Blog: Business and Entrepreneurship
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2018 Year in Review

Avatar for John Locke

John Locke is a SEO consultant from Sacramento, CA. He helps manufacturing businesses rank higher through his web agency, Lockedown Design & SEO.

Each year, I do a year in review post, so I can document the progress of my business, and look back and reflect on what’s happened.

As a marketer, I feel it is important to chronicle what is working, and what isn’t.

But this also lines up with one of our Core Values — transparency.

You can also read the prior years in review for 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, and 2013 for reference.

Continuing 2017’s Theme in 2018: Specializing in SEO

In 2017, we decided to focus on SEO for manufacturers and industrial companies. This would allow us to understand one segment of the market well, and have a greater reach than just our local region.

So far, that strategy seems to be working, as we are getting more leads from different time zones, something that happened less frequently in the past.

We have a few clients that have benefited greatly from our SEO help, and are having record years as a result.

Flying Under Our Own Steam

Another big difference between 2018 and prior years is that this was the first full year that we had no subcontracts.

We did have a minuscule amount of revenue from legacy partner arrangements, but it was less than 1% of our total earnings.

In late-summer 2017, my wife and I decided it was more important to own our client relationships than to continue subcontracting. Though we had a comfortable pipeline of work in years past, we had outgrown it, as we were getting further away from our original goals. It didn’t make sense to continue building up other people’s empires, while neglecting our own. We had hit a ceiling for revenue through our existing agency relationships, and something needed to change.

By November of 2017, we had wrapped up the last of our subcontracts. Going into 2018, we owned all of our client relationships. The result: we are now able to help our clients more, and use the work we are doing to win future work (something our subcontracts were preventing us from doing).

Now, our revenue was down slightly compared to 2018, though not drastically. However, by cutting dependence on other agencies for revenue, we were able to focus more on our own marketing. Inquiries and organic traffic are both up for our website this year, so that is a trade-off that I would make again in a heartbeat.

Another reason this was a good decision: we had more recurring revenue built into our business model this year.

Recurring Revenue as a Strategy

Most of our clients have been with us for a long time — a year, two years, three years, or more. A few only need occasional help. But most of our clients rely on their website for leads, RFQs, and sales, and need help each and every month.

The majority of our clients are on a monthly retainer of some sort. That means our business is healthier, and we will be around to help our clients for years to come.

Some of our legacy clients are small WordPress maintenance retainers. Others need more hours, since their businesses are growing faster. Most of our new clients from 2018 are on a SEO/web development hybrid retainer.

In 2017, about half our business was doing custom WordPress theme development from design partners. They’d give us a PSD or Sketch document, I’d develop the site, then it would be on to the next one.

Fast forward to 2018, we are helping clients with SEO on a monthly basis. This is part of the nature of SEO. It’s not a one-time “sprinkle the SEO dust on the site, and it ranks forever” type of deal. The businesses we are helping generally have fierce competition, that are also investing in SEO each month. By helping our clients on a monthly basis, everyone comes out stronger.

As an aside: I’m seeing more of my web design colleagues talk about monthly retainers. My advice is to find an agreement for each of your clients that works for both you and them. It’s a good idea for everyone involved.

Appearances, Presentations, and Interviews

2018 was our busiest year yet for appearances and presentations. Here’s some of the places I spoke.

May: Bob Dunn had me on the BobWP WordPress eCommerce Podcast to discuss SEO for the manufacturing industry.

July: Chris Badgett invited me to the LMSCast to talk about SEO for membership sites, courses, and online communities.

August: Lee Jackson had me on the Agency Trailblazer podcast to talk about niching down.

September: I able to speak at the Nevada County Online Meetup about SEO.

November: At the East Bay WordPress Meetup, I gave a two hour presentation on how to do a professional SEO audit.

Jason Tucker, Bridget Willard, and I had a discussion on WPBlab about demystifying searcher intent and SEO.

Kyle Maurer invited me to the WPRoundtable as we talked about starting a business in WordPress, and evolving a web development shop.

December: My friend Jason Resnick invited me to the Live in the Feast podcast, as we talked about developing a niche, validating a market segment, and SEO for manufacturing companies.

And of course, I was part of the weekly Friday panels on the WP-Tonic podcast, where four to six people discuss the latest in web development, digital marketing, SEO, and WordPress.

Additionally, I revived my YouTube channel, publishing there at least once a week from March of 2018 onward. (Go to YouTube, search #LockedownSEO, you’ll find it.)

A Word on Internal Dialogue

Running your own business can be stressful, as many of you can attest. Taxes, insurance, filling the sales pipeline each month — and that’s all before doing the actual work.

Internal dialogue, mental health, and entrepreneurial stress has been more of a discussion in my circles this year than ever before. Groups like WP&UP have surfaced because there is a need.

The thing that I personally struggle with is falling into the comparison trap.

There are many days where I look at what my peers are accomplishing and feel like this:

But, I’m very fortunate to have a wife who is very wise.

She reminds me, “Whenever you feel down on yourself, remember how far you’ve come.”

I stopped this morning to add this section, because I remember:

  • I was 39 before I even started learning web design, so getting on a 40 under 40 list was never going to happen.
  • Unlike most of my peers, I didn’t have a background in design, programming, or marketing when I began.
  • We’ve just passed the six year mark of running the business, not as a side hustle, but as a full-time endeavor that pays our bills.
  • We’re actually good at what we do!
  • Our clients want to see us stick around for a long time, and recognize how we help their businesses grow.

We’ve paid our dues accordingly, every step of the way. We’re making a big difference for our clients. People have asked me to work for them full-time, and we’re still here, because our goal is something different than that.

All in all, we have a lot to be happy about. But, I wanted to let you know, I struggle with self-doubt too.

Looking Forward to 2019

What does the future hold?

We’ve just signed some interesting projects for Q1 of 2019. I’m continuing to publish on our YouTube channel and our blog.

We’ll continue to provide SEO and web development to manufacturing and industrial companies. It appears we are on pace to have our best year to date in both revenue and marketing reach.

See you next year for another Year in Review post.

Avatar for John Locke

John Locke is a SEO consultant from Sacramento, CA. He helps manufacturing businesses rank higher through his web agency, Lockedown Design & SEO.

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