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2020 Year in Review

December 30, 2020 Year Review

I’ve previously written year in review posts over on my personal blog, but as the majority of content is about my projects and work, I’ve ported them over to this site which you can read here.

2020 has been a strange old year and it almost didn’t feel right to reflect on what has gone well this year amidst the backdrop of the global pandemic. However, I’ve been writing these reviews since 2012 and still find them useful to reflect on the year just past, so here goes.

Projects

Alongside my client work I have a number of side projects that are slowly starting to generate healthy revenue streams.

WP User Manager

After acquiring the WP User Manager plugin last year, I decided to make it a large focus for 2020 as it has the most growth potential of any of my projects.

It’s been a busy year that has ended with excellent growth in revenue which I’m delighted with. It’s great seeing the constant hard work starting to pay off.

I’ll be writing a full recap post of the last 15 months of running WP User Manager soon.

Here are the highlights of the year:

  • Annual revenue – 2020 up 130% vs 2019
  • Monthly revenue – December 2020 up 330% vs December 2019
  • Total sessions – 2020 up 417% vs 2019
  • Organic sessions – 2020 up 473% vs 2019
  • 6 new addons released
  • 21 releases of the core plugin
  • Redesigned the site with fresh new copy

Intagrate

Entering 2020, I knew I had to work on changing my Instagram WordPress plugin Intagrate to work with the new Facebook API as they were shutting down the legacy Instagram API on 31st March 2020. I left it to the last minute and spent a good chunk of March busting a gut to get the integration refactored and run the gauntlet of API app approval with Facebook which was painful. It served me right, because just as I got it all released in time, Facebook postponed the shutdown due to the rise of COVID-19!

But I was glad to get it done and relieved the plugin’s life would continue.

I started working with an SEO freelancer to help work on marketing the plugin outside of the wordpress.org free plugin marketing channel.

With a combination of on-site SEO improvements, some good backlink acquisition through friends within the WordPress blog world, and content marketing, the plugin’s traffic grew and it had a better year of revenue than 2019.

I also started planning a version that would be compatible with the Facebook API for Business and Creator Instagram accounts, and will be working on a new UI and rewrite for the free and premium versions in 2021.

Here’s the stats for the year:

  • Annual revenue – 2020 up 30% vs 2019
  • Total sessions – 2020 up 65% vs 2019
  • Organic sessions – 2020 up 210% vs 2019
  • 5 releases for the pro version and 7 for the free version

Plugin Rank

Plugin Rank is a new project I started in 2020 during lockdown when I had plenty of other things to do and didn’t need any more distractions. Despite this, I built and launched a SaaS application to help WordPress plugin developers track their plugin positions for keywords in wordpress.org search results.

It’s like Ahrefs for WordPress developers, who want to get their plugins higher up rankings in WordPress search results, and hopefully get more users of their freemium plugins and eventually hand over money for the premium version.

I talk about the story behind it on this episode of Pressing Matters. It’s built with Laravel and Vue.js which are technologies I’ve dabbled with but never mastered fully enough to execute and launch an app with. This was part of the challenge and attraction for me with Plugin Rank, along with building something to scratch an itch and help me grow my freemium plugins.

I started building it in May, managed to acquire the domain (and the Twitter handle with it), bought a great looking Bootstrap dashboard theme, and spent some funds on a Laravel developer from Upwork to help push the development forward, and eventually launched it in August.

https://twitter.com/PluginRank/status/1290938559218712576

I’m really proud of it and what I’ve managed to put together during a difficult period. Now I have another side project that requires development, maintenance, marketing and growing!

I’m excited for 2021 and adding more features that will add even more value for customers.

Some Plugin Rank stats:

  • $3.2k total revenue
  • $800 MRR
  • 26 customers
  • 1 acquisition offer
  • Some major plugin shops and companies using it
  • 295 customer plugins tracked
  • 856 customer keywords monitored
  • WP Tavern coverage

WP Content

The theme for me for 2020 was definitely ‘too much on my plate’, so when the WordPress community news site managewp.org suddenly closed its doors at the end of June, it seemed like a crazy idea to try and launch a replacement site, right? Right??

I teamed up with Ashley Rich who works at Delicious Brains too, and we put the site together in a weekend using an off-the-shelf theme and plugin to handle the upvoting and launched it on the Monday.

I reached out to WordPress friends and people in my network to get some shares and exposure, and the launch went well. We even had the WP Tavern write about it which drove lots of traffic.

It’s a great site that I’m so glad we launched to fill the void managwp.org left, and it’s not a large amount of work to keep running. There’s a daily fight with spam signups and posting, but for the most part it’s hands off as I’ve automated daily tweeting of 5 popular articles and the weekly newsletter.

  • 745 members signed up
  • 1,113 articles posted
  • 2,281 upvotes on articles
  • 19 weekly newsletters sent

Ash recently replaced the native WordPress comments with his ReplyBox commenting system, and we’ve got plans redo the site with WP User Manager and a fresh theme in 2021.

