WordPress plugins year in review 2022 Barn2

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.

Andy and Katie Mallorca 2022
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!

Barn2 reached some incredible milestones in 2022. Total lifetime plugin sales passed the 4.5 million dollar mark, and they now have over 48,000 users - https://barn2.com/2022-year-in-review.
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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

WooCommerce Product Sample cropped

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

WooCommerce product filter plugin

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.

Add tag filter to WooCommerce

WooCommerce Product Options

WooCommerce Product Options plugin

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

Barn2 marketing meeting

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:

Application form
Are these instructions not clear enough?!

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.

Slack managing remote team
Daily goals in the Barn2 Slack
Sharing daily goals on Slack can enhance personal productivity, improve communication within a remote team, and assist managers in tracking progress and performance.
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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.

LTDF Facebook group
Lots of intelligent comments and questions during the LTDF sale live calls

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.

Barn2 webinar

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 Mallorca

Katie Andy Sophia paddleboarding
In 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.

Katie's office
My current office in our rented Mallorca apartment

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.

WordCamp US 2022 San Diego
Exploring San Diego with Chris from LifterLMS and James from StellarWP/Iconic

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.

Barn2 Team Wordcamp Europe 2022

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.

Katie and Paul WordCamp US San Diego

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.

Year-round networking

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.

WPTonic podcast interview

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.

WP Business Mastermind group
Me with Chris and James at the LifterLMS house in San Diego

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:

WordPress market share 2022

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.
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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.

Wrapping up

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!

2021 year in review

2021 has been a fascinating year at Barn2. After the chaos (and unexpected growth for plugin companies) that shook the world in 2020, we have spent 2021 consolidating and building the company.

We have released 5 new plugins, significantly expanded our team, and achieved record sales and revenue

The two Directors - my husband Andy and myself - left our home in the UK ☔️ to enjoy a year working remotely in sunny Mallorca ☀️ 😎

All of this happened during a year of unprecedented acquisitions in the WordPress plugin space. We have gone against the tide and remain an independent company 100% owned and managed by its original founders.

This is the story of 2021 at Barn2.

2021 in numbers

  • 7,701 new plugin sales (compared to 6,385 in 2020 - an increase of 21%)
  • 7,970 plugin renewals (compared to 4,708 in 2020 - an increase of 59%)
  • 1,243 refunds – refund rate 8% (compared to 1458 refunds/13% in 2020)
  • 5 new plugins and 130 plugin updates released
  • 119 knowledge base articles and 77 blog posts/tutorials published
  • 12,445 support tickets from customers in 123 countries (compared to 9,427 in 2020 - an increase of 32%)
  • $21,155 paid to our 486 affiliates (sign up here!)

We also reached some incredible milestones. Our total lifetime plugin sales passed the 3 million dollar mark. For the first time, monthly revenue is regularly achieving 6-figures. We now have 22,000+ paying customers, plus 20,000+ free plugin users - that's over 44,000 people using our plugins! One of our affiliates achieved lifetime commissions of $50,000.

Barn2 reached some incredible milestones in 2021. Total lifetime plugin sales passed the 3 million dollar mark, and they now have over 44,000 users - https://barn2.com/2021-year-in-review. 
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Of course, these figures are revenue rather than profit and our costs have increased as the team has grown. Nonetheless, this is a fantastic achievement and we're eternally grateful to everyone in the Barn2 team for making it happen.

We launched 5 new plugins

Clearly, the demand for WordPress and WooCommerce plugins was set to grow and grow in 2021, as more and more businesses turned to selling online. It made sense to continue expanding our portfolio of plugins that solve real problems on people's websites, as well as improving our existing ones.

Document Library Pro

Document Library Pro circle cropped

Our existing Posts Table Pro plugin had always been popular for creating a document library, but it wasn't ideal for this use case. As a result, in early 2021 we launched our dedicated WordPress document library plugin.

Document Library Pro was immediately popular and now competes with WooCommerce Product Table to be our biggest selling plugin. It's amazing given that so many people see us as a WooCommerce company!

WooCommerce Fast Cart

WooCommerce Fast Cart circle cropped

We love building WooCommerce plugins that help customers to buy online more quickly and easier. Our previous plugins (e.g. Product Table and Quick View) make it easier to add products to the cart, so we needed a solution to speed up the final parts of the customer journey.

WooCommerce Fast Cart lets customers complete their purchase more quickly by showing the cart and checkout in an on-page popup. It's a much faster way to shop. Launched in September, it is already proving to be a very popular plugin.

WooCommerce Quantity Manager

WooCommerce Quantity Manager circle cropped.png

While there were other quantity plugins on the market, none of them were natively designed to work with our other plugins. For example, customers needed a quantity plugin that worked with Product Table, Restaurant Ordering, and other Barn2 plugins.

WooCommerce Quantity Manager was the result. It has minimum and maximum quantities, quantity increments, default quantities, role-based control, and more.

WooCommerce Variation Prices

WooCommerce Variation Prices is a classic Barn2 plugin because it adds a very specific feature to WooCommerce which isn't available elsewhere on the market. It simply lets you replace the standard price range for variable products (e.g. "$10 - $100") with a format of your choice (e.g. "From $50). Simple but effective!

WooCommerce Discontinued Products

WooCommerce Discontinued Products is another single-feature plugin which is unique in the market. It adds a much-needed 'Discontinued' stock status to WooCommerce so that you can manage end-of-life products separately from other items.

We grew the Barn2 team

Having started the year with a small but strong team, we continued to grow during 2021. The team now works out as the equivalent of about 8 full-time colleagues and consists of:

  • 2 directors - my husband Andy as Technical Director, and myself as Operations Director.
  • 4 developers
  • 4 full-time support engineers
  • A part-time virtual assistant
  • Regular freelancers to assist with marketing, copywriting, social media and design.

