response. You’ll get a better idea of how your developer tackles code audits and communicates the end result.

This information is crucial, as it helps you understand what to expect of your developer, and can help you find a developer who communicates in a way that works best for you.

— What kinds of clients have you worked with in the past?

Most developers have worked with companies that span a broad range of industries, and can tackle projects in unfamiliar industries like a champ. However, knowing if their experience includes working with companies in your particular niche helps you know whether or not you’ll need to explain specific industry nuances to them.

Your technology needs to meet your business’ needs, and those can vary slightly from industry to industry. Knowing your developer’s history with your industry can help you determine what kind of crucial information you need to communicate–or whether your developer is already in a position to take on those challenges without extra explanation.

Red Flags

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In an initial introduction, everyone is on their best behavior.

Job interviews are like dating. As Chris Rock says, “When you meet somebody for the first time, you’re not meeting them, you’re meeting their representative.” You need to know what red flags to look for when seeking out a developer–and how to look past the friendly representative to make sure it’s going to be a good fit.

— A dev who doesn’t ask questions

If you’re talking with a developer about a code audit (and potentially more work beyond that) and they don’t ask detailed questions about what you’re looking for, what your current technology is, what kind of pain-points you’ve experienced, and more, you have a problem.

You want a developer who is invested in your company’s success, in solving your technical problems, and bringing value to your business. A developer who doesn’t ask questions isn’t going to know what you need, nor have the full understanding required to adequately assess what is going on with your site.

That’s one of the reasons that we ask detailed questions and make sure we know exactly where our clients are coming from. We want to make sure that we have specific notes on what to look for and what they’re trying to accomplish with their technology. Even if our clients don’t have the technical savvy to articulate what they need done, by knowing their goals, their struggles, and their technical history, we can help by capitalizing on our technical knowledge to come up with creative solutions.

— A dev who can’t tell you in concrete, clear terms what you’re going to get

There’s a reason asking about the deliverable is so important. Code audits, without planning, can beget intangible results. Unlike design, there’s no Photoshop mockup, or unlike copywriting, there’s no first draft. If a developer isn’t willing to say, “Here is the end result you can expect from me,” it’s a huge red flag.

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Your developer needs to be able to set your expectations accordingly. You need to know what you are paying for at the end of this–and a developer who cannot tell you what you are getting for your money is not one you should hire.


We know vetting developers who, as far as you may be concerned, basically work magic on the internet, can be stressful. It doesn’t have to be, though. Now that you’re armed with these questions and red flags to look out for, you can assess which developer is going to be able to provide the code audit you need.

Have any other questions about code audits that we haven’t covered? Drop ‘em in the comments; we’re here to help!

Our Audience

Blogging is sort of amazing to me. Don’t get me wrong – I think I’m objectively terrible at it. But I still think it’s incredible that we can put words onto a screen, press Publish – and then BAM! It’s out there, for the world to see.

Never before in the history of the world have so many said so little with so many words. Alas.

As our team grows, so grows the content we produce. Because I value clarity above almost anything else; I’d like to clearly define who we consider our audience to be. I haven’t really seen too many company blogs do this – the more views, the better! I don’t care loads about how many pageviews we’re getting – I just want to be helping the right people. Without knowing who we’re writing to, we do ourselves a disservice, and we do you a disservice.  You might not find yourself counted among our audience! (that would make us sad, fwiw. do something to become our audience, because I really like you.)

Without further adieu, three segments of our audience that we’re always considering:

Ourselves

That is, our future selves. Often times, we write something that is important at a leadership or business development level, or perhaps something that is inherently technical and geeky. We may publish this specifically because we know, in six months or so, we’re going to be Googling for that again. We’ll be delighted to find that our past self answered our query! In helping ourselves, scratching our own itches – we can be sure that we’ll be helping someone else in the process.

But sometimes, we also write to our past selves. Because, unlike probably most of you (wink wink), we tend to learn some lessons the hard way. When that’s the case, we write posts to give our past selves the wisdom to bypass those hurdles, and we hope that we can maybe help someone else who hasn’t yet stumbled over them.

Our Potential Clients

We have loads of clients, past and prospective, who have commented on the content (albeit limited) on our blog. We attract clients that we love because they get to know us, what we value, how we work, our personalities; all from our blog! I’ve found few truer things than this: you will work with people you like. We are almost never the cheapest or the quickest option for our clients – but they keep working with us because they like working with us. And often times, they know they’ll like us before they ever meet us – because of the content we produce.

Our Friends™

Some people like to call them clients, competitors, other agencies, other businesses, leaders, entrepreneurs etc. We just call them friends. Anytime we think we have anything that might be remotely helpful to other businesses, other developers, other product producers, or our current clients – we’ll publish it. Even if that means that we lose our own competitive “edge”. Sometimes this looks like systems and processes. Sometimes it looks like code.  Maybe it’s a book recommendation or a conference suggestion.  Maybe it’s pitching one of our friend’s products or courses! Anytime we can shine a light on something we think is helpful, we’ll do it.

