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Send email reliably from WordPress

I am getting close to 20 years of putting together websites for myself and other people, and I have seen a shift happen with email, both in what is possible and what the expectations are. 

In the “old days,” you would get a hosting account for your site, and the email would magically work every time you would need to send one. 

This setup worked because the email protocol itself is very open and interoperable, so it is straightforward to send an email to someone, as long as you have their address.

This openness also invited spammers, who abused the system, making it harder for everyone to send and receive genuine and relevant communication. 

Today, most people expect that email will work “like it used to,” but what is more likely to happen is that all the emails you send out of our WordPress site will not reach their destination. You will not notice this problem unless you specifically test for it. Instead, you will see a lack of engagement or customers complaining they did not get their download links. 

There are a couple of solutions to this problem that are free, but I will present the most effective one: buy a paid email delivery service. 

When you pay for your email delivery service, there are some significant advantages over a free solution:

  • you immediately set yourself apart from the spamming crowd that is using the free solution
  • you have dedicated tools and reports to monitor that your email is delivered and reaches its destination
  • you get support with configuring the email sending process correctly, which is not trivial
  • you get analytics – which is essential for a business owner
  • someone (the service provider) is directly responsible for delivering your email and making sure the process works as expected

Unfortunately, I have seen a lot of people shy away from paying for email. Put your business hat on and think of it this way: how much money and (more importantly) how much time are you wasting with lost emails, with dealing with un-happy customers, with the uncertainty that your outbound messages reach their targets? I bet that the numbers you come up with more than make up for the cost of a paid email service. 

What email service should you use? 

In the past, I have worked with SendInBlue, SendGrid, and Mandrill. Today, my favorite one is MailGun. I am not an affiliate; I recommend them because (as I write this) they offer the best value for money. 

To connect WordPress to Mailgun, the plugin to use is WPMailSMTP.

Keep track of your contacts in a business context

The Problem: you are using email to respond to customers and website visitors, making it difficult to keep track of a longer conversation. 

The Solution: Use a CRM tool (a customer relationship management tool)

I have been looking for a long time for a good CRM solution that can offer a unified view of what I have been talking with a lead or a customer and where I can add personal notes.

What I used to do, was to search the conversations scattered over my email and try to piece together the context of the conversation so I can continue.

I now use HubSpot’s Free CRM and manage the conversations using that tool. With one click, I can load a customer view that immediately shows me what I need to know to pick up the conversation from where it left off. 

If you are not using a CRM yet, I highly encourage you to give it a try.

Don’t build a website. Build a sales funnel!

This title caught my eye on the web. I have been thinking about it ever since.

It is a brilliant title because it immediately shifts your thinking about what you are building and for whom. 

When you are setting out to build a website before you answer the tough questions of what’s it for and who’s it for, you will be staring at a blank canvas, not knowing where to start, what should be at the bottom, and what are the items that you should have in the navigation. 

But if instead, you focus on building a sales funnel, everything suddenly snaps into focus. 

Sales funnels have a particular purpose: to convert an interested visitor into a customer. 

They accomplish this by guiding your visitor through a journey, from being interested, to being inspired, then making a purchase, and being a happy customer. 

And this journey could happen on your site, via email, or social media. 

Simply by reading the three paragraphs above, you have a much better idea of what your initial page should have on it: for sure, you need a way to capture that customer’s email so they can get on the journey. And you may not even need to have a top-navigation on that page! 

What if you build your website in a very purposeful way, where each page and each component of a page needs to have a business reason for being there? Would you do away will all the fluff? Will you focus on what your audience needs instead of what everyone else is doing?

If money were not an issue

What would you do if you had an unlimited budget?

Answering this question is a very useful exercise to see what you could get for your online presence if you had an unlimited budget.

To make it easier to digest, I will divide this exploration into a couple of categories.

 

Performance

Load balancers – for high traffic websites – make sure your customers don’t have to wait around for your pages to load.

Performance Optimization – when you need to shave off every millisecond – load speed affects conversions, making sense to have software that is as fast as possible. Performance optimization is very broad and includes items like code optimization, caching, content delivery networks, and load balancers.

