The year 2022 has been full of successes and challenges at Barn2. I'm excited to share the story with you in my 2022 Year in Review.
2022 has been a rollercoaster ride at Barn2. As I look back on the year, it's hard to believe how much has happened in the last 12 months.After moving to sunny Mallorca ☀️ 😎 as a trial in 2021, the two Directors - my husband Andy and myself - decided to stay longer-term.
We've also released 3 new plugins, doubled the size of the team, discovered new markets, been part of the wider WordPress community, and achieved record sales and revenue.
And even more excitingly, we have achieved this through our own efforts, remaining an independent company 100% owned and managed by its original founders.
This is the story of 2022 at Barn2 - the highs and the lows.
2022 in numbers
- $1,376,026 total revenue from plugins - compared to $1,231,247 in 2021, a 12% increase
- 13,386 total sales and renewals
- $105 average order value
- 1,661 refunds – refund rate 12%
- 3 new plugins and 150 plugin updates released
- 79 knowledge base articles, 82 blog posts/tutorials and 15 videos published
- 13,843 support tickets - compared to 12,445 in 2021 - an increase of 11%
- $31,190 paid to our 601 affiliates (sign up here!)
We also reached some incredible milestones. Our total lifetime plugin sales passed the 4.5 million dollar mark. We now have 27,000+ paying customers, plus 21,000+ free plugin users - that's over 48,000 people using our plugins!
I'm hugely grateful to everyone in the Barn2 team for making all of this happen.
Of course, these figures are revenue rather than profit and our costs increase as the team grows. However, we remain profitable and financially stable, and only ever recruit when we can comfortably afford it. I'm excited to be investing in our future growth.
We launched 3 new plugins
The development team at Barn2 worked extremely hard in 2022 building new plugins and improving our existing ones. We wanted to build new plugins that solved real pain points for our customers. Equally, we wanted to keep making our most popular plugins more and more useful for people.
WooCommerce Product Sample
Early in 2022, I identified a gap in the market for a professional-level plugin that would let customers order a sample of a product before deciding to purchase the full version. WooCommerce Product Sample was the result.
WooCommerce Product Filters
As 2022 progressed, Andy and I decided that we needed to be more confident and start building plugins with a wider reach.
We had known for years that there were no professional-level WooCommerce filtering plugins on the market. Customers of our other plugins, such as WooCommerce Product Table, were crying out for one.
We decided to build our own, despite the technical complexity and challenges that this would bring. Instead of copying what other WooCommerce filter plugins do, we analyzed the filters on the world's top e-commerce sites and brought these ideas to WordPress for the first time.
After many months of hard work and intensive testing, WooCommerce Product Filters was released in August. It is already providing hugely popular and people love using it either alone or with our other plugins.
As well as adding user-friendly filters to the front end of people's websites, the plugin is quite innovative in the back end. We used React to build a drag and drop filter builder, which makes it easy to create filters from a central location. This was a big project because we were determined to seamlessly integrate the new interface with WordPress. That's because our philosophy is to work with WordPress and never make things that impose our branding on the admin or look 'bolted on'.
In the end, the new filter builder was a great addition to the growing Barn2 library. It's now being used for some of our other plugins too, including WooCommerce Product Options which we'll discuss next.
WooCommerce Product Options
For years, we had been integrating our plugins with the official Product Add-Ons extension from WooCommerce.com. However, we never really liked that plugin. It was old-fashioned and unintuitive to use, and lacked a lot of features which our customers wanted.
We decided to build our own. WooCommerce Product Options was released in September and is already providing very popular. It has lots of extra features which the official extension is missing, such as additional option styles and conditional logic.
The Barn2 team grew and grew!
We started 2022 with a team of 8 people - and ended it with at least 16!
- 2 directors - my husband Andy as Technical Director, and myself as CEO.
- 4 developers
- 6 full-time support engineers working across tiers 1, 2 and 3 (one of whom spends half her time as Virtual Assistant for the team)
- Head of Content
- Video Creator
- Senior Content Marketer
- Content Writer
- Plus a freelance designer, some additional freelance content writers, and Ellipsis helping with keyword research and content planning
We now have team members in the UK, Spain, US, Germany, Iran, India, Italy, Nigeria, Poland, and the Philippines. I love the fact that several of the Barn2 team are digital nomads, as we fully embrace flexible working.
