Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi! I’m Kevin, from California, USA, and currently in Austin, Texas.
All plans include:
- Weekly reports
- Daily scans
- Off-site backups
- Speed optimization
- Mobile optimization
- Security optimization
- 24/7 uptime monitor
We landed 1 customer in December.
In January, we picked up 2 more.
February we got 2 more.
Since then, we have added 7 more paying subscribers. Most customers are paying an unlimited fee of $149/month.
We went from working with one website in December of 2019 to 13 recurring customer sites today. Revenue is currently ~$1470/month.
I’m running a small team of 5 developers, and a designer.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
After spending some time in the corporate world and hating it, I got laid off and was forced to either find another job or start something myself. The idea of another job didn’t interest me, as I couldn’t seem to fit in with work/corporate/office life.
Finding places where small and solo business owners hang out was a much better way to attract customers. Now as we move more into content marketing, we will be attracting the right customers.
I instead went with my passions at the time with fitness and sport and started coaching a local master (adult) swim team making $12/hour for a few hours of work a week.
This led to giving swim lessons and designing programs for triathletes (swim, bike, run) to accomplish a distance or open water swim.
I started taking this online, and I eventually got my start in the world of online business with triswimcoach.com – swimming training for triathlons. I hired VA’s, then teams, to help build and run my niche business.
And this building of teams and solving problems online led me to start Work Hero.
My original plan was to offer these three categories as a productized service, where businesses could pay monthly for the design/development/VA services, instead of having to go out and hire everyone themselves.
I quickly realized this was a little too much to take on and not what I wanted to do. I dropped the admin portion and focused on design and WordPress development.
However, I eventually realized that trying to do design AND WordPress support was not only not ideal for my customers, but it was also very hard to sell. In November of last year, I hit the reset button and dropped the unlimited design.
So we focused in on WordPress support and maintenance, doing the small edits (less than 1 hour), and helping businesses with all the headaches they experience with WordPress sites.
The “new version” of Work Hero was the right idea right from the start. We were able to start with a customer, then quickly added another customer, right from the start.
The conversations I started having with leads were so much higher quality. I wasn’t trying to sell them on doing so many things- and often wasn’t trying to sell them at all. WordPress maintenance and support were much easier to explain than design + WordPress, and our prices were able to come down making it more attractive to the small businesses I was talking to.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
The first product was unlimited graphic design + WordPress technical support for $297/month. We had a team of 3 people, 2 developers, and a graphic designer.
Things first started with a combination of email communication and a Google Spreadsheet to keep track of tasks & our heroes. This actually worked okay until we had 3 customers, then we upgraded and went with a system called Wrike- project management software we saw another startup, Video Husky, using for their unlimited video service.
We beta tested our service with a few free customers. It did not go very well. The SOPs weren’t quite ready, tasks slipped through the cracks, and we had too many unhappy customers.
We tightened our SOPs and customer service, and things started going better. The Wrike system helped, and we were getting better at the process of handing off and checking everything in the system.
Costs were minimal. The biggest cost in these days was Wrike- which required signing up for 1 year and paying upfront. It came out to about $1200 for the version and number of users we needed- tough to do when you only have a few paying customers!
Otherwise, most of the business costs are just worker compensation.
Luckily, we started as a design + WordPress company, and already had a very competent designer on board. So she worked with us through our transition, and we were able to quickly update the website, and articulate our new offering.
We had already been using a customer portal called SPP that was working quite well, so we just kept that going and changed out our product offerings. Our lowest cost product went from $297/month to $79 a month.
Describe the process of launching the business.
We had a launch in December of 2017 and a re-launch in December 2019. I’ll focus more on the re-launch which has been much more successful.
The original financing was self-financing. The startup costs are very small, and I figured we could be profitable quickly. I turned out not to be correct on that!
We did not take any outside funding, as it made way more sense to have 100% control over what we were doing. I vaguely looked at an accelerator, but they wanted $5k and a % of the business for bringing it to market quickly...didn’t seem like a great deal.
We moved from a Design + WordPress support subscription business to just WordPress support.
We only kept 1 customer from our old business.
Re-launching meant new strategies, as we had an entirely new target audience. We focused on the following for our December launch:
Creating a beautiful, fast, and easy-to-navigate website. If we’re offering website services, our site’s look, speed, and ease of use are crucial!
Offering what we already know customers need, based on our previous business, and other WordPress support businesses already in existence.
Focusing on one area everyone seems to want and need: a faster loading website
Initially, I just emailed all my contacts, including current and past customers, to see if anyone would be interested in our new service.
In our first month, we landed two new customers. Some of the things we did in month 1, like cold emails, and asking our customers for referrals, were paying off right away.
In month 2, two more referrals came in and became customers.
In month 3, more of the cold emails were responding, in addition to another referral, and 3 more customers were added.
