Wow, did I blink and miss something? How is 2018 already over?
This is my second “year in review” post. You can take a look at last year’s here to see what predictions, or goals I had last year.
Like 2017, I’m not sharing financial numbers. However, I’ll say what I thought has or has not worked for me during the year.
Unlike last year, this post is being written in WordPress 5.0 (a.k.a Gutenberg). I was skeptical of the release date back on December 6th of this year. However, the editor has come a long way since I last tried it as a feature plugin a few months ago. I still feel like there are some improvements that can be made, but I’ll save my thoughts on that for another time.
At the beginning of 2017 I pivoted to 100% plugin work. Prior to that I had been selling a few plugins that were doing OK, but not great. They just weren’t my main focus.
Towards the end of last year my plugin sales were picking up to a sustainable level, and that upward trend continued throughout 2018.
2018 saw a few changes to the products that I’m offering.
Privacy WP [New]✅
Privacy WP is a new addition to the plugins that I sell. It assists with GDPR compliance by facilitating data export and erase requests from third party apps like MailChimp, Stripe, Drip, and others.
When GDPR first began, WordPress introduced a tool that lets site owners export or erase their users private data that was stored on the site. While this is great for things like contact form submissions, WooCommerce orders, or even comments, it left a big gap.
Most businesses don’t keep all of their customer’s information on their website. They use third party apps like the ones mentioned above. So, in order to process a data export or erase request, the site owner would have to run the tool on WordPress to get all the data stored on their website, then go to each individual third party site to figure out how to export or erase the data from there too.
Privacy WP removes this burden by including all of the data from those third party apps in the export or erase request done on your WordPress site.
Full Screen Background Images [Purchased]✅
In February of this year, Pippin Williamson tweeted that he was looking for a new owner of his plugin Full Screen Background Images. At the time I had been passively seeking out a plugin to acquire. By passively, I mean that I wanted to acquire a plugin, but I wasn’t going around asking if any were for sale. If one became available, I’d look into it.
After a short negotiation period, Pippin agreed to sell the plugin to me!
Quick Checkout [Purchased]✅
Coming in just under the wire for this year’s year in review post, I also acquired the Quick Checkout plugin in early December.
For the longest time I’ve wanted a plugin that I could offer as a companion, or cross sell to my existing Conditional Checkout Fields plugin. Conditional Checkout Fields already has strong sales and a growing customer base. I just never had anything that was relevant to cross sell to those customers.
Quick Checkout seemed like the perfect fit for this cross sell need.
You can read more about the purchase of this plugin in my post announcing the sale.
This is still a new plugin in my arsenal, but I’m anxious to see how it helps my existing Conditional Checkout Fields customers.
WP In-Post Ads [Retired]❌
Last year, it seemed like I released WP In-Post Ads to a group of crickets.
**Chirp chirp** (Or whatever noise they make).
Sales were not good at all. I tried selling to existing users of the free version of the plugin, which currently has over 3,000 active installs. I was only able to convert a handful of customers on that plugin. It seemed like no matter what I did, the plugin just wasn’t selling.
So, what went wrong? In a word: Research.
There are several other plugins with the same (if not better) functionality available for free on WordPress.org. When customers are researching alternatives, it’s a tough sell to get someone to pay for something they can get a better version of for free elsewhere.
I realized that I was fighting an uphill battle with this plugin, and decided to pull the plug on it earlier this year. I made WP In-Post Ads available for free on GitHub if anyone is interested. I won’t spend any additional time maintaining the plugin, but feel free to fork it if you want.
In addition to the plugins mentioned above, I now maintain 17 plugins on WordPress.org. Three new plugins added to my profile this year include:
- Simple Full Screen Background Image, the “lite” version to Full Screen Background Images.
- Google Authenticator Hide For Non-Users. This plugin hides the GA field on the login page until a username is entered that has GA enabled for their account, which makes it less confusing for non-GA enabled accounts.
