2021 Year in review

Illustration of party icons and two champagne glasses

I'll start by explaining the delay of this yearly review.

Despite all precautions, vaccinations, boosters, barely leaving our home, and going through many quarantines, I got sick with covid-19. Our 6-month-old got it from his daycare (welcome to the world, Shai!), which continued to my wife and me. Our 4-year-old, somehow, survived the whirlwind and tested negative three times.

And if we're being honest, would this even be a genuine 2021 review if it didn't mention Covid?

The way 2022 opened up is a recap of 2021 in our household. Due to quarantines and covid scares, the kids were constantly in the house, creating an ever-challenging environment to get work done. Sometimes I have to dismiss all calls scheduled for the day, while other times, the house is silent, and I can execute and feel like I'm superman.

I imagine this is more or less the new norm in family households and can only be thankful that through all the craziness, our family is safe and sound.

Establishing our foundation

In my 2020 year in review, I covered much of what it took to get WebLime up and going. In 2021, as we progressed through opportunities and referrals started to come in, it was clear that my old ways weren't scalable. While we managed to hit some of the goals I laid out, we experienced painful growing pains.

The goals I had for 2021:

  • Hire our first 2-3 full-time employees
  • Publish 10 blog posts for WebLime
  • Host at least 75 clients on DigitalAtar
  • Adopt at least 5 more nonprofits

Communication became tricky. My to-do list was no longer only mine, and as projects grew, clients expected more from us.

If we wanted to handle a heavier workload, we would need to implement some structure to manage tasks and facilitate healthy collaboration. I had a lot of experience working with Asana in my previous job, so naturally, it felt right to go with them.

For a few months, that did the trick, but as we grew and brought on more marketing clients, Asana began to choke on us. We needed to collaborate internally, upload the prepared material to social media platforms, and ultimately even share this with clients before anything went live.

The marketing processes we formed internally became redundant. From preparation to approval and uploads - the work was limiting and hindering our creativity. We were too occupied with the operational aspect of getting things moving along.

So after testing several solutions and doing extensive research, we finally settled for what seemed to be the perfect match. With Airtable, we're able to collaborate, execute, and even automate some of the ongoing tasks we did manually.

Now that this platform was in place, we could focus on actual work and not jump through operational hoops excessively.

Techincal focus

In 2021, we attempted to close every opportunity that came our way.

The tech stack didn't matter, and the pricing wasn't ever a deal-breaker. We wanted to work, enrich our portfolio, and, most importantly, put ourselves out there.

While doing this may have felt financially beneficial in the short term, I believe it's a strategic mistake in the long haul.

The web development space is vast, and the solutions to building a website are abundant. Regardless of the direction you'll go, there are endless possibilities to consider.

If you're thinking no-code solutions, the list of Wix, Square, Squarespace, and the likes doesn't end. And if you're thinking of raw code, the list of tech stacks and frameworks to choose from is also endless.

Choosing the right tech solution for a project requires intensive work and research. You have to understand who you're building for, the current needs, and where those needs might be in a few years of growth - it's no easy feat.

Assuming we reach a consensus with the prospect, agree on the approach, and sign a deal, we then have to dive head deep into the technicalities of the project.

While offering this flexibility as a business is exhilarating and educational, it can also be exhausting and harm our clients. It means that we could be working with WordPress one month and another month with Square. One month we build a website for a restaurant, and the following month we work with clinicians.

We did a great job at doing this. We've launched websites for restaurants, nonprofit organizations, lawyers, home improvement companies, and the list goes on.

When you consider this dynamic, one must wonder, are we genuinely understanding the problems our prospects are presenting? And better yet, when we work with the chosen tech stack, are we executing with best practices?

Two of our clients were acquired in 2021. While I can't take any credit for that, I believe we assisted in having a presence online when their investors indulged with said brands.

And while we may have executed in the best way possible in some cases, I believe we could have done far better or achieved faster results in others.

Cracking down on our approach is still a work in progress. On the one hand, I don't want only to serve one particular niche, and on the other, I want us to get really good at what we do.

It seemed like a good starting point was to stick to a few tech stacks. Instead of bouncing around from Square to Weebly and then WordPress, we decided to focus on two solutions.

WordPress & Shopify

WordPress is an incredible platform.

