A few days ago a loooong twitter conversation took place regarding whether having sessions about business is appropriate for WordCamps. It’s hard to understand what everyone’s exact intentions are in the conversation since it is limited by 140 of characters and lack of facial cues (is he being serious? Elitist? Sarcastic?), it seems that the guy who started it all, Jake Goldman from a WordPress agency called 10up, took issue with the fact that speakers on this topic could be lacking the relevant experience, and/or pushing subjective agendas.
The tweet that started it all:
I mean, 4 man agency owner giving "how to build a company"? Freelancer gives "winning big projects"? Makes WordPress look like amateur hour
— Jake Goldman (@jakemgold) June 2, 2013
I thought I’d chime in with my own experience from our last WordCamp here in Jerusalem.
Talking business at WordCamp Jerusalem, and preventing pain
This year was the third year that I organized WordCamp Jerusalem, and the first time that we decided to have a talk about the business of WordPress. The reason we decided to include this talk is because it seems that so many people who work with WordPress in Israel, well, they suffer. They love working with WordPress, but in order to make a living working with WordPress, they have to have clients, and once you have clients, you also have to deal with all the things that come along with them: marketing, generating leads, writing contracts, managing projects, dealing with clients, taxes, etc. There are so many facets to the business side of things and therefore so many opportunities to screw up! People make mistakes, lose money, lose clients, lose sleep – when if they had just been able to learn from someone else, they could have avoided some terrible situations!
I have been managing illuminea for over six years now. I’ve seen a lot, and pretty much made all the mistakes (with more to come, I’m sure). I figured that if I could share some of what I’ve learned so far, I might spare some other people the pain I went through.
So at WordCamp Jerusalem 2013 I gave a talk titled “The Business of WordPress: tips for managing your WordPress business.” I described the session as a a kind of open sourcing of lessons learned at illuminea headquarters.
From the feedback I received, the audience really appreciated that I was willing to be open about the mistakes I’ve made and the challenges I face funning a WordPress business. So often people want to look successful, so nobody admits that things aren’t perfect, and therefore opportunities to learn from each other don’t arise. By breaking that stigma, it created a non-judgmental environment where people could loosen up and learn from each other.
It appears that Jake Goldman’s issue is with whether a speaker is qualified to give a talk on this topic. Was I qualified to talk about this topic? Are there people who know more than me on this topic? Of course, but there always is. It’s hard to determine who knows the most, but I also think it’s a shame to say that only the greatest experts can speak at WordCamp on any topic. WordCamp is a community event, and communities contain many levels of experience. People shouldn’t feel self-conscious that someone else knows more than them – in almost every case, they also know more than many others, and have what to teach.
What I learned from someone else’s WordCamp business talk
When I was preparing my talk on the business of WordPress, I watched a bunch of videos on the topic on WordPress.tv. I came across one that was really great, called “Selling WordPress: Roping, Scoping and Closing Deals,” given by Ross Beyeler from Growth Spark, a WordPress development agency located in Boston. Ross addressed a lot of the issues we face at our agency, but I wanted to ask him a few questions. I contacted him, and he generously spoke to me on the phone for about 40 minutes and gave me advice that we immediately implemented in our lead qualification process. His advice helped us streamline one of our processes significantly.
But do these general business talks belong at WordCamp?
Most of what WordPress providers deal with in business is probably very similar to what providers of other services experience. But dealing with WordPress means dealing with a lot of things that overlap with the non-WordPress world. WordCamps often include talks on project management, writing, UX, marketing, analytics and many of the other topics that are spoken about at WordCamps. WordCamp could choose to draw a thick-black line and rule out all talks that are not 100% WordPress. But working with WordPress means being multi-disciplinary, and touching on things that aren’t pure WordPress but are essential to our success in doing great things with WordPress. The same goes for business, IMHO.
(And yes, there is the PressNomics conference that is all about the business of WP, but it costs at least $250 and takes place in one location once a year. Not exactly accessible for most of us.)
To sum up…Matt
If we agree that WordCamps can and should touch on topics that are not specific to WordPress but that WordPress developers must deal with, then business should be included in that. As for whether a speaker is the right person to speak on a subject – that’s an issue for all talks on all topics, and I think it generally works out, because there is always something we can learn from others. As Matt said so wisely and succinctly:
@jakemgold we're all amateurs.
— Matt Mullenweg (@photomatt) June 3, 2013