WP Buffs 2020 year in review

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Howdy! Joe here.

Another year come and gone. And as always, this year has been a unique experience for me and the team here.

Before we get started, I know what you’re thinking. And I think this gif sums it up pretty well.

2020explosion

In some ways, I’m right there with you. 2020 was a real sucker punch.

But through the absolute shitshow that this year brought us, it also opened up me and our team to some special moments that I’m thankful for.

It’s easy to simply want to fire 2020 directly into the sun and call it a day, but I’m going to try my best to keep this article positive. It’s realistic to think about the last 12 months as a complete catastrophy. That being said, it’s important to stay positive and take some positive vibes into 2021.

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 2020 goals and if we hit them.
  • Our 2021 goals.

As always, 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.

Alright. Let’s do this.

P.S. I did yearly reviews for 2017 and 2018 too. Got lazy and didn’t do one in 2019. Sorry. 

😵 Screw ups of 2020

1. I moved too quickly

Nick and I are a great team and have been for years now. He has full control over operations and I help push sales and marketing forward.

But in some ways, we’re very opposite! The biggest example of this is I like to move quickly and am OK with us making a few mistakes along the way. Nick is more reserved and likes to have a roadmap and detailed plan before pulling the trigger.

There have been a few times this year where I moved forward on projects without really involving Nick. In my head, I thought there were just some things I didn’t want to bother Nick with because he didn’t need to be kept in the loop. He’s already pretty busy; why should I put more on his plate?

But it turns out I really do need to make sure Nick’s aware of just about everything going on across the business. Almost any change or project going on at WP Buffs will affect operations at some point, so sooner or later, Nick will at least need a heads up.

Solution I’m working on: when in doubt, give Nick a heads up sooner rather than later. Better for Nick to know something he didn’t need to and squirrel it away than not let Nick know something potentially important when it may be too late.

Our whole team is finishing up our end-of-year self- and manager-reviews. In my own self-review, I said one of my areas of improvement is making sure I don’t let myself get overly excited and move too quickly, but listen to Nick more often since he’s often my voice of reason. So I’ll be working on that!

Nick

2. Not enough cross team collaboration

This somewhat parallels the challenge above. As our team has grown this year (pssst, we’re hiring!), we’ve done a decent job developing a solid organizational chart. 

The challenge we started to face was that a lot of folks didn’t know what was going on across the business. When we were a smaller team, this happened naturally because folks were handling multiple roles and cross team collaboration happened because many folks were simply representingn multiple teams.

But as we’ve grown the number of folks on the team, people have become more specialized in their areas and cross team collaboration isn’t as natural as it once was.

This was a big problem! How is our marketing team promote our care plans and white-label program on wpbuffs.com if they don’t know important operational changes happening that they can convey to potential customers? How can our sales team set proper expectations for new customers if they’re not regularly in touch with our customer success team?

Solution we’re working on: there are a few things we’re trying right now to do better here.

  • We’ve created a #cross-team-collaboration Slack channel where managers of sections are posting updates weekly.
  • We’re trying to keep managers in charge of cross team collaboration as well so that most of it happens at that level and managers can disperse that information to their teams.
  • Allie is also thinking about a weekly “newsletter” that’s a big update for our whole team from the last week. Documentation updates, new projects we’re working on, upcoming birthdays, marketing, sales and operational changes we all need to be aware about, etc.

And even with these things we’re working to improve, our team is still motivated and rocking it!

3. Acquisitions started too slowly

As you may already be aware, WP Buffs launched an acquisition unit earlier this year. We’ll most likely announce our first purchase in early 2021 so stay tuned.

Our team acquires 4- to 5-figure/mo WordPress business of all shapes and sizes. If this piques your interest, we’re here to chat!

In all honesty, we launched the page without having much structure behind the actual process of acquiring other WordPress businesses. I just figured we had the expertise to get it figured out (I could attract sellers and support the negotiation, our CFO Ben could manage the finances, our offer and the due diligence, and Nick could understand everything from an operational standpoint and assess/oversee that transition).

Turns out there’s a lot of systems, documentation and systems around making this process efficient and effective. I knew this would be the case, but I underestimated how much we’d need in place to make this process smooth. This alongside the many conversations we had to have in Slack before every email was sent to a seller caused delayed emails and lots of wasted time.

