A Diverse Web Career Leading to WooCommerce with Sharon Yates

Do the Woo - WooCommerce Podcast, Community and News
Do the Woo - WooCommerce Podcast, Community and News
A Diverse Web Career Leading to WooCommerce with Sharon Yates
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Sharon has been around the web for a while, working in variety of roles, some of them in corporate. When she made the move to start her own business, WordPress was the centerpiece, followed closely by WooCommerce. She shares a lot of twists and turns as well as the experience of working in a male-dominated space.

A Chat with Sharon Yates from Creative Mouse Studio

In episode 91, Mendel and I talk with Sharon about:

  • Her interesting journey through tech and how she ended up using WordPress and WooCommerce
  • Her experience in a male-dominated industry, from early on through today
  • How Sharon positioned herself to break the “glass ceiling”
  • Why she chose to learn WooCommerce vs. just WordPress
  • The challenges that stand our for her with WooCommerce
  • What she would like to see fixed or added to WooCommerce in the future
  • The pivotal moment when Sharon discovered she had found her place in the WordPress ecosystem
  • What she loves most about being a builder and a coach
  • The shifts she has seen in the eCommerce space over the last year
  • What she would do as a freelancer or business owner if the web didn’t exist

Connect with Sharon

Bob: Hey everyone. Episode 91. And I'm BobWP. This is Do the Woo Podcast with my very fine cohost Mendel Kurland. Mendel, how are you doing?

Mendel: Hey, what's up, Bob? Do you think I can go by MendelWP, or would that be ripping off your name?

Bob: No, actually I've had people email me and ask if it would be okay if they add a WP to their name and I said no problem.

Mendel: Wait, I could do yours backwards. I could be BobWP. And you could be BobWP.

Bob: Yeah, that makes sense.

Mendel: Because BobWP is the opposite of BobWP.

Bob: Yeah, it is. They can tell us apart.

Mendel: Who knows, but I'll sleep on it.

Bob: Okay. Yeah. Tell me later what you decide on that one, we'll find something. Anyway, we have another great show as we always do another great guest, but before I get into that, I'm just going to thank our sponsors, PayPal, who is continuing to be our sponsor for a few more months here in the new year. And yeah, just I'd say it's time for all those builders out there to look at their client sites and say, "You know what? This'll be a good fit for the pay later on the PayPal extension." So yeah, give some thought to that. Think about it. There might be some opportunities that you can actually even look better in your client size.

WooCommerce. 4.9 came out Tuesday, minor updates to the admin, to their blocks and some other fixes. So it wasn't a huge update, but it's 4.9. I'm not sure what's going to happen with 5.0, that seems like a very ominous number. So I guess we'll just have to wait and see. What do you think Mendel, does this sound ominous?

Mendel: It sounds terrifying. But you know what? I will say, if you pair WooCommerce 4.9 with PayPal pay later, how could you put together a better solution than that? Those two things together. Amazing.

Bob: Yeah. It's like the rest is history.

Mendel: That's right.

Bob: Dollars will roll in.

Mendel: Yeah. Watch out for 5.0 that could be, I don't know, like 2020. Not that bad.

Bob: Alrighty. Well, this is it. This is the show and today we have Sharon Yates. Sharon, I came across her as she had presented at a meetup. I believe it was a Chicago meetup. Somebody had said, "Hey, you got to talk to this person. She knows her Woos." So I thought I'm always looking for somebody to do the Woo. Sharon, welcome to the show.

Sharon: Hi Bob, thanks. I'm excited to be here.

Bob: Now, as we always start it, I've already said it already, but how do you do the Woo? Tell us a little bit about yourself and WooCommerce.

Sharon: And I'm sorry, Mendel. I did not mention you, but hello to you also.

Mendel: Hello.

Sharon: Let's see. Gosh, I don't want to take too long with this, but I basically do the Woo obviously for clients, but my background has been basically starting with the web when it came out. So that does convince my age a little bit older. And so I've started out working with companies. Most of the companies I've worked with were all in telecommunications.

