At the end of each year, smart business owners review the past year and their business successes. As well as what they can do better.
This year's review is special for me — it is my 25th anniversary. I started my little internet studio in small town storefront on the IL/WI border in 1995. Back then folks thought I was nuts. And here I am, 25 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 to think about your program from a different angle. Food for thought so to speak.
My Clipboard for 2020
My annual self-assessment starts by looking at how I am spending my time and if that is 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. Surprise?
Policies, pages, terms of service — all of it — updated to be more focused and clear. I continued to tweak everything to meet my new vision. Revamping my processes was critical to improving my screening and onboarding flows for new clients.
When was the last time that you refreshed your documentation and refocused your efforts? This is something every business needs to do every so often.
Standing still is not something I do very well. So it comes naturally for me to always be looking around the next corner.
During 2019, I didn't get the impulse to change my website's WordPress theme. I never know when that will happen. And when it does; I dive in. I guess I just didn't see anything that would be cooler than what I have now.
What I learned:
I'm on the path I want to travel.
What “New Vision”?
I continued to nail down and communicate with more clarity 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 25 years — I do know better. But, that doesn't mean the softie in me doesn't fall prey to those who need me that are not a good fit.
In 2019, I ignored my gut and got burned a couple of times. I think that happens with every business no matter how long you've been in business. Especially if you are in a service business — you want to serve.
Lost time and money helping those who literally though online success should be easier — and less expensive. They didn't get that perception from me. It's a lot of hard work and success doesn't come on the cheap.
At the end of the summer that all changed. I am no longer flexible in what I determine is necessary in order for me to be of service.
If I do not get a solid feeling that I resonate with a new contact and that they “get me”, I respectfully decline. If my gut is telling me “Run!”; I run. No exceptions. If it is a client referral, I thank them for their confidence and then explain my decision.
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 just to acquire another client. And the frustration that goes with it.
When I dread seeing a name in my inbox — I know I've made a mistake. I then need to remedy that promptly and not continue on.
If I'm not into a project or the person behind it, I do not do as good of a job as I can. Personality flaw or just being realistic?
What I've learned:
Confirmed, once again, that I cannot be everything to everyone.
And that's okay.
Serving Service is My Jam
My White Glove Support Plans are a huge success. Going into it's third year I now offer three levels of support (and one is sold out). I truly enjoy offering the support site owners need so that they can concentrate on running their business not their websites.
With WGS I've really found my groove. Creating new websites from scratch for new clients will no longer be a service that I offer in 2020. Those skills will now only benefit myself and my current clientele. I prefer to support folks who already have WordPress sites and everything that goes with that.
The days are over for having a “set and forget” site. This is evident by the number of WordPress site owners who come to me with poorly performing websites. Including an increasing number of sites that are hacked.
This service allows me to share my wealth of knowledge and 25 years of online experience.
What I learned:
I'm at my best when I'm providing needed support.
Newsletter; No More
I started my free monthly newsletter called WPMuse Briefings in June of 2018. I was constantly asked about why I didn't have a newsletter. Having forgotten about how much work was involved I gave it a whirl.
With each briefing I shared resources (and why they matter), tips, my latest articles, some commentary and opinions about what I see happening in the online world. I also included a Q & A section where I answered subscribers questions.
In addition, I threw in any exciting (or challenging) discoveries and some down-to-earth inspiration I took note of each month. All to help subscribers succeed online.
And I'm proud that I have over a thousand subscribers and not one single unsubscribe.
Time is not infinite.
What was I thinking? To do it right, and that's how I roll, it took tracking topics and taking notes all month long and several days to put each edition together.
Then, add all the questions from subscribers seeking free advice and consulting that I couldn't ignore. All of which had to be answered. None of which translated into any new clients.
Then I started having flashbacks to when I used to do this many, many, many years ago and why I stopped back then. I lasted 21 months this time. Back to simple RSS feed subscription option for me. Starting with this post, subscribers will get a short email notice when I post something new here. (You can sub over there in the left sidebar.)
I know newsletters are a great marketing tool for many websites. But for me the time spent wasn't translating into anything other than time spent — and then some more.
My service and support was suffering due to having to create the content and respond to the inquiries from my newsletter. Stress I don't need, that didn't contribute to my bottom line. So, I shut it down.
What I learned:
What works for other sites may not work for me.
WordPress Theme and Plugins Review
I review my site's plugins to ensure they are compatible with the latest version of 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. Same goes for themes. I do this every year without fail.
