Back into WordPress customer service

Things have been quiet for a while as I have been focussing on the ‘start up’ idea, and I can’t discuss that one too much in public. We had a solid lead in NSW, where we live, who was keen to be a first test site and invest in the project. Unfortunately the legal advice we have for the US is different in Australia. That means there are some additional legal hurdles in the way. I’m leaving that to the legal people to sort out, and I’m now getting back to my WP plugins.

I’ve done a few new releases of WP Customer Support with one clear goal. I want to add as much value as possible to the free version on the WordPress repo. I can then add features professional users will want to the Pro version. After a couple of months in the wild I feel I now have a much clearer idea of where that line will be drawn.

The free version now does everything the Pro version used to do, and a fair bit extra. Next I’m adding a GUI editor, with live preview, to the free version, as well as internationalization capabilities. After I’ve done that the free version should be awesome for 95% of users.

As it currently stands it’s had 353 downloads from the WP repo, and has 50+ active users. These numbers are a bit misleading, as one user may have updated 3 times, and that would count as 4 downloads. It’s impossible to get real metrics out of the WP repo, so it takes a fair bit of guessing what’s going on. I think my latest updates will improve the ‘bounce’ rate – people who download a plugin, try it, then uninstall it.

One of the major changes in the latest version is the ability to work on blog index pages. Previously the plugin only worked on single page views – a single page or post. So, for people showing blog posts on their home page the pop up would never have shown up. I’ve changed it now the display the pop up for the first instance of the shortcode that WP finds. So now all the use has to do is add a shortcode on their page or post, and the pop up to get customer feedback will appear as soon as a page is opened which contains that page or includes the post. This should lead to a quicker gratification moment for the user.

I’m also going to start some SEO link building. The main question is whether to link to the WordPress repo page for the plugin, or to my site. I think it’s best to create a page on my site, which links to the repo, and build links to that page. That will help with page authority, and allows me to mention the pro version once I get it built.

It feels good to have reached a temporary resolution to the startup concept, even if that resolution means leaving it to the lawyers to sort out. There’s also a US angle to this, but again, that’s happening in the US without my input… So I can just focus on my WP plugin stuff for a while. All good.

January ’15 update

It’s really too early for an update, as the first plugin only went public a week ago, but I want to get into this routine so I can look back over time.

This started from a ground of zero, and I haven’t done much to change that yet. I’m happy to give myself some time off at the moment, there’s a decent chance for a major change coming soon, so I’ll take it easy over the next month or so. That said, here’s the stats to far.

Downloads from 45
Unique visits to 27
Newsletter signups: 0 (bummer)

Sources for endual visits: mostly referrals from forums I use. 1 organic search and that was for ‘endual’, go figure.

It was great to get this launched. Marketing comes next. Still working on the marketing plan, but I know that content marketing will be a major part of it. Excited to see what’s ahead!

WordPress plugin readme images and starting school

Today was the first day of school for my oldest son, Toby. I spent the day either at the school, or at a coffeeshop close by in case of emergencies trying to work with some WordPress plugin readme images… Luckily he had a great time (he’s already done two years of daycare at the same school), and I got some stuff done too. I also struggled with SVN.

I’ve been using GIT for years and love it. My only experience with SVN was doing the initial commit for my WP Customer Feedback plugin. Today I did a few updated and tried to push them. I got stuck for around an hour not quite sure what was going on before sorting it out. I’ve never used SVN before, so I’ll blame the awkwardness on me. But if I don’t a handle on this soon, I may have to rethink my update strategy…

I’m also having major issues trying to get WordPress plugin readme images to display. The docs aren’t much good – at least, not any that I’ve seen – and this is combined with my struggle with SVN. The WordPress plugin readme images come from the WP repo for plugins, so I can’t tell if images are going to display without doing a deploy. It doesn’t seem like there’s a way to test this stuff locally…. Weird, right? If I can’t find some better docs, I’ll do a tutorial once I sort it out.