We have team members in the UK, US, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the Philippines. Given that everyone works remotely, the team is surprisingly close-knit due to being in constant communication on Slack.

Everyone works beautifully together to share ideas, solve problems, and to provide an excellent service to our customers.

Hiring developers

2021 is the first year that we have hired developers as permanent employees. Previously, all our developers were freelance - for example, through Codeable.

While Codeable has some fantastic developers and we continue to work with them, it's an expensive way to hire. I would say that Codeable (and freelancers in general) are a good option if you (a) don't need full-time hours, and (b) aren't financially secure enough to provide job stability to permanent employees. By mid-2021, it was clear that Barn2 were a long way past this stage on both counts.

We had put off employing staff because we were unconfident in the hiring process and didn't want to spend a long time on the legal side of things. However it was obviously the right thing to do, so we got started.

We created job descriptions for two positions: A Senior Plugin Developer to build and maintain plugins for us, and a Web Developer to take care of the Barn2 website.

As a small company, we don't have the capacity to train inexperienced developers and don't take risks with the quality of our plugins. We have always hired very experienced freelancers, and wanted to replicate this in our new employees. That's why we created a Senior-level role instead of just asking for a 'Plugin Developer'. It meant offering a higher salary, but I think it's worth it.

Advertising the vacancies

Job Advert

I promoted the vacancies in various places. This included WordPress Jobs, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Workable, Post Status Jobs, WeWorkRemotely, WPHired, Remoters, and the Barn2 customer newsletter.

I also personally head hunted specific developers who had the right skills. This was particularly important for the Web Developer role because not many people have Easy Digital Downloads experience.

The best responses came from Post Status, Facebook groups, Workable (although there were a lot of time-wasters on Workable), WeWorkRemotely, head hunting, and the Barn2 newsletter. Next time, I would save time by focussing on these channels.

A barrage of applications

Within hours, I received literally hundreds of applications. Quite frankly, the quality of most of them was shocking - especially for the 'Web Developer' role. I quickly learned to instantly reject any application that mis-spelled 'WordPress' or 'WooCommerce'. No one who would make that mistake could ever fit into the Barn2 team!

I don't understand why any employer would consider someone who simply sends their CV without any sort of covering letter or explanation of why they are suitable for the role. Who has time to read through a CV without any indication of whether it's relevant?! And more importantly, if the applicant hasn't taken the time to write a covering letter then they are unlikely to have the communication skills we needed.

We had asked each applicant to provide examples of their code (e.g. a plugin they have written) so that we could check their development skills. Again, this allowed me to rule out a lot of people - if they ignored this request then they probably didn't have the attention to detail that we were looking for.

But on the plus side, we also received some excellent applications. Our dream was to hire people who already had experience of selling themes or plugins. I wasn't sure we would attract anyone of that calibre, and was delighted with some of the people who applied.

Once we had sifted through all the applications, there were 5 people who were clearly worth interviewing. This felt manageable. All 5 were extremely impressive so we felt we had a good chance of finding the right people.

The interview process

Andy and I conducted the interviews on Zoom, which was interesting because neither of us had interviewed anyone before. We intentionally kept it friendly and informal.

In theory, we would have been happy to hire any of the people that we interviewed. However, two people in particular stood out for the Senior Plugin Developer role. We confirmed this by asking them each to develop a small plugin.

In the end, we were so impressed with both of them that we ended up creating two Senior Plugin Developer positions instead of one. Both are now valued members of the Barn2 team. Hiring more developers than we intended was definitely the right decision. 

Hiring a good web developer is HARD

Unfortunately, things didn't go so smoothly with the Web Developer role. The Barn2 website is pretty complex. Ok, very complex. It uses Easy Digital Downloads and has a lot of bespoke functionality. It requires a very experienced developer - but people with that level of experience aren't interested in looking after an existing website. As a result, the people we interviewed for the Web role were more interested in the Senior Plugin Developer role - even though the salaries were similar.

At the same time, we started realizing that looking after our website isn't really a full-time job. We need a dedicated developer for the website who is available during emergencies, but it won't take up all of their time. The job description we had written simply wasn't right.

We tried hiring two of the people who we had interviewed on a part-time freelance basis, but unfortunately neither worked out. In the end, we solved the problem by expanding the role of one of our existing freelance developers - instead of hiring someone new from scratch. They start in their new expanded role in January 2022, and will give the website some much-needed care.

Hiring staff worldwide - the practicalities

I must admit that I was naive about the logistics of hiring employees in other countries. When we decided to advertise worldwide, we assumed that we would be legally allowed to hire people regardless of their location. After all, big companies like Automattic seem to do it all the time. Unfortunately, this isn't the case.

Part-way through the hiring process, I discovered that as a UK registered company, we couldn't directly hire employees in other countries. That's because we don't have a legal presence in those countries. We considered various options such as whether to hire people as independent contractors, or to get a 'Global Employment Organization' (GEO) to act as the 'Employee of Record' (EOR) on our behalf. This was a lot of work and led to some unexpected costs. I could have approached the hiring process more professionally if I had known about these technicalities beforehand. 

Moving to Mallorca

Andy and I have worked hard to build a company that gives us a flexible lifestyle. We quit our previous jobs, started a web design agency, and eventually transitioned to selling plugins. We've built a remote team around the world, and can work from anywhere.

We both love the idea of being digital nomads, travelling and working from different locations. However, this has never been an option because while it would fit well with our work, it doesn't fit so well with parenting a school-age child.

We had often discussed how we would travel the world after our daughter Sophia leaves home. However, that is 8 years away (at least...). It was frustrating to think that we had achieved so much work-wise without being able to make the most of it.

Katie Andy Sophia in MallorcaIn May 2021, we had a new idea - why not move to Mallorca (our dream location) for 1 year? It would be Sophia's final year of primary school and she has to change schools in September 2022 anyway, so this would just mean 1 extra school move. We started planning straight away, enrolled her in a British International school, started advertising our UK house as a holiday rental, and hired a beautiful apartment near the sea in Mallorca.

