Hallway Chats Episode 148 - Bet Hannon

Episode 148 – Bet Hannon

Hallway Chats Episode 148 - Bet Hannon


Introducing Bet Hannon

Bet discovered WordPress in 2008 and has been involved in the WordPress community since 2013 at meetups, WordCamps, and on the support team. Bet runs an agency, Bet Hannon Business Websites, where she specializes in WordPress and accessibility.

Show Notes

Twitter | @bethannon

Website | BHMBizSites.com

Preferred Pronouns | She/Her

Episode Transcript

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 148.

Tara: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Tara Claeys.

Liam: And I’m Liam Dempsey. Today we’re joined by Bet Hannon. Bet discovered WordPress in 2008 and has been involved in the WordPress community since 2013 at meetups, WordCamps, and on the support team. Bet runs an agency, Bet Hannon Business Websites, where she specializes in WordPress and accessibility. Bet, welcome.

Bet: Hey, great to be with you guys today.

Tara: So nice to meet you Bet. I’ve been a fan and a follower, and it’s really great to see you face to face on a Zoom.

Bet: Thanks.

Tara: Can you tell us and our listeners more about yourself and Bet Hannon Business Websites?

Bet: Yeah. I discovered WordPress in 2008. I had a 15 year plus career in nonprofit management, and near the end of that time, I’d been doing drag and drop websites and email newsletters. My organization downsized my position at the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008 and I kind of fell into… People would pay you to do those things independent of being a part of their staff.

I went to a weekend conference, and I met a guy that I knew was an iOS app developer. We were talking and I was telling him what I was doing and he said, “Oh, you should be doing those websites in WordPress.” And I said, “I don’t even know what that is.” So we both way back home and we had a phone call where we both at the same time logged into the back end. It before Zoom and all those things, right? So we logged into the back end of his WordPress website, and my mind was blown. It was just love at first sight. I got involved doing WordPress websites.

And then went to my first WordCamp in 2013. Went to WordCamp LA, and just started meeting people in the WordPress community. It was just an amazing thing to me and always still is every time I go to a WordCamp, just to meet people from all over the world. Even when you go to small little WordCamps, people come from really far away sometimes, and or just doing super cool things with WordPress. I just really love talking to people, as Liam knows. Liam and I met in 2015 when we were both on the check-in desk for WordCamp US in Philly.

Tara: Ah, okay. That’s I think when I met Liam for the first time as well was 2015 WordCamp US. Or maybe it was Philly before. Anyway, my first WordCamp was also in 2013, and I started using it a little bit later than you were, in 2010. So I’m curious about that experience of having worked in WordPress on your own for five years or so before discovering that WordPress community or WordCamps, and if that changed the way that you work, the way that you use WordPress, what you do that I guess the quality of your work, perhaps. How did that impact your work discovering WordPress community after viewing it by yourself or without the community?

Bet: Well, I had kind of been involved a little bit in the community in the sense of I found the support forums. And I’m not even sure really where I kind of ran onto those. But I discovered that I could put things together in terms of getting answers to questions or issues that have come up. So I had been already beginning to kind of do that a little bit. And I’m not even sure how I heard about WordCamp LA.

But there was a community of people. I was living in Fresno at the time and there was a kind of a growing tech community there. Some folks that were really working at and have actually done been quite successful at doing tech education and entrepreneurship and kind of trying to grow the tech economy there, but in particular, reaching out to underserved communities to help people find ways to make good living that they might not have otherwise already had. You know, people from generational systemic poverty. I had been involved in some of that community and had connections there a little bit. But yeah, it was just going to and just meeting people.

There were some particular plugins and themes that I had kind of found and were using. And then when I went to, not so much at WordCamp LA but then the next year in San Francisco, met the developers of the products that I use. And they were interested in talking to me. I was like, “Oh, that’s really different that they really were just eager to chat with people and open with…” I was seeing people who I knew that this developer and another, and developer A and developer B had competing products plugins, and yet they just seemed like they liked each other and they tease one another, and they joked around and supported one another. I just really loved that sense of community.

