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My Annual Review: What I Did Well… and Not So Much

My Annual WordPress Consultant Review

At the end of each year, smart business owners review the past year and their business successes, and what they can do better.

I started my little internet studio in a small town storefront on the IL/WI border in 1995. Back then, folks thought I was nuts. And here I am, 26 years later, still doing what I love and helping others to succeed.

Each year I share with you my experiences and insights. And what I've learned. As well as the changes I am making and why in my WordPress consulting business.

Hopefully, this annual review of my modus operandi can help you think about your program from a different angle. Food for thought, so to speak.

2020 The Year We Will Not Forget

It wasn't about me this year…

My annual self-assessment starts by looking at how I am spending my time and producing the results I desire. This helps me discover not only what I excelled at but what I can do better.

Where did I fall short? What do I not want to repeat in the year ahead? I also take note of what I enjoyed most. Which coincidentally is where I have the most success. Over the years, I've learned to lean into that clue.

2020 was a year like no other. I am blessed to be in a position where I could help others struggling to keep their businesses — and their lives, above water. It was heart-breaking.

So I did my best to offer my services to those who could benefit from my knowledge and skills. The ability to pay was not a concern.

For current clients in areas that were the most impacted, I waived all fees for the summer. Yeah, that hit my pocketbook too. But I couldn't charge when I knew folks were barely hanging on.

Words of Wisdom:
When the unexpected happens, stepping up can make a difference.

New Look? Not this year…

In 2020, I didn't get the impulse to change my website's WordPress theme. (That is not until last week when the thought did cross my mind.) So this is a record for me. I'm going on two solid years of this look when usually I would have swapped it out by now.

Now that the WordPress editor, Gutenberg, matures and grows into a full-fledged site builder, my next look will be based on taking advantage of those building blocks. My current theme was one of the first to have a block-based home page, and that's why I gravitated to it.

The key for me in 2021 will be to consider Google's announcement that in May, they will roll out “page experience” signals in rankings. With the primary focus remaining on mobile. This should be a serious consideration for all websites concerned about rankings.

I never know when I'll make a move. Usually, it is because I discover something I want to play with. And when I do, I dive in. So I'm thinking sometime this spring.

Honest Communication

I continued to nail down and communicate what exactly it is that I do, how I do it, and who is the type of person — precisely — that I can help. I've been at this for 26 years now, and I know who I can help while still enjoying the process.

But, that doesn't mean the softie in me doesn't fall prey to those who need me that may not be a good fit. In 2020, I resisted that urge for the most part. Primarily based on how folks chose to approach me. That's why I ask the questions I do on my project inquiry form.

The thing is, if anyone takes a little time to read my site, they know I don't push that online success should be easy and inexpensive—actually quite the contrary.

I actually warn folks that I run a “boot camp” and hold them accountable to their stated goals. And that I expect them actually to have a plan to reach those goals.

But the inquiries pour in explaining what they are “willing” to pay for my time and expertise along with “this is how we'll proceed.” I'm glad they share those demands with me. This allows me to make an informed decision.

When communicating through website forms and email, never underestimate that how you choose to communicate (words used, tone, personality) can speak volumes. What will you be like to work with? Do you respect the other side's time and expertise?

This year I took a solid stand. But, unfortunately, I am not flexible in what I determine is necessary for me to be of service—especially this year when I prefer to spend my time helping folks to survive. So my time is even more at a premium.

In 2021, if I do not get that concrete feeling that I resonate with a new contact and that they “get me,” I will continue to decline respectfully. If my gut is telling me, “Run!”; I run. No exceptions.

It's not just about income.

Yes, it is always hard to say no to additional income. But the income is not worth me compromising what I know to be necessary to acquire another client. And the frustration that goes with it. After 26 years, I know better.

When I dread seeing a name in my inbox — I know I've made a mistake. I then need to remedy that promptly.

If I'm not into a project or the person behind it, I do not do as good of a job as I know I am capable of. Personality flaw or just being realistic?

Words of Wisdom:
Confirmed, once again, that you cannot be everything to everyone.
And that's okay.

Serving Service is My Jam

My White Glove Support Plans are my primary focus. Tracking sites, updating, and having access to tons of performance and analytics data to absorb gives me a view into “what's going on.” That breadth of data benefits all my clients.

I offer three levels of support (one is currently sold out) that cover the tasks and support small business owners need. I truly dig offering this level of support so that my clients can concentrate on running their business and not the technicalities of their websites.

Creating new websites from scratch for new clients will continue not to be a service that I offer in 2021. Instead, those skills will now only benefit my established clientele.

