Prestige Conference 2015 Review: A small business perspective

A week ago today was the Prestige Conference in Las Vegas. Prestige bills itself as, “Prestige is a business and career development conference geared towards freelancers, entrepreneurs, and small shops operating in the digital marketplace.” Their goal is to bring in experts from the WordPress and non-WordPress communities to talk about the business side of Web and Product development. Though half of my career has been working with Enterprise clients, I started out working in small Web Development startups and now specialize in working with freelancers and small shops getting them organized and streamlining their development. I wanted to come to Prestige and look at it through the eyes of a small business owner. Would I learn something new? Would I get access to veterans in the industry? Was it worth the trip?

Day 1: Friday

I arrived a little late into town on Friday, so by the time I walked in to the Innevation Center(same location as WordCamp Vegas), Jake, @jakemgold, was already starting to interview Andrew,@norcross, Cory, @corymiller303, and Ben, @benjaminefox, about WordPress products. Immediately I was struck by the candidness at which each interviewee shared their experience. Each one displayed detailed slides illustrating their growth and struggles over the years. From “Don’t hire 5 people in June!” by Cory, to “Success is sustaining your lifestyle” by Ben and “build a product that fills a gap” by Andrew, the session covered a wide range of topics and gems from each of the panelists.

Small Business Takeaway:

Not everyone’s version of success will be the same as yours. Stay true to what success means to you. If you are going to build a product, make sure it fills a need and price it accordingly. Remember, you are “competing with free.” (@norcross). Keep innovating. Cory conceded that iThemes doesn’t sell as many themes as they once did. Creating BackupBuddy allowed them to grow more into the plugin arena and that’s where they see their future. Create relationships. Ben knows that will thrive by creating relationships with WordPress Development shops and agencies that need to provide education to their clients on how to use WordPress. All of these tips resonated with me. Whether you are a freelancer or small shop, you can implement all of these tips into your business.

Day 2: Saturday

More Than Just a Website

Saturday was kicked off by coffee and donuts as well as, John Hawkins, @vegasgeek and Kim Schafer, @downtownkim. Their talk was unique, because Kim was a client of John’s for Vegas’ Downtown Project Website. They took us through the trial and tribulations of working together and gave us some insight as to how the project unfolded. It wasn’t smooth sailing. Kim, an obvious leader, was John’s main contact. Though she doesn’t proclaim herself as a tech person, she is clearly a great communicator. It was a good presentation that included the story of how they met and some of the challenges they faced, such as design by committee and a staggering number of revisions. The banter back and forth was entertaining and though they both don’t work on the Downtown Project anymore, they clearly have remained friends.

Small Business Takeaway:

What struck me the most was how friendly John and Kim were to each other. They have moved beyond a professional relationship and have become friends. This is good business. Why this works is because reciprocal trust has been established. Most likely it started with John delivering what he said he was going to do and protecting Kim in the process. I’ve always said, get a friend on the inside. You take care of them and they will take care of you. Now they both have moved on and will continue to work together in the future. What a great example of business done right!

Cash is King: Options For Funding Your Business

I crossed path’s with April Downing, @aprildowning1, CFO of WPEngine at the WP Engine sponsor booth at the back of the room. They were handing out sweet t-shirts and chargers to all of the attendee’s. I gave her a tip as to how to fix her fraying iPhone cord and she was appreciative. I didn’t recognize her as a speaker at first, but she looked very familiar. Let me say that April is a seasoned pro. Her personality is magnetic. When she talks to you, she maintains constant eye contact, is fully engaged and is a great conversationalist. As soon as she appeared on stage to talk about Options For Funding Your Business, I chuckled, she is in such the right role. The ability to get funded is a skill. Not only is she experienced, but confident and well spoken. Clearly I was impressed.

Her detailed options for funding was thorough and even mentioned getting money from family and crowdfunding. I’m pretty sure everyone in that room learned quite a bit from her presentation that they didn’t know before, such as, one time returns are more of the norm these days, than in the past. The questions and answers after were equally impressive as she mentioned the importance of choosing an investor you’re aligned with and how difficult it is to remove one, once they are already on board. There were many presentations on Saturday, but April’s is one of the few that I would pay for the video. So much good information.

Small Business Takeaway:

Funding is such a misunderstood topic. There is so much hype around it that even a small Web Development shop wonders if they should get funding. The truth is, it depends. The title of April’s talk included the word “Options,” because there are several. Not everyone needs a VC investment and not everyone needs to go public. Having a lot of options, does make it a little confusing, which is why understanding it is part of April’s job. A capital investment in any business is serious and should be well thought out. If you are going to keep your business small, an investment may never be needed, but if your goal is to grow, especially at a faster pace, then an investment strategy is worth the research. All in all, it’s very important to explore your options and if possible, get some professional guidance.