On the other hand, it’s up to 26 downloads so far. I think 2 of them are mine, but still, for something that I’ve done zero promotion of, the WP plugin repo seems like a great way to get a little interest going. Should get fun once I start with some actual marketing and traffic buidling…

Focus focus focus

Getting up at 4:30 in the morning was a real bummer for everything except getting things done. I really pushed some things though in that six months, but Christmas gave me time with my family and a realisation that working that way was going to end badly. Not enough time with my family, and too many angles being covered at once. So it’s time for a new reality.

I have a full-time job. I have a family that I love. I want to spend more time with them, not less. So no more 4:30 AM starts. So, here’s the new reality.

The Facebook app is running fine. It’s an MVP, and is useful as a white label sales tool, which is what I’ve been aiming at. That can be left with the sales guys. I’ll put that in maintenance mode, and only run security updates as required.

Japaneasey is not going to happen now. It’s my real passion project, but there aren’t enough hours in the day to focus on this, so I’ll put it on hold until things change.

WordPress plugins, here’s where all the focus will be. I’m going to iterate WP Customer Feedback and fork off the Pro version. The sales site is basically a blank slate at the moment, no-one goes there, and it has no backlinks. So it’s perfect. Here’s the rough master plan as it stands right now.

Get the product and sales sites ready – pretty easy, probably 4 hours in this, should be done in the coming week.

Promote for incoming traffic. Use content marketing and seed some links. Once I’ve got the base site running reasonably, look into some FB / Google / YouTube / LinkedIn ads.

Optimize and iterate.

This is mixed in with less time to work, so I can be present with my family, but this is the basic plan for the next 3 months.

The WordPress customer feedback plugin is live!

About 5 days ago my WordPress customer feedback plugin got approved, but then I let it sit there not going live. I told myself it was because there are changes I need to make to it, and there are many. But, in reality, I think I was blocking myself. Fear on no-one using it? Fear of people thinking it’s shit? Fear of needing too much customer support? I’m not sure, but I made it live today – WP Customer Feedback.

And, nothing happened. Which is a good thing. There are a few issues with the readme file, which I couldn’t see before it went live, and the screenshots aren’t showing up, so I think I stuffed something up there.

Next up I can do version 0.2. The main problem is I made the plugin with a backlink in the footer text, and realised just before I submitted it that backlinks are not allowed. So I just made it plain text and submitted. But that looks ugly, so that will change for 0.2. I’ll also fix up the readme and screenshots (I hope).

As of right now, having been live for about 4 hours, there have been 2 downloads. And I think one of them was me… This is exactly how I want it. I don’t think I’ll make much money off this, though the sales site is live, wp customer feedback plugin. But I  do intend on learning a hell of a lot.

I’ve done a fair amount of research into marketing, ppc, seo, sales funnel optimisation, and lots of other buzz words, but I needed somewhere to put this into practice. This is a perfect opportunity to bootstrap this from the ground up.

So far my costs are $20. I already had the WP templates for other ideas which never got off the ground, I’ve got all the gear, and the hosting was ridiculously cheap (that’s the $20 for a year) through a coupon. I didn’t track my time for development, but I’d guess around 30 hours, but I already had most of the CoffeeScript written for another project.

So, my initial plans are:

  • Build version 0.2.
  • Create the pro version
  • Get new screenshots without the footer text
  • Do a walkthrough video for the sales site
  • Hook up some payment system for the sales site
  • Get some initial feedback through the Micropreneur Academy
  • Start some marketing

I have other ideas I want to start work on, but I’m planning on doing some marketing and SEO here first to get my feet wet. It will feel real when I’ve setup the sales site so that people can actually pay me money :)

WP Customer Feedback Submitted

In the spirit of “Fuck it, I shipped it”, I’ve submitted WP Customer Feedback to the WordPress repo. I’m not really sure what happens next.

WP Customer Feedback Screenshot
WP Customer Feedback Screenshot

The plugin addresses a couple of problems I had, it’s a real “Scratch your own Itch” type of thing. I had a site where I wanted to get as much user input as possible while I was building it out, but I didn’t want a comment system – lots of people in the space, and I wanted to keep customer input private. People didn’t tend to use the contact form, and once I threw in a pop-over feedback widget I got a lot more feedback. There’s a few other things which helped greatly, and I may turn into WordPress plugins, but I’ll see how this goes first.