As well as hiring new team members, we have rewarded the efforts of existing team members. For example, Alessandro will be moving up to a new role of 'Head of Plugin Development' in January. We also promoted EJ to Head of Support.
Building a marketing team
In 2021, we hired our development team - all of whom are still with us now. 2022 is the year when I turned my attentions to building an in-house marketing team. Previously, I worked with Ellipsis for marketing strategy, and freelancers for copywriting.
In April, Andy and I decided that the company was well past the stage where we should have marketing expertise and capacity in-house. As a result, we advertised for a Head of Content. That's right, we were just planning to hire one person for the year.
While hiring a Head of Content, I created a Trello board of all their responsibilities. It felt very exciting to share out tasks that had previously just been my responsibility! However, it soon became clear that this would require much more than just one person. I ended up creating two roles straight away, plus further roles later in the year.
A flood of applications
Disappointingly, advertising for people to join the team has been a low for me. I love finding good people, but the number of applications is simply overwhelming. We received:
- 125 applications for the Head of Content role.
- 406 applications for the Content Writer role.
- 116 applicants for the Video Creator role.
- 1,107 applications for the Designer role.
On the surface, it's flattering that so many people want to work for us. However, it's not a true compliment because at least 90% don't even bother to read the job description.
It saddens me how many people have so little understanding of how to apply for a job. It's not an education thing, it's a common sense thing. The vast majority of applicants made no effort to learn about Barn2 (and sometimes even addressed their covering letter to the wrong company!). Many only wrote one sentence to explain why they should get the job. There's no excuse for this because the application form explicitly tells them what we expect:
However, I have my own professional values and insist on personally replying to every application - even though it takes a huge amount of time. I give genuine feedback and hope that people appreciate this and will use it to improve their applications in future.
Managing a remote team
As the team has grown, I have had to develop new strategies to stay up-to-date with everyone's work. This isn't easy given that everyone works remotely from different time zones!
The Barn2 Slack workspace is essential for this, and helps us to be a close-knit team despite not sharing an office. Everyone works beautifully together to share ideas, solve problems, and provide an excellent service to our customers.
We each share daily goals, which we post at the start of the day and update at the end. As well as helping me to monitor progress and performance, it's an excellent way for the team to see what each other are working on. Setting daily goals is known to be important for personal productivity. I think that doing this in a visible team environment increases the benefits.
Most team members also track their time using TMetric. I find this helpful for budget monitoring on specific projects, and to make sure that people are prioritising their time effectively.
Letting people go
Sadly, things don't always work out within the team. 2022 was the first year that I have had to fire anyone since we started selling plugins. This happened either because someone's work didn't meet our high standards, or because they weren't suited to working in a remote team. Needless to say, this was my least favorite thing about 2022.
This year I've learned that not everyone thrives working remotely. A good remote worker is motivated to work without direct supervision. They need to be a good communicator who will join in team discussions and keep their manager up to date with their work.
The first few people I hired had these qualities instinctively. They produce high volumes of work and I never need to chase or ask what they are working on.
It was therefore a surprise when I hired people who didn't work in this way. I found myself chasing constantly for updates, instructing people to reply to my emails and messages, and to fill in their timesheets and daily goals. I eventually came to the conclusion that if these things are necessary then it means the person is sadly not the right fit for the team.
This is a difficult decision if someone's work is good and I don't want to lose their skills and experience. However, I've learned that some people are better suited to different work environments. This might be freelancing where they charge per project, and are therefore motivated to work hard and communicate properly. After all, they won't get paid otherwise! They might also thrive in a more traditional office environment with direct supervision.
I'm well aware that I am not a natural manager and some people are more comfortable managing performance. This has made it much harder to let people go, because I agonize over whether it's a problem with me or them. To help with this, I have taken a lot of advice from Andy and other company owners who have faced similar issues.
Customer support grew by 11%
We support customers across multiple channels including email, live chat, Facebook/YouTube comments, etc. The total number of support tickets across all channels increased from 12,445 to 13,843.