That part was easy, but the move was a lot harder than we had expected.

Teething problems

We moved to Mallorca at the end of August. It felt like perfect timing because the Barn2 team was at the ideal stage to keep running things while we got settled, and the school year starts in September. However, it was actually TERRIBLE timing because of - you guessed it - Brexit.

We were eligible for a long-term visa and thought it would be easy. I naively thought: "Spain will want us!" Unfortunately, it's not that simple. This is the first year that UK citizens have needed visas to move to EU countries. The Spanish Consulate in London was overwhelmed with applications and couldn't cope with the demand.

We waited months and months to receive an appointment to apply for a visa, and never heard back. We didn't want Sophia to miss the start of the school term so we moved to Mallorca under the 90-day visa-free period, hoping to get a long-term visa sorted in that time.

As time went on, we felt more and more stressed and powerless. Sophia loved her new school so we couldn't just return to the UK. I spent a huge amount of time researching immigration issues and consulting lawyers.

An unexpected property purchase

In the end, we figured that the only way to remain in Spain was to buy a property in order to get a so-called "Golden Visa", which you can do without having to go through the Consulate in London.

While buying a house wasn't on the roadmap for 2021, Andy in particular has always dreamed of having a second home in Mallorca. While it was very complex to get the funds together, we were in the fortunate position that it was possible for us. So, we are now the proud owners of a Spanish Golden Visa and a beautiful holiday rental property in Mallorca!

Port D'Andratx Holiday Home Mallorca
An unplanned (but beautiful) purchase - our new holiday rental property

Hopefully it will be a good investment as the property market is growing, and it was already being successfully rented out on Airbnb. (Fancy a holiday in Mallorca? Book it here!) However, this entire process has taken many weeks of our time which we would rather have spent growing the business.

Now our visa problems are sorted, we are pleased to able to work more while also finding more time to enjoy our time in Mallorca.

We were NOT acquired

It's hard to write this without mentioning the (literally) million dollar question which all plugin companies are being asked at the moment:"When are you going to get acquired"?

If you work in WordPress, you can't have missed the huge increase in the number of acquisitions during 2021. Barely a week goes by without another plugin company being acquired by a big player. EDD, Yoast, LearnDash, Iconic, The Events Calendar, GiveWP, SearchWP, ACF, MailPoet... the list goes on.

wpMail Aquisitions news
Acquisitions galore - a typical summary of a week in WordPress

We have felt the effects at Barn2 too. All year I have been contacted by potential acquirers, including some very impressive names.

Now or never?

A lot of people in the industry feel that independent plugin companies like Barn2 won't be around for much longer. The feeling is that they will either be acquired or will struggle to remain prominent in the market. However, I don't see any evidence of this.

When you read about yet another acquisition, your thoughts instinctively turn to the other companies who have been acquired. It feels like everyone is selling and I know some plugin company owners who feel an unspoken pressure to jump on the bandwagon. You don't think about the long list of successful companies that remain independent. But that doesn't mean they don't exist!

Personally, I don't feel threatened by the fact that some companies are getting acquired. I love owning Barn2 and wouldn't want to lose such a big part of my life, at least for the foreseeable future. Moving to Mallorca has shown that I can work flexibly and achieve the lifestyle I want without needing to sell. And financially, it makes more sense to continue growing the company than to cash in our biggest asset in return for a few years' profits.

As a niche company specializing in WooCommerce, there are always new gaps in the market that we can fill. We are well diversified with 17 different plugins, and there's no reason to think that we will struggle to compete with larger companies. The situation might be different if we built more generic plugins, but it works well for our business model.

Directors meeting Mallorca
We may not have sold up and bought a yacht, but we can still have Directors' meetings in spectacular locations!

Customer support grew by 32%

Amazingly, we helped 12,445 customers in 2021 - 32% more than last year.

Our support team has remained steady at 4 full-time team members. As they have become more and more experienced over time, they have been able to absorb the increased demand without affecting timescales or quality. The main difference is that they now have less time to focus on non-support activities, such as documentation and compatibility testing.

Support team Christmas card 2021
An interesting virtual Christmas greeting from the Support team!

The WordPress community

For the second year in a row, the Covid-19 pandemic has meant that there were no in-person WordPress events to attend. This is a shame because I love meeting people at WordCamps.

As always, I continued collaborating with people from other WordPress companies wherever possible. This has included:

  • Working with other companies to integrate and cross-promote our plugins with their products.
  • Being interviewed for WordPress podcasts, websites and YouTube channels, such as PressThis, Starter Story, the LifterLMS podcast, and WP London.
    WP London
    WP London (now on Zoom rather than in London)
  • It is now more than 2 years since I joined a group of 6 plugin company owners called 'WP Business Mastermind'. We have continued with Zoom calls every 2 weeks along with daily contact on Slack to share our ideas, feedback and experience of running similar companies. This year it was particularly interesting to get an insiders' view of one member's journey through acquisition.

What’s in store for 2022?

Everything is going great, so we plan to continue doing more of the same in 2022. This includes:

  • Launching more new plugins - our vision is to have a Barn2 plugin for all of the common features that store owners add to WooCommerce. By creating an ecosystem, people can use our plugins to extend their store while being confident that everything will work perfectly together.
  • Contributing more to the WordPress community, which will hopefully include starting to attend WordCamps and meet people in person again.
  • Investing more in the Barn2 website, which has been neglected since the summer after losing our previous web developer.

Wrapping up

After the chaos of 2020, it has been nice to focus more on business development during 2021. This has allowed us to release new plugins and add features more rapidly, while improving our development processes to make our work more scalable. I'm delighted to have welcomed two full-time developers to the team and haven't regretted this decision for a second.