Building new sites is a complicated and time-consuming process. A process I prefer to go through with those with whom I already have a successful working partnership.

Words of Wisdom:
You are at your best when you enjoy what you are doing.

Not all providers are partners.

I've pretty much tried every plugin and service out there. I get an idea for adding something to one of my sites, and I go for it. I pay for the premium version as I want to have the support if I need it.

As always, some are better than others. What I discover in this process are the products, services, and companies that have the same value proposition as I do. However, I also have the opportunity to discover that a product may not be the best fit for me or my client's websites.

Not that the product is bad or not good enough. Just that it may not be what my clients need or would be able to successfully use from the perspective of cost, support, features, and learning curve.

If you don't make me happy or impress me with a user-friendly product and your above-and-beyond service levels, my clients won't get my recommendation to use your product.

Not that I'm such a big deal — I'm not. But I won't recommend anything unless I have full confidence and would use it on my sites. Period.

Words of Wisdom:
What works for other sites may not work for others.

WordPress Theme and Plugins Review

At the end of each year, I thoroughly review all my site's plugins to ensure they are keeping up with WordPress. While some plugins do not require updating with each WordPress update and will still function without issue, I prefer to have plugins that are clearly paid attention to.

This approach minimizes conflicts and problems down the road. The same goes for themes. With that said, I've experienced more conflicts this year across all the sites I manage than in years past. Yay, 2020!

For example, just last week, on two of my websites. Both have identical setups — but only one has a conflict—both on the same host — and server. One is sending emails. The other isn't. Same everything.

But clearly, something is causing a conflict. When it comes to WordPress conflict troubleshooting, more times than not, it is a plugin. Not in this case.

That is now on my to-do list to do a deep dive and figure it out. I relish this type of challenge.

In the interim, I resolved the issue with the addition of a plugin and will dive back in when I have time. What I learn will once again benefit my clients.

Even with all the great WordPress themes available, I am still sticking with StudioPress and the Genesis Framework for all my sites. I've been with them from the start, trust their products. This approach gives me one less thing to have to worry about.

Words of Wisdom:
Even with the best efforts, conflicts can happen. Regardless of the difficulty in doing so, they must be nailed down and resolved.

Site Content Review

Not all content is evergreen. In 2020 I set aside time to review content regularly. Update or delete—quality over quantity.

Posts have been removed from this site that was either no longer applicable or written something better since they were published. Content that over time may not be as valuable as it once was. Content that is duplicative or no longer accurate.

Each week when I work on posts on my other blogs, I also schedule a little extra time to try and review a few other posts on each as well. Rewrite or purge. Rinse and repeat.

I also ran a broken link check — and I was surprised at how many broken links I had. Upon that discovery, I got to work investigating, deleting, and redirecting. Unfortunately, I didn't practice what I preached there. So now I monitor for broken links so I can keep on top of them.

Having four websites is a real challenge to do well. Yes, you can get the theme and structure in place, the plugins configured, and put a lot on auto-pilot. But great content doesn't write itself and quality checks need to be done regularly.

Words of Wisdom:
Scheduling time to review published content is imperative.

Adding New Content is a Priority

So I committed to writing a new post every single week. Then, once a month, update an oldy but a goody.

This year I did so much better by going all-in with my calendar and setting up “To Do” reminders to make sure I met my content goals. It's called planning — and what a difference planning can make to block out the necessary time.

Set up reminders and alerts so that you get that nudge on your desktop, devices, and inbox. Then have the discipline to follow through. And I must say, except for only a few weeks and holidays, I met my goal.

With this approach, I have improved my posting consistency. I also make a point when I have an epiphany for a post topic. Then, I stop right there, open WordPress, and created a quick draft with my thoughts and ideas.

Yes, plugins help with your editorial calendar goals, but why add another plugin to use server resources when I can make a note in my off-WordPress calendar or create a quick draft. It works for me.

I'm lucky in that I love writing. Something the majority of my clients dread. I enjoy writing for GoDaddy's blog, and I can get lost for hours (or in some cases a week) on just one article. 2021 will find me investigating new writing opportunities as well.

Words of Wisdom:
You are more productive when you do what you enjoy.

Gutenberg -> GutenBad -> GutenLuv

Having crafted websites for decades, new technologies and ways to do things is nothing new to me. If I had $1 for every time I had to evolve into a new way of doing something, I would be retired on a tropical island. (And that sounds pretty good after 2020, right?)

But Gutenberg was different as much as I had used it and tried — very hard — to like it. I just didn't.

