Don’t Let This One Mistake Butcher Your Productivity (and a newsletter plugin update)

Don't let this one big mistake bring you down!

It took me a long time to figure this out, but I finally realized that I’ve been making a big mistake. A fun mistake, but an unproductive one.

I spend so much time organizing and planning, that I never get around to actually doing.

This was a big problem affecting my business. I was so caught up in creating my own perfect system, that I was spending all my time developing this system and no time actually using it. For example:

  1. I built my own contract plugin so I could send all my contracts in-house. This way I wouldn’t have to send my clients to a third party site to sign the contract (I don’t like confusing them with third parties).
  2. I built my own newsletter plugin so I could send out emails without having to pay a company to do it.
  3. I started building my own project management platform so I could create a more integrated and customized system.

In the moment, I thought these things were SO COOL. My systems were beautiful, flawless, and integrated perfectly. Everything was MINE. I knew exactly how they worked and I could put everything together seamlessly. Sounds pretty good, right?

But I spent all my time making things that would be used in business, which left me with no time to actually RUN THE BUSINESS.

In the back of my mind I had all these epic plans.

  • I wanted to write an e-book (or two, or three).
  • I wanted to re-code all my WordPress themes to be more streamlined and integrated with the WordPress Customizer.
  • I wanted to start exciting new ventures.
  • I wanted to build more plugins.

But all my time was spent developing these custom systems for myself (newsletters, contracts, etc.) that I never got around to building the actual products. I was too focused on the administrative features that looked and sounded cool that I ignored the things that actually bring me money.

Sometimes it’s actually better if you spend money to have someone else do it.

I think this is the thing that made me realize I was being stupid.

One of the reasons I built my own newsletter plugin was because I was too cheap to use MailChimp. I looked at the functionality and thought, “I could make that, so why should I pay $20+ per month for it?”

And that worked just fine for a while. But then I wanted more and more features.

I wanted to be able to tag subscribers based on their actions. For example:

  • When they buy a product, tag them with “Purchased x” (ie “Purchased Ultimate Book Blogger”).
  • When they register for an e-course, tag them with “Registered for x”.
  • When they download a freebie, tag them with “Downloaded x”.
  • When they download a freebie related to coding, tag them with, “Interested in Coding”.

Then I could really implement targeted marketing. I could decide to email everyone who was subscribed and bought Ultimate Book Blogger, but DIDN’T buy Tweak Me v2. Or I could email everyone who downloaded a free plugin, is on WordPress, and is interested in coding. I could only send people emails that I know might interest them because of the actions they’ve taken on my site.

How many hours have I “wasted”?

Adding tag functionality to my newsletter plugin didn’t actually take too long. But after I spent a whole day working on it (that doesn’t include all the other days before this), I realized something.

I usually estimate my hourly rate at $125 per hour. I just spent like 8 hours working on this plugin to add new features. With 8×125, that’s about $1,000 of my time. If I’d just signed up for MailChimp or some other system, I would have been paying $15 per month, so that same $1,000 would have covered me for about 66 months (not factoring in upgrades if I needed to upgrade to another plan). That’s over 5 years.

If I hadn’t been so busy creating my own system, I could have then spent those 8 hours writing my e-book or re-coding my themes.

You could argue that building the plugin WAS actually building a product, but that’s not quite how I saw it.

Yes people wanted to buy my newsletter plugin, so in a sense I was still building a product. But if I’m being completely honest with myself, that’s never how I saw the plugin. I was only going to sell it because people kept telling me how much they wanted it. Originally, it was just something I built for ME because I wanted it and I needed it.

  • I never intended to sell it.
  • Even if I did sell it, I never expected the plugin to bring in much money.
  • The idea of debugging a newsletter plugin for customers never sounded like much fun (it’s a hard thing to debug). So I wasn’t passionate about supporting the plugin for other people.
  • Then Mandrill changed their pricing structure to a minimum fee of $9.95 per month and I KNEW that would tank my potential sales even more. (It was okay for me, but I knew other people wouldn’t want to pay it.)

My point is, I would have rather been doing other things. But I was so caught up in creating my perfect system, that I didn’t realize I was actually wasting my own time and thus my own money.

Sometimes things just need to be “fine”. They don’t need to be perfect.

I feel like I’ve wasted a lot of time creating things that ultimately won’t make me any money. And it’s not that this is all about money for me, because it’s not, but I do still have bills to pay and I need to think of ways to further my business. The industry I’m in is constantly changing and I can’t expect to sit back and have money pour in.

