It was never the plan to be writing the 2015 end of year review (and December income report) this late, but in hindsight it's very beneficial to have a month to digest everything and be able to look objectively at the happenings of the past year.
Even when I give it a few seconds' thought, 2015 was a dauntingly progressive year for HPD. It was only at the end of 2014 that I first started hiring writers on oDesk, and this time a year ago I had zero content editors and no project managers on staff. It was just me and Dean (the head of all things web dev).
Fast forward to today, and we have two project managers, a keyword researcher, a web developer, support desk and ticket system, over a dozen writers, and over five hundred customers through our doors, many of them making repeat purchases.
I'll admit it was a struggle at times, especially as I've been pretty much figuring it all out as I go along, for better or for worse. Every new success brings new challenges, but it's overcoming those challenges that leads to future success. I've learned to accept them as they come.
The same goes for having disappointed or even angry customers. While they are a very, very small minority, I've learned that no matter how ridiculous some complaints may be, or how severe the legitimate criticism may be, it's best to look upon any negativity objectively and see how it can be used positively, whether that's improving the service quality, turn around time, communication times, or simply better preparing customers for what to expect.
Which brings us on to this post.
What can you expect from today's ramblings?
It's going to be split into three parts. The first thing I'll do is get the December income report out of the way, as it seems like a lifetime ago. I'll finish this section off with a look at how the income came in throughout 2015, and how it compares with 2014.
After that, I'll go into more details about the biggest wins, losses and insights from 2015. I hope nothing is missed.
Finally, we'll look to the future as I outline some plans for 2016, make a couple of announcements, and summarise my goals for the year. I thank you in advance for taking the time to read my dissertation.
December 2015 Income Report
I'll keep this short as the report will go on too long otherwise.
Affiliate Site Income:
Affiliate Site Total: $2,244
HPD Site Income:
Done-for-you and Custom Sites: $10,150
HPD Affiliate income:
Wealthy Affiliate: $408
Thrive Themes: $34
Total Before Expenses: $16,838
Expenses and Affiliate Commissions: $624
Please note, these are additional expenses such as VA payments. The expenses for delivering services are already deducted from the individual amounts listed.
Total December Income: $16,214
How Did I Do For The Whole Year?
Here's a quick chart showing the growth for 2015:
Grand Total 2015: $115,908
As it's already February 5th, I'll publish the January report next week.
Future Of Income Posts
I always thought it was better to report profit than income, because it's more accurate. I felt that if a business reported 1M in revenue it looked pretty impressive, but what if their expenses were 900k? It was more logical to report based on profit surely.
However, revenue is clearly the business world's way of reporting and measuring, so it makes sense for me to do the same. Profit can also be misleading, as you have no idea of someone's expenses. A business could become more profitable but actually be making fewer sales, which is probably why the industry uses revenue as a better and more “pure” metric.
Moving forward, HPD reports will show all numbers in revenue instead, and have an expenses and net profit section at the bottom. This means that the next income report will appear a lot higher at first compared to previous reports, but it'll balance out soon enough.
On top of that, I'll only report HPD income and not affiliate site income or side-projects. This will keep the reports cleaner and more HPD centric.
Key Moments In 2015
There were lot's of cool things that happened in 2015, too many to list here in great detail. Some of them clearly contributed to some growth, while others were a direct result of it.
My personal highlights for the year were:
1.) Being featured on Entrepreneur.com.
Even though it was a result of winning a competition, it still felt incredible and brought a ton of traffic and new subscribers, even today people find me from that post.
2.) Adding income projections to our ready-made sites, and having people pay first.
The only real way to make money online is to know your audience, and give them what they want. After almost two years in business, I realized that most people have no clue how profitable a niche is, or whether it's any good. Showing the, which niches were profitable via the Amaprofits.com calculator enabled people to really get a good insight.
The second part of this “innovation” was listing niches first, and having people pay us to build the site. Previously, we built the sites first and then put them up for sale.
This was very hard to scale, because we had to pay expenses upfront and there was no guarantee the site would sell.
If you look back through our income reports and wonder why there was such a big jump midway through the year, this is why.
As an aside, doing it this way also protects us from scammers, as we recently found out. We had a purchase that was made fraudulently by someone with stolen credit card details. Because it takes us three to four weeks to complete the site, the credit card owner was able to file a chargeback before the scammer had made off with our site. We lost some money on the chargeback, but the most important thing is the credit card owner got their money back and the thief got nothing.
