Introducing Beth Livingston
Beth is a former WordPress designer, developer, turned online educator. She helps WordPress folks learn to get projects completed on time, within budget, with features that meet the client’s business requirements.
Preferred Pronouns | She/Her
Tara: This is Hallway Chats, where we meet people who use WordPress.
Liam: We ask questions and our guests share their stories, ideas, and perspectives.
Tara: And now the conversation begins. This is Episode 123.
Tara: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Tara Claeys.
Liam: And I’m Liam Dempsey. Today we’re joined by Beth Livingston. Beth is a former WordPress designer, developer, turned online educator. She helps WordPress folks learn to get projects completed on time, within budget, with features that meet the client’s business requirements. Hello, Beth.
Beth: Hi. Thanks for having me today.
Tara: We’re glad you’re here. Thanks for being here, Beth. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself?
Beth: Sure. I started life as actually a kindergarten teacher. Well, first grade. And then I went into corporate and started working as a business analyst and training specialist in corporate. I built my first WordPress website around 2009 for a side project. Isn’t this the way that most WordPress agencies are born? Right? You start building a website for yourself, then you start building them for friends and family, and then you think, “Wait, I could do this as a job.” That’s exactly what I did.
I left corporate in 2016, started developing websites for folks. My whole shtick was, “Not only am I going to build this website for you, but I’m going to teach you how to manage it and maintain it going forward” because I just didn’t want to do the aftercare. I’d been a help desk helper before and I didn’t like all of that. It didn’t take me very long to find out that most business owners don’t want to manage their own website. And so what would happen is “Oh, can you just do this for me? Can you just do this for me?”
At the same time, I started going to WordCamps and going to WordPress meetups and realized that so much of the stuff that agencies and individual providers are struggling with are things I have the answer to, I know how to stop scope creep, I know how to get content from the client on time. All that stuff you have to do very early on to make sure that the project runs smoothly. I did my first talk at WordCamp Asheville. I mean, a couple of people actually chased me to the parking lot after it was over to tell me how much I had had an impact on what they do. Then when I saw that same person the next year, she said, “You completely changed my business.” She said, “Now I’m getting paid for everything.” And all I did was tell him how to restructure their payment schedule.
To me, it’s like, “Seriously, that wasn’t really a big thing.” But for her, it really was. That’s when I said, “You know what, I should probably combine my skills. I’m a WordPress person, I have all this project management background, and I’m an instructional designer, so I should probably put all of that together.” My master’s degree is in instructional design, even though I worked in corporate and ended up being a business analyst. And so I thought, “Well, maybe I should just combine all those skills.” I’m now loving what I do so much because I’m creating online training. As I said, what is the definition of project success? On-time, within budget, with features that meet the client’s business requirements. And that’s what I’m helping people do now.
Tara: That’s awesome. I love the passion that you have. And to hear you say that you love what you do with such enthusiasm and commitment is great. I feel that way a lot too. And I think a lot of people in WordPress do, but you stand out to me as somebody who’s really happy. What do you love the most about what you do?
Beth: Oh, just watching businesses transform just by what I tell them or give them a process improvement, and to them it’s golden. That’s so rewarding. See, I’d forgotten what that was like. Because when you teach in corporate, most of the people that you’re teaching were forced to be there. They want you to cut off the top of their head and pour the knowledge in. Whereas you go to a WordCamp and talk and people are just like hungry, and they’re so thankful for what you teach them. So helping people is just really rewarding.
Tara: You’ve been to WordCamps and spoken at WordCamps. How did you discover the WordPress community and WordCamps?
Beth: I’m not really sure. How did I? I think I stumbled across WordCamp Raleigh, which is right in my neighborhood. I live in Greensboro, North Carolina. Then I had missed it. So I said, “Well, I’m kind of interested in what this is all about.” So I went to Atlanta. And then when I went to Atlanta, I said, “Hey, I want to speak at one of these.” That’s when I applied to speak in Asheville.
Last year, I spoke at nine WordCamps all over the country, because I was also gathering information of what are the things that most people are struggling with in this area. Actually, I attended 10 and I spoke at nine of those. I went to WordCamp US as a GoDaddy Pro ambassador. That was a lovely experience. I recommend anybody that can. This year it’s being held during the week. So for some people, that’s a lot easier. I always recommend WordCamps and meetups for connecting with your community.
