Home » website

Tag: website

How much cheaper is an expensive freelancer?

There are two types of readers that this article is for.

1) you are already considering hiring a freelancer, but you are still on the fence about it, and you hope this information will help you decide.

2) you are a freelancer looking for a way to position yourself in front of potential clients.

The short answer to the question in the title is that if you had the time and the skill, you would do it yourself. It would save you money, and you would not have to deal with communication issues. 

But here you are. And this means that either you lack the skill, or more likely, you lack the time. If you had enough time, you could acquire the skill and deliver before the deadline. 

The right freelancer will save you both time and money. 

You will save time in two ways: you don’t have to wait until you build the skills, and you can do other work while the freelancer does theirs. 

Saving money is not always that obvious. I can best illustrate it with a story. 

A couple of years ago, someone reached to me to help them with their site. After the initial discussion, I estimated that the project would cost them around $3k. 

They respectfully told me that it was too much for what they wanted to do, and we parted ways friends.

Fast forward four or so years, and I hear again from this person. They were desperate now. They had spent over $15k hiring help, and their site was still not working. 

Paying $3k to someone you trust looked like a bargain right now. 

Part of it was my mistake for not knowing at the time how to explain the value they were getting. 

And this brings me to another point: the price of hiring a freelancer is not the same as the cost of hiring them. A lousy experience means you need to hire someone new. That means more money spent and more time lost having your work redone. A good experience means you get it right from the start, and you recoup the money quickly from your working website. So which experience ends up costing you more? And what if you consider the cost that is not financial. Like a stressful relationship vs. smooth sales. 

And of course, this begs the question: how do I know if this freelancer is the right one for me? Is expensive, necessarily better or cheap, necessarily bad? 

Let’s deal with cheap/expensive first. Indeed there is no guarantee that expensive means better or even the right choice. But let’s look from the viewpoint of risk. Why would a freelancer charge you less money than another? It could be for a variety of reasons:

  • they desperately need the job;
  • they are new on the market, so they need to earn trust and build experience;
  • they self-evaluate their own ability to deliver as lower than other freelancers;
  • they have turn-key solution ready for you, so their cost is nearly zero;

It is a gamble. They could be outstanding but out of work and needing a job right now. (But this would beg the question, if they are so good why do they have trouble finding work). Or they have a turn-key solution ready to deliver. The catch here is to make sure that this “ready-made” solution actually fits your custom needs, or you would be left trying to fit a round peg into a high-quality and cheap square hole. Can you afford to take this risk?

With a more expensive freelancer, they could be bluffing, but they could also invest in themselves and have better training and a better experience. They could deliver the work with higher quality, faster, and with a lower risk for having to redo it again with someone else. 

Now back to: “how do I know if this freelancer is the right one for me?” 

It comes down to trust. What have they done that they can show you to prove their experience? What have they created and put out? Who is talking about them? How did you find them? Has anyone you know recommended them? 

My argument is that if you trust them, if they come with recommendations, and if you can see past work from them that is in line with what you want to build, then it makes sense to pay a premium now and have the peace of mind that comes with lower risk.

Choose wisely. 🙂

Are you thinking of creating a multi-language website?

Creating a multi-language site can be a challenge.

I have had the opportunity of doing a couple of those. I am not happy with either of the solutions, but there are a few things I’ve learned along the way.

If you have a newsletter or a store, your customers expect that the entire process is translated into their language. This translation process must also include support. Because not all the plugins or software has multi-language support, this can be difficult to achieve. 

You will have to choose between using subdomains for our other languages or prefix your URLs. 

https://fr.example.com/your-page.html
versus
https://example.com/
fr/your-page.html

I used to employ a prefix before, but using a subdomain, I find it gives more flexibility if, later, I want to separate the languages into different, independent websites. A subdomain also helps keep your home page link clean:

https://fr.example.com
instead of
https://example.com/fr/

Using subdomains also offers more in terms of performance optimization, if that is important for you. 

