How Airtable Helps Agencies Stay Productive

In this interview, I'm roasting my friend Lee Jackson on how he is using Airtable to manage the day-to-day business in his agency.

Below, you can find the transcript:

Jan: Hey friends, I'm here with Lee Jackson from Agency Trailblazer and Agency Transformation. And I'm really happy that he took the time to dive into his Airtable account because Airtable is something that I'm playing around with for task management, CRM and all sorts of database, data management stuff. And Lee is a wizard with Airtable. So thanks for taking the time Lee, to walk us through it.

Lee Jackson: Hey mate, so absolutely my please. You happy for me to dive in?

Jan: Yeah, let's do it.

Lee Jackson: All right, so you should be able to see my screen right now?

Jan: Yep.

Lee Jackson: Epic. All right, so you can see we've got quite a lot of bases. So the idea here is

we're using Airtables as a kind of spreadsheet on steroids for our business. And
that gives us the ability to track a whole load of data but also to report on that
data and also to be able to create documentation. And we've got quite a few
different use cases for it. The biggest thing for us is the fact that this acts almost
like an access database online because it's inter relational. You can use
spreadsheets, which is great on say Google or on Microsoft 365, but that ability
to be able to relate data and to create reports et cetera, although possible, is
just not as easy, there's a lot of training with a lot of Googling you've got to do.
So for us, we really like using Airtable for a lot of this.

So what I'll do is mate, is I'll show you through a few of the different types of
bases that we've got. You can see here we've got quite a lot. We've got a little
naming convention going on so that we can group things together. And you'll
also see on the left hand side that we have a lot of workspaces. One of them is
the pro workspace, which means we get access to the blocks, et cetera. And
then the other ones are free work spaces that we've got, which don't give us
access to the blocks and some of the extra colorization features but still allow us
to track and manage data and share stuff with our clients, et cetera. A lot of
companies to be honest, will get away with the free version of Airtable because
they're really generous.

Jan: Yeah, I'm on that free version as well right now.

Lee Jackson: Yeah. It's very impressive. For us, we wanted to be able to use the blocks and I'll
show you why. And we also wanted to be able to use the colorization and just
some of those extra features. And equally, I'm one of those people as well that
if a product is adding tons and tons of value and it's free, I feel like I have to find
a tier to pay for so that I feel better. I feel like I'm supporting the application.

So like I said, I can't scroll too far down because there are a few companies in
there that I have NDAs with. But you can see here we have a whole load of
different types of content including strategy, et cetera.

And the first thing I'll show you is just what we use for the up and coming
agency transformation live 2020 you can see here that we're already building
our entire agenda.

So we have our agenda here. It's grouped, we can create multiple views. So I can
just see day one. So day one's web view essentially gives us what is currently
showing on the website. And I can actually embed this if I pop that out, which I
won't because it will show you a private link, but I can actually show that and
embed that on my website or I can send people a direct link in.

What I can also do as well as send forms out to all of these speakers through
this for them to submit all of their speaker information as well. So that might be
their PowerPoint presentation, et cetera. And that's exactly what we did last
time in 2019 so we set up the agenda, we sent up all of who was doing what
within the event, every single ... in fact I'll show you the run sheet. We set up
this run sheet so we knew exactly what slide was happening. So this is 2019
down to the minute. We had five seconds [crosstalk 00:03:36] we knew that this
was going to go up and on, this particular slide would be up for the last five
minutes, et cetera, et cetera. So that we had an entire build. And because
everyone had it on their apps as well, we had certain people who were
responsible for checking off each and every section as we went through the
entire day.

What that also did for us, which is why we've got the premium features is,
obviously it gave us things like the colorization so we could see when things
were completed, et cetera and we could filter things, but also it gave us the
ability to create these sorts of documents. So this is the older related records,
but if I actually click and expand on the document itself, obviously I've deleted
the logo because we've redesigned it, but you can see here a quite a nice clean
document which gives us everything that somebody needs to use.

So for us it was a complete no brainer to just go ahead and use this and print it
out on a decent printer so that everybody had a program. So the data was there
and we could export it. Alternatively you can put it through the API as well and
send it to a printer, export it, do whatever you want. But for us, because things
were changing right up until a couple of days beforehand, we just had
everything in here and then we just simply printed it all off on a nice high quality
high grade laser printer so that everybody had a copy of what was going on. We
also had like a run sheet version of this as well, so that we had not only the app
version of the run sheet for people who are using the app, so we were using the
computer, but also we had printed versions of the run sheet down here as well.

We were also able to create other things that I can't obviously show you, which
include things like email templates that would go out to the speakers, exhibitors
and sponsors, et cetera for information. So it was a request for an information,
et cetera. And also you can see here the finance as well.

So what we did was when people would buy a ticket through our
WooCommerce shopping cart, because WooCommerce and Airtables integrate
really well with Zapier, that allowed us to have a sale coming through
WooCommerce that would then be picked up by Zapier or Zapier, however you
pronounce it. And it would actually put that into here, into us sales pipeline
here. So it would record it, it would create a ticket for them inside of here. So
we knew what ticket we had, what ID number they had, what invoice number
they had used to pay, et cetera.

But also what it went ahead and did was then put it into QuickBooks as well,
which is our accounts package. And it would also then record the payment
against the Stripe account so it automatically re ensiled. So it gave us an entire
flow, one of which we've exactly mirrored for 2020s events. So that happens in
the other Airtable that we have, the 2020. So every time someone buys a ticket
and it goes and we've got it all set up and ready and we can instantly then click
on the finance tab to do financial reporting. We can see, what's our costs, how
much sponsorship have we had in, are we still in the red? You know how events
are, you're in the red for a very long time until eventually it then hopefully
creeps above and starts to go green. So I can see what's going on, et cetera. So
that's been particularly useful for us to manage events or manage things with a
lot of data and get information in from other people.

Another thing that we've been able to use Airtable for which is really good fun,
is actually for discovery. So for going through that discovery process with a
client and helping them understand how each one of those sections work. So if
you see here, we've got this journey breakdown. Let me just talk to you a little
bit about our discovery process. What we will do is, and this is our checklist, is
we will go through with a client and say, all right, you want a new website
building? So first of all we're going to meet up and we're going to define all the
terms that your industry uses. So you see this, we've got our defined terms.
Then we're going to establish the users of the platform that they want creating.
We're then going to list all of the possible journeys that that user is going to go
on. Perhaps they're going to buy something, perhaps are going to make an
inquiry. Perhaps the admin is going to pick and pack or whatever all those
journeys are.

Then what we'll do is then start to match those journeys out, et cetera. So you
can see here that what we've done throughout the Airtable is we've given
ourselves a checklist at the top to ensure that we can go through the process
and then we work our way through here to go through all of those elements. So
we might define first of all what all the terms are. Then we will establish all of the users who will be using the system, what they will be doing, what their
position is, what terms might be related as well to those users.

Then we'll start to list out the journeys. So perhaps one might register as a
candidate. This is obviously an example, so there's not actually that much in it.
Their journey might be they'll register as a candidate. And then what we can do
is we can relay all of the different actions that will be needed for that person to
then register as a candidate. So they'll fill in the registration form, receive an
email, blah de blah de blah. And we can also see who has touched or what users
are effected and what system that is that's going to be applied to.

Now the cool thing about doing it this way is it's super easy for us to then work
through our entire discovery process with a client and it automatically, as you
can see here, creates a document for us. So we now have a document by the
end of the meeting that we've not really had to write because we've just been
filling in elements of Airtable and then it's built up the entire document.

Now I mentioned earlier that you could use it as a CRM as well. And I'll shut up
in a minute so you can ask me questions, but I just wanted to show you these
core ones. And with any opportunity you might want to take that through a
process. Maybe it's an inquiry, you've got needs analysis, you've got negotiation
review, et cetera and you want to take it through those stages. So here you can
see an example of a ... in fact there's an entire video on this, if I remember, I'll
send you the link to it so they can watch it on YouTube. And you can actually
clone this template that I have here. So what this is is essentially a starter pack
for an agency to be able to manage their entire business. So you can manage all
of the opportunities that come in and take them through those processes. You
can also manage the projects that you have and your deliverables with regards
to that project. You've got all the task management that would happen, so your
priority tasks, et cetera. That can then all be filtered by your different users,
your different collaborators.