What Can Easy Digital Downloads Tell Us About The WordPress Marketplace

Pippin Wiliamson, @pippinsplugins, is the founder of Pippin’s Plugins and creator of the popular Easy Digital Downloads. He did an excellent interview with Jake about running a plugin business. I don’t know Pippin well, but I love his directness. I’m stealing this quote from him and using it in my everyday life, “It sounds callous, but it’s true.” It was absolutely fascinating to hear the evolution of EDD, how it has grown and what Pippin would do or not do again. Apparently building 250 plugins into EDD is a “no.” What also fascinated me was how new things still are for Pippin. He has been around for years and has just recently hired a full time developer to replace him. I believe Pippin is bootstrapping his own business and is adamant about only working 8 to 9 hours per day. Everyone on his team spends time doing support and I believe Pippin himself spends 4 hours a day in the support forums as well. 2015 seems like their year and it will be exciting to follow their growth.

Small Business Takeaway:

I absolutely love success stories like this. Pippin is a great plugin developer. His discipline is unmistakeable. I didn’t get to speak with him, but his transparency was detailed and candid. The biggest takeaway was that his business has grown naturally. Year after year he has grown and learned from his mistakes and in his words, like having a $6 plugin. Though he says that price will change, I was intrigued to hear that there were other things he would do differently, like possibly pursuing a SaaS model. Pippin’s head is in the right place and he is building a more innovative future. This was another talk that I would buy the video. Pure gold there.

Hiring Employee Number One: From Freelancer to Agency

There is a moment when you start to realize that your business is getting bigger than you. For some, this is intentional and others, it just happens.Brad Williams, @williamsba, is well known in the WordPress community as one of the founders of WebDevStudios. Though they are much larger now, the days of being small are still fresh in his mind. I thought the idea of hiring interns was a great solution when they first started. Eager, hungry and fresh, interns can bring a new perspective. I also loved his thinking outside the box. One of WebDevStudios newest Project Managers was a former manager at Hot Topic. She had years of managing teams and is now killing it. Like Brad said earlier in his presentation, attitude counts for a lot. To help with that you have to really be careful who you hire. One of Brad’s biggest tips, that got several tweets, was “hire people you like.” This is such a true statement. You spend more time with these people than your family on most days. Brad’s tips were insightful and innovative. It was a great way to look at hiring.

Small Business Takeaway:

I know very well what it’s like to Hire employee number one and I know what it’s like to Be employee number one. Both are scary, but hiring employee number one was definitely scarier. Brad’s calm approach and smooth demeanor, tells a lot, meaning, it’s part of doing business. I think that’s important to remember. Hiring is just another part of your business, like working with clients and doing the books. That old saying, “Hire slow and fire fast,” is useful here. WebDevStudios has been growing. Brad mentioned they now have an Employee Handbook, personal days and vacation days. These are all things you have to set up as your company grows. I’ve always been a big proponent of having an onboarding process for employees, just like we do clients, but you have to be set up for it. WebDevStudios is recognized as a great Agency and as a matter of fact, I think they are hiring. Go check them out!

Stop Sucking At Accounting

Brianna Norcross, @sarcasmically, is one of my new favorite people. I’m pretty sure we all were scolded for our pathetic accounting practices during her presentation and liked it. I currently follow Brianna on Twitter, so it was nice to see those tweets come to life on stage. What I’m getting at is, Brianna tells it like it is. Accounting is such a big deal, if not the biggest and we all suck at it. We really do. It literally can tell us why we are not making money. For example, that service that you don’t want to get rid of because it brings in less than 1% of your revenue? Well it accounts for 20% of your support costs. How about now? Accounting will tell you that. I loved her tips about incorporating, getting a separate checking account for expenses and using real accounting software. All of that matters. There was so much good stuff in her presentation, I would pay for this video too. Thanks for the strong reminder Brianna!

