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Mary is not a veteran of WooCommerce, but has successfully used it to launch her own store and has plans to get into it even deeper. She is also on the WordPress core contributor team and has a passion for documentation.
A Chat with Mary Baum
In episode 61, I chat with Mary about:
- How she started working with WordPress and her first exposure to WooCommerce.
- Her biggest challenge with WooCommerce.
- What is happening with WooCommerce meetups and how she is involved.
- The top strength of and challenge with WooCommerce meetups.
- What the perfect world of Woo might look like in five years.
- Why meetups should always address the needs of beginners.
- The mix of in-person and virtual meetups for the future.
Mary shares how she started with WordPress, but more even more importantly, the unique client she had for her very first WooCommerce project. She also shares a bit around her biggest challenge as someone who is still learning WooCommerce.
One of the reasons I brought Mary on was that she is not a seasoned Woo user, but has plans to move deeper into Woo. We find out what that means and if it is more for her own projects or for future client work.
One of Mary’s original interests came from wanting a solution for her site RacquetPress.com. She built it because of the lack of success she found on the web for tennis apparel that she liked. As she builds out her store, I ask her more about if she plans on sticking with original designs or if reselling or dropshipping are in the future for her.
After that, we flip to what Mary does on the WordPress core team. She describes herself as a copy editor, which leads us into talk about documentation, including docs around WooCommerce. We round out with her thoughts on whether documentation in the tech world is improving on the web.
Lastly, I ask Mary how she would respond to someone who is considering WooCommerce and coming to her for advice. Mary is obviously a fan of Woo but she does share with us a couple specifics.
Connect with Mary
Yes, this is the transcript. But not in the traditional sense, transcribed word for word. We do not speak as we write. Often the flow of transcribed content is hard to follow. So I have taken it a few steps further by seriously editing, at times, the conversation and even using my editorial freedom to clarify some points. So enjoy.
Bob: Hey, everybody. BobWP here, episode 61. I am back by myself. Well, not by myself literally, but no cohost. It's national Give Your Cohost a Day Off. I actually made up that holiday. It doesn't exist, but I've started it today. So now my cohosts can remember that.
We are here with a great guest. This is a little bit of a different angle on how we normally talk about WooCommerce and we'll be getting into that.
Before I do, I want to just thank my sponsors real quick. Mode Effect, your WooCommerce partner to help you with your site optimization and speed resulting in increased profits. You got to check them out. Cody over at his agency does great work.
Recapture.io. An abandoned cart and email marketing solution. With abandoned carts, you've got to take care of that stuff.
And of course WooCommerce, our community sponsor. Just a reminder, 4.3 release candidate two came out. And on July 7th, the release will be out. I'm assuming you all have everything set by now, but just in case you don't., a friendly little reminder.
Well, let's get into the show. Today I have a special guest, Mary Baum. Hey Mary, welcome to the show.
Mary: Hello, How are you?
Bob: I am doing excellent. And I'm looking forward to this. And just to give a little preface to this. Mary and I talked a while back about having her on the show. She does a lot in the WordPress space, which we'll touch on as well. But as far as WooCommerce, she's gotten into it, and she wants to get into it more. So I thought it would be great to take that perspective from somebody that hasn't been immersed in it for years and years. Get a little bit of feedback, insight from her on WooCommerce. and then just how it connects with all the other dots.
But before we do that. I know you have your hands in a lot of stuff. Why don't you tell us what you do right now? What keeps you busy and how does WooCommerce play into that?
How Does Woo Fit Into the Mix with Mary
Mary: Well, a lot of what keeps me busy these days is the WordPress Core team. And then WooCommerce is almost like my side gig. I've got into product design a bit. So I'm playing around with a couple of integrations with WooCommerce, Printful and Printify. And I'm designing because I wasn't really finding the stuff I wanted to wear for tennis.
And then from an aesthetic point of view, I'm interested in exploring surface pattern design. I also have some patterns on some hosted solutions from Spoonflower for fabric to some of the other hosted places like Redbubble and Society6. And have started also doing some wall art with some of my photography. I shoot three things, basically. Landscapes, macro flora, flowers and leaves and stuff. And I shoot tennis when there are tournaments. And of course, with a background in tennis, I've shot a lot of pros portraits in my life.
