Damn, 2018. It's been real.
We've had our ups. We've had our downs. It's been a rollercoaster of emotion but I'm glad we got to experience this together.
I did this same review for 2017 last year if you want to read that first. If not, it's cool. Totally your call!
I also got a lot of questions about the tools we use to run WP Buffs last year. Feel free to read about each and every one of the SaaS tools we use.
Per usual, here's what I'll be talking about.
- Our biggest screw-ups of the past year.
- Our biggest successes of the past year.
- Our 2018 goals and if we hit them.
- Our 2019 goals.
- Some of the people I have to thank.
My biggest goal here is 100% transparency. If we did something well, I'll tell you about it. If we fucked something up, you'll know about that too.
This should be good. Let's do this.How did this #WordPress maintenance business do in 2018? I'm tweeting this before actually reading it so I actually don't know... but I'm about to find out! 😅 Click To Tweet
😵 Screw ups of 2018
1. Scaling our support team
This year we brought on a few new Technical Buffs to add to our support team. It turns out having 3 people doing support is waaaaaaay different than 8.
We brought on new team members and trained them up with regards to our style and systems. The problem was those systems were made for a few people doing support, not a support team. We started to lose ground on important aspects of support like response time and resolution time. Not good!
For a few months there, we were really struggling to find out how to organize our support team to provide above and beyond support in our 24/7 capacity. Nick and Dean were leading the charge here and pretty much revamped our whole support system to cater to a larger team working together.
Shout out to the Give team for open-sourcing how they do support. This helped us a ton!
We're almost back in business and providing support that I'm happy with again. That being said, we're still working out a few kinks. Turns out 24/7 support with a big team is really hard but it's something we're constantly working on. Fortunately, for now, we've put out any big fires here and are starting to see our team work together dynamically to support our growing customer base.
2. I waited too long to make important changes
Did you know Caylin is our new Head of Marketing? You may have met her at WordCamp US. Yay!
— WP Buffs (@thewpbuffs) December 6, 2018
— Joseph H. Howard (@JosephHHoward) December 6, 2018
When we were doing our pre-WCUS retreat this year, I referred to WP Buffs as a startup and Caylin legit got mad at me. She said if we think of ourselves as a startup, that's all we'll ever be. We need to think bigger than that!
I have to admit that at first, I got defensive about it. But I think she's absolutely right. If we're not going to go big, then what's the point?
When Caylin came on board, we were still doing all our sales through Teamwork Desk. Leads would come in and we'd tag them appropriately using the help desk software.
This worked fine when I started WP Buffs but today we receive hundreds of leads every week. That means we'd really outgrown this system and I hadn't done anything about it. We needed a real sales CRM!
While I'm writing this, we're actually transitioning our entire sales system into HubSpot. Check out the fancy new chatbot in the bottom corner of the page! Sorry, Olark...
This isn't the only case in which we've waited too long to revamp our systems and tools. There are a few other areas where we probably need upgrades as our business matures. You know what they say: what got you here won't get you there.
3. We had to fire a big customer
We were working with a single customer this year on ~40 sites. That means they represented ~10% of our total MRR so they represented a significant amount of revenue for us.
Unfortunately, they were taking up way more than 10% of our team's bandwidth with their needs. It wasn't an issue of them taking advantage of unlimited edits; we have plenty of customers who ask for a lot. The problem was their team was large and really disorganized and we were spending way too much time managing their account than actually helping them with WordPress.
We simply realized they weren't a good fit or partner for us too late. We should have spent more time vetting them before starting a long-term relationship.
Nick, Dean, and I came to the conclusion that letting go of that revenue would be the best decision for us. While losing that big chunk of MRR sucked, lowering the stress levels of the whole team and giving us more bandwidth to work with customers we actually liked was a win in the long-term.
At the end of the day, bringing on this significant partner wasted a lot of our time in 2018. We could have moved forward much faster tightening up the business if we didn't have this rogue customer. Hindsight is 20/20, but it's taught us the valuable lesson to take onboarding much more slowly with big partners and customers to ensure we're a good fit to work together.Wow, I just read about some major screw-ups. Damn this guy @josephhhoward is honest! 😯 #WordPress Click To Tweet
😎 Successes of 2018
1. We've built a badass leadership team
Nick is our Chief Operations Officer.
Dean is our Head of Customer Success.
Caylin is our Head of Marketing.
This is not at all meant to minimize the impact the rest of the team has had. Our Technical Buffs doing direct work for our customers are the people who power our business and there's no doubt about that.
