Photo by Benjamin Davies on Unsplash

It’s been a while since I’ve shared anything from behind the scenes here at WPStrands.  Rest assured I’ve been working away. Testing, experimenting and generally working on growing a bootstrapped business.

In this post, I’ll touch on the main efforts I’ve made to stabilise and grow the business of WPStrands.

As any business owner will tell you, getting that magical balance between client work and business work is all important. It’s probably the most difficult part of the whole journey,  especially so for bootstrappers.

The Things We Do

Our aim at WPStrands, as always, is to help as many beleaguered business owners as possible. Specifically, to help them deal with the technology underlying their business.

To do that, I’ve tried a lot of things in the past ten months. Most of them didn’t work out like I hoped. But some of them did …

1. Unicorn Exchange

unicorn exchange logo

I joined the Unicorn Exchange through a contact from a previous group I’d been in. It involved mentoring and setting weekly tasks as well as a community element.

I always work toward goals and definite targets. But having someone I was accountable to stressed that. Growing a bootstrapped business and working alone, this is often what’s missing and it’s something I overlook a lot of the time.

A unique part of the program was the Game. You “play” by trying to keep your promises to yourself and you get a score based on weekly progress. If you don’t reach a score of 70% each week, you’re out of the program!  A great and innovative way to track progress.

Lauren, who runs the program, was great. She has far more experience with online businesses than I do and that showed in our weekly calls. She somehow managed to really keep me focused on what mattered.

Lauren Andrews Unicorn Exchange
Lauren Andrews of Unicorn Exchange

My focus at this time was on generating traffic through advertising, something I did try, reluctantly. (See Facebook ads further down.)

I didn’t have a clear idea what exactly I needed to do and hoped the program would give me that answer.  But there are no easy answers – every business needs to figure that out for themselves.

The community aspect of the group wasn’t as active as it could have been.  Few people took part in the daily check-ins and thus had little or no accountability.

Eventually, I declined to sign up for a third semester with the group because I wasn’t getting results in terms of client growth. But the program definitely helped me set the sail in the right direction.

2. Courage and Clarity Group Intensive

Early last year Steph (of the Fizzle show) was kind enough to give me some feedback on my early posts. Steph was actually the very first person to comment on my blog!

Steph Crowder

I joined her Courage and Clarity group for eight weeks of intense work on the business.  This was a great group, full of motivation and enthusiasm. As the only male in the group I wasn’t at all intimidated. Not really.

During this time I felt I honed in on what I was actually delivering and my site improved much in these eight weeks. I reworked the WPStrands offerings so that they now make more sense, both to me and to prospective clients.

I was particularly (and unexpectedly) impressed at how far my writing progressed in this time. This was thanks to Steph’s relentless insistence on working and reworking my message. This was where I managed to get clear on what WPStrands was trying to say to people, and more importantly, how to say it.

I’m still in contact with members of the group, most of whom are still carrying on with their online businesses.

I think the group was more beneficial to people just starting out. My results from this period were disappointing;  I got one new client during the eight weeks. But this was again entirely down to me.

The huge benefit I got from Steph’s group was going back to basics. I spent a lot of time looking at the tasks I was doing and learning to focus only on the two or three that were most important.

For example, my lead magnet is the first piece of content visitors get when they sign up. And it wasn’t very good. So, I spent a lot of time getting that right rather than figuring out what to do with contacts once they were on my list. So that was a big win.

I learned to strip away what’s not important and that has been a crucial learning experience. It’s amazing how many things you do every day that don’t have an immediate impact on your business.

3. Facebook advertising

As I mentioned before, the problem with ads is that you are completely reliant on the whims of the advertising company. This is not what you need when growing a bootstrapped business. Everything you should be in your control as much as possible.

Half-way through my ad experiments, Facebook changed the demographics that were available to me here in Europe. I was targeting US businesses and suddenly I was only allowed to see a few demographics for German visitors.  Nothing at all for US visitors.

There was much back and forth with their support team. Facebook finally told me that it was due to US-EU regulations and that there was nothing I could do.  

Being very specific in my targeting was impossible and it convinced me, again, that advertising was not for me. It also infuriated me that I was at such a disadvantage to US competitors. I could only think, “how dare you, Facebook!”

Now, there could be ways around this. I could create a new Facebook account based in the US and pretend that’s where I’m based. But I’m not going to jump through such hoops to top up the coffers at Facebook.

4. A Big Customer

I’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of work for a big corporate client. This company is a market leader in their industry and has 25,000 employees.

The project was to help develop and maintain twenty-nine WordPress sites for a new marketing campaign. So, lots of website development and infrastructure work to be done.

A nice place to work from …

But over the months the project decreased in scope from the original twenty-nine websites to the current two sites. This was a big blow but I understand how priorities shift in corporations of this size.

I fine-tuned processes during this time and to be honest I really enjoyed it. At times it reminded me of being back in the corporate world but ultimately I was still my own boss.

Of cours, there are always pros and cons.  While my earnings were great, it also took a lot of time away from other business activities. I was in effect working in the business, almost exclusively, and that’s no good for progress.

5. Blogging

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

While busy with the above I was still practising writing, almost daily. I was getting good feedback and felt I was getting better.

I also noticed that a post I had spent a lot of time on a few months previously had started generating a bit of traffic.  So I decided to knuckle down and write. Another important lesson – focus on what’s working!

Almost immediately I saw the effect on traffic and feedback from clients and visitors. Content marketing still works and it works incredibly well over the long term. It also gives something of real value to your site visitors. Crucial for building trust!

I had always felt content marketing might suit me. I’m not someone who loves to get in front of a camera and shout out to the masses. I even find it hard to open up with posts like this one and show my vulnerable side. I prefer to work in the background.

With blogging, this is exactly what I now get to do.

