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CGC Update: Replacing WooCommerce with MemberPress

Apr 14, 2017

After the bad experience I had last week with WooCommerce that caused me to delay opening early access for Conscious Growth Club, I decided to drop WooCommerce. I know it’s a hugely popular platform, but I don’t see how I can trust it going forward. I find the platform too fragile to use and poorly designed from a user perspective.

I think the problems I encountered stem from the fact that WooCommerce uses a hub and spoke model with one core plugin and lots of extensions to add functionality. You could easily find yourself needing 6-10 extensions to get all the functionality you need, some free and some paid. These extensions are created by different teams, and they seem to easily fall out of sync and cause conflicts with each other. Even after going back and forth with WooCommerce support multiple times, I wasn’t able to remedy the problems that popped up after version 3.0.0 was released. Those problems might have been fixed eventually, but I was already having doubts about the platform before that incident, and this was enough to conclude that I should switch to something else. I gave myself a week to think it over since I had a conference to attend last week anyway. I revisited this decision when I got back, and after weighing the options, I still felt that dropping WooCommerce was the wisest choice for the long term. Fortunately I was still within the refund period for the WooCommerce extensions I purchased, so I got those refunded.

This week I started fresh with another option, which is to use MemberPress for the CGC membership site. That’s been working out so much better. I still have more work to do on the implementation, but it’s been going smoothly so far. I especially appreciate that the MemberPress team replies to their support emails about 3-5x faster than WooCommerce. I often felt stuck waiting for replies from WooCommerce support, only to receive an email asking for more info instead of offering a solution.

With MemberPress I’m just using one key plugin for all the functionality instead of several (okay two plugins with a simple MemberPress add-on for email list integration). It makes a big difference when all the functionality is designed and implemented by a single team. The unified vision of MemberPress really shines through when compared to the kludgy mess that is WooCommerce.

I do feel that the hub and spoke model can work. After all, it’s what WordPress uses, with tens of thousands of plugins available. But for whatever reason, I don’t feel that WooCommerce has pulled this off well enough to provide a stable platform I can trust. In particular they have a bad habit of releasing backwards-incompatible updates that break previous functionality. Maybe in a few years they’ll have a stable enough platform that this won’t be necessary, but I’d like something that works today.

I’ve been working down a 6-page checklist to configure MemberPress to open up CGC for early access, and this week I’ve completed 4.5 of those pages. All the core functionality is working well now. Most of the remaining work includes configuring the emails and styling the pages, so it’s mostly cosmetic. I also need some time to test the platform after all the setup is done.

Initially I had ruled out using MemberPress since it was missing a key feature I really wanted, which was the ability to offer an 8-month payment plan for a 12-month membership (or longer than 12 months with the early access period). But it turns out that the MemberPress team intends to add this feature, probably this year but possibly next year. And in the meantime, with the help of their support, I was able to work out an alternative solution that can allow us to offer this payment plan, although it requires a little more manual work behind the scenes. All in all this is a minor issue compared to the headaches I had getting WooCommerce configured.

The only real downside to using MemberPress is that we won’t be able to support Bitcoin for payments – just credit cards and PayPal. That’s likely to upset one person, maybe two, who said they wanted to use Bitcoin for CGC. For those people, I’m sorry we can’t offer Bitcoin support since MemberPress doesn’t support it, and I totally understand if you won’t be joining CGC because of that. I doubt most people will care though. We accepted Bitcoin for all four of the 2016 workshops, and not a single person used it, so it was ridiculously unpopular as a payment method. Another issue with Bitcoin is that it doesn’t support recurring payments, so we couldn’t have used it for the payment plan option anyway. And by not offering Bitcoin, the checkout process is a bit simpler, which I think is the better way to go.

I don’t anticipate any major issues getting MemberPress up to speed. If the setup work keeps going smoothly, we might be able to open CGC for early access sometime next week. Don’t hold me to that though since it’s hard to predict how long things will take with a new platform that I’m still learning.

Right now I feel pretty relieved to have found a platform that looks to be a much better fit for our needs going forward. It’s important to choose a solid platform from the beginning since switching platforms down the road would be much more difficult. Lately I’ve been seeing some pleas for help from member site owners who are currently trying to flee the Rainmaker platform, for instance.

30-Day Video Series Starts Friday, April 14

Apr 11, 2017

My 46th birthday is on Friday, April 14, and I’m going to start the next year of life with a 30-day challenge – creating and posting a new video every day for 30 days. Several entrepreneurial friends are doing this too. We all want to get better at making videos, and this seems like a good way to get up to speed.