You also have the ability to create your own invoices, obviously manage your
contacts, you've got your company management, which is all the companies and
the contacts that are related. And then also we have our tax brackets because here in the UK the VAT sometimes changes. So this is our current VAT, it might
change in the near future.

So this is an entire basic system that replaces the need for any software out
there. If you already have your processes nailed and you just need to create
something that works to match your processes, then Airtable again is just that
perfect delivery system for creating something that works for you.

Downsides would be that often when you click on say Elmer Fudd here, it's not
pretty, yeah?

Jan: Yeah.

Lee Jackson: There's a lot of information here. I think you can hide certain things, I haven't
really bothered. So it's not necessarily user-friendly sometimes, but for a lot of
us, we're quite technical. We get what our processes are, et cetera. So for us all
we need to do is be able to see the data and then obviously be able to create all
of these different reports. Here's an example of an opportunity report here that
we've got based on this data here so we can see that we've won ... or what have
we won? What's on, all right, yeah, we can see here we've got 10 K in the
pipeline, et cetera. If we go to, what is it, documentation? Yeah, this is an
example of a logo that ... Nope, sorry, I think, example of-

Jan: An invoice.

Lee Jackson: A invoice that you could send. Let's just take a look at that, actually, how easy
that was to design. So there's your logo, there's your data that's being brought
through. These are the line items they're the deliverables against the project.
And then obviously you can see your total with the addition of VAT and all that
sort of stuff as well and you can throw in your bank term details and all that sort
of stuff. So it's ridiculously easy to add these blocks in.

The other thing as well that you can do is do things like for the premium you can
do things like track time as well. So I can actually track time on a particular
record, do the work and then log that. And also there's a cool little search.
There's tons of blocks in here as well that take it beyond so you can do an
organization chart if you're doing hierarchical. We've done the organization
chart very often in our discovery because what we will do is design the database
almost inside of Airtable where we will relate records to each other and then
that will give us a nice hierarchical chart, which essentially shows us the
structure of the database or of the modules, et cetera. Obviously we use the
Gantt chart a lot so that we can see what our upcoming schedule is, but there
are all sorts of different ways of visualizing your data.

You've got charts, maps, add extra lists and all that sort of stuff. A lot of which
we've not really used because we've not needed to because the basics are pretty damn good anyway. But for us it's, we've used for definite Gantt charts a
lot. Summaries are really useful for us to be able to see things at a glance,
organization, charts, et cetera. I am coming into land, mate.

So you can see as well to create all of this is ridiculously easy. I can right click
and I can customize any of these fields or I can add a new field. So let's just get
rid of the blocks and I just want to show you as an example. If I go over to say
the invoice, you can see that these have a weird kind of icon on them, that
means that they are a rollup field. What that means is they are a calculation of
all of these related deliverables.

So if I look at these deliverables, all of these deliverables have got a sum, what
their rate is and what the total price is, et cetera. So you can see here there are
two widgets at £100 each. Therefore, the total is 100. If we then see that our tax
type is of 5% because this particular type, if I hit customized field, you can see
that there is just a very simple Excel style calculation there to then give us our
total with the tax, et cetera. So we're applying tax to that and then that will go
out into our own invoice. The rollup field therefore is essentially all of those
related records added together. And then we have our subtotal, which is before
tax and then our total, which is with that extra 5% on that one line item. So that
gives you the ability to get really, really techie.

Equally though, it's just point and click, I can right click or I can just add a new
field, do basic Excel calculations if I need to. And then obviously you can see that
this data is grouped so you can add tons of grouping to give yourself a cleaner
look and feel. So for example, I might want to clone this particular view and
change it so that it's only showing me companies in the UK and it's showing me
less fields so that that's the view I could then share with other people. I might
have the bigger complicated view as the accountant, but then I might give a
simplified view to the rest of my team, et cetera. So you can create multiple
views. And I feel like I'm not even showing you the tip of the iceberg mate, of
what this could do.

So that's kind of what we're using it for. You want to hit me with questions?

Jan: Absolutely. That's a very powerful tool and actually that agency management
system is exactly what I was trying to replicate in Airtable. I have a somewhat
similar approach to you, didn't know about that template yet, so I'll definitely
give that a try.

One thing that made me go back to a regular project management tool over to
managing tasks in Airtable was the ability to being reminded when tasks are
due. So is there something that I'm missing when it comes to executing tasks to
see what task I have scheduled for today, tomorrow, the upcoming week and
stuff like that?

Lee Jackson: So there's a few things you can do there. So we've managed tasks in here for
quite a while. Can you still hear me, I just knocked the microphone? Cool. So
you can see here, this is an example task. You can set a date due. You can also
set a date time due. And what you can do is you can create a calendar view of
your tasks. So we're going to use say the date field here. And what you can then
do is actually have people subscribe. So you can subscribe to this calendar to
have this calendar visible inside of your Outlook or your Gmail or whatever. So if
you add this calendar, you then have a view outside of here and you can set
notifications that way then to tell you if a task is due, because you can set a start
and a finish date and time. So you could actually plan out the particular tasks
that you need to start, what time and then be notified of them, et cetera.

And you can create this particular view based on you, your. So you could say
that this will only show anything that is assigned to Jan, which means that when
you then subscribe to this view, you will only get your tasks up in your calendar
view on your computer or whatever kind of software you're using.

You can also use Zapier and do triggered notifications, which you can then set to
send you an email. So when a record changes its status to whatever or when a
date is now, then trigger an email and it'll send you an email, et cetera. So
obviously that's not, it's not clean, is it like say ClickUp, which is automatic
because that's a project management system. But at the same time Airtables
isn't meant to be

Jan: Project management.

Lee Jackson: The finished system. It's meant to be the tools to allow you to create the
finished system that you need. So perhaps an enterprise or a company that's got
very specific needs would want to use something like Airtable to manage their
business as opposed to a done for you system.

Jan: I agree on that. I think that we always to keep in mind that Airtable is like a spreadsheet on steriods. It is not meant to be a full task management system.

Lee Jackson: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Although it can be quite, [crosstalk 00:18:10], actually.
You can't have collaboration though. I mean that is a downside. So we can
collaborate internally. So say you're in my workspace, we can collaborate
internally, but if I've got the pro account and I want clients to come in and
collaborate on particular tasks, they can't, unless they have paid accounts and
that means it could get very expensive. There are ways around that where you
can at least create forms for them to submit feedback, which will push data into
the system, but there's no ability without paying to get them in and get them
collaborating, et cetera. But again, for us that's not a problem because we don't
really want our clients in our project management system. We want to give
them the views that only we want them to see, which is the Gantt chart, which  they can see publicly and a few other pieces of information so that they are
having a regular update but they're not actually messing around inside of our
system.

Jan: Yeah. Is there anything that you found wasn't possible to replicate with
Airtable? Any roadblocks you faced?

Lee Jackson: Anything that wasn't possible? I mean there are a few things probably that you
... The one thing I haven't worked out is things like reoccurring tasks, but I do
believe that somebody has put a video on YouTube to show you how to do that.

Jan: I saw a video like that on Youtube.

Lee Jackson: So there are ways of doing things like recurring tasks. So I've not yet worked it
out and not really needed it, necessarily. But there are certain things that are
probably more complicated to do. However, this one ... What I forgot to show
you was that this particular element here, this is something that we've
integrated with Zapier, which allows us to paste in and hit as published our up
and coming podcast episodes, et cetera, and using Zapier, it'll automatically post
it out across all social media. I actually did a video on that as well. I should
probably share that with you. So because I wanted to ... I thought it wouldn't be
able to do this. So I was just using this initially as this is where we're going to
store all of our content for the up and coming posts and then we'll feed it,
maybe export it as a CSV and feed it into buffer.

But then when we looked through Zapier, Zapier has got this really cool ability
to take the data but then trigger the action in the future at a set time. So as long
as I'd set what time or wanted that Tweet to go out, the Tweet would
automatically go into Zapier straight away. But then Zapier would delay it until
that date and that time and then release the Tweet.

Jan: I need to check out that video.

Lee Jackson: It's really cool.

Jan: I need to build this, yeah.

Lee Jackson: So yeah, it just made it easier. So obviously Airtable on its own is great for our
data management, yada, yada, yada. But the fact that they integrate so well
with Zapier means that there is lots of extra power in there as well. And we're
using Airtable with WordPress and with QuickBooks so that we've got that
whole kind of combined element going on.