What we were learning was, we didn’t want anyone as a customer who just wanted to be with us for a few tasks. We want monthly subscribers. There is a huge difference!
In March, COVID-19 hit, and it slowed everything to a halt. After trying to figure out what to do for about a week, I came up with the idea of offering an entire month for free.
This was a big turning point for us. At this time we had 4 paying subscribers. We added 6 free ones in April and converted 2 of them into customers, and added one more. So the momentum was there going into May.
We put out another free offer for 2 weeks free in May and converted 2 more out of another 6.
In June, through referrals and cold emails, we have added 3 more customers, one with multiple websites.
There is definitely such a thing as a bad customer. We have amazing long term monthly customers. But the one time I took on a customer who said she could only pay for 1 month, it came back to bite us. Her expectations were for a high touch agency, and she had so many demands on our time, that we probably even lost money on her. It’s also been the case every time that these tiny businesses that can barely afford us are also the most likely to be difficult to work with- not follow instructions, not be polite, etc.
Don’t be afraid to do free work. Someone told me early on to NEVER do free work. This has been the best source of customers for us. If we can give them a taste of what we do, they will often not only sign up with us but become long term customers.
Don’t be afraid to ask for referrals. One of our long term customers came from someone on LinkedIn who I cold messaged. This person didn’t have an interest, but when I asked, she referred to a friend.
Use your network. An entrepreneur group I’m in has around 2000 members, and many are solo or small businesses- a great audience for us to work with. And, if the work is done well, referrals will just keep coming.
One thing at a time. Early on, I tried to run Facebook ads while doing content marketing AND trying to get on podcasts. None of them produced customers, as our focus was too spread out. Now we are focusing on content/SEO but nothing else. We plan to build that up, then move on to building our affiliate program- but get good at one thing before transitioning to the next.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Simply great customer service, and delivering what we promise. So many customers have commented on the great treatment they receive with Work Hero.
Work hard, but take breaks and have fun. Try not to think you have to be Elon Musk and work crazy hours every week.
I’ve found that slow growth has been the key to our success. When we started, we were working with just 1 customer, then a month later we had 3. We were able to put in the time & effort to help our one customer, making them happy and satisfied, while working out the bugs in our systems, and fixing them without it being a disaster.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We are now profitable as of June 2020. It took a while to figure out how to much to pay our workers and maintain a profit- this is one of the trickiest things about a productized service like ours.
Our running expenses, including salaries and software we pay for, are about $1100. But this changes all the time, depending on the amount of work our customers are sending us. We can maintain a profit at around 10 websites and are now at 13.
We have to balance keeping our hero team busy, but also having enough developers to cover incoming tasks in case we get a surge. A major surge in tasks has only happened a couple of times, but without backup, we will start falling behind on tasks, leading to unhappy customers who are likely to not renew.
On the flip side, if we have too many developers, and they are being paid hourly, they will find other work and leave us.
Now, we have SOPs for each stage of the customer cycle:
Onboarding. including obtaining login credentials, and setting up the website in our system for weekly reports and website monitoring
Task submission. A customer submits a task through our portal, and we have a PM to handle it- typically handing it off to one of our developers.
Offboarding. Here, we ask for feedback and if possible, a testimonial
We also have a few canned responses for our developers to use with customers, so there is consistency with our messages and a high level of friendliness.
We are at 13 sites right now that we service, we have a goal of 15 total by the end of June.
Medium-term, over the next few months, we can add about 2 new sites or customers per week.
Long term, we are working towards more automation. My partner and I both would like to be working less within the business and more on the marketing and customer acquisition side. I see us moving there slowly over the next couple of months, which will mean the ability to grow our affiliate program and start our ad campaigns with Google and Facebook, with the time we have freed up.
Also, through our content marketing, we aim to be in much more of a position to attract customers, rather than chasing them all over the place. Playing the cold email/LinkedIn the messaging game has taken a lot of time and effort, with only a few customers landed.
The other goal is to continue to build our team in the Philippines and expand our Eastern Europe team. I have found that having a “mostly” centralized team is the best for keeping workers around the longest and having a loyal group.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
We spent too much time trying to narrow down our audience and try to find our perfect avatar. While I wouldn’t say this is a bad idea for most businesses, I don’t think we needed to work so hard on it. Our product works for small businesses at a certain stage of development. By trying to narrow down our niche, we spent a lot of time trying to court business owners who had no money, and sometimes, not even a website!
Instead, finding places where small and solo business owners hang out was a much better way to attract customers. Now as we move more into content marketing, we will be attracting the right customers, instead of thinking we need to be on the pursuit. Drawing in rather than chasing down.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
When we first started our business, Work Hero, we tried several combinations of help desk software, client management, shopping carts, affiliate programs, and paid subscriptions.
We tried copying what others were doing but kept running into limitations.