It's open-source, has gone through several decades of improvements and refinements, and is arguably the best CMS to use for any website, blog, or app. You can build with it just about anything you'd want. It offers over 50,000 plugins to choose from, and the list of WordPress benefits is extensive.

But with all the perks and flexibility that WordPress offers, it can quickly become a vulnerability that leads to technological chaos.

Unfortunately, in most cases, when clients come to us with WordPress builds that have been worked on through the years, there's an overwhelming amount of plugins installed. Some plugins aren't supported anymore, others don't mesh well with the current selection of plugins, and some plugins shouldn't have been installed to begin with.

This led me to two decisions in 2021:

1) We'll use WordPress but not for every website. WordPress is at its best when you use several premium plugins and a few more. Around 10 is the magic number I try to stick to. After that, usually, things begin to get messy. I put together a WordPress guide covering this idea, and I intend to update it as WordPress matures.

2) eCommerce builds on WordPress become tricky relatively quickly. While on the other hand, Shopify offers a robust eCommerce platform right out of the box. So we’ll stick with WordPress for general builds and Shopify for eCommerce.

This new understanding meant that we could hone in on these technologies. It also meant saying no to opportunities that wouldn't be the best use of our time.

If we learned what it takes to get a speedy and secure website running on the WordPress front, on Shopify, we knew which apps we found to be the best for enhancements and efficiencies.

All of this meant we were more efficient with our time and becoming better at our craft. Eventually, this allowed us to execute better, charge more for our expertise and deliver better projects.

The technical focus proved itself relatively quickly, but it happened only in the year's second half.

We're now more agile, confident in what we deliver, and as a result, charge more. We went from closing $500 projects to bringing on projects above $10k. As we got more experience with WordPress and Shopify, our technical skillset advanced too.

We're Shopify Partners, which opens many doors for us. And midway through the year, we were also accepted to be part of Storetasker's marketplace, which has been a great experience.

As Shopify partners, we make a monthly commission off every store that we build and launch.

And as we built these stores, we found ourselves falling in love with specific apps and tools more than others. So naturally, we applied for partnerships with those third-party services as well. The highlights there are ReCharge and Klaviyo. Both are superior in their areas, and generally, at least one is needed, if not both in every Shopify build.

Initially, it may not seem like a lot, but these small commission payouts from the various platforms and services will add and compound.

With WordPress, we have a similar setup, only that we manage the technical aspects of the operation ourselves. With our project DigitalAtar, clients can host WordPress sites, get business emails and buy domains.

So we're now more efficient with our time, deliver more robust solutions to our clients and grow passive income as we bring in new deals.

Nonprofits

When I launched WebLime, I had no prior work to show my web development skills. It took some creativity to figure out how to break into the space and gain people's trust.

After running circles with various networking attempts, cold calling and so forth, I found myself helping a nonprofit get on its feet. Within a few weeks, I got them up and running with a WordPress website, added a donation mechanism, integrated them with MailChimp for their newsletter and set them up for success with the operation.

Once it seemed like the org was smooth sailing, I reached out to the board, expressed my desire to continue supporting their online operations, and asked if they knew anyone else who could use this type of technical assistance.

A referral came in for another nonprofit. Then another referral came in for a paid project. I crunched through the new projects on my plate and found myself getting more referrals from that.

This process got me thinking about this reciprocal process.

Giving back to the community while growing DigitalAtar seemed like an extraordinary business formula.

Instead of launching nonprofits on GoDaddy and the likes, we can facilitate everything under our roof at DigitalAtar. It saves our clients from unreasonable fees and a lot of trouble and now nonprofits can enjoy this too.

Unlike our relationships with for-profit businesses, with the nonprofits, we’d offer a website build for free. Our only requirement is that hosting is done on DigitalAtar for $50 a month.

This fee might come off as pricy, but when you digest everything that they receive, it's beneficial.

The nonprofits don't have to scrap for free work and have random folks update their sites. They can expect it to get done professionally, on time, and as needed.

Meanwhile, WebLime can build on this business model and have the monthly fees collectively amount to something more lucrative in the long haul.

Marketing

As our marketing initiatives grew, it was clear that our clients got overwhelmed. It's challenging to run the operational aspect of a business. Now we were asking them to look at Google Search Console, traffic data, social media platforms, and so much more.

Again, we realized our approach wasn't scalable.

We want our clients to have a general understanding of what we’re doing. We need them to review all this data. But they're so occupied with the operational day to day that getting them to log into so many other platforms didn't seem feasible. They didn't have the time or understanding of how the information correlates.

