Kolakube http://kolakube.com Build an Online Business in a More Personal Way Tue, 25 Nov 2014 14:06:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0.1 5 Ways I’m Getting My Writing Mojo Back http://kolakube.com/growth/get-writing-mojo-back/ http://kolakube.com/growth/get-writing-mojo-back/#comments Mon, 17 Nov 2014 02:52:20 +0000 http://kolakube.com/?p=62026 …]]> Sitting down to write has been a struggle for me, and I’m tired of blowing it off as “too hard” or “unimportant”. I feel like my natural calling to the web is to write, and my skills as a developer and designer enhance its delivery.

5 Ways I’m Getting My Writing Mojo BackOf course I’m simplifying things, but for the past few years I haven’t given myself permission to write. Any time I sit down and attempt it, I can never quite turn my brain onto “writing mode” because I felt other priorities (as a developer who sells software) outweighed it.

So naturally the less I write the worse I get at it. They say you have to train your writing muscle to get better at writing and I wholeheartedly agree with that based on what I see in others and myself.

My friend Mars writes thousands of words a day and in my eyes is one of the most successful writers I know for the simple fact he gets his words out there (and yeah, the actual words he puts out are great too).

My sights definitely aren’t set on where he’s at as his muscles are much larger than mine. If there’s anything I’ve learned from training at the gym, it’s that you have to start with what you can realistically achieve and build up from there.

Now maybe I’m making things too complicated, but I’ve been at a breaking point for the past couple of weeks. I’ve been more excited to start writing and its finally brought me here to this post.

I know I’m not the only one fighting this battle of procrastination, self-doubt, and bewilderment. I have all the ideas in the world but there have been things I’ve allowed to hold me back for so long that I think others can relate to.

Here’s how I’ve been conquering my weaknesses and finding my writing mojo again:

1. Sit Around, Do Nothing, and Daydream

Sit Around, Do Nothing, and Daydream

My work and the person I am today would be nothing without all of the hours I’ve spent locked in my head daydreaming.

Daydreaming about where I want to take Kolakube. Daydreaming about what I want to write about. Daydreaming about where I want to be in life.

Writing is an act of creation and is fueled by an understanding of yourself. You can’t create anything worthwhile if you don’t have a vision for your creation, and nothing has helped my understanding of myself and my work trajectory better than daydreaming about it.

I have a hard time focusing, so this comes easier for me and oftentimes unexpectedly. I’ve learned to just go with it and when a vision comes up — try to write as much of it down as possible in a notebook and continue with what I was doing afterwards.

I used to feel guilty for daydreaming so much and even a little stupid because of how tough it can be to focus. But once I started embracing these things about myself and started executing the ideas from my daydreams, I found that I create more authentic and original pieces of work.

You should try it sometime.

2. Forget Templates and Best Practices, Just Bleed

There is an excellent quote from Ernest Hemingway that simply goes:

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

With the goal of building an audience, it’s easy to get caught up in following tactics to make your writing “attract” more readers. They usually go something like:

Readers don’t like reading long posts, so write shorter ones

Don’t use swear words because they offend people and make your writing unprofessional

Write headlines concisely so there’s room for people to tweet your post

These tactics all have their place in different circumstances, but I’m now confident enough with myself to say fuck ‘em and figure out what works best for me.

Maybe one day I’ll regret dropping that F-bomb and maybe I’ll have wished I wrote more clever headlines. But I know I’ll never develop a voice without writing what works for me now and always be willing to learn to get better.

3. Looking At My Past Writing For Inspiration (and a Shot of Realism)

Looking at my Past Writing for Inspiration (and a Shot of Realism)

I used to write around one thousand words a day when I was blogging at my past venture, Blogussion. Those words came to me, and I know how hungry I was back then to be a successful writer.

I like to think I did well as a writer at Blogussion, and I still love going through those old posts and rereading what I wrote. Reading them has shown me how far I’ve come as a developer, designer, thinker, and a person as a whole.

Ultimately, reading through my old work has shown me that I’m not the same person I was back then. Not even close, but that doesn’t have to be the bad thing I made it out to be for so long.

Although I’ve been on a hiatus from writing, I’ve been developing myself in many other areas that I can now use to transform my writing.

Maybe I stopped writing before because I burned myself out (as I so often do) and ran out of things to write. But I now have this new wealth of knowledge, experience, and skills to put into something that could really help and teach people.

How often do you use your past work to learn about yourself and influence your work now? Your past work says everything about who you are and what you do now. What can you learn from it?

4. Give Yourself Permission to Write

I mentioned this briefly at the beginning of this post, but has probably been one of my biggest struggles of all to overcome.

Like I said, for the past few years I’ve had more of a “developer” mindset and threw myself into learning programming languages to create WordPress themes and plugins.

Give Yourself Permission to WriteIn that time I neglected many other of my duties to hone in on my skills as a developer; I stopped giving myself permission to do anything else.

While a lot of good came out of the time I spent in my “developer cave”, I always had the urge to write while I was in there. I started a personal blog to try and create a low pressure environment for myself, but it was never the same as writing here on Kolakube.

Maybe I needed to throw myself into development to pursue the passion that overtook everything else.

Maybe I needed to take that time away from writing to create Marketers Delight and launch my vision for the product side of Kolakube.

Maybe after all this time I realized I did exactly what I was supposed to do to progress to the place I wanted to be.

Everything I’ve done in the past few years seem like a blur now. Looking back though, I understand why I needed to step away. I understand why only now have my “writing demons” weakened and why I feel comfortable writing now opposed to a year ago.

I’m ready for the next step.

5. The Million Dollar Notebook

I call the main notebook I use to write ideas, outline blog posts, and sketch designs my “Million Dollar Notebook.”

It’s obvious that notebooks are a great way to quickly write down thoughts in a more personal way (do you feel a deeper connection to your handwritten notes or typed notes?), but once you’ve filled enough pages with — you may have transformed that notebook into something completely different.

You may have created your own Million Dollar Notebook.

A Million Dollar Notebook is an original book created by you that no one else in the world has. Think of it as a collection of blueprints for your next invention that is going to be so good — you’re going to make $1,000,000 from it someday.

Here’s what mine looks like, and I swear if you shake it long enough a million dollars will eventually fall out of it:

[NOTEBOOK IMAGE HERE]

I won’t tell you how to take notes, since note taking is really a reflection of your own unique thought process. There are various note-taking techniques I love to use, particularly mind mapping, but I’ve found it the easiest and quickest to make bulleted lists or just write blocks of text.

I will tell you that you simply won’t remember every idea despite how exciting it is. I’ve learned this the hard way and have forgotten tons of ideas by just simply not writing them down.

That’s why this notebook is valuable — it gives you your own medium to write down your ideas. Some stick and some don’t.

You never know which idea will be your million dollar idea.

How do you do it?

I feel like my journey as a writer has just started again, and I couldn’t be more excited. Writing this one post has been so fun and I can’t wait to get more out. I have a lot to say.

What do you do to stay strong as a writer? Can you relate to any of the experiences I’ve talked about in this post? You may be able to help other’s out by simply sharing your quick tip, so be sure to leave a comment below. Maybe you’ll learn a little something about yourself in the process.

Photo Credit: final gather, “The Wanderer’s Eye Photography”, sant.o

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How to Display Email Signup Forms with WordPress in 2 Easy Steps http://kolakube.com/smartwp/email-forms-wordpress/ http://kolakube.com/smartwp/email-forms-wordpress/#comments Mon, 03 Nov 2014 04:10:29 +0000 http://kolakube.com/?p=61824 …]]> Building an email list is one of the most rewarding and challenging things of building a business. I’ve had a few lists of my own over the years and know both of those sides very well.

The rewarding side is that you can easily keep in touch with people who follow you and build a reach. Having an email list is a colossal asset to anybody trying to promote themselves and their work.

But with great rewards come great challenges. You know building an email list takes time and dedication — especially to build a quality one. You know that strategically designing and placing a form can make or break conversion rates.

You know these things, but before you can even get there, you have to add the actual email forms to your website first. And that’s usually a pretty confusing, problematic step.