Moving to Mallorca took Andy and I away from work more than we had anticipated, which was disappointing. The team were fantastic in keeping everything running smoothly while we were bogged down with Spanish legal paperwork. Now we have settled in and finally got our visas, we're excited to focus our energies back on work as we get into 2022.

I’d like to thank our amazing customers, my Barn2 team colleagues, plus the wider WordPress community for making 2021 a year to remember. I'm looking forward to continuing to build on these successes to make 2022 even better.

Well, 2020 was...... different. I don't think anyone will be forgetting 2020 any time soon, however much we might want to. We've battled a global pandemic, been locked down for much of the year, and lived through some very strange times.

Yet against the backdrop of enforced home schooling and struggling to find time to work, Barn2 has gone from strength to strength. We have released 5 new plugins, significantly expanded our team, successfully managed a 78% increase in customer support, and achieved record sales and revenue.

This is the story of 2020 at Barn2.

2020 in numbers

  • 6,389 new plugin sales (compared to 4,032 in 2019)
  • 3,916 plugin renewals (compared to 2,288 in 2019)
  • 49% renewal rate after Year 1; of which 50% renew after Year 2
  • 455 refunds – refund rate 4% (compared to 12.9% in 2019)
  • 5 new plugins and 89 plugin updates released
  • 144 knowledge base articles and 77 blog posts/tutorials published
  • 9,440 support tickets (compared to 5,298 in 2019), from customers in 111 countries
  • $24,161 paid to our 344 affiliates (sign up here!)

We also reached some incredible milestones. Our total lifetime plugin sales passed the 2 million dollar mark. Due to the Black Friday sale, November was a record month and sales reached 6 figures for the first time. We now have 16,000+ paying customers, plus 14,000+ free plugin users - that's 30,000 people using our plugins!

Barn2 reached some incredible milestones in 2020. Total lifetime plugin sales passed the 2 million dollar mark, and they now have over 30,000 users.

Of course, these figures are revenue rather than profit and our costs have increased as the team has grown. Nonetheless, this is a fantastic achievement and we're eternally grateful to everyone in the Barn2 team for making it happen.

Our plugins helped people during the pandemic

We now know that the COVID-19 pandemic began in late 2019 and was already spreading beyond China in early 2020. However, the UK and many other countries only started taking it seriously in March - so that's when life started to change at Barn2.

In mid-March, the UK entered the first national lockdown. Schools - and pretty much everything else - closed until the summer. My husband Andy (the other director at Barn2) and I were forced to home school our 8-year-old daughter Sophia, alongside running the company. This meant that we had very little time to work.

Tragically, many businesses were badly hit by the pandemic. They were either forced to close their doors and furlough their staff, or radically change their operations. My sympathy goes out to everyone in this impossible situation.

Like most WordPress businesses, we were fortunate because our situation was the exact opposite. As you can see from the below chart, our plugin sales had been growing slowly but steadily before 2020, with big spikes each November due to the Black Friday sale. However, the growth accelerated rapidly during the pandemic.

Impact of COVID-19 pandemic on WordPress plugin sales
Plugin sales grew rapidly during the COVID-19 pandemic

The sales of all our plugins increased, but there was one particular growth area: restaurants. As I'm sure you know, restaurants in many countries were forced to stop offering sit-down meals, and either close completely or start selling takeaway food. Because of this, there was a huge surge in demand for restaurants needing a quick and easy way to start selling food online. We already had a very popular tutorial about how to use our WooCommerce Product Table plugin to take food orders. This helped many restaurants to find us at this crucial time.

To help more people, early in the lockdown we also offered free copies of our Product Table plugin to websites which were actively helping with the pandemic.

I was delighted that the business was growing, although for reasons that I would rather had never happened. At the same time, it was frustrating not to be able to make the most of the opportunity due to working reduced hours alongside home schooling. I did my best by multi-tasking and fitting in work whenever I could. I prioritized like never before, and tried to focus my time on business development rather than lower level tasks.

Home school and work

It's amazing what you can achieve when you're under pressure. Despite these limitations, we made huge progress in many areas. The most exciting achievement was launching 5 brand new WooCommerce plugins!

We launched 5 new plugins

Clearly, the demand for WordPress and WooCommerce plugins was set to grow and grow, as more and more businesses turned to selling online. It made sense to continue expanding our portfolio of plugins that solve real problems on people's websites, as well as improving our existing ones.

WooCommerce Restaurant Ordering

WooCommerce Restaurant Ordering cropped

Hundreds of restaurants were suddenly buying our WooCommerce Product Table plugin to take food orders online, and we felt that they deserved a purpose-built solution. WooCommerce Product Table is excellent for restaurants because it displays food products in a quick one-page order form. However, it has lots of features that restaurants don't need, and the table layout isn't as clean and modern as a dedicated food order form.

We wanted to take the best features of popular non-WordPress restaurant platforms such as Uber Eats, and bring them to WordPress and WooCommerce. WooCommerce Restaurant Ordering was the result.

We launched the plugin in July, which wasn't as fast as we would have liked, but was pretty impressive given the time pressures we were facing due to the lockdown. It has already received excellent feedback from restaurants who have used it to keep their businesses going during the pandemic. While it has inevitably taken some sales away from WooCommerce Product Table, it has attracted more restaurants overall. We're glad it is making a difference to restaurants around the world.

WooCommerce Wholesale Pro

WooCommerce Wholesale Pro featured

As you have seen, we built our restaurant plugin as a purpose-built solution for a major user group of our Product Table plugin. We built WooCommerce Wholesale Pro for exactly the same reason!

For years, large numbers of wholesale stores had been using our WooCommerce Protected Categories, Private Store and Product Table plugins to create a hidden B2B area. They used one or both of our protection plugins to create a private wholesale area, and Product Table to create quick one-page order forms.