- Privacy WP Lite. This plugin helps extend the built in WordPress privacy tools by providing a “self-serve” export/erase form that lets users initiate the export/erase request on the front end of your site, as well as a way to edit some of the built in privacy options.
Since I started exclusively selling plugins last year, I knew I needed to work on branding but I struggled with how I should brand my company and products.
I had options:
- Brand each plugin separately as I had been doing all along.
- Brand each plugin separately, but make myself the “face of the brand”.🙅♂️
- Brand each plugin separately, but under an “umbrella” brand.
- Merge each plugin together under one “umbrella” brand.
There are probably more options that I never thought of either. Even with just these four options I had analysis paralysis. I kept analyzing the pros and cons of each, and couldn’t pull the trigger on any of them.
Back in August I met Katie Elenberger at the WordCamp Minneapolis after party. We started with the usual “what do you do” small talk, and I delivered my typical terrible elevator pitch by describing each of the 5 plugins I was selling at the time.
This elevator goes on for about 100 floors.
At the end, Katie was able to summarize what all of the otherwise unrelated plugins do in just one sentence. 😍
I’ve been trying to come up with a succinct way to say this for so long, and always failed miserably.
When I finally got around to asking Katie what she did, she said she ran a branding and design agency.
I was super excited! It seemed like she understood how to wrap up all that each individual brand does in one nice, neat package. This was exactly the type of help I desperately needed, and nearly abandoned hope for.
Over the last couple months we have been working together to get to option #3 from above. Brand each plugin separately, but under an “umbrella” brand.
Introducing: Amplify Plugins
Amplify Plugins is the “umbrella” brand for all of the plugins that I sell. Or, I suppose I should say:
At Amplify plugins, we’re committed to helping your business grow by streamlining your work processes. Using our experience and knowledge, we’ve developed flexible plugins that create an enhanced customer experience. Our innovative business applications improve the overall functionality of your website. We pride ourselves on excellent customer service and we are here for when you need it. Our goal is to help your business work more efficiently.
Since few of the products that I sell share much in common, an umbrella brand made the most senese.
There are some companies that only sell plugins for one market – WooCommerce plugins, for example. Those companies can sell all of their plugins under one brand. Companies like Prospress and Yith come to mind.
My plugins are different. Each of my plugins are really separate brands, but they needed something to bring them all together. This is where Amplify Plugins comes in. It is a brand on it’s own, but it is able to connect the others in a way that was previously very clunky.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be working on updating all of the individual plugin brand sites to match the style of the Amplify Plugins brand. I’m really excited that this is finally happening!
In addition to working with Katie on the company branding, I’ve also outsourced some other work that I just couldn’t keep doing on my own.
Late last year, I started working with Cate DeRosia after meeting at WordCamp US 2017. She’s been editing the content on my various websites and even creating some content from scratch. She’s able to “speak” to the customers better than I can, and edits out the “tech jargon” that I’ve been prone to use in my content. She has been doing an outstanding job at this and I couldn’t be happier.
At WordCamp Minneapolis this year, I also met Rene Morozowich. Rene is a developer, who I approached to see if there was an opportunity for her to do some development work on my plugins. She worked on a project back in November on WP-CRM System to update the reporting feature to a much more flexible (and useful) tool, and was a pleasure to work with. I’m looking forward to working with Rene a lot more in the future.
At the end of last year, I said that I’d like to be in a position where I could outsource work to a developer at some point. In reality, I already was at that point last year. I think I just had a fear of contracting someone too soon.
I suppose I had fears like: Would I be able to afford their work? What if they weren’t capable? Will I be OK with not developing 100% of the code I put out?
My advice to anyone who is in a similar position is to contract out work before you think you’re ready for it. Don’t wait.