However, I dove in any way because, well, I had to. I considered that part of my job. Initially, it was buggy and made working within WordPress more difficult.

With that said, I understood how once software or applications are “out in the wild,” they tend to improve quickly and dramatically. And that's exactly what happened in 2020. Now I can't imagine WordPress without Gutenberg.

Gutenberg is maturing to become a full-site editor. Something many site owners desire. Progress marches on…

Words of Wisdom:
Give new things a try and stick with them for a while.

Social Media

For me, “social media” for business seems like an echo chamber that is a cacophony of everyone trying to virtue signal or get their sales pitch out. I'm also not big on promoting myself. Not fun.

So, being I've always collected inspirational quotes, I started posting “Words that inspire …” to my socials each Monday to help others (and myself) start their week with some insight and positivity. #MondayMotivation

This continued through 2020. Feedback has been positive — plus, I enjoy finding the right quote and digging through the images to use for them. That is fun.

If you don’t know why you failed, you are no wiser than when you began.

Napoleon Hill

I also use the same type of graphics to represent the sentiment of my posts on all my blogs. This is a visual medium, after all, and images do make my sites more visually appealing. Hat tip to Canva.com for making this task enjoyable and easy.

Social media, for me, is still a chore and something I have to make time for. And I coincidentally rarely have time. Priorities? Not sure that will ever change, so I'm not going to say it will.

Words of Wisdom:
Do what you enjoy. Do your best when you don't.

Giving Back

I've always enjoyed helping folks out on forums and groups. So I continued doing that in 2020. Giving back by its very nature means you give with no expectation of anything in return for doing so.

With that said, the rare “thank you” every once in a while is always appreciated — because they are not common. The irony is that expressions of gratitude when they do happen seem come from those who tend to succeed online. Hmmm…

New Personal Projects

I had an idea for a new project. So I loaded up WordPress, bought the premium plugins (aff) I would need, and tried to tie it all together.

I was surprised at how difficult I thought to be something simple and no big deal was. But, unfortunately, the plugins that stated to offer the functionality I was looking for were buggy and had difficult user interfaces.

I started having memories (or nightmares) of the last several personal projects I started that, in the end, were not fun — or as easy as I thought they would be—deja vu.

One plugin that had a premium-premium version of what I needed for quite a bit of money failed me on customer service. Finally, after a ton of work, a couple of attempts at “retooling” plugins and configurations, I woke up one morning and said, “Uncle.”

I lost my enthusiasm. For now. Booo me.

When it comes to premium plugins, there are generally a couple of levels of available features. This one, in particular, had different “package” levels. So I chose the one in the middle to play with.

While the top-tier, more costly level turns out had a couple of features I needed, why would I pay more for service that sucks? I didn't.

Based on that experience, it became clear that there were missing pieces I would have to compensate for. Either manually or with custom coding. Neither of which was my preferred route.

I am still in a bit of disbelief that I couldn't put this site together. But, maybe, as has happened before, I'm a bit ahead of my time. So a little money and a lot of time, down the drain.

There's a lesson there not only for me but for those without the decades of experience I have. Online, concept to reality is not easy. Prepare accordingly.


If you don't try…

You'll never know if you can make something happen unless you try. Many times, you won't know if you like it or have what it takes until you dive in and find out what is involved.

For me, I've decided that if I'm not having fun, I don't do it. There's that “fun” word again.

While I always beat myself up for starting and then not finishing a project or not realizing soon enough that I wasn't willing to commit to what that site required, I always learn new things with every single attempt.

Maybe I'll move something off my drawing board in 2021? I did register another domain last month. Stay tuned…

Words of Wisdom:
When you start a new website, pad time and expense
projections and do your best to stick with it for the long haul.

Embrace, Learn, Apply and Push Through

That's my mantra year after year. I use technology as it is now and whatever it evolves to be in the year ahead to its full potential for my business' success. Whether I like it or not. 99% of the time, I'm good with that.

From Blogging to Social Media to creative marketing tactics and everything in-between. By not investigating how to best use all the available tools out there for my business is what separates success from lackluster results.

Nothing online happens by osmosis. This attitude is how I've run my business and why I believe that I've survived for 26 years.

You now know my frame of mind and what I am going to focus on for 2021. I'll end with one of my favorite entrepreneurial quotes:

My biggest motivation? To keep challenging myself. I see life almost like one long University education that I never had — every day, I’m learning something new.

Richard Branson

As we eagerly leave this year behind, do not doubt that there will be new opportunities in the new year ahead. That is, for those looking for them.

At your service,

Judith: WordPress Consultant and Business Coach