Liquid Web’s WordPress Navigator: Carrie Dils

There are many aspects of the WordPress community that I love. Very near the top of my very long list is the innovation in our space. It seems like every other day I am learning about interesting projects that are filling a need or solving a problem.

I wanted to take a closer look at what interesting and innovative projects are being created in the WordPress space right now and I started with Carrie Dils.

1. Tell us about how you started CarrieDils.com?

I started my website maybe 10 years ago or so as a place to put up a work portfolio and give potential clients a way to find me. I’ve iterated on it over the years as my business has grown. It’s less about showing off my work at this point and more about providing educational resources for other folks who offer client services.

2. You shifted gears and started focusing more on courses, your podcast and teaching at Lynda. What was the driving force for making the change?

Part of the transition on my site started with me having an active blog – I’d learn how to do something and then I’d “document” it in the form of a blog post. I started getting great feedback from the WordPress community (i.e. “thanks so much for showing me how to do XYZ!”) and, over time, realized that it was really rewarding to help other people achieve some particular goal with their website. In total, I’ve done some sort of client services work for twenty years and was ready for a new challenge. The new challenge became the process of formalizing those educational resources. I still have an active blog, but offering the courses and the podcast provides a way for me to offer more in-depth learning experiences.

3. You are an instructor on Lynda, you run a successful podcast and now you are releasing a book? How do you find the time to complete everything on your plate?

I’ve had a lot on my plate as my business has shifted more toward education, but it’s something I really love doing which makes it easier to dump a lot of time into. That’s the entrepreneurial grind, right? Your work and your hobbies overlap into a sort of single, intense focus. I tend to push really hard for a season — until my burnout meter gets deep into the red — and then I back off and recover. It’s probably not a very balanced approach, but I find myself repeating that cycle.

4. Speaking of the book, Real World Freelancing: The No Bullsh*t Survival Guide, can you tell us more about that project?

Sure! I mentioned earlier that I’ve been doing some form of client services in a freelance capacity for twenty years. I’ve learned a lot of lessons during that time about running a business, interacting with clients, and delivering on work. I learned most of those lessons the hard way. I thought, “what if I could go back now and teach my younger self what to do (and what to avoid)?” I decided to write that down as a “survival guide” that I could pass on to people who’re on a similar journey as me, but not as far down the path. I’ve partnered with friend and colleague Diane Kinney to co-write the book with me. She’s been doing client work as long as I have but comes from the perspective of running a team vs being the “solo” freelancer. Bringing her in on the book will result in a much richer read in the end. It’s still a work in progress, but we’re shooting to get it out by end of year.

5. For someone who hasn’t listened to your OfficeHours.fm podcast yet, what are your top 3 favorite episodes?

I’ve had so many wonderful, brilliant guests on my podcast sharing their knowledge – it’s hard to narrow it down to 3! For a freelancer though, I’d probably start with The Art of Account Management with Karim Marucchi, The Client Whisperer with Steve Zehngut, and An Epic Rant on Being Different in a Crowded Space with Chris Lema. Beyond those episodes, my entire current season is focused on the process of starting a project and taking it through to a successful launch. If anyone wants to follow along with that, start with Episode 144 and work your way up to present.

6. Do you have any other projects on the sidelines right now that you can tell us about?

I’m working on a significant update to my WordPress theme, Utility Pro. I take a lot of pride in that theme and what it’s done to help push the web accessibility movement forward (at least in terms of my small realm of influence in WordPress theming). The updated theme will be available in two flavors, the first is a just a “regular” theme. Anyone who needs an accessibility-ready, translation-ready, mobile-first, and mobile-responsive theme can use it. The second flavor is for developers and includes a Gulp workflow, Sass, unit testing, etc. It’s intended to be a starter theme developers can tailor and use as a starting point on a variety of WordPress projects. If anyone wants to learn more, here’s a roadmap of the upcoming features.

7. What do you think is the biggest area for growth in WordPress?

For those of us who work with WordPress every day, the interface is as familiar as our own hands, but there’s still so much opportunity to make it a simpler tool for end-users. Work on the Customizer is a current focus and helps create a little bit better of a user experience. As for the Gutenberg editor, the jury is still out. Those things aside, if you step into other web builder software like Squarespace or Shopify, the user experience is just…simpler, more intuitive. WordPress.com is supposed to address those concerns and, indeed, Calypso is a much-simplified experience compared to self-hosted WordPress.org, but there’s still a lot more work to do. I’d love to see more use-case specific dashboard interfaces (think Shopify for an e-commerce site) that make managing content simpler.

8. Who else is doing innovative work that we need to talk to?

Talk to Morten Rand-Hendriksen. I first learned WordPress through his courses at Lynda.com and have been keen on his work ever since. He’s a brilliant teacher, innovative thinker, and someone who’s not afraid to challenge the “WordPress status-quo.” Check out his website mor10.com for some interesting discussions or just follow him on social media.

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