While they were already good solutions, these plugins weren't perfect for this use case. For example, store owners had to create separate versions of their public and wholesale products, when they would rather charge different prices for the same product. They also wanted easier ways to show the product table layout to wholesale users only.

As a result, I asked our existing customers to describe their perfect wholesale plugin. I used their responses to design WooCommerce Wholesale Pro. This solved all their pain points, and is available on its own or in a bundle with Product Table for those needing quick order forms as well as wholesale pricing.

As you would expect, sales of our other WooCommerce plugins have decreased slightly since WooCommerce Wholesale Pro was launched. However, the new plugin is more than making up for this. I'm happy that we now have a purpose-built plugin that meets our customers' needs more effectively.

WooCommerce Bulk Variations

WooCommerce Bulk Variations plugin

Quite a few customers had asked whether they could use our Product Table plugin to display variations in a matrix or grid layout. We realised that there was a gap in the market for a plugin to list the variations for individual products. WooCommerce Bulk Variations was the result.

WooCommerce Product Table Gutenberg Block

WooCommerce Product Table Gutenberg Block Plugin

WooCommerce Product Table has been our bestselling plugin since its launch in 2016. Until 2020, it was only possible to create product tables using shortcodes or by modifying your template files. Shortcodes are great because they're so flexible, but we felt that our customers deserved easier options too.

As a result, we added options to automatically enable the product table layout on the shop and category pages; and also released our free WooCommerce Product Table Gutenberg Block plugin. This works alongside WooCommerce Product Table and provides an easy way for anyone using the Gutenberg editor to create product tables.

WooCommerce Multiple Email Recipients

WooCommerce Multiple Email Recipients no space

We were aware of a gap in the market for a plugin that would allow people to send order notification emails to multiple addresses. As a result, we launched WooCommerce Multiple Email Recipients - a small but useful plugin.

Plugin bundles

In 2020, we noticed more and more customers buying multiple plugins from us - something that had previously been quite rare. To make this easier for people, in the summer we introduced Barn2 bundles, where you can buy logically grouped plugins under a single license key.

To date, we have only sold 17 bundles and they're not as popular as I had hoped. However, the average order value from each bundle is significantly higher than standalone plugins, and customers can get big discounts so it's still a win-win. In future, I will consider whether there are more appealing ways to bundle our plugins.

We grew the Barn2 team

Having started the year with a small but strong team, we continued to grow during 2020. While the Barn2 team is still 'virtual' and we don't have any employees, we now have a number of dedicated team members. It works out as the equivalent of about 8 full-time colleagues, distributed across more than 5 countries and 3 continents.

The team consists of:

  • 2 directors - my husband Andy as Technical Director, and myself as Operations Director.
  • 3 experienced developers on part-time retainers to look after the Barn2 website and plugins. We now have a named lead developer for every plugin, instead of having everything go through Andy. This is helping to improve and accelerate the development process as well as internal communication and issue tracking. Two of our developers are from Codeable - an excellent place to find experienced plugin developers.
  • 4 full-time support engineers who work tirelessly to look after our plugin customers. Three of these are from LevelUp, a specialist WordPress support company who I highly recommend.
  • A half-time virtual assistant who helps with a wide range of finance, research and admin tasks.
  • Regular freelancers to help with marketing, copywriting, social media and design.

As the team has grown, the Barn2 Slack channel has become indispensable to team communication. It has been heart-warming to watch our team members from across the world get to know one another and work closely together to share successes, solve problems, make improvements and - above all - make customers happy.

Barn2 Support Team
The support team got together to record a Christmas message for Andy and myself!

Customer support grew by 78%

Amazingly, we helped 9,440 customers in 2020 - 78% more than the previous year. This doesn't even include other channels like social media.

Our support team has doubled since the start of the year, but that's a fairly recent development. It took a while to find the right people, as I refuse to compromise on details like product knowledge, standard of written English, general attitude and friendliness. In the meantime, our existing team members worked tirelessly to support every customer and I often pitched in to make sure our customers weren't kept waiting.

Now we have four full-time support engineers, it feels like we have the right skills and capacity within the team.

We improved the Barn2 website

Barn2 website checkout
The new Barn2 checkout, complete with free trials

Our new website was launched in mid-2019. During 2020, we continued fine-tuning it to improve user experience and conversion rates. This included:

  • New checkout - We completely redesigned and recoded the Easy Digital Downloads checkout on our site to provide a more streamlined experience. This was a major project as we added a progress indicator, simplified the checkout fields, added a custom feature where users can upgrade to a more expensive plan for 15% off, and added testimonials.
  • Free trials - We introduced free trials in November 2020, in response to many requests from our customers. While Easy Digital Downloads' Recurring Payments extension supports free trials in theory, this is very limited and didn't meet our needs. We did a lot of custom development to create the required logic, licensing integration and email notifications - as well as integration with our new checkout. Early data suggests that the free trials will increase total revenue by 7%, and I will continue monitoring this in early 2021.
  • Separate knowledge base site - Our documentation had always been part of our main site. However, with almost 500 articles and huge numbers of daily searches, it was causing resource issues for the rest of the site. We took on a big project to separate it out into a standalone WordPress install, while keeping the existing URL structure. Both sites now run more smoothly as a result.

The WordPress community

Sadly, the pandemic meant that all face-to-face WordPress meetups were cancelled in 2020. I had been looking forward to meeting people at WordCamp Europe and WordCamp US, and was disappointed that they were cancelled. (Sure, the talks still went ahead online. But no one goes to WordCamps for the talks!)

