About Long-Term Tools

With the increasing number of SaaS applications appearing on the market, is getting easier for content creators and wannabe entrepreneurs to create an online space that can potentially rid them from their boring job, or, give them access to additional funds. And while it’s awesome to see so many helpful tools that can turn even the most technologically inept person into an online publisher, if you don’t choose wisely the tools you’re adding and if you don’t limit yourself on the number of software, you’re heading towards disaster.

When I started my website back in 2018, whenever I wanted to add new functionality to my site, even if we’re talking about something simple, I always looked for adding new tools. Tools different from the ones I currently had.

I’m not a developer. I have little understanding of how HTML and CSS work. And thanks to these extra tools I’ve added throughout the years, I was able to create this website.

Things worked great.

But something that happened recently made me doubt the way I approach things.

This is what happened…

The login functionality of my site broke. The error was caused by a plugin that had nothing to do with the option I’m talking about. I contacted the plugin developer and it was fixed rather quickly – around a week. But then it hit me, “If I really want to create a long-term project. A robust membership program, something people can read and browse with ease, I have to reduce the number of tools I use, not continuously add more.”

I don’t know why I didn’t think like this before this “incident.” After all, I proud myself on being a minimalist in my physical life. I buy the same clothes. I evaluate every purchase before clicking the shiny buy button. I always think of ways to do something without the need of buying an additional tool. Strangely, this wasn’t the way I approached things when it came to my site.

I was adding more tools, cluttering the database with code I have no idea how to optimize, and basically steering my project towards a rocky path.

And more, in terms of software used on a website or an application, is always bad.

Why?

Simple. With every additional element added to a site, the code that needs to load in order the page to open increases. This leads to two major problems:

  1. The speed of your site decreases unless you’re a skilled developer.
  2. The possibilities of something malfunctioning increases.

A while back, I wrote about why you should create a business with fewer moving parts.

The premise of the post is that the probability of something malfunctioning increases with the increase of the elements inside a product, or an organization.

To understand this better, let’s observe the card industry for a moment.

Newly produced vehicles are surely better in terms of looks and safety features. Cars after the year 2000 are stuffed with all kinds of extras that can make you feel like a medieval prince cared for by a pack of slaves. There are so many components, so many options, that it’s hard for the creator himself to describe the possible ways your seat can be adjusted. Still, if you ask a car mechanic what car you should buy he’ll probably tell you that old is better.

Old cars have fewer elements. There are rarely electronics and sophisticated systems. They don’t have seat heating. A cup holder. Safety is questionable. Even AC is often missing as an option. But regardless of these downsides, they are better from a technological standpoint for two main reasons: 1) the components used are of better quality, 2) there aren’t a lot of components.

The same can be observed nowadays in the website-building sphere.

While the newly-created sites are prettier. They load a pile of files and other elements (not familiar with them myself) that are slowing them down. In contrast, old sites are ugly but faster because it’s usually a plain HTML page loading.

I’m not saying that you should tailor your site and make it look like we’re 1997. I’m saying that, if you’re an online content creator yourself and you care about your project and what to make it last for more than a year, you should consider reducing the number of elements you use on your project.

Here’s what I did recently followed by a couple of additional lessons that can be helpful for you…

Removed The Page Builder

If you’re using WordPress for your site, you’re probably familiar with Elementor.

It’s a page builder that allows you to easily craft unique-looking sections on your site from scratch. The best part? You don’t have to know a thing about coding.

I adore the product and the available options.

When I launched my membership program, I was extremely proud of the design of my sales page. Of course, it was all built with Elementor.

It took me a week to adjust everything – the visuals, the text, the layout of the different sections, etc. But just a week is not enough to describe the whole process involved in designing and making this section of my site. I was looking for inspiration months before I hit publish. I wanted this page to be perfect and to scream “buy” from afar.

Now, after I removed the page builder plugin that handled the layout of this page, you can see how unattractive and simple the new membership page is compared to the old one.1

Why I did it?

