I set up Clean Page Design in 2011, moving from a career in journalism.
I was intrigued by website design, and I quickly learned that a lot of people I was speaking to about the web had real issues with getting hold of their “web guy”.
I didn’t want to be that guy, and I also felt the web was looking a bit dull.
I wanted to liven it up.
I began by building sites for friends and family and then, through dipping my toe into networking events, got to build more for small business and charities.
This still forms the core of my website work; people that want a good website but don’t have the time or the skill to build one themselves, and also like the idea of having someone to lean on for support.
Nowadays my work is a lot more focused on the end product rather than the process, and I’m firmly of the belief that it doesn’t really matter how a website is put together as long as it meets a specific brief.
I like to get to the bottom of what a client expects a website will do for them, and then educate them in how that might happen; calling in trusted partners who can help to achieve those goals.
How I got started in WordPress
But it wasn’t long before I got enquiries from people that wanted to make changes to their website themselves, and I knew I would need to look at CMS systems.
My options at the time appeared to be Joomla, Drupal or WordPress.
WordPress looked, on the face of it, to be the simplest.
So I bought a book (well, it was 2012) and started to figure out how to build a WordPress site.
It helped that I was pretty comfortable with HTML and CSS by this point so the structure and look of sites was relatively easy to understand.
Up until last year, my first foray into WordPress website building was still working as expected; but ever since that one website I have had my colours firmly tied to the WordPress mast.
I’ve gone through a few different “stacks” – the first few sites I built used a heavily modded version of a theme called “Sandbox”, where I would hand code custom page templates.
Next came Genesis, which involved me learning a lot more about CSS and adding code to the functions.php file. As of last year I am in the GeneratePress / GenerateBlocks camp.
My WordPress maintenance and support process for clients
I’m a terrific worrier (some people would just call it being conscientious).
My thinking is: I built it, I should look after it.
While I tend to rely on a stable of around 20 well-tested, mostly paid-for, plugins that I trust not to break, I don’t expect clients to have the knowledge or time to learn about the day-to-day maintenance of a WordPress website.
And, like with anything tech, things can and do go wrong.
So about five years ago I began to look at ways of securing my clients’ websites and ensuring that everything was kept up to date.
Since then, new clients have been added to maintenance plans where their sites are backed up daily, updated regularly and supported in adding new content or making changes within the site.
If the site is more mission-critical then higher tiers of support include more frequent backups, more of my support time, tougher security measures and more aggressive speed optimisation.
I use the free version of Wordfence as a general security safety net – I like the fact you can quickly implement two-factor authentication with this plugin as well.
Support-wise, I’m always on the end of the phone.
I know that for scalability things such as ticketing systems are often touted, but I don’t feel like I have that sort of relationship with my clients that I would want them to have to log a support ticket.
They paid for me to build their site, they want to know they are contacting me to fix it.
Always proving the value of my service
Clients get a monthly report so they can see that backups are being taken and stored, and keep track of what software has been updated.
Before each report is sent I will log in to a client’s site to make sure that no random error messages have appeared or that anything else unexpected has occurred.
I also quickly check how the site “feels”:
Are the menu items working as expected?
Are all the images loading?
Does the site feel quick (I sometimes test this just to make sure what I’m experiencing matches up with what the Internet as a whole thinks).
I also manually send invoices each month so that I’m checking in regularly. I know I can automate this, but I don’t like doing that.
How I attract more clients
Most of my clients have come via word-of-mouth referrals.
I did a lot of face-to-face networking when I started out, and the business built from those relationships.
Networking is really what I would choose to do to try to increase my visibility.
I don’t like to feel like I’m ever selling anything. I want to let people know what I do and why I do it differently than someone else, and then let them ask questions and lead the conversation.
I’ve done some work on my site’s local SEO in the past, and this does lead to enquiries – but I’ve often found that cold enquiries from a Google search leads to a lot of tire-kickers or bargain hunters.
The best WordPress plugin for SEO
The best WordPress plugin for improving site performance
PerfMatters (but you can’t beat solid hosting and a lightweight build for speed)
The best WordPress plugin for security
Wordfence got me out of a couple of holes a few years ago, so I’ve always had a soft spot for it.
No.1 plugin I can’t live without?
I like to know what’s been going on in case there is ever an issue – so things like Activity Log are great.
But I really really like FluentSMTP.
It’s not sexy, but it means contact form entries get sent more reliably, and I can log emails from my sites to make sure that things are being sent.
The hosting company I use
I use 20i and have done for around six or seven years. They are constantly adding new features to their hosting, and their support is some of the best I’ve ever experienced.