Lisa Sabin-Wilson – WP Heavy Hitter


Here is another entry in our WP Heavy Hitters series that showcases the talent in the vibrant WordPress community. Lisa Sabin-Wilson has her hands in many WordPress cookie jars. She’s an author, designer, and WordCamp Organizer to name a few. She utilizes her past work experiences to deliver a service that is true to herself while continuing to benefit others.

Lisa Sabin-Wilson

Lisa Sabin-Wilson

Tag line: My kung foo is strong. (Rat, The Core)

Knock Outs: WordPress For Dummies, BuddyPress For Dummies, WordPress All in One Desk Reference (coming  Spring 2011 ), WordPress Web Design For Dummies (coming  Spring 2011 ), E. Webscapes, WordCamp Chicago

Power Move: RTFM

Training Facilities: WordPress For Dummies, BuddyPress For Dummies, WordPress All in One, E.Webscapes

How did you get started working with WordPress?

By whining a great deal to a friend about the blogging platform I was using in 2003.  It was a platform that forced me to rebuild every single post and page on my 3 year old blog anytime I wanted to make a design tweak to my theme, can you imagine?  A friend of mine must have gotten tired of my whining and this is how our Yahoo! conversation went:

Me: Seriously, do I really have to sit here and wait for 3 years of archives to rebuild every time I tweak my theme?  Stop the madness

Her: Same story, different day.

Me: There oughta be a better way.

Her: I stopped using it last week, maybe you should consider.

Me: Really?  What are you using now? Do tell!

Her: a new platform called WordPress – heard of it?

Me: Nope, but I’m willing to have a look.

Her: You will love it – it’s easy and the template system is pretty flexible and no rebuilding

Me: Thanks, but what will I bitch about then?

Her: I’m sure you’ll find something.

…and I did.  Actually, I found plenty to bitch about over the years – but what happened with me is what happens with almost everyone confronted with the WordPress platform, I fell in love with the ease and simplicity of it all.  I’ve been using WordPress since early 2003.

Before WordPress, you were in health care and then began making HTML templates. How did those skills prepare you for what you do today?

Doesn’t everyone need an RN who is skilled in the ways of WordPress design?  It is a unique skill set, no doubt.  Web design was always a hobby, dating back to the mid 90′s.  It’s what I did in my off time to take my mind off my regular day job.  It will come as no surprise when I say there are rare parallels that can be drawn between my former career as a Registered Nurse and my current career as a web designer – - but there are a few, and they include things like:

  1. Prioritization and Organization – otherwise known as Triage.  As an RN, having the innate ability to take one quick look at a situation and immediately prioritize what needs to be done and organizing the tools and people to accomplish it is a valuable and essential skill.  I spent 12 years of my nursing career honing that skill on a daily basis in critical situations that would probably make you cringe.  That skill translated easily into running a design shop, with the bonus of not having to prioritize and organize during traumatic, life-or-death situations(mostly).  That critical eye and skill or prioritization helps me look at a project and immediately start my mental checklist of what needs to be done, in order of importance, minus the band aids.
  2. Learning and adapting to new technologies- In health care, everything changes; nothing stays the same.  I’ll be very honest and say that my years of college (nursing school) did absolutely nothing to prepare me for the realities of working with real patients in very real crisis.  Graduation was an amazing day – but it all went down hill from there when I started my first job on a medical floor – - I was ill prepared and needed to be quick on my feet and learn at a very rapid pace if I was going to keep up.  Everything from medical technology, equipment, medications and treatments changed regularly.  As a nurse, we are expected to learn and understand every new medication the drug reps threw at us…become skilled on the new equipment that replaced the old equipment, that was just replaced 2 months ago.  Adapting to change is not something that came easily to me at all (I’m a creature of habit, by nature), however; if I was going to survive in these environments, I needed to welcome change, embrace it and adapt to it or I would end up in the last bathroom stall on the 5th floor bawling my eyes out.
  3. Sense of humor – Nurses have the most wicked sense of humor out of any group of people I know.  Maybe we weren’t naturally funny people to begin with, but years dealing with doctors, patients, family members, the bureaucracy of the health care system and working together in some pretty high stressed situations, a sense of humor naturally develops as a coping mechanism and a survival strategy to help you make it through to your next coffee break with your sanity still in tact.  As a nurse, I developed my own crack sense of humor that helps me through stressful times – - nursing also helped me develop a greater sense of the world, and people, around me .. and, as such, I refuse to take myself too seriously and empathize with others a great deal.  In my years in health care, I also developed a pretty quick read on other people, which serves me well in all areas of my life.
  4. Masochism - Nursing is a service oriented profession.  Nurses are there to help, nurture, care for and take care of other people.  Nurses usually see people at their worst, simply because of the circumstances that brought them to our doorstep to begin with – - the nature of that relationship isn’t always pleasant.  As a nurse, you learn to take certain abuses and fully realize they aren’t personal – they are situational; with that realization comes the development of a great deal of patience and tolerance.  I have an overabundance of patience and tolerance that has served me well….as well as done me a good deal of harm, in my career in design.  Finding a middle ground there is my ongoing challenge.

Most importantly, my nursing career taught me to put, and keep, things in perspective in order of importance in my life, and in my business.  I can easily say that most things I know about business and customer service, I learned from nursing.

Do you offer any recent downloadable WordPress themes or is most of your work custom?

All of my work is currently 100% custom, made to order for my clients.  I do not offer any downloadable products, at this time…

What does the “E” stand for in E.Webscapes?

Elegant.  Back in 1999, the business was Elegant Webscapes and domain: elegantwebscapes.com.  Sometime around 2004-2005, I shortened it to EWebscapes because it sounds less dorky.