Negatives in 2015
Fortunately there weren't too many, and most of them were overcome, but it's important that we mention some of the negatives for the year. Every day we work on improving these things, and I'll detail those improvements as well.
When we receive over 150 emails a day, it takes up a lot of our day to reply to them. This means that getting our customers up to date can often fall behind and many of them will email us for an update before we've had the chance to give them one. In most cases, people are patient and understanding, but that's not really an excuse and we should do better at this.
We've tried several things to improve it.
The first was outlined in this post, where I talked about using Basecamp to better track and update our customers. We found though that it wasn't much improvement on using Trello, and updates still needed manual action, so it didn't last more than a month.
We thought we'd found the solution with the Order Tracker plugin, but it turned out to be buggy, relatively clunky to use, and a lot of emails went into spam folders anyway.
The next thing we considered was to hire a dedicated customer support VA whose sole job was to send updates once a week. I might still trial this idea, but we've recently been making progress on our own system. The idea is to hand code our own “production line” which takes an order, automatically notifies the necessary team, and sends auto-emails to customers when a team member updates the order's progress. This will make things easy to track our end, and keep customers in the loop their end.
If we use this in conjunction with a dedicated customer service agent, it should end these communication issues for good.
I'll admit that initially coding our own system seemed like an unnecessary pain (and expense), but I've slowly realized that having something scalable, professional, and most importantly in our own control is the best option moving forwards.
I recently read Tony Hsieh's book “Delivering Happiness“, where he mentions that Zappos had their own issues revolving around their warehouse, and decided that building and running their own warehouse was preferable to using a third party. I realized that we should have the same attitude and try to do as many things in-house as possible, rather than trying to make third party tools work.
Writers and Turnaround Times
The second issue, which sometimes feels like the bane of HPD's life, is writers.
This is more of an in-house organization issue, but it sometimes meant customers had to wait much longer than expected to get their articles or websites. It was frustrating, because we'd give writers plenty of time to do it, but they'd go missing at times. It's the nature of the business, and many people who use freelancers have the same issues.
We've tried many different things (which I won't go into) to improve this, and have been getting closer to a system where we don't need to constantly burn and churn new writers. To keep a long story short, we'll be hiring them full time on salaries and making them HPD employees rather than freelancers. We'll also give them bonuses for completing work on time consistently and for being reliable.
If this doesn't result in better and more accurate turn around times, I'm not sure what will.
Plans For 2016 And Announcements
So we're finally coming to the end of this post, and if you've stayed with us this far, you're either a big fan of HPD, a relative of one of us, or somebody looking to get some insights out of our experiences. Either way, I hope you got what you came for.
Looking forward to 2016, what can you expect from us?
As already detailed, you should see some smoother operating and behind-the-scenes (which you won't actually “see”) improvements throughout the year. It's most likely that I'll announce these as they happen.
On top of that, we'll be adding some new products to our catalog. To give you a heads up, these will likely include the following:
- An upgrade on the standard site service, which will include some extra content and links.
- An aged site service, where you can pick up a site with more content and existing age and rankings.
- More site management/ranking services for those who prefer outsourcing it all.
These will likely roll out in the next few months, depending on how long they take to get ready.
We'll also be switching to a new theme!
This has been something we've been working on for months (it's amazing how many small things take ages to do) and it's finally edging closer to being revealed.
An Addition To The HPD Family
As well as all the goings on at HPD, I'm also pleased to announce that we've acquired AuthorityAzon. This has been one of the leading Amazon affiliate themes since its inception in 2014, and we've been working closely with the team since the end of 2015, helping them fulfil some of their services. Tung Tran has built up a great business over the past year and we jumped at the chance to take it over and grow it even further.
I'll post more about the acquisition over on the AA blog, so look out for that announcement in the next few days. For now, let me just say that I'm excited to add this business to the HPD umbrella, and will mostly be offering new HPD customers the choice of having an AA theme if they wish. At the same time, I'll also be offering more services to existing and new AA customers as well.
Here's To A Good Year Ahead
Well that about concludes this update, thanks to everyone involved in the previous year, no matter whether you were just a brief email in my inbox or a repeat customer, you all made 2015 special.