This is my first “year in review” post. I’ve never done one before mostly because I never really took the time to reflect on the previous year. I’ve always been focused on what’s next.
This year, I’ve been thinking a lot about what’s worked and what hasn’t. I decided to write a year in review post this year to hopefully share the “pains and gains”. If nothing else, it will serve as a reminder for me next year at this time for what I wanted to achieve in 2018.
Unlike some other year in review posts that are written, I’m not sharing revenue numbers. I’ll say what’s worked, what hasn’t, and what I think can be done to improve. My predictions may be spot on, or horribly wrong. I’ll report back in the 2018 year in review post 😎
Pivoting from Service to Product
Back in 2016, I decided I wasn’t happy with building websites for clients. It was paying the bills fairly well, but I just wasn’t happy with the work I was doing. I made a decision to not take on any additional client work starting in January 2017, and wrap up whatever outstanding projects I had started in 2016.
To replace that work, I decided to focus 100% on marketing the plugin products I’ve developed over the years.
This has been particularly scary because I had to turn down a lot of work this year. From a strictly short-term financial point of view, this was a horrible decision. But I wasn’t looking at it as a purely financial decision. I was thinking about my overall satisfaction with the work I was doing, and I definitely was not getting it from the client work.
Moving Into the Product World
Over the last few years, I had built a number of plugins that I was only casually selling prior to 2017. By “casually”, I mean that there was a website set up to sell the plugins, but no marketing efforts went into it at all. Exactly $0 marketing budget outside of a domain name and hosting (including my time). Prior to 2017, the websites were the “field of dreams” – I built it expecting “them” (customers) to come. Well, to be fair, I was realistic and didn’t expect that they would come. Hopeful, perhaps?
After ending my client work, my goal was to ramp up marketing and development efforts on the plugins that I sold.
This has been a huge learning experience for me. I’ve done a lot of trial and error work. Some things I’ve done have been fairly successful, while others have been a flop.
I released 3 new free plugins to the WordPress.org directory this year.
- Featured Post Exclude Category for Genesis
- Subscriber Discounts for Easy Digital Downloads
- Subscriber Discounts for WooCommerce
WP1099 & WP In-Post Ads
WP In-Post Ads didn’t have much of a launch strategy. The goal was to offer it as an up sell to one of my existing free plugins, which had a decent number of active installs. This strategy didn’t work out the way I hoped it would. Despite having several thousand active installs of the free plugin, only a handful have converted to paying customers.
Why didn’t this work? My thought is that the existing users of the free product are either content with what they have (it’s pretty good on its own), or aren’t making enough money from ads on their site with the free version to justify spending money on the paid version. I may need to revisit this strategy.
WP1099 was a victim of my own impatience. Victim might be too strong of a word, as I haven’t really given it a chance yet. The plugin was created during the spring and early summer, but it isn’t really useful until January at tax time in the US. So when I released it in the summer, I probably shouldn’t have expected that there would be very many sales. I also released it initially as a SaaS but quickly pivoted to a standalone plugin.
We’ll see in January how well it sells. This may become a plugin that only generates seasonal revenue, which is fine. But I want to make sure I manage this accordingly so that I don’t spend a ton of marketing efforts in the summer when sales won’t happen until January.
At the beginning of this year, I realized that about 75% of my plugin sales came from repeat visitors to the websites. That figure varies from site to site, but around 70-80% was about what I saw. This told me that I needed to get prior visitors back to my site.
I started with the Facebook Retargeting Pixel, as it was fairly straightforward to set up. The Pixel Your Site pro plugin made setting up the pixel with EDD data super easy to do. Now I’m seeing about a $16 return for every $1 spent on Facebook ads, which is a win in my book. I’m sure if I took the time to optimize the ad copy, images, etc. this could be an even better return.