Accelerated Mobile Pages – important if you care about SEO and traffic that Google sends your way. They provide a significant speed improvement, and with fast loading times, conversions also increase. This optimization works best for publishers and less for eCommerce sites.

 

Marketing and User Experience (UX)

Sales Funnels – use automatic email series to keep the conversation going with your prospects. And with conditional logic, you can tailor this conversation for each individual, so they don’t have to read through the material that is not relevant to them.

Chatbot and chat agent – leverage the power of AI to answer common questions for your visitors and customers. This bot, however, will not replace good support staff that can connect with the person on the other line. But it will offload some of the frequent questions.

Affiliate Program – selling is the most challenging process in a company, but it’s the only one that generates revenue. An affiliate program is a straightforward way to recruit a sales force that will work for you.

Correct Metadata – use the correct Metadata for your pages, making it easier to share content around social media and various content aggregators. Your content will not be noticed when placed next to someone doing a fantastic job with their meta tags if you ignore this.

Conversion tracking – if you do not set up goals and do not track how well they are doing, you will have no way of knowing what works. Every new decision will be a “wild guess” instead of an informed one. You can set up tracking using tools like Google Analytics, Facebook pixel, and in-house software.

Email Deliverability – you can be the best copywriter in the world. It will not help you if your users never get your email. Choose a good delivery service and configure things like DKIM and SPF correctly.

Advanced SEO – most modern publishing tools have built-in SEO helpers, but in some cases, more advanced tactics are needed to get that ranking you are looking for.

A/B Testing – it is best to make a decision based on your audience’s real data when possible. A/B testing helps you fine-tune your design and messaging for better conversions.

The user journey – how do people use your product or service? What can you improve that experience? The user journey experience can help you fine-tune the user experience, increasing both conversions and customer satisfaction.

 

Branding and Design

Intuitive Search – for content-heavy websites, like community forums, course libraries, and educational websites, a powerful search engine makes the difference between high engagement or content lost in inaccessible parts of your site. Most public websites rely on Google search to solve this issue for them, but what do you do if your content is private, behind a paywall? The tool to use here is Elastic Search.

Accessibility – make sure that people with disabilities can use your services. It’s not only a legal requirement in some countries, but it is also the right thing to do.

Companion App for iOS and Android – a companion app, if done right, can unlock new ways to interact with your customers and add value to them. Sometimes this is just a mobile site packed as an app. Still, a better experience is to take advantage of the many sensors on portable devices and create a unique and valuable experience.

Streamlined Checkout – don’t ask for a ton of information if all you need is an email address to deliver the digital products. There will be plenty of opportunities to collect other details later on. A streamlined checkout experience can significantly reduce the shopping cart abandonment rate.

Mobile Optimization – this term is a bit of a misnomer since you should think “mobile-first” and optimize for desktop later. But I am adding this here just in case it is not clear to you that more than half of traffic comes from mobile. Also, mobile does not mean only “small screens.” It means access to a camera, sensors, and information that you can use to create an experience that would not be possible on a desktop.

Style Guides – use style guides to ensure your look stays consistent across channels in interactions with your customers.

 

Insurance (backup and testing)

Testing – tests provide no direct benefit to either your customers or you, the website owner. Because of that, they are easily overlooked or done wrong. A broken or buggy process can cost you a fortune in lost revenue. Do your tests, and do them right. Follow this advice, and you don’t have to hope it will work; you know it will work.

  • Automated end-to-end tests – Don’t wait for a visitor to take the time to report a problem. Instead, have automated scripts that test the business-critical processes daily and immediately notify you when something breaks.
  • Stress tests – The fact that your home page feels snappy when you are the only one using it does not mean much. How will your infrastructure handle a spike in traffic? Especially in situations where you know a marketing promo will hit? Do you have auto-scale enabled? How far up should you scale? Stress tests can surface problems that only show up in high traffic situations, and they will also give you numbers you can work with when choosing the server specifications. High traffic can potentially mean lots of conversions. But it can also mean zero conversions if your server keeps crashing. That’s both revenue lost and marketing money wasted on a campaign that went nowhere.
  • Penetration tests – A good-looking snappy page is not necessarily secure. A security audit and penetration tests allow you to discover security holes and fix them before a bad actor abuses them.