Start with something small, 5-10 hours of work or so. I say this because even if the job isn’t done well, you haven’t lost much financially or time. On the other hand, if it is done well you still haven’t lost much financially, and your product is that much better. Which, if you’ve picked the right area to start with will help your product sell more and you’ll recover the cost in no time. Plus, you’ll gain the confidence that you can afford to let someone else work on your code.
The goal for me was to get more off of my plate so I can focus on other areas of the business. In the last month I had a branding, a development, and a content project going on all at the same time. Plus I was able to continue working on other things, like acquiring Quick Checkout. I never would be able to do all of that on my own in the same time period.
This year had a significant setback for me personally, which affected a lot of my family’s “normal” routine.
Back in August, my wife came down with flu-like symptoms, which none of us really thought much of. Get some rest for a couple days, and she’ll bounce right back the way she always had. Except, this seemed to linger and come in waves. She was on and off sick for a couple weeks.
Then on September 1st, things got really crazy. At one point during the day she started acting, well, not herself. She was saying and doing things that were just not normal for her. I decided to take her to the emergency room to have her get checked out. What happened next was a complete shock to me.
No sooner did we walk into the emergency room triage area did she start having a seizure.
She had never had a seizure ever before, so this caught me completely off guard. Fortunately we were in the right place for this sort of thing to happen.
In total, she ended up having three grand mal seizures that day. Those are the types of seizures that people typically think of when the hear about a seizure, although we’ve come to learn that there are many other types as well.
The doctors put her into a medically induced coma for the next three days and monitored her brain activity to watch for additional seizures. In total she was in the hospital for two weeks.
Now, let me just say that I am extremely fortunate to have my parents and in-laws living nearby who were able to help with our kids while I was going back and forth to the hospital. I’m not sure how I would have been able to do it without them.
One of the major lifestyle changes we had to go through from this is beginning to send our kids to a traditional school. We had been homeschooling all of our kids for the last 4 years or so. Our kids really had no idea what to expect from school as it all came on so quickly.
One of the side effects to what she went through is memory loss, which could make it incredibly difficult for my wife to effectively teach our kids at home. We decided that at least for the rest of this school year we would send our kids to school so she can focus on recovery in whatever form that looks like. We’ll revisit homeschooling in the summer to see if it’s something that we as a family can handle.
Another lifestyle change has been that my wife can’t drive for at least three months after her last seizure. Unfortunately, she continues to have minor seizures on a regular basis so this date keeps getting pushed out further and further.
All of these issues caused me to reevaluate my travel plans. I had been planning on attending WordCamp US in Nashville this year, but I couldn’t bring myself to be away for an extended period of time. Not until she’s doing better. This will likely affect my attendance at other conferences going into 2019 unless they’re local to the Phoenix area.
We had some fun on the family front this year too. Back in January, our family took a cruise in the Caribbean, which the kids absolutely loved. Our cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Allure of The Seas took us to Mexico, Jamaica, and Haiti.
We also took a family trip to Lake Tahoe for a family wedding. The mountains in that area are really beautiful…from the ground level. I hate heights.
Last year one of my goals was to write more consistently with higher quality posts. In 2017 I wrote 85 new blog posts. Many of those were written for the sake of writing. I had a quantity goal in mind, and maybe not so much a quality goal.
This year I only wrote 39 new blog posts. I can’t say for sure if they were all higher quality or not, but I did take a little more time with each.
“Army Lessons” 💪 YouTube Series
I also started a YouTube series, which was inspired by my talks at LoopConf and WordCamp Denver this year. Both talks had to do with lessons that I learned while in the Army. The video series relates some of those lessons to business to (hopefully) help others who might be struggling with their own business.
I started this series because I really enjoyed giving the two talks that I gave earlier this year and they both received a lot of positive feedback. So, I was attempting to figure out a way to do those sort of talks more frequently without having to rely on being selected to speak at a conference.
Each of my videos are short – on average around 5 minutes or so. Even though the videos themselves are short, it still takes time to get them to a “publishable” state.