It was in San Francisco that I had volunteered and then someone said, “Are you staying for contributor day?” And I already had my train ticket back to Fresno. And I said, “No, I can only stay for part. What is that?” And they said, “Oh, these teams.” And they introduced me to the teams. And I thought, “Oh, I teach people about WordPress a lot. Maybe I should go to the training team. So I started the training team, and it was pretty clear that was more doing learning plans, lesson plans. And I was like, “Oh.” Yeah, that didn’t connect so much for me. But just at the other end of the table was the support team. Those are the people that do the forums. And they were having a lot of fun and joking around it.

I ended up kind of just migrating down the table and got involved with the support team and answering questions on the forums and volunteering on that. Just really that sense of community. And then every time you go to a WordCamp and you’re meeting some of those same people, but you’re also meeting new people. Actually, I will confess, I’ll make a confession on your podcast, that there have been a few WordCamps where I never actually went to a presentation. That I actually only ever did the hallway track. And I was perfectly fine with that.

Liam: Can I ask, since you’re confessing, and we’re going to go all candid now, Bet, did you even look at the schedule?

Bet: Sometimes, no. Or I would say I probably looked at it to see if there was anything that really caught my attention that I really wanted to go see. And I do go to presentations. I’m not saying I never do.

Liam: I know that. I not trying to make it bad.

Bet: No, no, no, I don’t think it’s bad to go and really just have this be about you’re there, you’re connecting with people. I mean, that’s a big piece of what the WordCamp is. It’s not just about educating people in terms of making presentations. But what it’s about, you know, connecting and making those connections and figuring out how you can make a contribution, but also when you’re networking and you can meet the people from your hosting company, and you can meet the people from the plugins that you’re using, or the themes that you’re using, or learn about new services in the new vendors’ area, and those kinds of things. I just really love going.

And in the last, I would say, three years, I really started focusing more on… I really like traveling. But if I go to WordCamps, I can write that off as a business expense.

Tara: I hear you. Yeah.

Bet: So, let’s just go to pick WordCamps until COVID. I would look at where are the WordCamps that I might want to travel. So I’ve been to London, I’ve been to Paris. It’s been kind of fun.

Liam: That’s a great way to do it. Bet, I want to ask you about accessibility. We mentioned or I mentioned specifically in your introduction that you focus and specialize on that. Talk a little bit about that, because accessibility and web has been around for a while but it’s relatively new-ish in terms of wider profile, wider understanding, wider acceptance, wider appreciation for the value. Can you chat a little bit about those things as well as how you came to focus and specialized on that?

Bet: Yeah. In early 2017, I think, we had a client that we had been doing administrative maintenance for quite some time come to us—water district in California, a large agricultural Water District. And because of the way they are connected to the state of California, they were going to be required to make their site compliant under California section 508 standards. So they came to us and asked about that. They wanted to do a redesign and make their site compliant, and I said, “Well, we don’t have any experience doing that but maybe we can help you find someone.” And they said, “No, we really like you guys and we like the work you’re doing. We’d like to all learn at this together,” which was this amazing opportunity for us.

So our team dived in and we did a lot of training and a lot of learning about accessibility and worked with the client. Their IT team is fairly sophisticated too. But lots of things. Like they have a long history of putting out PDF reports. So they had thousands of PDF reports, none of which were compliant. And putting together lots of agendas in because they’re part of the state of California and under their charter, there’s transparency rules. So they have to have things that are out there and have to have them out in accessible ways.

So we dived in and we were learning a lot about accessibility. I kind of had a sort of passing acquaintance. I think I’d heard about accessibility at a WordCamp or meetup before. But when we dived in, I first got my glimpses of what inaccessible website experience means for somebody who has a disability. And we’re not talking about just people who… you might typically we think about people who are blind or have mobility impairments. But when you think about people who are temporarily disabled because they broke their hand, and they can’t use a mouse or people who have situational challenges, like they have a screaming baby.

