Blog: Business and Entrepreneurship
2017 bokeh

2017 Year in Review

Avatar for John Locke

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

The only thing that is constant is change. Especially in web development.

But the biggest change that Lockedown Design went through in 2017 was to pivot our core offering.

In previous years, (see 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016), the business model was primarily WordPress development in exchange for money. During the first five years, I worked for small business clients here in Sacramento, and across the USA. But a significant revenue source during that time was subcontract work for larger agencies, mostly on the East Coast. From 2012 to autumn of 2017, I helped launch 50 web projects and sites for other agencies, while also taking care of my own clients.

That was until towards the end of this year, when I made several big decisions about what I wanted my business to look like over the next five years.

Making the Pivot: Part One

There’s a saying that goes, “the enemy of greatness is success”. That’s where I was on several fronts.

For one, I was selling a service that many people view as a commodity, which would be custom WordPress development. My goal was never to be merely a freelancer, but to build something bigger than myself. Where I was, however, was spending a lot of time building empires for others, with almost no ROI for my own brand. What I wanted to do was build my own empire. To facilitate that, I had make several changes.

Step one was to make a rate change with the agencies that my business had been subcontracting for. In order to be an agency, and grow like an agency, I had to stop pretending that charging like a freelancer would get me closer to my goal. Sometimes, you need to move the goalposts in order to grow.

The effect that this had was twofold. The agency that I had been doing subcontract work for said my new rate was outside of their budget, which is exactly what I predicted would happen. The second thing that occurred is I had the best four months of revenue to date that my business had ever had immediately afterwards.

Now, this has a lot to do with some of the other things that I changed at around the same time. But it confirmed that I had made the right decision for the health of my business.

Changing The Core Offering

The second major shift that I made in my business was changing the focus from WordPress theme development to SEO services, specifically for blue-collar industries like manufacturing.

Now, this was not a decision that I made lightly. I knew from previous success that I had with both my own side projects and client businesses that focusing on SEO was the right move.

What makes any positioning change scary is the fear of letting go of your success in your current position.

I had enjoyed a lengthy run atop the local search rankings for WordPress development, and the site still receives an ample amount of traffic for WordPress questions.

Changing your positioning from a content and SEO standpoint means being willing to let go of the past, and commit to a new subject matter.

To my delight, the rebound in local rankings for the new subject of SEO has happened rather quickly. While I have seen a bit of a drop for my own local rankings for terms like “Sacramento web design”, that is more by intentional design, and something I can very much live with. (Interestingly, this site appears to be ranking much higher for “Sacramento web agency”.)

More Changes

Since I was changing the position of the business, I made some cosmetic changes to the brand as well. The website was long overdue for an overhaul, and it was time for a new logo. I invested the time in redesigning the site, making sure I had the proper 301 redirects in place for new or replaced content. I commissioned a logo designer for a new logo, because I’m not good at logos, and I would rather focus on my strengths, and hire out for the rest.

Another thing that I did was reach out to many people in my network, and have a plan to fill gaps. My mission in 2018 is to get the right type of clients on board, and have enough talent on those projects to produce stellar results.

My thinking is this: many smaller agencies focus on design or basic web development, and hire either contractors or employees to fulfill the work on those projects. My plan is to do likewise as my business grows.

By identifying people who can help fill in gaps where I am not as strong, and giving them credit for the work they do, everyone benefits. The clients, their businesses, and my business. We are all stronger together.

Behind the Scenes

One more thing I did this year that I didn’t do previously was invest in a business coach. I’m part of an ongoing coaching group with Curtis McHale of other developers, marketers, and designers. I chose Curtis because 1) he is also a WordPress developer, 2) as a consultant, he achieved the things I am trying to achieve, 3) he also went through a business pivot, and most importantly 4) he is someone I know, like, trust, and respect.

Lee Jackson is also doing something somewhat similar, but yet different at Agency Trailblazer, as well as Carrie Dils at her Facebook Group, The Fearless Freelancer.

It is important to get input from other agency owners and consultants that are a little bit ahead of you, or at a similar place in their business. (Another resource you might want to check out is the Owner Summit put on each year by the Bureau of Digital.)

Appearances in 2017

I made it to WordCamp Sacramento 2017 for a talk on child theming in WordPress, so that was cool.

I ended up making a few podcast appearances on Rethink.fm, 100k Freelancing, Hallway Chats, 12 Minute Convos, and It’s a Code World (by Hook Agency).

I took a step back from the WP-Tonic podcast, moving down from being co-host to being a recurring panel member. This was primarily so I could focus on internal initiatives for my own business. Kim Shivler is doing an amazing job as the new co-host of that show, and the WP-Tonic podcast remains one of the most consistent WordPress podcasts on the web.

Content Publishing and Branding

If you look at my previous year-in-review posts, you’ll see I focus a lot on how many blog posts and other pieces of content I published. While I feel that was very important to help establish my brand, I only published 18 posts this year on this site, and we had our biggest traffic numbers by leaps and bounds.

That may be because I am trying to go as in-depth as possible when I do write a blog post. It could also be that the back-stock of published material helps with search engine visibility, as some of these rank really well.

I believe it is crucial to develop an online voice, and that only comes from lots of practice, whether that is writing, podcasting, vlogging, social storytelling, or (most likely) a combination of some or all of these.

Where Will 2018 Take Lockedown Design?