How did the relationship between you and Wiley Publishing begin?

At the SXSW Interactive conference in Austin, Texas in 2006.  I was asked to participate on a panel that year called “Making Money with your Blog Design Skills”.  That panel had designers that represented three popular CMS platforms: WordPress, Movable Type and Expression Engine — I represented WordPress on that panel, naturally. Susannah Gardner, of Hop Studios, was on that panel with me and she is a veteran author of many books for Wiley Publishing (her most recent: Blogging For Dummies) – - she’s written several.  She asked me if I would be interested in writing, or co-authoring, a WordPress For Dummies book?  I said yes.  That was in March 2006 and I never heard anything on the topic again until Wiley Publishing contacted me in November 2006 and said they needed the book written yesterday!  I signed the contract then and the first edition of WordPress For Dummies was published in 2007.  I have enjoyed a fabulous relationship with Wiley Publishing ever since, I am now on my 6th book with them and about to start my 7th.

What do you attribute to your products/services massive success?

First, thank you for the compliment…I appreciate that you call it a massive success :)

It’s difficult to put your own success into the right perspective – I am constantly told by family and peers that I don’t take my success seriously enough, or don’t realize its impact.  Longevity is one thing — EWebscapes was probably one of a handful of its kind in the late 90′s in terms of providing customized themes for blogs…there certainly weren’t many of us.  I have longevity on my side where, if I were just starting out today with the business with the same skills and abilities, I think it would be very difficult to stand out in a very, very competitive environment.  I attribute my longevity in this business to patience, motivation, persistence and passion.  I truly love what I do and I like to think it shines through all of my work, from design to public speaking to writing. Lastly, gratitude for being able to do something fun, call it work and make a comfortable living from it – I feel that every day and I think it makes a difference in the work I produce.

Do you have a particular environment that allows for your best writing?

You know, its weird – - when I am designing, I need music – - lots of music and lots of different kids of music.  It’s not unusual for me to flip back and forth between Metallica and Britney Spears, or Pink Floyd and Pink during the course of several hours when I am designing.

When I am writing, however – I need dead silence.  It drives my family nuts.

While planning WordCamp Chicago, were there any pleasant or unpleasant surprises you encountered?

Yes, and yes.  I was pleasantly surprised at the turnout at WordCamp Chicago.  The first year I organized it, WordCamp Chicago saw 200 attendees – - and we could have done a lot more if the venue that year could have accommodated it.  This year, I organized the event for 500 attendees, which was pretty exciting!  I really loved seeing a big group of people sharing ideas, networking and discussing something they are all so passionate about.  I enjoy experiencing the different levels of users you see at WordCamps – everyone from a complete beginner all the way to the advanced core developer, together in one space – it’s pretty cool.  In 2009, we had one attendee who didn’t even know what WordPress was – - her and a few attendees sat around a table and she started her first WordPress blog.  In 2010, that same lady came back to WordCamp Chicago and was teaching others how to use the platform - – how awesome is that?

In terms of unpleasant surprises? Yea, there were a few – - nothing significant enough to mention, though.  Probably the most unpleasant comes from the fact that I cannot be involved with WordCamp Chicago in 2011 because my family and I are moving to Atlanta, GA and it’s just not feasible for me to organize an event in Chicago, from Atlanta.  I am surprised at how sad it makes me to have to give it up.  My hope is that someone will pick it up where I left off and I can continue to enjoy the event as an attendee!

What are you currently working on?

Breathing. Getting enough sleep.  Coffee.

Oh, you mean work?  Ahh – - lots!  Ask me on any given day and I’m always working on a client site launch – I’ve had several of those happen over the past few months.  I am also just about to finish and publish two new books for Wiley Publishing:  WordPress All In One For Dummies and WordPress Web Design For Dummies.  I’ve spent the past 2-3 months working on getting those books ready for print and am really excited to see them available for pre-order on Amazon.com now – - that means they’ll be available to the public soon!  Shortly after 2011 comes around I will be diving into the 4th edition of WordPress For Dummies.

I do have a couple of things up my sleeve for 2011 that will extend my business and offerings to my community – I’m not ready to discuss those yet, so you’ll have to check back with me in February or March, ok? :)

Which product/service of yours did you expect to make a big hit but either fizzled or was used in a completely different way than you anticipated?

My husband and I dipped our toes into the web hosting business back in 2003 and never really thought it would become a sustainable business for us.  It didn’t even really start out as a business plan at all. Chris, my husband, is a Linux guy and likes to have control over his own environment, so we purchased a server back then and he started configuring and tinkering with it the way he wanted it and we were hosting our own business web sites on it.  That server grew as we added accounts for friends and family… then Chris got the bright idea of offsetting some of the server cost by selling a few accounts on it to help pay the monthly cost of the server.  The hosting business grew, organically, from there as I started using it as a tool for my design clients who needed a hosting solution.  It was easy to set them up on our servers where we had full admin control over their site and could get things done faster and more efficiently.  Today, we host several hundred clients – 98% of whom are running WordPress as their preferred platform.  I could give up my design business completely, and our hosting business would continue to pay the bills – - that was not at all what we expected when we purchased our first server almost 8 years ago.

Where do you see WordPress going in the future?

I like seeing how WordPress is evolving more into the social web through the innovation of the BuddyPress plugin and the improvements and features we’re seeing come from that development process — I think WordPress will continue making that an easier experience and we’ll start to see a lot more micro-communities pop up using a WordPress/BuddyPress combination.

Other than that, whatever WordPress comes up with – I’m along for the ride for as long as I’m upright and breathing.

Lisa, definitely keep us posted regarding your upcoming WordPress adventures. Thanks for all that you do for the community.



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