Other Projects

Sellwire

I’ve been running Sellwire, an ecommerce platform ever since I acquired it in 2015 because it was the way I sell Intagrate. I’ve never been focused on growing or developing it further than anything that might help me sell my plugin.

Somehow, with a combination of some good backlinks and the pandemic that meant more people were looking for ways to sell online, Sellwire had a mini growth spurt!

  • $2.7k annual revenue (5,000% up from 2019)
  • $486 MRR (5,300% up from 2019)
  • New site design

Delorean Ipsum

In July I was approached with an offer to purchase the deloreanipsum.com domain.

Delorean Ipsum was a project I started in 2013 as a Lorem Ipsum jQuery plugin based on the Back to the Future script. The site had picked up some nice backlinks but I wasn’t using it to my advantage, so when an offer came in, and negotiated to $3,200 – it made sense to accept it.

Print Play Learn

Along with SEO improvements to my plugin sites, I also set about improving the SEO of my wife’s teaching resources site, Print Play Learn, which had taken a dip in rankings and traffic in 2019.

Along with the shift to home learning in 2020 which increased organic traffic, Michelle ran some impressive Facebook ad campaigns that, all in all managed to increase revenue for the year by 190% vs 2019.

Audience Building

I chatted to Tom Hirst on the Pressing Matters podcast, who has been building a large Twitter following this year as an authority on freelancing and helping to promote his offerings, and decided it would be a good idea to try and build up my own Twitter following within the WordPress space, specifically around plugin development.

I’m living and breathing WordPress plugin development in a professional sense at the moment and this would help tie in to getting more eyes on Plugin Rank.

I started tweeting more and deliberately in August, when I had 1,808 followers. I tweeted around 8-10 times a day with a mixture of development tips, opinions and long-form threads like this one

https://twitter.com/polevaultweb/status/1304053877436801026?s=20

It got the most impressions and engagements for any of my tweets:

But I also found that off-the-cuff opinion tweets resonated more with other people and got more shares:

I wasn’t sure of what to expect in terms of follower count growth, so had a target to reach 2k followers by the end of the year, but I reached that at some point in October and my tweeting frequency dropped as I realised it was a full time job. Well, almost.

I’ll be tweeting more in 2021 but not as much – follow me here.

Clients

Alongside my own projects I’ve continued to work for Delicious Brains this year. It’s been a very different year for various reasons. The biggest difference was the lack of company retreat. We were all set to visit Porto in Portugal for WordCamp Europe in June but this was sadly corona-cancelled. It meant that for the first time in 5 years I hadn’t met up in person with the people I work with everyday, which sucked.

I spent a lot of the year helping to hire new developers, as well as moving to my new role of Product Manager for our plugins. It’s been good to move away from development and hone other skills within product development.

I continued to work with Saturday Drive on the Ninja Forms File Uploads addon and put out 15 new releases.

Podcasting

Jack and I continued to record episodes of Pressing Matters, releasing 20 this year. We gained a long term sponsor in FastSpring, and interviewed some awesome folks.

I also appeared on an episode of the Matt Report, talking about the many projects I run, and I chatted pricing models with Brad Touesnard on the Delicious Brain Waves podcast.

Writing

I’ve been writing a lot less this year, and only publishing articles on the Delicious Brains blog, and a bit on here.

Some of my favourite articles from this year:

Personal

Of course the pandemic has had a big effect on everyones lives, and for me 2020 was no different. We had to temporarily close down the local WordPress meetup I help run, which was sad but also gave me some extra time to spend with the family.

I think that the lack of personal contact this year made me become even more sociable online. It’s been nice making more and more friends on Twitter in the WordPress space.

Lockdown in this e UK meant both our children were at home as schools and nurseries were closed. My wife and I were extremely fortunate not to have issues with our jobs, as both working online meant business as usual – if not busier!

But working from home with both children and online learning in the mix certainly came with a new set of challenges. I’m extremely grateful for my wife who shouldered the majority of the childcare whilst growing her own business.

I feel very fortunate for many things at this point. The fact we moved house in 2019 and weren’t trying to do the moving during the pandemic. The fact we are lucky enough to have a big garden for the children to enjoy all year round. The fact I have a job and projects that weren’t affected by the pandemic and even seemed to grow more this year. The fact that I have an amazing wife and awesome children.

Looking Ahead

I’ve been too busy this year, which is totally my fault. The pandemic was an enabler for me to overwork. Being grateful for working online made me feel like I had to make the most of it, and therefore overworked, overcommitted and took on too much.

I need to improve my work life balance and slow down chasing growth. I’m also hoping to focus more and maybe slim down my list of side projects. Outsourcing development and support will be on the agenda for 2021.

I hope 2021 will see some form of normality return to our lives, but more importantly I hope it is a healthy and prosperous year for my family and me.

Iain Iā€™m a WordPress developer based on the south coast of England. I develop plugins like Intagrate and WP User Manager. I also run Plugin Rank to help WordPress plugin developers track their rankings in WordPress search results.
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