For each video I wanted to make sure there were captions (not the auto-captions that YouTube does), a blog post, and a transcript. To do all that for each video might take me a few hours to do on my own, so I needed to come up with a way to automate as much of the process as possible.
I set up a couple Zaps in Zapier to help automate a few of the time consuming aspects of making these videos. I’ll spare you the details for now, but if you’re interested in streamlining your video production process (including adding transcripts and captions to your video), reach out I’d be happy to help. I may even write a post about this in the future.
In total, each video takes me about an hour to record, caption, transcribe, and blog. The videos are unedited, raw videos and with the exception of one or two they’re all done in one take.
If you want to check out the videos, head on over to my YouTube channel. I’d really appreciate it if you subscribed to my channel too!
2018 Goals Report Card
Last year I ended my year in review post with a few goals. Let’s see how I did.
- Outsource development and support work. While, a little late in the year, I think I get a pass for this one by bringing Rene on to do some development work. I still haven’t brought anyone on for help with support, but I’m also not totally overwhelmed by support right now either. This is something I will need in the future, but I’m not hurting without it for now.
- Speaking at more events. This year I spoke at LoopConf, WordCamp Phoenix, WordCamp Denver, and WordCamp Minneapolis. That doesn’t count all of the local WordPress meetups and even one remote Colorado meetup I spoke at this year. Last year I spoke at three conferences and a handful of meetups, so +1 is a win 🏆
- Continue to contribute to WordPress core. I opened one ticket this year, however the focus on WordPress core was largely focused on Gutenberg. My ticket was not Gutenberg focused, so it didn’t gain much traction. I’ll revisit it once the dust from Gutenberg settles.
- “Trimming the fat” – or removing plugins from my offering if they aren’t selling well. I did this with WP In-Post Ads, which was necessary to keep me focused on the better performing plugins.
- Introducing one new plugin with a well thought out launch. I introduced Privacy WP around the same time that GDPR came into effect. I didn’t have a ton of time to think through this launch though. The necessary functions in WordPress for Privacy WP to even exist weren’t built into WordPress until about a week or so before GDPR went into effect. Since I wanted it to be released at that time, I didn’t really have much opportunity to do a well thought out launch. It didn’t have as successful of a launch as I would have liked, which likely could have been improved by a little better outreach and planning before the launch. However, I did add three total premium plugins this year, so I’d say this sort of was a pass too.
- 61% increase in revenue from 2017🎉 This increase was largely due to auto renewals, sales of the new plugins (Full Screen Background Images, Quick Checkout, Privacy WP), and a price increase from Q4 last year.
2019 Goals 🎯
This year came with many opportunities and challenges that I didn’t really expect a year ago. This is a trend that both excites and terrifies me. I’m learning to accept this though, and realize that I can’t plan for everything.
Here are my business goals for 2019:
- Increase my reliance on outsourcing. I’m loving how much gets done when I have other people working with me. I don’t know if this means give more projects to the people I’m currently working with or adding more people to the mix. Maybe it’ll be a combination of the two?
- Reevaluate existing plugins in the Amplify Plugins portfolio and determine if they are truly a good fit for the company. If I need to remove one or more to focus on the better performing plugins, then I should do that.
- Keep an eye out for other plugins that can be acquired to increase the company’s growth rate. Know of any?
- Increase revenue by at least 100% 📈 I think this is actually a conservative goal. Full Screen Background Images will begin subscription renewals in February, which 2018 did not have the benefit of. Quick Checkout will become a more significant portion of our revenue as it only had a handful of sales began in December of this year. And all of the other new sales from 2018 will renew at a higher price than any previous years due to the price increase late last year.
I’m optimistic that 2019 will see lots of positive changes for the business.
Thanks For Sticking With Me
Phew, that was a long one! If you’re still reading, thank you. Let me know you’ve made it this far in the comments and tell me what your goals are for next year.
Here’s to a happy and productive 2019!