Every solution had its benefits, but we were running into things that just became unacceptable.
Some were just too expensive for what we needed.
When we became a 100% WordPress support business, we came across SPP.co.
It has everything needed for an eCommerce or productized service business:
Shopping cart. The SPP cart integrates easily with Stripe and looks much better than the other carts we’ve tried. You can accept credit card payments, PayPal, and even Bitcoin! (we have yet to make our first bitcoin sale, but we’re looking forward to that :)) But even better, you can set it up so that you can offer monthly, quarterly, bi-annual, or annual payments- and the discount is automatically calculated for customers. Setting up discount coupons is also something you can easily do on the fly, set expiration dates, and the maximum number of uses.
Client management. This lets us see all our customer info- contact info, orders placed, payments made, and lifetime value. Super helpful to get a quick customer snapshot.
Project management. New orders show up on the dashboard, so it’s super easy for everyone on our team to see what needs to be done. We use this in combination with Teamwork to make sure nothing ever “slips between the cracks”.
Form builder. Super easy to set up your forms- including intake forms, thank you pages, and project data forms.
Member area. This is a huge problem that SPP solves. We have one place to go for customers to submit tasks and see all of their past requests and what has already been done. All customers have one login, and they can access their invoices and any reports as well.
Affiliate management. We manage all of our affiliates on SPP. This is a great feature to have, as everything is in the same place- customers automatically become affiliates, so there’s no need for them to go anywhere else to get their affiliate link, banners, check commissions, etc.
SPP.co has been one of the keys to the success of Work Hero, and I recommend it to anyone running a productized service business as one of the first investments to make in your business.
We started out with MailChimp, and while that served a purpose early on- a free tool that we could use to manage customer notifications, as well as leads- we outgrew it and needed something with more functionality.
We tested out a few email management systems with free trials, and Active Campaign won out. Now, we are easily able to manage all of our lists- including customers, leads, affiliates, and former customers.
We have several autoresponders set up, with customer instructions, lead follow-ups, and affiliate info. These are very easy to set up, and you can create a bit of “intelligence”- which we have needed, particularly when we had to merge our affiliate lists.
All this, at a very reasonable cost.
Once you get over the initial learning curve, Active Campaign is the best email management and CRM out there- and they are very customer service oriented, willing to work with anyone no matter how small your company may be.
Project management software that helps us keep track of tasks in our system- assigning, who is working on the task, completed tasks, and team collaboration.
All of our company documents and assets are stored here. We also have our onboarding materials, developer training, logins, and designs here.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Company of One - Getting away from the idea of constant growth while building a small or solo business.
Tropical MBA lots of valuable info on running a location independent business.
Productized Startups Community - a helpful group with anything related to a productized service.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Momentum is everything. When you lose momentum, it’s easy to give up. You can keep momentum by not overthinking decisions and questioning yourself. Keep moving forward and act as quickly as you can.
Keep learning. Not only continue to learn as much as you can but maintain your enthusiasm for learning in itself. It’s fun to learn new things!
Don’t reinvent the wheel but don’t be afraid to do things your way. There are many others who came before you who have successfully built a similar business. Take everything you can from them! But at the same time, don’t think you have to do it exactly as others have done. Be open to learning from your mistakes, and going with your instincts- rather than doing what everyone else is doing. Unconventional can often be the best way forward!
Work hard, but take breaks and have fun. Try not to think you have to be Elon Musk and work crazy hours every week. I see a lot of entrepreneurs trying to use the number of hours worked per week as some kind of badge of honor. It isn’t. You need a level of balance in your life. By trying to maximize your “hours worked” each week, you will bring yourself closer to burnout and health issues. We all have a need for sunshine, exercise, and connection with other humans. It’s extremely important to keep this in mind as you build.
Don’t worry about growth. You want to create a profitable, successful business. But you don’t have to be constantly growing and hitting lofty targets. It’s tempting to do this because everyone else is doing it, but you can grow in stages. And you may get to a stage where everything is working, you’re making a nice profit each month, and to get to the next level, you’d have to make sacrifices to your life. Perhaps you don’t want to make these sacrifices and that’s perfectly okay!
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are always interested in talking with WordPress developers in various time zones. Here’s a quick description:
Part-Time WordPress Developer - Any Time Zone
The WordPress tasks will be mostly limited to 1 hour or less, helping people run their businesses and take care of the more technical and time-consuming issues they may have. Examples include site speed optimization, helping with plugin issues, data migration, opt-in forms, security, errors on-site, converting from Squarespace to WordPress, etc.
We sometimes need to clean up back end issues and fix more complicated problems. We are looking for someone part-time (starting with just a few hours a week and growing from there) that is interested in moving into a Team Lead or management role in the company as we grow.
I will also be looking for an Operations Manager in 2020, but I haven’t defined the role yet.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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