As 2023 draws to a close, it's time to reflect on everything that happened this year. It has been another incredible year, and I have learned so much. This is my fifth Year in Review post, and you can check out my previous ones: 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022.While Andy and I have been selling plugins since 2016, this year brought lots of firsts for Barn2. We acquired a plugin from another company, sponsored WordCamp Europe, hired new roles to the team, and I became a podcast host and WordPress celebrity (ok, maybe not) - all for the first time. In addition, we released 2 new plugins and achieved record sales and revenue.
This is the story of 2023 at Barn2 - the highs and the lows.
2023 in numbers
- $1,517,009 total revenue from plugins - compared to $1,377,708 in 2022, a 10% increase
- $15,279 commission from other WordPress products that we are an affiliate for
- $30,245 from hosting and support for historical clients whose websites we built before we switched to selling plugins
- $1,878 from YouTube ads and selling advertising on our website (e.g. sponsored posts)
- 16,187 plugin sales
- $98 average order value
- 2,101 refunds – refund rate 13%
- 2 new plugins, 1 acquisition, and 196 plugin updates released
- 100 knowledge base articles, 159 blog posts/tutorials, 75 videos, + 2 livestream Q&A sessions published
- 22,195 support tickets - an increase of 65%
- $17,188 paid to our 776 affiliates (sign up here!)
- And I did 3 written interviews and was on 30 podcast episodes 🎙️
We also reached some incredible milestones. Our total lifetime plugin sales passed the 6 million dollar mark. We now have 33,996 paying customers, plus 31,700+ free plugin users - that's over 65,000 people using our plugins!
I'm eternally grateful to everyone in the Barn2 team for making all of this happen, and the rest of the WordPress community which gives me so much love and support.
What about profit?
As always, I choose to share details of our revenue but not profit.
In terms of profit, Andy and I have earned a few percent less this year. This is because the team has grown so much. It's a bit frustrating given that we’ve worked so hard and all our team members have had raises. However, the company remains profitable and financially stable, and the extra costs are laying the foundations for even more future growth 🚀
We launched 2 new plugins (+ acquired one)
I was hoping to be able to write that the Barn2 suite expanded by 5 plugins in 2023. Sadly, this did not happen and our development team spent most of the year working on some ambitious new plugins which aren't quite ready to launch yet.
Instead, we successfully launched 2 new plugins and also made our first ever acquisition:
WooCommerce Shipping Calculator
If you've ever added a product to your cart just to check the shipping cost, then you'll understand why we created this plugin! WooCommerce Shipping Calculator adds an important feature which is missing from WooCommerce - the ability for customers to enter their location and check the delivery options right on the product page.
WooCommerce Express Shop Page
Express Shop Page is another plugin which makes online shopping more user-friendly. It lets customers select quantities and variations directly on the main shop pages, instead of having to click through to a separate page for each product. This significantly speeds up shopping, helping to boost conversion rates.
Acquisition: WooCommerce Product Tabs
You may remember from my previous Year in Review posts that I've wanted the experience of acquiring another WordPress product for ages. This year, I finally got the chance when a developer reached out on Twitter asking if we'd like to buy his WooCommerce Product Tabs plugin. It had a free version with over 9,000 users and excellent reviews, plus a premium version with more features.
It felt like an excellent fit for our other products and was a price that we could easily afford. You can read the full story here.
So far, we have made back half of what we spent to acquire the plugin, so it should become profitable soon.
What I learned: I need to think bigger 💡
While the new plugins are selling ok, on reflection I think they were a distraction and I should have focussed on bigger things.
Back in 2016, we first found success selling unique, single-feature plugins which solved a real problem for WordPress and WooCommerce users. Since then, we have developed what I like to call the "Barn2 marketing machine" 💪 and know how to market more ambitious plugins with a wider audience. These bring much greater potential for growth than minor plugins.