Now that I think about it, didn't realize that until I started looking at my history. But then I moved on to some financial and healthcare and other types of industries as well. But most of it I've always worked with groups to do enterprise apps and stuff. I'm just was used to that. And then when I decided to start working with WordPress and I hate to admit this, but the only reason why I started working with WordPress was to find something else to do.

I was at a particular job that I had a controlling managers. So I was bored and throughout my career, I had always kept side clients. I had full-time job, but I always wanted to one up my skill and then ship, I guess. Especially with me at that time and age competing, both of you are men, but I had to compete with a lot of men. And so my skill set had to be even better. And so I would dedicate myself to not be an expert in one area, but in all areas, because back then we really did have to know all areas. If you were developing on the web, you didn't just specialize and it wasn't until later that you could specialize and commit to design, commit to UI or UX.

Mendel: Sharon, can I stop you there because I want to hear more about that. If you're willing to talk more about that experience of coming up in very much. Bob and I are very aware of..

Sharon: Yeah, the glass ceiling.

Mendel: Yeah, the glass ceiling, as far as, many industries, unfortunately, but technology specifically, and not to say that there weren't, and there haven't been in there aren't many people that aren't men that contribute to technology or to the web, because there are many unsung heroes in that respect, but what was this idea of diversifying and being good at everything? What was the reason for that? Or how did that help you position yourself in I guess a more advantageous way?

Because I think that entire experience, hopefully that'll be something that my children and my children's children never know anything about, they just read about it in textbooks, but unfortunately I don't think that's the case.I think that common experience is nice to at least talk about or touch on quickly.

Sharon: Sure. I have to probably say at that time, I really didn't think about it. I think it was just something I felt like I had to do in order to keep moving up. When I got in the industry before I actually had a full-time job as a developer, I was actually training people. I was training people at professional, excuse me. I would go to different locations around the United States and train them on how to get on the web and how to work with websites and stuff.

And then I kind of got tired of the traveling and just decided, I might as well get into what I'm teaching and get a real job. So when I got into that, I found that it was very competitive and I don't want to say, there was a lot of backstabbing, but women just weren't welcomed. Or at least the industries I got into, women just weren't welcomed and did not, they did not want to hear what I had to say. And I had a distinct talent of not being too geeky. I was very sociable with people and I could speak to CEO's and other laymen.

Mendel: Your socialized geek.

Sharon: Yes.

Bob: That's an oxymoron if I've ever heard one.

Sharon: Yeah. I could speak better with the layman terms and to make the corporate officers understand better what we were doing instead of talking geek, like all the time. So I think that's how, what got me ahead and I had to understand the back end as well as the front end. So I think that's why I did that was so that I could communicate and give me a one leg up that most people didn't have.

Mendel: It sounds like not only did you have the technical acumen, but you also had the EQ, the emotional Intelligence to be able to talk to the right people at the right time and tell them the things that they needed to hear to be successful, which is a pretty powerful combination.

Sharon: Yeah. And it was not just what they needed to hear, but they also wanted to understand. I think a lot of people try to talk over the executives heads where they just are confused and baffled and they don't understand what actually needs to be done on there yet. I think if people would take the time to understand their position and try not to talk over their heads, so that just give them a lot of understanding what needs to happen.

Mendel: Cool. Sorry to interrupt. We we were talking about how you were making your way to WordPress and you were bored and you had a super annoying boss that it was their way or the highway and you started doing other things.

Sharon: Yeah. So I just decided that, I'm just going to take on more clients and it was also, it's weird how all of this meshed together. But I had determined, I don't know, maybe a year before I was into this job about two years at this point. And I had decided, I think during my second year that this was going to be my last corporate job and I was going to make a retirement plan to retire from the corporate world and go out on my own.