To be fair, it’s not a huge volume of sales, but it’s better than leaving those sales behind. Also, the repeat visitor chunk of sales has dropped to about 65%. I’m attributing this to an increase in the number of repeat visitors to my site from the ads. Some of which will never be customers, so it makes sense that the percent of repeat visitor sales would drop a bit. Still, revenue has increased, so I’m looking at this as a win.
I’ve only casually looked into other retargeting platforms (Twitter, Google, etc.) so far, but I think this will be another opportunity for me. I’ve looked into Perfect Audience, which will likely be what I use going forward since Pixel Your Site is limited to Facebook ads.
Earlier this year, I realized that creating marketing copy was not my strong point. I had a few pages re-written for me earlier this year, and sort of left everything else as-is. In hindsight leaving this work undone was a mistake.
One of my weak points is writing effective marketing messages. I can list features all day, but that’s not what sells.
At WordCamp US (more on that later), I met Jason and Kim Coleman and talked to them a little about the business side of their plugin Paid Memberships Pro. During that conversation, I indicated that I was looking to get a copy editor to go over my site’s existing content. The next morning, they told me that they heard Cate DeRosia was available to do exactly this type of work.
After a brief discussion with Cate, we decided that we’d be a good fit to work together.
Specifically, I didn’t want someone who was super techy. I wanted someone who was just techy enough to understand what my plugins are capable of. At the same time they should be able to “speak the language” that my customers would understand. This is exactly what Cate brought to the table.
About a week ago she wrapped up the first project I had for her, and I couldn’t have been happier with the results.
For 2018, I’m taking outsourcing work one step at a time. I’d like to be in a position where I can contract work out to another developer at some point. I’m not entirely sure what this will look like yet though. Maybe reworking some problem areas in existing plugins, writing new plugins, or assistance with support. Or more likely, all of the above.
Getting Out From Behind The Computer
This year I made a conscious effort to get out from behind the computer more. Something that has proven to be invaluable has been meeting people in person. Prior to 2017, I only attended about 2-3 meetups, and 1 WordCamp. In 2017 I attended 4 WordCamps (spoke at 2), PressNomics, and been a regular attendee and presenter at a local WordPress meetup.
This year I began attending local WordPress meetups more regularly. My primary goal for attending meetups is to make connections with people in the local WordPress community. Learn from them, and be helpful when I have something helpful to say.
The meetup I attend has a “help-me hour” an hour before the actual meetup starts. I try to attend that as much as possible to help out wherever I can.
While this tends to largely be the same group of people month after month, I’ve made good friendships with a number of the people in the group. The group I regularly attend is also geared towards marketing related topics, which is especially of interest to me these days.
I heard about PressNomics for the first time late in 2016. I knew that if I wanted to be involved with a product in the WordPress economy, that I needed to attend an event geared towards that topic.
If you’ve never heard of PressNomics, it’s a conference for business owners in the WordPress space to gather and discuss topics related to the WordPress economy.
PressNomics provided an opportunity to apply to speak in one of their “lightning sessions”. At that point, I had never spoken at a WordPress related event other than my local meetup. This would be a great way to get in front of a group that I wanted to get to know anyway. To be perfectly honest, I never expected my talk proposal to be accepted, but to my surprise (and delight) it was.
The event was full of awesome speakers and great networking opportunities. My mind was buzzing after some of the sessions. I say “was buzzing” in the past tense, but really it still is!
The networking was awesome, and I think it was only enhanced by the opportunity I had to give a talk. I’ve found that as a speaker, you tend to be more approachable by people who may not otherwise approach you.As a speaker, you tend to be more approachable by attendees who you may not otherwise get to meet. Click To Tweet
After the connections I made at PressNomics, I knew that I wanted to speak at more conferences. PressNomics was a lot more expensive than WordCamps – totally worth the price, but I did have to watch the budget. So, I began applying to speak at WordCamps in the Southwestern US within driving distance of where I live to reduce the travel expense.
I applied to WordCamp Denver, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and US. Denver was a bit of a stretch for driving from Phoenix, but my talk didn’t end up being accepted anyway. I was planning on going to Nashville for WordCamp US regardless of whether or not I spoke, so it only made sense to apply there as well.