AcquisitionChatter

Additionally, we knew there would probably be complex reasoning behind why folks wanted to sell their care plan business or blog. One thing we definitely learned during the process of chatting with ~10 acquisition leads this year is that people want to talk about the financial terms of the deal.

In my initial calls, I hadn’t been talking about this as much since our team had decided that would be part of the conversation when things got more serious.

But we actually found having this conversation sooner and setting financial expectations during initial calls made sure both parties were aware if we were on the same page or not. That way we could move forward knowing we could potentially strike a deal or that it wasn’t the deal the seller was looking for (this has happened a few times).

Solutions we’re working on: discuss during initial potential acquisition calls what kind of offer they can expect (example: 1x year of monthly profits). We’ve also built out a lot of documentations and systems behind acquisitions so we’re ready to hit the ground running in 2021.

😎 Successes of 2020

1. Response to COVID-19

Putting Covid under your successes? WTF, Joe??

Yeah, I know. But it really is more about the response which I’m extremely proud of our team for.

Around March and April, as the world’s response to C-19 got really serious and shutdowns were rampant, we had plenty of folks try to churn out of their WP Buffs subscriptions. Folks were having to cut costs and for our customers without enough savings, some were forced to manage their own websites.

Lucky for us, Dean and Louise on our customer success team stepped in to focus big time on churn reduction. For select folks who wanted to cancel, they offered account “pauses” instead of “cancellations” so that their care plans would kick back in after 3 months automatically if they could afford it again.

They also offered deep discount to some folks in dire need. We’re not big as a company on discounts, but we wanted to help folks keep their websites updated and secure, even if we weren’t helping with ongoing website edits. This allowed us to keep accounts active and increase the lifetime value of our customer base over the year.

I also have to give a big shout out to Alexis and Travis on our sales team. As lockdowns were getting more serious, we had a flood of new sales come in from people who wanted to double down on digital. 

This bump in sales lined up with the launch of our new website and branding and really helped us have a high sales, low churn summer.

Our team has also done a good job adjusting to COVID-19 this year.

  • We kept everybody updated (and had some fun) in our #covid19 Slack channel.
  • We’re trying to do more informal Zoom calls, like our first holiday party this December. Should be fun!
  • We gave select folks on our team 100% reimbursed BetterHelp accounts to make sure people on our team who need it have access to licensed mental health support.
  • We’ve also been trying to keep updated with the policies around the world and doing what we can as a leadership team to keep everybody safe. To be honest, we put this page up earlier this year and never really updated it. Also it’s exhausting to try to track COVID-19 for everybody on our remote team. So in reality, our policy for everyone is, “be safe, don’t do anything stupid and let us know if you need help with anything.” We do try to be as proactive as possible with support but it requires a lot of bandwidth!

Overall it’s definitely been a tough year but our team has been pleasantly determined to make the most of it.

CovidSlack

2. Hired good people

One of the biggest impacts I can have on the success of WP Buffs is bringing in humble, hungry and smart people to be part of the team.

Lots of great folks joined up this year.

  • Alec Wines: Head of Growth
  • Alexis Pickett: Affiliate Manager & Sales Associate
  • Allie Nimmons: Community Manager
  • Catríona O’Neill: WordPress Engineer
  • Ernesto Montejo: WordPress Engineer
  • Francisco Neira: WordPress Engineer
  • Francisco Garay: WordPress Engineer
  • Jullian Mallare: WordPress Engineer
  • Louise Piotrowski: Customer Success Manager
  • Meghan Bates: Social Media Manager
  • Patrick Kongawi: WordPress Engineer
  • Shaykara Waajid: People Ops Manager
  • Towhid Islam: WordPress Engineer
  • Travis Lima: Sales Associate

Woah. Just looking at this list of 14 now and realizing we hired more than one person a month. I didn’t realize that until right now. Crazy!

We did have some hiccups around hiring but overall, we definitely had a successful year bringing new folks on to the team in 2020.

3. Started our docs library

Previously, we kept all of our systems and processes in Teamwork Projects Notebooks, Google Drive docs, Slack, and our heads! And that’s been fine as we’ve scaled and pivoted to tackle new challenges.

But as our team grew this year and new positions were created, we realized that a more solid system for docs is increasingly important. 

We started using Confluence to store and organize internal documentation from all departments. As I write this, our docs library is 90% done and will be launched to the team in January! It was a huge undertaking, but will pay off in more ways than one in 2021, since new and existing employees will now have a centralized place to go to get all the deets on their role.