This is the first time that support has increased less than revenue. I think that's a good sign.
However, our average first response time during office hours was 8:25 hours, a lot longer than last year. This is largely because we have consciously become less strict with our support policies in 2022. For example, we now provide CSS tweaks and minor customizations to customers wanting to use our plugins slightly beyond their intended use. I would prefer to respond to customers much faster and we will keep working on this.
To help with capacity, this year we increased the support team by 50% - from 4 to 6 full-time support engineers. EJ does an incredible job leading the support team, and has implemented lots of new initiatives such as daily stand-up calls.
Andy and I also identified that we needed a 'bridge' between the development and support teams. Our plugin developers were spending a lot of time finding the cause of bugs and making basic fixes for issues like theme compatibility. As a result, we advertised for a 'Tier 3' support engineer with development experience.
Amir is now an effective bridge between the two teams, and often pinpoints the exact cause of a bug to save the lead developer time. He will be doing a talk at WordCamp Asia 2023 about the importance of Tier 3 support - if you're going, watch it! (otherwise, watch it online).
Improving the website
As the business has grown, the Barn2 website has developed a lot of technical debt and become very complex. Our incredible web developer Paul has spent much of the year rewriting our theme to make it much more performant, as well as keeping the website running smoothly and graciously adding all the new features that we ask him for.
This was delayed by the long-awaited (and long dreaded) release of Easy Digital Downloads 3.0. It was frustrating that Paul had to delay his other projects and spend literally weeks testing and redoing most of our customizations so that we could upgrade. It felt like there was no business benefit to this, as EDD 3.0 still doesn't meet our needs.
In 2023, I'm particularly excited to be planning a project to create custom reports which we can generate from our website. Since EDD's built-in reporting is incredibly limited, we need to create our own. I long for the day when data such as our average order value and yearly renewal rates is at my fingertips!
Selling in new ways
Our first ever lifetime sale
I'm always on the lookout for new ways to spread the word about our plugins, and bring them to a wider audience. In June, the LTDF Lifetime Tech Deal Fans Facebook group convinced me to run a lifetime sale for our plugins.
I was sceptical at first because we sell high quality plugins and don't engage in "race-to-the-bottom" sales tactics like AppSumo. However, Francisco and Tracey were incredible business people and showed me how the group was different from the websites that give lifetime deals a bad name. We agreed a fair price for the lifetime deal, which added value for their members without devaluing our plugins. I gave them the benefit of the doubt, and they were absolutely right.
Normally, people buy our plugins after searching for a specific problem that they're having with WordPress - for example "How can I build an online document library?" The lifetime sale was different because these people were approaching our plugins from a fresh angle. They were actively seeking new tools and considering which of our plugins would be useful for them. I listened to them and learned a lot.
The first Barn2 webinar
Thanks to an idea from our Head of Content Marta, in November we ran the first ever Barn2 webinar. It was about how to help WooCommerce store owners to prepare for Black Friday, and we ran it in partnership with the lovely Kim Coleman from Stranger Studios and Sitewide Sales.
I was a bit worried that no one would come, but we promoted it well and quite a few people registered and tuned in live. Even more people watched it later. I was pleased to see plenty of questions and comments during the webinar, showing that people were interested.
I hope to do more things like this in the future.
Making things official in MallorcaIn August 2021, Andy, my daughter Sophia (now 11) and I moved from the UK to the Spanish island of Mallorca. It was initially a trial year to see what it was like.
While we have had some difficulties and moving abroad was more complicated than we had anticipated, in May we had "the talk" as a family.
We all decided that we would prefer to stay in Mallorca than go back to the UK. What a relief that we all wanted the same thing!
As a result, we sold our home in the UK. We're now in the process of buying a house in Mallorca, and plan to move in January 2023.
The WordPress community
WordCamps are back!
It was disappointing not to attend any in-person WordPress events in 2020 or 2021 due to Covid. I was delighted to be able to attend both WordCamp Europe in June 2022, and WordCamp US in September.
As well as being an excuse to visit the beautiful cities of Porto and San Diego, it was amazing to see the community come together once again. I enjoyed building closer links with existing connections, meeting people in person who I had only previously talked to on Zoom, and get to know lots of inspirational new people.