This is the problem I wanted to address with my new plugin.

Email Signup Form Code

Did you know that vomiting code onto the screen creates email forms? :D

For years I’ve been helping people who have bought any of my WordPress themes add their email signup form codes to their website. And it never surprised me why so many needed help: working with those huge codes is just frustrating.

I knew it firsthand and built a bunch of little shortcuts for my own use to make it easier. But everything I built was a little more technical than I’d have liked it to been if I were to give it to people who used my work.

After years of stringing myself along, I finally tackled this headfirst and built a drop dead easy solution that makes adding email forms to WordPress a lot easier with much less code.

In fact, you can do it in 2 easy steps. Let me show you how my new free WordPress plugin, Kolakube Email Forms works:

How to Add Email Signup Forms to WordPress in 2 Easy Steps

Since this is a plugin, you have to install and activate it to your website. If you don’t know how to install a plugin, read these instructions to do so.

Step 1: Connect to an Email Service

Kolakube Email Forms Step OneOnce the plugin is activated, go to the Tools → Email Service Setup Screen to get started.

On this screen, you will select your email service provider and connect to their services. Connecting is as easy as logging into your account and get your authorization code (a small string of text) and paste it into the plugin setting.

Click the “Connect” button and the plugin will connect to your email provider. Watch a quick video demo of this easy process.

Note: As of writing this, this plugin only supports AWeber and MailChimp. While more services are being added, you can choose to use a Custom HTML Form Code and paste your code in.

Step 2: Drag a Widget

Kolakube Email Forms WidgetOnce you’re connected, you can head over to the Widgets panel and add the new Kolakube Email Signup Form Widget to your sidebar and other Widget areas.

After dragging it into place, you can start editing your email form. First, add a title and some description text. Try to be concise and write something original. →

Then—and this is the cool part—choose which of your email lists you want people to subscribe to when they fill out your form fields. →

The plugin pulls this information from your account when you connected and gives us everything we need to output an email signup form on your website.

Once you choose your list, you’ll then be shown a few other options to make customizing your list a little more strategic.

You can also ask for their name alongside their email address, as well as change the label text for your Name, Email, and Submit button fields.

And if you’re connected to AWeber, you can set your own “Thank You” and “Already Subscribed” pages right from the Widget.

Customizing Your Email Form

Now that you have a working email form on your website, it’s time to make its design look good. Here’s potentially where writing some custom CSS comes in.

This plugin does its best job to inherit styles from your active theme to display an appealing email form right out of the box. It doesn’t offer any design options, but if your theme styles input forms you shouldn’t have too much work left to do.

Bonus: Use this simple design to make your email form more eye-catching

Design your email formAs an added bonus, and in an effort to show you how easy it is to customize these forms, I’ve come up with a simple form design you can use to make your new email form stand out.

Once you have the email widget in place, you can start customizing it.

To use the fully-responsive form design you see to the right, paste the CSS below into your theme’s stylesheet:

/*------------------------------*\
     $KOLAKUBE EMAIL FORMS
\*------------------------------*/

/* WIDGET */

.widget.widget_kol_email {
	border: 5px solid #222;
	padding: 0;
	text-align: center;
}

.widget.widget_kol_email,
.widget.widget_kol_email .widget-title {
	color: #fff;
}


/* FORM */

.widget_kol_email .kol-email-intro {
	background-color: #333;
	margin-bottom: 0;
	padding: 25px;
}

.widget_kol_email .kol-email-form {
	background-color: #222;
	padding: 25px;
}


/* INPUT FIELDS */

.widget_kol_email .form-input {
	background-color: #fff;
	margin-bottom: 15px;
}

.widget_kol_email .form-submit {
	background-color: #22a340;
	border: 3px solid rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.1);
	border-radius: 2px;
	border-width: 0 0 3px;
	color: #fff;
	cursor: pointer;
	display: inline-block;
	font-weight: 500;
	padding: 15px 25px;
	text-shadow: 1px 1px 3px rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.3);
}

.widget_kol_email .form-submit:hover {
	background-color: #209c41;
}

.widget_kol_email .form-input,
.widget_kol_email .form-submit {
	padding: 15px 25px;
	width: 100%;
	-webkit-box-sizing: border-box;
	-moz-box-sizing: border-box;
	box-sizing: border-box;	
}


/* FORM ATTACHED */

@media all and (min-width: 700px) {

	.widget_kol_email [class*="form-attached"]:after {
		clear: both;
		content: " ";
		display: table;
	}

	.widget_kol_email [class*="form-attached"] .form-input {
		border-radius: 2px 0 0 2px;
		float: left;
		height: 50px;
		margin-bottom: 0;
		width: 78%;
	}

	.widget_kol_email [class*="form-attached"] .form-submit {
		border-radius: 0 2px 2px 0;
		float: left;
		font-size: 14px;
		height: 50px;
		padding: 0;
		width: 22%;
	}


	/* 2 FIELDS */

	.widget_kol_email .form-attached-2 .form-input {
		width: 39%;
	}

	.widget_kol_email .form-attached-2 .form-input + .form-input {
		border-left: 1px solid rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.1);
		border-radius: 0;
	}

}

Want to see a neat little trick? The screenshot you see above to the right is ideal for smaller spaces, such as a blog sidebar for example.

If you want to place this form in a wider area, such as after a post, and want the input fields to show up on one line, follow this one easy step:

Kolakube Email Forms WidgetEdit the Email Form Widget and look for the HTML Classes text input at the very end of the Widget settings.

If your form asks for both name and email, enter the following class name:

form-attached-2

…if only email, this class name instead:

form-attached

This simple change will now make your form look like:

Kolakube Email Forms Design

Just like the plugin, this form design does its best to work with your current theme. The design you see here may not be exactly what appears on your site so you may need to tweak the I provided CSS to make it just right.

This design also works as a great starting point for your own custom design. I’ve included some media queries to make it responsive as well, which should speed up your development time as well.

What’s Next For This Plugin?

I have huge plans for this plugin, and will be adding other services to connect to so you’re not limited to just AWeber or MailChimp. I also plan on adding the Featured Image feature so you can add a small image to your form.

The big future I see for this plugin is integrations. I’ve already used this plugin as a base to build the Email Page Lead and see a ton of potential to integrate it into future products down the line.

This plugin is open source and you can follow its development on GitHub.

How Are You Using This?

I’d love to see how you’re using this plugin on your site! If you came up with a cool design, please feel free to share off your site in the comments below. If you really love the plugin, please be sure to give it a 5 star rating!

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A Prediction Into the Exciting Future of Premium WordPress Themes http://kolakube.com/smartwp/wordpress-themes-future/ http://kolakube.com/smartwp/wordpress-themes-future/#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 05:00:14 +0000 http://kolakube.com/?p=58657 Last week, Chris Lema published a thought-provoking post asking if it’s worth getting into the premium WordPress theme business. He mentioned that some major theme shops are shifting their focus away from themes and onto plugin development.

Just because some of the top dogs are changing their game up a little, doesn’t mean that the premium theme market is going away.

If you ask me, there’s never been a more exciting time to get into the premium WordPress theme business than right now.

As WordPress grows closer and closer as a collaborative community and more plugin shops open with exciting new business models, the demand for simple themes that integrate with these plugins will skyrocket.

Here’s my thought process…

WordPress as a True Content Management System

WordPressAs WordPress loses its title as a blogging platform and gains more traction as a full-fledged CMS that can be used for literally any kind of website, there becomes a greater demand for more powerful features.

Think of how important the concept of posts was when WordPress was just a blogging platform. You don’t have a great blogging software without an easy to use posts system and WordPress sure nailed it there.

Now, scale that same concept up to a content management system that can become anything, and WordPress’ potential use cases (eCommerce, membership, portfolio, etc.) require their own signature features to make creating different types of websites as easy as it was to create a blog.

WordPress will never be defined by just one type of site so you will never see these tailored features built-in. That’s why these plugins are so important and are exploding into marketplaces right now.