Nick, Dean, and Caylin have stepped into leadership positions at WP Buffs. This is a good thing for a few reasons:
- I'm now far from the only leader on the team. This means more dynamic decision-making and entrepreneurial actions taken by everybody, which allows us to solve problems faster.
- We now have a better hierarchical organizational structure. Horizontal teams (meaning nobody really has a boss) only works for so long. Our whole team now reports to Nick, Dean, and Caylin and they report to me. This structure puts us in a great position to scale.
- I've become less of a bottleneck. Putting trust in my leadership team and allowing them to take on more responsibilities means I have more time to think big about WP Buffs and do things like writing this year in review article. It's pretty sweet!
We're very aware that website maintenance in the WordPress space is hard to scale. There are few companies that have stumbled successfully to the $1M ARR mark because they've run into challenges along the way.
And let's be honest; some are not very good at all...
We know we'll run into those challenges as well, but I believe having a robust and dynamic leadership team will help us overcome any roadblocks and continue to find a way forward. Boom!
2. Our financials improved
I hired Ben earlier this year to be our part-time CFO. It's one of the best decisions I've ever made at WP Buffs.
He'll be on the WPMRR WordPress podcast soon. Not sure when you're reading this but either subscribe so you can listen when it comes out or just go listen to the episode right now.
I asked him to send me some details about how we did financially in 2018. This is actually November 2017 - November 2018 data so it's not exactly all of 2018, but close enough.
- Increase in the net bank balance of 1062%.
- Monthly revenue increase 461%, more than 4x.
- Margins also improved by 25%.
- Marketing ROI almost doubled.
- Net (income/profit) margin improved by 33%.
This data shows careful financial management of funds and much increased financial security.
Wait, I want some real numbers! I thought you were being 100% transparent in this article??
You're right! Here they are. Again, not exactly how we did in 2018 since I'm writing this before the year is up, but it's 11.5 months of data.
Stripe brought in $353.6K.
And then we made another $22.5K via PayPal.
That's ~$376K total in 2018.
Maybe important to note that we brought in almost $50K in November alone just in Stripe, so we're definitely trending upwards!
Sharing this data is not meant to show off. I think it's important to share this with you because scaling a WordPress maintenance company is really hard. Given our financial success in 2018, I think we're on the right path.
Thanks, Ben! If you need to lock down your business' financials, hire this man. Total game-changer.
Hear from Ben on the WPMRR WordPress podcast! Ben is the Yoda of business finances, hands down. We cover so many awesome topics to help you and your business run lean and mean! Covering concepts like the 80/20 rule of profitability, how as a business grows it begins to gain some fat around the edges, and how it’s a good idea to tidy up your finances with a monthly expense review. Just listening to this episode will get you thinking about what expenditures you can cut to save some cash.
3. We launched WPMRR
I spent a lot of time during July - October 2018 putting together this video course. It pretty much open-sources everything we've done at WP Buffs and packages it so other agencies and freelancers can sell ongoing care plans and improve their predictable revenue in the form of MRR. Oh yeah!
Honestly, I haven't really marketed the course that much except to our email list. We have 20 members there right now enjoying it and the MRR-focused discussions in our Facebook group. Feel free to check it out if increasing monthly revenue is something you'd like to do.
- Christie has become one of my best WordPress friends. Yay! Probably because she's hilarious.
- I get to talk to all sorts of cool people. It gets me fired up to hear about all the cool stuff people are doing.
- The informal style means we get to talk about all sorts of stuff, not just the usual sound bites you get from other more formal podcasts. It's chill AF and people seem to be digging that.
Christie and I actually had a good number of people come up to us at WCUS and tell us they were liking the podcast. It made me feel really proud of what we're putting out into the world. Thanks, WordPress people. I love you.
4. We sent 5 people to WordCamp US (and sponsored!)
I've already talked a bit about this so I won't go crazy here. But I will say being able to do this really was a special feeling for me. I've been to many a WordCamp and get to see a lot of teams send multiple people to make the WP community shine even more.
Well, I got the opportunity to do that this year and damn, it felt good. We had some success sponsoring WordCamps earlier this year (and Dean and I even got to go to WordCamp Europe), but WCUS was the big kahuna and I think we delivered without taking the sponsorship too seriously.
We had a blast and even found awesome people who now work with us. Shout out to National Day Calendar! 1M+ people visit their website every single day and we couldn't be prouder that they've put their trust in us to manage their website. Booyah!
— Marlo Anderson (@GuruOfGeek) December 8, 2018
Who says measuring ROI from sponsorships is hard??