Small Business Takeaway:

The bottom line on accounting is, you have to do it. Set aside a day, hour, time or another person to get it done. It really is the heart and soul of your business. Invoicing, which is a part of accounting, is the number one problem for small businesses. Most are not doing it right and definitely aren’t doing it on a regular basis. There were so many great tips, 3 months of expenses should be set aside, stop mixing personal and business and leverage reports to tell you the health of your business. The biggest tip was that you have to start taking your business accounting seriously. Andrew Norcross’ tweet of Brianna’s quote summed it up best, “@norcross: “if you can’t afford basic business fees, raise your rates. otherwise, it’s not a business. it’s a hobby” @sarcasmically at #PrestigeConf”

Tales from the CMS Wars: WordPress and the Enterprise

John Eckman, @jeckman, pretty much pulled the pin and dropped a grenade on stage during his presentation. We are so close to the day to day WordPress news and hype that we have no idea that WordPress is nowhere near the Enterprise as we all thought/wanted it to be. The good news is that there is still opportunity there, but the data was shocking. The bottom line is people still view WordPress as a blogging tool. Yes, this is shocking to us, but John showed us why. Drupal, a WordPress competitor, has done a great job at positioning itself for the enterprise from the start, while WordPress has set out to “Democratize Publishing.” Essentially, WordPress isn’t being considered for the enterprise, because it’s not perceived as a solution. There is confusion between,, and Automattic. This may also be a marketing problem. When you go to, you are invited to start a blog. There may be a missed opportunity here. At the end of the day John gave us an excellent presentation on the Who, What, Where and Why of WordPress in the enterprise. His presentation was so on point and so data rich, that I would pay to see this one again as well. Thanks for the excellent presentation John, brilliant!

Small Business Takeaway:

WordPress for the enterprise is a natural direction for the software, because of it’s time in the market and ease of use. As we all have grown with the software, from our small business to our medium business, to our large business, we want to bring it with us into the enterprise. This should be expected. It was excellent to see John illustrate some of the reasons why people think WordPress is still a blogging tool. Let me tell you that outside of our little WordPress bubble a lot of people still think that. I personally still run into companies that have a full WordPress install behind their “Blog” button. Yes, people are still doing that. I think it’s important to note here, that we, as WordPress advocates, still have a lot more work to do. It’s easy for us to keep our head buried down into building cool WordPress Websites, but it is also our responsibility to consistently educate the community at large that WordPress is not only a cool tool to build their Website, but that it is THE solution for your business now and well into the future.

Interview With Chris Lema

I missed the interview with Chris Lema, CTO Crowd Favorite, @chrislema, on Friday, so I was pleasantly surprised to see him up on stage as the final interview on Saturday. Unfortunately Carl Hancock @carlhancock, who was scheduled, wasn’t able to make it because of weather. We have all been guided and mentored by Chris at one point or another through his blog articles, presentations, ebooks or coaching. This was a nice stroll down memory lane where we got to hear how Chris got to where he is today. I’ve heard this story before, but did you know right after Chris’ first daughter was born, he immediately left the hospital and went to a board meeting to present software that his unit had been working so hard to get finished? This isn’t an illustration that Chris is a “company man,” but more of an insight into Chris’ character. He doesn’t let people down. Chris is detail oriented, a careful decision maker and puts family first. His chart figuring out where his family should move was humbling. We should all strive to put in a little more effort into the things that we do. As I always am when Chris speaks, you can’t help but love and respect the guy. He has worked hard for everything he has and has had the discipline to keep it going. Through all of this, Chris is a nice guy. Do yourself a favor and follow Chris on twitter, if you aren’t already and the next time you see him, introduce yourself and say thank you, because more than likely his hard work has influenced how you do business.

Small Business Takeaway:

Chris is a great example of the right way to succeed in the WordPress community, while at the same time building your business and your brand. Watch his videos, read his articles and really listen to what he is telling you. You have to read between the lines. He is literally laying out a blueprint for your success. Chris is in a category all his own. He stands out, because he has worked tirelessly to make it that way. If you think you are working hard, Chris is working harder. Chris is a great guy to know and a great friend to many. There is a reason so many people talk so highly about Chris, because he is that person. Feeling a little inadequate right now? Good, step it up.

Wrap Up

The Prestige Conference was a refreshing take on WordCamps that we are normally used to. This new surge of “WordPress Business Conferences” that are not affiliated with WordPress has filled a niche that we so desperately needed. The only way we can continue building with WordPress is if we build a business around it. Up until now, there wasn’t much guidance to do this. People were scrambling for business models, taking from the traditional Web Development, Software and Print arenas. Hearing from businesses and individuals that are working hard and thriving in this space motivates us to continue. Conferences like this get us up close to those people and promotes relationship building and community. By exchanging ideas and organizing we get to be directly involved with the success of WordPress and influence it’s direction. I would highly recommend you purchase tickets for the next Prestige Conference in August. It was well worth the trip. Then when you get there, introduce and shake hands with as many people as you can. These are the people that are looking out for you. Thanks again Prestige!

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