I’ll make videos on a variety of personal growth topics, sharing ideas and insights that I think you’ll appreciate.

I haven’t done much video yet, and since I’ll be developing video courses for Conscious Growth Club soon, I want to build more skill and comfort with making videos before I start on the full courses.

Starting this Friday, I’ll post the videos for this series to my YouTube channel and to the blog.

If you’d like to get better at making videos too, I invite you to join me in taking on this 30-day challenge. 🙂

CGC Early Access Delayed

Apr 5, 2017

Unfortunately I have to delay opening Conscious Growth Club for early access. It’s going to be at least a couple of weeks before we can start inviting people to register.

Initially I’d intended to start sending invites on Friday, March 31. But during testing I encountered a problem with PayPal not referring people back to the correct page on my site. I called PayPal, and their support person was very helpful, verifying that all of the settings on my account were correct. He spent a full 20 minutes on the phone with me checking every possibility. It seemed like a problem on their end, possibly related to a change I asked them to make to my account a week earlier so my account would support certain recurring billing features, which was necessary for the CGC payment plans. The PayPal department that ultimately needed to address the issue wasn’t open till Monday, so I got a call on Monday afternoon from a person on that team, and everything was fixed.

Then I discovered later on Monday that some of the emails (like the receipt email) weren’t sending properly. It was a minor issue, and I got that fixed too. Everything passed testing, and I planned to start sending invites on Tuesday.

On Tuesday I’d be driving to Phoenix from 10am to 3pm. I’m here for the PLF Live conference this week. I pondered whether I should start sending the invite emails in the morning before I left, but I felt it would be best to do it after I arrived in Phoenix. Then I could start sending the invites around 4pm and have the rest of the evening in a quiet hotel room to interact in the new forums with the first people who signed up. While I wouldn’t be as available during the conference, I could still welcome people in the forums in the mornings and at night, and Rachelle would be available the whole time to monitor things throughout the week and to interact with people.

When I got to the hotel room and set up my laptop, I quickly saw that my website was displaying error messages on every page. It turned out that WooCommerce 3.0.0 had been released while I was driving, and my site automatically updated the plugin to the new version. WooCommerce Subscriptions, which I also use, was updated slightly later, and so these two fell out of sync, which was causing the error messages. So I updated that plugin and a few other plugins that needed updating, and the errors went away. I sighed as I realized that due to this major new release, I’d have to retest the CGC registration process just to be on the safe side. I didn’t expect that to take long though.

My testing quickly revealed that this new update broke the ordering process in multiple ways. First, the WooCommerce Stripe plugin, which processes credit card orders, was generating error messages on the checkout page, so it couldn’t even process credit card orders. Second, the update broke some of the page styling, which was making some details of the layout look ugly and misaligned. Third, this update changed some of the base templates used to build the checkout pages, so those would have to be redone. And fourth, it broke the emails, so no receipt or welcome emails were being sent.

On the one hand, I was pretty annoyed. WooCommerce has a history of screwing over their users like this in the past with updates that break previously working features, but I’d thought those days were behind them. After all, this is the most popular ecommerce system out there. Even so, I figured these would be fixable issues that would maybe delay things by a few hours. I fixed the styling issues and updated the templates without much trouble, but even after trying many approaches and contacting WooCommerce support at least three times, the emails and the credit card payments remain broken. I’m sure they can be fixed eventually, but that’s going to take time.

On the other hand, I was also relieved that I hadn’t sent any invites earlier. Otherwise we’d be stuck with a broken checkout process while people were trying to join CGC. The mysterious PayPal issue may have been a blessing in disguise since it slowed me down by a few days, causing these WooCommerce issues to occur only hours before I was about to start sent out invites. So I’m grateful these problems occurred when they did. The timing could have been a lot worse. I feel sad for the WooCommerce users who are finding their online stores broken today after installing the latest update.

Normally having plugins auto-update is fine, but with something like WooCommerce, it’s risky to let it auto-update on a live site as I’ve discovered.

Since I have a conference to attend from today (Wednesday) through Sunday, I’ll have to table working on this till I get back to Vegas next week. This is a big event with more than 1000 people attending, and I need to be present while I’m here. The event is specifically about doing effective launches, so it’s part of my learning process for preparing for the full CGC launch a few months from now.