I choose blog topics carefully and I spend a lot of time on the SEO of individual posts.

The result has been that traffic doubled month after month for the first few months. That’s eased off now but it’s still growing well, as is the email list.

Traffic

WPStrands traffic growth as a result of blogging

Bounce rate

The accompanying bounce rate on the WPStrands site

6. Building Skills

I’ve learned some very valuable skills these past 6 months:

SEO

Not the SEO theory that you read about over and over again. I’ve learned the plain truth about what works – for my particular site – and what doesn’t.

Website Optimisation

I’ve always been pretty good at speeding up sites. In the past few months, some client problems meant I had to dive deep to get to the root of performance problems. As a result, I can now say that I’m an expert at performance optimisation.

Writing

A hell of a lot of information online is still consumed through reading. Being able to write in a clear and engaging way is as valuable
nowadays as ever.

Email Marketing

I’m just starting with this but I’ve learned a lot about using Active Campaign and how to track what’s happening on my site. I’ve a much better idea of what people are doing and what they want more of.

For an excellent training video on ActiveCampaign see this video from Jordan Arsenault. The first half covers the entire ActiveCampaign interface; the second half covers actual use cases and is the best training I’ve found.

Obviously, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to get people to sign up to the mailing list.

Content Upgrades have been working pretty well.  I’ve converted the blog’s most popular posts to a PDF and added discrete opt-in buttons throughout the post.  This has had the best results so far, though I’m always A-B testing to improve conversion rates.

I’m also testing various other signup forms like slide-ins and in-content forms. But so far content upgrades are where it’s happening.

Cold emailing

To be honest I haven’t stuck with this long enough to see realistic results. But I do think it’s an avenue worth venturing down.

The problem I’ve had here is a cultural one. The scripts recommended online that are “guaranteed” to work might work in the U.S. They most certainly do NOT work here in Europe. In fact, I’m amazed they work at all, anywhere.

The “I-love-what-you’re-doing-here’s-something-that-might-interest-you” approach hasn’t worked for me so far.

When I get such cold emails they turn me off right away, but maybe that’s because I see them for what they are, having tried them myself.

When growing a bootstrapped business, being genuine works and it’s what I’ll be focusing on.

7. Events

The story of how I learned to put my face out there as an introvert business owner is a funny one.

At Web Summit in Lisbon last year I  met a girl from the US during a lunch break. She asked what I’d been doing over the few days at the conference. As I answered her I realised that I hadn’t been actively meeting people at all. I was just attending talks and sessions.

She insisted I get in front of people and she didn’t take no for an answer. Dragging me, literally, to the nearest company booth, she had me talk about myself, about the company and what we were doing etc.

It was hell the first three or four times. She’d introduce me to the person at the booth and say “I’ll let Seán explain more…” and there I was, on the spot!

She used all those terms I thought I’d left behind forever in the corporate world. “We’re interested in forming working synergies between our companies.” and “leveraging our mutual expertise”. And they loved it.

Then she left me, making me promise to talk to fifty people over the remaining two days!  I didn’t manage the fifty. But I did manage to talk to twenty eight new people about myself, my company and what I wanted.

Doing that helped me clarify what I wanted to say. I even have a few relationships still going from those encounters!  So thank you again, Ana!

I also started (finally) putting my face out there at WordPress events. Both here in Switzerland and internationally. This where I meet people doing the same thing as me; people trying to make a difference to those using the most popular website platform in the world.

8. This and That

Hiring

As part of focusing ON the business rather than IN it, I hired a WordPress specialist to do the day to day techie stuff. The updates, backups, security and performance checks and so on.

Needless to say, this has freed up a lot of time – way more than I could have anticipated. Of course, the number one task remains to keep clients happy as much as possible. But now I can focus on the most important things from a business point of view.

It’s funny that this is exactly what I’m encouraging clients to do – delegate. Yet it took until now for me to do it for my own business.

Accountability Partners

I also teamed up with some accountability partners I met in various groups online over the past year. The outcome of these relationships shows what a tough path entrepreneurs are travelling;  there’s not a single one of those contacts still building their own business.

I’ve met and worked with some great people who have tried so hard but ultimately couldn’t make it work it and quit. This isn’t a path for everyone.

The number one problem I see? It takes a huge amount of energy to sort through the huge amount of advice and misinformation out there. What works for one person often doesn’t work for another. And that takes its toll on motivation and confidence.

Where WPStrands is now

Surprise… it’s another crossroads!

Photo by Javier Allegue Barros on Unsplash

So, lots learned but unfortunately not a lot of progress made in terms of client acquisitions!  But I’m more optimistic than ever. We’re poised now for the next piece of the puzzle – marketing for growth.

I need to get the WPStrands name out there. Really out there. I need to educate people: running a website for their business is not something they have to do by themselves.

And I’m more convinced than ever that they shouldn’t be doing it themselves.

I always go back to the car analogy. No one thinks twice about paying for car insurance or paying a qualified mechanic to take care of their car.

A website needs constant care. Business owners shouldn’t have to worry about the technologies underlying their business. They have enough to do and should be able to focus on that, not the tech stuff.

We can do that for them at a low cost. Believe me, it is low compared to trying to do it yourself if you aren’t an expert and that’s the message I need to get out there.

The day will come when serious business owners won’t think twice about handing off their technical work to an expert. But that day isn’t here yet.

Conclusion

So that’s brought you up to date. We’re in a solid place and now ready to grow. It’s apparent to me now the truth in the statement “If you never stop you will get there.”

If you’ve any ideas on how best I can get there, then I promise, I’m all ears! I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments …

You can learn more about what we’re doing on the blog, or let me know what you think of our plans.

  • by Seán
  • |
  • September 4, 2018
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Seán - September 7, 2018 Reply

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