So like I said, I had already had some side clients, so it wasn't like I was starting from scratch. But at the time that I started to look in to doing things on my own, I did some research and WordPress obviously was coming on as the big tool to use. And so I decided to dwell into that. But also since I knew a lot about the retail side and working in enterprise industries, I just decided, better learn WooCommerce because this seems to be something that I would rather have a niche in than just WordPress websites.

Mendel: Why did you make that distinction? Because it sounds like you have a lot of intuition, which is super cool, but I think it's nice to know why you have that intuition.

Sharon: Anyone that has started their own business knows that you need to have a niche to sell yourself. At this time, I also saw that there were a lot of people competing against each other as freelancers and contractors or whatever. And I just didn't want to be in that number. I wanted to be outside of that number. I wanted to be specialized. I know that from my own experience, I would always pick up clients that had worked with somebody that didn't know what they were doing.

And so I just wanted to help people more and try to get them out of these situations and show them that I was worth what I was charging. And so that helped, I think, in fact, I'm working with a client that I picked them up after they had been working with someone for two years and never launched their site. That could tell you what kind of clients I usually pick.

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Bob: So was the e-commerce WooCommerce part of it almost at the same time as when you started with WordPress? Or was there a bit of an interval there that you made your way more towards the e-commerce part of it?

Sharon: Obviously I picked up WordPress really easily because I was already a web developer. I already knew some programming skills and I already knew how to write CSS and HTML. I knew how to write code from scratch. WordPress, wasn't that hard for me to pick up. I did want to learn everything from obviously just installing it, but also plus what I would consider the backend, how the hierarchy is built, how the installation is built and stuff.

So I took a little bit more of a geekish approach instead of wanting the regular people who's trying to do the website on their own. I did try to make my knowledge a little bit more than standard. And I guess everybody is normal, but there's some of us that want to get one leg over, I try to, at least, especially if I'm trying to promote myself as an expert, I can tell people all day long that I'm an expert in HTML and CSS. This is what I've done all my life. But nobody really knows you're an expert if they don't know it.

Bob: So as you were moving along this transition. You have a diverse background and you've been in the web for a long time. Has there been anything around WooCommerce that you felt were, especially in the beginning or challenges for you with WooCommerce and how do you feel? Have they panned out over time? Or is this something you're still having to work around? I just always love to hear what challenges people face.

Sharon: Yeah. I think the biggest challenges are plugins and getting what the customer actually wants. When I take on a customer, obviously you've got them. I'm assuming everybody vets their customer, their clients, to try to make sure you understand what they want, what their needs are and what they're trying to accomplish. But what I try to do is also get them to talk a little bit more, not just do, like I did start with a page of questions, from what I was used to working in the corporate world, I knew that I needed to get so much information for requirements and it, but a lot of small businesses that are starting, which is what I work with. They don't understand what they need to give to us as their requirements. So you have to walk them through and be able to do that.

Requirements obviously was a big deal for me and when I started working with WooCommerce, I noticed that one, it doesn't come with everything you need to do. You have to obviously search for plugins to do what you want to do. And yes, WooCommerce has grown in providing those plugins but when I started there, wasn't a lot. Obviously I had to customize and learn to do that in the web hooks and everything else that goes on. So there's been a lot of improvement.

I think the easiest thing for me was that I knew from having to program this on the old days that I knew what the customer needed. It was trying to interpret, okay, what I need to figure out, is there a plugin for this or do I need to figure out how to code it? That was the biggest thing I think. WooCommerce has gotten better by providing a lot of the plugins. And of course, there's third parties, but in my opinion, I try to work with as much as I can with WooCommerce plugins, provide it unless I know that there's something better.

Mendel: Along that vein, WooCommerce in the future, let's talk about, forget about 5.0.

Sharon: Yeah.

Mendel: What about like 7.0. Where would you see WooCommerce being at some point, or what do you think should be added or fixed in WooCommerce to bring it in line with the expectations that you see over and over and over with customers pre WooCommerce and customers now. Because I'm sure there's stuff that needs to be added and fixed in WooCommerce.

