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Side-project: WordPress plugins - lessons learned

Discussion in 'Lessons from Success/Failure' started by Alex17, Dec 30, 2017.

  1. Alex17
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    Alex17 New Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane

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    Hi everyone!

    It's the end of a year, so I thought it's a good time to write some short summary of 2017 for myself. Not sure if it will be beneficial for many people, as my results are not really impressive, but you never know.

    TLDR: A short overview of my side project (yes, I have a day job, shame on me :blush:). Not really a success story, just some tiny recurring income, $700-800 per month on average during this first year. Project is selling one niche WordPress plugin on Envato market. Tried some approaches, failed at most, learned some lessons.

    First, some background. I'm 34yo male, living in Ukraine. Married, have an adorable 2yo (well, almost) daughter. Have a day job as a software developer (JavaScript/HTML/CSS) for some large multinational corporation. Have been working for different software companies for the last 5 years. Before that have been in "doing what you love" business - playing with the band(s) for 5 or 6 years. It was fun, but not really going anywhere. At the same time worked at "family business", which eventually closed two years ago. Nothing newsworthy, local music-related store. Before that learned computer science at the uni. Before that - school, kindergarten, birth, etc. Basically, my life in one paragraph.

    I've tried to start some side-projects/businesses during all my recent jobs, I think. Some were never finished, some were really second jobs (like freelancing), some never brought much money, some were just plain stupid, like selling sunglasses that were sold on every corner, and cheaper. But anyway, this post is about 2017, and in 2017 I've focused on one project, mostly, and it at least started to bring some small income. Interestingly, I started this one soon after finishing reading (actually listening to on Audible) The Millionaire Fastlane for the first time. It was on repeat for a couple of months after that. Great book, really changed (or started to change, as I'm really slow at changing :) ) my mind.

    So, the project is a WordPress plugin, which I sell on Envato market (if you're not familiar, just know it's the biggest marketplace for these kind of things). I don't post any links or name my plugin, as I don't want this to be considered advertising.

    In a nutshell, selling WordPress stuff on marketplace is not really Fastlane Business. It fails Control and Entry completely, it may even fail the Need in the future, as WordPress has some strong competitors in the CMS / "your site in a few clicks" area. The reason I'm doing this is I've been working as a developer for 2 years in a small studio working on this market, so I have some expertise in that. Plus, right now I cannot quit my day job, because I still have 2 years of mortgage, so I figured why not at least try to replace day job income (or part of it) with one from side project, so that quitting is more realistic when the time comes.

    Because I have this day job, I worked on project in the mornings. This usually means waking up at 5AM during week and working on weekends as well. Doable, but need to make some breaks every couple of months. Sleeping for only 6 hours is tough for me, don't know how those who sleep less even survive. So, when I go to work I usually have worked for 3-4 hours already. Strangely, this haven't affected day job in any way, on the contrary, I'm considered valuable employee, receive bonuses and all that (and even that yearly 5% raise, haha). Maybe writing more code at home helps, or maybe I'm just overqualified for this position.

    But writing a guide to being a successful employee is not the purpose of this post, so here is a list of what I've done and tried (not complete list, I've removed some extremely tedious stuff) during this year.