Tara: Yeah, yeah, they’re amazing. WordCamp US is on a different level for sure. I did hear that they’re having it during the week, which I think is a really great thing because when you work for yourself, you are…I think that there are going to be people who can’t come on the weekends because they need to be working. But for people who work for themselves, which a lot of WordPress people do, there is that flexibility to be able to do that during the week. So it’ll be interesting to see how the turnout changes for having it during the week. And maybe not on Halloween like it was this year too.
Beth: That was kind of fun.
Liam: Tell us a little bit about the talks that you’ve given at the different WordCamps. What topics have you covered?
Beth: Let’s see. How to stop scope creep once and for all. Also how to prevent scope creep by embracing change. We talked about scope creep a lot. I had these six productivity principles for WordPress project success. So I talked about those a lot. Those actually came out of my time as a consultant in the IT industry in the early 90s. Yes, I know. I’m dating myself here. But I worked for a company called Keen at Boston. They were always in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for project delivery and doing things on time. And it was because of these six principles.
They gave us a book when you became an employee on these six principles that John Keen had developed, and you had to read that book and you had to go to a two days seminar. There was even a senior manager who refused to go to the seminar and they fired him because it was such a culture. And why? Because they were. They’re very simple. I talk on those a lot too. Define the job in detail. These are all common sense things that we know but we skipped over a lot of them sometimes. Break the job down, estimate the time and cost, establish a change procedure, agree on acceptance criteria and get the right resources involved. All of those are just common sense, but when you break them down and you apply them across what you’re doing, your project management methodology, so to speak, they work.
Liam: They become manageable, don’t they, when you lose some so explicitly? How do you go about finding clients?
Beth: Clients for my training or clients for development and design?
Liam: Well, I guess the latter for your training now because you’re focused on professional. Is that correct?
Beth: Right, right. When I wanted to create this digital course, I created the complete project management roadmap for WordPress. And to learn to do that, I enrolled in Amy Porterfield Digital Course Academy. I learned how to do that using a lead magnet. I have a lead magnet on my website that talks about how to stop scope creep in your proposal, what things to put in your proposal to help stop scope creep. Sometimes I’ll run Facebook ads to those too.
But I would like to tell you about an interesting way that I used to get clients when I was doing website development because a lot of people don’t know this. When you are a member of a WordPress meetup that is funded and sponsored by the foundation, one of the rules is any member of the meetup can organize an event. Usually, the organizers will have a monthly event or bi-monthly event, but anybody can schedule any kind of event they want to.
So what I would do is I would schedule these helpdesk events at the coffee shop right down the street so I could just walk and go down there and work. Of course, that comes up on people’s dashboards, right? And so people would just show up. And these are people that were way too intimidated to come to a meetup because they think it’s all developers and techie people, and they’re going to be laughed at or whatever, because they’re just a business owner trying to develop their own website or trying to improve their own website.
I did not go there with the intention of necessarily finding clients, but that would happen a lot because they would eventually just throw their hands up and go, “Can you just do this for me? I do not have time to do it.” That was one way that I got clients before.
Liam: To turn genius. I like that. I like that.
Tara: Beth, can you talk to us a little bit about success. Because you love what you do, I’m going to guess that probably has something to do with your definition of success. I’ve never guessed on somebody before and I haven’t known you for more than a few minutes. But we’d like to ask our guests how they define success and what success means to them. So can you talk to us a little bit about that word and what success means to you?
Beth: Well, in the online education world, it seeing people get results from what you’re teaching. If you see people get results, then you know that you’re going down the right path. Now, when I first launched the complete project management roadmap for WordPress, which is currently being revamped as part of my WP Project Managers Academy…and the reason I’m revamping it is that I tried to follow Amy Porterfield method way too closely. I didn’t follow my own principles. I didn’t consider my audience. I created this thing, it’s beautiful. It’s a beautiful course. But it’s like drinking water from a firehose. It’s just way too much stuff. And I presented it sort of like a software development lifecycle manual. So it’s not the way we as WordPress people are accustomed to or like to consume information.