5. Our team YOLO'd
Is that even a verb? Well, it is now!
We really do work hard here at WP Buffs. Managing websites for entrepreneurs, small businesses, large agencies, and WordPress companies is no joke and we have to be on top of our game at all times.
But life outside of work is important as well. That's why it makes me so happy to see our team taking time away from work to do some truly incredible things.
Jason climbed Mt. Fuji!
Dean climbed Pen Y Fan!
And Diego ran 100 miles through the desert over 4 days!
That last one, wow. What a warrior!These guys and gals had a big year. How their team got so #bufftastic, we'll never know! 💪 #WordPress Click To Tweet
🎯 2018 goals. Did we hit them?
In my 2017 review, I just realized the title for this section was 2017 goals. Did I hit them?
The WE is important. Go, team!
1. 600 websites managed
Did we hit this goal? Technically, no. But it was by choice. Let me explain...
As I'm writing this, we manage 403 websites.
But we're currently trying to close a rather large deal that would take us to ~750 websites managed total. Woah!
This particular partner wanted to push 300+ sites over to us immediately but we decided to make the transition slowly instead of taking on so many sites at once. This was clearly the right decision after our big failure here earlier this year.
We've prepared our two companies to work together and now are making that transition slowly over the next few months.
We're confident this deal will close but we're not 100% sure. Let's all just be cool and agree that this doesn't totally jinx us.
So while we didn't hit our goal here, I believe we've taken the smarter decision to deliberately onboard this big partner slowly. Hopefully, we will have eclipsed this goal in Q1 of 2019!
2. 96 overall happiness rating
Dang, so close!
Although technically I'm writing this on December 16th so we still have time to reach 95%. I'll let you know on Twitter if we end up hitting our goal.
3. Speak at 10 WordCamps
I missed the mark here too! I didn't get to speak at 10 WordCamps this year, but I did get the chance to give a talk in Lancaster, Miami (Kids Camp), Chicago, Asheville, New York, Philadelphia, and Orlando. I got 70% of the way there!
And that was only traveling for WordCamp. In 2018, I also got to travel to some other very cool places like Liverpool, Dublin, Costa Rica, Las Vegas, Detroit, Belgrade (WCEU), Dallas, Seattle, Portland, Montana, Denver, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Japan, and Nashville (WCUS).
After writing out that list, I'm realizing it's starting to sound a bit like travel porn. Totally not my intention. But this is a good opportunity to think back to what it was like starting WP Buffs and not having any extra cash on hand to travel since I had to put it all into my business. This ability to travel didn't come out of nowhere; it was the result of blood, sweat, and tears.
I don't want this list of places to make people feel like they're scrolling through Instagram travel pages thinking about how everybody is having the time of their lives. But I guess I'm living proof that you can run a business and travel frequently if you want to. It's not the lifestyle for everyone, nor should it be, but if you want it, do the hard things nobody else is working on and solve big problems for your customers or clients.
Anyway, remote work for the win!
So...while we technically didn't reach any of these goals in 2018, we aimed for the stars and landed on a cloud. Definitely moved things forward and hoping for even more positive movement in 2019.They aimed for the stars and landed on a cloud. But what kind of cloud? Cumulus? Actinoform? Asperitas? I need more information... ☁️ #WordPress Click To Tweet
Speaking of which...
🎯 2019 goals. Let's go.
1. Increase LTV to >$7,000 & decrease churn to <4%
I don't really like to generalize rules to say that any business doing x will be successful. But this is about as close as I can get.
It feels like a pretty safe assumption that any business with high customer lifetime value and low churn will be successful. I can't really think of a non-example here.
That's why one of our biggest operational goals is to achieve a customer lifetime value of $7,000 next year. This year, LTV was ~$4,500 so we'll have to increase that substantially.
User churn this year was a hair over 5%. Revenue churn was almost 7%! We'll be aiming to minimize both in 2019 to keep customer retention high.
Thanks for the Stripe analytics, Baremetrics!
2. Team happiness metrics of 9/10
As WP Buffs has matured as a business this year, our team has discovered something that we believe will be vital to our success; a happy team correlates very highly with happy customers.
That's why as we continue to focus on customer happiness, we're going to put even more of an emphasis on employee happiness and effectiveness.
We're big fans of 15Five, the tool we use for weekly feedback and robust quarterly reviews. The 9/10 scores we want to achieve will be calculated based on answers to the following questions on a sliding scale:
- How happy are you working at WP Buffs?
- How manageable is your workload
- What do you think are your strongest skills and how valued are they at WP Buffs?