When you start thinking about accessibility and all the ways that it impacts people and how it really can make real differences in people’s lives, we were just hooked. Our team just got hooked on that sense of what a contribution… You’re putting out a good karma, but you’re doing something that really impacts people’s lives. So it’s not just about making websites to sell widgets anymore. Widgets in WordPress are different, but you know, economic. It’s a business.

Liam: I know where you are going.

Tara: Yeah.

Bet: So it’s not just about selling widgets, but it’s about helping people learn how to do accessibility and kind of moving people into thinking about accessibility. We’ve kind of been growing and specializing about that. I’ve long heard in terms of business that you need to niche down and specialize more. And we never really worked with any one vertical. We worked with a lot of nonprofits. We worked with a lot of different levels of businesses. But yeah, accessibility has really kind of gotten to be our thing.

So we have folks on our team that really specialized in a lot of the mechanics of that, and our content, people are helping people. Because when you do accessibility well, it also often really helps your SEO. So the content people are helping to do that. We offer training. It’s been really exciting to feel like you’re making a difference in the world as a part of what you do for a living.

Tara: Yeah. Accessibility is a huge topic. I think it’s intimidating because you hear lawsuits and things like that. I know there are lots of agencies that are leaning towards that and there are tools right that you can use now. I saw a presentation from Amber Haines. She has some kind of a testing tool. What kind of process do you go through to make it less intimidating for your clients? And since that’s your specialty, are you finding people are finding you and coming to you for accessibility specifically? Or is it “I need a website,” and then you tell them about accessibility, and they’re like, “Oh, well, then I definitely want to hire you.: What’s that process like?

Bet: Well, we get both ends. We’re getting a few people finding us that are already interested in accessibility, but then also we do a lot of educating with people along the way. Usually, when you talk to them, they’re a part of that. When we were starting to learn more about accessibility and get involved in the WordPress accessibility community, one of the best pieces of advice I ever got was, as a developer, never put accessibility on a proposal as something that can be optional.

When you start to think about it, it’s sort of like, why would you want to make it easy for the client to say, “Oh, I know. I don’t think I need that. I’m going to throw these people with disabilities under the bus. So we just don’t ever do that. That was really some of the best advice I got was we stake our reputation as developers on doing things excessively. So we go in saying, “We’re only going to make accessible websites.”

However, of course, you get clients to come back. Like we have a client now who we’re working with them and they came with their own design pieces that had already been done. And of course, their main button color doesn’t have enough color contrast. So we said, “Well, you need to darken that color to this much.” “No, we’re not going to change that.” Then I make them sign a release that says, “We’ve informed you that this color does not meet WCAG standards, and you release us from all liability in the event of a future lawsuit. You’re going to pay all of our expenses because you know that if they got sued, we as the developers would get called in to do something.” Anyway.

Liam: But I don’t want to ask you the specifics in that. But that strikes me in this day and age as a client that… I mean, when your vendors say, “If you really want us to sign a release that says we can.” That’s really interesting. Have you had more than one client willing to sign that?

Bet: Only one. Because usually, when you get to that point, they go, “Oh, maybe I should take this seriously.”

Liam: “Maybe we need to talk to counsel about this.”

Tara: But these folks are fairly large. So I’m not sure what the story is on all of that, but I was really surprised that they were willing to sign it and go forward. But maybe they’re going to come back and visit that later. So we kind of work with that. So people come. We’re educating them a little bit. And then I can’t remember the rest of the question, Tara?

Tara: Oh, it was a lot. It was a couple of questions. I was asking you also about tools and how people are finding you that way.

Bet: So there are a proliferation of accessibility testing tools out there. One of the big ones is wave.webaim.org. That’s one of the big ones that you can test. And then there’s aXe Lighthouse, and some other ones. The really important thing to remember is that those automated tools can only help you find about 30% of the issues on any website. So much really just has to be human tested.

One of the examples I would give is sort of like an automated tool can tell you whether or not you have alt tags on an image but it can’t tell you about whether they are helpful alt tags. If the alt tag is “fivetoblablabla.jpg,” the title of the image, that doesn’t really help. That’s not really compliant. They only catch some percentage of those. You always need to have some sorts of human testing going on.