Bob: Okay. Because we have a lot of different angles we can take this on. Let's go back just a bit, probably more than a bit. But how did you get into WordPress? Because obviously over time that led up to WooCommerce when you were looking at your need sand you wanted to start selling you something. What's your original WordPress story?
Mary Gets Into WordPress and WooCommerce
Mary: My original WordPress story is kind of boring. I was in a marketing group and people were using WordPress and I had not yet learned to design with it. I had learned to build real sites with regular HTML and CSS. I started learning to code at the tender age of 47. So I turned 50 and that was also weird because I had always looked forward to turning 40, but then I wasn't counting on my forties ending.
But the more interesting story is not so much how I got into WordPress. It was my first exposure to WooCommerce, which was in 2012. And I had a client who, in this day and age of the Karen, nobody wants to hear about the lousy client. And I'll preface this by saying, I'm an atheist agnostic, sort of new ager, culturally Jewish. And I have this client who says she's channeling an Archangel. And so for comedy purposes, I'm going to say, it's the Archangel who was the bad client.
I'd be reading these transcripts of this and that. And I'd be like, "Well, this is nice Archangel Michael. Well, let me tell you something. On this planet, we have these things called commas when we write. And I suggest you use them."
So anyway, my first exposure to WooCommerce was setting it up with a booking solution. I don't remember now which booking solution it was. In fact, I'm forgetting the names. But basically she was selling appointments. And that actually worked pretty well. And I learned to design it and I'm a Genesis person. I've been involved with Genesis and bought the pro pack in 2011. And WooCommerce, as you know, takes a similar approach to the gridding that Genesis does. And so that was not all that hard.
And then my next adventure with WooCommerce. There's a guy here in St. Louis who's the exclusive servicer of prints brand stringing machines. This is a company called Tennis Machines. They've moved on to, I believe Aveda or some theme like that. I think it's the X Theme or something. But I had the site for a couple of years. And they had some things they were selling that they had inventor So I set it up there and got them going with WooCommerce.
When I started reading Chris Lema's blog and he had a period where he was starting to talk about Printify and Printful and some other things. And he's always setting up a merchant store for something. Maybe he has a little less time now that he's in the middle of a move. Bit I've learned a lot over the years just from watching his videos and going to his talks. So when I see him, I try to make a big point of asking him about something that's actually of interest to him, where I'm not getting a piece of him for free.
And if I have a challenge with WooCommerce itself, it's figuring out which ... Despite the Genesis plugin, that does a lot of it. And I suspect if I would read through the documentation a little bit more, I'd probably have an easier time of it. But figuring out what styles and templates really to turn on and turn off. So that I'm not constantly going between hundreds of things to target that are sometimes redundant. But there was never any question of my using anything else.
And sometimes when I go on these merchandise sites and they have a Shopify integration or some other, it's like, "No, I'm going to do the WooCommerce thing. It's a no brainer." And especially now, not that I've really investigated them. But now that there are some of the plugins that I can experiment without committing to $70 or $80 a year for each one. I think that's going to be a good way to get my feet wetter.
Bob: Yeah, exactly. So you're at this point where you've started with WooCommerce for yourself and we didn't really talk about RacquetPress.com, which is your tennis apparel site. And that's where you're selling stuff. And you said that you were looking to get into WooCommerce, maybe even more. What did you mean by that? Are you thinking of doing more WooCommerce projects for people? Or do you really want to wrap your brain around it and get the most out of it for your own use? Or a bit of both?
What Mary Means by Doing More With Woo
Mary: I think a bit of both, if I could ever learn to focus.
Bob: Give yourself three more years because I think I maybe finally did. I don't know.
Mary: I think you're close. Yeah. So we'll see if I can make something of the merchandise. See if I can find something that actually sells. I think that one of the difficulties at this stage in life is that there's an aesthetic in the art and merchandise world that is just perhaps not where I am. So either people who like the same things I like will eventually find their way to me.
Or I'll broaden it or else I will do it just as a way of making art. And spend more of my time that I spend interacting with the world, just giving back to Core and taking on the occasional paid project. I may start booking some project work again in the first half of '21. Still making that decision.
Bob: Now about RacketPress.com, you're using Woo. Is it primarily the product you're selling on there. So you're printing your own artwork on it and using a service like Printify, that's the concept.
