Born and raised in Wisconsin, Diane spends her adult life on the gulf coast of Florida in sunny Sarasota. She delights in the sunshine and weirdly wonderful things that regularly happen in this state. She lives with her husband, college-student daughter, 5 cats and 3 dogs.
All of the cats were rescued from certain death by her animal-loving daughter and their first dog was a refugee after Hurricane Charley. Her story is all very crazy and brimming with love.
She is a mega WordPress nerd and she’d like to share the things they’ve learned in the last 11 years of building both simple and complex sites in WordPress.
So let’s begin,
Cloudways: Hello Diane, thank you for joining us today. Please tell our readers a bit about yourself. When was the first time you used WordPress?
Diane: I think the first version of WordPress I used was 1.5, released in early 2005, although it could have been a bit earlier. I had a client that needed work on their blog which was in WordPress. I was not a huge fan at the time!
Cloudways: Did someone inspire you or did you have a mentor who recommended WordPress? If WordPress was not available, what would be your CMS of choice?
Diane: I had the opportunity to work on several enterprise CMS projects using tools like Vignette and Interwoven in the early 2000s, which gave me the initial understanding of what CMS systems could do. These projects led me to explore tools like DotNetNuke, Drupal, CMS Made Simple and WordPress. If WordPress wasn’t available, I’d probably lean towards Drupal as a second choice. I used it for a few years before committing to WordPress.
Cloudways: You are the owner of “The Versatility Group”. Can you brief us about the services your company offers? And do you only work with the Genesis Framework?
Diane: The Versatility Group focuses on modern marketing, with custom websites as a core component. We prefer building custom themes on the Genesis Framework because it is a developer friendly parent theme that can be customized with hooks, filters, and actions. StudioPress, the creators of Genesis, maintain the framework and strive to comply with best practices. While the Genesis Framework is our preference, we do some non-Genesis work as well.
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Cloudways: What are the challenges that you face running a WordPress design and development agency? What would you like to suggest to people who would love to open their agency?
Diane: What a huge topic! I think my biggest suggestion would be for people to understand that in addition to whatever your core skills are, you have to run a business. You can be an amazing designer or a skilled developer, but skills like marketing, planning, productivity, organization and taking care of admin tasks are critical to your survival. After 13 years in business, the other key thing I’ve learned is that clients need your expertise. They are experts in their business, and often have little to no experience in the services you offer. It’s part of your job to support and educate them.
Cloudways: You have an extensive portfolio. What is your favorite project? Which project are you most proud of?
Diane: From a technical perspective, my favorite projects are when we leverage the power of WordPress with tools like Custom Post Types, Custom Fields, and really set the client up for success with a site that is easy to manage and update. We do this for virtually every site. I’d say I’m proudest of the current version of Selby Gardens’ site. We took a massive amount of content that spanned a decade and reorganized it, made it easy for the client to manage, and designed many different templates that show off the content to it’s the best advantage.
Cloudways: What advice would you give to beginners and student looking to build a career in designing and development? What are your favorite sources for learning WordPress from scratch? Any books you would like to recommend?
Diane: The very first thing I would do is a deep dive into HTML & CSS. Proper structure is the foundation of everything else. Understand the basic design principles: alignment (& grids), white space, typography, color & hierarchy. I personally learned WordPress slowly and rather painfully using the Codex and blog posts of others. If I were starting today, I would look at Lynda courses and knowthecode.io.
Cloudways: Diane, You were at WordCamp Miami 2014 as a speaker. Can you tell us how WordCamps help the WordPress community? How does speaking at WordCamps help your career? Do you have a group of buddies that you love to hang out with at WordCamps?
Diane: I think WordCamps play a huge role in the growth and health of the WordPress community. I don’t know that speaking so much helps my career as gives me an opportunity to give back and help others. Everything I’ve been able to do with WordPress is possible because of those who contributed to the code and shared their techniques and knowledge.
Cloudways: Who are some of your design heroes?
Diane: Jessica Hische amazes me.
Cloudways: You are a football fan. Which team and players are your favorite?
Diane: I was born and raised in Wisconsin, so I’ve been a Green Bay Packer fan my entire life. A few years ago I received stock in the team as a gift, so I’m thrilled to be one of many team owners. I have a lot of favorite players, but if I was forced to name a couple – Jordy Nelson and Clay Matthews.
Cloudways: You have a cat’s photo on social profiles. Do you have any pet cats? What are their names? Can you send us some pictures?
Diane: Three years ago, my daughter rescued a newborn kitten. Then she rescued two more that we thought were brothers, but no! The girl was pregnant. So we have Sunday, Zane, Grayson, Pixel and Meta.
Cloudways: Within the WordPress Community, who do you consider among your best friends?
Diane: That’s a tough one to answer – WordPress is the friendliest community I’ve ever been a part of. Carrie Dils, Andrea Rennick, Krissie VandeNoord, Rebecca Gill and Ozzy Rodriguez are some of the best.
Cloudways: Cloudways is a managed hosting platform for everyone, offering 1-click installation for WordPress with great caching solutions and optimized servers. What’s your opinion about managed cloud hosting services like Cloudways?
Diane: Quality hosting is a huge factor in WordPress performance, especially for sites that produce any kind of revenue. I think the rise in specialized hosting is great.
Just for our readers, can you please send us an image of how your workspace looks like? 🙂
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Saud is the WordPress Community Manager at Cloudways - A Managed WooCommerce Hosting Platform. Saud is responsible for creating buzz, spread knowledge, and educate the people about WordPress in the Community around the globe. In his free time, he likes to play cricket and learn new things on the Internet. You can email him at [email protected]