Execution is Everything

Every Thursday, our team connects for an hour in the morning in a Google Hangout. It’s the only time in the week where we’re all connecting, face to face, in a meaningful way. The purpose of these check-ins used to be primarily tactical. We’d attempt to go through our team, each member outlining what they were working on, if they had any blockers, etc. Fairly standard stuff.

There was one problem, though. None of us really enjoyed these meetings. In my estimation, the communication that occurred during these calls could be handled much more effectively via Slack, one-on-ones, or some other method.  I was frustrated that the valuable face-to-face time we had was being squandered.  So we changed things up.  Instead of focusing on primarily tactical and task-related issues – now we focus weekly on strategy.  That’s right – our entire team focuses on business strategy, every week. We make it the responsibility of everyone on our team to be thinking about why we do what we do.

I’ll likely write separately about why this is so wonderful – but we’re still realizing all the benefits from switching to this focus for our check-ins.  So far – having everyone focused on why instead of what has been wonderful for so many reasons. It’s incredibly empowering.

As our team’s leader, it’s my job to make sure we start every week with a strategic question for the team to be pondering for our check-in on Thursday.  Recently, the question was this:

What do you see as Zao’s single primary strength, and what do you see as our single primary weakness?

This was one of my favorite questions – because I knew it would force us to face some hard truths!  I’m a firm believer in the hard way being the best way.  Creating a space for our team to be totally honest and bring to the surface the hard truths about our company is not painless – but it’s worth it! From this particular check-in, I was able to realize a common thread that tied everyone’s feedback together.  A common strength we all recognized: We’re really good at what we do. We’re able to tackle really, really complex projects that the vast majority of agencies our size, in our space, are not capable of working on successfully.  That’s the good news!

The bad news? As much as I believe that execution is everything – we all recognized our weakness in different areas of our company on that very thing.  We each found a specific weakness that centered on our ability to execute. That doesn’t necessarily mean we were abject failures in each of these regards – it simply meant that though we might be executing at a level that was getting us by – it wasn’t good enough to get us where we want to be.

To me – this was a revelation.  Recognizing that, as a leader, I had allowed us to operate in such a way that “good enough” was acceptable; that “getting by” was enough – this was a gut punch for me! In every area – internal communication, project management, documentation, systems and processes, client follow-through – we found that we had significant room for improvement. Naming this reality and accepting it – though difficult – has been one of the most freeing moments I’ve had as a business owner in recent memory.

 To be clear is to be kind

To be kind is to be clear, and to be clear is to be kind. This is one my favorite business axioms. Often times, we can intend to communicate something – but by the time we’ve added all of the sugar-coating and politeness that we often add – we’ve lost any semblance of clarity. The kindest thing that our team could do for our company was to come to a place of clarity on our strengths and weaknesses.  The outcome of this one hour meeting has been a level of accountability, transparency and clarity on our collective strengths and weaknesses that did not exist before. Because of that clarity – we’re able to grow into what we see ourselves becoming.

Execution is everything.

Man expressing sadness

When Projects Crash and Burn

** Queue sad music **

Once every 5 years or so we run into a project where things go so south we have to exit the project before completion.  This is painful for everyone involved and not something we ever like to do.  Additionally, on occasion we take on projects where once completed we never want to think about said project again.

To avoid these problematic projects in the future we’ve committed to learning from our mistakes.  Here’s a bit of our painfully earned wisdom in no particular order:

Listen to your gut

While this sounds like a no brainer, 9 times out of 10 we had red flags along the way in our initial communication with a client that we ignored and decided to move forward with the project anyways.  Had we kept to our “thanks, but no thanks” stance we would have saved ourselves many a headache and late night.

Be wary of asset overload

Sometimes potential clients come to us with a tiny budget and a TON of information on scope and assets in an effort to be helpful.  While this sounds like a great thing, especially since sometimes it’s like pulling teeth to get a nailed down scope, if there aren’t the resources to thoughtfully explore those assets it’s easy to miss crucial details of the project that would have stopped us from moving forward to begin with.

Get another set of eyes on it

This is related to the gut check.  Sometimes things might feel great to you but once you bring in another set of eyes, they see things you totally missed or push back enough to create the right expectations for the project so that things don’t go south.  If you’re on your own and don’t have any other team members that can take a look, try reaching out to a trusted colleague in your sphere.

Define your ideal client/project

There’s got to be some saying to the effect of “if you measure it, it will come”. Having a clearly prescribed and defined list of traits your ideal client and/or project will help hold you accountable to only taking on work that will be successful.  Make your list to have must-haves and nice-to-haves so you can create some space for negotiation and compromise.  Then, if a potential project violates one of your must-haves, do not cave in and take it unless you are destitute, without food and shelter, and must get paid no matter the cost…aka that should hopefully be never.

What about you? Any hard earned lessons you’ve learned?

Git Bisect and Why it is Amazing

Had a client email me recently, mildly concerned, as an update to WP eCommerce broken his search layout. I told him that I couldn’t think of anything between the latest version and the prior version that would have caused any such thing, but I’d be more than happy to check it out.

