Asking Questions

What I Learned from Asking, “How Did You Build That?”

Over the weekend, I gave a talk at WordCamp Minneapolis about the things I’ve learned from nearly 100 guests on my podcast, How I Built It. I covered useful tools and great advice, as well as some recurring themes. Here are the highlights.

The Biggest Lesson

If you’ve never read The Last Lecture by Randy Pauche, I strongly recommend it. It’s a fantastic and moving book he wrote to his children when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He talks about the most important lessons he learned in his life, and the one that really resonated with me was Sometimes, all you have to do is ask. It’s a lesson I have kept with me since reading the book, and it’s been an important driver for my podcast.

Sometimes, all you have to do is ask. - Randy Pauche Click To Tweet

The show wouldn’t exist if I didn’t ask people I respected questions about how they run their businesses, or companies if they’d like to support what I thought was a great resource for the community. So as we go through these lessons I’ve learned, I think it’s important to know that all of them stem from the fact that I’ve been able to just ask.

Tools of the Trade

Without a doubt, I’ve learned about and subsequently have started using some excellent tools thanks to the podcast. Here are some of my favorite tool takeaways.

Tools for Automation

I’m a one-man band, so automation tools are important to me. I’m trying to get a lot of different things done for the various aspects of my business, and any place I can let a computer do the work for me is a huge help.

Connecting the Dots

Chris Lema taught us about Zapier and how he uses it to “connect all the dots.” He even uses it to send postcards to customers in the mail. Since this, I’ve really looked into using Zapier to automate more things, especially since going full time self-employed.

Increasing Engagement

Both Rebecca Gill and Shawn Hesketh talked about using automated emails to better communicate with students. Rebecca uses a WooCommerce add-on called Follow Ups to create better, more engaging post-purchase emails. Shawn uses engagements in his LMS, Lifter.

While these emails are automated, the call for questions are real. I am now doing the same thing in LearnDash. I schedule emails to go out upon the completion of certain lessons or modules, and I encourage questions. This creates a real dialog between my students and me.

I do the same thing after talking to Beka Rice about Jilt, a product for cart abandonment. I ask potential customers questions and encourage them to respond.

Automation can lead to deeper personal interactions. Click To Tweet

The Lesson: Automation can lead to deeper personal interactions. All of my email automations make the initial contact, and then I pick it up for any responses. I’ve had great conversations with folks because of this.

Tools for Development

As many of my guests are developers, you can imagine we talked a lot about development tools. The consensus is there’s no consensus!

As far as environments, popular ones included Atom, Sublime Text, and VS Code. Local by Flywheel and Laravel Valet were the popular tools for coding on your local machine.

Keeping it Light

My favorite advice came from Pippin Williamson, who said that if he dropped is laptop in a lake, he’d want to be able to buy a new one and be up and running in less than an hour.

That means he doesn’t create complicated build processes and local tools. He keeps it light.

But Definitely Test!

On that same token, some tools are super important. Joost De Valk (Yoast) and Daniel Bachhuber (WP-CLI) both talk about the importance of their automated testing tools, like Behat.

Use tools you’re comfortable with and that will provide value. Click To Tweet

The Lesson: Use what you’re comfortable with and what will provide value. Don’t just try something because it’s the flavor of the week.

Recurring Tools

There’s also a few recurring tools that kept showing up in episodes:

  • ConvertKit or some other newsletter program. Email is still the best form of marketing!
  • WooCommerce or EDD. Many guests used one of the other. WC if they wanted to do more than just digital products
  • Zapier for automation
  • Genesis for Theme Building
  • Help Scout for Support

Great Advice

Aside from some really useful tools from guests, I also got some super helpful advice. Here’s some of the best.

Build an Audience First

Lots of my guests built an audience before they even had something to sell. Troy Dean put up a presale page for his first webinar. He had no content written. If it sold 10 spots, he’d do it (he sold lots more than that!).

Spend time building an audience before you launch. Click To Tweet

Justin Ferriman of LearnDash blogged about the need for a good LMS in WordPress for 2-3 years before he had a product. Over that time he generated interest and collected email addresses. That list also served as his first list of customers.

Your Fans are Your Best Customers

By building an audience first, you do things like create trust before you’ve sunk time into a project (and before you ask people for money). You also create demand for a product. This is important because when people trust you, they’re more inclined to buy from you. And once you make that first sale…

It’s easier to sell to current customers than new customers. Click To Tweet

It’s easier to sell to current customers than new customers. Your current customers are the ones that trust you the most. So put time into building an audience of people who trust you, and then sell to them.

Good Advice to Build an Audience

When I had Peter Hollens on the show, he talked about piggybacking off of other audiences. He does things like Ed Sheran covers and Disney melodies because it taps into other fandoms. And he has 2 million YouTube subscribers.

Piggyback off of other audiences to build your own by providing value to them. Click To Tweet

Some of my best courses are the ones for products that have big user bases, like Beaver Builder. People love these products and have proved they’re willing to spend money to make the most of them.

Scratch Your Own Itch

This is basically all of my guests. They saw a need, and the filled it. Scott DeLuzio, for example, has a suite of plugins that he used first and then started selling.

Scratch Your Own Itch Click To Tweet

But there is some caution you should take with this. Be mindful of the time you spend on a project. Scott Bollinger advised us to spend a few days, not a few months, prototyping. If you spend too much time on a project you’re not sure will work, you’ve become attached to it and have wasted a lot of time.

Listen to Your Customers

When it comes to research on new features and betas, many of my guests use their customers as a sounding board. Their customers are closest to the products, and have put their money where their mouth is. They know what needs to be fixed, and what features work really well.

Be the Gatekeeper

Conversely, as your base grows, so will the feature requests. Listen, but process. Don’t just add features for the sake of adding features.


On that same token, talk to your customers and clients. Let them know what’s going on. Pippin and Nancy are both very good at this.

I’ve taken this advice and applied it to my affiliates as well. Let the people who support you know what you’re working on. It will create a better relationship.

Do What You Love!

This is another lesson from all of my guests: Have passion! If you don’t love what you do, you’ll get sick of it and you won’t be at your best.

If you’re super passionate about an idea you have, spending an afternoon proof-of-concepting. Then blog about it and start building your audience. See where it goes. You have nothing to lose.

Finally, Keep Asking Questions

In The Last Lecture, Randy say, “The questions are always more important than the answers.”

I think that’s true, and valuable. But as an interviewer, I believe my follow-up questions are more important than the initial ones. It shows I’m listening to my guests, and I’m helping the listeners process.

Keep asking questions, and never stop learning. Click To Tweet

So my last piece of advice to you is to Ask Questions. Then ask follow-ups. Never stop learning.

If you want to download the slides from this talk, and even more resources, you can get them here.