Patrick Rauland is an author, podcaster, and trainer who specializes in WooCommerce. He’s got vast working experience in the WooCommerce/WordPress industry. Also, he’s been helping out ecommerce store owners through his courses on Lynda.com. In this interview, Patrick tells us about his professional journey, shares his thoughts about WooCommerce and other ecommerce platforms, and much more.
Mansoor: Hi Patrick, it’s been a pleasure for us to have you for this interview. Could you please tell us about yourself? What was the motivation behind joining the tech industry? How long you have been working with WooCommerce?
Patrick: I found computer science in college and I loved the problem-solving aspect. It’s so much fun to break a large complex task into a thousand discrete tiny tasks that a computer can do. I used to create custom PHP websites. That means hand-coding the login page, the content management system, and any custom functionality.
It was great to code without any guardrails but after a while, you get tired of coding login pages. I started building WordPress sites to save time and WooCommerce came shortly after that because custom ecommerce takes forever to build. WooCommerce saves dozen hours of custom coding and I’ll never go back.
Mansoor: What were your first impressions when you started working with WooCommerce? What are the main features you like about it? How do you see the future of WooCommerce when you’ve Shopify and Magento as competitors?
Patrick: WooCommerce is fantastic! If you’ve been in WordPress for a while, it’ll perform just like you expect. If you’re coming from outside of the WordPress world then it can feel a little clunky. That’s honestly my biggest gripe. Basic product information is at the bottom of the page which is awkward.
While WooCommerce can be a bit clunky on the user interface (UI) side it offers unrivaled customization. With a little PHP, you can get WooCommerce to do anything you can imagine. It’s easier to customize than Magento and it’s much more flexible and open than Shopify.
Mansoor: Since you’ve been working long with WooCommerce, you definitely have worked on some of the best projects of your career. Would you like to share your experience and the learning you get from those projects?
Patrick: WooCommerce has a unique structure. The core WooCommerce plugin is incredibly lean. It only offers functionality that 90 percent of online stores will need to reduce the complexity of running an online store. But of course, there are lots of functionality that many stores need that’s not included in the main plugin. This is why WooCommerce has developed hundreds of extensions.
I definitely learned the value in keeping the main product lean, efficient, and easy to use and only add complexity when a user opts into a feature. In addition to being good for users, it’s also good for your development team to have discrete codebases which are easier to keep up to date than a ginormous library.
Mansoor: You need a lot of time and effort when you’re building a great project. Could you please tell us about your development workflow? What tools and practices do you choose in order to complete your project timely?
Patrick: I’m a big fan of keeping things simple. If you do the same thing 9/10 times, it’s worth automating and building processes around. So for developers who work on WooCommerce sites, you’ll probably want simple processes to edit code (I use Atom), code in a local development environment (I enjoy Local), store code (I use GitHub), and manage version control and use a terminal for simple commands (I use Zsh).
Mansoor: You’re also working as an Ecommerce Consultant at Speaking in Bytes. Could you please tell us about the challenges that most ecommerce store owners face these days? What do you suggest to overcome those challenges?
Patrick: Yes! I regularly talk with store owners and when not in a pandemic, go to local meetups and conferences just to keep in touch with store owners and the problems they’re facing. The biggest problem right now is getting noticed in a busy world. You can sell an amazing product but if no one knows you’re selling it what’s the point?
One way to get started early is to join marketplaces like Amazon and use extensions to sync inventory and product details. Long term you need to find a way to get noticed. I usually try to provide value to the target market with content on my own site, email courses, downloadable PDFs, and the like.
A lot of entrepreneurs do what’s easy – take a look around and see what’s hard to do and do that – it’s by definition not easy but is a way to get noticed in a busy world.
Mansoor: You’ve been an author at LinkedIn Learning/Lynda since 2015, teaching ecommerce store owners how to build an online store using different ecommerce platforms. Could you please tell us about your favorite ecommerce platforms and what’s the reason behind them?
Patrick: I’ve created online courses on numerous commerce platforms. All of them are great at one thing or another. The simplest way I explain it is if you want to set up a simple online store start with Shopify. If you want lots of functionality, a specific look, or want to keep the cost of your store low, then look into WooCommerce.
Mansoor: When COVID-19 affected the world, most of the small and mid-sized businesses switched to online stores. Would like to share some of the advice that will be helpful for store owners and how they can grow their stores eventually?
Patrick: It’s hard to beat Amazon in terms of how easy it is to order products so don’t compete on the easiest/fastest checkout. Compete in areas where they can’t. Offer buy-online-pick-up-in-store (BOPIS), offer personalized recommendations, free exchanges in person, etc. Take advantage of your brick-and-mortar store. The online world is still clunky and some things are still easier to do in person so highlight that you have both an online store and a physical presence.
Mansoor: I’ve noticed that you’re also an author of multiple books about WooCommere and I would definitely recommend them to ecommerce store owners. Could you please tell us about some of your favorite books that will be helpful for our readers?
Patrick: If you search Amazon.com for “WooCommerce”, you’ll see two of my books at the top. WooCommerce Explained from OSTraining does a good job showing you how to set up and configure WooCommerce. It’s designed for a store owner or WordPress user, so it’s mostly covering plugins and themes you can use to extend WooCommerce.
The WooCommerce Cookbook from Packt gives you code samples you can use to customize different aspects of WooCommerce. If you’re a developer, this book will help you understand how WooCommerce works under the hood for whatever you need to tweak.
Mansoor: It’s really important to balance between a personal and professional life. How do you like to spend your time when you’re not working? Would you like to share some of the tips for well-being at work?
Patrick: Last year I got really good at sleep – yes sleep! I watch something silly or comedic while brushing my teeth and getting ready for bed. Then when I get into bed I read 1 or 2 comics on my Marvel Unlimited app (~$60/year) which puts me right to sleep. I wake up incredibly rested ready for the next day. Definitely put some effort into your sleep routine to figure out the most effective way to fall asleep.
Besides work and sleep, leisure is important. I love painting miniatures. I put on a podcast pick up a brush and paint whatever inspires me that day. You can see some of my painted miniatures on my Instagram (@BFTrick).
Mansoor: Thank you once again for this interview. Have a nice day, Patrick!
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Passionate about technology, entrepreneurship, and marketing, Mansoor Ahmed Khan is in computing since he knows how to type on a keyboard. His daily life is rocked by his family, projects, and his screen. Probably in this order, he likes to be convinced at least. You can reach out to him at [email protected]