My success just recently was talking to a lot of influencers at the recurring revenue retreat, which is related to WordPress, but not a WordPress sponsored event. I got to meet some of the people that I had admired and thought, you know, they were these superstars and now we’re like chemi and everything. Some of the stuff that they were able to help me with at that conference really helped me to realize that, first of all, WordPress people need to try it before you buy it as an option. Always. Because we’re just used to it that way. You have to have a free one and then you can sell me the premium one if it’s something I want.
The other thing was just breaking it down into smaller chunks. See, break the job down. Break this down into smaller chunks, that each chunk solves a particular problem or addresses a particular phase of the project management lifecycle instead of this ginormous thing that people have to sort through to try to find what it is they’re looking for. Did I answer the question?
Tara: Yeah, yeah.
Liam: Yeah, I think so. Let me ask you about revamping your course. In particular, you just said something that caught my attention about chunking things down. I get that. I totally understand where you’re coming from that. And it can be pretty difficult, right? Because if you know something well enough to create a course around it, it’s not quite second nature. I don’t mean like that you don’t have to think but you know its flow, you know its challenges, you know the rules and you know which rules you can skip at what point in time. And it can be a challenge if you know it that well to try to guess where people are going to say, “Well, that’s way too big a chunk.” Because for you it might not be anymore. I wonder what kind of experience that was like, Because presumably you had broken it down into some chunks, and they turned out to just be bigger than I’ll say the general public had. What was that like and how amazed or surprised were you by that?
Beth: Well, it actually was not that difficult because, again, going out and actually talking to people, which is the first rule of entrepreneurship – talk to your customers and find out what it is they need and want – it really wasn’t that hard. We have a content collection roadmap. I’ve done survey after survey, asked a ton of people, that is the biggest problem that people struggle with is getting content from the client on time. The second being scope creep. So there’s a whole scope creep roadmap.
If your only problem is scope creep, you just want to know, “Okay, what do I need to put in my proposal? What kind of expectations do I need to set with the client? What are the tasks and activities I need to do during the project? And then what do I need to do on the project close, and how do I make sure that I get paid for everything I do?” So I laid that out just all about scope creep. The same thing with content collection. And then also risk and issues which people don’t usually manage. Then I broke it down into each phase of the development lifecycle, you know, the proposal and planning and then design and then development and so forth.
Tara: Sounds really interesting. It is definitely a challenge when you’re trying to get content from your client and keep everything organized. What are your favorite tools to use? You just develop your own…it sounds like you’ve a lot of systems. Talk to us a little bit about tools.
Beth: For online training, MemberPress and Learndash together are golden. Those things work seamlessly together. MemberPress has been around so long that they’ve worked out all the bugs of a membership system and the payments and all of that sort of stuff. In terms of what I teach my students, and what tools they should use, the absolute best thing since sliced bread is Content Snare. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the tool, but James Rose out of Australia has created this tool.
The reason I like it is because I also teach a content-first approach. No development happens till we have all the content. But managing that content collection process, if you’re trying to do it with emails and a cloud storage solution, that’s crazy, complicated and difficult. Customers are always providing the wrong content and the wrong format. And Content Snare solves all those problems. That is my favorite tool of the day. It’s not a WordPress tool, but it’s designed for WordPress people. The lovely thing about it is it can be used for anything. It can be used to collect information from event attendees. Or anytime you need to collect content or information, it’s a great way to do it. James has done a really good job. See, I come from the software development world, so I also admire anybody that identifies a problem and solves it well with a piece of software.
Tara: And clients are generally amenable to using this new thing.
Beth: Well, you have to adjust. This is another thing I teach my students. Yes, I’m teaching you a process with all these tools, but if your client…See, I live in Greensboro, North Carolina now and there’s a lot of clients that have hugely successful businesses that are not the slightest bit technical. I mean, some of them don’t even have smartphones yet. I mean, it’s really bad. So you have to adjust for them. We fall back to paper sometimes. You just have to. You have to do what’s most comfortable for your client or you’re not going to get them to comply with what you do.