Initially, if I’m being quite honest, I just assumed it was user error.  It’s easy to mis-configure things, set up a theme wrong, etc. Any number of things can go wrong. But, I dug in and in fact, we had broken it.  I didn’t recall any changes in the 913 commits between the two changes.

With nothing obvious, and 913 commits between release – what was a developer to do?  Enter, git bisect.

Git bisect is amazing. Prior to using it, you might think to yourself,

“Hmm, self, I suppose I can checkout a few different commits, figure out a commit where it works, and one where it doesn’t, and sort of narrow down a range until I find it.”

And that would be a really good thought.  But it would take you, a human, waaaaaaay longer than git would take.  That very thought you had? That’s what git bisect does.  Imagine you have the master branch, latest commit checked out.  You know that a previous version branch worked fine.  Check this out.

git bisect start
git bisect good
git bisect bad branch-3.8.14.4

And boom, you’ve started down the path. Git will analyze how many revisions exist between good and bad, split the difference, and checkout that commit. Then, test to see if the bug still exists. If it does, git bisect bad. If not, git bisect good. It will keep narrowing down the commits until it finds the precise commit that caused the issue.

In case you remain unconvinced – remember – I was able to wade through 913 commits to find the single commit that caused a bug in a piece of software that spans hundreds of files and over 150,000 lines of code.

It took about three minutes.

Git bisect is amazing.

Thoughts on College

College isn’t something that I’m particularly well-qualified to address.  I dropped out of high school at 18 years old, got my GED, and started my business.  I did go to a semester of bible college, but that hardly qualifies as higher education.

Even though I didn’t find college to be something that was part of my long-term goal – I’m actually not 100% opposed to schooling.  I think it works fine for a fair amount of people.  This post was inspired by a conversation between my friends Cory and Chris on Twitter.  I tweeted something as part of that conversation that I do actually believe with significant conviction:

See,  I’m not anti-college.  I think it can be a great experience that provides necessary training for certain walks of life.  I’m 100% against two things that often come with college: 1) Lack of direction 2) Debt.

Over the past decade or so, the usefulness of a 4-year degree has been challenged by an ever-changing economy.  I feel like starting my company back in 2005 with no college education was a bit more of a leap of faith than it might be today.  I actually believe that anyone can be successful at working for themselves.  It’s a matter of hard work, sacrifice and discipline – but I think living life well requires those things of everyone.  Because of that conviction, I do question the general assumption held by my parent’s generation, that is: Everyone should go to college.

Lack of Direction

I can think of nearly a dozen people in my close circle of family and friends that were (or are) 5th-year seniors.  They went to college, because that’s what normal people do. They had no idea what they wanted to do next week, let alone for the rest of their lives.  For some reason, though, it was important to go to a 40K/year school for 4-6 years to end up with an English degree and working at a Starbucks.  Again – I think college works for some people.  But if you’re using it as an excuse to figure out what you want to do with your life – there are FAR cheaper ways of doing that.  I realize that I’m a bit of an anomaly – I knew I could run a business building software by the time I was 15.  I don’t think everyone has (or needs to have) that kind of direction at that age.  That said – if you’re 15-17 years old and have no idea what you want to do, DON’T GO TO COLLEGE!

That’s right.  Bold, italicized and underlined.  All caps, too, because I’m shouting.  There’s no reason to spend tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars at school to figure out what you want to do. Don’t go to school, go to work!   Find something you love to do and do it.  Heck, even if you don’t love it, just go make some money.  Life will never be as inexpensive for you as it is right now – go earn and save a ton of money!   Hustle, hustle, hustle and make the life you want.   Along the way, you’ll figure out what it is you want to do.  There’s life in the doing.

Debt

No me gusta debt.  Je n’aime pas debt.  Ich hasse debt.  我討厭的債務. Seriously.  I hate debt.  I can’t say it in enough languages.  It’s a scourge to personal finances and businesses alike.   Like the ancient proverb says, The borrower is slave to the lender. Debt causes you to miss the mark, to be shackled to things you were never meant to be shackled to.  One of the biggest areas of indebtedness today is student loan debt.  Student loan debt has nearly quadrupled in the last 10 years.  In 2010, for the first time this century, student loan debt was greater than both auto and credit card debt.  It’s a big deal and it’s weighing my generation down.  I know too many people who are working in dead-end jobs for “job security” for no other reason than their student loans.  I have personal friends whose student loan payments are bigger than their rent checks. 

Having two kids (and one on the way…and who knows after that!), has caused me to think about this often.  I am absolutely saving money for my kids to go to school, if they want to go.  If they’re going to become doctors or lawyers or certain kind of engineers – of course, they’ll have to go to college.  But what if they don’t?  What if they get married at 20 years old to some trust fund kid?  What if they start a business?  What if they take over my business?  What if the best thing for them is to go work at an orphanage in Tanzania after high school?  There are so many unknowns in life that I can’t imagine forcing my children on one certain path, boxing them into an academic world that may just not be their calling in life.

Again – if you don’t have to go into debt for it and you know why you are going – absolutely go to college.  Go to the best college you can afford that makes the most sense for the path in life you want to take.  But please, for the sake of your future self – don’t go to college just because normal people go to college.  I know normal.  Normal is broke.