 

4. Hit $1M ARR

After seeing all the full- and part-time hires we made this year, it’s true we did have a good year financially.

I’m doing these calculations in early November. So I’m projecting a bit but the math estimates check out.

Jan-Nov 2020, we earned $893,800.

If I multiply this number by 12/11, it will give us my back-of-the-napkin projection for our total 2020 Stripe revenue. That comes out to $975,055.

PayPalNov2020

Now, PayPal. $52,134 earned Jan-Nov. Multiply by 12/11 and we get a total 2020 PayPal revenue of $56,873.

Stripe revenue + PayPal revenue = $975,055 + $56,873 = $1,031,928.

Our total revenue in 2018 was ~$376,000. That’s almost revenue 300% growth over the past 2 years. Nice!

5. We hosted a virtual summit

Hopefully we saw you there! If not, we hosted the first annual WPMRR Virtual Summit in September, an online conference 100% focused on helping folks make monthly recurring revenue work for their WordPress business.

I won’t go into much detail here because Allie did a super detailed review of it here. TL;DR, it was a great experience, we delivered some killer content (that’s free to watch on YouTube), we raised $1,000 for Lawyers for Good Government and we’re excited to make it even better in 2021.

6. We started investing heavily into video

I already mentioned our new. YouTube channel above, but it’s got more than conference talks there.

Allie has been posting weekly tutorial videos to supplement some of the content we’ve already written about on our blog and lots of the questions and feedback we get around challenges people have with WordPress.

In addition to those videos, we started a weekly video series called WPAMA. Every week, Allie takes questions from the WordPress community about a specific topic, then sits down with an expert to answer them. It’s been fantastic for the growth of the channel, and a fun way for us to give educational value back into the community.

It’s been fantastic to see this channel come to life see our analytics continue to steadily improve since we launched the channel in July.

And a 6.6% click-through rate? Wow! That means folks are videos are doing a good job enticing people to take action by clicking links in the descriptions.

7. We did some good in the world

We had a generous year when it came to supporting organizations that are making the world a better place.

Tech By Choice, The A11Y Project, and Mother Coders were a few of the projects we decided to support in 2020. We also raised $1,000 for Lawyers for Good Government through the WPMRR Virtual Summit and funded students at Spandana.

We also got to sponsor a cool project called Underrepresented In Tech. If you’re underrepresented, add yourself to our database. If you’re looking to diversify contributions to your project, search the database to find some talented folks.

Folks on our team also volunteered time to contribute to the WordPress 5.6 release. Awesome!

8. I spent my first year as a WPDad

While everything you’ve read above was happening, I was doing my dad thing!

Morrison turns 1 in December and it’s made this quite a memorable year.

I have a lot to say about how being a dad has affected me as a worker, a CEO and a person in general. Probably too much to describe here. In fact, more details in this podcast episode.

I think my most important takeaway from the Buffs side of things is that spending lots of time with your family and a new baby isn’t mutually exclusive to running a successful business.

Make the proper preparations, put the time in before you start a family, and put the right people around you. I’m hopeful other who are reading this and thinking about having a family will take this to heart and know that spending lots of time with family is not a roadblock to growing a succesful business.

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🎯 2020 goals. Did we hit them?

Remember when I said I didn’t do a 2019 year in review? That’s because this time last year, Morrison was almost here and I was too busy wrapping up other projects to write this article.

And that means I didn’t really have any goals for 2020. The conversation I had with myself was that I wanted to spend a lot of time with my new son and that having work goals might interrupt that.

Plus, the rest of the team all have data-driven objectives and results they want to achieve all logged, tracked and measured, so it’s not as if team goals were being sacrificed.

I pretty much decided to let the team handle stuff the first half of this year and jump back in to simply help them keep things rolling. 

If you were expecting to read this section to hold me accountable to the goals I set late last year, joke’s on you! Clearly we did pretty well this year and I got to spend an incredible first year with Mo. so maybe the lesson here is I need to continue to trust the great team that’s been assembled and let them do the goal setting, chasing and achieving while keeping big-picture vision stuff under my prevue? 

Then around November, our leadership team started making big plans for 2021 and it got us all totally pumped for for next year. So for next years big, hair audacious goals, read on!

🎯 2021 goals. Let’s go.