    First, in terms of development and support:
    • 20+ new version releases in total during 2017. Well, honestly this one took probably 70% of all my efforts this year. I think it worked quite well, as people liked some of the new features and updating frequently is a good thing for sales.
    • made admin area testdrive for plugin, which allows customers to fully test product before buying. This was a good move, definately reduced amount of pre-sale questions and I believe it's a good idea to show people what exactly they get after they pay their money.
    • lots of support questions handled (250+ comment threads + maybe 100+ email threads), all resolved. It's not that bad right now, actually, I usually answer couple of emails in the morning and some in the evening, but support is essentially what makes this project non-passive, so I plan to improve online documentation and other kinds of help available to users to reduce time I spend on it.
    • WordPress theme version of same product. Took 4 month of development, but I quite like the result. It is more user-oriented than plugin, as I've gained at least some experience in that, and it works quite fast. Theme still needs to be pushed to marketplace and this takes time (30 days in review queue on average and high rate of rejections). But even if it is not accepted after some resubmissions, I'm going to sell it on my site, as I really believe it has the edge - competitors are only offering a fraction of the features and at a higher price tag, so I'm sure it has potential.
    • some minor infrastructure scripts and tools setup to help with development, like git-ftp for pushing changes to multiple sites. My intention was to avoid buying paid services until I really must and use my knowledge (and time) instead. As a result, I only pay for hosting and Jira Cloud (which totally makes sense to me - it's familiar, cheap and works for my simple code planning tasks).
    Second, in marketing / SEO:
    Please note, that I had (have?) no idea what I'm doing in SEO / marketing, so don't laugh too hard.
    • hired some Remote SEO Expert from India to do SEO for site (-$150 per month, for 6 months, I think). Really a waste of time and money. This guy was writing some short chunks of keywords-filled texts/infographics, etc. Posted them on some obscure messagebords, that I'm sure nobody knows about. Stuff like that. He moved some keyword phrases to page 3 or 4, but that never really made any sales. So, big fail here.
    • done some (okay, lots of) "SEO work" myself, like registering on all possible social sites and adding links to my site in my profile, writing plugin-related technical articles on Medium (that received 10-20 views at most), silly stuff like that.
    • spent some money on AdWords. This one actually was not so bad, sometimes even resulted in no losses, hehe. I currently earn around $20 per sale, so there is not much room for high CPC, but I'll try experimenting with it. I feel like it's better for higher margined products, though.
    • spent some money on BuySellAds. Made 4 or 5 different banners. To me this was a complete waste of money.
    • tried to run Facebook ads, but they banned that account from using paid advertisements, because my card seemed suspicious to them for some reasons. Well, that's because I'm from Ukraine, I suppose. :) Anyway, I don't plan to use Facebook ads as I believe it's better suited for some mass-market products, than niche wordpress plugins. But I might be wrong.
    • YouTube - mostly plugin guides with keywords descriptions. Well, they have some views, but no comments or sales from YT, so nothing here, another fail.
    • Blog - mostly detailed descriptions of important new releases and 1 or 2 WP plugin-related posts. One of posts was hanging around page 3 of Google, so I think it's doable with right amount of effort, but only if you write regularly and really long informative posts, not some keyword-stuffed BS. I don't plan to continue this right now, as I don't have much time left for blogging right now + English is not my native language, as you've probably guessed from reading this, so it takes much more effort from me and the end result is uninspiring.
    • MailChimp mailing list. This was added much later, as I didn't believe anyone would subscribe without me first writing some cool content regularly or offering some free stuff for subscription. Got something around subscribers, nothing too impressive as well. As a side note, at some point I've started receiving some spam and found no option to block it in MailChimp, but it stopped after one day, so I've stopped investigating it. But it's strange if they don't handle it.
    • Social networks (twitter, facebook and google+). Same here, posted regular updates for a long time, but nothing serious, couple of people asked questions, but almost no sales.
    • Submitted plugin to various online directories. Some accepted it, most ignored me, but I never felt any result.
    • Submitted free/lite version to WordPress plugin repository. No result, after couple of months only 20 active installs. And this is typical number one advice for promoting paid plugins all over the internet, heh).
    • Published free version on github as well. Nothing happened.
    • Wrote to many bloggers offering plugin for review (offering free license and all that). Hardly any response, just some authors offering paid posts, but at this point I consider $300-400 for review is not worth it, because sales are not too high.
    As a small bonus, I've submitted plugin landing page for Envato landing page contest, and it actually won (was one of 10 winners that shared the prize). Which was shocking, as I'm neither a designer nor marketing/landing page expert. So I basically earned $1000 for nothing (well, just for filling the contest form), something that never happened to me. Quite surprising and pleasant.

    What I've learned:
    • all my estimates for doing/finishing something new are usually 4-5 times wrong. I don't know why it's so, but it's true: you plan to do smth in 1 month - will be finished in 4 months if you work really hard.
    • all my expectations (like results from writing blog posts or publishing some videos on YouTube, twitter/facebook posts, etc.) are usually x50-100 wrong. Maybe even worse. Internet is so noisy, you need to put a lot of effort to get ANY result of it.
    • starting project without at least some market analysis and knowing exactly how your end product will be better than existing ones - based only on some "gut feeling" - is usually a painful waste of time and effort.
    • being developer may hurt business efforts, as there is always temptation to just start writing code. Wrong. It's better to see it from customer perspective first, what problems they have, how they want them solved, why current products are bad, etc.
    • sleep deprivation and lots of coffee are not good for your health, need to sleep sometimes.
    • doing anything half-assed will bring zero results.

    So, it was an okay year for me, nothing spectacular, but I believe it's hard to start earning $10K monthly before you learn to earn $1k first. Also, some experience gained, no doubts about that, and some important mindset changes happened as well. Well, thanks for reading, hope this helps someone to avoid some mistakes and any input will be highly appreciated.

    Have a nice and profitable 2018! :cool:
     
  2. Baku85
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    Baku85 New Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane I've Read UNSCRIPTED

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    How it is going now in 2018 ? :)
     

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