What the Marine Radio Taught Me About WordPress Development

“I don’t even turn the thing on. Too many commercial charter captains yammering on about nothing” my uncle said, motioning toward the CB radio tucked under the dash of his fishing boat.

That day, we caught 5 Mahi-mahi, the longest of which clocked in at over 45 inches.

<img class="wp-image-347011458 size-full" src="https://benandjacq.s3.us-west-2.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/16110000/Featured-image-benandjacq-8.png" alt="That was a fun day on the water. Yes, I really caught those fish." width="500" height="500" srcset="https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/benandjacq/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/16110000/Featured-image-benandjacq-8 try here.png 500w, https://benandjacq.s3.us-west-2.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/16110000/Featured-image-benandjacq-8-150×150.png 150w, https://benandjacq.s3.us-west-2.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/16110000/Featured-image-benandjacq-8-300×300.png 300w, https://benandjacq.s3.us-west-2.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/16110000/Featured-image-benandjacq-8-50×50.png 50w” sizes=”(max-width: 500px) 100vw, 500px” />
That was a fun day on the water. Yes, I really caught those fish.

Fast forward two days. My uncle decided to pay a professional to take us out fishing for Cobia. “That’s how you learn” he said to me, winking.

On the charter boat the CB radio was featured prominently, with our captain contributing to the banter about where the good spots were, and where to avoid. Much of the back-and-forth was punctuated by our captain telling us—off-air—how full of sh** the guy on the other end of the radio was.

We went on to catch exactly zero Cobia that day, with a pro. An insider.

There are insiders and outsiders in every field.

I’ll take being a CB radio outsider with a cooler full of Mahi-mahi any day.

As a old-enough-to-know-better WordPress developer, I find myself approaching communities like the core development Slack channel and the Advanced WordPress Facebook group with a certain level of intimidation, knowing that my piping up there is akin to the rookie fisherman weighing in over the marine radio on the best brand of spinning reel–marginally helpful at best.

So I mostly just keep my head down, and keep reeling in the Mahi-mahi of engaged, happy users and raving five-star reviews.

There’s a place for contributing and collaborating, some day. But until I’ve got a few more fish in the cooler, it’s best for me to focus on fishing.

What are you doing these days? A Choose Your own Adventure:

I recently posted a pop-quiz on Facebook encouraging people to guess what kind of business I have these days, and what my ideal client would be.

As I suspected, I’ve done a pretty bad job of communicating what I do to those folks. This post is an effort to get you up to speed, no matter how you know me. Choose your own starting point, based on the headings below.

I know you from before college

A clipping from the Winston-Salem Journal featuring a story about a haircut I once got.
A clipping from the Winston-Salem Journal featuring a story about a haircut I once got.

We have got some catching up to do. Based on the human I was in high school, it’s probably not hard to imagine that I went off to college at UNC, and got hyper-involved with Campus Crusade for Christ, where I became a student leader and later joined staff with them.

I worked for 4 years in Middle Tennessee, and then got married, moved to Asheville, NC with my wife where we both worked for Campus Crusade for 4 more years before moving to the Triangle, where we left staff after a short struggle to raise enough financial support to stay on staff. I went on to have a job at Starbucks, at AT&T, and at a small IT/web firm in Garner called Wingswept, where I was in telesales. This paragraph got a much more lengthy treatment in my employment bio.

That is the extremely short version, but it brings us to today. You may skip to the final section.

I know you from college

Technically from my first years on staff with CCC, but again, I have much hair to apologize for.
Technically from my first years on staff with CCC, but again, I have much hair to apologize for.

First off, I apologize for my email address in college. I mean, it’s all well and good to be a Christian, but the email address wwjd4evr@email.unc.edu is over-the-top cheesy and steeped in late 90’s cultural pseudo-Christianity. To my shame, I don’t think I was ever embarrassed by my address while I actively used it for those 4 years. (I was oblivious to much that I now realize was wrong back then, but you’re not my therapist, so we’ll save it.)

Job-wise you just need to know that after 8 years of working with Campus Crusade, I transitioned to working sales, and then self-employment (but I am back to leading music, which if we met in college that was likely the defining thing you remember about me). You could also do well to check out my employment bio, as it’ll fill in a ton of blanks especially about the last half-decade.

Now, you’re up to speed. Proceed to the last section below.

I know you from your days on staff with Campus Crusade

I'm so sorry for my hair.
I’m so sorry for my hair.

If you knew single Ben from Middle Tennessee, you’ll be pleased to know that I learned how to vacuum and that I play guitar. I intentionally avoided the guitar living near Nashville, and legitimately never noticed dirty carpet until I had a wife.

If you knew married Ben from Asheville, my transition from campus minister to social media guy to web developer is probably much more easy to follow, because that’s where it started, when Josh Bolden asked me to make a site for something.

You could probably still benefit from a jaunt through the employment bio, to catch you up on my time through the 2010s. But once you get done with that, read on below for how you can help:

So what are you doing now?

Evidence of my hair-based repentance.
Evidence of my hair-based repentance.

Short answer: I’m a web developer. So anytime you hear someone with a website problem, just send them my way. Ideal clients are small- or medium-sized businesses.

Longer answer: I specialize in self-hosted WordPress sites, and can do anything from full site design ($2,000 minimum for custom code) down to quick fixes, theme installs, hack repair, and other one-time projects. This week I helped a new client install and configure Google Analytics on their site for $75.

I don’t charge by the hours a job takes me. I charge by hours it would take you to do what I do.