Fortunately, there have still been lots of opportunities to be part of the WordPress community - albeit remotely. For example, I have:

  • Collaborated with other theme and plugin companies to test, integrate and cross-promote our complementary products - including WPML, WP Zoom, IconicWP, Simba Hosting, SearchWP, WC Vendors, WC Lovers, WP Frontend Admin, Studio Wombat, WisdmLabs, and YITH.
    Barn2 website checkout
    WP Zoom featured our WooCommerce Restaurant Ordering plugin on their theme demo site
  • Been interviewed for WordPress Podcasts and YouTube channels, including BobWP's Woo Perspectives and WP Café.
    WPCafe interview
    The WP Café podcast
  • In late 2019, I joined a group of 6 plugin company owners which we call 'WP Business Mastermind'. The group has become a lot closer during 2020: In addition to Zoom calls every 2 weeks, I now chat with them on Slack as much as I chat with my own Barn2 team colleagues! It's like having a built-in management group to share ideas and strategies with.
    WP Business Mastermind
    A Zoom call with the WP Business Mastermind group

Sophia's businesses

Speaking of business, home schooling made me think about what we should be teaching our children. I tried to be a "good parent" and look up the curriculum, but found that very little of it would be relevant to a child in later life.

I decided to teach Sophia some things that I believe children should learn. For example, I structured some of the school curriculum into wider projects that would teach her about starting her own business.

During the initial lockdown, she decided that she wanted to start her own t-shirt company and we worked together to launch her very own WooCommerce site - Teardrop. She enjoyed seeing sales coming in, and it gave her a real confidence boost.

Sophia Teardrop website

Selling t-shirts seems to have sparked some sort of entrepreneurial spirit, as in the Autumn she wrote a story for fun and then decided that she wanted to publish it so that more people could read it! I discovered Kindle Direct Publishing, and her storybook is now available on Amazon.

Helping Sophia start two small businesses added to the time pressures that I was already facing. I wish I'd spent longer helping her to learn about marketing because the t-shirts stopped selling after the first couple of months. However, she has learned some valuable lessons which I hope will make a difference for her future, and she has even inspired some other children to start their own businesses too! In a world where so many people are losing their jobs, I think it's important to know that getting a job and working for someone else isn't the only career path.

What’s in store for 2021?

  • Launch our new document library plugin. As you have seen, this year we built two plugins which were inspired by how people were using our existing plugins. We plan to do this one more time by launching Document Library Pro, an offshoot of our Posts Table Pro plugin. Posts Table Pro is hugely popular for building a document library and our new purpose-built plugin will be even better! Expect to see it in the Spring, if not sooner.
  • Improve user onboarding. We plan to build a setup wizard to guide people through the process of setting up each of our plugins. Our 'Getting Started' emails, documentation and user-friendly settings pages are already pretty good, but a wizard would make a big difference.
  • Launch free online courses. I'm currently working on some free e-courses about how to use our plugins to create particular types of website in WordPress and WooCommerce. These will be launched in early 2021.
  • Automate more. Now we have multiple developers working on our plugins, we need to streamline our processes and automate as much as possible. For example, we have already removed most of the manual steps to releasing plugin updates, and need to automate the final remaining steps.
  • Become more involved in the WordPress community. It has been a shame not to attend any WordPress meetups this year. I hope things start getting back to normal soon so that 2021 can be different. However, that may not happen because some of the 2021 WordCamps are already being planned as virtual events.
  • Investments or acquisitions? We built all our plugins ourselves and have never acquired a product from another company. Similarly, we have never invested in another WordPress company. I don't know if it will happen in 2021, but I would like to get experience in this area. For example, it would be good to acquire an existing plugin - probably something related to WooCommerce with annual $ revenue in the low 5-figures. I'd also like to become part-owner of a smaller WordPress company where I could add value and help them to grow. Get in touch if you know of a suitable opportunity!

Wrapping up

It's bittersweet to think that 2020 has been such a good year for Barn2, when it has been such a bad year in other ways.

We've launched lots of new plugins, grown our team, and managed to continue building links in the WordPress community even though we couldn't meet in person. I'm thankful that the global situation has had a positive impact on our business, and feel terrible for the many people who haven't been so lucky.

I’d like to thank our wonderful customers, everyone in the Barn2 team, and the wider WordPress community for making 2020 yet another year to remember.

There are (early) signs that we might have reached the beginning of the end of this horrible pandemic. Hopefully, life will start returning to normal at some point during 2021 and we can continue growing the company in a much happier and healthier world.

Wow, what a year! It has been our best year in terms of plugin sales. We've had some fantastic achievements and taken the company in exciting new directions.

We have worked to build a fantastic team, rebrand and launch our new website, and release 4 new plugins. We've successfully managed a 75% increase in customer support, and achieved record sales and revenue levels. 

As Co-Founder at Barn2, this is my first annual review. I always read other WordPress companies' transparency reports with interest. 2019 feels like the perfect time to start sharing our own highs and lows with the wider community.

Before we start, here's a quick summary of our 2019 by the numbers.

2019 in numbers

  • 4,032 new plugin sales (compared to 3,666 in 2018)
  • 2,288 plugin renewals (compared to 1,066 in 2018)
  • 49% renewal rate after Year 1; of which 50% renew after Year 2
  • 821 refunds - refund rate 12.9% (compared to 13.5% in 2018)
  • 4 new plugins and 33 plugin updates released
  • 117 knowledge base articles and 91 blog posts/tutorials published
  • 5,298 support tickets, from customers in 111 countries
  • $21,857 paid to our 272 affiliates (sign up here!)

We also reached some incredible lifetime milestones this year. Our total plugin sales passed the 1 million dollar mark, and we now have over 10,000 customers.

Barn2 reached some incredible milestones in 2019. Total lifetime plugin sales passed the 1 million dollar mark, and they now have over 10,000 customers.
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Note: These figures just include plugin sales. There are also other elements of the business such as commission from other WordPress theme and plugin companies that we recommend; ongoing income from clients whose websites we designed before we switched to selling plugins; and a couple of other side projects. However, Barn2 is first and foremost a plugin company.

We built a fantastic team

One of the biggest changes of 2019 has been the growth of the Barn2 team.