I’ll give you some examples:

Need a forum? bbPress is a plugin that adds an entire discussion forum to your WordPress site.

How about a store? With Easy Digital Downloads, you can create a complete store system that lists your products and sets up payment gateways.

There’s even a new powerhouse on the block in AffiliateWP, which adds a powerful affiliate program to your site in no time.

These plugins are what make WordPress such a wonderful platform now and are a huge part of why it’s so easy to build a website of any kind.

The true potential of these plugins, though? That can be unlocked with add-ons.

The Value of Add-ons

Plugins as Addons

The concept of add-ons is simple: take a base plugin (say, Easy Digital Downloads) with basic features and create plugins that can make it do even more.

This strategy is becoming more widely used (opposed to creating one-off products) because it better accommodates “The Big 3″:

  1. The user
  2. The developer
  3. The business

Selling separate add-ons allows the user to pick the features they want and minimize what they don’t. This makes a plugin substantially more user friendly, easy to use, and even fun to setup.

From a developer standpoint, plugins that follow this model will have significantly less features built into core which makes for a more maintainable and lightweight codebase.

Rather than solely focusing on new features in the base plugin, focus can be put on making that plugin more extendable for add-ons.

A business that follows this model could even become more profitable and sustainable (we know how important sustainability is) as more products are being created and sold as part of a large up-sell system.

There are a lot of possibilities here and it’s been exciting seeing plugin developer’s leverage these strategies to create such powerful new features and businesses for WordPress.

All of this now brings me back to themes.

A Shift in Theme Development

WordPress Plugins/Themes

There’s a shift going on in the theme development community.

Theme authors are taking features like sliders, custom post types, shortcodes, and other content-creating features out of their themes and moving them into plugins (where they belong).

Themes were never meant to handle such functionality, but rather the visual look and layout of a site. I’ve found the following to be true about building and running websites:

The design will always change, but the foundation generally doesn’t

Your design is simply a moving part that helps solidify your website’s bottom line. Whether it’s to sell products or create a membership site, your website has a purpose and requires certain functionality to achieve it.

Because design is so often changed, building functionality a website depends on into a theme is a crippling mistake. When the theme is switched, all of that functionality will be lost.

How can this be avoided? It’s easy: don’t build themes that “do it all”, but build themes that work with the plugins and style their functionality.

A Premium Theme Strategy for 2014 and Beyond

With such an array of power plugins out there, users are becoming less interested in what your theme can do and more interested in what your theme integrates with.

Check out what Sean Davis is doing with his Easy Digital Downloads themes and see how WooThemes integrates their plugins into their themes. I’ve taken this approach with my own theme Spotlight, and made a few plugins that integrate into it as well.

All it usually takes is some extra CSS to make most plugins work with your theme (and when I say “work”, I mean “look good”). Take the time to test plugins your customers love and build in support for them.

Go out and make a theme that works with a popular plugin and then try to get it featured on that plugins website. Users of that plugin in need of a theme will be all over it because it’s a theme built closer to their own needs.

Even come up with your own plugins and make them work on all of your themes. Build the feature once, put it into a plugin, reuse it, and just worry about styling it into new themes. It’s just too easy.

Of Course, Quality Still Rules All…

Integrations are huge, and I think we’re going to see a lot more plugins and themes from different companies working together.

But no matter which plugins your themes integrate with, never forget that your theme is still a product in itself and should be treated with care. Without a solid product of your own, how can you expect it to work well with others?

Build your themes on these 4 principles, and I guarantee you will create a product your users love:

  1. Load fast and use a minimal amount of resources to display content
  2. Work on any mobile device/computer with a responsive design
  3. Update automatically via the WordPress dashboard
  4. Developer-friendly with clean code to streamline customization

The catch is that these are the things that often go unnoticed and are under-appreciated by users. But the more your theme “just works” for them, the happier they’ll be with your products.

Theme Developers: Do You See the Potential Here?

WordPress is a collaborative community growing closer and closer together.

The plugins marketplace is booming.

And theme developers are creating design-first, feature-less themes that work with power plugins.

There’s some monumental stuff happening here and I can’t wait to see it all come together.

What do you think? What’s next for WordPress themes?

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Discovering your niche market doesn’t have to be so painful. Or does it? http://kolakube.com/bull-market-branding/discovering-your-niche/ http://kolakube.com/bull-market-branding/discovering-your-niche/#comments Tue, 27 May 2014 17:31:50 +0000 http://structrd.co/?p=1437 …]]> I was lucky enough to have some time last week to catch the round table discussion over on WPBacon about managed WordPress hosting. When you have two little boys (5 & 2) constantly tugging at you, it can be hard to do these things!

Did you get a chance to catch it? It was pretty cool.

If not, I’ll give you a quick rundown — the panel included brass from various managed WordPress hosting companies like Pagely, MediaTemple, WPEngine and Flywheel. They talked about, you guessed it, managed WordPress hosting.

The conversation had a candid, but upbeat tone, with friendly banter going back and forth. I have to say that some of the ideology and stories behind these hosting companies is actually quite interesting.

When it was over, there was a huge take-away for me that reinforced something that I’ve been thinking for a long time as it relates to discovering your niche market — something that as entrepreneurs we often overlook, but that could be a game changer for anyone running an online (or offline) business if executed properly.

What was it? Pain.

Uncovering Your Customer’s Needs

discovering-niche-2014

If you are in the business of selling something, and having trouble discovering your niche, let me give you some advice that I wish someone gave me once upon a time: stop selling it.

You don’t need to sell anymore.

What you need to do is uncover your customers needs and magnify their pain points. Once you do that, you don’t really have to sell anything. Your customers will eat from your hand like a bird if you can help solve their problems, or in the case of this article, their perceived problems.

Aside: If you’re a WordPress developer or freelancer who designs WordPress websites for a living, you might be interested in this article I saw the other day, that talks more about this. If you have time after reading this one, take a look. It could change the way you price your products and services.

In that article there were a few lines in particular that resonated with me. Something like this:

Just remember, when there is a problem worth solving, the value/cost of your product or service is limited only by the depth of their problem(s), not a commoditized number.

Discovering your niche, or creating one

Step back for a second and think about this — what started out as a niche service first created by Pagely, morphed into a real (and very lucrative) marketplace based on the premise that it’s so hard — nearly impossible, for the average person to manage a fast, secure, and reliable WordPress install.

But is it really that hard? Last time I checked, you can login to a cPanel and install WordPress with the click of a button.

Install the BackupBuddy and Limit Login Attempts plugins, and you now have a complete backup solution, and have protected your install from brute force attacks.

Install WP Super Cache, turn it on and use the recommended settings, and your site is now being cached for improved page load.

As far as keeping the site up to date, well, WordPress notifies you in the dashboard when there is a new version available for update. Again, another click of a button.

And if you are comfortable with command line, you can run a few scripts that will do all of these things for you, within seconds.

managed-wordpress-hosting

Despite the simplicity of all this, managed hosting has literally exploded in the past few years, with new providers entering the market just about every year, and existing ones creating managed solutions to keep up with their new competition.

The direction of the WordPress hosting marketplace has changed dramatically, and we can now only predict where it will go in the future.

To be fair, for some people it is next to impossible to do the things I described above, and my intent is not to make these hosting providers out to be selling snake oil. I think what many of them offer has tremendous value. If I didn’t know how to do most of this stuff myself, I would most certainly be using a managed host.

Finding or creating pain, and then magnifying it

What I’m really trying to do is to get you thinking about how this huge shift took place.

During this interview, Joshua Strebel, founder and CEO of the very first managed WordPress hosting company Pagely, said he spent his entire first year in business educating the market on the benefits of managed hosting and why it was so important to get your site off that shared server, and move it over to their managed platform.

I have to give Strebel some major props here, because not only was he first-to-market, but I know exactly how hard it is to try and convince people that quality is almost always more important than price. More on that in a second.

The other managed WordPress hosting companies should pay some serious homage to him for that. If they already have, they should do it some more.