Admittedly, we intentionally kept things small with WooCommerce Product Tabs because I wanted the experience of acquiring another product, and to learn from my mistakes when the stakes were low. However, in general I should stop trying to fill every gap in the market that I discover, and instead focus Barn2's resources on ideas which will scale. (I say "I" rather than "We" here because Andy has been saying this for ages and yet I keep moving forwards with small ideas.)
Improving our existing plugins
While new plugins are fun, existing plugins are equally important. During 2023, we have continued adding extra features and other improvements to our existing plugins.
While we have done this across the board, we have particularly focussed on the new plugins that we released in 2022 - WooCommerce Product Options and WooCommerce Product Filters. As new plugins, we had received lots of feature requests which provided clear direction about how they could better meet our customers' needs.
We have also invested huge resources in improving usability in our table plugins. We launched the new Posts Table Pro table builder early in the year, and since then have been working on a table builder for WooCommerce Product Table too.
The Barn2 website (+ an SEO scare)
The Barn2 website is a beast and our developer Paul works tirelessly to keep it running smoothly. As a highly customized Easy Digital Downloads (EDD) site with constant design changes as we optimize for conversions etc., that's not easy.
This year, we have focussed a lot on improving performance and other changes that will boost our SEO. By rewriting our CSS and recoding our ACF-powered templates using the Gutenberg block editor, Paul has achieved impressive improvements in our PageSpeed scores.
He also wrote some custom reports for us, after we finally stopped waiting for EDD to meet our business data needs. It's wonderful to have instant access to data on sales per product, renewal rates, etc. - no more spreadsheets 🤓
Scarily, disaster struck in October when Ellipsis reported that we had been hit by a Google algorithm update and our search rankings had dropped significantly 😱. This soon translated into real money: Revenue from new sales decreased by 14% in October compared to September, when we would normally see an increase. I found this very scary because we always follow white hat SEO practices and had never been adversely affected by an algorithm change.
Ellipsis did an impressive job in guiding us through the crisis. Ultimately, the problem turned out to be a bug with Google and they reversed the algorithm change that was affecting us. It was a huge relief to see our rankings and sales climb back up.
This also taught me a valuable lesson in not being dependent on one marketing channel. Interestingly, our YouTube conversions increased while our SEO traffic was down. This made me glad that we are investing so much in video marketing and not just written content. We need to keep growing our conversions from other sources to protect us from similar problems in future.
Customer support grew by 65%
2023 didn't get off to a great start for the Barn2 support team because the volume of support tickets suddenly rose by over 30%. This happened largely because we had released 2 complex new plugins in late 2022. Major new plugins always generate lots of support tickets - feature requests, bug reports, usability queries etc. These stabilize after a few months are a drain on support initially.
The increase in support tickets inevitably caused a huge backlog, despite the support team's tireless work and commitment. We had about 150 active tickets at any one time, double our usual norm.
I responded as fast as I could by hiring additional team members, and even jumping in myself on occasions. However, these things take time and I'm sorry that our support timescales were slower than usual for a few months.
I now have meetings with Carlo, our support team lead, every 2 weeks. I'm finding these to be an excellent opportunity to discuss new ideas for improving our customer support and tackle any problems early on.
Building a thriving team culture
We started and ended 2023 with a team of 17 people, although there were several changes along the way.
Our first ever team survey
In the summer, I read a book about leadership which said that managers need to understand what it's like to work for their company. I suddenly realised that I had no idea what it's like to work at Barn2!
That's because Andy and I never set out with the goal of building a team. Instead, we had hired people when we needed them - and before we knew it, Barn2 had turned into a proper team!
As a result, I decided that it was time to reflect on my responsibilities as company owner and think about what sort of workplace we had created. I planned to write a simple survey for team members, and posted a tweet asking for suggestions of questions to include. James Giroux from TeamWP got in touch offering to do a Barn2 team survey for free as a case study.