And we're also receiving a lot of data in from our clients nowadays to Airtable
because it's easier just to get it all straight in. And we're also displaying lots of data to our clients this way with private links, with passwords associated so that
no one can see it other than the client so that they can just see what's going on
with their project or access data quickly. So yeah, big lover of it, mate.

Jan: Yeah, seems like that. I think that that's a good way to wrap it up though. I don't want to take up much more of your time here and I think-

Lee Jackson: No worries, thanks.

Jan: We could probably talk for the next five hours about Airtable because it's so
powerful. So for everybody watching this, I recommend you
just get your hands on Airtable. Think about what you can do to start with an
easy base structure, like a very simple thing to replicate in Airtable, check out
Zapier and just take it from there, I guess.

Lee Jackson: Absolutely. Is it Norman something? There's a guy on YouTube who I would
recommend people follow him as well. He does a lot of Airtable videos if you
want to go down the rabbit hole of learning how to use Airtable in more detail.
So there's some amazing things that have been built, but for me, data
management and for useful tools, Airtable is a winner, winner, winner, chicken
dinner.

Jan: One last question: where do people connect with you and find out more about you?

Lee Jackson: Awesome. Just come along to agencytrailblazer.com and you'll find my podcast and you'll find links to the YouTube channel and you'll find links as well to our lovely Facebook group that you can come and hang out with us in. And also they can find us both, can't they? On the CloudWays Mavericks call every second Tuesday of every month.

I'm joining WP Feedback. Here's why.

You might have heard the news already, I'll be joining WP Feedback as CTO come March 1st, 2020. Since this is a major milestone for me, I wanted to take a few minutes and give a little bit of background on why I made this decision.

Vito Peleg and I first met at WordCamp Europe 2019 in Berlin, being introduced to each other by Nathan Wrigley from WP Builds. At that point, I wasn't too aware of what WP Feedback was doing.

Within the first few minutes, Vito impressed me with his exuberating energy. He was buzzing for power, carrying around packages of his infamous WP Feedback survey to distribute amongst WCEU attendees.

After WCEU, I noticed that he and I hovered around in the same communities. We began chatting and over the course of a few weeks recognized that our skillsets align perfectly. He's a genius marketer, bringing his company to six figures within the first month. Come on, who does that?!

I, on the other hand, am focused more on technology, coding, and dev ops. I do enjoy marketing but it's not my core strength. Being a nerd and writing code for WordPress is.

It feels natural to join the WP Feedback team, as I can be the missing piece of their puzzle. They're growing quickly and Vito sees my responsibilities exactly in my core competence - ensuring their products have a stable code base and can continue to impact the WP ecosystem in the way they already do.

On the other hand, I'm super excited about what Vito and WP Feedback have planned for 2020 and the years coming - and am proud to hopefully play an important role in these endeavors.

Both our companies have grown rapidly in 2019, each on our own. I can only begin to imagine how much power we can develop after fully joining forces.

Onwards and upwards!

How To Take Your WordPress Agency From $0 to $1,000,000+ Within 5 Years

If you’re running a WordPress service agency or build websites for a living, you’re likely familiar with the so-called “feast & famine” cycles.

In some months, you have plenty of work and cash flow is looking good. You’re watching your bank account grow and might even work extra hours to finish all projects on time.

The downside of these months?

You don’t have time to do sales and your pipeline of leads runs dry. So the following months are not as great, with less cash flow and more selling needed to keep the lights on.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Let me introduce you to Joe Howard.

Joe earns high 6-figures every year and has banked over $1m in total, without building WordPress sites or writing code.

That’s because he built an agency focused on selling WordPress maintenance services, direct to customers and as a white-label partner for other agencies.

So what, you might think. You don’t have time to read further, because you’re either pressed to get work done or to do sales.

Stop it. You can learn a lot from Joe. We all can.

In fact, I would argue that his approach should be modeled by the vast majority of WP agencies.

Selling maintenance services - or care plans as they’re often called - has two advantages for WordPress professionals.

Firstly, it’s a relatively easy sell if you are already building a website for your client. You’ve already earned their trust, understand their objectives, and know the website inside-out.

When pitching a maintenance service, you can easily hit on all the goals your customer has with the website and all the requirements that go into keeping the website up and running so that the goals are met.

Secondly, selling maintenance plans is a fantastic way to build recurring revenue. With that, you fight the dreaded feast and famine cycles.
Even you have just 5 websites you can host & maintain for just $100/mo (which is not extraordinarily high), you cash in another $500/mo.

Let me break down how Joe started his agency, WP Buffs - and how you can start offering similar services. Even if you are a one-man or one-gal shop, you’ll see how this can work for you.

1. Offer very basic maintenance for backups, updates, and security checks.

You don’t have to start offering fancy services and 24x7 support. Trying to offer 24x7 support simply is impossible if you’re handling everything on your own.

But you can certainly spin up a free installation of MainWP and add websites to your new maintenance platform.

With that, you can efficiently handle maintenance tasks like updates, backups, and security checks.

As these are the most mandatory tasks that need to be performed to keep the website up and running, you can sell your customers on those.

Just don’t talk about the technical tasks, but explain how having you perform the maintenance helps your customers achieve their business goals.

To quote Kyle van Deusen, agency owner at OGAL Web: “No customer ever came to me and asked me to do their backups, updates, and to keep your website secure. But every customer asked me to keep the site up and running so that their business is represented online.”

You’ll see that companies will easily pay you $50/mo for those basic services.

2. Hire a VA once you reach a certain threshold.

Once you start selling more and more care plans, you can replace yourself from the daily business by hiring a virtual assistant.

Document your processes in every detail and have somebody else execute them. That documentation doesn’t have to be complex.
A simple Google Doc outlining how often you do backups and updates, how to check the website’s functionality after a backup, or how to validate backups will do.

This will allow you to take on more WP maintenance customers without drowning in the work yourself.

3. Create content around your target market.

One thing Joe’s agency excels at is content marketing. They run a podcast and have a very active blog.

When I asked him about the strategy, he answered that he wants to rank for keywords that aren’t targeted by the big companies in the WP space (e.g. hosting companies) but are still relevant for his target market.

You can certainly do the same if you invest some time into content creation. Whether you write blog posts that help your customers, launch a podcast or start recording videos is totally up to you.

It’s important that the content you create is full of value and helps your customers achieve their goals.

The harsh reality is that they likely don’t care a whole lot about your business. At least new leads won’t.

But when you get them hooked with your content, you’ll soon earn their trust and will be able to get into sales conversations to sell your care plans.

4. Set up a robust onboarding process

Joe's onboarding process really impressed me. WP Buffs are a white-label partner for my maintenance services, and their semi-automated onboarding was nothing but a-ma-zing.

He has set up an automated email sequence that tells their agency partners everything they need to know about the partnership.

They firstly let me know what information they need from me to onboard me as a partner.

Once I submitted my first website for them to manage, they triggered another automation to onboard the website.

The emails they’ve sent me went for several days and contained all sorts of information, from logins and special requirements to the ways how the communication with the website owner will be.

5. Keep your customers updated at all times.

Client communication is key to keep your maintenance clients happy and reduce churn. You can achieve that in various ways, two of which I want to outline for you now.

WP Buffs have the great service for their white-label partners to sell branded reports every week. Their management tool allows them to upload the logo of their white-label partner and send the report under their branding.

You can achieve the same with MainWP by using their Reports extension. You can specify exactly what type of information should be included in the reports and how often to send them.

The second way - and a more personal approach - is to simply shoot your customers an email every other week or every month.

You can forward them an article that will help them in their business, ask them how their business is doing and if they have any questions, or just offer to call for a chat and discuss the current state of their website.


As you can see by Joe’s success, selling maintenance services can be a nice addition to your income and provide stability. It can even turn into a whole business on its own.

It is certainly becoming essential for my own brand WP Mastery, as I’m banking in four figures monthly with the help of WP Buffs.

But there’s a whole lot more to growing your WP agency than selling care plans.

If you want to explore other ways to break through feast & famine, understand how to attract high-paying customers, and scale your agency without working 10-16h every day, join the WP Agency Summit.