You need to consider that the effort to manage your website increases with each language. It is almost like every new language is a new site you have to worry about. Because of this, you need to consider carefully if it is worth the effort of having a multi-language setup. 

Let us look at an example

Let’s assume we have English and French as our languages. 

You have two options: 

1. Create two separate websites, one for each language.

2. Create one website, and use a translation plugin to create the translation website, on top of the main language website.

Two Separate Websites

A two-websites option gives you the most power and flexibility. And because the sites are separate, if you decide to give up on one of them or completely change direction, it will not affect the other. 

The downside is that all effort is duplicated: setting up, updating, maintenance, backups, and on top of that is keeping the websites in sync manually.

One Website – Two Languages

This is the option I have used most. You set up the website in the primary language. Then you install a translation plugin (like PolyLang), and you translate the site into the other language in small increments. The upside and downsides are flipped compared to the first option. 

There is considerably less effort with updating, maintenance, and backups. The two languages are kept in sync automatically. But because the two languages are tightly connected, they are a mirror of each other. So if something goes wrong with one, it will affect the other. This option also has a performance impact; for every page load, a translation decision has to be made to display the content in the correct language. 

The ideal solution

In my view, the ideal solution is two have two websites. Each one is maintained by a person who is fully responsible for their language: including support, customer care, updates, and so on. English would be the master copy, and the French language would mirror that as closely as possible. But the French website also has the flexibility of creating content or an experience that is much more specific to the French audience. The obvious downside here is that you have to have double the people who take care of the site, and that could add a lot of costs.

Potential Pitfalls to consider

Newsletter signup experience needs to be translated.

All the email campaigns need to have content in all the languages you are offering unless you choose to ignore on purpose those who don’t use the primary language of the site.

You need someone on staff to be able to respond to support requests in all the languages you offer.

Caching and SEO plugins don’t always work well with a translation plugin.

There are some technical aspects of how the webpages are rendered in a multi-language environment. Things like configuring the right language code, encoding, and locale options become important. 

Timezone is another thing to take into account. 

If you use a store, it may make sense to have the local currency for each of the languages you plan to use. This feature adds a layer of complexity when setting up the store and in connecting with your payment gateway. 

If or when you plan to migrate to a different framework for your website, multi-language content becomes very difficult to move and work correctly, especially when using a translation plugin to keep the pages in sync.

Staying on top of your social media presence

The best that I know to stay in the mind of your audience is to share something of value with them consistently. You could share your creations every day, every week or every month.

Have you ever tried to be consistent every week? Or every day? It is pretty challenging.

Some days you feel inspired, other days not so much. On some days there is plenty of time for creations, and on other days you would like to take some time off.

I struggled with this for a few months, and I knew there has to be a better way!

And that better way is batching and scheduling.

Batching is merely creating more pieces to be shared when you feel more creative, or when you have more time on your hands. If you share one post a day, but you have time to create 5 of them, that is batching.

When you have five pieces done in advance scheduling can help you publish them just at the right time, even if you take the day off.

For me, batching and scheduling are time-savers that also keep me in front of the audience even when I take time off.

In the last few years, the tools available have evolved so you can do this easily.

For Facebook – on your business page – you can schedule posts ahead of time. That feature is sometimes not working. In those cases, I go to “Publishing Tools” and use that interface to schedule my work.

For Twitter – they have the Twitter Deck app. This one has worked pretty much every time.

For Instagram, you don’t have a built-in scheduler. I am sure there is a good reason for that, but I don’t know it. If scheduling on Instagram is essential for you to there is a paid service you can use called: TailWind. Since I’ve been using it for one of my clients, they almost doubled their audience from 2k to 4k. Of course, you still need to create high quality, engaging posts, but being able to schedule them allows you to be active on the platform even in the days where you have something else planned.

Give batching and scheduling a try! You will find it much easier to be creative when you take the time pressure off of you.

