Robey Lawrence first met a computer when he was 9 and since then his story has been one heck of journey. He’s the founder of The WP Barber and a WordPress builder at Bearded Friend. Mr. Lawrence started as a Network Administrator at Advantage IT Solutions and later moved towards web development. He has been using WordPress for over four years now to build websites for small businesses and is one of the organisers of WP Meetups in Australia.
Cloudways: Hello, Robey! Thank you for taking out time for this interview. Could you briefly introduce yourself to our readers?
Hi, I build modern websites for freelancers and small business owners in Australia through my business Bearded Friend. I have just launched a new business called The WP Barber, a WordPress maintenance service. I Co-Host a video podcast by the name of WP Bosses where we interview people from the WordPress community in Australia. I am also one of the organisers of the Port Macquarie WordPress Meetup.
Cloudways: While visiting your social profiles, we found that you were previously an IT service provider and then you decided to get into the Web Development. What was the inspiration behind this major shift in your life? Can you share your experience?
When I first started working in the IT field I was enjoying myself, always learning something new and meeting new people. But after a while, things started to get repetitive and I found myself fixing printers, configuring countless email accounts and backing up people’s iPhones.
I wanted to build something of my own that I could look back on at the end of the week and say “I built that”. I’m the kind of person who thrives on praise, and so having something of my own to show off to other people helped feed my ego.
Cloudways: Your career has taken several turns since you were an IT service provider to web developers, and recently, you opened your own WordPress maintenance agency. Where did the idea come from?
I love networking with others in my industry, in person, in Facebook groups, and in other forums. I give advice, ask advice, and help others with their tech issues where I can. Through these conversations I began hearing from quite a few people that they either weren’t interested in providing clients with after-sales support and maintenance, or they didn’t think it was important.
I had been offering maintenance services through my primary business Bearded Friend for a while, but then I had the thought that maybe I could offer this service through a brand of it’s own (The WP Barber), and be the place that those developers send their clients after the build is done. They can move on to their next client, while knowing that their previous clients are still going to be well looked after and maintained. We are currently working on an affiliate program to make this even more enticing for regular referrals.
Cloudways: As a WordPress expert, what would you suggest to newbies who are entering into the world of WordPress? Which useful WordPress plugins and tools do you recommend they should use?
Ok, a really open question here. Of course it will depend on what they are trying to achieve.
A few of my common plugins:
Backup plugin – I like BackWPup
Security plugin – iThemes Security
Caching plugin – ask your host for their recommended plugin and configuration.
Client Tutorials – Video User Manuals
SMTP mail sender – PostmanSMTP configured with Sendgrid
SEO – Yoast SEO
Contact Forms – Contact Form 7, Caldera Forms
Cloudways: At WP Bosses where you host interviews and talks with community influencers, who do you think are the top experts in the Australian WordPress community?
Whew! Ok, another whopper of a question.
There are so many, and i’m sure so many more who I don’t even know of yet.
Here are a few guns in the country:
Dion Hulse ( @dd32 ) – Lead Developer at WordPress
Troy Dean ( @troydean ) – Co-Founder at WP Elevation, the #1 online course for wordpress consultants.
Elliot Condon ( @elliotcondon ) – Developer of the Advanced Custom Fields plugin
Dee Teal ( @thewebprincess ) – Project Manager at Human Made, WordPress community advocate
Kate Toon ( @katetooncopy ) – SEO Expert
Cloudways: As the founder of The WP Barber that helps in developing as well as maintaining professional WordPress websites, what has your experience been so far?
Just to clarify, Bearded Friend is where the development takes place, The WP Barber is where the maintenance happens. Get it? Because the barber maintains the beard… 😀
Ahem..Sorry, to answer the question, the experience so far has been great! I think the humour built into the brand names kind of acts as a filter for the types of clients that I attract. Other clients with a sense of humour too, which is perfect, I love being able to drop in a little pun or meme into a client report or email and know it will be appreciated 🙂
As for the actual work part of it, I have to give a huge shout out to ManageWP and their new Orion platform. Without a system as polished and as feature-rich as it is, I may not have even started the Barber.
Cloudways: Since competition is increasing between the top CMSs, how and where do you see the future of WordPress? Will WordPress remain the best choice for hosting ecommerce and other websites? Would you like to suggest any improvements?