I worked with James to create a survey, which he sent to the team. Amazingly, 100% of team members responded! James provided a detailed report of the findings, which were overwhelmingly positive and showed that people were very happy working at Barn2. In particular, they praised our commitment to remote working and the fact that we trust them to do their jobs without being micro-managed. Somehow, our laissez-faire approach to building a team had created a working environment that is very appealing 🙃
While the results were positive, team members had various suggestions for improvement. I took these very seriously and consulted with the team on Slack to decide which ones to implement. The changes we've made as a result include a policy to avoid releasing plugin updates on a Friday or Monday, plus regular team social calls and development team calls.
In particular, the team calls have had a big impact on team bonding and communication. We do a different fun activity each month. So far we've done Kahoot quizzes about each other and Barn2, explored one another's countries on GeoGuessr, done murder mystery parties, and played Pictionary.
Losing team members 😢
Sadly, I fired 2 people this year. This was an incredibly difficult decision because they were both skilled professionals with a lot to offer. However, I thought about it for a long time and know I made the right call.
As the manager of a remote team, it's essential that I can see my team members making progress in their work. This involves completing tasks and meeting deadlines; posting their 'Daily Goals' on the Barn2 Slack and posting their progress at the end of the day; and telling me if any personal issues are affecting their ability to work.
When team members do these things, then I trust them to get on with their job. All of my current team members are good at this, so I instantly notice the contrast if someone cannot work in this way. I tried to support each person to achieve these things, but ultimately there was no improvement so I had no choice.
We also lost Domenico Nusca, a Codeable developer who we had been working with since 2019. He was also one of the best developers who I have ever worked with and moved on to pursue other goals in his career. I was very sad to lose Domenico but in a way, it was a blessing in disguise because he was our most expensive team member by far. For the cost of four days per week of his time, we could almost hire 2 full-time in-house developers! Domenico's departure was also significant because it was the first time that a long-standing team member had ever voluntarily left us - amazing, I know!
Hiring new team members 👋
When Domenico left, we hired two plugin developers to replace him - one of which is still with us. Sandro Nunes is an experienced Senior Plugin Developer and is doing an excellent job with our 3 table plugins. That's a lot of pressure because those 3 plugins make up a big proportion of our sales.
There were also several changes in the support team. LevelUp provided us with 2 new excellent support engineers - Cheska Sarmiento and Adrian Navaja. We also hired Faycal Boutam to provide 'Tier 3' developer-level support.
We hired our first ever full-time designer - Daniel Gonzaléz - early in the year. Sifting through 1,107 applicants was overwhelming but I'm glad I made the right choice in the end. He is now helping to bring our design and branding to the next level.
As well as hiring new team members, we promoted several existing team members. Alessandro was promoted from Senior Developer to Head of Plugin Developer and is taking over some of Andy's previous responsibilities so that he can focus on higher level tasks. Amir was promoted from Tier 3 Support Engineer to Plugin Developer. I look forward to continuing to recognize and reward people for their excellent work.
Expanding the marketing team
Replacing lost marketing team members was more of a challenge. After hiring several marketers who didn't work out, I had lost confidence in my ability to choose the right people.
As a result, before advertising to replace anyone, I significantly expanded our contract with Ellipsis who we have been working with since 2017. As the only marketing agency specializing in WordPress, I know that they have the industry knowledge to make things happen.
Ellipsis helped me to identify gaps in our marketing capacity and create the job description for an in-house SEO and Marketing Manager. As a result, we hired Diego Rivera who is doing a fantastic job.
The current Barn2 teamWe fully embrace remote working and I love the fact that several of the Barn2 team are digital nomads. We have team members in the UK, Spain, US, Italy, Morocco, Portugal, Peru, Colombia and the Philippines.