GDPR compliance – obey the law. It’s cheaper than paying fines. And with a clear design, it does not have to look bad.

Resilient Design – with progressive enhancements – this is a way to future proof your web application by assuming that new technologies will emerge, so you plan to support those while not abandoning your old customer base.

Automated Backups – are the best insurance policy against data loss and security vulnerabilities. They need to be automated, so you don’t forget. And you need to test them to make sure they work.

 

Integration and Automation

Data import, export, and migration – having this in place helps you avoid lock-ins with a particular technology and provider. And it also opens up many integration possibilities with third-party tools. Being flexible makes you resilient.

Interoperability – how well do you play with others? Publishing clear and useful APIs can help increase the adoption of your service. It also increases the chance of your services being integrated and creating value in a way that you cannot foresee right now. Add artificial intelligence to the mix, and it can get exciting.

Automated email processing – for things like creating a support ticket for each email sent to a support address. Or use it for triggering processes in automated processes or for publishing content from your phone.

Support Ticket System – responding to support via email and not using a system is comfortable and easy but will hurt you in the long run. It will be impossible to track what was said to whom, and issues will fall through the cracks. Also, customers expect a premium brand to have a professional support system.

Single Sign-On – is a way to allow your users to log in once and then get access to all the relevant applications. When a visitor can signup with Google or Facebook, it reduces the friction of taking action, and it offloads the concern of storing a password to the identity provider. But be careful though, make sure your users can still log in even if they lose access to their email and that you own your audience, not the identity provider.

Administrative Dashboards – are dedicated applications or pages that will give you an overview of how your website performs. How are your metrics doing, and what are the outstanding issues.

RSS Feed – a free way to make your content discoverable and accessible for anyone interested. I believe this is an undervalued and underused feature. It allows your readers to stay in direct touch with you, and you don’t have to pay for a newsletter service or boost your posts. RSS is the readers’ equivalent for podcasts (and they use, in fact, the same technology).

Web Push – the ability to send web notifications to your users, even if they have closed your website. It is still new, and it still has impressive conversion rates. (At the moment, it only works on desktop browsers and Android). Don’t be spammy, though, as the users can block them with a click, and getting unblocked is not very easy.

Scheduled tasks – send daily reports, check website integrity, run maintenance tasks. Anything that you find yourself regularly doing should be programmed in as a scheduled task, especially backups. You can use cron jobs or an automation platform like Zapier for these.

Automatic content distribution – you don’t have to share your content on all the social media accounts manually. You can, and you should use tools that do this automatically.

 

Security

Security Audit – a security audit can help uncover problems that can only be discovered by looking at your code and software, and hardware architecture. This audit becomes crucial if you deal with very sensitive data, and a breach would cost you more than having regular security audits and penetration testing.

How much for a website?

There is no such thing as the right price for a website. You can have something for any amount you budget. 

It may be better to shift your question to “Why do I want a website in the first place? What do I expect to accomplish?” Once you find your answer, it will be much easier to assign a budget that makes sense for you. 

A quick example: 

Say you want to build an eCommerce site that will bring in $200k in revenue per year. In that case, it makes total sense to invest $20k to $50k to have it built professionally.

Another example:

You are just starting, you don’t have an audience yet, and you need to test an idea. The expected revenue from this project could be as low as ZERO. Paying 20k for a test doesn’t make much sense now, does it? Perhaps this is a good situation where you need to look at some free options first. 

How to think about website costs, price, revenue?

A common misconception that I see is to think that all that you need is the web-design, which means a page on the Internet that looks like the picture in your head. There are plenty of tools to help you build that pretty picture for free, but once you have it, what will you do with it?

The most significant investment in building something is in marketing—finding the right people and presenting the right message for them. Once you figure out what you want to create, for whom and what it is the best way to engage with the audience, the web design part is super easy: mostly fill in the blanks. 