But the other thing I do is I include in my proposal a lot about my processes. So they’re not only agreeing to the time and the cost and all that, they’re also agreeing to follow my processes. And if I get push-back on that, I generally will pass on the client because if they’re not going to follow the processes, I know it’s going to be a failure. Why would I take that on?
Tara: That makes a lot of sense. How would you say your business is split between the education of other website professionals and actually building websites for people?
Beth: Well, I’ve stopped taking on new clients until I’ve got everything done with this online training. And this has taken way longer than I thought because I had it done and now I’m repackaging it in a different way. I’m having some of those experts that I’ve met over the last year are going to contribute a lesson or two with inside the program. For all those things that come before project management and all that stuff that comes after project management, I can’t teach project management in a vacuum. You can’t manage projects if you don’t have any. You got to know how to get them.
Well, there’s a variety of ways to do that. Maybe you’re going to focus on web bots or maybe you’re going to focus on high ticket sales funnels, whatever that is. But I’ve got those experts in line to teach. Now, I want to say this quickly before we move on. That’s the advanced programming and it’s not ready yet. But the beginner program is. Remember, we talked about the trial before you buy it and the free option.
So the WP Project Managers Academy is free, and then they get immediate access to WordPress Project Management 101. It’s a roadmap and it gives you a really good start. It gives you all the basics and a really good start on getting those processes in place to solve the problems that you’re struggling with. And that might be all some people need. But then for those that need the more in-depth training, than I do have the paid program that I have no clue how much I’m going to charge for it.
But here’s another thing about the WordPress people, I’m going to make sure it’s affordable. It’s not going to be one of these thousands and thousands of dollars to take this course because that’s not what I’m about. I do need to make a living because I didn’t put enough in my retirement account when I was working in corporate. I’m getting on up there. So I do need to make a living but I don’t need to make…Oh, this is what I had a gutter contractor say this to me the other day. I had a bunch of work done on my house, and I said, “Gosh, you’re so much less expensive than the next guy.” He said, “Look, I’m just out here to make a living, not a killing.” I liked that. Kind of taken that approach as well.
Liam: I’m starting to read a book called “Your Money or Your Life.” I think that’s what it’s called, and it talks a lot about this enough curve. There’s a bell curve. Like you reach the point of enough money and then your enjoyment of your job goes down. It’s an interesting philosophy but the whole idea of what’s enough. When you own your own business you’re always trying to do more and grow and make more and make more. I talked about this before with other guests about just the temptation to work yourself to death just because you can. Because there’s always more to be had. I like that. I’m just trying to make a living, I’m not trying to kill myself.
Beth: I do still maintain some customers but I’m not taking on any new development work right at the moment. And when I do start taking clients back on because I’ve learned so much from the Mike Killens and the James Roses and the Clifford Almeida and those folks and Matt Rodela, I’m really thinking about website as a service and using turnkey websites and WordPress multisite. Look, Greensburg is not rural, but it might as well be when compared to something like Atlanta.
You’ve got these small guys who don’t have a lot of money, they need a website or they had a website built years ago and it’s got to be updated, and they just don’t have a lot of money. If you can create something like a Wix like experience or a Squarespace like experience, but using WordPress so they get all the advantages of using that sort of solution, then I think it’s a really good way to establish some recurring revenue. Because of course, that’s like a monthly charge kind of thing. That’s what I’m looking at going forward. Maybe in the crafter niche because I have craft ADD, you know, like start a project and I…
Liam: I’m not sure I know what that is.
Beth: Wait, I think I’ll try that.
Liam: What kind of craft do you get into?
Beth: Well, I mostly love pottery because I just love that you can take a piece of dirt and turn it into something practical. And I also like that the stuff that you create is practical and usable it’s not just…I mean, not that I have a problem with art, but it serves a purpose. As you get to a certain age – and I’ve also been reading the Marie Kondo book – you just want to get rid of stuff. You just don’t want a lot of clutter around.
I like things that are functional. I really like pottery, but that’s really expensive and time-consuming. I live in a very old house. The electrical hasn’t been upgraded, so that’s a long story. But one of them, when I bought these kilns at this auction, the lady had been slumping bottles. Have you seen this where they flatten the bottle on the kiln and then it’s like a spoon rest or you hanging on the wall because it’s a full bottle or whatever?
