A lot of developers in the WooCommerce space come to the table with many talents. D.J. is one of those devs. From artist to screen printer to teacher to developer, DJ covers it all. Having had to dig into WooCommerce rather abruptly, DJ knows what it means to learn Woo from the inside out. And that doesn’t even touch the strength of empowering clients.
A Chat with D.J.
Anna and I talk with DJ about:
- The journey to WordPress and WooCommerce
- What led DJ to the experience of applying at Automattic
- Diving into WooCommerce as a result of a project demand
- What resources have brought value while going through the learning process
- How DJ is making it part of his business to each non-techies WooCommerce
- Why code and CSS matters to the non-developer
- The importance of empowering your clients
Connect with D.J.
Thanks to our Pod Friends
Bob: Hey everybody, BobWP here and episode 124 of Do the Woo, a very, very special, special episode for two reasons. And it's not usually two reasons, it's always several reasons, but this is special because first of all, my cohost, you may have met her. Oh, I don't know, maybe it's been a couple months, might've even been more. I don't know, but there was a point where I was without a co-host and all this stuff happened, blah, blah, blah. And she stepped in. She knew Jonathan and I know Anna from in the past some indirect experiences, but Anna Maria Radu. Oh man, this is so cool. So I would like to welcome you officially as a co-host on the Do the Woo team .
Anna: Thank you so much for having me. Hello, Bob. Hello, DJ. I would have to briefly introduce myself because I'm quite new to the space. I am the founder of Digitales, an agency focused on launching and growing tech brands. I've been working with builders for the past seven years where I focus on initiatives that support builders and grow the WordPress and WooCommerce ecosystems. And I'm very happy to be here today with you.
Bob: Cool. Yeah, this is going to be really fun. And the second really special part is I've reconnected with somebody that we knew each other, well, I guess we've known each other since then, but we first met like 13 years ago in 2008 and that's quite a few years especially in dog life, but in human life, it seems like on social that's a lot of years. I'm going to introduce DJ here soon, but before I do that, let me just thank our pod friends. Yoast, now, if you are working on a WordPress project and you need a little bit of funds to help you get along the way, they've opened their diversity fund or actually renewed it. And if you apply before the 31st of this month May get in there if you need a little bit of funds. It's really a cool project. They do so much for the community. You can check it out at, dothewoo.io/yoastdiversity.
And then our second Pod Friend OSTraining. You build a site for a client. You don't have time to train them on the basics, OSTraining has a ton of stuff on WooCommerce tutorials over there. And as a builder, they're starting to put together some other tutorials as well. So I'm sure we'll be introducing some of those as they drop in for that developer side of things, but do check them email@example.com. DJ Billings, my good friend from way back whenever. And actually, it's amazing if you know Bob for 13 and you're willing to come back and talk to him. That's a feather in my cap. How are you doing DJ?
DJ: I'm doing great. It's been, yeah, you said 13, but it's like a billion. It feels like so long ago. Those were the days.
Bob: Yeah. In fact, we were just talking and want to get into it, but we were on a very unique social platform back then called Biznik. And that's another whole show, maybe not for this show, but that's another old conversation that way. It was very interesting. These days, DJ has talents in a lot of stuff. Art and all sorts of stuff. Currently, I know you do WordPress stuff. How do you do the Woo?
DJ: Well, I help people get their stores, mostly I help them customize the look and feel a little bit more. So a lot of times, my clients are setting up their own sites. They're setting up their shop. They're putting products in, setting prices in. Mostly what I help them with is trying to make it look a little better on the page than right out of the box. So it's a lot of CSS and you got the little customizer in WordPress now, so you can add that CSS in and change things up. And it's one of the things that I'm a big advocate for is teaching people how to do that. So that if I set that up, if I did all the CSS in the style, that CSS file, they wouldn't be able to change anything later. They'd have to keep calling me up or calling somebody.
And I like to give people the opportunity to learn that and do that themselves because it's really not that hard once you get into it. So I put it in the additional CSS in the customizer and I kind of show them what I did and then they can mess around with margins and paddings and moving thumbnails around and centering things. And that's really the bulk of what I do.