To better illustrate this, let’s have a look at some options.

The Free Website

With today’s tools, you can have a professional-looking website for free. This approach is an excellent way to test your ideas with no dollar investment. Use this to build up your writing skills, get some feedback on an idea you have in your head, start a conversation about the thing you want to create and get a feel for what it means to manage a website. You may discover that you are sitting on a gold mine or that nobody cares.

The $250 Website

You have now moved to a paid hosting company and under your own domain name. 

The advantages you get are:

  1. you are signaling that you are taking this more seriously – if you invest in hosting and a custom domain name – that will set you apart from everyone using the free places. 
  2. you begin to build your brand – as people will now use your domain to get to your content.
  3. you get more customization options and more flexibility.

You may still not make money from the site, but the $250/year investment is not too big, and you are learning a lot. 

The $1,000 Website

At this point, you have an audience that trusts you and visits your content, and you believe you could help them with a paid solution. You deploy an e-commerce software on your site: a shopping cart (like WooCommerce), a payment gateway integration (like PayPal), a newsletter service (like AWeber), and maybe video content (on YouTube).

If your content is engaging and consistent, you may recoup your money in one year, so you are on to the next level. 

The $5,000 Website

At this price point, you already have customers, you know what they like, you know what they would like improved on your website, so it makes sense to buy a custom design to solve these specific challenges. 

You are also doing much better automation and integration of your tools. You will make regular backups of your content and customer list because now a loss of data will be costly. You are building up your analytics to help you make better decisions in the future.

You do expect to make somewhere between $30k to $60k per year in revenue.

The $10,000 Website

At this stage, you begin to optimize your site. You think about speed, caching, search engine optimization, user experience improvements, tracking your metrics. You are doing tests with your design and your messaging to see what works best for your audience. You may also choose to move away from platforms like WordPress and into dedicated software that better fits what you and your audience want to do. 

The revenue expected is between $80k – $120k. 

The $50,000 Website

Here we are usually talking about a major overhaul of your online presence. You will do much research and many tests, and studies about your audience and with your audience to make sure this next level is a perfect fit for them. You may hire a branding agency to fine-tune your online identity and create a unified feeling experience for your users, regardless of where they find you. Things like your logo and color scheme become very important. 

You will get automatic publishing and tracking tools to update your content across social media. You will build a managed community for your audience, where they can connect and learn from one another. You will have a team of people around you, helping you manage all the systems. 

A big part of this investment goes into research and marketing. If you get that right, then choosing the correct technology is very easy. Choosing the wrong technology can be very costly at this stage. This is why it makes sense to research first and build later.

The expected revenue is over $300k.

Conclusions

You can use the value you expect to create with your website and form that work out what kind of a budget makes sense to invest in getting there. 

The bulk part of that investment will go into marketing:

  • Understanding your audience.
  • Making you a better communicator.
  • Spending time engaging with your community.
  • Finding better ways to help. 

Matrix, Synapse, and Element – Secure, Decentralized communication

Privacy and censorship are essential items in the minds of spiritual people. We like to be empowered and not give away our freedom to this company or the other. 

We have found alternative email providers that promise to take care of our data, but what can we do about the instant chat applications? 

The privacy-oriented alternatives to Messenger and WhatsApp that most people know about are Signal and Telegram. Those apps are now experiencing a surge of new users. 

But there is still an inherent problem with both Signal and Telegram. We need to rely on their promise that they will not sell out to the highest bidder and that conversations are kept private. On top of that, since each one has a central server, they are super easy to ban and block. Their terms of use may prohibit users from talking about certain topics deemed “fake news” or “misinformation.”

[Matrix] – The Open Standard 

One solution is to use an open standard called [Matrix] for our instant communication. 

Being an open standard is very important. It means anyone can implement it, but more importantly, anyone can inspect it to make sure it keeps its promise of decentralization and data privacy. 

The best way to understand how the [Matrix] standard works is to think of how we use emails. We each have our own email providers that may be different, and we each have our email applications that can also be different. And yet, we can all email each other with no problem. Isn’t that beautiful? 