This free online conference starts on December 6th and brings together 30+ world-class experts that all have grown ravingly successful agencies. Get your free ticket here: https://wpagencysummit.com

A cold email outreach workflow in less than 500 words

Yesterday, I read a Facebook status update by John Corcoran that inspired this post.

He wrote:

Status update by John Corcoran

John is a former writer for the White House and now runs rise25.com & smartbusinessrevolution.com

"If you're not hearing enough NO's, it means you aren't trying hard enough."

That falls exactly in line with how I feel many entrepreneurs do cold outreach, including myself.

I hate the idea of being turned down just as much as anybody, but if I don't tell people what services my agency provides, I can only rely on word-of-mouth and PPC traffic.

That's not a sustainable business model if you ask me. At least, I'd not be sleeping comfortably if my agency wouldn't have Frank, a fantastic salesman (and one of the co-founders).

Over the past days, I took a deep dive into ways outreach can be systemized.

And I want to share a tool I came across... it's called MixMax.

With MixMax, you can:

I haven't seen a tool with similar functionality that you can basically use for free. MixMax is only $9/month, which is nothing.

And even though this tool isn't related to WordPress, a systemized outreach process is the foundation for any business.

So, here's the workflow I'd implement if we didn't have Frank:

  1. I'd build a list of email addresses from prospects. I'd use LinkedIn, niche-specific forums, business directories or good ol' Google.
  2. I'd put names, business name and email into MixMax
  3. I'd set up a sequence for cold email outreach, with at least two follow-ups over the next days after sending the initial email. Don't overdo it here though!
  4. I'd have MixMax send out the sequences.

See how this workflow is building a pipeline of prospects?

At that point, you have three tasks:

1. Keep adding email addresses to your list in MixMax, to keep the pipeline running.

2. Follow up manually with those people that respond positively to your sequences.

3. Monitor the performance of your email templates and headlines and keep improving.

From your sequence, you can obviously link to your website, a portfolio of your services, or your calendar to directly schedule meetings. The options you have are endless.

 

Affiliate Marketing Basics For Bloggers

I got the following affiliate marketing basics from one of the world's leading affiliate marketers, Matt McWilliams. We did an interview together, but unfortunately, my MacBook decided to not record it.

Since I didn't want to take up his time again, as he's busy in a launch currently, I decided to do a full write-up of the interview. It looses his fantastic energy (he's buzzing on video!) but it includes all affiliate marketing tips he shared with me.

Let's dive right into it!

Monetize your site from Day 1

From all affiliate marketing basics he shared with me, this one had the biggest impact.

I certainly did not monetize my first website from day one, neither did Matt. In fact, he invested months and months in just creating content and "building his platform" without making a single dollar in revenue.

The same is true for me - and it probably sounds familiar to you as well.

By not focusing on monetization though, your blog basically is an expensive hobby and not a business.

You have to make a mindset shift, in that you need to monetize your blog. Without money coming in, you cannot continue to serve your audience.

And more importantly, you cannot provide support for your family. Getting blog comments is nice and encouraging but doesn't pay the bills for shelter and food.

Hence, you need to get your mindset right and focus on monetizing your blog, WHILE providing free content to your audience.

To build a business, you need to:

  1. Build a platform by creating exceptional free content for your readers
  2. Monetize that platform by following the affiliate marketing basics you're about to learn in this post.

If you cannot do one of those two things, your blog merely is an expensive hobby.

Affiliate marketing basics: Selecting products

You can't promote an affiliate product without first choosing a product, right? So let's talk about principles you can follow to select a product.

Maybe you can't think of a product to promote in your current situation or you aren't sure what your audience really wants?

Matt shared a powerful lesson with me during our conversation:

Think about how you started and which products you used.

What you've got to remember is, that you're further away into the journey as your readers.

You are more experienced in your field and you can leverage that.

In my situation, those products are:

Take a step back from your day-to-day work and think about how you built your expertise.

I'd be willing to bet that there are products, training programs or services that helped you along the way.

To find out if they have an affiliate program, simply go to Google and enter

product name "affiliate program".

For WP Engine, this looks like:

affiliate marketing basics: Google search for the WP Engine affiliate program

Google search for the WP Engine affiliate program. Nice doodle, isn't it?

As Matt explained in our conversation, you can promote products that you don't actually use. But those have to meet two requirements:

Ideally, you promote something you either used in the past, know the creator, or are currently using.

Applying to affiliate programs

When applying to affiliate programs, you need to convince the affiliate manager why you're a good fit.

Don't just explain how you're going to promote the product/service.

It's part of the affiliate marketing basics to blow affiliate managers away with your application.

To quote Matt:

Because if there’s one thing that affiliate marketing satisfies in a way that marketing your own stuff alone never can, it’s belonging to a community and contributing to a higher purpose.

That's what affiliate managers are always looking for!

In the next days and weeks, I'll share swipe files with my email list. [thrive_2step id='4673']Sign up for free and don't miss out![/thrive_2step]

Focus on your first promotion

Focus easily was the one lesson of all the affiliate marketing basics that stuck with me the most.

I have done affiliate launches in the past, e.g. promoting Virtual Summit Mastery for virtual summits or Internet Business Mastery for building online businesses.

But I never really focused on them.

In fact, the past weeks after working with Matt are the first time in six years that I'm producing high-quality content consistently. 

Of course, I'm going to be an affiliate for the upcoming launch of his course "No Product, No Problem". And I am super focused!

As you can tell from my newsletters over the past weeks, I already started sharing tips on affiliate marketing.

Not just any fluff, but actionable advice.

By focusing on just that promotion, I set myself up for success.

I can exactly see what topics get the best engagement on my email list and I can understand what my subscribers are interested in the most.

Matt recommended in our conversation that every beginner should only focus on their first launch.

In fact, his own goal for his first affiliate promotion was to make 1 sale for Michael Hyatt's "Best Year Ever".

He ended up making $588 in commissions and got hooked.

Just as anything in the world of blogging and building online business platforms with WordPress, it's easy to get overwhelmed by the opportunities you have.

Make one step after another.

Affiliate marketing basics: Four ways to promote

Way 1: Your regular blog posts

You're already creating content on your blog, which is great.

In those contents, you can easily include affiliate links on places where they deliver value to your readers.

E.g. in my round-up post on tips for monetizing your website, I could simply replace the links to the services and programs of the contributors with affiliate links.

Or in my explanation of the WP Mastery redesign, I could include links to books on Amazon that talk about web design, marketing psychology, or any other topic that's related to online marketing.

Those are just two examples of how I could add affiliate links to my posts, I hope they give you a starting point for going through your own content.

Way 2: Write review posts

Review posts are one of those affiliate marketing basics that you should definitely leverage.

They are intended to help your audience decide on whether a product is a good fit for them or not.

A common mistake that affiliate marketers make in these review posts is trying to sell too hard.

Don't make the product look better than it is. Be honest about it.

Focus on the benefit of your audience: what problem does the product solve for them?

For example, I know that you need to generate email subscribers when building an online business. So I wrote a review post about my favorite lead generation plugin for WordPress.

I also know that having a fast-loading website is crucial. Hence, I added an affiliate link to Cloudways, the hosting company I use, in the sidebar and wrote a review about WordPress cloud hosting.

Writing review posts can follow certain templates, which I learned in Matt's program.

There are free templates that are (though not as detailed as Matt's) also helpful, e.g. from Niche Hacks.

Review posts are especially popular when you're in a niche that has multiple well-known products or services.

For WordPress, this can be review posts about hosting companies, lead gen plugins, SEO tools, etc.

In the competitive nutrition space, it could be a review post about blenders.

And as a third example, you could review fitness programs like P90X and compare them to e.g. program plans for TRX.

As you can see, the possibilities for writing review posts are endless.

Way 3: Email marketing

My favorite part in our conversation was, when Matt touched upon the affiliate marketing basics for email marketing.

I'm not going to talk about list building 101 here, but I want to break down a strategy that Matt shared.

As with the first two types of promotions, you need to focus on delivering helpful information to your email subscribers.

That cannot be done by constantly promoting affiliate products. Imagine how you'd feel if I were just selling you in every single email you'd receive from me.

Instead, Matt suggested to just focus on 3-5 affiliate promotions PER YEAR to promote to your list.

By doing that, you can promote in cycles. Between each promo, you'd be sending out emails with free resources, blog posts, and other actionable content - without selling anything.