Bob: That's cool because, and we will get into that more as you're really empowering your clients. Before we get into that, just tell us a little bit about your journey, WordPress, and then how WooCommerce reared its little beautiful head in your life?
DJ: Yeah. Well, I started working in WordPress around 2009, maybe 2008, 2009 around the time we actually met. I had been on Blogger for awhile and I found WordPress. I can't remember how, but that was the start of really getting into web design was WordPress. And then I did that for a few years. Like you said, I have my fingers in lots of different pies and I'm always creating new websites. I think, I can't remember. I lost track of how many domains I have registered at any given time. Maybe three quarters of them are actual websites and some of them are just sitting there, but every time I do, it's almost rote. I just install WordPress. I add WooCommerce plugin. There's all these plugins that I just add automatically now.
But yeah, so then I did it so much that it's interesting because I did WordPress sites for myself and sometimes whatever the site it was, it was a blog or it was a business or something like that, it would work out and sometimes it wouldn't. And I realized after a while that the thing that I liked most other than creating these little businesses or writing in the blogs was actually making the website itself. So I started helping people with that. And just the past couple years, I've started really getting to actually helping people as a consultancy instead of just like dabbling or giving people advice here or there. And it's interesting how much people just... It's weird how people, just their first thought when they start a website, I need a store. I need a shop, either, if they just have a blog, that's kind of funny, but how they do that. And I don't really know the thought process behind that, but there must be some kind of something written out there. I don't know.
But they do. And then because it's WordPress, a lot of the times it's WooCommerce. And I like WordPress and I like WooCommerce because one of the things I love about it is I'm a big believer in open source and I'm a big believer in owning your content. I think that sites like Shopify have their place, but I like WooCommerce and WordPress because you own the content, it's yours, nobody's going to shut anything down and you always own it.
Anna: Can I maybe ask you DJ, how much creative freedom do you have when it comes to your clients' websites? So of course, you have the talent. Bob also mentioned arts. You also have a deeper understanding of what it means to build also on WordPress and WooCommerce. How much further do you go when you advise your clients on how pretty or how brand aligned should their websites be?
DJ: That's a great question. Yeah. My clients, a lot of times they already have their aesthetic down. So they have a look and feel they have their logo. They already know how they want things to look. So a lot of the time what I'm advising them on creatively is really about user experience. It's about how people navigate the site, because you can have the prettiest site in the world and if it's hard to navigate, or it's hard to understand where you're supposed to go, from a marketing standpoint, where do you want people to read and where do you want them to click and go next, I think that's much more important than the creative stuff. So a lot of times what I'm talking to them about is not how the logo should look or what the background color should be. It's more about how they experience the website.
Anna: But are there also maybe a little bit of some difficult situations where they say, I just love pink and I want my calls to action to be pink.
Anna: How do you navigate these kinds of situations?
DJ: Yeah, that is a tough one. Everybody has their own idea of what's pretty and what looks great. And what people want to see. And a lot of times clients, they just go by what they like, and that's good, that's great. You should have an identity, but a lot of times they're not thinking about, like you said, I just want the buttons to be pink. And sometimes it's hard because you're like, but that doesn't really aesthetically, it doesn't work with what you've already got on your site. It doesn't work with your identity. And it kind of looks a little 1998, and that's a hard conversation to have. A lot of times you're playing the diplomat. You're trying to explain things gently so you're not, stepping on toes or hurting feelings. Sometimes some of my clients are getting a lot of advice from spouses or best friends. Yes.
Anna: Why not?
DJ: And that's great, but sometimes they're wrong.
Anna: It's collaborative.
DJ: And it works great unless they're wrong. And then we get into trouble.
Anna: Do you perhaps try, I don't know, some sorts of experiments, like gather user feedback or just watch how the heat maps go or how the traffic flows to prove your points. Did you have to go that far?
DJ: No, I haven't so far. I've referred people to different articles about that kind of stuff and so they can read themselves and try to understand it better. There's a lot of people in marketing, especially for websites and user experience that say it a lot better than I do. And then that comes with a little bit more authority than just me just talking to them all the time.