  • I need to be pro-active.
  • I need to be constantly on the move.
  • I need to stay updated.

Instead of pouring all my time into creating perfect systems, I should just pay for something that already exists and is available so I can move on and actually DO THINGS—like make products or work with more clients.

The same principals can be applied to blogging. Don’t spend all your time planning and forget to actually PUBLISH POSTS.

Have you ever spent so much time PLANNING for your blog that you never got around to actually DOING?

Maybe you:

  • Spend a ton of time creating the perfect design, but never release a blog post.
  • Spend weeks creating the perfect blogging calendar, but never actually write posts.
  • Or maybe your blog is all about books, and you spend so much time working on your blog that you never do the thing that started the blog in the first place: reading.

Don’t forget about your end goal. Make sure you’re always working towards it.

When I look back at what I was doing for my business, here’s what I see:

  • My end goal was to have more products and more clients.
  • I spent all my time creating systems so I could spoil myself with something that was PERFECT and AWESOME and SEAMLESS.
  • But none of those systems were actually going to get me more products or more clients.
  • In the end, I’d have pretty systems and contracts and newsletters, but actually be no better off in my business.
  • I was wasting time and not actually getting any closer to achieving my goal.

It’s time for me to re-focus. I’m now a woman on a mission!

I’ve finally realized that investments are worth it. If I can pay to have someone else manage my newsletter, contracts, or even emails, then I’m saving myself time. That’s valuable time I can spend doing other things—like actually moving forward with new plans, new prospects, and new products.

I want to get shit done! So that’s what I’m going to be doing from here on out.

But what about the newsletter plugin for WordPress??

Here’s where I make my confession. I’ve moved to a third party email service called ActiveCampaign (affiliate link). I’m no longer using my newsletter plugin. The new service I’m using is expensive, the admin panel is clunkier than I’d like, but it’s incredibly powerful. It does all the things I wanted to do with my own service, but I didn’t have to spend even more hours coding them.

Mandrill changed their pricing structure, so it now has a hefty monthly fee.

I think the main reason I stopped working on the newsletter plugin was because Mandrill (the service the plugin uses to send out mail) changed their pricing structure. Now they have a minimum fee of $9.95 per month. If you’re willing to pay that, why wouldn’t you just use MailChimp? I figured I’d lose almost all my potential customers anyway because of this new pricing.

If there’s enough demand for my newsletter plugin, then I will still release it. I even have a cool idea to release it for free for a limited time. But the thing is, I feel guilty. I suddenly feel like a traitor. How can I sell (or even give away) this plugin if I’m not even using it myself? I know I CAN, it just feels weird.

Are you still interested in the plugin? Let me know!

If you’re still interested in the newsletter plugin (read more about it here), fill out the form below. You’ll be added to my list where I can contact you about this plugin and its possible release. The amount of people who sign up will determine whether or not I actually go through with releasing it. Just keep in mind that the plugin now has a required fee (to Mandrill) of $9.95 per month. That buys you unlimited subscribers (via my plugin) and 25,000 emails per month (via Mandrill).

I’m looking forward to a life of productivity!

Honestly, writing this post has felt so good. It feels like a huge relief to tell someone about my mistakes and what I’ve learned from them. Plus the whole confession about cheating on my own plugin.. I kind of snuck that in there because I still feel guilty about it.

I feel like I have this breath of fresh air. I have a business roadmap in my head and I’m SO EXCITED about it. Finally I feel like I’m going to be making progress and moving forward.

Let’s talk about productivity.

Have you ever spent too much time planning and dreaming, but not enough DOING?

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I'm a 30-something California girl living in England (I fell in love with a Brit!). My three great passions are: books, coding, and fitness. more »

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  1. I was interested in your plugin until I saw that mandrill change. Mailchimp isn’t bad or anything, but I liked the idea of having more inhouse and less on another site. But I don’t have a whole slew of subscribers either. I can still get away with using Mailchimp for free, so it wasn’t something useful to me. That change sucks though.

    I saw on a recent post where you said you coded your own commentluv for your blog. I’ve seen it work for other comments, but it never has worked for me. I just get a forever loading circle below the post comment button. I’ve tried it on three browsers all without extensions or with them and the same result.

    1. Yeah but I always say that if you plan on using the free version of something, you should expect to pay in the future.

      I mean, MailChimp might allow you 2,000 subscribers, but it also only allows you 12,000 emails per month. So if you blog once per day, and thus send one email to each person per day, you can only really have 400 subscribers (400 subs x 30 days = 12,000 emails).