The Process – A project from start to finish

There is value in having a process. It helps you provide consistent results, and you have something that you can continuously work on to improve. 

Here is “The Process” that I use today with software projects.

1. Are we a good fit? 

The first thing that happens is the discussion where both myself and the client try to determine if we are a good fit for one another. 

My job is to determine what the client needs and consider if I can provide a creative solution to solve that problem at a price that is fair for both of us. 

Sometimes this discussion happens in two parts if I need a break to do some research and investigation before I can begin to think of ways I could help. 

An important note here is that what is “needed” may not be what the client initial thought may be needed. That is why we have a conversation before any agreement happens. 

2. Project Set-Up 

After we agree on scope, price, and what it means to be 100% satisfied, I begin the work. 

With time I have learned the value of keeping things organized and tidy. 

Each client gets their individual folder that will document the history of the project. In that folder I will have things like:

  • meeting notes; 
  • agreement of project scope and price;
  • backups – I never do any changes unless I have a backup first;
  • client files – images, documents, other media;
  • a work-log – where I document what I have done and why. In very rare cases, I can use that to remind the client of the road we took together and justify a decision over the other. Another benefit is that you learn and get better by journaling what you do; 
  • access details – a file where I store various logins that the client has shared with me. In some cases, it makes good sense to have this file encrypted, like a ZIP archive with a password, for example;
  • any new agreed-upon changes also go here;

3. Making a plan – The List

I was trained, mostly by my father, to be organized by using lists. And I have kept that training and added on top of it. It is very useful, and it gives me clarity on what it needs to be done and in what order. 

Here I make a list of everything that needs to be done, broken down in tasks. The tool I use most of the time is Asana. I have tried Trello and Bootcamp, but I find Asana to be much closer to how I like to work. 

I also use a calendar service (like Google Calendar) to remind myself of upcoming deadlines.

Something that I found is handy is to split my list into three main sections:

 a. Go Live – the project cannot go live or shipped if any of the tasks here are not finished;

 b. Nice to Have – other tasks originating from the client that we can add later, after the go-live and in, some cases, in a “Phase 2” of the project;

 c. Bright Ideas – here I write down my own ideas that I think could help the client;

Why am I organizing things like this? 

The short answer is that it forces me to focus on the client; to get them on the market as soon as possible. I did not always use to think like that, and I was routinely making the mistake of focusing on tasks in the “Bright Ideas” section because there were so inspiring to me and they would challenge me. But in most cases, they were not mandatory for the client. So that added unjustified delays and extra costs. While I don’t think the client is always right, I do believe the client knows what is important to them. And that is where my focus should be and what I should be solving first. 

I hope it is now evident that the order in which I go about these tasks is: Go Live, then Nice To Have and then Bright Ideas. And I have learned to be OK with the fact that most projects stop after the “Go Live” part when the burning need of the client has been met. 

So why still keep “Nice to have” and “Bright Ideas” around? 

The biggest reason is to clear your mind so you can focus on the tasks at hand, knowing that your “good thoughts” are not lost. The second big reason is that is how you learn and grow. Maybe you don’t implement these ideas now, in this project, but because you wrote them down and thought about them you will remember them, and they may be the perfect solution for the next project or the “Phase 2” of this project. The “Bright Ideas” section is your most creative section. Don’t throw it away.

4. Set Up a Schedule 

I believe that if a project does not have a deadline, it will never finish. I am very wary of clients who say: “we can finish this whenever… no rush!”. That can be a source of significant delays for you and the project. 

I know this is not the same for everyone, but if deadlines motivate you, a client who is continuously delaying the project will drive you mad. 

In this step, I set-up reminders in my calendar for milestones that will help me get the work done in time for launch. 

When I do this, I need to allow time for the “unexpected” right before the launch. So I plan to finish the project at least a few days early to have some space to extend in case of unforeseen trouble. 

5. Doing the work

Only in step 5 comes the most fun part for me, doing software work :). But as a solopreneur, I need to do and master the business admin part as well.