As this is my first submission, there’s a couple of things I’m unsure of. Primarily, I wrote the JS elements in Coffeescript. The Coffeescript gets compiled and minified in the release version. The WordPress plugin guidelines state that obfuscated code is not permitted. My code isn’t obfuscated, but minfied code is pretty obfuscated by nature… Better for users download wise, but sucks to see what’s going on in the code. We’ll see. I can send them the CoffeeScript if there’s any questions.

Also, I found out there is no backlinks allowed on plugins. Seems weird to me, especially since almost every WordPress blog out there has the “Powered by WordPress” backlink on them… I’ve taken the link out of the text in the plugin footer now, so it’s no longer a backlink. But I get the feeling I’ll have to remove the text, and allow for that in the CSS… Didn’t have time this morning though.

Another thing is their version control system of choice. I’ve been using GIT for years now, and have never touched SVN. Once WP Customer Feedback is accepted, I’ll have to get to know SVN, and it looks like a strange beast!

And finally, I’m happy with the plugin, I use it on a couple of sites. But I have no idea how it will go in the wild. There’s a LOT of different plugin/css/version combinations out there, and I can’t afford to spend a lot of time doing customer support for this. Best case scenario is it goes really well, people get a lot of value, I can sell a premium version and hire someone to do customer support. Worst case scenario it needs a heap of support which I don’t have time to provide, SVN kicks me in the balls, and it all falls down in a screaming heap. In that case I will have lost 60 or so hours, but learned a lot about WordPress code, so it’s still a win for me.

Side business with a family is hard

I’m working on getting a side business started outside of family and work hours. I’ve got two awesome kids, Toby (5) and Dylan (3), and a spectacular wife, Mitra. I have a full time job making HTML5 kids games. Somewhere in there I need to make the time to work on my own projects.

For the last six months of last year, I was getting up a 0430 every day. That let me get a couple of hours of my own work done before the kids woke up. I got a heap of stuff done and got a major coding project up to an MVP. Over Christmas I took some time off, spent a heap of time with the family, and really enjoyed myself.

Christmas is over and I need to get back into the side business. But it’s harder this time. I realised exactly how hard it was to be in a different time zone to Mitra. I’d get up at 0430, spend 2 hours working, get the kids ready for the day, go to work, come home, make dinner, get the kids ready for bed, then go to bed about 2030 (I need 8 hours sleep). Which really didn’t leave much time to be with Mitra. Over Christmas we spent so much awesome time together, and now I’m faced with going back to a different time zone if I want to get anything done…

I’m considering changing my side project focus. Now that the major complicated code block is done I may ease up on the mornings. I feel confident I can do marketing and do customer support stuff in the evenings. For coding, I need hours of uninterrupted time, but otherwise I’m good with 5-10 minute blocks while stuff is going on around me.

I still have one project which needs a lot of code (making Japanese language games), but that is a long term personal side project which can wait until I can spend serious time on it. In the meantime I’m happy with changing my focus to marketing. It’s something I really need to do, so I’ve decided being forced into a situation where marketing is the most positive thing a can do for my side business is a really good thing! Time will tell.


Progress report, Jan 2015

I don’t really need a status report, as nothing has happened yet. But I want a post to remember where I’m at now, and where I see things going over this year. I’ll start with some failed projects, and a quick analysis on what went wrong (you may note a common thread……). In no particular order:

Some failed projects from the last 5 years – I was writing Flash games at the time, and a friend and I created some games for a Flash gaming site. We had no idea how to monetise it (I think the plan extended to…. ads?….) Did no marketing, and went nowhere.

mailboy – a Rails app which allowed people to submit a PDF and generate a physical mailing. Designed for small businesses, such as real estate agents, restaurants, hair dressers, dentists. The app was fully functional, and I was ready to roll, but did zero marketing so had zero customers… Shut it down after a few months. – Functional Rails app for users to have a debate around their chosen issues. Both people would present their arguments, and an ongoing discussion could continue with audience members below the debate. Never did any marketing, but I basically pulled the plug when I realised there was no monetisation strategy, and it would require a fair bit of ongoing work.