Sharon: Yeah. Some of the basic stuff, like, for instance, why can't WooCommerce provide the PayPal or the Stripe gateway included in the package? Why do we have to go get a plugin for that? WooCommerce is made to sell? So why aren't you providing that gateway that we already need basically to sell?

Mendel: Indeed, to sell online. They give you the ability to check out like COD and you're like, who has ever conducted e-commerce business COD, like that.

Sharon: Yeah. If you're going to provide a package, give us the whole thing and what we need, I can understand it does include the shipping because not everybody's probably going to do the same shipping. My last customer I'm telling you, I probably used every shipping there was. I had to provide them weight, shipping by weight. I had to provide them shipping across international plus nationwide, plus across Hawaii. I had to provide a lot. And plus FedEx, plus being able to use their own shipper, allowing the customer to use their own shippers. I can understand why something like that is not provided because that is definitely an area where not a lot of developers understand.

They're having to work hours and hours to figure out how to provide the shipping. But again, I have to say WooCommerce is very good with their documentation. I find that whatever plugins I use for them, their documentation is really good. I think the payment is definitely one that I would like to see included in a basic install. Give us something. There are going to be specialty customers like again, my last client, they had their own payment gateway. Naturally, I have to use the API. That's not a big deal, but I don't know a lot of newbies don't understand stuff like that.

Mendel: Yeah. And they've started to walk in that direction with WooCommerce payments and adding that in as a simpler alternative. But yeah, it begs the question, why doesn't that come standard? And you have to disable that. When you install it, it's enabled and then, they probably will at some point and then the community will be angry about it being installed as a default and on and on we go. Yeah, so that's interesting. So payment is an interesting one. Anything else that you can think of that in the year 2030, we should see installed automatically or features that should exist in e-commerce?

Sharon: You just mentioned something that reminded me about being installed as default. And that's the one thing that bothers me as this Jetpack. I Would rather have the option, but...

Mendel: It's a line that you have to tread. Do you install it automatically and make it easier or do you not install it automatically? It's tricky. It's got to be tricky as developers to decide what are people going to want and what are people going to be allergic to? So I totally get that.

Sharon: Yeah. And because that, it ties it two, a wordpress.com account. And I have tried to set up all of my customers outside of my business, because I've actually gotten charged once from a customer for their shipping labels.

Mendel: So some logistics need to be figured out with all that?

Sharon: Because obviously I have my own wordpress.com account, but every time I do that Jetpack installation, and if I'm still signed in, to my wordpress.com, it's going to take my, and then it is such a pain to straighten that out. I'm telling you, I've spent my WooCommerce was very helpful. WordPress was very helpful, but I've had to work with both to get this one account so that it was off of my credit card.

Sharon: There's some issues that I have with things being automatically installed and Jetpack was one of them. Because I was trying to figure out, why do I need it? There's services I get, but there's also a plugin for the services. So, why am I installing Jetpack when I can just install the services? And avoid the whole issue of the wordpress.com. So any other, it's hard to say.

Because not every customer is the same. Obviously there's the one element you're trying to sell online. You're trying to create an online shop or whatever, but I work with customers that everything is customized, I would say. Being that these clients that I work with are very customizable, I don't really have any recommendations on that end because you just don't know what people want all the time.

Mendel: Yeah. Makes sense.

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Thanks for PayPal for being a community sponsor at Do the Woo. And now back the conversation.

Bob: I want to flip back over. As far as when you, the whole concept of, we start with, you hit the ceiling. As you're in the WordPress space and you're getting into WooCommerce, what do you consider one of your, I don't want to call it a win, but one of those pivotal moments, because you're a very determined person and you were set to, this is what I'm going to do. This is how I'm going to make this business succeed. And I know how I'm going to do it. But was there any moment that you really sit back and thought, "I'm starting to get into the groove of this community," that you thought this is where I belong and I think I made the right decision.