After all, the most thriving businesses are those that help their audiences solve problems.

That is what you should focus on (if that isn't clear by now).

You're building trust with your free content and regular emails. You're establishing relationships.

Go in soft, provide value, provide value, and build relationships. - Gary Vaynerchuk

Especially with a small list (at the time of this writing, I have less than 3k people on my combined lists!), you can get into conversations with your subscribers.

Good luck with replying to all messages you receive when you have 10k or 100k subscribers.

Once a launch starts, you can then leverage that trust and go all-in on selling.

Most product launches come with a clear content calendar and suggested dates on emailing your list.

That makes integrating the promo emails with your regular content strategy a breeze.

Focus on that next promotion only and keep in mind that, for the weeks after the promo, you'll continue to put out free content via email.

Don't burn your list by over-selling. But be bold when a launch is going on - as what you're promoting is solving problems for your subscribers!

Again, those are just affiliate marketing basics.

I cannot dive deep into how you can segment your list after the affiliate launch is over or advanced strategies like sending emails to the un-opens to increase your overall open-rates.

But I can tell you that email marketing will be one of the pillar income streams in my business this year.

Way 4: The resources page

Lastly, we talked about the famous Resources page.

That's the page where you can list all the tools and services you use, used in the past, or recommend for your readers.

On my Resources page, you'll see what hosting companies I recommend, what themes and plugins I think are worth using, and third-party services for SEO or website security.

Keep in mind that this page will be changing over time.

You might build it once and not touch it for months.

But then you come across this new fantastic service that you think your audience should take advantage of.

By simply adding an affiliate link and an explanation to your Resources page, you're making it super easy for your readers to find out more.

Matt has written a comprehensive piece on building profitable Resources pages.

How to get started

I want to end this post with this last recommendation, as I think we touched upon enough affiliate marketing basics for you to get started.

The best decision I made to start with affiliate marketing was to sign up for Shareasale.com.

That is a platform used by companies like WP Engine, StudioPress, and many others to run their affiliate programs.

So by signing up for Shareasale here, you can apply to hundreds of affiliate programs in all niches you can think off.

Affiliate marketing for web designers [a great second income!]

You might ask why I'm writing about affiliate marketing for web designers. How on earth is that related to WordPress?!

As you'll see in this post, it is VERY CLOSELY related to building WordPress sites for a living.

In fact, affiliate marketing can be a very strong second income source for web designers and developers alike.

Let me explain.

Affiliate marketing for web designers - why even bother?!

With affiliate marketing, you're distributing the risks that come with doing business.

When was the last time a client didn't pay on time even though you delivered great work?

When was the last time a website project didn't go as planned, resulting in deadlines (and payments) being pushed back?

Most web designers and developers have been there, including me.

Of course, you can implement strategies to avoid these problems. Charging 50% upfront helps to hold clients accountable to deliver the information you need.

But in the end, you'll never have 100% control over your projects.

If you want to minimize the impact of delayed payments on your bottom line, think about how affiliate marketing for web designers works.

By promoting products that complement your offers, you can add a nice side-income to your business.

Who wouldn't like that?

Now, affiliate marketing doesn't need to cannibalize your web design or development services. In fact, you can set up a strategy that even enhances your services.

Common objections to affiliate marketing for web designers

It's likely that by now some objections began creeping up in the back of your mind, and that's normal.

When I first considered this strategy, I had a couple of questions and objections:

Let's address them one by one, starting with the most important objection: is this discussion even ethical?

In my eyes, affiliate marketing for web designers can be 100% ethical - if done the right way.

Just as with any business strategy, you should focus on providing the most value possible to your customers.

If you know about a good service or product that would benefit your customer, why would you not recommend it?

You'd actually do them a disservice by not recommending a product that's beneficial.

Don't focus just on the profits but enhance your service

Of course, affiliate marketing can be highly unethical if you're just focusing on your own profits.

There are a few things to be considered when choosing a service or product to promote:

With these things in mind, I believe that web designers and web developers can add affiliate promotions in very ethical ways.

Instead of just thinking about the money you could potentially add to your bottom line, think about how the affiliate product will help your clients achieve their goals.

Let's say you just built a website design and your client is using a poor hosting company.

By selling them on a professional host like Cloudways or WP Engine and helping them to move their site over, you'd not just earn affiliate income.

You'd help your client increase their website rankings (loading speed matters!) and deliver a better user experience. Most importantly, a faster loading time potentially generates more leads and business from their website.

That's what I'd call a Win-Win scenario.

How affiliate marketing can work for web designers/developers

I think there are at least two ways, in which affiliate marketing for web designers and developers can be really profitable.

Let me walk you through my thought process:

Usually, the customer acquisition process for web design businesses consist of the usual stages:

You might ask yourself how affiliate marketing fits into these steps. And that's a valid question.

I have two ways how I integrated affiliate marketing into my daily business.

From my experience in talking to other web designers and developers, those ways could be leveraged in their businesses too.

Recommending affiliate products in existing client relationships

You might have heard the saying that it's easier to sell to existing clients a second or third time rather than to acquire a new client.

That statement definitely is true in my experience. If you're doing a great job for your clients, people will come back to you and will want to hire you again and again.

Don't just finish the first project with a client in a way that not just satisfies your customer. Instead, blow them out of the water and you're building a huge amount of trust.

Affiliate marketing for web designers leverages that trust.

Just yesterday I wrote an email to a client who I worked with in the past, including an affiliate link which I'm pretty sure they'll use (there never is a guarantee of course).

They took over managing their own site and asked me to tweak a setting.

In that process, I noticed that they didn't seem to run any backups of their website. They only relied on the backups their web host is making.

By not backing up their site, they're violating one of the most fundamental rules in using WordPress.

To fix this situation, I recommended they use Blogvault as backup service. Additionally, I offered to set up Blogvault on their site (if they use my link of course).

Blogvault affiliate marketing for web designers example

That's just one example how you can integrate affiliate products into the conversations you're already having.

You're an expert in what you're doing, right?

Remember that you can spot situations where your clients are not leveraging opportunities to their fullest potential. Or when they are taking risks they shouldn't take.

In those moments, it's the best decision to recommend an affiliate product or service that fixes that specific problem. After all, there's nothing shady or unethical in doing so - as long as you trust in your recommendation.

To stay with my Blogvault example, I know that my client will be more than happy.

Blogvault easily is one of the most reliable and user-friendly backup services. I used them myself in the past and keep recommending them again and again.

Using affiliate marketing on your blog

Probably the more obvious choice for doing affiliate marketing is by promoting products or services through your blog.

You're likely already running a blog to build your brand and to sell your services. So why not extend your offering and add affiliate products that complement what you do?

The most common place for affiliate links is the famous "Resources" page (which I currently don't have on WP Mastery, shame on me). You can check out the fantastic Resources page of Pat Flynn.

Best practices for building a solid resource page are:

Wrapping up

As you can probably tell by now, I'm pretty excited. Affiliate marketing for web designers can be a fantastic additional income stream and I'm certainly going to leverage it in 2018.

My intention is to bring WP Mastery back to where it originally came from. I started this blog as a platform for me to share my journey in using WordPress and building my online business.

That is why you'll see more content about affiliate marketing throughout this year. I believe from my core that articles like this one can lead you to make more revenue.

Of course, I'm trying my best to mix the business-related posts with tutorials and more technical articles.

In the end, I'll give you the full scope of what it's like to make a living using WordPress.

 

My Favorite WordPress Lead Generation Plugin

So, you're blogging but not getting email subscribers? Welcome to the club! It's easy to think that, with the right WordPress lead generation plugin, all your problems are fixed.

Let me explain why this couldn't be further from the truth. Once we got that misconception out of the way, I'll share what I think is the best WordPress lead generation plugin.

Ready?

Let's first do a brief analysis of your situation.

There are a few key metrics you need to understand where you're at and what next steps are most important.

Even the best WordPress lead generation plugin is no cure-all

Let me emphasize this again. No lead generation plugin in the world will grow your list if the foundation is broken.

What I mean by that is, getting strangers to enter their email address on your website is a huge ask.

Your website needs to check multiple boxes to convince your visitors to sign up to your list.

Remember, that everybody's email inbox is already cluttered. We're getting more and more careful with adding more emails to the daily havoc of incoming emails.