When doing software work, I have a few principles that I follow:

  • Blocks of uninterrupted time – 2 – 3 hours blocks when I am the most efficient. When coding, there is a complex context that you need to have running in your head, and that takes time to build. If your block of time is too short, then most of that is spent just reminding yourself what the project is about;
  • use a versioning system – this should be obvious – even if you are working alone, it is so much easier to roll back to something that was working when you have a versioning system in place 
  • automatic testing – for particular clients that require a very high level of quality control this needs to be done;
  • Automatic backups of the client’s old code/website – again, just in case you need to roll back. Make sure the backups also include the database, not just the code files;
  • Keep track of working time – in some cases, “hours of time” is what I am billing to the client, and also this is how I know if we are going to finish on time. I am however transitioning out of this, so stay tuned for a post about it. Keeping track of time can be a learning and discipline building tool, just like journaling your work, but sometimes it becomes very, very restrictive and creates a lot of stress; 

6. Client Feedback 

I used to work, work, work, and then do the “big WOW” reveal at the end when the client would be floored with the amazing quality and results. 

This big reveal was silly. 

Why? Because it would allow me to focus on the “Bright Ideas” list instead of “Go Live.” And I would deliver an excellent, high-quality product, that would not speak to the client’s needs. 

What I do now is to deliver work in smaller increments and get feedback soon and often. I am careful here that the feedback I am looking for is “does this meet your needs, madam client?” and not about “how to do my job.” Therefore it is a tool to keep me focused on finding solutions that are important and relevant to the client. 

7. Making mistakes 

Mistakes are happening in every project. If I am not making mistakes, I am not learning anything new, and I am just delivering the same old solution. In some cases, that is OK, but generally, that is not what I am looking for. Each client is unique, so I want to challenge myself and meet their individual needs. 

It is therefore essential to know that I will be making mistakes and have a plan on what do to about them. Like, make sure I have factored that in the price so I don’t add more as a cost to the client to fix them. Also, I need to include those in my schedule. That is why I always have the “unexpected problem” in my planing with some time allocated to it. 

I am, however, fair. If I make a stupid mistake that I could have easily foreseen and avoided, the fix is on the house! I am talking here about the unavoidable trials and errors when you are building custom solutions and exploring places you have not explored before. Those mistakes need to be allowed for if you want to arrive at a good solution where you have explored alternatives that did not work. 

8. Going Live 

When I “go live,” I strive to have a seamless experience for the customer and their clients, which means as little to no downtime if that is at all possible. Over time I have discovered various ways of “flipping the switch” that can use depending on the specific situation. 

Again here, backups are super important. In case you mess up the live deployment, you need to be sure you can roll back to what worked before. I have seen so many instances where this not done, and people roll the dice. They may be that good, but it is just a matter of “when” things will crash on you, not “if.” I have learned my lesson.

9. Review and Learn

Ideally, the project has completed with the “double thank you.” You give thanks for the business, and the client is grateful for the solution they got. 

Either way now is the time to reflect on the project and look for “lessons learned.” 

What worked? Do more of that!

What did not work? Do less of that! 🙂 Or at least try to figure out what you can do differently next time. 

Something else that shows up here is opportunities to learn new things. Look at the “Bright Ideas” section and the “Nice to Have” section and try to come up with solutions to those that use new technologies. I sometimes set-up a pet project where I implement that solution.

I mustn’t skip this step or else I would get stuck in a rut. 

Mic to you!

How is your process different when you’re helping your clients? What are some of your lessons learned along your journey? 

Are you an explorer? Or do you prefer roadmaps?

The importance of having a strategy

This is the story of how it took me way too long to be where I am today. And the reason for that is because I refused to understand the power of having a strategy.

I don’t even have the excuse of not knowing this information. Book after book, coach after coach would bring this up I would not get it.

I was stuck in the mindset of “I will do it my way!

As you read this, you may do as I did and ignore the power of a strategy or maybe you will be different and make better choices :).

