MaAnna Stephenson is our WPOI (Word Person of Interest) today.
She’s the founder of BlogAid, a published author and a very talented wood carver too! Dive in to her interview after the jump.
1. Tell Us About Yourself, The More ‘Unknown’ Facts the Better!
I’m a multi-instrumentalist and professional composer with airplay in 14 countries. I also worked as a sound engineer in a recording studio and wanted to learn to fix the gear, so I switched from being a music major at the local university to electronics at the local VoTech school. When synthesizers came out, I wanted to build them.
I was working my way west and got as far as Texas where I ended up working for an electronics company for 18 years. I started on mainframe computers and was around when desktops started taking over the world. I dabbled in Internet coding and had one of the fist AOL accounts. About that time I transferred to Nashville, TN with that same company as a field service engineer working on big multi-million dollar machines.
I also began building websites for the non-profits I volunteered with. And, a lot of the business owners on those boards needed sites too, so I had all the side business I could stand with zero advertising.
But, after 25+ years of volunteer work, I decided to go do something just for me. That began a 4.5 year intense research project that culminated in a 400-page book titled The Sage Age – Blending Science with Intuitive Wisdom. It covers everything from ancient philosophy through quantum mechanics and was featured in Publishers Weekly shortly after its debut.
When I began doing the online marketing for the book, that’s when I discovered the whole Internet was changing and blogs were just catching on. I created a static site for the book, but that’s when I knew I had to bring in a blog, so I used Blogger.
My editor had questions, and being a good tech writer from my days as an electronics engineer, I had the documentation. She flipped out and insisted I publish it. So, I wrote nine more ebooks on Blogger, WordPress.com, and WordPress.org. That was the foundation of a site I ran prior to BlogAid.
During that time I also did two lecture tours with the book and had a wood carving hobby. It’s website is HeartwoodArt.com.
I was contacted by a freelance writer who wanted to do an article on my carvings, and I ended up being featured five or six times in magazines such as Woodcarving Illustrated.
They asked me to do a book, but I was a little too busy at the time, and have been ever since! But, I’ll get back to it someday.
2. How Long Have You Been Working with WordPress? When Was Your First Experience
I started with WordPress around 2008. I wasn’t very satisfied with my static sites and having to kluge in the blog from Blogger. Once I discovered all that WordPress could do, I began creating new sites and was hooked. My first WordPress site was Just the FAQs and it covered a mix of coding and blogging topics, as well as the nine ebooks I mentioned.
3. What was the impetus behind starting BlogAid?
BlogAid began in late 2008 as the sister site to Just the FAQs. It was basically, “I have a blog, now what?” and covered mainly marketing and content creation. I finally realized that running two sites was just splitting my efforts and that I needed to specialize into one niche or the other.
With thousands of free themes hitting the Internet, and me not being a graphic artist, I decided to give up most of the coding and theme creation side and focus more on teaching end users how to get the most out of WordPress. At that time there was almost no one else doing it.
In 2009, I moved all my eggs into the BlogAid basket and have been expanding it ever since to cover WordPress more in-depth, plus topics like site security, SEO, conversion, email marketing, and now member sites.
4. How Have You Seen WordPress Grow and Change? Where Do You Think It’s Headed?
WordPress has matured from primarily a blogging platform into a full fledged CMS with the addition of custom post types and other core functionalities. I’m very excited that the open-source community was invited to be so involved in something that caught on like this.
But, I also know that the whole concept of free has to change. A lot of folks made their careers in the early days with free plugins, and themes, and such. But, coders have to eat too. I’m actually surprised that it took this long for there to be a rather public disagreement between the folks behind the GPL code and the developers who are forking and tweaking it and selling it as their own.
But, what’s really funny to me is that they think there is no precedence for this. There’s plenty, especially in the music field. There are only so many notes and chords and the combinations have all been made, so how do you copyright something as new and uniquely yours? Code is much the same way.
For me, the maturing of this debate will be the key thing to watch as we go forward with WordPress because end users have been trained to expect everything for free, and developers can’t live on donations alone. I’m concerned that the quality of the free apps might suffer while we work this out. That’s too bad because everyone needs a way to get started, including both developers and users.
Another area that we’re all going to have to get more serious about is security. Sites are getting hacked every day from every direction. Folks who are on shared hosting are at the greatest risk. It’s like living in an apartment building. Everybody has to play safe for everybody else to stay safe.
The other area that I’m watching closely is managed support for WordPress. A lot more business owners want to focus solely on what they do best and let someone else handle all of the tasks of their site except for posting to the blog and such. And, even that is getting outsourced to professional content writers more and more. Part of this trend stems from WordPress and online marketing strategies becoming so complex and time consuming.
While my primary focus is to train end users, I’m actually in the process of expanding BlogAid to include a Train the Trainers section for VAs, coaches, and consultants. I can be their geek-behind-the-curtain, so to speak, and let them focus on what they do while I set up and maintain the techie and security aspects of the site. Of course, that will take a team, so I’m currently aligning myself with the proper folks to be able to offer 24/7/365 support too.
5. What Can People Expect to See From You and BlogAid in 2013?
As mentioned, I’m always expanding BlogAid to stay in the flow with current technologies as well as marketing changes and current trends. It’s like reinventing my business model every eight months. I’ve just started delivering webinars and online workshops and I intend to do more of those. And, I’ve recently expanded the video tutorial library beyond WordPress training to do full courses on SEO and AuthorRank, as well as MailChimp.
My next focus will be a course for setting up member sites, specifically on WishList Member, which is the most feature-rich of them all, but also the most complex to set up. So, look for more online training opportunities this year on a wider variety of topics. But, I’ll always keep my core training updated, which is WordPress. It’s the foundation of all the rest.
6. What Side Projects or Passions Keep You Busy?
My greatest passion is teaching. I absolutely love it! And, I enjoy research and love learning. Since I have a knack for making techie stuff easy to understand for non-geeks, doing what I do with BlogAid is such a joy, with such great variety in both the topics and the people, that I never tire of it.
I’m really enjoying all the new Meetup groups that have sprung up that cover every sort of online marketing angle. I regularly attend those on WordPress, SEO, marketing, and I especially enjoy the ones with coders. I don’t do much coding these days, but I like to keep close touch with developers because it gives me an inside look at what’s coming down the pike.
So, what takes up most of my free time now is getting to meet live with my local community. I enjoy my virtual online relationships too, but it’s nice to get out from behind the computer and see folks face-to-face as well.
7. Would You Share One or Two Tips For Those That are Getting Into WordPress?
For end users, the best tip I can give you is – don’t start with the theme. The only thing you know to look for is what’s pretty. Start with your content and then choose a theme that enhances what you most need your visitors to see.
Most of my clients are second site owners, meaning that they made a lot of expensive mistakes the first time around and now they are ready to revamp everything, and they’re ready to invest in the type of education that will actually help them achieve their goals.
About 85% of my clients, even those that have been blogging for a couple of years, don’t know WordPress fundamentals, much less SEO, and content and conversion. Nor do they know the power that a premium theme delivers in helping them do what they need to do. So, that’s where training starts, right at the beginning, to help them get on a solid foundation first. When their site launches, they hit the ground running so hard that they have to hold their hats.
My advice would be to stop relying on free, disjointed tutorials, and to get a whole picture from a qualified pro. You’ll stop suffering from what you don’t know that you don’t know, save a lot of money, and get where you’re going quicker.