There's a psychological process of convincing a complete stranger that your newsletter is worthy of signing up.

As Josh Spector wrote in his post on Medium:

Nobody’s going to subscribe to your newsletter as a favor to you — they need to know what’s in it for them.

The description of your newsletter has to express a clear value proposition to give people a reason to subscribe.

With this in mind, and before you do anything else, there are a few key things you can do to assess your newsletter strategy. And no, installing a different WordPress lead generation plugin is none of them (yet).

Think through your lead generation strategy:

This is by no means a complete list but should give you a good starting point.

Hint, if you're not sure if list building or monetizing your blog in other ways is more important, check out this fantastic podcast episode by my friend Matt McWilliams. He is the affiliate manager for guys like Michael Hyatt, Hal Elrod, Chandler Bolt, works with the Ziglar Family, and many other rockstar entrepreneurs.

How do you choose the right WordPress lead generation plugin?

Now that we've got the elephant in the room out of the way, let's break down the criteria for choosing the perfect WordPress lead generation plugin for your website.

Remember, your website has a unique branding - whether built consciously or unconsciously. Thus, not all lead capture methods you see on other WordPress sites will work on yours.

Also, depending on the theme that you're using, you might have to do customization work (or hire somebody to do it for you) if you want functions that your theme doesn't support out of the box.

Functions like that could be a floating sidebar that shows an opt-in form while the user scrolls through your website.

You likely already noticed, that it's not easy to pick the best WordPress lead generation plugin.

I'd go so far to say that there is no single "best" plugin for capturing leads in WordPress. The choice always depends on your specific needs.

However, there is a WordPress lead generation plugin that I find to be very versatile.

I use a plugin called Thrive Leads on almost all of the websites I build.

Here's what I love most about capturing leads with Thrive Leads:

  1. It is working with all major email marketing services.
  2. As of April 2018, you can add eleven (!) different types of opt-in forms to your site
    1. Popups that are triggered by time
    2. A ribbon that goes across the entire header
    3. A widget to be placed in sidebars or other widget areas
    4. A welcome mat
    5. In-content opt-in forms
    6. Post-footer forms
    7. Slide-in forms
    8. Screen-filler lightboxes
    9. Forms inserted via PHP
    10. Two-step popups inserted via shortcodes
    11. One-click sign-up links
  3. Thrive Leads has great looking pre-designed form templates which you can customize with a visual builder (no coding)
  4. It works on mobiles and desktops alike
  5. Their pricing is very fair

These were just five reasons why Thrive Leads is my favorite WordPress lead generation plugin - but I could go on 😉

Let me briefly walk you through how I set up the opt-in forms on WP Mastery.

My personal WordPress lead generation setup

As of the time I'm writing this article, I'm using Thrive Leads in multiple places on WP Mastery. Namely in the sidebar, in a popup and below the content.

I chose these three place, because I think that is where most of my readers will see the opt-in forms. With Thrive Leads, I can evaluate the performance of each of these forms, but more on that later in this post.

All forms are connected to my email marketing service of choice, Mailchimp.

Thrive Leads - WordPress lead generation plugin setup with Mailchimp

Inside Mailchimp, I have a list set up for WP Mastery, where all subscribers are collected.

Whenever a visitor subscribes to that list, the email gets added and an automated sequence of emails gets triggered. The purpose of that email sequence is to introduce myself to the new subscriber and to set the frame for what they can expect from being subscribed.

Even though the automation is not directly related to any WordPress lead generation plugin, I wanted to bring it up. It's important to not just set up a plugin that collects email addresses but to build relationships with those people who subscribe to your list.

Remember, those people are humans like you and me... and they expect you to deliver content that's worth their time.

Back to my Thrive Themes setup.

The opt-in form configurations on WP Mastery

At the time writing this post, I'm showing multiple opt-in forms on this page.

So far, the conversion rate on the popup form is best. In contrast, the sidebar form barely converts any leads.

I can see that statistic easily in Thrive Leads:

Statistics showing in my WordPress lead capture plugin

As you can see, those numbers aren't ideal. But at least I know that my current lead generation strategy is not converting as well as I'd like it to.

This screenshot lets me draw multiple important conclusions:

  1. My lead magnet is not ideal and does not fit the expectations of my readers. Otherwise, the conversion statistics would be higher.
  2. The "post footer" opt-in needs to be ignored, I just added that a couple of days ago (a frustrating evidence of how far my traffic has dropped).
  3. The lightbox performs better than the sidebar widget
  4. The sidebar goes unnoticed in 99.93% of all cases. A clear evidence that it is not needed when I'm redesigning the WP Mastery layout.

It's one thing if you can set up your WordPress lead generation plugin to show forms, but getting visitors to subscribe is a totally different story.

Getting visitors to subscribe isn't necessarily a matter of which WordPress lead generation plugin you're using, but how you're writing the copy on your forms and what lead magnets you're offering.

Therefore, you'll want to use a plugin that makes building nice-looking opt-in forms as easy as possible.

And that's exactly what Thrive Leads is doing:

Thrive Visual Editor for opt-in forms

This is the visual editor you can use in Thrive Leads. It makes customizing your forms incredibly easy.

Thrive Leads, my favorite lead generation plugin for WP, not only offers pre-built templates for the various types of lead generation forms - it also comes with an easy-to-use visual content builder.

If you're interested in seeing how I'm building my forms, let me know in my Facebook group!

Testing and comparing lead generation forms

The last reason I want to give for Thrive Leads being my favorite lead generation plugin for WordPress is the ability to test and compare forms against each other.

By running split tests, you can compare:

Just these four examples highlight areas in your lead generation strategy you should pay close attention to. It's important to always be optimizing for the best performance.

Here's a screenshot of a prepared split test I'm currently working on. It's not yet ready to launch as of writing this post - but I'll be comparing two variations of my popup form.

Split Test with Thrive Leads

Thrive Leads is able to show the first popup to 50% of my visitors and the new popup to the other half. By then comparing the statistics on sign ups, the plugin can calculate which version of the popup will likely perform better in the future.

As you can probably see by now, Thrive Leads is a cornerstone plugin in my online strategy. That's why I wanted to share how I'm using it and give you guidance to decide whether it could benefit your business as well.

WordPress Compliance With GDPR [UPDATED - May 5th, 2018]

You may have heard about the upcoming GDPR changes, which will bring much more attention to WordPress compliance in May 2018.

As a developer or online marketing agency, you can actually benefit from this new regulation. By bundling your services with a consultation on WordPress compliance and data privacy laws, you can enhance your offerings.

In this article, I've combined the best resources on GDPR I could find - to give you all information you need to evaluate your own situation.

Let me give you an overview of the structure of this article:

How is WordPress compliance impacted by GDPR?

First of all, let me explain GDPR. The name is short for EU General Data Protection Regulation.

GDPR is a new data privacy regulation controlled by the EU. Its goal is to give consumers more control over their data and to limit what companies can do with your data. Yes, it's impacting you and me.

What most business owners don't realize is, that their websites might need to comply even if they're not located in the EU.

As soon as you're doing business with EU citizens on your website, compliance with GDPR is mandatory. Not following those regulations can have hefty fines - even for businesses that are not in the EU.

To quote itgovernance.co.uk:

The administrative fines are discretionary rather than mandatory; they must be imposed on a case-by-case basis and must be “effective, proportionate and dissuasive”.

There are two tiers of administrative fines that can be levied:

1) Up to €10 million, or 2% annual global turnover – whichever is higher.
2) Up to €20 million, or 4% annual global turnover – whichever is higher.

The fines are based on the specific articles of the Regulation that the organisation has breached. Infringements of the organisation’s obligations, including data security breaches, will be subject to the lower level, whereas infringements of an individual’s privacy rights will be subject to the higher level.

To me, those amounts are quite scary. There seems to be a debate on whether GDPR will be applied to businesses of all sizes or not - but you definitely want to be prepared.

Shockingly, according to a survey of Dell and Dimension Research, 80% of businesses know few details or nothing about GDPR!

That's exactly the reason why I decided to write this post.

If you think about how you operate your business and how you collect personal data on your website site, you will most certainly have to debate WordPress compliance.

Just doing one of the following activities on your site forces you to follow the rules of this new regulation:

You see, just these four simple examples prove that many - if not all - business owners will have to take measures to ensure WordPress compliance with GDPR.