Beth: She had been doing that. So when I bought the kiln, I had to take these boxes and boxes of wine bottles. And I thought, “Well, I’m never doing this bottle slumping thing.” Of course, I went online and watch some videos. I started doing this where you break up all the wine bottles and then you tumble them so they’re smooth and then you use epoxy to put them on a window so it looks kind of like stained glass. Well, here’s the thing. That epoxy after a while if it’s sitting in the sun gets kind of brittle and yellow and then all this stuff falls off. So I’m still waiting for those customers that I sold windows to come back and go, “Okay, this is crap.” I did that for a while.
Years ago I used to do cross-stitch where you do the little X’s in the fabric. I still have every single color of embroidery thread. That’s some of the clutter I need to get rid of in my house. I’m never doing that again. I can’t see well enough to do that anymore.
Tara: Beth you have a consultancy built around guiding businesses and giving them professional advice on how to be more efficient and more productive. I want to direct your attention towards advice for a moment. What’s the best advice that you’ve ever been given and worked into your life in a successful and meaningful way?
Beth: Well, those six principles really changed my life. But something Mike Killen and said to me at the recurring revenue retreat, and he was partially right, I was telling him, “Okay, I’m going to be reworking this course. I sold this many and blah, blah,” he goes, “You sold some of them?” And I said, “Yes.” He said, “Then don’t rework it. Just sell it.” He said it to me just like that. And he was actually right. I was so busy creating this perfect thing that everyone was going to love that I didn’t spend enough time learning how to sell and learning how to market. And again followed Amy’s prescription too closely because Amy’s market is anybody that has an idea that thinks they want to create a course about it. That’s a bunch of people. My market is different. Our people are jaded. They’re tired of sitting through an hour-long webinar when they know there’s going to be a 30-minute pitch at the end, right?
The first two webinars I did were terrible. The second two I started saying things like, “Okay, this is where the Guru’s say I’m supposed to tell you this,” but I’m not going to tell you that because I have too much respect for you. I’m going to tell you this instead.” And that’s when I got sales. “Just sell it” was probably the best.
Another piece of advice that he’s given since then is “it’s too expensive” is not a “No.” It’s not. It’s just that you have to explain to them, “Okay, well, yes, you’re right, it’s expensive. Here’s how we can start today if you’ll sign right here.” It’s not a no. They’re just looking for you to guide them into the purchase. I can’t articulate it the way he does, but…
Liam: Sounds like you have to articulate the value for money, right? I mean, most of us don’t mind paying good money if we’re going to get quality, right? Because we’ve all bought things at a discount and three weeks later, it’s broken or it didn’t work or it didn’t quite live up to the expectation. Like, “You know what, I should have spent 30% more and gotten the better model.” And it’s just having somebody that is giving information without selling. “Here’s why I’m charging this. Here’s are the benefits. Here’s some examples of some companies that have taken the course and some individuals, and here’s what they’ve gotten out of it in six months, nine months, a year or something.” So it’s demystifying. It’s not this feat because I need to sell a ton of them so I can go on vacation. It’s here’s the value and here’s where you’re getting. So I get that. Demystifying the value can be very, very powerful sales tool. Absolutely. Good advice.
Tara: Yeah, I like that.
Liam: What are what’s been the biggest challenge for you, Beth as you’ve been building this online course. You’ve kind of talked about content and chucking it down and trying to sell and a number of different things. What’s been the biggest one that you either struggled with or maybe you’re still working on it?
Beth: Well, it’s something that I continually struggle with. And I don’t mean to minimize people who have these actual conditions, but I feel like I might have a slight case of Asperger’s because sometimes I just don’t get what seems obvious to everyone else. I really have to stop and think sometimes, and thank goodness, I have some mentors that I can call up and go, “Okay, I’m thinking about saying this to this person. I’m thinking about doing this thing. Is that offensive?” Because sometimes I just can’t tell. I’ll say something that I think is completely innocuous and then someone is offended by it. That’s a real struggle for me.
Liam: Well, that’s certainly a realistic concern in an era where language is changing and levels of accountability are changing. But that can really be a difficult topic and certainly, we’ve talked about it with some of our guests before. Tara and I have. What are you doing to address that challenge? How do you go about dealing with that? I’d agree it’s a real challenge and there are different ways to address it. What’s worked for you so far? Or conversely, what way should we not try because it didn’t work out so well for you?