Tara: Yeah, interesting. And I know it does conflict with designing a lot. It’s very challenging.

Bet: You know, the perception, the thing that we kind of fight about… I’ve been toying with maybe we should find a way to put in our tagline, you know, accessible and beautiful. Because I think the presumption is that if it’s accessible that it’s ugly and plain and very 2009. And that’s just not true. You can make really beautiful things that are accessible. Our developer has been working on doing a lot… One of the things that’s notoriously not accessible is sliders, which of course, we would rather not have them do. But there are accessible ways to do sliders or there are accessible ways to do, quote, “rotating testimonials” or some of those kinds of things. But figuring out how you can do those in accessible ways is…

Tara: Interesting. Thanks for sharing all that information. I’d like to ask you a question that we ask all of our guests, which is about your definition of success. And that can relate to as a business owner, as a human being, as a member of your community. However you define success in your life, if you would share that with us, and how you implement that philosophy.

Bet: I think success is when you’re able to make a positive difference in the lives of other people, whether that’s my family, or my community, or my customers or my employees. Just really being able to help make someone’s life better. So when we’re trying to work with all the accessibility stuff, that’s a huge piece of success for me. But also I hired and brought on employees in the business. I think we’re in our third or fourth year of offering health insurance benefits, right? So being able to do that.

When one of my employees was able to buy her first house, I think I was as excited as they were. That part of what I had done in building this business made it possible for this person to buy a house. Those kinds of things in terms of really just making a difference. Making a difference.

Liam: I like the constructive nature of that, the very tactile nature of making a positive impact in someone’s life. And it can be big and it can be small. How do you assess a day when inevitably you’ll have helped some people? Depending on your day, you might have set a few people back. And maybe there’s other people who just kind of shipped passing in the day through no fault of anybody, just no good or bad. How do you then evaluate whether a day or a week or a month or a year has been a success? What does that look like for you?

Bet: I don’t know exactly where it comes from, but I really don’t hang on to the hard stuff, awful stuff too much. There are occasional ones where it just really sticks under your skin.

Liam: You’re human.

Bet: I am. I am. Well, we won’t go into those stories. But I think even if it’s just one person, right? I happened to go out to do an errand this morning, went by the grocery store, it’s like moving a cart for someone. It doesn’t have to be big. It’s completely like really small things. I feel good with that and I hang on to that. That makes the day successful, even if there’s other things that are not as pleasant or not as easy, or I may have… Sometimes when you’re the boss, you have to come in and say things, you know, “We’re going to do it this way.” My kids are grown now, but I certainly had to do that with my kids when they were growing up.

Liam: I get that. I like that. I think it strikes me that your approach is really relevant in that we just don’t know. What seems little and simple and throw away to us in the moment can be so impactful to somebody else who, at that point in time, they’re having a terrible day, and that you a stranger, move the car out of the way so that they could get in and not have to dig their car or get out and move it themselves. It restores their little faith in humanity kind of thing. I think those are really important aspects to keep in mind. So thank you for walking us through.

Bet: Sometimes you do things that you hope will later come back to be little things like that. So like, we became grandparents for the first time in May last year…

Liam: Congratulations. Yaaay!

Bet: Thanks. She’s adorable. Our kids live east of St. Louis. So I mean, it’s a long way. And of course, COVID is restricting travel stuff and all of that. She’s nine months old now. But maybe after she was about four months old, I got the idea. Have you ever seen Postagram where you can like use a photo and send a postcard? So I have the app on my phone. And I used it before. So I got to where I was sending Lauren who’s like not able to read and very, you know, not even really paying attention to things very far along, I Postagram every week or so with a little message on it, and it has the picture. And then I sent her mom a little plastic storage cabinet so you save all of those and pull them out and read her messages from grandma.

Tara: That’s a wonderful idea.

Bet: It’s kind of like you hope that the little things that you do, especially when your grandparenting from far away, some of those little things will kind of keep building up over time.