What if we can bring the same ideas to instant chat? The idea that you can use different servers and various apps and still talk to one another. [Matrix] does that. 

Because it is open and designed to be collaborative, anyone can start their own servers that will connect to each other, and anyone with the skills can create a chat application or improve the existing ones. This openness encourages innovation, collaboration, and transparency. 

Since you can start your own chat server, you don’t need to send your communication data to a company like Facebook or even Signal. It can all stay on your server where you decide what happens to it. 

So why isn’t everyone on Matrix yet?

In one word: convenience!

A centralized server, a unique application, and a big company financing the system are incredibly convenient for the user. Why? Because everything is polished and streamlined to cause as little friction as possible because the company needs your attention and your data. So it is convenient, but you pay with your privacy. 

A decentralized architecture is much more challenging to create, maintain, and understand. It is not easy to grasp the idea that you can reach your friends on a different server and in a separate app. It is also more difficult to create an account because of all these micro-decisions that you have to make: what server will I use, what application is best for me, what kind of data am I willing to share on this server, whom can I trust in this eco-system? Oh, it’s is so much easier to “just use WhatsApp!”

And when you bring in encryption, things get even more complicated! 

What are public and private keys? Why should I care? Why do I need a passphrase? How will I remember all this stuff? What do I do if I get locked out? 

To understand this challenge, let us take a step back and look at the bigger picture. 

Here is what Facebook promises: “just give us your fingerprints, and use our app and we will take care of your security for you. You don’t have to worry about a thing. Everything will work at the touch of your finger. Let us be your BIG BROTHER.” 

Here is what [Matrix] promises: “we want to guarantee your privacy, and therefore we don’t want to know anything about you! So all the passwords, the keys, the personal identifiable data, it is yours to care about and store as securely as you know-how!”

Which one would you choose? Do you know how to store the password securely? Are you tech-aware enough to be confident in your decision? 

These are hard questions that you need to grapple with if you value your privacy and your ability to connect with your friends without a middle man.

The Open Standard – A blessing and a curse

Remember the talk about “email” from before? Do you know what made email so great? 

It was TRUST! 

When email was invented, the people that would use it would know each other and trust each other. This inherent trust allowed them to create something so open, so interoperable that it seems naive by today’s standards! 

The assumption was that every email user is a good person, and they will not abuse the system because abuse will make things worse for everyone.

Of course, we all know what happened soon after: spam, identity theft, and hacking. 

It really breaks my heart that an open standard based on trust is a honey pot for bad actors willing to abuse the system. It takes everything that makes the system beautiful and efficient and turns it against itself. Instead of focusing on innovation, you need to focus on security and locking things away.

The blessing of “anyone is welcome to use it” turns into a “someone will likely abuse it” curse.

We now live in an era where trust is at an all-time low. Especially on the Internet! All the open systems that we create today assume the exact opposite from the age of email: nobody can be trusted anymore

As sad as this may be, it is the reality we need to work with right now. And it is why tools focused on privacy are anything but easy, and flowing, and convenient. They can never achieve that goal because you will need to carry around, securely, your private key chains, your passwords, your passphrases. 

There are two takeaways here:

1) don’t even hope that a truly private app will ever be as easy to use as Telegram or Signal. That is not possible. It is you who needs to be responsible for your own data, not big-brother. 

2) in an open system, there will be bad people. What this means is that not all [Matrix] servers are good ones. Not all users on the [Matrix] servers are good ones. And not all chat apps that work over the [Matrix] network will keep your data private and secure. [Matrix] empowers you by not “taking care of you.”

Is your head spinning yet?

I understand. I am a tech person, and it took me days to digest this information and try to present it in a way that most people would understand and use. It is normal if this feels “hard”. Press on! 🙂 

My idea of helping is to shoulder some of the responsibility with you. If you trust me enough, you can use my recommendations below to get into the [Matrix] network easier. 