8 rights enforced by GDPR

Let's briefly talk about the rights that GDPR gives to consumers:

  1. The right to access. Individuals can request access to the personal data companies store about them and have companies explain how that data is used. Companies must provide a copy of the data, free of charge and in electronic format.
  2. The right to be forgotten. Companies must delete stored data about individuals if requested.
  3. The right to data portability. Individuals can ask companies to have their data ported to a different service provider. This transfer needs to happen in a commonly used and machine-readable format.
  4. The right to be informed. Consumers have to opt-in for their data to be gathered and used. Consent has to be given explicitly. Companies need to be able to prove that an individual has given his/her consent for the data to be collected and used.
  5. The right to have information corrected. Individuals can ask companies to correct the data that's stored about them, in case the data is outdated or wrong.
  6. The right to restrict processing. Individuals can request that companies stop processing their data while the data record itself can stay in place.
  7. The right to object. Individuals can prohibit the use of their personal data for direct marketing. There are no exemptions to this rule, and companies have to obey the request as soon as it's received. Additionally, companies have to clearly communicate this right to individuals, from the beginning of any communication.
  8. The right to be notified. If there has been a security breach or data breach to an individual's personal data, companies need to inform the impacted persons within 72 hours after first becoming aware of the breach.

As you can tell, the new data privacy regulation enhances the rights of individuals quite a bit. And forces many companies to re-think their WordPress compliance strategy.

Note: if you or your clients don't have a compliance strategy, you're making a big mistake.

And here's where you as a WP developer come into play. You can help your clients make their websites compliant with GDPR.

How do you ensure your or your client's WordPress site complies with GDPR?

I'd like to touch upon four topics that, I think, are the most important to have in mind when talking about making WordPress fit for GDPR.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. I don't claim that this list is complete and guarantees compliance. But it gives you a starting point. If in doubt, consult with a lawyer.

Topic 1: Adjusting your tracking codes

Most sites today have a cookie notice in a popup or header bar, that tells visitors cookies are set once they open the page.

However, I don't think this will suffice for GPDR.

Based on the right 4, the right to give consent, your visitors have to actively agree to be cookied on your website. Hence, my suggestion is that you only load your tracking codes after that consent has been given.

Of course, this will heavily impact how statistics like Google Analytics, remarketing pixels, heatmap scripts, and other tracking tools collect their data.

We'll likely see a downtrend in user numbers based on how many of your visitors deny agreement to being cookied and prevent your site from loading the scripts.

However, this isn't necessarily a bad thing!

Just think about the quality of the data that you'll be collecting if visitors give their explicit consent to load the tracking scripts.

The Facebook Pixel, for example, would build an audience of visitors who actively engaged with your website. And be it by just clicking a simple button in a popup.

Even that subtle action likely is more than the average visitor is doing on your website - which is leaving without any interaction.

In the end, optimizing your site for WordPress compliance might help build better custom audiences on Facebook. Again, just my two cents here.

A plugin that helps with WordPress compliance

When it comes to implementing tracking codes in a GDPR compliant way, I recommend you check out this plugin: WP GDPR Compliance

WP GDPR Compliance plugin

That plugin not just helps you write texts to make your contact forms and opt-in forms GDPR compliant.

It also prevents tracking scripts from loading until your visitor explicitly agreed to have them load. It shows a simple popup form with some explanatory text you can customize and a button that your visitors can click on.

Here's what I like most:

Your website visitors are already used to seeing and clicking on those buttons. They see "cookie notification" popups on all major websites. So seeing it on your website won't confuse them if you write a proper message in the popup.

Stepping up your WordPress compliance with the Legal Pages plugin might even make your website look more authoritative and serious.

People will notice that you take their personal data seriously. Thus, they might be more likely to buy from you.

Topic 2: Opt-In Forms

Collecting email addresses will become a bit more tricky with GDPR. Practices that were allowed before, aren't anymore from May.

Example: Your online shop collects email addresses for the yearly Black Friday sale. You want to build a list of subscribers you can automatically send a coupon for Black Friday to - and offers during Black Friday. So far, so good.

However, if you are list most business owners (including myself), you'd like to keep sending offers and information to those subscribers even after Black Friday is over. After all, your business always has good stuff to sell, right?

With GDPR, you're per-se not allowed to use those addresses for other purposes than marketing for Black Friday. You cannot send direct marketing emails unrelated to Black Friday to those subscribers - unless they gave their explicit consent.

Reply.io has given a great example of how opt-in forms will be affected on Medium:

Before, your opt-in form will likely look like this:

Reply.io opt-in form without WordPress compliance to GDPR

If you take WordPress compliance seriously, you'll have to rewrite your opt-in forms similar to this format:

Opt-in form following WordPress compliance to GDPR

These new checkboxes are what make the form compliant to GDPR. With those boxes checked, your new subscribers give their explicit consent to receive your newsletter and marketing information.

Update on May 4th, 2018: The European Union revised the GDPR and reformulated the clause on collecting personal data in relation to necessity. 

You are not allowed anymore to collect personal information that isn't absolutely necessary for providing your service.

What does this mean for opt-in forms? You are not allowed to have fields for first name or last name in your opt-in forms anymore. Knowing the name of your subscribers is not mandatory for sending your email newsletter.

Hence, even having name fields as optional fields in your opt-in forms is a potential violation against GDPR!

Even if it's not related to WordPress compliance directly, you might also want to have your current subscribers re-consent with being on your list - if they subscribed over two years ago.

As Tony Kent from Sign-Up Technologies Ltd. says:

Do I need to contact my existing subscribers to re-establish consent?
Again, the short answer is no.

Assuming that the conditions of consent were originally gathered in a way which is consistent with post-GDPR requirements and that the future intentions for use are also similar, then consent is considered to be continuous. There is no need to go back and re-establish this just because of GDPR.

But is it a good idea? Quite possibly, yes.

Consent is not the only condition for data processing under GDPR but it is one of the pillars upon which justification is built. GDPR requires that unless there is another justification (there are 5 other justification scenarios i.e. legal obligation, public interest, vital interest, contractual, legitimate use), data processing can only be done with the consent of the data subject.

My personal take is, that I'll definitely reach out to all subscribers on my email list before May.

I see it as a great opportunity to build more trust with my subscribers and to show them that I care about them. Also, if people don't give their consent to being on my list, they might not have read my newsletters anyways.

And likely, all my newsletters do was adding clutter to their inbox.

Topic 3: Storing personal data securely

Server security should always come to your mind when you're thinking about WordPress compliance. However, I also want to emphasize that it is important to comply with GDPR.

If you store personal data of EU citizens in the database of your WordPress website, server security plays a role in making your site compliant with GDPR.

So, server security is especially important for you when you're running a WooCommerce shop, a social platform with Buddypress, or manage your digital courses through a plugin like S2 Member,

Even if it's just for the reason that you have to inform your clients about security breaches. Or that you have to be able to transport their data in a machine-readable format to another vendor. Your server configuration needs to be up-to-date.

Let me give you an example:

A client of mine in Singapore manages a database of thousands of startups in the healthcare space. Exporting their data easily takes an hour - which means that the server configuration has to support longer script running times than usual.

Of course, you should keep your WordPress updated and run automated security checks to ensure the integrity of your site. If you need help with that, get in touch with me - my agency has an affordable maintenance plan that might be a good fit for you.

Topic 4: Legal pages, e.g. for data privacy

By now you and your clients should already be aware that those pages are mandatory for most websites that are driven by businesses and meant to generate income.

Usually, I tell my clients to have a lawyer set those pages up for them. However, that comes at a price that business owners and developers sometimes cannot afford or simply don't want to pay.

To those who don't want to pay: Invest in this text! I once paid a 750€ fine just for using an image which license didn't allow the usage on a business blog. I don't want to imagine how much I'd have had to pay if that website had been lacking the required legal pages.

Earlier, in the section about adjusting your tracking codes, I mentioned a plugin called Legal Pages.

That plugin comes with multiple lawyer-approved templates for legal pages that you can use and adjust:

To be honest, I don't know what all of those templates should include - I'm no lawyer. But just having them ready and then having a lawyer look through them can be a tremendous help for businesses on a budget.

You can check out Legal Pages here.

Are you or your clients impacted by GPDR?