He spent a lot of time and resources on essentially creating this niche market, by showcasing the awesome features of his platform, and by virtue, magnifying the shortcomings of shared providers. He created pain in the minds of his customers and eventually capitalized on it.

In a price slashing, commodity world, he ultimately turned a luxury into a tangible benefit that would solve his customers problems right now.

Other hosting companies followed suit and the rest is history.

How is this applicable to discovering your niche?

discovering-your-niche

Discovering your niche is not easy, but if you can find a problem worth solving, it will make life much easier for you.

How can you serve your community/users/customers? What problems can you solve for them?

Can you transform a luxury, or commodity into something that people need and are willing to pay more money than similar products for?

I learned a lot about this from my experience in the insurance industry. To many people (maybe everyone?) insurance is a commodity. Here’s the thing though, it’s not.

People think it is though because there are 4 or 5 huge insurance companies (not naming names but you probably know who they are) who continuously spend millions of dollars on Super Bowl commercials and other ads, essentially brainwashing people into thinking that insurance is all about saving money.

That’s the message in that industry right now. Who can give the the absolute lowest, rock bottom price? That’s all that matters right? Wrong.

The entire purpose of insurance is to transfer risk. It’s that protection should be the message, not just slashing prices. Those companies are sending the wrong message, and people are feeding right into it. It’s up to every other insurance company or agent to try and sell against that and prove that it’s about more than just a number. That is an extremely difficult thing to do, and it’s an everyday battle for a lot of people in that industry.

This is precisely what Joshua Strebel spent an entire year doing.

Companies were literally giving away hosting for years and he had to convince the masses (without any kind of seed money) that it’s the quality — not just the price that’s important.

Don’t just sell what’s in front of you

Probe. Ask questions. Have meaningful conversations. Get to know your prospects and customers and that’s when you can identify how you can help them. That’s one of the first steps in discovering your niche.

People always say you make way more money when you’re doing something for the love of it, and not thinking about the money. Same thing applies here.

Uncover and solve a problem, while playing up your competitors weak spots. The money will follow.

Don’t just copy everyone else

Copying people just makes this process more difficult. Sometimes discovering your niche means doing something that no one else wants to do, but guess what? That’s okay. If you can find happiness in doing it and help people in the process, you can do big things.

I damn sure didn’t grow up wanting to be in the insurance industry but it paid my bills for a long time and I really enjoyed helping people in the process.

In fact, I was able to find my own niche by offering some products and services that almost no other broker was offering. As a result, I cornered the market and made a good living doing so.

So not only might you discover your niche by doing something that few others do, or want to do, you could create a market, and that is a very powerful thing.

At the end of the day, when you can find a problem, while magnify the shortcomings of your competition (politely or not), you’re no longer pushing a commodity or trying to oversell a luxury, you’re providing a necessity.

What are you doing (or not doing) to carve out your place in this world? Let’s talk about it!

langilleAbout Chris Langille: I help individuals and institutions build a better online brand so they can build meaningful relationships with their customers, users, and clients. You should follow me on Twitter.
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How to Stand Out From the Crowd: It’s All About Asking the Right Questions http://kolakube.com/business/stand-out-crowd/ http://kolakube.com/business/stand-out-crowd/#comments Mon, 26 May 2014 06:09:19 +0000 http://kolakube.com/?p=59212 …]]> Original ideaThe world is a much techier place, and has sparked a gold rush in the online business world.

As I’m sitting here in a coffee shop writing this post, I can’t help but notice the amount of people writing code or drafting new blog posts on their laptops.

I live in Austin, Texas, which is a huge tech city, so this is a pretty common sight anyway.

Yet I can’t stop thinking back to even just a few years ago when it was more of a surprise to run into somebody else coding or blogging. Now it’s just business as usual.

I’ve been in online business for about 6 years and have watched my numbers on social media, my email list and total amount of customers grow.

But being in this coffee shop today and actually witnessing this small group of people working on their laptops gave me a new kind of perspective about just how many people are trying to make a name for themselves out there. It was a much more impactful visual than seeing some of my own numbers.

I saw real people who do what I do.

As I sat back, all I could think is “how the hell am I supposed to stand out?”

Standing Out in a Crowded World

There’s a business for everything, and thanks to the Internet we all have the opportunity to share ours with the rest of the world. Many folks who think about starting a business online often end up not starting it for crazy reasons.

“I have nothing unique to offer”

“It’s already been done a million times before, why do it again?”

Entrepreneurs get eaten alive by thoughts like these, even those knee deep in a current business venture. Most say these thoughts are a result of a lack of confidence. I say it’s all about perspective.

It’s Not About the Original Idea

Cancel out the noiseAs entrepreneurs, it’s our goal to solve problems. We do this by coming up with original ideas so mind-blowing and amazing that we disrupt the market and change the world.

That’s the dream anyway. But it’s easy to chase these ideas in the wrong direction and is why so many entrepreneurs fail.

Ideas that didn’t work out right, ideas you scrapped, and ideas people just didn’t buy.

I’ve had my share of these failed ideas and looking back, could have potentially saved some if I had shifted my mindset a little.

I’ve found that instead of chasing the idea that has never been thought of before, I should improve an existing idea and apply my own skills, knowledge, and philosophies to create my own unique solution.

If you can imagine, build, and explain an idea — you have something worth building a business around:

  1. Imagine: Think about how your business could add value to a customer’s life and what problem(s) it solves for them. Map out your ideas into a business model and plan a product/service to offer.
  2. Build: Be able to possess the knowledge it takes to turn your ideas into an online business. Learn how to setup a website onto a server, and even learn code. Otherwise, pay someone to do it for you.
  3. Explain: If someone were to come up to you and challenge your idea(s), what would you say back? Remember that it’s not about being “right”, but being able to stand behind your ideas and decisions. Be open to the idea that your business could be improved, and always strive for a better version of yourself/your business.

And look — just because you’re not actively chasing after the “one”, doesn’t mean you’re compromising. You’re just being realistic.

An original idea isn’t just imagined up in a single epiphany. An original idea is devised of a series of smaller, unoriginal ideas that have been refined to work for a larger purpose.

My favorite example of this is Buffer. They started as a simple service to schedule tweets (which had been done thousands of time before) and have expanded into a larger business with much more to offer.

After looking at a company like Buffer, you just can’t say that your idea has no chance for success. It’ll only go as far as you’re willing to take it, you just need to add you into your business.

Your Business is a Reflection of You — What Do You See?

There’s no one out there who thinks like you, knows what you know and understands it in the same way. Because of that, there’s no one who will execute an idea like you.

Regardless if you have any idea that ends up selling millions, or none at all — you always have your own unique perspective to take away from it.

There’s value in that somewhere in this world, and that can be all the difference you need to stand out in a world that’s so damn noisy.

Images by Trey Ratcliff and Rosa Menkman

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What I Learned From Making My First Free WordPress Plugin http://kolakube.com/wordpress-plugins/my-first-wordpress-plugin/ http://kolakube.com/wordpress-plugins/my-first-wordpress-plugin/#comments Mon, 05 May 2014 21:33:49 +0000 http://kolakube.com/?p=58824 …]]> My first WordPress pluginBig news! I submitted my first free plugin to the WordPress plugins directory. I’ve been working with WordPress for about 6 years, and have made tons of stuff with it… but I’ve never released a plugin.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably spent hours digging through the plugins directory in amazement at how many free plugins there are to choose from.

…You’ve also probably left it a few times frustrated, wishing you could have found what you were looking for.

In a nutshell, that’s why I learned how to develop for WordPress: so when I couldn’t find what I needed elsewhere, I could just build it myself.

But it never crossed my mind that I could actually contribute to the plugins directory myself, and give back to the community a little bit. So I made a simple plugin and got it approved! I learned a few valuable lessons along the way, too.

1. It’s Fun Giving Back

I feel a little guilty about this one, but for as long as I’ve had a WordPress business, I haven’t given away much for free. That doesn’t sit quite right with me, considering WordPress itself is free, and I used dozens of free plugins to run Kolakube.