Bob: So you're not reselling, you're taking a blank slate and putting stuff on. So you obviously didn't want to become a seamstress or run a factory of people putting all this stuff together. Are you set on selling your products, using your artwork and the prints on it, versus ever looking for any other products out there you might resell?
Selling Your Own Products vs. Reselling/Dropshipping
Mary: I was watching some videos yesterday about a product in the drop-ship world, the whole Alibaba thing. And that doesn't really appeal because that seems hard even with nothing coming through here. And also the whole point of it for me is to sell things with ... I mean, at first the point was to sell tennis related things. And then it was to broaden out into things that come from my landscape photography or things that come from other explorations in pattern design. It's really about the art of it.
Bob: Yeah. And I know some people that have gotten into drop shipping and some of them ... I mean their model was built for it and there weren't a lot of choices. But I've heard of a lot of challenges. You don't have inventory, you don't have shipping yourself. There's a lot of benefits to it, but there's a lot of other logistics that are thrown into it that can be challenging.
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Now let’s head on back to the show.
What Mary Does on the WordPress Core Team
Now, previously, you had talked a little bit about working in Core. What I'd like to get is a bit more specific and exactly what you do in Core.
Mary: Basically I'm the copy editor. Occasionally I'll get involved with things around tickets in the code. And I will get on a ticket and discuss some of the writing that goes on in the software, in the form of error messages. I was involved in a long discussion and negotiation about how we tell people to upgrade their version of PHP. Periods of like 20 minutes at a time over six months. So that's me. Yay.
It started right after the release of 5.0. If you ever want to get involved in any part of WordPress, but particularly Core, all you need to do is download Slack and leave it open. Just leave it running and listen for the knock, knock noise. And follow the discussions and find a place where you fit in. And so it started with 5.2 and releasing the betas and stuff. I very tentatively offered suggestions about the release post. Just little places where I could take out a word here or there, fix a verb. Don't get me started on verbs.
Documentation and WooCommerce
Bob: How about copy around WooCommerce?
Mary: Microcopy in WooCommerce, my first exposure. And it's saying things like, "It seems that your cart is empty," or "There was an error when you were attempting to ..." Various things. And I'm going, "No." Which was probably one of the best things that ever happened for my PHP. Because I was reading through all the WooCommerce files. Okay, where the hell is this? And no, we're not going to say it that way.
Because I started life as an art director in an ad agency. That was what I wanted to be when I was in school. Well, first I wanted to be a lawyer. Then I wanted to be a sportscaster. But I wound up actually changing schools and learning design so that I would be an art director. And I could already write and I can never be just one thing. Well I could, but then I'd get bored and start making trouble. So I'm really better doing many things.
And then my other cardinal rule, and it leads to a lot of these other copy rules, is don't talk down to people. You walk in their shoes. I took an acting seminar once in about 1987. And it was about learning to be in the character. I've never been particularly interested in acting. Frankly, it's hard enough to succeed in anything else. But you got to be the person that you're writing to.
If you look at the great direct marketing writers, the Gary Halbert's and the John Carlton's of the world. That's what they'll tell you. Is you've got to know what somebody is feeling. What they're afraid of, what they want. You're never going to motivate anybody to do anything or to give you money by being the hero, or someone who knows more than they do.
Bob: I agree. And I have always felt that way, even before I got into WordPress, having my own marketing company. But during those seven years of teaching beginners with WordPress. That was my gig for many years and that was it. I would sit there and yeah, I can remember what you're going through. It's empathy. We talk about it all the time, but it is. It's understanding, hey, I've been there. I get it. I know I have the patience here now to help you through it. It doesn't mean you're ignorant or stupid because you're having troubles wrapping your brain around it. You got to put yourself in their shoes.
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And now, back to our conversation.
One of the things I wanted to talk about with WooCommerce. And this is maybe an odd way of pulling in what you do with Core with WooCommerce. But as you get into WooCommerce and you get into all the different elements that you want to bring into WooCommerce. Whether it's Printify or extension. Because of what you do in core with documentation, what are you seeing in the bigger space?
Especially in the WooCommerce or WordPress spaces. For example, you land on something and they're talking about WooCommerce, whether it's WooCommerce.com or somebody else writing about it with some kind of documentation. Is it more to the point where people are understanding that you need to make it easy, you need to make it simple, you need to make it concise? The same things you're working on with Core documentation now.