This situation has encouraged me to pause and consider whether I want to keep using WooCommerce. It’s a popular platform with a lot of features, but getting it to work intelligently from a user’s perspective has taken a lot of customization work. All in all, it’s been a frustrating platform to use, but I have a high tolerance for frustration, so I’ve pushed through a lot of issues to get things working properly. My customizations are pretty commonplace – nothing fancy – such as tweaking the emails that are sent and directing people to a custom thank you page after signing up. This extra effort isn’t an issue by itself, but if the WooCommerce team continues putting out releases that break previous work, I just don’t feel I can trust their direction. I’m looking for a stable platform I can build upon in the years ahead. I’m coming to see that WooCommerce isn’t the right choice. Overall I’ve found this platform disappointing.

Since I have to focus on the conference anyway for the next several days, I’ll take some time to consider next steps regarding the CGC early access signup process. At this point I think it’s likely that I’ll just dump WooCommerce outright and start fresh with something else. Even if I fix the immediate problems with WooCommerce and get it working again next week, I just don’t feel safe using it and building upon it further. I’ve been using it for about a year, including for registrations for last year’s workshops. and based on what I’ve experienced thus far, I think the development team is making some very questionable decisions that are likely to cause me more issues in the long run.

Most of the customizations I made with WooCommerce could be readily applied to a different platform without too much difficulty, but if I switch platforms now, it will delay opening CGC for early access by at least a couple of weeks. I’ll take a fresh look at this next week, but my priority is to lay an intelligent foundation for the years ahead, not to force a square peg into a round hole.

I’m sorry for the delay. I’d really wanted to let people join CGC sooner, especially since many people are excited to be part of the early access. Sometimes you just have to bow to reality, be flexible, and pivot. We’ll get this working one way or another.

CGC Progress Logs

Mar 29, 2017

One nice feature we’ll have in Conscious Growth Club is a special Progress & Accountability forum section for members to share progress updates on their goals, which is great for accountability. Members will be able to comment on each other’s progress logs too, so they can share feedback, advice, and suggestions.

Today I started my own progress log where I’ll share updates on CGC’s continued development as we build out more features and move towards the inevitable launch. Every early access member will be able to see these updates, so we’ll have clear progress visibility within the group.

A lot of people on the early access list said they wanted help with accountability and taking action, so this is one of many ways we’ll be able to provide that kind of support. I think it will be especially encouraging when members see each other making progress. It’s hard not to feel motivated to get into action when your peers are making good progress on their goals.

Here’s a screenshot of the first two posts from the progress log I just started, so you can see what it looks like.

CGC Progress LogImagine how much progress you’ll make in a year by sharing regular updates on your goals with growth-minded people who will hold you accountable – and who are sharing their progress as well. It’s all about moving forward with daily action.

Write Well Mindfest (Free This Week)

Mar 28, 2017

Learning Strategies is streaming their Write Well Mindfest this week (an audio course), which gives you free mentoring to improve your writing skills. It kicked off yesterday, but you can still get access to the whole thing if you sign up for it today. The sessions are pre-recorded, so you can listen whenever you want, but it’s only streaming for free this week.

Get access here: Write Well Mindfest

CGC Opening for Early Access Next Week

Mar 24, 2017

I’ve made great progress prepping Conscious Growth Club to open for early access, so I expect to start inviting people from the early access list to join starting sometime next week, so by March 31st.

I’ll probably invite the early access people in small batches to start, like 10 at a time, so these invites might extend into early April depending on how quickly I send them out. I’m heading to Phoenix on April 4th to attend the PLF Live conference, so I’d like to get all the early access people invited in before I leave. Rachelle and I will both be active in the forums, so we want to be sure to have time to personally welcome new members as they join.

I’m flintstoning this a bit since I’ll need to manually email invites to members to join the new discussion forum after they join CGC. When we do the full launch a few months later, we’ll likely have a more automated process in place.

So far 98 people have asked to be added to the early access notification list, so I’m really happy about that. I expect we’ll have a very vibrant and active group even well before the full launch.

Today I added a new Progress & Accountability category to the forum, so CGC members can share progress updates on their goals and help hold each other accountable. I added a post there with instructions for creating progress logs, finding accountability partners, and creating mutual accountability groups for people working on similar goals. I’ll likely maintain a progress log there to share updates on my own goals as well, especially CGC-related goals. That way the early access members can keep tabs on how CGC is progressing as we continue to build it out.

CGC Payment Plan Details

Mar 15, 2017

So far 92 people have asked to be added to the Conscious Growth Club early access notification list. I’d have been happy to see 20 for the early access, so I’m delighted to see so much interest. I continue to receive enthusiastic emails about CGC each day. I still think we’re on track to open up early access for CGC by the end of this month.