We're not just aiming for happy employees but a team that feels like their strengths and contributions are making a difference. We want everybody to feel like they're a tangible part of something and having an impact, so that's what we'll be measuring and trying to achieve throughout 2019.
3. Attract 2,500 high-quality leads
This isn't just email subscribers or people asking for free WordPress help. We want to talk to 2,500 quality leads in 2019.
Caylin will be leading the charge here. She'll continue to push forward on the inbound marketing work we've been so successful with to this point. We consider this a big differentiator between us and other companies in our space, so we're going to keep pushing the envelope here.
As she works to improve that channel, she'll also be working in her areas of strength which are more tailored to social, influencer outreach, partnership work, and much, much more video.
This will all come to fruition in 2019, but the goal will be to double the number of qualified leads we talked to in 2018.
4. Reach $83,333 MRR
That's right. We want to become a $1M ARR business in 2019.
This is a milestone that many maintenance businesses have struggled to reach. I'm confident we'll get there with Nick and Dean fully managing day-to-day operations, Caylin rocking marketing, and sales and our ridiculously talented Technical Buffs taking care of our customers and partners.
Joe, WTF. You know this is just a vanity metric, right??
Yeah, I know. You're totally right. I'd rather run a $500K revenue business with $250K of costs than a $1M revenue business with $950K of costs. No doubt about that.
But if we're going to have a significant impact in the WordPress space and make a dent in the universe, we have to pass the $1M mark. It's just one of the stepping stones we have to hit if we're going to be the very best technical partner in the WordPress space.
So we're gonna hit it. Onward and upward!Big goals for 2019 from this team. With ambitions this lofty, they'll need to give it everything they've got. And then some! 👊 #WordPress Click To Tweet
🙏🏾 People to thank
We would never have made it this far without these people. I couldn't possibly thank every single person who's helped me along the way so if you're not included here, don't think you didn't help us. You totally did and I love you.
Sterling. She's the best. What else can I say? Ster - you've supported me since day one and none of this would have been possible without you believing in me more than I ever did. I love you. Embarrassing phone background photo of Sterling in a onesie, activateeeeeee!
Syed Balkhi. Thanks, man! You gave me a lot of time and attention this year and I really appreciate it. You helped me tremendously in making changes that have benefited WP Buffs and introduced me to some really impressive people. Thanks, man!
The entire Give team. You guys seriously rock! I look forward to hanging with you at every WordCamp I go to and you embody the generosity of the WordPress space. Had a blast with you all this year!
Channing Allen and Courtland Allen. Thanks to you two for running the incredible Indie Hackers community. Having other African American founders I can look up to keeps me going so thanks for being a guiding light. Keep rocking it, guys!
Channing and I chatted on the WPMRR WordPress Podcast as well and he gets into the gritty details of bootstrapping one of the best startup communities online from scratch.
Rob Walling and Mike Taber. Thanks for throwing the almighty MicroConf. I learned so much at growth edition this year to help me grow a productized service business my head almost exploded. You're heroes, both of you!
Christie Chirinos. Holy shit, did we really not know each other a year ago? What the fuck! That's crazy. Anyway, you're the best and we're gonna make this podcast required listening!
Adam Warner. For anybody who hates WP Buffs, it's all Adam's fault. He's the one who told Nick he should apply to work here, which was pretty much the catalyst of all our success. You're the man, Adam!
Our customers. You are why WP Buffs exists. Thanks for joining us on this wild ride together (and wearing our raspberry tees). We have lots of big plans in store for you in 2019 to make WordPress even less of a headache. Stay tuned!
Honeylou, Jason, Helen, Laraine, Diego, Mario, Rafael, Toyin, Alfredo, Brenda, Nick, Dean, and Caylin. This whole thing we're doing - it's really hard. I wouldn't want anybody else by my side. Teamwork makes the dream work!
You for reading this. You made it all the way to the end of this? Damn, you're crazy. Crazy awesome. Thanks for being a rockstar!📈 WP Buffs actually did pretty well in 2018. Hope they don't blow it in 2019! 😂 #WordPress Click To Tweet
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Hi! It means a lot to me that you wanted to know who wrote this. I’m the Head Buff at WP Buffs. I also run WPMRR, a robust video course that teaches WordPress professionals how to implement, sell and execute ongoing care plans for their clients and increase their revenue every single month. Or if you want some freebies, check out our free speed and security ebooks, webinars for WordPress professionals, WordPress blog or WordPress podcast all about building monthly recurring revenue. Boom!