It was particularly exciting to meet several of my team members in person for the first time. That's right - I had never met another member of the Barn2 team before 2022 (my husband Andy doesn't count 😉)!
Andy and I met Alessandro, Luigi, Domenico and Marta in Porto. It was lovely to see them bonding and coming together as a team.
In San Diego, I was just joined by one team member - Paul. I was very happy to have made the effort to come "over the pond" because while we have fewer team members in America, everyone is important no matter where they live.
On a less positive note, I was planning to meet the entire support team at WordCamp Asia in February 2023, but disappointingly we were unable to get tickets. We'll be sad not to see Amir's talk in person, but we're looking forward to watching online and helping him with the planning.
The rest of the year brought lots of remote opportunities to be part of the WordPress community. This included being a guest on podcasts and interviews, and collaborating with other WordPress companies to cross-promote our products. I also share ideas with other product company owners on channels such as the Post Status Slack, Twitter, and in Facebook groups.
My 'WP Business Mastermind' group of fellow company founders is now 3 years old and still going strong. This year, we welcomed Jason Coleman from Stranger Studios/Paid Memberships Pro to the group - so there are now 7 of us.
Still independent, and loving it
In 2021, there was a huge spate of acquisitions in the WordPress space. While this died down in 2022, the landscape of the WordPress industry has definitely changed as a result. This became particularly obvious to me at WordCamp US. It felt like I was one of the only "independents" there, which felt strange.
To be fair, a few things exaggerated this impression for me. Ticket numbers for WordCamp US were restricted because of Covid. They sold out within an hour. Most went to big companies who bought them in large blocks; or super-organised individuals like me!
Also, I spent a lot of time with James Kemp from Iconic, who is in my business mastermind group - and he sold his company to Liquid Web/StellarWP last year. As a result, I ended up getting to know lots of people from Stellar. They were all super-friendly and welcoming, and it was lovely to make so many new connections. However, they all had the same story - they sold their business and now work for the company who acquired them. I felt like the odd one out 😕
I started to question whether it was ok to remain independent, which made me feel sad because I love owning Barn2. Fortunately, discussing the situation with Andy gave me some perspective. I remembered that the people I was spending time with weren't representative of the WordPress landscape as a whole, and that our current goal is to continue growing without worrying about valuations or acquisitions. I am my own boss, and proud of it 💪 😃
Is WordPress declining?
This year, there has been a lot of hype about WordPress losing market share. If the market is indeed shrinking, then that affects all WordPress companies including Barn2.
In fact, we are seeing the difference. While our revenue grew 12% in 2022, this is by far the smallest annual growth we have ever had.
However, in my opinion, rumours of WordPress' impending demise have been greatly exaggerated. While the number of WordPress users hasn't really grown in 2022, it is is still the most popular CMS by far and has a huge market:
The Covid-19 pandemic shook things up and generated a lot of growth for plugin companies. At Barn2, we saw huge growth in 2020 as businesses quickly made the switch to selling online. If growth has declined since then, then I see that as a natural correction rather than a decline.
What’s in store for 2023?
In 2023, we will continue to focussing on our future growth. This will consist of:
- Continuing to expand the team and creating new roles as needed.
- Investing in people, for example by promoting our most committed team members to positions of greater responsibility. This will help them to get more fulfilment from their role, and add more value to the company.
- Releasing plugins (mostly WooCommerce-focussed) which target larger audiences.
- Expanding the Barn2 blog and YouTube channel into a more general resource for WordPress and WooCommerce website owners, instead of just writing about our plugins.
- Having a bigger presence at events, including sponsoring WordCamp Europe for the first time.
2022 has been a super-exciting year at Barn2. The company has gone from strength to strength as we have continued to grow despite wider economic and industry issues. Growing and consolidating the team has been incredibly exciting, and I have enjoyed (most of 😅) the challenges that it has brought.
I’d like to thank our tens of thousands of loyal customers, everyone on the Barn2 team, our affiliates who tirelessly recommend our plugins, and all my amazing friends in the WordPress community. Together, we have made 2022 a year to remember. Bring on 2023!