The team now consists of:
- 2 directors - my husband Andy as Technical Director, and myself as CEO
- 5 developers
- 7 full-time support engineers working across tiers 1, 2 and 3 (one of whom spends half her time as Virtual Assistant for the team)
- Marketing and SEO Manager
- Video Creator
- Plus Ellipsis who provide a CMO-As-a-Service, content planning and SEO; and several freelance writers
We won 2 awards 🏆
In October, we were delighted to have our contribution to the WooCommerce community recognized. We won 2 Seshies in the annual awards which were part of the WooSesh conference. We won Store of the Year, plus our WooCommerce Product Options plugin won Extension of the Year 🍾.
Thank you so much to everyone who voted for us.
My personal brand
As well as continuing to build the Barn2 brand, my personal brand took off in 2023 😎. That's mostly due to 2 things: podcast hosting and Twitter.
I became the host of 2 podcasts 🎙️
At the start of 2023, I had never hosted a podcast (although I had been a guest on most of the main WordPress ones). Now I'm a co-host of two! These are:
- WP Product Talk - Each week, two hosts and a guest have an informal chat about a specific topic relating to growing a WordPress product company. My co-hosts are Matt Cromwell from GiveWP/StellarWP, Zack Katz from GravityKit, and Amber Hinds from Equalize Digital. (You can subscribe here.)
- Woo BizChat at Do the Woo - Once a month, Marcus Burnette from GoDaddy and I join a guest to discuss a topic relevant to WooCommerce business owners.
While I'm not the most natural host, I think I have improved a lot this year and will hopefully continue to improve.
I finally joined Twitter (or do I have to call it X?)
While Barn2 has had a Twitter account for years, that's just for company news and we have never put much time into it. I never really saw the point, or any real benefit.
In late 2022, Andy convinced me that as "The face of Barn2" (as he called it), I should have a professional presence on Twitter. It kind of made sense, so I reluctantly signed up and started tweeting and following other people in the WordPress community.
It turns out that Andy was completely right! Since then I've got surprisingly into Twitter and have built up a following of 2,800 people.
I have enjoyed sharing my experiences of running a WordPress business and try to be genuine and open - I hate how pretentious some people are on Twitter! People respond really well to this and it has led to lots of interesting discussions with people from across the WordPress industry. Sure, I have blocked 1 or 2 people who were letting the community down - but apart from that, everyone has been incredibly friendly and positive. I don't really care who owns Twitter because the experience is all about user-generated content and the people you choose to connect with.
When we sponsored WordCamp Europe, several people approached our booth and told me how helpful they find my tweets. That was really nice to hear 😊
And if you don't already, follow me here 😉
But is it worth it?
It's nice to give back to the community that has given me so much.
However, I do often reflect on whether it's worth the time compared to what else I could be doing. Most of the people who follow me or listen to my podcasts are WordPress product people rather than potential customers. But despite this, I've found lots of value from being more active in the WordPress community - even if this doesn't directly translate into plugin sales.
During podcasts and Twitter conversations, I regularly receive ideas and advice from talented people which I use to improve my own business. Being on Twitter has also brought some direct business opportunities which wouldn't have happened otherwise. This includes being approached to acquire the WooCommerce Product Tabs plugin, be a guest on podcasts and interviews, and so on. And having a higher profile must be reflecting on the Barn2 brand in some way and raising the profile of our products.
While I can't measure the impact of all this compared to other activities, I'm having fun and meeting lots of awesome people. In 2024, I'll try to find the right balance and maybe limit podcasts to 1 per week!
We sponsored our first WordCamp
We had 6 Barn2 team members at WordCamp Europe in 2022, which made me realise that there were finally enough of us to have a sponsorship booth. As a result, we became "Small Business" sponsors of WordCamp Europe.It was more work than I had anticipated because we had to arrange all the swag and plan the booth. However, sponsoring was an awesome experience that we plan to do again.
As a sponsor, I met far more people than I do as a normal WordCamp attendee, and it was an excellent bonding experience for the team. I loved seeing my team members speaking with potential customers face-to-face for the first time - who knew our developers were such good salespeople! We also did a team boat trip with Greek buffet, an escape mansion (this is the same thing as an escape room but a whole house) with members of my WP Business Mastermind group, and visited the main sights of Athens.