Of course there’s no obligation saying I have to do that, but that’s what the beauty of WordPress is: it’s a community that gives back and helps each other. WordPress is built by the community after all.

In my eyes, if I’m selling premium products, I’d better be giving some away too. In a community like this it only seems right.

I love making money but I love even more hearing how something I’ve made has positively impacted someone else’s business. By adding my own free plugins to the massive plugins directory, I can now potentially hear that more often.

I already can’t wait to submit my next plugin, especially after learning a small cold truth about myself:

2. I Make Mistakes, Even When I Think I Don’t

Always strive for new mistakes

Photo Credit: elycefeliz

After 6 years of developing for the same software, I thought I had a good idea of what I was talking about when I labeled myself as a WordPress developer. I thought I knew everything I needed to know about it.

Submitting my own work to be reviewed by somebody else (who’s much smarter than me) made me realize quickly that I still have tons to learn.

The feedback I got back from the reviewer was great, but there was an issue I needed to resolve before they could approve it.

This issue had nothing to do with the code I submitted, but rather some of the wording I had in my documentation for it.

I had unintentionally promoted a bad WordPress development practice in the documentation, and I couldn’t believe I let that happen since I developed my plugin specifically to avoid that bad practice.

Luckily, I just needed to change my wording a little, and it was quickly approved after. Even though I spent a lot of time writing that documentation, and was sure everything was perfect before submitting, some things still fell through the cracks.

I’m thankful that minor issue was caught, and that my first plugin didn’t end up promoting a bad practice. Maybe next time, I’ll get it all right!

3. I Learned About SVN

GitHubThis lesson really builds upon the last one, but I learned a lot about how Subversion/version control works, and I know it will be a very beneficial thing I add into my workflow from here on out.

I had played with version control before, by dabbling a little in GitHub and Cornerstone. But I never really dug into its full potential until I started working on this plugin.

At first, it was a little annoying. I had worked out my own “version control system” (press cmd + z a thousand times), but never really understood the full benefits until I made this plugin.

Throughout the development of my plugin, I used GitHub to keep track of the biggest changes I made and show code to my friends when I needed help (check out the repo here).

To get my plugin onto the actual WordPress site after it was approved, I used the amazing SVN app, Cornerstone.

These are two applications I’ve used in the past, but never really tapped into their full potential. With how helpful they’ve been on this small plugin, I can’t wait to incorporate them into my larger projects!

That was fun, and I can’t wait to do it again

SCC Updates

Click the image to see my new plugin, SCC Updates

You should check out my plugin on the WordPress plugins directory. It’s an extension for a plugin called Simple Course Creator, which makes it easy to create and list post series on your website.

My plugin is called SCC Updates, which takes the courses you’ve made with Simple Course Creator and lists them as updates in timeline format.

To give you some use cases:

  • News sites can easily post updates to stories broken apart into multiples posts
  • Course creators can use it to tease previews of their full course
  • Developers can use it to document the progress of their work on their blog, or as a changelog

It’s a pretty versatile plugin, and can be used on any website to add a unique touch to your content.

I had a lot of fun building this plugin and can’t be more excited to see my work in the legendary WordPress plugins directory.

I’m already itching to build a new plugin…any suggestions?

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From WordPress Frameworks to Themes and Beyond: The New Direction of Kolakube http://kolakube.com/news-2/new-direction/ http://kolakube.com/news-2/new-direction/#comments Thu, 24 Apr 2014 07:39:08 +0000 http://kolakube.com/?p=58517 …]]> A New Direction in WordPress ThemesSince 2012, Kolakube has been known as a leading provider of skins for the Thesis framework (back when you could still call it that). In Marketers Delight, I had created arguably the most popular and powerful premium Thesis skin ever.

Alongside Marketers Delight, I created a few other popular skins that helped get my name out there, and helped a lot of people build amazing websites. When Thesis 2 came out, I raced to rebuild Marketers Delight and release it. It was another huge success.

But something just didn’t feel right about the direction I was headed…

It’s a scary thing to feel like you’re not in control of your own business.

In my case, the more I grew as a developer and better understood the web and my customers, the more constricted I felt building my own products based around somebody else’s business and vision.

I’m a thinker, developer, and designer. I like to think big, develop from scratch, and design freely. All on my own terms.

Theme frameworks are great at a lot of things, but I’ve never used one where I didn’t run into limitations, or had a difference in opinion in how things should work. As much as I enjoy using Thesis, it’s no exception.

To me, limitations mean lower quality products. I mess up a lot of things when it comes to business, but I do not released half-assed products filled with workarounds.

Now, scale that up to reach, and my products were merely white noise to anybody who didn’t use Thesis. I wasn’t just selling my work, I had to sell somebody else’s first.

I trust that I have enough knowledge and experience to build my own products, and have the ideas that will take them off. To do all of that in an ecosystem that isn’t mine will only hinder what I believe I can create and accomplish.

What started as a luxury eventually became a crutch. Progression is the name of the game, and I’m ready to kick off a new era here at Kolakube.

Building Meaningful WordPress Themes

Spotlight + Chronicl for WordPress

At the time of writing this, I’ve created and released two WordPress themes.

In February, I released a blogging theme called Chronicl. This got my feet wet in WordPress theme development, and taught me about the pure power of WordPress without a framework, and how to build a theme that favors decisions instead of options.

Then, just a few days ago, I released a new theme called Spotlight. Spotlight is more for creatives, and comes with 3 plugins that integrate into it. This taught me about modular development, and the benefits of building functionality into a plugin vs. a theme.

Spotlight WordPress ThemeWith each theme I build, my goals and ideas for what I want to accomplish at Kolakube became a little bigger, and my vision clearer. I’m starting to see that even though my products are different, they share many things in common.

These similarities help me paint a better picture for the business model I want to build Kolakube around, and further strengthens the philosophies I have about building websites.

What that really means, though, is that I’m figuring out how to build better products for you.

Products you can use to make more money with your business. Products that help you build the website of your dreams, and take care of the technical side of WordPress. Products that allow you to focus on building your own products, and creating content.

Quantity will never be the focus here at Kolakube (it honestly never has), because quality and meaning will always rule here.

Here are some of the most important things you can expect from any Kolakube theme, now and in the future:

  1. Meaningful themes built with intent and purpose
  2. Fun features you and your audience will enjoy using
  3. Beautiful, responsive designs that look and function great on any device
  4. Automatic updates, so you always have new things to look forward to
  5. Easy to read content with beautiful typography
  6. Lightweight code for faster page load and better overall performance
  7. Developer friendly, and easy to modify with Child Themes

I gave my best attempt to back these philosophies up in Chronicl and Spotlight, and can’t wait to further improve them alongside new products as I go.

A Last Quick Word…

To everyone who’s continued to buy my products and supported me along the way, I just wanted to say thank you.

I’ve been pretty quiet the past year and a half, and a lot has changed in my personal life (I got my first apartment!) that I unfortunately prioritized over other responsibilities.

I have a lot to talk about, a lot to teach, and a lot of products to build. I’ve honestly never been so excited in my life.

I don’t know where I’m going with all of this now, but I just hope you’re intrigued enough to follow along. If so, enter your email address below to join the Kolakube newsletter where I’ll send you my best advice and tips for building a better website for your business.

Photo Credit: Outlaw_Pete

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Step into the Spotlight: 3 Ways to Create a Website That Gets You More Clients http://kolakube.com/freelancing/get-more-clients/ http://kolakube.com/freelancing/get-more-clients/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 19:31:03 +0000 http://kolakube.com/?p=58180 Spotlight for WordPressGetting people to visit your website is the easy part these days. The hard part is getting those people to use your website; to sell them on your services, and then get them to take action to get in touch with you and hire you.

As a freelancer, having a stockpile of leads at your disposal is a comforting thought. Knowing you can pick up a new project and get paid for it at any time is what will keep you in business, and food on your table.

I’ve been freelancing on and off for 6 years, and have never struggled to get new clients when I needed a new project. Rather than trying to drive as much traffic as possible to my website, I’ve always focused on one thing to get more leads:

Build a website that made people come to me.