Anna: Yeah. Well, the nice part about it is that we can test a pink button versus a red button and we can decide on what works best.
DJ: Yeah, for sure.
Anna: I really liked what you said about open source and WordPress in general. And I have to admit it that I did a little bit of research on your websites because there are tons of them and they have a lot of juicy content. And at a certain point I read that you said on your blog that you consider joining Automattic and then yet your route was totally different. Would you mind sharing your experience with us?
DJ: Sure. Well, to give a little bit of background, my main source of income right now is my screen printing business. I do custom t-shirts for people screen printing. But over the past couple of years, I'm trying to kind of migrate into more programming and web development and obviously working with WordPress clients. So I'm trying to kind of shift over. For Bob, that's probably shift number 16 that he knows about. Yeah. So one of the first things I did was, I was thinking that to make the shift, I should probably get something that's full-time that I can kind of really ramp up quickly and make a decent income. And so I went to Automattic and I saw a link somewhere for a job posting randomly for happiness engineer. I didn't really know what that was, but the more I looked into Automattic, the more I was like, wow, like this is a great company.
Like their whole philosophy, everything, I really kind of fell in love with it. And so on a whim, I was like, okay, I'm going to apply for this. I'm going to apply for happiness engineer. Why not? And if anybody has ever applied for happiness engineer you know that there are many, many steps and it can take weeks to get through the interview process and the testing process and all that stuff. And I did that. I went all the way kind of, I guess, well, obviously to the end because they didn't hire me, but yeah, it was really, it was interesting thing to go through. And it's funny because after I went through that, I mean, obviously I was disappointed, any time you apply for something and you don't get it, there's a little disappointment, but mostly what I learned was that I didn't actually want a full-time job. I've been self-employed for, well, since 2007. So I am not going to do the math right now, but-
Anna: It's since forever.
DJ: Yeah. And I wasn't really looking to... I don't really know my thought process there, why I wanted to do something full-time rather than be independent. But I realized that after that experience, that I'm really happy being independent and that's working well for me.
Anna: That sounds awesome. It sounds like it has a happy, not ending, but it continued to happen from even if you weren't in charge of happiness. Was it?
DJ: Yeah, absolutely. And it's funny because I'm kind of doing it anyway. That's what I'm doing with my clients. And so I'm just doing it on my own instead of for Automattic.
Anna: So you're your own happiness engineer.
Anna: How beautiful is that?
Bob: Yep. For sure.
So I want to kind of twist around back to a little bit of your WooCommerce work and something you had shared with me earlier really had me thinking how many people are in this place and how many people have jumped onto WooCommerce or used WooCommerce or started building sites with WooCommerce for this exact reason. And it's like, you suddenly have to learn it quick. Some situation comes up and maybe, it's sometimes easy. Okay, I'll pass this on. I'll find somebody else that knows this, but there's other instances. So that was kind of how one of the things you said was, Hey, I was, I don't want to say forced, but you were in a position where you had to suddenly start absorbing this information really quick and understanding how things ticked. Can you just tell us a little bit about that?
DJ: Yeah. I started doing it on my own site. I started selling products, t-shirts and eBooks and stuff like that on my own site. And it's funny when you work on your own site, it's a lot more forgiving. You can mess stuff up and nobody's going to yell at you because it's just you. Sometimes that's good and sometimes that can kind hinder your progress because you're like, "Okay, fine. I'm just not going to mess with that," and you let it go. But when you're working with a client, you can't say that because they're expecting a result and they want help. So you kind of have to muddle through and stick with it.
And I mean, there's a great community in WooCommerce. There's a great knowledge base and Google knows everything. So that is really my go-to is, it is going to Google and searching something. Somebody has an answer somewhere. And it's interesting how many times that happens, even when you think you know something in WooCommerce like, "Oh, I know how that works. I got that." And then you go, "Wait, that's not the way it's supposed to work." And then you got to go do some hunting and searching.
