Well, it’s that time of year again when I look back at the year that’s passed. I’m not going to do my usual “what went well / what didn’t” as 2020 definitely wasn’t a year that fits into nice simple categories like that!
Ironically, as other businesses had to scale back due to Covid-19, my workload boomed. With people stuck at home unable to do their day jobs, some of them found their thoughts turning to their websites and how they could be improved or used to keep the business going. I had approaches from both existing clients wanting to do more and from potential new clients wanting to get started.
It was quite a challenge to juggle this extra work with the added time demands of having my children learning online from home and my mid-week grocery shop becoming a 2 hour socially-distanced supermarket trip instead of five minutes putting away my online delivery!
As for so many people, my year started off normally enough. In February, I re-launched a site for one of my newest clients, an international child protection charity. This was a substantial project with lots of different elements, including questionnaires, team pages and large numbers of blog posts and categories to be imported from the previous site. Throughout the year, we’ve gradually been adding other features including translations into other languages and, since face-to-face courses had to be cancelled, an e-learning platform with chat features.
Another of my new clients from 2019, an art society, also wanted to make some significant changes. We gave the website a brand new design and I created a members’ gallery which gave members the ability to create and edit their own public entries. Due to the pandemic, the Society wasn’t able to hold its usual exhibition – no problem: that went online too! Finally, we added a full membership system so that members can register their details and pay their subscriptions online. This is having a few teething problems as the members (some of whom are quite elderly) adapt, but in the long run it should make things easier for members and save the committee considerable amounts of administration time.
A headache across the summer was that Google and Microsoft spam filters suddenly seemed to get much more ruthless, in a way that affected emails from several of my clients’ websites. In general, WordPress sends email using a system called PHP mail. This is very easy to set up as it requires no verification. The downside of this is that… there’s no verification. This means that spam filters have no guarantee that an email has been sent from the domain it claims to be from so, quite understandably, they’re suspicious. In the past, occasional emails from such a website might have ended up in a ‘junk’ folder but suddenly in August dozens of these – things like event registration confirmations, sales confirmations and password reset emails – weren’t arriving at all. The way to fix this is to switch to a protocol called SMTP to send email. It’s not complicated to do, but it involves a number of stages, many of which need to be done by the clients themselves which often requires a lot of tedious to- and fro-ing.
In September I launched a website for a local landscape gardener. This was a fun and satisfying project for a charming client… which brings me onto something that became more obvious, and important, than ever this year: how absolutely lovely the majority of my clients are. They’ve all been incredibly understanding of my somewhat erratic hours during lockdown but it’s not just that – they’re all just really kind and friendly people. I actively enjoy working with them and consider several as friends.
Over the last few years I’ve sometimes struggled to work out what kind of business I really want. It’s easy to be seduced by the idea of having a bigger business, and bigger clients with bigger budgets! I am now absolutely certain that – for now at least – the people and projects that I work for are far more important to me than that kind of ‘success’. Huge thanks to Jackie at Alquimia Coaching (who happens to be one of the aforementioned lovely clients) for helping me to get my priorities straight.
However, that doesn’t mean I’m going to rest on my laurels!
In my ongoing quest to be more efficient, I set up automated invoices for regular payments such as domain name renewals, hosting services, plugin costs and maintenance plans. This has been a fantastic time-saver, and has also prevented those occasional but very awkward “Erm, I should have mentioned this last month but I need to bill you for this thing…” conversations! I also set up my invoicing system (QuickFile) to take direct debit payments through GoCardless, which has made things easier for my clients too.
I’ve created a few document templates to help me with routine communications that previously I might have put in an email, or series of emails. The most significant of these was a ‘new website letter’, which pulls together all the information that a client needs after their website has gone live, such as how to log in, how to keep the website software updated, what plugins the website uses and what each of these does. Very simple – but also very important. Following a site launch, I send this to the client accompanied by an editing guide – another template that I’ve updated and improved this year.
I also developed a template that I call the ‘Safety Net’. Because I’m a sole trader, if something should happen to me, there is no backup. However, I’ve set up my client hosting and domain registrations in such a way that my clients always have control. They have the ability to log in to their hosting control panels so they can access everything to do with their website and email. Their domain names are registered in their names, not mine. In general they don’t worry about the logistics of this, because that’s what they employ me for. However, the Safety Net document gives them all the login details they would need in order to access and reclaim their website and/or domain, if I became unavailable (or, of course, if they choose to use a different developer). Like a real safety net, I hope these documents are never needed but it’s far better to be prepared!
I didn’t have much time for professional development during 2020 but I am still doing my daily French practice on Duolingo. Yesterday my “streak” reached 1,000 consecutive days! I also bought myself a Fitbit just before lockdown #2 and aimed to do 10,000 steps every day during that time. Barring one day when I was ill, I did it – and I’ve managed to keep it up most days since too.
I’m not going to set specific aims for 2021 yet, at least not in public. The pandemic is ongoing, with the UK in its third national lockdown and I’m still working out what’s realistic to expect of myself!
Instead I shall share a little incident that both baffled and amused me last year. In mid-November received a notification that one of my YouTube videos had been flagged as “age restricted”. While I wholeheartedly support YouTube in proactively identifying material that’s not suitable for children, I’m not sure the algorithms got this one right: The “adult” content to which they objected was a 35-second long tutorial on using a particular MailChimp feature! Ah well, I doubt any children would want to watch it anyway…