Even with all the great WordPress themes available, I am still sticking with StudioPress for all my sites. I've been with them from the start, trust their products and this approach gives me one less thing to have to worry about.
What I learned:
I had one plugin that apparently was abandoned. Replaced.
Site Content Review
Not all content is evergreen. In 2019 I set aside time to review content on a regular basis. Update or delete. Quality over quantity.
More than 100 posts have been removed from this site that were either no longer applicable or I've written something better since they were published. It's amazing, if you write consistently, how you can accumulate a ton of content.
Content that over time may not be as valuable as it once was. Content that is duplicative or no longer accurate. Time for a purge.
Having four websites is a real challenge to do well. Yes, you can get the theme and structure in place, the plugins config'd and put allot on auto-pilot. But great content doesn't write itself.
And that's what separates you from all the rest. You and your content.
I'm lucky in that I love writing. I enjoy writing for GoDaddy's blog and I can get lost for hours (or in some cases a week) on just one article. 2020 will find me embracing new writing opportunities as well.
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. Rewrite or purge. Rinse and repeat.
What I learned:
I was surprised how much duplicative content I had on all my sites.
Adding New Content is a Priority
This year I did so much better by going all in with my calendar and setting up “To Do” Reminders to make sure I get my content goals met. It's called planning — and what a difference planning can make to block out the necessary time.
Setup reminders and alerts so that you get that nudge on your desktop, devices and inbox. Then have the discipline to follow through.
By doing this I have been able to improve my posting consistency. I also make a point when I have an epiphany for a post topic, I stop right there, open WordPress and created a quick draft with my thoughts and ideas.
Yes, there are plugins to help with your editorial calendar goals, but why add another plugin to use server resources when I can just make a note in my off-WordPress calendar or create a quick draft. Works for me.
What I learned:
Scheduling time for content creation is imperative.
Gutenberg -> GutenBad -> GutenLuv
Having crafted websites for so long, 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.
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 anyway because, well, I had to . I considered that part of my job. Initially it was buggy and made my writing life 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 June I removed the Classic Editor plugin that kept things as they were from my other sites. All my sites are now using the Gutenberg editor and I'm loving it.
I've also discovered that folks new to WordPress love it too. Progress marches on…
What I learned:
Give new things a try and stick with it for awhile.
For me, “social media” for business just seems like an echo chamber that is a cacophony of everyone trying to 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 on each Monday to help others (and myself) start their week with some insight and positivity.
I also use the same type of graphics to represent the sentiment of my posts on all three of my blogs. This is a visual medium after all and they do make my sites more visually appealing. Hat tip to Canva.com for making this task fun 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.
What I learned:
I'm still not a fan of social media. Sigh.
I've always enjoyed helping folks out on forums and groups. I continued doing that in 2019. Giving back by its very nature means you give with no expectation of anything in return for doing so.
But, is a “thank you” every once in a while too much to ask? I guess so.
In 2020 I will continue to be selective in where I spent my “give-back” time to ensure it is spent with folks who at least reflect an appreciation for the knowledge and experience that I share.
What I learned:
Share your time with those that are grateful for what you have to offer.
New Personal Projects
This is the first year since I started in this gig that I did not start a new personal website project. Not that I do not have ideas or didn't have thoughts of doing so.
I think I still had fresh memories (or nightmares) of two of the projects I got into on 2018 where I got burned. Actually, I burned myself.
One after a ton of work, I just wasn't enthused. The other project I realized, after developing and managing the site, what I would have to do to keep the site relevant. I was not up to the challenge from a time perspective.
In both cases, I knew better and I was disappointed in myself for plodding along anyway. I thought that once I got into it I would be in to it. Didn't happen.
Don't make that mistake. I know I won't again and that's probably why I didn't launch any new products in 2019 for myself.
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 until you dive and and find out what is involved.
For me, I've decided that if I'm not having fun, I don't do it.
While I am 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 attempt.
Maybe I'll move something off my drawing board in 2020? Or maybe not.
What I learned:
Don't start a new website unless you know, for a fact,
that you are committed (pad time and expense
projections by 1000%) 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 lack-luster results.
Nothing online happens by osmosis. This attitude is how I've run my business and why I believe that I've survived for 25 years.
You now know my frame of mind and what I am going to focus on for 2020. I'll end with one of my favorite entrepreneurial quotes:
My biggest motivation? Just to keep challenging myself. I see life almost like one long University education that I never had — everyday I’m learning something new.
~ Richard Branson
2020 here we come!
At your service,