The reason I finally see the benefits of having a strategy is because now I value time more than anything else. If you don’t value time, a strategy will seem to just get in your way!

A good strategy saves you time

A useful analogy is to think of a strategy like a roadmap. Say you want to get from point A to B. You have multiple options on how to do it, and two of those are to use a map or to explore your way towards the destination.

The exploration part still feels enticing to me. It is fluid, it is playful, it is unpredictable, and who knows what you may learn or discover along the way.

But when time is of the essence, all these positives turn into negatives, especially being unpredictable and possibly never reaching point B.

These days I am much more consciously strategic, and I am choosing more carefully where I go exploring!

How is all this related to your online business

If you value time, a good strategy will get you to where you want to go much faster. Something as simple as being told on what are the best tools for the job can save you enormously in the long run.

Things like choosing your hosting provider, your website builder framework, how you send emails, how to deal with eCommerce, how to do tracking, and how to create a growth plan. You can learn all these by yourself, or you can hop on a strategy call, and in one or two hours you can have them. Then you are free to develop your business.

Strategy can compress time by a factor of 10, 100 and sometimes even more.

So, do you still want to spend time exploring and figuring things out? Or are you ready to buy a map? Either choice is a good one, as long as it is a conscious choice and you understand what you gain and what you lose :).

A gorgeous website is different from a GOOD website

Can over-designing things become a problem?

We like pretty things. I get that.

We like the restaurant to be clean and inviting. Easy to understand.

But where do you draw the line? Where do you find a balance between pretty and functional?

I struggle with finding this balance my work. I want to use data to make a decision and not just my gut feeling.

I am a computer nerd. I design software, I write code, and I take pride in my work. But I am often faced with this dilemma:

Should I invest more in software design or graphic design when working on a project?

Nobody will use a pretty app that is not working.

I think we can all agree on that.

At the other extreme, some people will use an ugly app because it solves a big problem reliably.

But I want to do better and find some middle ground.

Good software design improves stability and performance. Makes maintenance easier, thus reducing the costs.

Good graphic design makes the user experience more comfortable. Reduces the learning curve and makes your application more widespread.

So how do you split your budget? Is it 50/50? Or should you focus more on performance, for example?

The more I think about this, the more I realize that your target audience is the one that will dictate what your focus should be.

If you have software that helps people to solve a big problem, probably nobody will care that it is ugly, not intuitive, and incredibly awkward to use. If they are desperate for a solution, they will accept one, no matter how it is delivered.

On the other hand, if you are talking about a game with bubbles… well those need to be some pretty bubbles to keep the audience engaged. In the case of games, you are not after a solution; you are after an “experience of play.”

How does this apply to websites?

I guess if your offer solves a significant problem, you can be forgiven if your site’s design is still from the 90s. But if there is a lot of competition, then a good design may help you stand out.

And this word “may” is where the problem comes in for me. How can I quantify it in terms of a website goal? It is intuitive to think that a good design will increase sales, but you also need to know how much? You need to have some idea of how close you will get to your end goal, so you know how much you are willing to invest in that good design.

Designers are very excited to make things pretty, to make them pop, to make them unique. And I understand that. You are making art, and you want it to be beautiful. But is it really useful?

I fall into this trap myself with software when I over-design something just for the pleasure of creating a “perfect design.” But in the end, that does not benefit the client all that much. There are so many examples with people doing very well, by using poorly designed tools.

They’re also amazing designs, both software, and graphic, that nobody uses.

To help make this decision more comfortable (and profitable), I’d like to know a way to quantify the benefits of excellent graphic design. Any thoughts?

The Challenges of an WordPress Online Store

Having an online store is a good idea. It allows you to make revenue from your website and your offering. That is obvious.

What is not so obvious is that some challenges come with it :).

I believe in being prepared! So, if you’re looking to start an online store, or to improve the one you already have, read on!

This article will focus mostly on WordPress powered websites and add some general principles as well.