Sharon: Yes. I'm very determined because I have to say this was from a guy in one of my jobs, I worked. This guy actually told me you're not going to amount to anything you might as well just get married and have babies. I think I went home that day and I said, that is never happening to me. And I will support myself no matter what.

So yes, there was a determination that always drove me. It wasn't out of spite. I think it was something that I had in me that I just knew that I could succeed on my own. I didn't need to be supported by somebody else. I have worked with guys that have been tremendously wonderful. And one of the jobs that I had was at a casino and there were two guys that were in the tech department and I was actually coming in to build their training before the whole casino was basically training everybody that needed training.

Mendel: It's funny how that works. You're the one training everybody, but you're also getting grief from people.

Sharon: But the two guys that I worked with there, they were awesome. And I can't say our director was, because he came from a military background and he yelled at us all the time. But he was a softie at heart. But the two guys I worked with in there, they were the ones that gave me the most confidence. I learned a lot of stuff under them. And this was back in the days where there was, I'm not sure if I'm probably saying names, you guys have never heard, but Novell NetWare was one of the products that we use. So I learned a lot about servers-

Mendel: Were you talking a token ring adapter or something else. Do I get credit for that?

Sharon: Yeah. I learned, I'm telling you, whenever somebody gave me the opportunity to learn, I took the advantage of that. I learned everything I could, not that I wanted to learn anything about servers and hardware, but I did. I learned it and at least I knew something about it, which also gave me the ability when I was working with regular websites, how to actually host them on web servers. Because I knew about servers. I had a little bit more knowledge than most people that want to design and develop. That always helped me out when I decided to move forward.

Mendel: Let's talk about present day. We've talked a little bit about the past. We've talked a little bit about the future.

Sharon: Yeah.

Mendel: Let's talk about what you're doing now. You're an expert, you're a coach. You're also a builder, which do you enjoy doing the most?

Sharon: I'm starting to get into some coaching. I'm trying to teach people what I do, pass on my skills to others that want to start their own business. I really enjoy that. I think that's going back to my training days that I used to do. And I really enjoy just teaching people and seeing them see the light of where they want to go is really awesome sometimes. Obviously there are some that think they want to do this, but they're not putting in the effort that I would like to see. I think there's, I'm assuming Mendel you're way younger than I am. So-

Mendel: It's because I shaved off the beard.

Bob: He looks like a little boy now.

Mendel: That's right.

Sharon: Bob might be around my age, but there's a generation thing. There's those that want to work, and there's those that just want to, I don't even know how to say that. Just do the minimum and get paid or something. I don't know how to say that, but that's what I recognize. I recognize those that come to work want to take the credit, but they didn't really do the work. Today, I do still love developing. I still have clients that I keep on retainer and I do work for them. And I just have this one really huge client I still do work for them because we're not completely done. They had one of the biggest product line I've ever seen.

So we're still trying to pull that all into, that was an integrated website with a third party because their products were already in a system at their office. So I had to integrate their system into WooCommerce. That was a little bit of a huge undertaking. And plus, like I said, they have so many products. We're not even at the full field yet.

Bob: Have you felt the shift in e-commerce online? Obviously you sound like you already have quite a few clients that are already wanting to sell or are selling online or potential clients. Is that side of things, both in the coaching and the developing, are you seeing more growth for yourself and opportunities to build online stores versus brochure sites? That type of stuff.

Sharon: Yeah, I think that obviously 2020 is going to be a huge reminder of people trying to pivot. A lot of people, a lot of businesses are now pivoting to put themselves into a more online selling feature than just be in a a boutique brochure. So yeah, I do see that. And of course there's a lot of people that lost their jobs that are trying to find a way to create income. Those are the people I'm hoping to reach. I can teach them how to build and help them figure out how to market themselves. I'm trying to pivot myself to capture a lot of that as well, to help people get their income back. I'm hoping to at least use my coaching for some good.

Bob: All right. How about a last profound question from Mendel.