      The problem with your URL is that your RSS feed URL can’t be picked up automatically for some reason. I’ve at least made it so that the spinner stops spinning though. πŸ˜›

      1. This is true. I guess it’s just something to worry about eventually. Right now I only have about 212 subscribers, so I have a ways to go before needing to look at my options.

        That’s so weird. I wonder why it’s being so stupid. I didn’t think my RSS feed URL would be that difficult, it’s normal like everyone else’s. Not the end of the world. πŸ˜€

  2. I absolutely do the same thing. I realized it last night. I was working on a new design (because I don’t like the parent I’m using. It overlays the sidebar instead of squishing it into the main area and I can’t figure out how to fix it.) and it occurred to me that
    1) I’ve hardly read anything.
    2) I’ve basically put out one review a week.
    3) I finally set up a blogging calendar with 3 new awesome, fun features that I have yet to implement.

    Ugh! I don’t know how to stop! I need everything to be perfect, but even when it is, I’m always looking at the next thing.

    As for your newsletter, I love the idea of moving things inside, but that $9.95 a month? That’s a bit hard to swallow. I’d still consider it though. I still haven’t found a newsletter that I can afford and love. I’m using mailchimp, but I wish it was integrated into my blog, and not by a third party plugin. It would be nice to have something (even if it were mailchimp) that after I publish a post, I could go to the newsletter tab and it would say “Hey! This post is scheduled to be sent at [time] on [date]. Would you like to send it as is or add more?” then you could add a one time message about upcoming site maintenance or a reminder about a giveaway that’s almost over. With mailchimp, the only way is to pause the whole campaign, add what you want, then try to remember to undo it after the message is no longer relevant. I feel like it would add so much more to our blogs if there was a way to add even JUST this functionality.

    Wow, got sidetracked. Sorry about that. Anyway, I’m right there with you.

    I’ve decided I just need a ghost writer. I can sit back and plan my little heart out and they generate the content. πŸ˜‰

    Dani @ Novelfly recently posted: Kick Push by Jay McLean [Review]
    1. Aw Dani! I’m so sorry you’re going through this too. It’s such a tough spot to be in. I know exactly what you mean about always looking at the next thing. I’m totally the same way.

      My plugin is pretty cool in that adding a campaign is exactly like adding a post. Exactly the same. And you know how easy it is to schedule a post, then go back and edit it, then go back and edit it again—all before it actually makes it live.

      Campaigns are sent and scheduled in the exact same way.


    I’ve been thinking about this new website for AGES, but have been too busy planning it. What I didn’t realize is that the one thing holding me back was fear. I was spending so much time planning and thinking about this new blog, that I WAY overthought everything. Which resulted in procrastination. Which is really bad, sigh.

    HOWEVER, like you, I am remedying my problems, and attacking things head on. I bought my domain name and hosting, and am searching for a new theme (actually just emailed you about Tweak Me :D).

    Here’s to some fantastic productivity for both of us. <3

    1. YES! Fear and procrastination are incredibly serious problems! And they both sneak up on you. Sometimes you can go MONTHS without realizing that they’re there and ruining everything!

      Good for you for finally taking some action!

  4. The struggle is real. Mandrill is cheaper than Mailchimp based on # of emails being sent per month and could accommodate my needs better. On the other hand I could leave my email subscribers with Feedburner (or use the Jetpack version), and then use free version of Mailchimp for special those for my business side. Gads. I get why you changed what you are doing..but damn you Madrill. *hangs head*

    1. Yeah Mandrill definitely scales better/cheaper than MailChimp. But you have to have a decent amount of subscribers for you to start to see the benefits of Mandrill over it.

      But I guess it depends on what your needs are. If you separate your blog subscriptions from your “newsletter” then you could definitely do what you said. If people want blog updates, have them subscribe via Feedburner. If people want to be on your separate newsletter list, you can get by on free MailChimp (at least for a while!).

  5. On the same token, so often people “look for inspiration” and “go to clear their head” in order to start working. It’s okay to do this but don’t go overboard on it. More often than not, it’s better to just sit down and get stuff done rather than “taking a walk/watching a movie/searching for inspiration”.

    I’m the same way in liking organizing and wanting things in place before I start. I want to write this, design this, etc. etc. instead of getting into the actual work!

    1. You’re absolutely right, Colin! That’s a great comparison.

      Clearing your head and getting inspiration as fine, as long as you put a limit on it. You can’t be “finding inspiration” forever.