There are a few ways to go about this obstacle. We could either develop an in-house solution or work with platforms that help you bring all the data together. This time we went with the latter.

With our retainer model, clients who work with us on an ongoing basis now have an environment they can access at clients.weblime.com and view everything we do for them.

They'll soon get monthly reports too.

Ironically, this didn't just improve our client's life but also ours. We now have all the data in one location, making it easier to digest and facilitate productive conversations.

Digital Atar

DigitalAtar is a project we launched thanks to the insight we obtained from our clients. I covered the launch in my 2020 review and ended it with a goal for 2021 that we did not hit. I wanted us to reach 75 clients on the platform, and in hindsight, I understand this target was not realistic.

We're not marketing the platform and are letting it grow organically. Meaning when a hosting opportunity arises for WebLime, those prospects end up opening an account at DigitalAtar. With the lack of focus I covered earlier, clients hosted the projects elsewhere in many cases. Sometimes, like Square or Shopify, it isn't possible to host anywhere but directly with them. While WebLime gets paid for the build, there isn't an opportunity for DigitalAtar.

One of my goals in 2022 is to get DigitalAtar to a point where it doesn't merely help facilitate everything for WebLime's clients but also has clients of its own. That's when we could genuinely set goals for the project. Until then, it'll hinge on WebLime's pace of project completions.

We did manage to improve the design of the platform drastically. It's more intuitive and more manageable for clients to navigate and get what they need.

We updated the registrars we work with on the backend so that clients have more control over their DNS.

The last big update worth mentioning is that we partnered with another company to improve our support. We have security and monitoring in place already, but it still felt like we should have a backup team. So, in addition to WebLime backing DigitalAtar, there is now an entire other company responsible for our servers and uptime.

The construction industry

From a young age, any opportunity I had to work was answered by going to help my father with his handyman business. During the day, he worked for Home Depot and installed toilets or fixed leaks in the evenings or on weekends.

By age 16, the business grew a bit, and the home improvement industry became second nature. I could install wood floors, plaster walls, and handle just about any aspect of the construction. Even if I didn't exactly know how to execute a task myself, I had a deep understanding of what needed to happen so that I could oversee the process and help manage it.

With time the business grew, and my passion for technology pulled me away - but never too far. I may have worked for Geek Squad or taken on other roles outside the industry, but I always provided a technical anchor to the company.

The business went from being a handyman service to becoming a full-blown home improvement operation that eventually my mom joined to help manage administration and sales.

While helping our home improvement clients, I realized all my experience put me in a unique position. The industry hadn't advanced much. One company runs its operation with business cards, cell phones, and notepads, while another stumbled on a generic online management system and is trying to make it work.

That's when I thought of HomePals.

Part of our marketing process requires helping clients get up and running with a contact management system, and in most cases, they're overwhelmed. It makes sense to solve this with an in-house solution.

HomePals will begin by offering an easy-to-use management system and scale the idea from there. The end goal is to deliver a solution covering everything a home improvement company needs to operate smoothly.

Similar to our organic approach with DigitalAtar, the growth will parallel WebLime's pace of work. The only thing we may add to this project is a small investment in SEO.

2022 AND BEYOND

We fell short of the goals we laid out for 2021.

We have five paid interns and contractors but didn't hire 2-3 full-time employees.

We wanted to plant seeds for SEO by publishing at least ten blog posts, and we managed to surpass that with 16 articles published.

As for nonprofits, we assisted more than five organizations but didn't bring them all to DigitalAtar due to the hosting constraints mentioned above.

I believe 2021 will be looked upon as WebLime's turning point — the year where we said yes to everything, interviewed a ton of people to find good interns and contractors, we learnt a lot and came out with a robust foundation.

The story will be different for 2022.

We've matured from the quick flips that don't serve us in the long haul to focusing on bigger and better outcomes. The foundation is in place, and we understand where to invest our energy. Unlike our actions in 2021, every single project we touch will directly impact our bottom line this year. As cash flow increases, we may even reinvest into some of our own marketing campaigns.

Some goals worth mentioning for 2022:

  • $250,000 ARR
  • Bring 20 nonprofits to DigitalAtar
  • Hire 2 full-time employees
  • Get HomePals to at least 15 monthly active users
  • Host at least 65 active clients on DigitalAtar

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