Like I said, getting people on your website isn’t the hard part. The hard part is retaining them and getting them to take the action you want them to (message you for work).

In other words, build a website that does all the work for you; that promotes your services and skills, shows your experience, and tells your story.

You see, all of these things spiral back to one thing: trust. The beautiful thing about having a website is that it’s a reflection of you. Your website is always talking to people even when you personally aren’t.

I believe a website that speaks for you and your services should follow these 3 principles:

  1. It should make your intentions known
  2. It should put an emphasis on your messages, beliefs, and you
  3. It should be easy to communicate with you

1. How to make your intentions known

You know what you want to accomplish with your website: get more clients. The easiest way to make a sale, or to get people to do what you want is to simply make your intentions known.

In other words, show your audience what to do next by funneling them to the most important parts of your website.

My favorite example of this is at The Sales Lion. The first thing you see when you visit the site are calls-to-action that funnel visitors to the services and products they have to offer.

Instead of relying on arbitrary menu links, The Sales Lion puts these pages right in front of visitors faces in an actionable way:

The Sales Lion Funnel

Note: How The Sales Lion funnels visitors to crucial pages on their website.

Always strive to make it known throughout your website that you have something to offer, and that you want your visitor to take action on it. Even if they don’t need your services now, you will at least make an impression that may end up connecting you later on.

Now, in the same way somebody may not need your services now, you may be in a position where you’re too booked to take on new work right now.

Believe me, if that’s the case—you’re doing something right.

But does that mean you should stop selling yourself? Stop trying to attract more clients? Absolutely not!

Again: you’re stating your intentions to your audience here. If you can’t take on projects now, make it known you will be accepting new projects later. Be transparent, and get your potential clients to work with your schedule.

I love how Bill Erickson does this on his contact page. Right above the form, he states when he’s accepting new projects again:

Work availability

Insight: Always state your work availability.

This encourages people to get in touch with him, but also sets the expectation that he doesn’t have work availability until the stated date.

Intentions and expectations are everything when it comes to making a sale. Once you’ve told the world what you have to offer, you need to further strengthen your message by showing them what you’ve already done.

2. Share Your Messages, Experiences, and You

The services and work you create on the web can’t be found anywhere else. You bring your own unique styles and experiences to the table, and that plays a huge factor in a person’s decision to hire you.

That’s why your website should be all about you.

Showcase your work on a dedicated portfolio page, and write about the experiences you’ve gained and the lessons you’ve learned.

Tell your reader’s how they can apply all of that knowledge to themselves. Then explain how your services can improve their life/business, and show them how you’ve done it with your work before.

Prove you know what you’re talking about, and publish blog posts that teach people how to solve problems for themselves. Even if they’re just small ones.

You never know, they may just want to hire you (pay you) to solve more of their problems at some point.

Now because your message is so important for that to happen, it’s crucial you have a website that clearly lays out your message with little to no distraction.

A huge reason why I like the designs of the SDavisMedia and Rafal Tomal’s blog’s is that there isn’t a sidebar or fluff content in sight. Each page focuses on a specific thing, with the intentions of getting you to take an action.

With less clutter, and more emphasis on your work, experiences, and stories—people who are interested in your services will have all they information they need to reach out to you.

3. …Just make sure it’s easy to contact you

Having a basic contact form on your website is an absolute must. There’s really no better way to start a conversation with somebody interested in your services than through an email.

In the same way you don’t like filling out a huge form to order Chinese food online, potential clients don’t want to fill out a long form just to get the ball rolling about their project.

Many freelancers want to get all the details possible up front about a project, but miss the human interaction side of landing a client. Instead of creating complex contact forms that grab as much information as possible, create a basic form that asks for the following:

  • Name (it’s always good to know somebody’s name!)
  • Email address (so you know which email address to reply back to)
  • Subject (give them an opportunity to make their email stand out in your inbox and pitch their project)
  • Message (a big text box that let’s them freely talk about their project)

This is how I’ve setup my own contact form, and have always enjoyed the simplicity of it.

I’ve found that instead of requiring information like deadline dates, budgets, timeframe, etc. in the initial email, you should allow people to freely initiate a conversation with you about their project.

You can usually learn a good amount from the first email a person sends you (they’ll generally introduce themselves with a few details about their project, and ask about your work availability), and should probably dive into the technical details after you’re more introduced with each other.

My new WordPress theme helps you get more clients

Spotlight for WordPressThe 3 principles I talked about in this post are the same principles I’ve built my websites on to get more clients in the past. Because of how well they worked for my business, I tried to apply them to a WordPress theme I’d make available to you.

And I think I came up with something pretty incredible.

My new WordPress theme, Spotlight, makes setting up a website that follows the 3 principles above easy, and makes more clients come to you.

Bundled with the new KolFolio and Funnel Lead addons (more info below), and other useful features, setting up a portfolio for your work and funneling user’s to important areas on your site is extremely simple and can be done out of the box with Spotlight.

Since Spotlight is a WordPress theme, it includes a gorgeous blog and page design. Landing and squeeze page templates have also been included so you can really create distraction free content.

Spotlight is fully compatible with the popular (and my favorite) contact form creator, Gravity Forms, and styles contact forms simply and beautifully.

To top it off, Spotlight has a responsive design that works and functions on any screen size. Let me tell you, this theme looks and feels great on my iPhone.

I’m making Spotlight available for download Tuesday, April 22nd. However, when you decide to preorder now, you can save 20% on your purchase. Pre-order buyers will receive their download link for Spotlight on Tuesday, April 22nd.

To learn more about how Spotlight can help you, and to preorder, click the button below:

Click here to learn more about Spotlight →

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Building Smarter WordPress Themes: Making Layout Decisions, Not Options http://kolakube.com/smartwp/wordpress-layout-options/ http://kolakube.com/smartwp/wordpress-layout-options/#comments Tue, 28 Jan 2014 19:14:16 +0000 http://kolakube.com/?p=55135 In the convoluted world of WordPress themes that are built to stretch to infinity, and offer “all the options you’ll ever need”, its become easy to forget what delivering focused solutions to a client or customer’s problem entails.

Problem solving: it’s the reason we build. It’s the reason we scratch our heads and yell obscenities when we can’t get our precious code to work. The urge to solve problems is ultimately what drives us as creators to keep on creating.

Me? I like to design. I like solving people’s design problems and I try to create solutions that not only make web content look beautiful, but are also easy to interact with.

You’ve probably heard that spiel before, because it sounds like something a WordPress theme designer would say. That’s how I mainly deliver my solutions to people—through themes.

From my years of experience of building focused themes for clients, releasing premium skins for a popular theme framework (and now my own standalone theme), and running multiple sites of my own, I’ve learned a lot about what people want when building a site with WordPress.

But most importantly, I’ve learned what people don’t want. That’s why I’m creating the SmartWP series here on Kolakube. I want to share my ideas and methods of creating solutions that work for the user, instead of making the user work.

And I’m starting with something I’ve been dying to talk about in themes: layout options.

The Typical Layout Options Panel

A feature built into a lot of themes is some kind of layout chooser. It gives the user the ability to pick a one, two, three, or however many columns they want their layout to support. Some even offer sorting options (content on left, sidebar on right, or: content on the right, two sidebars on the left etc.).

Here’s one I built into a theme I never released. It pretty much sums up what the industry standard says these things should look like:

WordPress Layout Options

The idea is simple: choose from different graphical representations of what your site layout could look like, save your selection, and your entire site layout will change.

For themes that act as site builders (namely, frameworks), this is a great way to deliver simple, powerful customization options to the user. It requires little work, and is fairly easy to understand.

But for simpler themes that want to offer layout customization at a more basic level, I’d argue that options like these can be a huge overkill.

For example, while I was building Chronicl, I wanted to add some flexibility when it came to adding/removing sidebars. I didn’t want to offer every layout combination under the sun, I just wanted a theme that could support upto two additional sidebars to the right of the content box.

Since I couldn’t justify creating a new options panel for a layout with those basic requirements, I needed to explore other methods. Having sidebars in Chronicl are optional, so any solution I came up with had to be based around those moving parts.