WCSLC was a bit different in that it was only a one day event with three simultaneous tracks going on. This had it’s pros and cons. I think the networking opportunities might have been a bit better there if it was split into two days with an after party that more people stuck around for. Also there were some talks I wanted to attend that were happening simultaneously, so I had to miss a few of them. Spreading out over 2 days would have helped alleviate these issues. On the other hand, a 1-day event did help cut down the travel expense.
I was surprised at how well my talk, Taxes for Techies was received. The room I spoke in wasn’t huge, but I don’t recall there being many empty seats. Being that taxes are a fairly dry subject, I tried to make it fun by introducing a Lego contest into the slides. Whoever counted the correct number of Lego Minifigures in the presentation would win a Lego prize. I really did this because I knew there were going to be kids at the WordCamp, and taxes would be a torturous subject to have to sit through for them. It turns out no kids were present, so a kid-at-heart adult ended up winning the prize 🙂
WCLV was a lot of fun. It was held in downtown Las Vegas, which is north of “The Strip”. Any time I’ve ever been to Las Vegas, I usually stayed in the more touristy Strip area. Downtown Las Vegas was a different experience. It was nice to experience a different part of the city for a change.
My talk, Finding Focus as a Freelancer, definitely could have been better. Unfortunately, I was relying on the speaker notes that I had in the presentation for a few points that I wanted to make. The way the projector was configured, I didn’t have the option of having speaker notes open, and I only found this out about 10 minutes prior to my start time. In a rush, I tried to rig the notes open on my phone, but it proved to be more of a hassle than it was worth.
That’s totally on me, so if you suffered through that talk, I do apologize for not being better prepared.
Note to self: have any mission critical notes printed out just in case.
WCUS was also a bit different for me in that it was the first WordCamp where I spent nearly all of my time in the hallway track. To anyone unfamiliar with the “hallway track”, it’s a place where impromptu discussions can happen between or during the actual sessions. At WordCamp US, there was a dedicated room for the hallway track filled with sponsor tables, refreshments, and plenty of room to speak with other attendees.
I met more people there than I could have hoped for. In addition to Jason, Kim, and Cate mentioned earlier, I met a lot of people who I either never met before, or only knew online. All were a pleasure to get to know in person.
Also, Joe Casabona, who is the host of the How I Built It podcast was doing a special “man on the street” episode at WCUS. I was fortunate enough to be able to spend a couple minutes talking with him about various tips I’ve picked up over the years. Check it out here.
Speaking of the Hallway Track, there’s a new podcast that came out earlier this year called Hallway Chats. Their show focuses on having guests who have “not yet popped onto the radar of the wider WordPress community”. That felt like me.
— Hallway Chats (@HallwayChats) December 2, 2017
This year I wanted to blog more frequently. The “field of dreams” mindset doesn’t work for getting traffic to your site either. I knew that I had to generate more content to accomplish a couple goals, which were:
- Provide useful information to others in the WordPress community.
- This is a mutually beneficial goal, because people find answers to questions, and it helps get my name “out there”. Wherever “there” is.
- Increase brand awareness for my plugin products.
- This was difficult since it requires knowing your audience and what they’ll respond to. I tend to write better when telling a story – this event happened, here’s what I think about it sort of thing. It’s hard for me to weave that type of writing into a product blog. I’m sure there are good examples of this, but it’s been a struggle for me.
Across all of my sites I’ve written 85 new blog posts this year. A few are still in a draft status, and some of those may never be published. I realized during my content creation blitz over the summer, that I was turning out content with a quantity goal rather than a quality goal. This was a terrible way for me to do it, and I feel that quality was lacking in some of the posts. In hindsight, it would have been better to slow down and write a fewer number of better quality posts instead.