Bob: Yeah. So do you want to just share a little bit specifically around, I know there was one instance you shared with me or how you were kind of having to suddenly learn to structure Woo as far as the theme goes.
DJ: Yeah, totally. I was working on a site for someone and she already had her WooCommerce shop set up and everything. She just wanted some changes to the look and feel of the front page and her shop. And when I got into the site, the little notification kept popping up that WooCommerce was needed to be updated, but it couldn't be updated because of the theme. It was an older theme. The theme was just a very bare bones. It was created to be more of a blog, but with WooCommerce, but the theme wasn't being updated. I contacted the author of the theme who's still active and making other themes and they're great themes. And the theme is a good thing, but he said, unless there was a specific bug or there was some kind of problem with the theme itself that he didn't plan to add any new features or update it, but the WooCommerce thing was an issue. And I knew that I had to fix that for her going forward.
So it was a lot of diving into the theme and learning about how the structure of WordPress templates, template files, and how that integrated with WooCommerce and how the theme author actually created his own WooCommerce templates and learning how to update WooCommerce for that theme specifically, from the backend, instead of just clicking the update plug-in thing, because that wasn't doing it. So it was a deep dive into how those files work. And so I ended up creating a child theme from his theme and so WooCommerce can continue to be updated without having to update the actual original theme. It was a little daunting and it worked out. But yeah, it was a lot of Googling.
Anna: DJ, you mentioned some resources and some communities that you're a part of when it comes to WooCommerce. Would you like to share a few of those with us?
DJ: Sure. I mean, there's always the community within a WordPress, so wordpress.org support. And then there's WooCommerce communities. A lot of times these days, any kind of software web application is going to have their own little community. There's also meetup groups. I belong to a couple of meetup groups, that are WordPress specific. And that has been really great because everybody's at a different level in those communities. And it's interesting how much people share with each other without posing or trying to charge. And there's just a lot of sharing going on as far as knowledge and people are very happy to help people who don't know and kind of give them a leg up. So that's great to see.
Anna: So I know that you do WordPress for non-techies.
DJ: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Anna: Do you also plan to, or are already doing WooCommerce for non-techies?
DJ: I'm working on it.
Anna: I found a little secret.
Anna: What would you say that is the most impactful thing about a WooCommerce or even a WordPress design or experience on the website? What matters most to you?
DJ: Well, like I said, the ease of use. Somebody coming in, you put up a shop on WooCommerce or on your WordPress site and your main goal is to have people buy stuff. And so getting them to that shop and having it easy to navigate, easy to see what the products are, that's first and foremost. Sometimes the prettiness comes out of the usability, out of how easy it is to navigate. There's a site called tinywoodstove.com.
DJ: And that's all they do is they sell wood stoves and it's a WooCommerce site and it's beautiful. I mean, the shop itself is just gorgeous. It looks great. The images are great. They've got video in there. If you're a shopper and you're looking for a wood stove, I mean, it's got everything right there. It's like, if you are on Amazon or you go to the Home Depot website and you're looking for stuff, it's got everything. It's great.
Anna: I loved it that also their entire team owns or lives in a tiny home.
Anna: They have a community built around the idea of living in the tiny way. And I think that that's beautiful. We also had an interview for WooCommerce live with the founder of Tiny Wood Stove and he was giving us the interview from the inside of his production factory. So he was around tiny wood stoves and he was like doing it for real, like he was in the middle of the action. And that was a very beautiful use case and also a beautiful website.
DJ: Yeah. That's awesome. Yeah. I love the site and I'm also kind of like geeking out over the RVs and making plans for the future.
Anna: I think that no matter what people are selling, if they truly believe in what they're selling or producing or building, that's even more powerful than anything. And this is an example of that in action.
DJ: Yeah, absolutely.
Bob: I wanted to touch back on the something you mentioned in the beginning, when you said that you were teaching your clients CSS and how to use that and the customizer. For those, and I know having talked to a lot of developers having to deal with them, sometimes they are reluctant to do things like this because they're thinking, Oh, what are they going to do? Are my letting the crazy person loose in the basement or something and closing the door? What has brought you the confidence to do that? And what has been the result? How are you making this work? And that whole process of getting people to really understand what it is and know their limitations, but also giving them enough room to move.