Shopping cart or no shopping cart?

It depends. I much prefer the experience of a one-click purchase. And in some cases that is precisely what you want to offer to your customers. When you have a lot of products in your offer, and it makes sense for people to buy more than one product at a time (like three books for example), then you need to use a shopping cart. For WordPress, I recommend WooCommerce, and some custom work on top of that to make it more user-friendly.

Coupon or no coupon?

Coupons are an excellent way to reward loyalty and to get attention for your promotion. A one-click experience does not lend itself well to using a coupon. There are other tools in this case, like custom links. But a shopping cart (like WooCommerce) can easily use coupons. Just make it obvious where to expect a coupon code. The default user interface is sometimes confusing for people.

Guest checkout?

In most shopping experiences, you are required to create an account before you can place an order. And there is a good reason for that. It allows for later access to your purchase history and the downloadable files you may have lost.

But sometimes creating an account can be seen as too complicated and unnecessary. I prefer this method of purchase. If guest checkout is essential for you, make sure the tool you are using allows for it. Again I have to recommend WooCommerce as they provide for this feature.

Keep the conversation going

Depending on the kind of business that you have and your offer, it may be a good idea to keep the conversation going with your customers or to hold their hand as they discover your product. To allow them to grow by making a more advanced offer, and, why not, to learn from them. The tools to use in this case is WooCommerce integrated with MailChimp. I am personally not happy with what is on the market today, so I have had to create my own plugin that would add specific tags for specific products. This approach allows me to segment the audience or to trigger campaigns based on the product that was purchased.

Also beware, that for bigger stores, the official MailChimp plugin does not work anymore as you would expect. There are a lot of timeouts and missed notifications. Especially true for when you have a significant influx of orders (for example you’ve just sent an email blast to your audience).

Provide support

Providing support should be common sense, but not everyone is doing this right. Your customers need a reliable way to ask for assistance.

I used to think that this would be too much work. But in fact, it is an excellent way to learn about your audience, what they need, what they like, and what is broken with your sales or delivery process. Do not ignore the support requests :). The “Contact Form 7” is an excellent plugin to use for this.

The Refund Policy

Buying things online is risky. Your order customers trust you, but the new ones don’t know you. To me, it makes total sense to make it risk-free for them and offer a full refund policy. Yes, some will abuse it. But for every abuser, there will be more people who end up trusting you more and making the purchase. The refund policy is also a strong statement of confidence in your products or services. Yes, they are that good!

And I agree, in some cases, a partial refund makes more sense. And in others, it is OK to offer no refund if the customer had plenty of chance to change their mind and did not. Like selling tickets for an event, and someone wanting to cancel the day before. In these cases, you have to make it crystal clear in the purchase process what the refund policy is and when it expires.

International clients

I still struggle with this one.

You may discover that you have a big audience in a country that speaks a different language. Say, French. You invest in the resources and process to translate your products and sales process into French to help your audience get to our product. But what you also need to be careful about is providing support in the same language. If the product is in French, and the purchase process is in French, the support cannot be in English. To me, that would not feel genuine. Like you did not go all the way with your offer, and you stopped right after the sale.

If I cannot offer support in French, I prefer to keep the sales process in English. This way, those who buy the French product will know that that is the only French part about it, just the product itself. But the shopping experience and support will have to be in English.

As I’ve said, I still struggle with this, and I cannot say I have found a solution that I am delighted with. As tools, for WordPress, I am using the PolyLang plugin.

The Mobile Screen Experience

Have a look at your analytics data, and you will likely notice that the mobile users are a big chunk, if not the most significant piece of your audience. Your store needs to be mobile-friendly. And again, I have to recommend WooCommerce here, but with some custom work to make it even more usable on the small screens.

Order fulfillment

Don’t forget about the second half of the shopping experience. Don’t stop at just getting paid :). Make sure your customers can get to their files.