The Anatomy of a WordPress Sidebar

WordPress WidgetsLet’s talk about another industry standard: widgetized sidebars. Any premium theme worth its money will have this most basic of all features built into it.

The Widgets interface is best used for sidebars, as the hierarchy in both the backend and frontend are the same.

Dragging Widgets into a Widget area will create a descending hierarchy. Structurally, a Widget area in the backend perfectly mirrors what it will output on the frontend.

So when a Widget area is empty, how should that reflect on the frontend?

Most developers write code to detect when a Widget area is empty, and output a message telling user’s to go fill in the blank space by adding Widgets to the backend.

This is great, because it tells the user what to do next with that predefined space.

Even though the Widget area is empty, it still outputs something on the site, thus breaking that “mirror image” between the frontend and backend.

While adding an instructional message has its benefits, it can also be an unwanted replacement.

What if, when a Widget area is devoid of content, the entire section gets removed from the website? What if an entire site’s layout could readjust itself based on the user’s decisions to add (or remove) content from these sidebar areas?

Eliminate choices, and make decisions. Don’t make the user think about their layout, just give them places to put their content, and lead the way from there.

With these questions and thoughts running through my mind, I had my direction.

How to Build A Layout That Builds Itself

Diving into the WordPress Codex, I found the nifty is_active_sidebar() conditional.

As the Codex describes it:

This Conditional Tag checks if a given sidebar is active (in use). This is a boolean function, meaning it returns either TRUE or FALSE. Any sidebar that contains widgets will return TRUE, whereas any sidebar that does not contain any widgets will return FALSE.

You may have heard of or used this conditional before. Here’s an example of how I used it for the Chronicl sidebars (take note of this structure, we’ll be using it as reference for later):

<?php if ( is_active_sidebar( 'sidebar-1' ) || is_active_sidebar( 'sidebar-2' ) ) : ?>
	<div class="sidebars">
		<?php if ( is_active_sidebar( 'sidebar-1' ) ) : ?>
			<div class="sidebar sidebar-1">
				<?php dynamic_sidebar( 'sidebar-1' ); ?>
			</div>
		<?php endif; ?>
		<?php if ( is_active_sidebar( 'sidebar-2' ) ) : ?>
			<div class="sidebar sidebar-1">
				<?php dynamic_sidebar( 'sidebar-2' ); ?>
			</div>
		<?php endif; ?>
	</div>
<?php endif; ?>

That says:

First, check to see if EITHER sidebar one or two are active. If either of them are, load the sidebars HTML. Then, run individual checks on sidebar one and two, and output its contents. If there are no widgets, don’t load that particular sidebar.

While this functionality is a step in the right direction, it’s not yet bulletproof. Say we remove all Widgets from sidebar two. Since it’s now empty, it won’t load. That leaves us with an empty gap, as we can see in this GIF:

Chronicl Layout

Problem: A visual of the code above, the entire HTML of the sidebar will disappear when the Widget area is empty, leaving an empty gap in the layout.

Obviously, this looks terrible. We need a fix, otherwise this whole idea is useless.

So far we’ve been able to figure out how to make our sidebars disappear when a Widget area is empty in the backend. But now we need to figure out how to make our layout change too.

Thinking Modularly

The main structural elements of the site were set up like so in my stylesheet:

.container { width: 1175px; /* 1075px is the actual width. I added an extra 100px to account for padding inside the container */ }

.content { width: 600px; }

.sidebars { width: 475px; }

.sidebar-1 { width: 300px; }

.sidebar-2 { width: 150px; }

Now that I understand exactly how my layout is going to change, I need to be able to change the widths of these sections as the layout changes.

Custom Body Classes

I decided that I’d break down these widths into body classes, so I could write specific CSS for specific layout combinations.

Luckily, there’s the handy body_class() filter I could use to add these classes to my body tag dynamically. Nice.

Using the is_active_sidebar() conditional, I could detect when to add/remove classes based on the state of a sidebar Widget area.

Here’s a basic version of the code I ended up with:

function kol_body_class( $classes ) {
	if ( is_active_sidebar( 'sidebar-1' ) && is_active_sidebar( 'sidebar-2' ) )
		$classes[] = 'container-wide'; // for three column layout
	elseif ( is_active_sidebar( 'sidebar-1' ) || is_active_sidebar( 'sidebar-2' ) )
		$classes[] = 'container-slim'; // for two column layout
	else
		$classes[] = 'container-small'; // for one column layout

	return $classes;
}
add_filter( 'body_class', 'kol_body_class' );

This conditional is very basic. It says:

If BOTH sidebar one AND two are active, change the body class to container-wide. If not, go check to see if EITHER sidebar one OR sidebar two is active, and apply container-slim to the body class if true. If neither of those conditions are true (i.e., both are empty), then apply container-small.

With a system in place that can detect changes to Widget areas, I can now alter my CSS to specifically target different layout combinations:

/* the width of my content never changes, so this class can remain generic */

.content { width: 600px; }

/* 3 column layout */

.container-wide .container { width: 1175px; }

.container-wide .sidebars { width: 475px; }

.container-wide .sidebar-1 { width: 300px; }

.container-wide .sidebar-2 { width: 150px; }


/* 2 column layout */

.container-slim .container { width: 1050px; }

.container-slim .sidebars { width: 350px; }

/* I don't need to overwrite single sidebar widths, since they were only applied to the three column layout above */


/* 1 column layout */

.container-small .container { width: 1000px; }

Of course, you’ll need to modify other properties like floats and spacing. But for the sake of simplicity here, I only showed you how widths change.

With these checks in place, let’s see what happens now when I remove all Widgets from sidebar two:

Chronicl Layout

Solution: Perfect! The layout can now change its width based on active Widget areas.

The more layouts you decide to support, the more complex your conditional logic can get. Chronicl also supports a one column layout, and will slim all the way down if both widget areas are empty.

When a one column layout is active, I also decided to center the content box and the header. This was another layout decision I made for the user, and it was all done with basic CSS and a few if/else statements:

Chronicl Layout

Unlimited customization: Since we’re adding classes to the body, we can target any element. I decided to center the content and menu links.

No Options, No Problem

Empty WidgetsSomething as simple as an empty widget area can redefine your entire layout. That’s power.

I think it’s amazing that an entire layout of a website can adjust to a simple change in Widget content.

Instead of creating a new interface for our layout options, we were able to build on top of an existing, already familiar interface in WordPress.

And the code to do it isn’t even anything special—it’s just a few native WordPress functions mixed with some modular CSS.

As theme developers, it’s so easy to want to reinvent the wheel. Sometimes, we just have to look around and find ways to utilize the tools we already have before going out and getting new ones.

Could a method like this have its drawbacks and limitations? No doubt. But, I think if we strive to create more focused themes—themes that serve a specific, defined purpose—methods like this will always have a place in the forefront of any theme developer’s toolbox.

You’ve Got To Make The Decisions

It’s easy to feel self conscious about your theme when you compare it to others. You may not support “unlimited” layouts, have design options, or other “coveted features” that most super-themes these days do.

But you know what? That’s fine. I’m a believer that the best options are the ones user’s never notice, because everything should “just work”.

If you spend more time focusing on the intricate and smaller details of your themes, the quality of your work will only go up.

While you won’t make a living marketing these kinds of things (a lesson I learned the hard way with Chronicl), or even getting much appreciation for them—you’ll have created a product that is so much easier for your customer’s to love.

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How I Rebuilt Kolakube With These 21 Awesome WordPress Plugins http://kolakube.com/wordpress-plugins/build-wordpress-plugins/ http://kolakube.com/wordpress-plugins/build-wordpress-plugins/#comments Tue, 21 Jan 2014 22:43:53 +0000 http://kolakube.com/?p=54384 If you’re a regular around Kolakube, you’ve probably noticed a lot of changes throughout the site lately. And I’m talking more than the release of my new WordPress theme.