I haven’t written any blog posts this month yet since I’ve been busy working on setting up the membership site, the sign-up process, and the payment plan option.

I just updated the CGC pricing section to share the payment plan details if you’re curious about that.

I’m currently in Calgary where it was about -18º C (0º F) when I arrived, which was a great incentive to stay inside and work. It’s now a balmy 3º C, so tonight Rachelle and I will venture out to see a play.

New Skill Building Category for CGC

Mar 6, 2017

A big thanks to Walter Freiberg who suggested adding a discussion category for Skill Building & Learning to the new Conscious Growth Club forums. I originally figured this would be part of the Personal Effectiveness category, but for an action-oriented group like CGC, I think it makes sense to call this out as a separate category. It’s becoming increasingly important for people to stay nimble in developing new skills to future-proof their career paths, so I’d like CGC to have a strong skill-building emphasis. This aligns well with the Mile Wide, Mile Deep theme too.

Walter’s timely suggestion is a nice synchronicity since I recently read Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise – an inspiring book that got me thinking about where I want to invest next in long-term skill building.

Here’s a snapshot of what the new category looks like:

CGC Skill Building & Learning Category

Thanks again, Walter! 🙂

CGC Groups

Mar 6, 2017

One feature we’ll have in the Conscious Growth Club discussion forums is the ability to create groups. A group is like a mini-club within the larger club for a subset of members to connect based on a shared interest.

A group can be as simple as letting members express affinity for a particular interest or value, so other members could easily find them. For instance, we could have groups for members who are vegan, members who are building passive income streams, or members who are in Toastmasters. Then any member would be free to opt-in to one or more of those groups if they wanted to.

A group can be open, which allows anyone to join or leave as they please. Or a group can require the group leader’s approval to join. A group can be listed in the group directory, so all members can find it, or a group can be unlisted, so no one would know it’s there unless a group member told them about it. And we can even change these settings after a group is created if the group members want to do so.

Each group can optionally have its own private discussion area, so group members can discuss their interests in a focused subspace without having to post everything in the main discussion areas, which would give the group members more privacy. For instance, we could have a private category for members of a Vegan group to discuss their vegan-related lifestyle challenges with fellow vegans. Or we could have a group where people who are also members of Toastmasters could discuss speaking skills, share videos of their speeches, get feedback, etc. We could also have groups for different regions, so members from the UK could easily find each other. This last idea could be used to help facilitate local meetups for members who live near each other.

Members could also use groups for connecting with accountability partners who are working on related goals, habits, or challenges. So if several members are writing books or building new websites, they could use a group to connect with members working on similar projects. Members could form mastermind groups with their closest CGC friends as well.

Additionally, if some members decide to work on a co-creative project together, like my friends and I did when recording Imaginary Men, we could provide a group and discussion area for them to collaborate. You can upload files to share with the group too, such as an MP3 of a new audio recording you made.

Of course we want to avoid overdoing it by splintering the whole community into a bunch of private groups. We want to maintain a good spirit of cross-pollination for members in the main discussion areas too. But the judicious use of groups should give CGC members more freedom to connect and collaborate in interesting ways. I’m sure there are ways to use groups I haven’t thought of yet.

This also gives CGC some built-in scalability. As the membership grows, we can create more groups to make it easier for members to connect based on specific interests. Think of it like a big conference where there are main sessions in a big ballroom as well as breakout sessions in smaller meeting rooms, with attendees being free to choose which sessions to attend.

CGC Forums Sneak Peek

Mar 5, 2017

Here’s a sneak peek at what our new Conscious Growth Club forums currently look like on the inside. This is the categories page. I modeled the categories after the ones we used for the old public forums since those worked very well. This should get us off to a good start. We can always tweak the categories as we go along.

Conscious Growth Club Forums

I’m still working on setting things up inside, and it’s coming along very well. The more I use Discourse, the more I like it. It has a bit of a learning curve, especially on the admin side, but I love that it’s so rich, robust, and modern. Every day I’m discovering interesting new features and thinking about how our community could use them.

Today my goal is to learn how to use the groups feature, so members can create their own subgroups. A group is a private discussion area that a subset of members can use for even more focused sharing, like a mini-club within the larger club. I can envision members using groups to connect with accountability partners for similar goals and habits, to explore co-creative projects with interested members, or to discuss in-person meetups in certain regions. I’m sure there are plenty of other possibilities too.

So far 63 people have asked to be added to the Early Access notification list, so it looks like we’ll have a thriving community well before the official launch later this Spring.