You may have to use different tools for different products. Small files can be sent as attachments. For videos, you may be better of emailing links to a platform where the video is hosted (YouTube, Vimeo, Wistia). And for huge files, there are yet other tools to help, like Amazon S3 services.

Use this information to decide what kind of shopping experience you want to create and what tools you should use. And if you struggle with some challenges that I didn’t write about, let me know in the comments below.

Versioned Backups – A form of Insurance

What are version backups and why should your online business care?

Allow me to share a story with you. One morning I get a call for a client of mine. A website they were maintaining had bad been hacked. The service they were providing was not working anymore and they were losing the trust of their customers. They were asking me to fix it for them.

Fixing a hacked website is very difficult and time-consuming and it can mean a lot of downtime. The better option was to restore the site to a previous state when everything was working.

Thankfully this client understood the value of backups so he had one. Took me an hour to restore the backup. And when we checked the site…

Surprise!

It was still looking bad and the browser was still issuing security complaints. Auch!!

It became clear that the hack had happened a more than a week ago, so restoring the most recent backup did us no good.

And here come the versioned backups. Which is a fancy name for backups that go back in time. You don’t have only the latest backups, you have a daily backup for the last 30 days or a weekly backup for the last 10 weeks.

Because we had those I was able to discover when the hack took place and restore the backup before this. Another 2 hours spent, but now the website was working again.

After one more hour, I discovered that one of the plugins installed had a security flaw that had been exploited. I had to disable and delete that plugin or the site would have been hacked again shortly.

Versioned backups are snapshots of your website across time where you keep more than just the last one.

As you can see, this allows you to reach back in time to when “things were working” and restore your data in case of trouble, even if you discover the issue a few days after the fact.

Why should your online business care about versioned backups?

If your website is mostly static and you don’t offer any services online then you don’t need versioned backups. Just an old backup from last year will do the job.

But let’s be honest. Most websites are in fact web-applications. Meaning they are not just static pages. There is content that is updated, products that are promoted, customer lists, fulfilled orders, and invoices. And if you are doing well, these get updated at least once a day. So a backup from last year will help, but you will still lose a lot of your data.

Depending on how you run your online business and the amount of online activity you will have to decide how often to backup and for how long to keep a backup history.

In my experience so far, with small and medium-sized businesses, doing weekly backups and keeping only the last 4 works very well. This means that in the worst-case scenario you can go back a month, and in the best-case scenario you lose a week of your data: new posts, customers and sales.

But I am paranoid and what I usually do is daily backups that I keep for 2 or 3 months.

Lots of backups and a long history sounds good a reassuring. But there is a cost to that in time and resources. Your server needs to work (sometimes hard) to generate the backup, and then you need the storage space to keep al that history. That is why you need to strike a balance between your real business needs and your peace of mind.

The Take-Away

Versioned backups are a good form of insurance because sometimes the ‘latest backup’ is just as bad as the live website.

Website maintenance for WordPress

Gone are the days when you would set up your web pages and you would be done for the next 10 years or so. In today’s world, most websites require some sort of maintenance work and that is especially true for WordPress.

Why is maintenance important?

The number one reason is security. Your site is not alone. It exists in an ecosystem and it is connected with many other systems for it to work and do its job. All of this is in a continuous state of change. Change means that potentially new software problems are introduced that could affect your site. This change also means that new security exploits are discovered that could make your site vulnerable.

Unless you are a security expert and keeping on top of web security issues is your job, it is a daunting task to keep up with all this change. I get it. But that is no reason to just give up on it entirely.

At the very least keep your website components updated (core and plugins) and have good backups in place [link to backups].

The second reason is to continue to be relevant. As the services and business around you evolve, your website needs to evolve to keep up or even to lead the way. So maintenance, in this case, can go from simple website updates to constant incremental improvements so that your users’ experience gets better and better. The most common issue here is that integration points with other services change and without a maintenance plan in place, your site would just stop working at some point.