yamuthas – Was to be a skating T-Shirt brand, got some good designs, but did no customer research or marketing. Now I’ve got a cupboard of blank T-Shirts…

chermarket – A celebrity stock market Facebook app. Allowed you to ‘buy’ shares in Celebrities which would change value according to their status on IMDB. Was fully functional, but had no monetisation strategy, or marketing put into it.

madelucky – A Facebook slots app. Was fully functional and live for a while. Got a few hundred users by coincidence, zero sales or marketing.

There are others, but you get the idea. No marketing for anything, no audience building, usually no monetisation plan. It’s a very common dilemma among a heap of developers, the belief of ‘build it and they will come’, which hides a strong desire of not wanting to speak to people.

I still have that desire to not speak to people, but I have realised that the only way a side project is going to turn into anything is if I do some marketing. Ideally, building projects where some marketing is built into the product.

Where I am now

I work full time as a HTML5 Game developer making kids games, and it’s a great job. I work with super smart people, in a great team, and being surrounded by like minds is incredible. It’s also decent money, and with a mortgage and 2 kids going to an expensive school, I need stable income.

Longer term I want the time and location independence that my own businesses would give me. So I’m setting up some side projects, and plan on building traction over the next year or so. I’m doing three projects, which is a little crazy, but I’ll give my reasoning for each of them.

slotstowin – Facebook social slots app. I have no passion for this at all, but I worked making slots years ago, have previously build something similar, and was approached by some fairly established people to go into partnership and build this. I’ve now built the base, the MVP is live, and I’m going to start some minimal (paid) marketing over the next week or so. The bigger plan here is a different marketing plan, but that can wait until later.

endual – WordPress plugin development. I’ve heard quite a few people, who should know, mention that a WP plugin is a good starter project. I’ve written a couple, which I basically exrtacted from slotstowin, and am almost ready to push free versions to the WP repo. My belief here is that a lot of the marketing can be done with the free plugin, and encorage people to update to the paid. I don’t think this will be a major thing at all, I’m doing it more as a new start.

japaneasey – This is the one that I do have passion for. My plan is to create a series of games to teach Japanese. Japanese,education, making games, what’s not to love? But it’s a huge project. It requires teachers, artists, animators, actors, coders, marketing…. I was planning on leaving this as a ‘one day’ project, but I think about it every day, so I thought I’d start to slowly build an audience. I’m writing a game engine, and doing a bit of blogging. Marketing here will all be SEO and content marketing at the moment, but I really enjoy the project and what I it eventually become.

It’s too many projects, but I still can’t decide on the avenue to follow.

  • The project most likely to make decent money
  • The project which is the best first step in building a group of small money makers
  • The passion project

My thoughts are, I’ll stick with all three for now, and see if I can start to build momentum for any of them.

Adrian Gray’s blog relaunched (again)

Yet another attempt to launch my blog. Seventeenth times the charm!

I’m Adrian Gray, I’m a Sydney developer making kids games for Blake Education. I write games their products like Reading Eggs and Matheeds.

My latest side project is building some kids games to learn Japanese. I started to a blog there, and will keep blogging, but I realised there was too much tech talk for non geeks. So I needed a side project for my side projects. And here we are.

I think I now have enough side projects to keep me going for a while, and this can keep track of what’s going on, and be somewhere to hold myself accountable.

My other two side projects with super quick tech rundown

A Facebook slots game, Rails for the back end, custom Coffeescript game engine for the front end. I do all the code, friends to the art and math.

WordPress Plugins for customer feedback, spun out from a Rails project. I wanted a quick way to gather user feedback from some sites I run, and wanted to write some WordPress plugins, so this came out. PHP and Coffeescript.

OK, super quick run down completed. I’ll fix this blog up as I go along, just wanted to put a stake in the ground for now.


Adrian Gray