Simple, there are a lot of things that can go wrong when you’re using a page builder on your site. Most notably, the plugin can break your site if it’s not compatible with the rest of the elements.2 Furthermore, the loading time is higher because there are a lot of components that need to load. And also, I wanted to remove it because the more pages I create with this page builder, the more I become dependent on it.

For example, if I want to redesign my site after a couple of years, I have to comply with their options.

With this move, I’m reducing possible future problems that might occur, increasing the loading speed of my site, and making it easier for me to consider possible migration to a new platform in the future.

Change of Membership Provider

The second thing I am currently working on changing is the membership platform that handles the management of members.

Currently, I use Restrict Content Pro (RCP in short). For years, I adored the plugin and the people working behind it – and I still do like very much the original creators.

I was really excited to get RCP and use it on this site. Sadly, I recently discovered that the plugin was acquired by another provider. And we know how these things work out, don’t we?

The buying company is incapable of adopting the values and principles of the original creator.

When you build something, besides hoping that it will get you money, consciously or not, you embed other values in your creation. Essentially, there’s a strong emotional relationship between you and what you’ve created. But if something is given to you after it is built, you rarely adopt the whole package.

For the new owner, the tool is simply a new additional way to make money. A chance to expand his portfolio. The relationship between the new owner and the tool is purely transactional. After all, he did not shed a drop of sweat to create the tool.

Acquisitions are usually a bad sign for the product. That’s why, I’m working on moving my members to a new program called Memberful. It’s used by some of the most popular content creators online.3

It’s more expensive, but I do believe that it will be beneficial for me in terms of management and also better for my members because it will offer an easier way to navigate around the site.

So, what’s the takeaway for you?

If you’re a content creator, I thought that it will be useful to share a couple of lessons, tips if you must, that can come in handy when you’re thinking about doing a redesign for your site to prepare it for a long-term stay.

Tips for Crafting Long-Term Projects

Use The Native Tools

Regardless of the platform you’re using to create a site, or something else, use the native tools available and refrain from adding additional components.

Our current economy is built around variety but the more things you add, the more your project will suffer. You’ll not only stall the creation process and make things (probably) slower, you’ll also clutter your mind.

When you’re constantly on a lookout for new tools, you switch your thinking from, “How can I create X using what I have?” to “What is the best tool to create X?”

While the first helps you focus on the real problem, on what actually matters, the second steers you towards an endless pursuit of possible opportunities.

Let me elaborate…

For example, you can spend weeks comparing laptops and note-taking apps. But all of this time spent comparing and reading reviews is not an essential activity.

After all, if you’re looking for a note-taking app, this means that you want to take notes. And the more time you spend researching for complicated solutions, the less time you’re spending taking notes.

So, instead of scanning the whole web for the best app, you can ask yourself, “How can I take better notes with the tool I’m currently using?”

This will force you to think critically, help you identify the important traits in the task you’re doing, and also focus your mind on making positive adjustments in your current process – instead of constantly looking for “better” alternatives.

Simple is Better

People are tired of long-form sales pages that are filled with pop-ups, fake testimonials, and countdown timers.

They want an honest relationship with the creator and full disclosure – no hidden terms and conditions.

While you’ll probably increase your sales if you apply the usual sales techniques – throwing discounts around, adding time pressure, bombarding people will emails, etc. What do you think will happen after their purchase?

They’ll probably never buy from you again.

You can persuade people to buy once. But do you want a single sale or do you want to make them feel valued and understood?

Help people make decisions on their own terms, don’t trick them in some sort of malice that will later make them feel disgusted by what you do.

With so many offers and promotions revolving around, I believe that more and more people are starting to prefer a simple, clean layout without all the buzz and without fake hype about what they are actually getting.

Premium, Not Freemium

There are a lot of free options available online. A free way to track how many people are visiting your WordPress site. A free way to create a membership program. A free way to collect email addresses.

But simply because something is free to use doesn’t mean that it’s free for the person creating it.