As an app I recommend Element

For a server, it is best if you can start your own, but if that’s not your thing, you can request an account on mine

I would avoid creating an account on Matrix.org. As they also point out, it would make them a sort of “central point,” which is counter to their philosophy. (If you need a hand setting up your own server, let me know.)

I will end by giving thanks to my friend Tim for making me aware of this information and to all the people behind Matrix and Element that put a ton of effort into imagining and bringing this forward. 

Publishing a Newsletter – an opportunity to be generous

We all get too much email, and much of it we have learned to ignore. 

But there are certain emails that we wait for, and we miss them when they don’t arrive on time. 

Those are generous messages where the author freely shares her insights about a topic that we are deeply interested in. And we would feel a void should they stop writing. 

You know it is a good idea to build and grow your mailing list. It makes sense from a business perspective: you get a direct line to your prospects that you own. (Unlike social media, where you need to pay to reach your followers).

You install the sign-up form, set up the welcome message, and begin to think about the content. 

Most people and companies create “news” and “updates” content with an occasional promotional message. That is OK, but not delightful

Yes, I want to know when my coding software needs an update, but I don’t need a newsletter for it; the program itself will let me know as I use it. 

What I’d love to read is a story that I can relate to. I would be delighted to have learned something new or be challenged to shift my view after reading the content.

That is why sending a newsletter to your list is much more than a marketing opportunity: it’s also a chance for you to be generous, to build trust, to make things better

Would your audience miss you if you were gone? 

Spiritual Software Engineer

Improve your website performance by separating concerns

The problem

I have a slow WordPress site that will resist all optimization attempts.

What is the most common advice you get for speeding up a WordPress site? 

  • remove unused plugins
  • update all the software
  • use the latest version of PHP 7
  • install a caching plugin

This list is all good advice and things to reach for first, but what do you do when your WordPress install still takes 13 seconds to load a page, even after all the optimization is done?

In my case, the problem was that the website was trying to do too many things. And the optimizations above did not help much. 

Here is what I mean:

  • the website had multi-language support
  • contact forms done with Contact Form 7
  • subscribe popups using NinjaPopus
  • animated sliders on the homepage
  • hundreds of blog posts
  • a WooCommerce store 

Because of how WordPress works, all items were loaded, regardless of the page you were looking at. The multi-language setup was not working well with the caching system. And I could not uninstall any of the plugins because all of them were needed somewhere. WordPress does not do selective plugin loading.

It drove me crazy that I would need to wait 13 seconds to open up a blog post that would request hundreds of resources (CSS and JS) that it did not need. It was a page with one image and some text but a truckload of “invisible add-ons.” This page should load in milliseconds!

Some have suggested writing yet another plugin to remove the unnecessary scripts from the pages that don’t use them. I understand how that would improve the loading time, but on principle, I don’t want to have code that adds stuff, so then I can immediately remove it a few microseconds later. That’s just bad practice

I came up with the solution to split the site into two: one for the simple blog and one for the store. I also dropped multi-language support. 

The Pros

  1. The blog is made up of static pages – so you can deploy very effective and aggressive caching.
  2. I could also split the plugins – there was no need for the blog to load all the WooCommerce code.
  3. The store site could focus better on selling and keeping the buying experience smooth. 
  4. The improvement in performance was dramatic, as I could now optimize each part independently, without conflicts
  5. A bonus side effect is that I can now work on the blog and not worry that the store will be affected and vice-versa.

The Cons

  1. There are now two websites to maintain and think about.
  2. They need to look the same in design, so they feel part of a whole.
  3. The search function is now limited – it either returns post or products – depending on where you are using it.
  4. Tracking the user activity is more complicated.
  5. Adding multi-language support means adding a new site for each language – which does not make business sense right now.

There is an obvious trade-off here. There are more pieces to take care of, but you get to optimize each one individually and fine-tune them for their specific purpose. 

In Conclusion 

If the common performance tunning is not doing much for you, maybe the structure you have is too complex, and your website would benefit from being spit up into smaller but more effective pieces. Of course, this effort only makes sense if having fast loading pages is essential to your business. 