Beth: I guess slowing down and trying to see things from the other person’s perspective, and also realizing that you cannot be all things to all people. For example, and I’m probably going to make some people mad, but I saw a tweet the other day where someone was taking the issue with using the term “guys” when referring to a group of people – that that was too gender-specific. And then I’m like, “Well, what else am I supposed to use?” And so I went and asked on my UK and Aussie friends, “Is the term mate” gender-specific, because I don’t know.” Then that same group that tends to have issues with words like that, “dude” is okay. So it’s just sorting through that and asking people I trust that, “Okay, here’s what I heard. Do you think that this is the way everyone feels?” That’s how I’ve been dealing with it is asking others.
I’ve trusted mentors that have been in the community for a really long time and then some of the younger people, asking them, “To your group, does this come across as cheesy or inauthentic. I don’t mean it that way but it could be construed that way.” Those kinds of questions.
Tara: I think that the curiosity and the comfort level and being inquisitive is a key to that process. We’ve talked about that with some other guests as well. And I think it is generation to generation terminology changes, and none of us intend to be offensive or say something wrong. You don’t want to step on a landmine for sure. And you might and not intend to, but what I’m hearing from you and I feel this way also is a genuine desire to understand what the best path forward is with language and trying to implement that into your conversation is really important.
So I appreciate that you have mentors that you can ask and are comfortable asking the question because part of it even is, if you ask the question, do you look like silly? I ask my kids things all the time because they already think I’m silly, so I’ll learn there.
Liam: But I think it’s important to do the work though, right? I mean, if we’re uncomfortable or one short of what we’re saying, we have to do the work and do the research and put ourselves out there, or we really do risk offending people. That’s nothing we want to get into.
Tara: Not at all.
Beth: Exactly. Especially if you’re going to be speaking at these events and stuff, you have to be careful about what you say and the way you say it. I never intend for it to be at what way, right? I feel that I’m very misunderstood.
Tara: Well, and I think owning up to that and owning up to if you say something wrong that you didn’t intend to and correcting the mistake and moving forward is important too. Thanks for sharing that. Beth, I can’t believe that we are actually out of time. How did that go by so fast? Oh, my goodness. Thanks so much for sharing your story. Thanks for being so enthusiastic about what you do. It’s great to meet somebody who loves to help others using WordPress. It’s just a great thing about WordPress that it allows you to do that. Thanks for sharing with us. Where can people find you online?
Beth: My website is WProadmaps.com. If you’re interested in the WP Project Managers Academy, just go to that same website and there’s a link on the homepage or WProadmaps.com/joinus. You can go either place there. I have a Facebook group called WordPress Project Management. It’s open to join. You just have to answer three questions. That’s just to keep the scammers out. It’s not to judge you in any way. That’s how they can get in touch with me.
I would like to say this one thing about the WordPress community before we close. And that is that I am 62 years old and not only did I just learned how to fold clothes by reading the Marie Kondo book…Do you know who she is?
Tara: Yeah. I fold them like that too actually. I love her.
Beth: I’ve just learned to fold clothes, but I’ve also just found my community. Because WordPress people are my people. And when you go to a WordCamp or meetup, it’s like going to summer camp with all your geeky friends. And no matter how geeky you are, there’s somebody geekier. It’s one of the most inclusive and accepting communities that I’ve ever been a part of. I feel like the rest of my life is fine now.
Tara: That’s wonderful. What a great way to end. Thanks for sharing that, Beth. Great to meet you. Hope to meet you in person.
Beth: Yeah, me too.
Liam: Thanks, Beth. Really, really enjoyed our conversation today. Hope to see you soon.
Beth: Okay. Thank you.
Liam: Thanks for listening to the show. We sure hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.
Tara: If you like what we’re doing here – meeting new people in our WordPress community – we invite you to tell others about it. We’re on iTunes and at hallwaychats.com.
Liam: Better yet, ask your WordPress friends and colleagues to join us on the show. Encourage them to complete the “Be on the show” form on our site, to tell us about themselves.