The third reason is to make sure your website is still functioning properly. You don’t want to hear from your customers that your store is not working. How many sales did you lose before someone took the time to contact you? You don’t want to wait months to discover your most valuable page is broken and so Google dropped it from the search index. The solution here is to have a test plan in place. Once a week you could check your home page, your purchase process, and the signup process and make sure they work. For bigger businesses, an automated test plan may be a better solution.

The Cost of Website maintenance

There is a cost for maintenance. That is time if you need to do it yourself, or money, if you need to hire someone to do it for you.

Instead of thinking just in terms of costs and maybe decide not to do it, ask yourself how much would it cost you in the long run *not* to maintain your website. In that sense, maintenance is a form of insurance that you pay for your peace of mind. It can also be an investment that you make in your business growth.

How to do it?

At the most basic level, you need to keep your software updated. For WordPress, that means updating to the latest stable version, and also updating your plugins. It also means that you delete (not just deactivate) old plugins that you no longer use.

A more intermediate level would also include some database operations to keep lean, optimized and fast.

For more advanced users you may have to hire someone to do this for you constantly: monitor the uptime, make sure that the core business processes are still functioning, check the integration points and update the software as required, optimize for performance and so on.

The Take-Away

Don’t ignore maintenance. When you build a new website make sure you include a budget for it and that you also discuss it with your developer. And if you already have a website, you should also have a maintenance plan in place.

Do you have any “lessons learned” the hard way? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.

WordPress and the Email Problem

Have you ever had a WordPress site and your outgoing email was just getting sucked into some kind of black hole, never to be seen again?

I have discovered through experience that this is very common. And the problem is not with WordPress, it is actually with your hosting provider.

The only reason WordPress seems to be the most affected it is because it is so widely supported by hosting environments and that it is free. And not all of the hosting providers do a good job with delivering your email.

When your website is using what is called a “shared plan”, this means you share the server resources with other websites as well. And those websites may not be as friendly and ethical as you are. In fact, because it is free and so easy to use, there are many people who abuse the email feature of WordPress to send spam.

The easiest solution for the hosting providers, in this case, is to just block the outgoing email capability for everyone, including you!

This does not only affect shared plan users.

After 10 years or running an online business, and keeping an email quality score of 9+ out of 10, our email got suddenly dropped. We had a dedicated server, so we were not sharing our IP with anyone else. And we only found out of this problem because of our customers complaining about not getting their orders delivered. Yaiks!

Contacting support did not help. There was just a general reply that all outgoing email was now routed through a different grid and they were very strict in their rules. The problem was that everyone was treated the same: spammer or genuine business! And of course, the common rules were those applied to spammers. The good history and reputation of our business did not matter anymore.

Complaining did not help so I had to look for

Alternative solutions

There are two that I found:

1) Move to a different hosting that knows how to manage outgoing email well. At the moment of writing, the only one I can recommend is SiteGround.

2) Buy an outgoing email service.

I will focus on the second one because there are some mistakes I made and lessons that I learned.

Since we were used to having free outgoing email with our server, it did not make sense to me to get a paid service. So I just looked for companies who offered free email delivery if you stayed under a certain quota.

This plan backfired big time. Most of our email was sent all right, but it was going straight into the spam folder of most of our customers.

Out of the Spam Folder

The problem was that the free plan was again shared with other people who were in fact spammers.

It was time to do the math and it became obvious that we were losing a lot of customers because we could not communicate with them any longer. At this point paying for a high-quality outgoing email service began to make much more sense. Once I took the leap I had no regrets. The kind of tools you get with a paid service, and most importantly the deliverability, generated more than enough customers to cover the costs.

For an online business where it is important to stay in touch with your audience, it makes sense to have a paid email solution.

I have used SendGrid in the past and I was very happy with them. But I have moved to MailChimp because of their better automation and better integration with WordPress.

Some Technical Details

Correctly setting up outgoing email involves some technical details about DNS, MX records, DKIM, SPF and others. These are beyond the scope of this article, but if you need some guidance ask me in the comments section.