Despite the fact that anyone should take WordPress compliance seriously, you or your clients are forced to have your sites comply with GDPR if:

Please use your own head when thinking about WordPress compliance and GDPR. I've done my best to collect the resources you need in this post, but I'm not a lawyer and not accountable for the actions you take.

If this post is missing any important information, please do let me know!

DISCLAIMER: I'm no lawyer and this post is not legal advice. I'm just trying to break down GDPR as how I understand it. If in doubt, consult with a lawyer, I'm not to be held accountable.

Organizing your WordPress projects with Asana

Today, I want to share how I organize the WP projects I work on and delegate the tasks to my team. We found a pretty solid workflow that works well for us - and might be interesting for you to learn more about.

Our tool of choice is Asana, we have upgraded to the premium version and are super happy with that decision.

Additionally, we use the extensions Instagantt and Harvest to visualize our projects in Gantt charts and track our time.

Before I dive into the nitty-gritty, let me explain our rationale behind this workflow.

We're a team of designers, a project manager, developers, and myself as lead developer. It's a powerful team, but only if we keep our projects managed well and are always ahead of the curve. Currently, we manage roughly 1k open tasks across 30-40 ongoing projects with this system.

This team naturally grew over the past years and thus, our way of working together has changed multiple times. What we found works best for us, is to have clearly defined frameworks for every WordPress project (in fact, for any project we do).

In those frameworks, we clearly identify responsibilities like project ownership, milestone ownership, etc., we set deadlines and we estimate the workload for each milestone.

1. Every WordPress project we do is using a template project.

We created template projects for all of our services. That means, we got templates for things like:

As you can imagine, the list goes on.

For every project that we plan to do more than once, we map out a framework of tasks to ensure we don't miss anything important and can stay on top of the project at all time.

These templates also help us stay on top of delegating each task to the correct person and to identify dependencies.

After sending out a shorter version of this post in my email newsletter, I received the feedback from WP developers who were interested to buy these templates.

This honestly came as a surprise to me, but now I'm preparing the templates into a version that is ready for the public and that's not as closely tied into our internal processes.

I'll update this post when the templates are available and will also send out an email newsletter.

2. Rigorous use of task dependencies, deadlines and estimating hours for each task

Gantt charts have been a game changer for us, they're fantastic to visualize a project and to plan workloads for each team member.

I first got in touch with them during my studies for the integrated degree in Business Informatics, but I only started using them in mid of 2017.

Nowadays, I don't think our team could operate without them. Here's an example of how one of our projects is structured (forgive me that I blurred out the task names, but those are confidential):

WordPress project in Instagantt

Every task we add to Asana gets a deadline and a number of estimated hours. Combined with setting task dependencies (e.g. the logo has to be designed before it can be uploaded to the site), we're always ahead of the curve.

Instagantt allows us to easily rearrange tasks via drag and drop, automatically updating the entire project flow if necessary.

3. Time tracking for revisiting projects and post calculations

With Harvest, we have time tracking integrated directly into Asana. All team members are tracking how many minutes or hours they spend on the task at hand.

That gives us a clear overview of how we are performing in a project, if the budget we estimated is sufficient, and if a project has been profitable after it's finished.

These three pillars are the foundation of how my team and I work.

Do you handle things similarly or completely different? I'd love to know, shoot me an email if you're interested in having a conversation!

Best,
Jan

Built a WP plugin? Start selling it on your own

In the midst of 2016, I had an interesting conversation with a friend who's a local realtor. He explained that he would love to put more efforts into his online marketing, but claimed that he doesn't have a good way to import his real estate listings from ImmobilienScout24 (a popular real estate platform in the D-A-CH region) to his WordPress website.

ImmobilienScout24 only offers iFrame integration, which sucks for various reasons that I won't explain here. Instead, I'll share the tools I'm using not just to build his real estate import plugin but to turn that plugin into a business.

You'll see how I'm using the free tools S2 Member and Software License Manager to sell software licenses for my realtor plugin WP Immo (link to the German-speaking website).

Let's assume you created a WordPress plugin and wanted to sell licenses for it, without paying hundreds of dollars for (well-working) solutions like Easy Digital Downloads and alike.

The problem is not to handle the payment process, but to automatically create licenses, manage their activations, and to roll out updates for your plugins.

My take on this situation is as follows:

  1. I'm using S2 Member to handle payments and create user accounts. It's rock-solid, and the free version allows me to implement my business idea without spending too much money initially. Generating pre-sales at discounted rates would have been another good way to validate this business, but since my friend is demanding this solution, I assume other German realtors have the same problem.
  2. When a new user registers in S2 Member, a routine in Software License Manager automatically creates the software license and emails it to the customer. The customer will also be able to access the license from their member dashboard.
  3. The realtor plugin I built checks with my license server if a valid license is provided and only loads the full functionality if that license check returns a positive result.

There might be more efficient ways to handle this situation, but this is my first official WordPress plugin, and this solution currently makes the most sense to me.

1. Handling the user registration

Assuming the plugin itself is done and working, the first step is to set up the membership area and the registration process. I've installed S2 Member on the plugin's homepage and have integrated PayPal as the payment gateway. Covering this process isn't the topic of the post, so here's a link to the S2 Member Knowledgebase.

The reason for using S2 Member primarily is that it can trigger scripts based on the event that happened.

If a new user creates a paid account, I can trigger the script to create a WP Immo license for it. You can find that setting under "S2 Member" -> "API / Notifications" in your WP Admin.

API Notification settings for payments

The blacked out part is the parameter that authenticates the request to my license server.

If a customer cancels her account, I can trigger a script to deactivate the respective license.

API Notification settings for cancellations

Again, I have only blacked out the secret parameter that authenticates the request with my license server.

These are the two primary use cases that can happen in a plugin-based business. Nothing too complicated if you think about it, so I felt intrigued to come up with a solution that didn't require me to buy a software that does everything for me.

2. Creating the license

Now that S2 Member has been configured to trigger the scripts to create or deactivate licenses, it's time to code the scripts. For that purpose, I've used an official tutorial from Software License Manager as a foundation and then modified the code to my needs.

I created two must-use plugins consisting of just two files. Those files receive the notifications from S2 Member and run the scripts. They could have been combined into one file, but I like to keep things separate while I'm learning.

The code of the first file handles the license creation:

The code of the second file handles the license deactivation:

These two files are placed in the mu-plugins folder in wp-content so that they're loaded with WordPress and don't show up in the Plugins menu. You could also integrate that code into a custom plugin directly; there are multiple ways to handle things like this.

3. Implementing license checks in the plugin

The last step is, to add a function to your plugin that verifies the license your user has activated.

Again, the Software License Manager has a built-in functionality you can leverage. Your user's site can communicate with your license server (the site that Software License Manager runs on) via wp_remote_get and just asks if the provided license key is valid.

First, you need to define two constants in your plugin:

define( 'YOURPREFIX_LICENSE_SERVER', 'https://wp.immo');
define( 'YOURPREFIX_VALIDATION_KEY', 'xxx');

where 'XXX'  needs to be replaced with your "Secret Key for License Verification Requests" from Software License Manager.

For WP Immo, I've set up a WP-Cron job that runs daily and checks if the license entered is valid. After each run, it updates a wp_option field that is used when shortcodes or the admin pages of the plugin are loaded. By using the wp_option field instead of querying my license server every time, I'm trying to keep the impact on the loading time of the user's website as little as possible.

Be aware that this option potentially allows your user to manually overwrite the wp_option field and make the plugin think that the license is valid even if it's not. But users who are that tech-savvy could also easily remove the entire license check and rewrite the plugin to their needs - and they're probably one in 1,000 users.

The central part of the function I'm using to query the license server is:

You can then check the $repsonse variable and update the wp_option field accordingly using the update_option() function.

Conclusion

Building a framework that sells and manages software licenses doesn't need to be hard. I have yet to submit WP Immo to the official plugin repository.

I have yet to submit WP Immo to the official plugin repository. Once it gets approved, I can use the default WordPress update routine to roll-out updates to my customers - which was my biggest concern when I started developing WP Immo.

Even though I'm still learning a lot about building WP plugins, in particular with the intention to sell them to more than a handful of customers, I wanted to share some of my learnings with you.

My processes surely aren't perfect, but they're working for me. I'm open to suggestions how to handle things more efficient!