  6. Everyone has this struggle. It’s always been my goal to get published on Hello Giggles, but I kept putting it off. It wasn’t until a couple of months ago that I decided to go for it. Still no word from them about my submission, so fingers crossed! πŸ™‚

    Priscilla and her Books recently posted: After Before: Review
  7. When is mandrill starting to charge? I just checked my account and it’s still free for me. They haven’t sent out any notifications about pricing changes that I’ve seen, but if they start charging me without notification that would not be cool.

    Tiffany (About to Read) recently posted: Mockingjay
    1. The new pricing structure is only for new clients. All pre-existing clients get grandfathered into the old structure.

      1. Thank goodness! As far as the future of the plugin, I wouldn’t have paid $10/month for Mandrill. If you could develop a similar plugin for MailChimp, I’d buy it. Even though I’m using Mandrill right now, if you created a MailChimp app I’d switch (they have waaaay better reporting and the marketing pro in me wants those features badly, and I love that people wouldn’t have to confirm their subscriptions.

        As far as MailChimp costs go, they do have a free version which gives you the same amount of monthly emails as Mandrill. I’d imagine most people buying the plugin have fewer than 400 active email subscribers, which would make the MailChimp cost a non-issue.

        Tiffany (About to Read) recently posted: Mockingjay
  8. I have the same problem! These past few months I’ve been spending 5 to 12 hrs online just searching tutorials, tips etc. on hiw to make my blog better interms of content and design that I forget to actually READ and WRITE POSTS.

    Same goes for my writing. I’ve read any writing advice available online but only sat down twice to actually write it. I hope I get rid of this bad habit!!

    1. It’s great that you’ve realized the problem though! Getting advice is a great thing, but it’s useless if you never get a chance to actually implement that advice. At some point you have to actually bite the bullet and move forward!

        1. I know, it is super scary! But you can’t let the fear cripple you. Otherwise you won’t get anywhere and that’s also a scary thought!

  9. I read this post and just kept thinking yes yes YES! I always plan, but really be productive, alas, the last few days, I’ve just gone with the flow, got my words out, started reading again, and it feels great, I feel like I’m getting my mojo back, and it’s super awesome. I genuinely would pay good money to read e-books by you (maybe not WordPress as I’m not on the platform, but others instead) so you definitely need to get working on those, okay? I’m so excited for you Ashley, this new design has really given you a new lease on blogging life! πŸ™‚

    Amanda @ Nellie and Co. recently posted: How To Revamp a Blog Without a Redesign (Infographic)
  10. This has nothing to do w/ this post. I was wondering if you would do a post or a mini about why so many bloggers are goingto these huge vertical images at the beginning of posts. I know there must be a technical or traffic-related reason for them, but don’t know what it is.

        1. A minimum width of 750 is recommended. And in order to be vertical, the height needs to be bigger than the width (so like 1000 – 1100).

  11. $10 is quite a big fee for me, and I’d pay it someday, when I actually can. I was really excited for your newsletter plugin, but I thought it would be a one-time payment only. But if the time comes that I really need to improve my newsletter, I’m going to you, Ashley. Right now, it’s just blog posts in my newsletter.

  12. I totally agree with this post! I heard/read before that people often forget to factor in what their own time is worth – for example when remodeling a house, especially if you make mistakes you have to fix. And don’t feel guilty! You have a perfectly logical explanation.

  13. I would still like your subscription plug-in, Ashley! I’m using Mandrill now with a template I could customize, but there are some things that aren’t working properly, and I have no idea how to make them work!
    I do understand the productivity vs planning problem you have, though…

  14. I’ve been working on updating and beautifying my blog lately and not only is is taking me a lot more time than I expected, but it’s also keeping me from writing anything NEW! So I get it! I totally get it!

    I think a newsletter plugin by you sounds awesome, but ugh about the price increase!

    Margaret @ Creative Madness Mama recently posted: Subscribers moving
  15. It’s got to be very freeing to be able to let go of something you realized was consuming your time but not yielding much in return. I was very excited about the plugin, but the price change from Mandril is disappointing.

    I recorded the audiobook for my first novel in May of 2015. I had no idea at the time what would be involved in editing it. Over a year later, I’m finally beginning to reach the end. I’ve learned a ton and it’s definitely an investment because I’ll sell the audiobook. But man, has this been a lesson in learning what to pay someone else to do! So I totally get it πŸ™‚

    Annie recently posted: Fairy Tale Legacy: Snow White

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