I realize 85 blog posts isn’t a ton of content. It’s only 1-2 posts per week for a year. However, a big chunk of those posts were written in August-early September when I tried to blog every Monday through Friday. I started off strong, but fell flat very quickly. In 2018, I may aim for a weekly blog post. This will allow a lot more time to sit down and focus on writing a high quality post.
I tried blogging daily for about a month. The difficult thing was coming up with ideas that people would want to read about and writing a high quality post around those ideas.
My preference is quality over quantity. https://t.co/1eFkRLHZbk
— Scott DeLuzio (@scottdeluzio) December 19, 2017
I wrote a series of posts earlier this year on how you can give back to the WordPress community. This year I’ve given back by:
- Speaking at 2 WordCamps, local meetups, and PressNomics.
- Written dozens of blog posts, although some of them need to be improved for quality.
- Became a core WordPress contributor in WordPress 4.9.
- Released 3 new plugins to the WordPress.org plugin directory. This brings the total free plugins I have on the directory to 14.
- Contributed to other developer’s projects on GitHub.
— Scott DeLuzio (@scottdeluzio) November 15, 2017
This one’s personal, but it’s my name on this site so deal with it 😜
In part of my lightning talk at PressNomics, I mentioned a challenge I made for myself. 50,000 push-ups and sit-ups by the end of 2017.
While cutting it close, on December 27th, I did my 50,000th push-up and sit-up. I really enjoyed the challenge and how it got me moving (awake) each morning. I’m pleased to announce that I’m taking a little time off from those particular exercises though 💪
Two lessons I took away from the challenge was persistence, and how good accomplishment feels.
There were plenty of days during 2017 where I just did not want to do the exercises. But I forced myself to do them anyway. All of those little victories added up to an otherwise impossible outcome.
After the exercises were done for the day, I felt liberated – free to do whatever I wanted for the rest of the day.
The sense of accomplishment was motivating for me too. In the grand scheme of things it was a relatively insignificant task, but it allowed me to achieve something every day. Starting off with a win is a heck of a lot better for your mental state than starting with a loss.Make sure you start each day with a little win. It's a heck of a lot better than starting with a loss. Click To Tweet
I’ve also been fairly consistent with my running routine, allowing me to finish my second half-marathon back in November. Running also allowed me to spend some time with a few WordCampers one morning during WCUS. Yes, I was “that guy” wearing a winter hat…⛄
Running along the Greenway was not as green as the name implies, but we had a great run anyway! Thanks to the crew who joined me! #wcus #getfit @liamdempsey @Sara11D @rachwarren17 @scottdeluzio @pshetler1 pic.twitter.com/71QNFnKvWB
— Tara Claeys (@TaraClaeys) December 2, 2017
Looking Ahead to 2018
2017 was full of a lot of changes, and opportunities that I wouldn’t have imagined a year ago. I really don’t know what 2018 will have in store for me and while that should be a bit terrifying, I find it really exciting!
In 2018, I’m planning on:
- Outsourcing development and support work at a minimum on a contract basis. It would be awesome if I am in a position to hire on a full time basis.
- If you’re reading this and looking to get into this type of work, or know someone who is get in touch.
- Speaking at more events. I’m already committed to speak at LoopConf in February. ✔
- Continuing to contribute to WordPress core. Gutenberg is scary to me right now, so this may wait until the latter half of the year.
- “Trimming the fat”. If I find any of the plugins I’m marketing is not resulting in sufficient sales, I want to remove them from the lineup to make way for something else.
- My current plugins are listed at the bottom of the site. I’m always open to discuss partnering/selling. If that’s you, let’s talk.
- Introducing at least one new plugin with a well thought out launch. I want to take this one slow and get it right, so it may not be done in 2018. We’ll see. I have about 8,932,013 ideas sitting on the bench right now – one of them might be a big hit.
- Blogging more consistently, but only if I can put out a high quality post.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you for sticking with me! This is by far the longest blog post I’ve ever written, and while I largely wrote it as a reminder to “2018 Scott” I hope you’ve been able to learn a little something from my experiences.
Here’s to a happy and successful 2018! 🎉