While we had a 'virtual team' pre-2016 when we were a web design company, until recently Andy and I had largely run the plugin business by ourselves. Before 2019, we had involved other people to a limited extent, such as hiring freelancers to work on the Barn2 website (with mixed results), working with a marketing company and copywriters, and hiring a WordPress plugin support company to assist customers part-time.

While the support was useful for basic queries such as account enquiries and refunds, the original company didn't have a good understanding of our plugins. As a result, I continued handling all the product-specific support - i.e. most of it!

We built a successful plugin business while doing most of the work ourselves, but we needed a proper team in order to grow it even further.

Analyzing our roles

This year, Andy and I spent some time making a record of all our roles within the company. It was shocking to see it written down. Clearly, we were spending too much time on low level tasks, at the expense of strategic planning and business development.

Having a list of our current responsibilities made it easy to rationalise our positions and consider which tasks could be done by someone else. We made a lot of changes, such as expanding the role of the support team to include other forms of support (i.e. wordpresss.org forums, YouTube and blog comments); and hiring a Personal Assistant to take care of general tasks and finance. We will continue this process in 2020.

A change of attitude

All of this has completely changed in 2019 and we have transformed Barn2 by recruiting a fabulous team. While we've kept the team 'virtual' and still don't have any employees, the Barn2 team now has the equivalent of about 6 full-time members.

There's nothing better than getting back from lunch, checking Slack and discovering that the team has worked together to fix a problem in my absence!
Click to Tweet

It has been incredibly satisfying to see our new team members' commitment to Barn2. Before 2019, we didn't have an established enough team to benefit from a live chat system such as Slack. Now, it's an indispensable part of company communication and I can't imagine life without it! There's nothing better than getting back from lunch, checking Slack and discovering that our team members have worked together to fix a problem in Andy's and my absence!

I'll talk more about our new colleagues when I cover the different elements of the business in more detail.

We rebranded and launched a new website

Having put off rebranding and redesigning our website for years, we finally took the plunge in 2019. While we're happy with the results, we knew we wouldn't enjoy the project. It turned out to be just as frustrating as we'd feared.

For a deep dive, check out my post on the Story Behind Barn2's Rebrand and New Website. Otherwise, just check out these before-and-after screenshots:

And even better than having a professional new website is that we've found a fantastic developer, who we're now working with on an ongoing retainer.

It's lovely to have someone taking care of the Barn2 website. We no longer get dragged into fixing problems with the site, and can focus more on other things.

We launched 4 new WordPress plugins

Before 2019 we released new plugins quite slowly. We launched 4 plugins in 2016, 1 in 2017, and none in 2018. This is partly because our original plugins were so successful that we made a strategic decision to focus our energies on continuing to develop them, instead of developing new plugins that may or may not be successful. It was also because as sole developer, it was more realistic for Andy to manage a smaller portfolio of plugins.

However, by the start of 2019, all of our plugins were mature and stable. We had capacity to start releasing additional plugins. We also started working with other developers to increase capacity even further.

WooCommerce Quick View Pro

In early 2019, we launched WooCommerce Quick View Pro. A huge number of our WooCommerce Product Table customers had requested quick view buttons for their product tables. We decided to release this feature as a standalone plugin because quick view is useful for stores with or without product tables, bringing it to a wider audience.

WooCommerce Default Quantity and WooCommerce Lead Time

WooCommerce Default Quantity Plugin

To continue growing the business, we knew we needed to start working with other developers.

After struggling to find good developers during our web design days, it felt like an impossible challenge. Barn2's plugins have a reputation for being robustly coded, technically sound and well tested. We didn't want to risk compromising this.

Despite our fears, in 2019, we made huge steps towards overcoming increasing our development capacity. While Andy still handles the vast majority of plugin development, we have successfully experimented with other developers and achieved excellent results which we will continue building on in 2020.

To minimize the risk, we started by carefully hand-picking some of Codeable's most experienced plugin developers. We thoroughly vetted them and made sure they had the skills we were looking for. We asked them to build two relatively straightforward WooCommerce plugins: WooCommerce Lead Time and WooCommerce Default Quantity.

These were excellent plugins to start with because they both added specific features that were missing from WooCommerce itself, without being too complex. We provided a detailed specification describing exactly how each plugin should work, and were delighted with the results. Both plugins were launched in September 2019.

Building Easy Digital Downloads EU VAT

Easy Digital Downloads EU VAT trimmed

We weren't planning to build any more plugins in 2019. However, in September the new SCA rules for credit card payments came into force. Easy Digital Downloads (which we use to sell our plugins) released new versions of their Stripe and Recurring Payments extensions. These unfortunately broke the customized solution that we were using to make our website compatible with European VAT rules. Major redevelopment work was required in order to meet both SCA and EU VAT law.

We researched the available Easy Digital Downloads EU VAT plugins, and discovered that they were all terrible (sorry, there's no nice way of putting it!). As a result, we ended up building our own. Since it was clearly a gap in the market, we decided to do the extra work to make it the best EU VAT plugin on the market so that other EDD sites can benefit too.

Our Easy Digital Downloads EU VAT WordPress plugin was released in November 2019. Building it was an interesting experience because for the first time, it was a collaborative project between Andy and another developer. It was nice to see our version control system working, and the whole process went surprisingly smoothly.

We improved our existing plugins

While it's exciting to release new plugins, our earlier plugins remained the lifeline of the business throughout 2019.

We've always been in the happy position that all our early plugins have been successful, and continued selling long beyond the original honeymoon period. Our 5 existing plugins - WooCommerce Product Table in particular - accounted for 95% of new sales revenue in 2019. This, combined with high renewal rates from our loyal customers, made it very important to continue improving and maintaining these plugins.