DJ: Yeah, it's actually kind of amazing. Ever since WordPress came out with the customizer and you could do the additional CSS in there, it's been really cool. And I think that's been the biggest help in me feeling more confident in trying to get clients to kind of mess around in there. If you've ever done it and you apply CSS in there in the customizer window, it just updates. And you see the result of what you did. And that's huge because if you're working inside a style, that CSS file in a folder somewhere, you have to go back to the site, reload update, and then okay, go back and it takes longer to figure out what you did wrong.
And so one of the things I like to do is I'll put the CSS in there. And for example, I just did this on a site where there's a lot of CSS. I can't remember how many lines it is, but it's a lot, but I put a lot of comments in there as well. Comments are great and they kind of help people learn. And so if you just do something, like if you have some div class and you put in a margin, for example, 15 pixels or whatever, I just kind of tell them like, make that 10 pixels and see what happens.
And so they're not really breaking anything, the site doesn't go down, you're just nudging something over one way or the other. And then they kind of see, Oh, okay. I kind of get it now. And they kind of get a better sense of what things they can mess with and what things they can't. And then also knowing that none of it changes the site until you click publish. So they can mess around with that stuff all day long and until they publish it, the site's fine. Their visitors aren't going to suddenly go, "Wait, what happened?" While they're in the middle of doing that. So I feel like that should give people the confidence to just play around and see what they can do.
Bob: Yeah. That's excellent because it's the preview being able to see. And like Anna said, I think she mentioned earlier, you put it in this color and say, "Oh, maybe pink isn't the best color. Even though I love it, and all my clothes are pink, maybe my website doesn't necessarily be pink now that I see it." And I like how you're putting some in, and it's almost like here's a little playground area, you can change or here's where you change a color. If you want to change it, put in, see what it looks like. And in your mind it might be your dream color but in reality, it's a nightmare on the web or something.
Bob: So yeah, I like that perspective and I think it gives, well, one thing is it gives your clients a lot more. They feel like you're empowering them. And I think it opens up that space for developers and builders to say, "Hey, I can let them play around a little bit with this and work this without me having to worry about something's going to go sideways."
DJ: Yeah, absolutely. It's also something I'm really passionate about because I want people to be empowered to learn to code a little bit more. I think the more we get into Wiziwig website design, the farther we get from people feeling comfortable with the actual code itself. And it's funny because my wife kind of lamented some of the changes when Gutenberg came out with WordPress, because she had learned HTML and she liked doing some of that code. And then those things weren't as available anymore to her. And she's like, what is all this these blocks? I don't get them.
So it's interesting because people, they're afraid of code. They're afraid to, they're just going to break something. They're going to blow up the internet and the world's going to erupt in flames, but I think people need to kind of get back into that. And that's one of the reasons I like that a little additional CSS thing in the customizer because it gets people back into knowing code, which I think can be really important.
Anna: But DJ, what is it that you see yourself doing more of in the future? Is it execution or is it teaching people how to execute, how to design, how to implement, how to build or maybe is it something else?
DJ: It's the combination of both. I like doing that stuff myself, but I also like empowering people to do it. So it's a little bit of both.
Anna: That's beautiful.
Bob: I like to, every once in a while pull this from the hat for a guest, working with WooCommerce, as much as you have. Is there anything you still feel okay, I just can't wait till WooCommerce can do this or improve on this or make this a little bit easier. Or is there anything that comes to mind that still, because this stuff is evolving all the time and people will have their own opinions, but I think it's always good to hear, what is that little nagging thing sometimes that every time you get, there you go, Oh, heavy sigh.
DJ: In a word, shipping. That's one thing that has always frustrated me in setting up WooCommerce stores is the shipping aspect, trying to get that right. When you sell CDs and then you sell a sticker and then you put them both into the same package because somebody buys a CD and a sticker. It changes the cost of shipping and trying to figure all that out can be really complicated. And that's one thing that's frustrating to me. And a lot of it is really kind of the US post office. It's not necessarily WooCommerce, but it is kind of a sticking point that I would love to see that be easier to set up and understand.
