Have you ever felt like you stepped in dog poop with an online project or vendor? It stinks. It’s messy. And the cleanup isn’t a pleasant task.
I’ve done that three times in the past few years and it’s taken a toll on me and my business.
Two of them you have never heard about, until now. One of them you may have.
This is my story and my experience of how my zeal for some vendors and my sense of duty to clients caused me to run right into piles of dog poop, not once, but three times, the real cost of doing it, and why I have to make a change in my business, again.
Once Upon a Time
It used to be easy to be in a web related business.
20 years ago I started out as a coder back in the day when you had to have a coder to have a site. It was a hobby. I also did a lot of volunteer work. And all of those organizations and board member business owners needed sites.
I never did any advertising. I just opened my mouth, said what I did, and I had all the hobby business I could take.
My day job for 30 years was as an electronics engineer, aka professional fault finder and fixer of things.
In that capacity I did a lot of tech writing and training too. I loved that part most.
When WordPress came along, DIY site ownership was born. End users didn’t need coders as much. They needed trainers.
So, I naturally found ways to start doing that in my web business and started a sister site for training. You know it as BlogAid.
I thoroughly enjoyed engaging directly with folks in 1-on-1 classes and later making video tutorials too. And, I super duper enjoyed following the latest tech, digging into it, and writing and teaching about it.
It was such a great fit for me that I set my sights on changing over to doing that as my new full time career.
The Honeymoon is Over
My two preferred hosting vendors, BlueHost and HostGator, were purchased by EIG. Everything went south with them including performance and support.
My clients, and all others who had used my affiliate link to purchase hosting there were MAD!!! Not just at the hosts. Some were mad with me too.
Under that duress, I researched other hosts as fast as I could and made a leap of faith to one that seemed promising.
That was A2 Hosting. And everything was great! In fact, the hosting experience was far superior to any I had prior. I enthusiastically recommended them and in doing so, began a 5-figure income stream from referral commissions. (I’ve never been a reseller for any host, just straight affiliate commission.)
The Party’s Over
Every host hits rough spots, especially one that is growing. That happened to A2. Most of my clients and followers and I stuck with them through it.
But, I had made my name so synonymous with them that whatever befell them splashed onto me.
People were contacting me left and right to fix it. I couldn’t. Another company’s product is not under my control.
We got through a couple of rough patches. But they just kept coming. I was getting lip service from them. Clients were fed up. I was losing hours, days, and weeks trying to troubleshoot and work with the host and/or answering to upset clients and affiliate purchasers.
Every angry sentiment folks held for the host was drowning me both publicly and privately.
I felt my reputation as a trusted resource was in serious jeopardy.
I wrestled with what to do for weeks, continuing to work with the host privately while researching other hosts.
I could find none that I felt like staking my reputation on again. So I made a decision and wrote a post that I would no longer publicly recommend any host, and why.
And I kissed that 5-figure a year income goodbye.
I put principle above profit. Yet I still see non-tech gurus continue to rake in $30k a month recommending hosting that I:
- left years ago due to such poor performance and support
- continually advise others to leave
- publicly share my tests, and benchmarks by others proving just how bad they are
- share interviews with site audit clients calling them out by name and all the issues they ran into with them.
And to this day I wonder how in hell those non-tech gurus with groupies are not taking the same heat that I am and how they can sleep at night giving bad recommendations.
As for me and A2 Hosting, we are still working together. In fact, I’m still there, as are a few of my clients. We’re on Managed VPS and that seems to have settled down with few issues now. As for Turbo and shared, it’s still having too many issues for me to recommend, although others report they are doing fine.
I privately tell my paying clients where else to check for shared, or for cloud hosting, depending on their needs.
And I do so with the disclaimer that there is no host on the planet that will not be hit with something and to please not hold me responsible.
They say they won’t. But I know how this works. They will associate me with a bad recommendation if anything less than stellar does happen.
That’s just the way it is.
I don’t feel comfortable leaving my clients high and dry with no recommendations at all. So I risk it.
The bottom line is, I worked things out with the host in private as much as possible. But I was forced to address some of it publicly when others posted my name along with theirs.
How My Business Changed
I was still very focused on teaching and training when all of this happened.
But because of the hosting issues, and the huge bot attacks that started near the end of 2013 and have done nothing but get worse since, I expanded my business to include site audits for performance and security.
I didn’t really want to take on the security part of it, but I had to. Performance and security go hand in hand now.
I began focusing on it more, and less on teaching and training. And business boomed again.
Then it Got Worse
My favorite backup plugin, BackupBuddy, had been unstable and unreliable for 6-8 months. Me and all of my site maintenance clients, and training clients use my Gold license and HAVE to know that we have a reliable backup.
On a closed dev group I complained about the multiple issues and instability. The flood gates opened and 185 comments later, it was clear that everyone was experiencing the same things and that support ticket replies were full of the same thing – it’s only you, not the plugin, help us troubleshoot.
Prior to me making that post, I had donated two months of my time, meaning non-billable hours, helping them troubleshoot.
An iThemes employee was in that group, read the post, and then revoked my plugin license. This, from a company who has a stated policy of no refunds.
That knee-jerk, overreaction put me and my clients at risk and shot my liability through the roof.
The iThemes CEO read the thread and asked everyone not to complain about the plugin. They nailed him to the wall. I remained silent. I was too livid to reply.
He also discovered what the employee had done, reached out to me privately, apologized, reinstated my license, and knocked heads in support.
The plugin was updated and fixed most, but not all of the prior issues.
That lasted about a week. A new update. New bugs.
And support again returned to “it’s not the plugin, help us troubleshoot”.
I don’t work for them! It’s a paid plugin and I’m the client!