In 2019 we improved our existing plugins as follows:
  • Released 33 plugin updates, adding new features and ensuring compatibility with new versions of WordPress and WooCommerce. For example, WooCommerce Product Table has a new feature allowing you to display products previously purchased by the current user. This was at the top of our feature request list, giving us firm evidence that it was worth building.
  • Tested our plugins with other third party plugins, and published compatibility lists to help our customers.
  • Worked with other plugin companies wishing to integrate our plugins with theirs.
  • Continued improving the documentation in response to customer feedback and search analytics - publishing FAQ's, clarifying areas of confusion, and adding code snippets for popular customizations.
  • Surveyed how people use each of our plugins and published tutorials about popular use cases.
  • Introduced an automated email series for each plugin, designed to help customers get the most out of their plugin on an ongoing basis.

In 2020, we plan to improve our codebase and plugin libraries to centralize common code and make it easier for other developers to add new features to our existing plugins. This will help to speed up the development of new features, allowing us to continue adding value to our fabulously loyal customer base.

Customer support grew by 75%

In March 2019, our original support company ceased trading. I was frustrated at the time wasted in training the support engineers, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Following a recommendation from James Kemp from IconicWP, we switched to LevelUp, a specialist WordPress theme and plugin support company.

Managed from the UK, LevelUp's support team are in the Philippines. I was sceptical at first, and vetted the proposed support engineers carefully to check their English fluency, customer support skills and WordPress knowledge. After rejecting a couple, I found EJ who I immediately realised that I would be proud to have supporting our customers. He has been working full-time on Barn2's support ever since!

EJ hit the ground running and I was amazed by his positive attitude, dedication and ability to learn all the complexities and intricacies of our plugins. Before working with him, I was convinced that no one apart from myself would ever be able to provide that level of advanced product support. Now he has been with us 10 months, he rarely has any queries and handles almost everything by himself.

More recently, we have been joined by Jae from LevelUp - initially part-time, and now full-time. She is also excellent and is quickly learning about our plugins and taking on more complex support queries.

Reducing my own support workload

At the start of 2019, I personally spent 22 hours/month on plugin support and handled 73% of all tickets. This doesn't include blog and YouTube comments, both of which LevelUp are now responsible for too.

At the end of 2019, I spent 8 hours per month on support and handled 34% of all tickets. That's a HUGE reduction, especially when you consider that during 2019, the volume of support has increased from about 400 to 700 tickets per month.

Without LevelUp, I would now be spending nearly 40 hours per month on support. Of course, this wouldn't be appropriate for a company director. I like providing some customer support because I love our customers. It helps me maintain a good understanding of how they use our plugins and which improvements they would benefit from. It's my choice to do some support each day, and I could reduce this further if I wanted.

However, I'm pleased that I now have the correct balance. I still have an oversight of support, and regularly read through LevelUp's tickets to provide feedback and ensure customers are happy. The average response time is 3.75 hours, and we offer guaranteed timescales for customers on our Business and Agency plugin licenses. We've even started offering live chat for pre-sales enquiries, which wasn't possible when it was just me.

WordCamps and community

The WordPress industry is what you make of it. It's incredibly remote, with a big proportion of plugin company owners working independently and rarely coming into contact with their team members or fellow WordPress professionals. As a result, it's easy to become isolated - but this doesn't have to be the case.

I've tried to be part of the global WordPress community ever since we started selling plugins in 2016. As well as sharing my experiences on high profile blogs such as WPTavern and IndieHackers, I've continued publishing guest posts and tutorials to help people learn more about WordPress. In September, I was proud to be interviewed for the BobWP podcast.

It's not always easy to attend WordCamps because Andy and I run the business as a husband and wife team and have an 8-year-old daughter. In 2019, we managed to attend both WordCamp London and WordCamp Europe in Berlin. We met some amazing people. For the first time, I planned a lot of meetups beforehand, allowing me to network in a more targeted way. It was lovely to finally meet so many people face-to-face who I already knew from email, Facebook etc. This includes fellow WordPress business owners and developers who we had worked with.

More remotely, in October I joined a WP Business Mastermind group. This consists of people around the world who own similarly sized plugin businesses. We have online 'meetings' every 2 weeks and chat on Slack constantly. It's been really useful, and we've all implemented lots of each other's ideas to help build each other's businesses.

What's in store for 2020?

  • Continue working with other developers who meet our quality standards in order to speed up the pace of development. This will improve our capacity to build new plugins and continue improving our existing plugins.
  • Find ways to scale up and improve efficiency. For example, we would like to find a suitable tool to automate testing of our website and plugins. If you have any recommendations, please leave a comment below! We will also make some structural changes to our plugin codebase to make it easier for multiple developers to contribute.
  • Launch our new licensing system, plus free trials. We've been overhauling our plugin licensing system for a while now, overcoming the limitations of the Easy Digital Downloads Software Licensing extension. One benefit is that we'll be able to offer free trials - something that a lot of customers have asked for. In the past, we couldn't do this because we had no way of revoking access for people who cancelled after the free trial. I'm excited that this will go live in early 2020.
  • Look for new ways to build the business, such as packaging and licensing our plugins alongside other WordPress products instead of just selling directly to the public.
  • Improve user experience on the Barn2 website. We have already started using Google Optimize to improve conversions and will continue this. In 2020, we plan to use tools such as heat mapping to analyze user behavior and make ongoing improvements.
  • Become more involved in the WordPress community. I look forward to meeting people at WordCamp London and WCEU 2020 in Porto. If possible, I'd love to attend WordCamp US too. I will also continue building links with other WordPress product companies - feel free to get in touch!

Wrapping up

2019 has been a fantastic year at Barn2. I've seen real changes in the structure and nature of our company. We now have a proper team, thousands of loyal customers, and a network of fellow WordPress plugin company owners to learn from.

I'd like to thank our amazing customers, the Barn2 team, and everyone in the WordPress community for making 2019 a year to remember.

As a result of the changes we have made in 2019, I feel that we're ending the year poised for future growth. I look forward to an exciting 2020!