My bread and butter is maintenance, backups, and hosting*.

So, the best way you can help me out (and some of you already have!) is to listen for friends who say things like “I wish my website was faster” or “I don’t know how to rank in Google for my business” and send them my way. The best way for them to contact me is the form at the bottom of any page on my website.

*For hosting clients, My plans start at $65 per month and include backups and maintenance. It's top-tier managed WordPress hosting, on your own VPS with dedicated bandwidth. If you understand what that means, it will start to make sense of why GoDaddy or BlueHost can charge you $5 per month for hosting, and I am charging $65 (minimum)

I’m Speaking at WordCamp Raleigh!

Image of text "WordCamp Raleigh 2015"
Image mercilessly screengrabbed from the WordCamp Raleigh website.

Last year’s experience at WordCamp Raleigh was in many ways a watershed moment for me. I was in the midst of a bunch of developers for the first time, and got a glimpse of what the community really looks like. The one thing I kept thinking was “most of these amazing people live near me!”

Shortly after WordCamp last year, I developed my second WordPress plugin, which took off in ways I was not altogether prepared for. I found myself adding features writing power user guides, and getting a first-hand look at what it is like to support a product. I even fielded a call from someone looking to acquire my plugin (for not-enough-money, it turns out)!

While I still struggle with imposter syndrome from time to time, I have begun feeling like a real developer this year. My plugin has picked up (and retained) new users at a rate of about 500/month, and I’ve added new clients to monthly backup and maintenance plans.

This year, I’ve leveled-up my WordCamp involvement as well. This past week I met with Steve Mortiboy, one the organizers of WordCamp Raleigh, and he invited me to help as a speaker liaison this year, and in the process also invited me to speak at this year’s conference! I am very excited to talk to my fellow developers about how to get 5-star reviews, and turn support for free products into revenue.

The conference is October 10th and 11th, at the NCSU school of Engineering on the Centennial Campus. The great part about the conference (in addition to the low cost of $35 that includes a t-shirt and lunch on Saturday) is that no matter your tech skill level, there are tracks for you.

You can read about my session here, and get a ticket here!

*Update* I have now posted a promotional blog post about myself over at the WordCamp site. It was fun promoting myself. Gifs were involved. You can read that here.

Build Your Business, or Learn To Code: Pick One

I have moved this post and lots of other WordPress posts over to my new site at <a href="https://wpsteward This Site.com”>https://wpsteward.com, where I will continue publishing helpful tips for website owners going forward.

Still Processing how great WordCamp Raleigh 2015 was for my first time pseudo-organizing and helping out. You can expect a post about that soon. But here’s a bit of a rant that I drafted before the conference.

I see too many DIY WordPress folks trying to do these four things:

Read the rest of this post over at the brand-new WP Steward Blog

Become a Patron of My Plugins.

If you like the poem, support the poet. My Case for WordPress Patrons.
If you like the poem, support the poet. My Case for WordPress Patrons.
WordPress has a tagline: “Code is Poetry.” One of my favorite things about poetry is that there are no real rules, yet there are still good poems and bad ones. Generally speaking, poetry (and really any writing) is best described as a sort of word-sculpting, where the poet dumps the contents of their brain on the page, and then goes about sorting and refining it into a poem.

That’s how a lot of code works, too (which is what makes the WordPress tagline so helpfully beautiful).

The best poets in every age of recorded history, from Shakespeare to Langston Hughes to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, have had patrons. Patrons are people who want them to continue writing poems, because the world is a better place with poems in it. Patrons are willing to pay the expenses of an artist, even though the “services” they get are not as direct as, say, a plumber or a chef.

Poetry is not the type of thing that does well when monetized directly, e.g. “write a poem that will sell 100,000 copies” (Exhibit A: Pop-country music.)

That’s where our “code as poetry” metaphor begins to really shine, so stick with me. See, WordPress is “open source software” which means that (among other great perks) a bunch of volunteers pitch in to help make it. In most cases, the people shaping and refining the code are doing it in their spare time, and not getting paid for it. These code-poets are doing something not directly for the money.

Code, when it’s monetized directly, has the potential to devolve quickly into popups, banner ads, and phishing scams—the Rascal Flatts of web development.

When it’s everyone’s side project, being done for the benefit of the world, code is (good) poetry.

Which brings us back to the need for patrons: people who believe that what we are doing in the WordPress world is worth supporting. That’s why, for my free plugins, I’m starting a Patreon page. Here’s a video that explains in one minute what would take me 15 to coherently write out about Patreon.


I’m still going to be making and improving the plugins for free, putting them out into the wild on http://wordpress.org for folks to download and use. I’m still going to make decisions that are in the best interests of the WordPress community, and do everything that I have been doing to grow my plugin’s user base to 10,000+ overwhelmingly happy individuals. Now I’ll just do it with a digital tip jar propping open my laptop case.

If you like what I’m doing, you can chip in.

Right now, my plugins are generating revenue for me only tangentially, as I meet folks in the support forums who then hire me to do things for them.

If Code is Poetry, It's time developers started thinking about monetization like artists Click To TweetPatreon is a way for me to monetize the actual plugin-building process itself. No longer will it be “when I get some spare time, I’ll look into adding that feature.” If enough people like what I’m doing to chip in a few bucks per minor release, There will be better, and more frequent, minor releases (but don’t worry, you can set a maximum budget so that in the event that I go crazy with releases, you won’t be drained).

If code is poetry, it’s time developers started thinking about monetization like artists

You can support my plugins here: BenandJacq’s Patreon