I see the competition as a driving force behind WordPress’ development. Just as competition in every other industry, it’s a healthy thing needed for growth, it prevents complacency and promotes motivation for betterment.
“Best” is a relative term, and so WordPress being the best solution for eCommerce is going to depend on many factors, and not just technical ones. For example, if the site is going to be built by a Magento expert, then Magento might be the best choice for that scenario. If the client is already familiar with WordPress, then building their shop on WordPress is going to make sense in most cases.
Saying that though, WordPress is a very capable platform for ecommerce sites, and with Automattic now owning WooCommerce, things will no-doubt improve and open up the platform to many more use-cases. I don’t see it disappearing anytime soon
Something that I think would be useful, is a hosted WooCommerce solution by Automattic. Like WordPress.com but with eCommerce support built in. Just like how Shopify is a hosted all in one ecommerce solution out of the box.
Cloudways: What measures, in your opinion, should be taken to strengthen the WordPress community in Australia?
Attend your local WordPress Meetup. If you don’t have one, start one. Seriously, you don’t have to be an expert, you can organise other experts to come in and speak, or just present on basic topics, you’ll find an audience. Or don’t have a presenter at all, something I have tried in the past is a Show and Tell, where you go around the room or pick a few people to show their own websites to the group and share something they have learnt, or ask for constructive feedback on what they might be able to improve upon.
You don’t even have to have an audience straight away. Some meetups start with two people meeting over coffee once a month to talk about what you’ve done to your WordPress site recently. Then when you start inviting more friends and you start to outgrow the cafe, look around for local businesses who might be happy to donate the use of their office space. If you can’t find anyone to donate some space for your meetup, the WordPress foundation may be able to cover the costs to rent a venue.
I really wanted to attend a WordPress Meetup, but there wasn’t one near me, so I started one in February of 2017, we have an average attendance rate of 10 people per meetup (as of June 2017), which includes people from nearby towns about an hour’s drive away that I never thought would be interested.
Attend a WordCamp! A WordCamp is basically a huge Meetup, spread across a weekend, usually with an afterparty and swag included with your $50 ticket, which is insane value!
I’m not sure when this interview will be posted, but the next WordCamp is in Brisbane on the 22-23 July 2017, and yes, I am going 🙂
Denise Teal, Me, Nik Cree, Paul Luxford, Tracey Kemp, Kristen Symonds.
Here’s a shot of a few of us at Wordcamp Sunshine Coast 2016
We also have a Slack team for Aussies only over at http://wpaustralia.org/
Come and join the conversation 🙂
Cloudways: Most professionals arrange meetups on weekends or on different occasions to discuss their ideas. We believe you also attend these meetups. 🙂 Can you recommend the best meetups for the WordPress community in Australia?
Yep, the best meetup is the one closest to you. You can see a list of Aussie Meetups here http://wpaustralia.org/#meetups
Cloudways: We are glad that you shared so much valuable information about your professional life. If you don’t mind, could you tell us how to spend your weekends. Do you switch easily between your personal and professional life?
To be honest, I don’t switch as easily as I’d like to. But when I do switch over to personal mode, I like to go with my wife Mel for bush walks, or drives out into towns I haven’t been to before, or to visit family.
Cloudways: How would you differentiate traditional web hosting from managed cloud hosting? Do you think that local data centers can help websites to reach their target audience? Can you shed some light on the importance of local data centers?
For me, I like to tinker with server stuff in my own play time (because I’m weird like that), but in production, I much rather host client sites with a host that looks after all the techy bits for me.
So if you mean “managed” in that sense, then yeah I’m all for it. If you mean “managed” in the sense of keeping the WordPress software and plugins updated, then that’s what I do at The WP Barber, so I’ve got that sorted 😉
Over the years I have trialled several different hosting setups, including offshore, with/without a CDN, and local to Australia. The (good) local Australian hosts outperform any of the other solutions when you have a local audience, though there are some cheap and nasty hosts out there too (as with every other country I’m sure), so make sure you do your research, and you (usually) get what you pay for. So always weigh up how important your website stability and performance is to you, not to mention the headaches that can come when you go too cheap (I’ve been there).
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Cloudways: Could you share a picture of your workspace with our readers. 🙂