I’m not going to lie; my decision not to set goals for 2020 seems like it was the right one. It made my life a bit more relaxed and allowed other folks around me to take accountability for their own results.

But I’d like to get back in the saddle this year and set some goals for 2021. The team has some big plans for next year and here’s where we’d like to announce them.

1. Shape our company culture around our new mission

We’ve always been very mission-driven here at WP Buffs.

For the last 5 years, our mission has been: to help as many website owners and digital agencies with WordPress as possible. The goal is to get so many people comfortable with WordPress that it powers 51% of the internet.

As the years have gone by, the company has changed. We’ve matured in many areas and have a collection of new folks on the team.

And as the world changes around us, it’s time to sunset our old mission and present a new one to our team and the WordPress community.

WP Buffs’ mission starting January 1, 2021: To create unforgettable experiences that positively impact every community we connect with.

There are a few reasons I love our new mission:

  • It’s short, sweet and easy to remember. This is something folks need to be able to very easily keep in their head!
  • It helps unite our entire team under a single, positive direction. That gives us a much better chance to move forward together, step by step.
  • It will help when it comes to hiring new team members. We have to feel like people will live and breath this mission or they’re probably not a great fit to work here.

At the end of the day, we want WP Buffs to be a company that leaves the world just a little better than we found it.

That means trying to have a lasting, positive impact on whoever we work with, whether it’s website owners, white-label agency or freelancer partners, affiliate partners, a WordPress business we acquire, or just somebody asking for some website help.

2. Launch 2 new care plans

These are already in the works and we plan to launch these in the Q1 or Q2 of 2021.

  • Design Plan: Design requests are one of the most common for us.  We’ll be launching this subscription to fully cover the digital design needs of any business.
  • Growth Plan: The other most common request we get that we can’t help customers with is growth. This new plan will include everything in our Perform Plan. In addition, it will include an array of plugins and tools to help our customers with audience and traffic growth with the option to add-on a) monthly 1-on-1 calls to help folks grow their websites, and b) an SEO subscription to manage organic traffic campaigns.

Want to join our team?

We’re planning to make a full-time hire to bring add-on SEO services for our Growth Plan. We’re looking for folks who are entrepreneurial, have proven experience managing multiple SEO campaigns concurrently and can scale SEO services at WP Buffs with minimal oversight.
  • If this sounds like you, please shoot a quick Loom video explaining why you’re a good fit for this position and post it into the livechat icon at the bottom of this page
  • If you know somebody who would be a good position for this, please post their name and contact information into livechat and earn up to a $1,000 referral bonus

3. Launch traditional agency model

Another request we receive very often but refer out to partners is support for business around branding and new website design & development.

We plan to change that in 2021. We’ll be implementing a more traditional agency under WP Buffs to help folks build new website or rebuild existing sites.

Want to join our team?

We’re planning to make a full-time hire OR partner with select freelancers or agencies to make this a reality. We’re looking for folks who are entrepreneurial, have proven experience managing multiple website projects concurrently and can grow this traditional agency under WP Buffs with minimal oversight.
  • If this sounds like you, please shoot a quick Loom video explaining why you’re a good fit for this position and post it into the livechat icon at the bottom of this page
  • If you know somebody who would be a good position for this, please post their name and contact information into livechat and earn up to a $1,000 referral bonus

4. Do more for our team

This is a pretty amorphous goal and admittedly not very data-driven. But that’s kindof the point. I don’t know how I want to continue to support folks on the team in 2021 but I know I want to do more.

Now that we have a People Ops / HR Manager, we’ll continue to push forward supporting people as working professionals and regular people in that old fashion pursuit of happiness.

Although 2020 has been a monumental challenge, in some ways it’s been a fantastic year. Folks on our team did a lot. They got married, climbed huge rock faces, went surfing (hang ten), had new babies (a few of us did), visited rad temples, and did much more.

We’re a customer-focused company. But our leadership is team-focused. If our managers can focus on their teams being happy, healthy and value-driven, we’ll crush it for our customers.

That’s why I plan to work directly with Shay to make sure WP Buffs is known as one of the best companies in the WordPress space to work for. Pssst…we’re hiring!

Wrapping up

Well…that’s it.

That was one doozy of a year.

Here’s to a less chaotic 2021.

Mask up, stay safe and catch you next year. Onward and upward!

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