To this day the plugin remains glitchy. It won’t even run on some shared hosts anymore due to lowered resource ceilings.
And since I had already lost enough time and money troubleshooting to have paid for another backup service for me and all of my clients, I decided that’s exactly what we would do. We left.
I removed that plugin from my recommended list. Removed my affiliate link (that I never made much on anyway), and privately advised my clients to double and triple check that their backups were indeed making and being stored remotely.
Until now, I never said a public word about what happened with the employee or the CEO. I worked with the vendor in private.
It’s been a few months since all of that happened. I had intended to write a PSA post. But I didn’t want to do it out of anger or frustration. So, I waited until that subsided and I’m telling all I’m going to say about it here.
I now publicly tell folks that most of my clients and I are using VaultPress.
I’ve stopped short of saying that I recommend it. I just say I use it.
Then This Happened
I have gained a super reputation as a trusted, and accurate performance tester.
In 2014 I ran an exhaustive performance test on share button plugins. It took at least a week of non-billable hours to produce it. The report was shared heavily and it helped a lot of folks make better choices for their site. And it became a benchmark for devs. And my reputation grew. So all good.
In 2015, I ran another head-to-head performance test with the 2014 plugin winner and Social Warfare. It was a test they were chomping at the bit to have done. Their plugin won, hands down. They shared that post widely. And it was also used by others as independent verification of just one more reason why they loved the plugin. More folks, including my clients, purchased the plugin because of it. And that test sparked ideas in the dev, who has since made the plugin even faster.
A couple of months after putting the Social Warfare plugin on my site, I noticed some odd behavior with my SEO. During that investigation, I came across odd code from the Social Warfare plugin.
I thought I found two issues. One with the OG and Twitter tags that were conflicting with the Yoast SEO plugin. The other was an SEO issue.
I privately let the Social Warfare folks know.
I also privately let team Yoast know, because the oddities involved how the two plugins interacted. They investigated and replied quickly and were very helpful.
Social Warfare told me they were working on it. But only after I had to pester them for a response. That’s not the first time that’s happened.
We went back and forth with me pestering them to keep me in the loop with their fixes. I was frustrated at the lack of response and detail. And they said it was fixed. But that’s not what my tests revealed.
Eventually, private communication stopped entirely.
With nothing else to go on, I published my test findings and all public hell broke loose and the dev team was very vocal, in public. But on other people’s posts. Not with me directly.
The plugin was updated. I ran new tests and published again, and mistakenly referenced a new walkthrough they created, thinking it was an old one.
All public hell broke loose again.
My Bottom Line with Social Warfare
My tag concerns were legit and the plugin changed. (Me and the dev might have to agree to disagree with my assessment of why the tags needed to change, but they did change. And I’m good with them now.)
My SEO assessment was way off due to inaccurate testing methods and conclusions from them.
I help folks with foundation SEO. This sort of testing was out of my league.
And I was publicly flogged by several SEO pros for making that mistake.
There were some rather harsh things said about me by the devs during all of this. I’m not one to burn bridges with vendors, but a couple of those unwarranted comments about malicious intent put me over the edge enough to make an exception.
But here’s the worst of it.
We hashed the whole thing out in public. It was divisive. My clients and their supporters took sides. It was heated. It was upsetting. It wasted a ton of time that could have been used more productively.
For me, that included all of the testing time, and replying to the public hoohaa, and time to calm down from being so upset.
And all of it because private communication failed.
And none of it helped anybody.
A few days later one of the team members contacted me privately. We both felt horrible and we both were unhappy about the way this divided our common supporters too.
I had already written this post four times. I’ve lost sleep and work hours deciding what I wanted to do about all this latest hoohaa, and my biz direction in general.
I decided to remove my two Social Warfare test posts from my site. I also removed my social media posts and requested that my followers who had shared it to do the same.
Mistakes were made by everybody.
In this post I want to apologize for mine, not only to the team of Social Warfare, but to my clients and followers too.
We’ll let this be water under the bridge and move on.
What I’ve Learned
I’ve been in this biz for nearly 20 years. I’ve worked with more devs and vendors and service providers than I can count. In this post, you got the Cliff’s Notes version of three of those stories, and just of the ones that took the greatest toll on me. There are many, many more happily ever after tales.
In the majority of cases, the devs and vendors are happy to work things out privately. They are happy for the free help too! And we all have better services.
Occasionally, vendors and services don’t improve. And there’s no choice but to find another way.
My clients and followers cheer me for fighting the good fight on their behalf.
But I’m the one taking the beating – mentally, physically, and financially. I can’t afford to do that anymore.
We all have to use providers for domains, hosting, CMS, plugins, email, etc. None of them are perfect.
Folks who recommend them can’t control what those providers do.
Nobody on the planet is right about everything. Everybody makes mistakes. And we, as providers and recommenders take the heat when clients are unhappy. And folks will always expect more perfection than anyone is able to deliver every minute of every day.
That’s the biz.
For now, I’m going to let those bad recommendations by non techs continue to build my future site audit business without any further interference or guidance or education from me.
I’m also going to be less zealous in my enthusiasm for a product or service or vendor.
I’m going to renew my passion for teaching, including more live classes, and plenty more video courses.
I’ll still be doing site audits too, and answering to my clients and recommending what I can, but I’m going to talk about it less.
And I’m going to stop battling with vendors. My clients win, but I lose. When things go bad and stay bad and vendors are uncooperative, we’re just going to leave.
All I can control is my participation. And I’m going to let the rest of it go and return to doing what makes me happy in this biz, and the reasons I got into it in the first place.
This is my story and my experience. There are always other perspectives. If you, as my reader, know where I’m coming from, that’s all that matters to me.