Bob: Yeah. I think the post office is a frustration for a lot of us, even for us that don't have WooCommerce sites or ship, but yeah, yeah. I can understand that.
And I'm going to kind of round it up and maybe Anna might have something else to add on to the end, but you've been dabbling in, you dabble in a lot of stuff and you're obviously, as a normal DJ out there not building sites, buying online, is there anything you really look forward to in this whole space or is we might be on the cusp of it? It's kind of the, ecommerce the online buying space that you see on the cusp. Anything that you're really anticipating or looking to?
DJ: Wow, that's a big question. It would be great to figure out a way, like Amazon, it makes it easy to sell products that you have and I don't know exactly how it works, but some people make a living selling products through Amazon. They're in a warehouse somewhere and they don't have inventories in their bedrooms. And that's kind of easy to set up through Amazon, from what I understand and from what I've read, that's an interesting idea. And working with our screen printing clients in that business, we get a lot of apparel brands who are trying to figure that very thing out like, okay, so I have t-shirts made, but I don't have space in my tiny apartment to carry a ton of inventory. So if somebody else could do that and I could just set it up, so this goes here and that goes there and it just gets sent out. It would be really cool to have some kind of feature through WordPress or WooCommerce that allows that to happen. That you can set up more of a distribution feature, something like that.
Anna: I have one more question for you DJ. I really love reading your websites and blog posts. And I understand that you're a very avid writer and I was wondering how useful was that in your work with WordPress and WooCommerce?
DJ: I think it's mostly useful in working with clients, to be honest and trying to teach people because I think being able to communicate well is one of the most important skills in anything anybody does. If you can communicate well, you can help people and you can figure out how to do something a little bit better. That's probably the biggest help it's been to me. And besides I have to write, I don't have the option. For my own personality for my mental stability, I have to write.
Anna: Then it also sounds like you could build a website from end to end because you can also design and build and write and yeah, you can put it together easily.
DJ: Yeah, absolutely.
Anna: Beautiful. Where is it that people can learn more about your work?
DJ: Well, the kind of the hub for everything is itsjustdj.com. So that's usually my handle in most places is, ItsJustDJ. I update that site frequently. It's kind of the hub and it points to all the different things that I do.
Anna: Awesome. Thank you.
Bob: Yeah, very cool. And you should go there and check it out because DJ does do a lot of things and has his fingers in a lot of stuff and yeah, hey even screen printing, that's his other business. And he does have a link to what he does with WordPress and the services there that he offers there as well. This has been an excellent show.
And I'd just like to thank our pods friends one last time before we head out. OSTraining, whether it's for yourself or your clients, understanding their Woo shop and WordPress, all that stuff, great training over there. I look at how DJ is empowering his clients through CSS. And that's just one idea of this, whether you're handled the training yourself, or if you need somebody, ostraining.com.
And we have Yoast. They'll help you cover some of the cost of a project you're working on in WordPress, I mean, I can't guarantee they're going to cover everybody's, but they're looking for some cool stuff to do out there. They're a supporter of us obviously. They're supporting this project that I do in this community. So Yoast, yeah. Check them out. Just go to dothewoo.io/yoastdiversity and you can check that out directly.
Well, again, thank you, DJ. This has been a lot of fun catching up with you. How time flies, it seems like we've known each other forever and yeah, in internet years, it has been forever. So appreciate you taking the time.
DJ: Yeah. Thank you. I really loved being here and catching up with you again and talking with Anna. It's been great.
Anna: Thank you. Thank you. I loved it. It was nice meeting you.
Bob: Very cool. And Anna, yeah. I'm looking forward to having you on once a month.And yeah, this is going to be a lot of fun and I appreciate you taking the dive into the team here because yeah, you bring in another great perspective. Everyone, keep on top of Do the Woo at dothewoo.io/subscribe. And you know what I always say, but you got to keep doing and that's keep doing the Woo. Till the next time.
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