Mendel: Here it is. I'm going to get close to the microphone for this one. Let's assume that the internet didn't exist today, that you still had all of your experience from everything that you've done in your life. All of the clients you've helped, but the internet didn't exist anymore. What would you love to do for work as a freelancer or as a sole proprietor off the internet?

Sharon: I would be a scuba instructor.

Mendel: There it is.

Sharon: And that's one of my passions. That's what I do when I don't work.

Mendel: That's awesome. Sharon Yates. Nobody knows this about you until now, but you are the internet WooCommerce expert/scuba instructor. I only have to wonder if you're down in, sorry, you're not a scuba instructor. You're a scuba diver who would be a scuba instructor. But I have to wonder if when you're down there, you're like, you're looking at starfish, you're looking at crazy plans or something like that. And then all of a sudden, a new idea pops in your head about some site you're working on. That has got to be some sort of place to reflect.

Bob: There's got to be an app created for that. The underwater, when something occurs to your app.

Mendel: That's right.

Sharon: No, but it has happened Mendel. It has happened. Because, you have to understand as, if you have not dove before, I will tell you it is the most zen-like place you can be. I have been not everywhere that I would want to be in the world, but I have been to most of the places. I've been to Indonesia to dive and I've been to the Pacific. I've been to Fiji, I've been to Haiti and of course all over the Caribbean.

But it doesn't matter which place I'm at, when you're just in all of this beauty and it is beautiful. It is so beautiful and it's so comforting. And there are just times where you're one with yourself because you're just breathing and admiring all of your surroundings. And yes, I do get ideas while I'm diving. I have to make sure I have, a lot of us have something to write on underwater, but it does allow you to be creative while you're diving.

Mendel: That's awesome. If you happen to see some designs of Sharon's that seem to be inspired by waves or something like that, you know where it comes from. I can't thank you enough for being on the show today and talking with us a little bit about what you do and what your journey has been and how you do the Woo, and how you came to do the Woo. So thank you so much for being here. I want to take a quick opportunity to give a shout out to our sponsors. Then we'll ask you where people can get in touch with you.

WooCommerce, I don't know if you know who they are, everybody. But they are an incredible e-commerce platform that sits at the top of WordPress. And if you haven't looked at WooCommerce, it's a good thing that you're listening to this podcast because that's where you should go next. Is go to WooCommerce and download it and install it.

But remember, if you are using WooCommerce right now and you haven't updated to 4.9, update 4.9. Because that's important. It's important, right, Bob?

Bob: Right. That's always important.

Mendel: I love to update all my other plugins first and then update to WooCommerce the latest version, just to make sure everything's up to date and compatible. So that's cool. There's a cool compatibility checker too. If you didn't notice that when you update WooCommerce. Anyway, I'll stop talking about WooCommerce, but WooCommerce, our sponsor.

Our other sponsor and you may or may not have heard of them, but if you haven't, it's time to hear about them, PayPal. Now, you got to check out the new PayPal extension. It's on the WooCommerce marketplace. And when you download it, you can do a whole bunch of really cool things, including paying for, which is super cool. You can allow your customers to pay in for payments and there's really not a whole lot of risk to you. And it's super easy to set up. It took me about five minutes. So check out PayPal, thank you to both PayPal and WooCommerce for being sponsors.

Anyway, Sharon, where can people get ahold of you?

Sharon: They can get in touch with me through my email or on LinkedIn. And I'm on Facebook too, but where else? I think I'm too spread out on the social. I need to narrow down, but my email is Syates, S-Y-A-T-E-S @creativemousestudio.com.

Mendel: Cool. Awesome.

Sharon: And I'm on LinkedIn as well.

Mendel: Cool. And please accept our thanks for being on the show this week and bantering with us. We really appreciate you being here.

Sharon: Thank you. It's my pleasure.

Mendel: Cool. Hey, that's all for us. Consider leaving a review on Apple podcasts, make it a five star review, but you can talk as much trash about me in the comments as you'd like. Bob, thanks a lot for letting me muddle around in another one of your podcasts. And I guess we'll see you the next time.