For the past month or so, I’ve been rebuilding the Kolakube website. Every major part has been overhauled, and it all now runs 100% on WordPress, which is a HUGE deal since I had a few other pieces of software deeply integrated into the site. Running my business has never been simpler.

I’m really fortunate that a platform like WordPress exists, and has such an active ecosystem of *genius* developers creating software for it. You can truly use WordPress to build any kind of website you want.

So I want to show you the plugins I used to build a site like Kolakube, with hopes that you can find new tools that you can use to improve your own website.

What I Started With…

As I mentioned, Kolakube is now 100% on WordPress. Before I started the rebuild, I relied on two other pieces of software to run things. Naturally, things got messy, and certain parts of the site became a burden to maintain.

Here’s how I used to run Kolakube:

  • Main site (blog, user’s guides, product pages): WordPress
  • Support forums: Invision Power Board
  • Shopping system: IP.Nexus (IP.Board addon)
  • Affiliate program: Post Affiliate Pro

While I really like each software individually, it was a pain to maintain them all together. Since none of the software integrated with each other, everything always had to remain separate.

That means remembering different logins, learning how to use different interfaces, and other technical aspects that just were a pain in the ass to deal with.

In the grand scheme of things — it could’ve been much worse. But as somebody who strives for efficiency and convenience in everything I build on the web, maintaining a business like that was not ideal.

Plus, there’s no excuse to run a business like that when great tools like the ones below exist. Let’s get started.

The Essentials

You’ve probably seen the plugins listed below in other roundup posts like this. Before we get into the really good stuff, here are some plugins I use on Kolakube that I think every site can benefit from.

Akismet

Akismet is pretty much the best way to protect your website from spam, and it comes installed in WordPress. How else would you do it?

Gravity Forms

Gravity Forms for WordPressWithout a doubt, Gravity Forms is the best way to create forms on your site. I used it to create the contact page here on Kolakube, and I love it. Building forms in the WordPress backend is a delight, as is working with the many developer features.

Gravity Forms is a plugin that can be extended by purchasing addons, and I use the AWeber addon that comes included with the Business package they sell. This way, whenever people fill out my contact form, they can click a checkbox to join my mailing list. It’s a pretty sweet package.

W3 Total Cache

I don’t yet use this plugin to its full potential, since I haven’t gotten around to configuring the mountains of options, but I can say that W3 Total Cache is the best caching plugin out there.

They say it all:

W3 Total Cache improves the user experience of your site by increasing server performance, reducing the download times and providing transparent content delivery network (CDN) integration.

Yoast SEO

Yoast SEOAnother plugin I haven’t yet fully utilized (I’m not an SEO guy, so I’m not rushing) is Yoast’s WordPress SEO, and it’s just wonderful.

The interface is easy to use, and I trust a developer as smart as Joost de Valk is to handle all the SEO stuff I don’t want to ever think about.

The Business Side

Let’s dig into the fun stuff. I sell WordPress themes on Kolakube, so it was crucial to create the best shopping experience I could for my user’s.

Not only did I need a solid way to sell my products, but I needed a way to support them in an easy way for everyone — myself, my customers, and my support staff.

And to top it off, I needed to make sure that the software I used had great administrative tools like adding/removing purchases from accounts, income/sales reports, and detailed user history, amongst other things.

Picky, right? That’s how I felt, until I found the plugins below:

Easy Digital Downloads

Easy Digital DownloadsWhat can I say about good ol’ Easy Digital Downloads? It’s my absolute favorite plugin around, and one I’ve spent the most time working with throughout the rebuilding process. And it was really fun to build with.

I’ve used a long line of eCommerce solutions here on Kolakube, and I haven’t found one as solid as EDD. And that’s before I added any extensions, of which there are tons of. The people who develop this plugin really understand how an online store should be built.

To avoid feature bloat, a lot of functionality has been packaged separately into buyable extensions. And when I hit the EDD store to look for extensions, it reminded me of what it was like to run through Toys “R” Us as a kid: I wanted freakin’ everything.

To further increase the functionality of my store, here are the extensions I use:

  • Software Licensing: Generates license keys for user’s of my products to input into their site, which enables them to receive automatic updates when I release a new version of a product. I cannot live without this extension.
  • Stripe Payment Gateway: Allows me to accept credit card payments using the epic Stripe gateway. Fun fact: this is the first time in Kolakube history you can buy something with a credit card. Thanks, EDD!
  • Manual Purchases: This extension was very important to me, and allows me to manually add a product to any of my customer’s accounts. During my shopping system migration, I couldn’t restore users’ purchases, so they had to follow instructions to do it themselves, or contact me so I could manually do it. This convenient extension made my growing pains much less painful.
  • AWeber Checkout: After a customer completes a purchase, this extension will automatically subscribe them to one of my email lists in AWeber. This is crucial, so I can email customers about updates, offers, new products, etc.
  • Affiliates Pro Integration: I haven’t played with this much yet, but this extension adds a simple affiliate program to Kolakube.
bbPress

bbPressWith an epic shopping system in place, I had to make sure I could easily support customers who have bought my products. I’ve always loved forums, and have a long history using different forum software before I discovered WordPress.

So finding bbPress was like a match made in heaven. It’s a simple forum built as a plugin, and integrates right into WordPress. Finally, the forum software of my dreams!

Because of my background with forum software, I had a lot of expectations for what kinds of features I wanted. Some of which weren’t built in by default, but were easy to custom build thanks to the easy template system in bbPress.

The only additional plugin I’ve needed so far is one called bbPress Pencil Unread, which shows read/unread status of forums and topics in each respective listing. Of course, I tweaked it a bit to my liking.

User Switching

A quick maintenance tool, User Switching allows me to login into any account, which makes assisting customers with confusion about their accounts much easier.

Searching Kolakube

I’ll be honest, I’ve always taken search for granted. While I’ve always tried to make Kolakube as easy to navigate as possible, I never had any kind of search functionality.

And that was a big mistake I realized after relaunching, when user’s of my forums pointed out there was no way to search for older topics. I couldn’t believe how neglectful I’ve been of it, so I went out to solve it the best way I could.

And I think I came up with a pretty neat search engine. I’ll talk about it more in another post, but here’s the plugin I used to solve my searching woes:

SearchWP

SearchWPIt would’ve been easy to use the default search in WordPress and call it a day. But honestly, default WordPress search wouldn’t be very helpful on a site with as much information as Kolakube. So that idea was quickly dispersed.

I’ve heard nothing but great things about SearchWP from people I follow on Twitter, but never looked very far into it. It popped up again while I was searching around Google, and has quickly becoming one of my favorite plugins.

With SearchWP, I was able to fine tune the search results all around Kolakube. It was easy for me to create search forms that will only search a specific section/post type of Kolakube.

For example, if you fill out the search bar at the top of this post, you’ll only get results from the blog. You can then choose to search in other parts of Kolakube, or search the entire site.

This functionality is great, and is all native to WordPress… but the results are what set SearchWP apart. Simply put, SearchWP displays more relevant results than WordPress’ native search. I don’t even click around Kolakube anymore, I just search for everything and find it immediately.

SearchWP comes with a bunch of extensions too (notice a trend here?). Here’s what I use so far:

  • bbPress Integration: Allows SearchWP to search bbPress
  • Fuzzy Matches: Makes search queries a little more lenient, and accounts for spelling mistakes and a few other variables in a search
  • Term Highlight: Highlights keyword(s) in search results

Wrapping It Up…

Here are a few other smaller plugins I use that add little features to Kolakube:

  • BAW Login/Logout menu: Adds login/logout links into the WordPress Menu Editor. Allows you to choose where to reidrect a user after logging in/out.
  • Disable New User Notifications: WordPress sends you an email each time a new user registers, this plugins stops all those emails from being sent
  • Table of Contents Plus: This badass plugin automatically generates a table of contents based on headings in your posts. It’s great for long posts (like this post), or documentation articles

A lot of work went into the development of Kolakube, and I plan to write more about how I built the new site. Until then, I hope you can find a plugin from this list to use on your own site.

Have any plugins you just can’t live without? Go ahead and share some of your favorites by leaving a comment below!

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