How I Learned to Focus on ROI and on Myself


There are multiple places on the internet, where you can give me feedback on my plugin. I built some of these forms. I build an infinite edge case generator, and there will always be something wrong with it and it will never be feature complete.

This could drive me insane, or I could continue to enjoy it. I’m actively choosing the latter option.

It’s a work in progress, just like the plugin is. Sometimes when I see a bug in Caldera Forms, I still have to go through the whole self-doubt cycle that when not checked gets to “all of this code is garbage, I’m a garbage developer, I should quit” fairly quickly. I learned that I needed to change where my focus lies and make myself a priority.

The first half of this year marked the first time in my life when I was forced to take a step back from work. This is how I did it.

A Focus On ROI

I am incredibly frugal, and because of this, I get paid as little as possible by my business so we can grow quickly. The downside is that I’m often unlikely to invest in myself or buy myself anything fancy — besides quality coffee.

Jason Cohen’s talk at LoopConf this year was filled with excellent advice, “don’t focus on features, focus on what’s going to double your revenue.”

My business partner Christie and I had just decided to fire our big retainer client and are now wrapping up one last big client job so we can focus solely on product. We never wanted to be a development agency, but making plugins for other companies was a great way to fund this business, but the time investment wasn’t worth it.

Following Cohen’s advice is why we discontinued our lifetime licenses, which we heavily promoted. Also, why we improved our pricing and built Caldera Forms Pro. The first gave us a short-term revenue boost, while the other two along with increased user base have led to significant growths in our income.

2017 has been great for me, I’ve had a ton of fun, and really enjoyed watching the plugin grow and building Caldera Forms Pro was one of the most fun things I’ve done in a long time. Seeing that it works for our business makes me very happy — I get to keep working on it.

Learning to Slow Down

Though 2017 has been great professionally, I started getting migraines, which led to me changing the way I worked.

Sometime in July, I was really excited about the fact that I had nothing super-pressing to work on for Caldera Forms, and it was Saturday and I was going to learn something new. Not just anything, I was going to try some basic Solidity — the high-level language for creating distributed web apps in the Ethereum Virtual Machine.

After 25 minutes I was still installing stuff, but also my face, especially the eyes were in intense pain. This was pretty normal at this point.

Somehow, this time, as opposed to all the other times I just kind of dealt with it for another hour or ten, I decided the highest ROI thing I could do for me, and for my business was to figure out how to make it so looking at a computer screen for more than 25 minutes wasn’t incredibly painful.

This should have been more obvious.

Finally, I learned I had to fix all of this. I use a blue light filter on all devices, I got blue light filtering computer glasses, I took medication. That’s not the point. The point is I immediately started fixing it, which lead to me making it so my computer screen didn’t emit light. Then I went and laid down, which was the highest ROI activity, as it often is until I was functional enough to remember that you could boot Ubuntu in safe mode and reinstall the GUI from there.

Easy fix, but my point(s) is this:

  • What I do is very hard. Even harder with a migraine.
  • Sometimes the best way to improve your businesses isn’t a feature or marketing or organization. It’s making it so you’re not in pain.
  • This stuff is hard and takes time to get right.
  • The blue light is evil.

This Isn’t An Article About Migraines

If you suffer from migraines you should talk to a doctor, not me. This article isn’t about blue light filtering. This article is about me slowing down and being kind to myself and imploring you to do the same.

When someone asks me how I built a business with no money and very little resources in a very crowded market, the best answer I can give is to say I’m the kind of person who gets into something and doesn’t stop. It’s not the healthiest approach, but when done right, I think it can work.

The “always be doing something” approach to life and work can fall into a very easy trap — working for the sake of working, instead of working towards a goal.

For me, what got me passed that trap was realizing that the “do what has the highest ROI” often involves doing something that might now smell like work. For example, watching TV instead of trying to write code when I’m too tired to write good code.

The point of this article, is I’ve turned my life into my work and I’m OK with that. I’m not OK with the fact that I let it get in the way of taking care of myself. Is it wrong that it took realizing that migraines and stress were negatively affecting my work to fix them instead of just fixing them because they are unhealthy?

To be honest, I don’t really care. I had a migraine the other day while using my computer on a plane — air travel is a migraine trigger and I forgot to pull my computer glasses out of my carry on bag before putting it in the overhead bin. Instead of inconveniencing the two people next to me to get from my window seat to the aisle, I powered through and got a migraine. It was the first time in two months since I had a migraine, and I had almost forgotten how bad they were.

I’m not perfect, and one migraine wasn’t the end of the world. The point is I was reminded of the potentially serious possibles downside of my job/ life and the need to take care of myself better.

Josh is a WordPress developer and educator. He is Founder/ Lead Developer/ Space Astronaut Grade 3 for Caldera Labs, makers of awesome WordPress tools including Caldera Forms — a drag and drop, responsive WordPress form builder. He teaches WordPress development at Caldera Learn.

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