Not going to lie, 2017 is ending very strong, and I feel like I am attracting the right type of projects. (This would be SEO and website redesign for blue-collar industry, and national manufacturers looking to grow as they enter the market.) The business had it’s best revenue year to date, and I am taking steps to make sure the business stays profitable as it scales up.

My thoughts are, it will take a lot of work to become a trusted source of information for SEO. I should be personally prepared to do the same amount of work I did up to now in the world of WordPress, but this time, on the subject of search engine optimization.

I see the potential to do make a real difference for several companies I’m working with now. That is one exciting part about SEO. A website redesign is seldom followed-up on by the design agency to measure efficacy. This is because in many cases, content and SEO, and design and development are treated as two separate things, instead of being baked together from the very start of a project.

Because of the extensive experience I have with custom web design and development, and the proficiency Lockedown Design has with SEO, it gives this business a differentiating advantage. Instead of doing one-off website builds, we can shape the redesigns, provide custom development, strategically guide the content, focus the marketing efforts, track the SEO and traffic, and make adjustments accordingly.

In other words, the potential is there to build all three legs of the proverbial table so clients get the most return for investment under one umbrella. I’m very excited to see what 2018 has in store.

Avatar for John Locke

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

8 comments on “2017 Year in Review

  1. Hey John,
    Thanks for the shoutout to The Fearless Freelancer.

    Your site refresh looks great and I’m excited for your new direction. I’m curious about how you decided to focus on blue-collar industries?

    Here’s to a winning 2018!
    Carrie

    1. Hi Carrie:

      Thanks for reading my Year in Review and for checking out the new version of the site. You have an excellent question, why am I focusing on blue-collar industries?

      One of the things I looked at came from something I read in Book Yourself Solid a long tome ago: which clients do I want more of? Who is most satisfying to work with, that has both a need, an ability to pay, and can receive a good return on investment?

      Some of the people already on my client roster fit the blue-collar bill: an auto shop, a plastic fabricator, a sandblasting manufacturer, a construction and development firm, a food processing intermediary, a labor union.

      In each of these cases, whatever work I do for them can generate an ROI that is somewhat easy to quantify. (Improve their site + drive more qualified traffic) = extra revenue generated.

      Another thing that is common with most of these clients is they are fairly new (less than five years) and trying to compete in a larger market. They need significant help to do that. Each of these clients spends a large portion of their time doing face-to-face marketing, at places like trade shows, but they need help with the digital end, because that infrastructure does not exist in their organizations yet. (I also have other clients who have that infrastructure, but still need specialist help).

      Especially for manufacturers, the potential for long-term ROI is vast. Because I’m changing from website development to SEO, I can help them build long-term assets (content creation, backlink profiles, and internal education once they have marketing teams in place) in addition to tracking traffic through tools like Google Analytics and CrazyEgg. This in turn, helps me improve their sites as we go forward.

      Also, almost all of these businesses are very good about trusting what I advise or move forward with. This is a crucial element, as I have a bit more room to move, and things can move more quickly.

      The only downside of working with growing businesses might be it can be difficult to schedule time to go over what is happening, or make future plans. Many of these companies are busy with other tasks, so connecting is something I have to be flexible on.

      Overall, I’ve still spent much more of my lifespan working as a regular Joe than as an information worker. That’s something that works in my favor in many cases, and a strength I can accentuate.

      My next goal should be to drill deeper into being a source of knowledge for manufacturing and other blue-collar marketing. This is the next hurdle.

      Thanks again,
      John

      1. Awesome. Thank you for sharing your thought process. I read Book Yourself Solid awhile back as well, but clearly you did the homework portions. 🙂

        An expanded version of your reply would make a great blog post (if you haven’t blogged on it already). Sara Dunn (sara-dunn.com) has blogged her journey to specializing and it’s been neat to follow. To her point, lots of people talk about the value of “niching down”, but don’t talk about what it looks like to actually implement in a business.

        Best wishes for a killer ’18!
        Carrie

        1. Oh hey 👋🏼 , that’s me! Thanks for the shout out, Carrie. I 100% agree—John, would love to see a full post on how you made your decision on which niche to pursue and how you decided to market to them. The decision to change your whole site and messaging is more brave than most would realize. I’d be the first read and share 🙂

          1. Hi again Sara:

            I don’t know if it’s so brave as sometimes we just feel like we have to change or things will change regardless of how we feel. Sometimes the world does that. 🙂 I definitely feel like this was the right decision, and I’d be happy to document what went into making that pivot decision in the near future.

        2. Hi Carrie:

          I did part of the homework, at least enough to make a decision. Because both yourself and Sara asked, I will do a post on what I considered before making the service change in the very near future. I super appreciate you stopping by to read.

          Thanks so much,
          John

  2. John, you’ve been a huge inspiration for me in how carefully and intentionally you’ve shifted your business and target this year. You also pulled off a beautiful website redesign, which so many of us “in the business” can’t seem to find time to do. I look forward to continuing to follow your progress next year and hope you don’t mind if I reach out and ask how it’s going 😉

    Cheers,
    Sara

    1. Hi Sara:

      Thanks for your kind words, Sara. I feel like you are farther along in your journey than I am, but I will definitely do a post soon. Yes, please feel free to check in on my progress. I will be watching to see how 11Web progresses as well.

      Thanks,
      John

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