If the tool is free, there is a good chance that the creator of the tool will abandon it in the future. After all, we’re all looking for positive returns in regard to the things we do. If feedback is lacking, especially monetary in this type of work, well, then, don’t expect long-term maintenance for it.

“How does this affect me?” you might ask.

Well, you’ll have to search for a new replacement tool and probably spend hours making updates.

And that’s not even the worst part about using something freemium.

As the saying goes, “If you’re not paying for the product you are the product.”

When you’re deciding to use something free, think about how else it affects you and your visitors.

Adding Google Analytics to your site is free for you but it collects user data that Google later uses in various ways. Besides, it hugely slows down your site speed.4

If you’re playing the long game, always choose premium instead of freemium.

Do Your Research

Think about this for a moment: Which would you prefer, a product from a company that does 10 different things (company A), or the same type of product from a company that is focused on doing only 1 thing (company B)?

For most people, it’s an easy choice. Company B for sure. That’s why so many people prefer the iPhone.

Apple maintains a narrow production line. That’s why they are so popular. After all, instead of doing several mediocre products, they focus all of their efforts and resources on doing one thing excellent.

Let’s observe for a moment the previously mentioned membership program as an example for content creators – Restrict Content Pro.

When you visit the site, and when you scroll around, you’ll find that the creators – or at least the former creators – are maintaining a couple of other products.

On the surface, this looks good. “These guys have a lot of experience and a broad portfolio. They know what they are doing.”

However, this can also be a potential problem for you as a creator. With so many things going around, chances are they don’t have enough time for everything. Therefore, something needs to be prioritized. And since we don’t know what’s happening in their heads, a safer bet will be to find a company that does only one thing.

Memberful, on the other hand, the company I also mentioned, is apparently doing only one thing – helping creators to sell memberships to their audience and build sustainable businesses. Nothing else.

So, when you’re searching for a new tool for your site, dig deep. Check the production line. The about us page. Read the 1-star reviews. Ask yourself, “How many years of experience do they have? How big is the company? Can I imagine this company surviving for 10 more years?”5

If the answer to the last question is yes, it’s probably a good idea to bet on this tool.

Focus on Speed and Ease of Use

Whatever you’re creating online, focus on speed. Not only because Google will potentially reward you by placing your page higher in the search results, but also because users will enjoy the experience better.

As Jeff Bezos famously said, “You can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time. We know that customers want low prices, and I know that’s going to be true 10 years from now. They want fast delivery; they want vast selection. It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says, ‘Jeff I love Amazon; I just wish the prices were a little higher,’ [or] ‘I love Amazon; I just wish you’d deliver a little more slowly.”

Regardless of what will happen in the future, people will always want a fast site. By reducing the number of tools and options you have, you’re making your project faster and also easier for visitors to use.

Some Closing Thoughts

The more I browse the internet, the more I prefer looking at clean sites absent from popping elements that aim to sell me something I don’t really want.

I’m working on reducing the number of tools I use on this site not only to save costs, but also to offer a better user experience.

Additionally, when you use fewer tools, you’ll spend less time maintaining and worrying about things breaking.

Hopefully, the tips shared above will help you if you decide to create something on your own or if you have an existing project and you’re looking for ways to optimize your workflow.


Footnotes:

  1. Besides, the text is quite different. I wanted something simple that is easy to read and also completely honest.
  2. All WordPress plugins and themes are regularly updated. And since different plugins are created from different people, it’s quite normal that they often don’t “talk” to each other the way they should.
  3. For example, Stratechery, Kottke.org, and Craig Mod.
  4. You can check Fathom Analytics if you want privacy-focused analytics for your site. Personally, I don’t measure how many people are visiting my site. I uninstalled Google Analytics a long time ago.
  5. Always read the 1-star reviews. This speaks volumes about the company. Not that you should believe all the 1-star reviews, but you can see what are the problems with this company. Also, see if the company is responding to these messages. If they do, that’s a good sign.