Listening well is hard

You would think that listening is the easiest thing in the world. Provided you have two good working ears, all you need to do is sit back, relax and allow the information to come in. 

This is what I used to believe, but I was wrong. 

So how do you listen well? 

  1. You lean in.
  2. You nod.
  3. You summarize back what was said to you.
  4. You mirror the other person’s body language. 
  5. You say things like “I see,” “I understand.”
  6. You make eye contact. 

Unfortunately, all of the above are tools for you to pretend that you listen well and try to trick the other person into thinking you are paying attention. 

Listening is more of an internal affair than what you show externally. 

Listening is so hard because of the noise in our heads. How can we genuinely make space and listen intently to the other person when the voice in our heads drives us crazy?

We may start with good intentions and an open heart, but sooner or later, something will happen that will start the chatter-box:

“Oh my God, this looks like a long story, and I haven’t had lunch yet!”

“Did I forget to turn the heater off? I hope I did not start a fire! need to make a mental note to call home.”

“Should I tell her she has something in her teeth?”

“What do you mean I didn’t tell you about this? I TOTALLY DID!”

“Oh, wait a minute… wait a minute… oh SHUT UP ALREADY so I can say something!”

“Oops… must do eye contact! And remember to nod! And… I have a meeting with the boss later on that worries me sick!”

Not listening properly greatly affects how we do business. We are so focused on talking, on proving that we know our business that we don’t stop and listen really hard. When you don’t listen, you are missing vital information that could help you craft a better custom solution or give you leverage in a negotiation with your clients. 

“Contrary to popular opinion, listening is not a passive activity. It is the most active thing you can do.” – Chris Voss

Listening well is a skill, so it is trainable. Start by noticing the noise in your head and make it a practice to now allow it to take away your attention. If your mind is too busy, show respect for you and your partner and let them know you cannot truly listen to what they have to say right now, rather than pretending that you care. Meditation or other mindfulness practice also helps. 

We are human beings first and business people second. Listening well is a great way to honor this principle. 

 

Shopify – The cost of free

I am a long time user of WordPress and WooCommerce as an eCommerce platform. 

The reasons I got into using those two are likely the same as for everyone: both WooComerce and WordPress are free, so this leaves me with more money for marketing. And a secondary reason: both WooCommerce and WordPress are open-source, which means you can customize them to do pretty much anything you want. 

So what is my conclusion after over five years of using this combo? 

It is not really “free!”

There is the obvious cost of having to pay for hosting. And if you want to do anything useful with WooCommerce, you need to add up extensions and plugins that are not free. The same goes for professional-grade plugins that you will install into the main WordPress site. The total costs with software add to about $50/mo, and to that, you need to add your hosting, which for serious stores it will not be a “starter plan.”

But there is a hidden cost that I don’t see many people talk about. And that is the time and focus you need to put into setting up WordPress and WooCommerce and then maintaining it to make sure it remains secure and up to date. And when (not if) something breaks down, it’s up to you to fix it. 

As a software developer, I am OK with fiddling with tech, fixing bugs, diving deep into the code. But as I transition into being and thinking like an entrepreneur, I notice that instead of working on my business, on my marketing, on coming up with new ways to find and support my target audience, I spend a lot of time tinkering with code. And while it is fun, it does not scale. 

The web is changing at an ever-increasing rate. Sometimes just trying to keep up eats a lot of my time. And the thing with “time” is that it is a non-renewable resource. You cannot ever get a refund on a time you’ve spent doing something. 

So what do you want to do? Spend time learning how to put together the free tools and fix them when they get broken? Or would you instead spend time creating content, products or doing marketing, or simply taking some time off to spend with the family? 

For all these reasons, I am now looking into and recommending the Shopify solution. 

Shopify is right for you if:

  • you are serious about your store, so you will generate sales
  • you don’t have any tech skills, and you don’t want to spend time learning tech
  • you don’t want to worry about security, backups, performance, or maintenance 
  • you value time more than money

If you know of another eStore platform that saves you time, let me know in the comments below. I’d also like to know your experience with WooCommerce as it relates to this article.