Where Documentation is Improving on the Web
Mary: Well, what I've noticed is the prevalence of video. And I think that's a great start. It doesn't work for me because I don't often have the patience to watch a five minute video to find an answer. If I were looking through an article, I can probably read the article in a fifth of the time it's going to take to watch the video.
Bob: That's true about the video. I mean, I'm the same way. I'd rather read. Maybe it's just what I've always done. And you think that's helping clarify it and make it easier for people that are just getting into the different pieces of technology,. That video is accomplishing that?
Mary: Well, I do see it. One of the things that I've been getting into sort of as a support to this, is I've been getting into 3D. And of course, because I am a good WordPress community member, not that I have yet to spend any money with Jonathan. But I'm learning Blender, which is an open source product. And the leader of one of the huge Blender communities is Jonathan Williamson. Pippin's twin brother.
I remember years ago as we're getting ready for a WordCamp here in St. Louis, and my husband was going to volunteer, I said, "Oh, I need to warn you about something. There's two Pippins. So if you see Pippin in the hallway and Pippin in the hallway, no, you're not going crazy."
Bob: Yeah, exactly.
Mary: So, while I have not yet joined Jonathan's membership site, knowing that was what Jonathan did, certainly led me to Blender. And the point I'm making telling you that is I really do find video helpful with Blender. I am now riding an exercise bike in the basement. And just yesterday, I learned how to put my phone videos on the big screen. I'm going to be doing a lot more Blender video watching as I get a little bit better into shape.
Bob: Yeah. There are certain times when video worked for me better. Especially if I'm trying to put something together I've struggled with stuff. And I ended up going on YouTube and somebody is showing me how to do it. So it certainly saved me a ton of time in lot of cases.
What I want to do to close this out is just get your words of advice. You're at a certain point using WooCommerce and you have experience with it. If somebody came up to you and wanted to use it, what would be your words of wisdom to them?
The Piece of Advice for Those Who Are Considering WooCommerce
Mary: If you're not going to use one of the WooCommerce themes like Storefront, it probably is to use a Genesis theme with the Genesis WooCommerce plugin. Because I think that simplifies a lot of the templating. Or as I would say to a person who's not elbows deep in CSS and PHP most days, the layout and the gridding.
And I will also be really excited when you can make a product in WooCommerce with the block editor. The same way you can do a page or a post. And I'm not sure that's there yet. And I don't know whether it's on the roadmap even. Because I think most of the ways WooCommerce uses blocks are about taking the product you've built in essentially the classic editor.
And I understand why, with all the database things you have to add. Which is also a great thing about Printful and Printify is they do that for you. That whole data entry thing is just handled. Instead of on your own, you have to figure out, well, is this a variable product? Does it have sizes? Does it have colors? And so if you do print on demand, that's all taken care of, because they know what the sizes and colors are.
Bob: Exactly. And I think that's the direction WooCommerce is going. So, yeah. We'll see what happens there.
Well, this has been cool. It's been great being able to chat with you. I don't think we've really had much time to chat even when we're at WordCamps together.
Mary: No, I don't think so. We're always busy with our groups.
Bob: Well, next time we're able to do one, we'll have to find the time. Where can people connect with you? Where's the best place for people to connect with you on the web?
Mary: Twitter. I live on Twitter.
Bob: So what is your Twitter handle?
Mary: MaryBaum, M-A-R-Y-B-A-U-M.
Bob: Great. Cool. Well, everyone, that's. I think we will wrap it up. Fortunately, you don't have to have me as the only cohost for upcoming shows. My cohost will return it as long as they don't think it's an extended vacation.
But before we go, I just like to thank our sponsors one more time. Recapture.io, an email marketing and a cart abandonment service. WooCommerce.com. Of course, you know who WooCommerce is because we talk about it all the time. And Mode Effect, check them out. Great for getting your WooCommerce site optimized.
And of course, you can subscribe to the podcast. And do all that good stuff. Keep on top of things with Woo News on my site. Again, thank you so much for coming on the show, Mary.
Mary: My great pleasure. This has been great fun. And I tell you I've been excited for like three weeks. I've been thinking, Oh, I'm going to be on Bob's podcast.
Bob: That is a record, let me tell you. Thanks and have a great day.
Mary: You, too.
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