Tara: Yeah, that’s lovely. It strikes me also in the things that you’ve mentioned that there are two different approaches to this idea of having a positive impact on people. One of them is a conscious effort and the other is sort of a natural effort. And maybe doing more conscious things leads to a habit or a natural. It’s not like you go to the grocery store saying, “Today I’m going to the grocery store, and I’m going to help someone with their cart.” But you do go and say, “Maybe this week, I’m going to send my granddaughter a card” or “this week, I’m going to send my friend a card who I knew was having a hard time” or “I’m going to choose someone to do something nice for.

So I think the combination of the two really makes it the most beautiful thing because giving it a conscious effort I think is super important in terms of just your own personal growth and feeling good about helping someone. But mixing in those little impulsiveness, instinctual things, I think they can’t be measured in the same way. So thank you for sharing that with us.

Bet: You’re welcome.

Tara: That’s really excellent. I appreciate that. I’m going to ask you the other question we ask everyone, and maybe it’ll be along the same line, but it is about advice. And we’d love it if you’d share with us some advice that you’ve received at some point and that’s meant something to you and that you’ve implemented in your life. Can you share something like that with us?

Bet: It wasn’t something I heard from anyone explicitly, but for a very long time I’ve really sort of lived, business wise, but also kind of personal life, under promise and over deliver. I used to be ages ago a person who would overpromise and then get so overwhelmed that I would not be able to sometimes follow through on everything, or I would just break myself trying to get it all done. So under promising when I sort of like internalize that, it’s like, “I got to have a realistic boundary about this.” That helps me be really conscious about that in terms of all of that.

But then delighting people. People are delighted. Other people in my life, clients, family members, when you over promise and under deliver, that’s a bad relationship. People don’t feel good. Nobody feels good. When you under promise and over deliver, everybody feels good. So if I could kind of live with more of that sort of advice, that’s… And I think it’s really important for people who are freelancing or doing development stuff thinking about that too.

Tara: It’s helpful. Do you do that in self-talk also? I don’t know, I’m trying to think of some ways. For me, let’s say, I’m going out for a run or something like that, or I’m doing a race, and I’ll say, “I’m not going to be fast.” And I tell myself that because I don’t want to just be disappointed in myself. So do you also apply that to yourself?

Bet: I try. I say, “I’m just going to get on the treadmill for 10 minutes. Just 10 minutes.” And I was really good at the beginning of January, and then… that’ll crash. That’s what I tell myself in my head. “I only need to do 10 minutes, five minutes. I could just do five minutes.” And of course, invariably when I get there, I do a little bit longer. But you know, it’s kind of like, yeah, I do try to get myself motivated that way.

Tara: Yeah, yeah. You do the same strategy with yourself.

Bet: For sure.

Liam: I really like the undersell and over deliver or under promise and over deliver.

Bet: Under promise.

Liam: Yeah, not undersell. Under promise and over deliver. You talked about that as something that you’ve always been able to do? What was that journey like for you? What was that transition like? Was that something that you just made a call one day and like, “You know what, I’ve been burned enough by my own approach, I’m doing it different” or did it take time?

Bet: I don’t know that I was burned, but it was definitely just feeling the stress of it. That it’s more stressful. And realizing, “Oh my gosh,” if I did even just a little bit more than what I had said, if I deliver this project a week before I said I would deliver it, how excited people are? I would much rather people be excited like that than to be more complicated or have those negative sort of interactions with people.

Liam: Yeah, I get that. I get that. And speaking of positive feelings, we are running out of time. I can’t believe it’s been 30 minutes already. But thank you so much for joining us. Before we say goodbye, can you please share where people can find you online?

Bet: Yeah. You can reach me on Twitter at @BetHannon. Our website is bhmbizsites.com, and there’s a contact form there.

Tara: Great. Thank you so much, Bet. Great having you today on the show. Appreciate it. Hope to meet you in person soon.

Bet: Me too.

Liam: Bye for now, Bet. We’ll see you soon.

Bet: Bye-bye.

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.

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