Andy and I were very lucky that my parents could come to Mallorca and look after our daughter so that we could both attend.
For more details, read my WordCamp Europe sponsorship story. You might also enjoy our video summary:
Enjoying the WordPress community
2023 also brought plenty of other opportunities to be part of the WordPress community.
I was gutted not to be able to attend the first ever WordCamp Asia in March 2023 because there weren't enough tickets available. We had been planning to bring 7 team members 😢
However, Amir could still attend because he was a speaker. He did an excellent talk titled "Customer Support: How 3 Tiers can Save Customers' Tears". This was the first time that a Barn2 team member had spoken at a WordCamp and I was incredibly proud.
I look forward to meeting the support team at WordCamp Asia 2024, which we will be sponsoring.
In August I spent a week in Washington DC for WCUS.
I spent most of the week with my team members Paul and Daniel, and my friends from my WP Business Mastermind group. I went out for meals, explored the Washington monuments on electric scooters, went to the zoo, and lots more.
After 4 years of regular calls and speaking daily on Slack, the Mastermind group is pretty close-knit and it was lovely for nearly all of us to be together in person.
I said "nearly" because unfortunately James Kemp wasn't able to attend. We spent all week sending him sad photos showing how much we (plus various other members of the WordPress community who we dragged into it) missed him 😂. I'm not sure if the goal was to make him feel worse or appreciated, but never mind 😅
Here's a video summary of my time at WCUS:
After a week of partying and networking (all for business-related purposes, of course 😉) the inevitable happened:
But it was worth it 🤒
And finally, a quick update on what's being going on with me personally in 2023.
The main big change in my life is that we bought a house. Or two, kind of.
Andy, our daughter Sophia and I moved from rainy England to the sunny Spanish island of Mallorca in mid-2021. It was just a trial initially to see if we liked living overseas, so we rented an apartment. After deciding to stay permanently, we bought a house in February.
While it's a beautiful house, I miss renting because I don't enjoy the commitment of owning a home. However, we did the sums and financially it was the right decision, even though house prices in Mallorca are ridiculous 💸
We couldn't afford a home that was big enough for us to live and work in, and also have space for guests. Instead, we bought a beautiful 3-bedroom house to live in and in addition, I was lucky that family members kindly 'donated' money towards buying an apartment nearby. A local interior designer renovated the apartment, which now has a beautiful office for me (Andy's office is in the main house), plus space for friends and family when they visit. I go there most days, although I also have a desk in the home office for when I can't use the apartment.
Apart from that, we went on a once-in-a-lifetime holiday to Disney World Florida at Easter. We also spent lots of time with extended family in the Summer, both in Mallorca and back in England.
What’s in store for 2024?
With 23 fantastic plugins (+ 2 more coming soon), we need to turn our attentions inwards in 2024 and maximize what we've already got. Specifically, my goals for 2024 are:
- Revenue and profitability: Increase revenue by 15% and profitability by 10%.
- Product development: Finally launch the WooCommerce Discount Manager, WooCommerce Checkout Manager, and WooCommerce Product Table table builder projects which have taken up so much of our development capacity in 2023.
- Marketing and workload: Delegate more marketing tasks to the team so that I can comfortably take 1-2 days off per week without compromising the business.
- Efficiency: Improve automation and efficiency within the development team, including development of the Barn2 library of shared code.
- Quality control: Train all members of the development team in taking responsibility for the quality of their work so that Andy and I don't need to oversee everything.
- Customer satisfaction: Listen to customer feedback on our newly released plugins and made sure they are the best they can be. Also add significant new features and improvements to our top selling plugins and measurably increase their sales.
I'll tell you how I get on next year!
In the meantime, I'd like to thank our amazing team members, customers, husband and business partner Andy, our affiliates, and all my WordPress friends for another fantastic year. I'm excited to discover what 2024 will bring 🔮