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, 27 years later, still doing what I love and helping others 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.
2021 — Another Year We Will Not Forget
It wasn't about me this year…
My annual self-assessment starts by looking at how I spend my time and produce the desired results. This helps me discover what I excelled at and 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.
Who thought that after 2020, that 2021 could top it? Well, 2021 was more of the same. 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 the most impacted areas, I gave freely of my consulting time. Yeah, that hit my pocketbook too. But How could I charge when I knew folks were barely hanging on?
Words of Wisdom:
When the unexpected happens, stepping up can make a difference.
New Look? Yepper!
In 2021, I discovered the Kadence WordPress theme. I went two solid years without a new theme. But when I make a discovery — I dive in — and I did.
Now that the WordPress editor, Gutenberg, is growing into a full-fledged site builder, Kadence * takes full advantage of blocks and has all kinds of neato display features. You can read about all that here.
The key for me this year was to keep front and center Google's announcement about “page experience” signals when it comes to rankings. With the primary focus remaining on mobile. This should be a serious consideration for all websites concerned about improving their rankings over the long haul.
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 27 years now, and I know who I can help while still enjoying the process.
And I've got my processes nailed down and did not deviate from them to acquire new clients. So I know what works for me and how I want to run my business and stick to that methodology.
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 2021, I continued to resist that urge. My primary deciding factor was 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 hold clients accountable for their choices. Unfortunately, some are not so open to that.
I warn folks that I run a “boot camp” and will hold them answerable 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 how you choose to communicate (words used, tone, personality) can speak volumes. What will you be like to work with? For example, do you reflect that you respect the other side's time and expertise?
In 2022, 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 tells 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 27 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. I prefer to avoid being in that situation if at all possible.
If I'm not into a project or the person behind it, I do not do as good 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 that cover the tasks and support small business owners need. I genuinely 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 I offer in 2022. Instead, those skills will now only benefit my established clientele.
Building new sites is a complicated and time-consuming process. Therefore, I prefer to go through a process with those 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 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 complete confidence and 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 keep 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, this year had its share of conflicts across all the sites I manage than in years past. Yay, 2021!
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, it is a plugin more often than not. Not in this case.
That is now on my to-do list to do a deep dive and figure it out. This is the kind of challenge where I can spend hours trying and figure out — and learn something new in the process.
Even with all the great WordPress themes available, I am still sticking with StudioPress and the Genesis Framework, and now Kadence for all my sites. This approach gives me one less thing to have to worry about and have to keep up with.
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 2021 I set aside time to review content regularly. Update or delete—quality over quantity. I am still working on that as it is a never-ending effort.
Posts have been removed from this site that was either no longer applicable, or I had 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. Bub-bye.
Each week when I work on posts on all my blogs, I also schedule a little extra time to try and review a few other posts on each. 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 to keep on top of them.
Having numerous 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 at least one 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 ensure 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, I stop right there, open WordPress, and create 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? Works for me.
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 2021, right?)
But Gutenberg has evolved tremendously, and I can't imagine not having blocks. Here's my update.
Gutenberg is maturing to become a full-site editor to be introduced in WordPress 5.9 early in 2022. Something many site owners desire. Progress marches on…
Words of Wisdom:
Give new things a try and stick with them for a while.
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 2021. Feedback has been positive — plus, I enjoy finding the right quote and digging through the images to use for them. That is fun.
I also use the same type of graphics to represent the sentiment of my posts on all my blogs. After all, this is a visual medium, and images 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.
I've always enjoyed helping folks out on forums and groups. So I continued doing that in 2021. 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 * I would need, and tried to tie it all together.
Now keep in mind I do this for a living, and I was surprised at how difficult I thought to be something simple, and no big deal was. Part of the problem was that the plugins that offered the functionality I was looking for were buggy and had complex user interfaces. That tends to deflate my balloon.
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 with 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. This happened several times in 2021. I just couldn't find something that zinged me.
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. Likewise, you often 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 learned new things with every single attempt. Every. Single. Time.
Maybe I'll move something off my drawing board in 2022? One thing for sure, it will be something new that I've not thought of yet.
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 27 years.
You now know my frame of mind and what I am going to focus on for 2022. 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,