My Story… (so far)

My Story… (so far)

It’s been 2 years now since I launched my business. My son had just turned 2, life was complicated, and I was faced with some important decisions. One thing I knew though…was that I wanted my son to be proud of me. That was non-negotiable. And there are a lot of reasons why.

My life had had a few ups and downs. I had been highly academic at school – through good fortune – but had to leave part way through my A Levels, due to family circumstances. I started work immediately and somehow fell into Sales; and I was good at it. A successful career in Recruitment followed – until I was on the wrong end of a hit and run in 2004 that changed everything. I was left with no money, no career, and a six year journey (with 17+ procedures) to get back to “me” again. For much of that time I was bedbound, in and out of hospital and in terrible, life-altering pain. You can read more about that here or here – if you want to, of course.

During that time I went through every possible emotion a human probably can. From desperation to determination (and back again, a few times) but I never, ever gave up believing life would be good again, one day. Even when I was told the future looked pretty bleak, I couldn’t just lay there hopeless. So I read. I educated myself. I pored over books and absorbed information; from useless tit-bits to books about Buddhism, and eventually, when there was nothing left on the book shelves to read…I picked up an old college text book on HTML. It was dull, and out of date, but I taught myself to code from scratch from that book. I created basic websites, and I tinkered until they looked good. It was purely a hobby, but it kept me amused.

Around the same time, I discovered this new little thing, called Twitter. It was in it’s fledgling stages and was brilliant, back then. There was a real sense of community and I found people in similar situations to my own, and started to feel less alone. I also learned about these weird little things called “blogs”, which would obviously never take off (!) and were mainly about food and recipes, back then. I decided to set one up for myself; just to vent about my injuries, my frustrations, the loss I felt, the limitations. On good days, I’d write about fashion, and I started to mention a few club nights that my old friends were hosting, or DJing at….that I’d be at if I could. It became an eclectic, odd little mix of thoughts and ideas, pain and dreams. It was anonymous, then (I called myself JJ so I could be real, without judgement) and somehow, after just a few months, back in 2008 it got noticed by some PR companies. And then some more. And then, somehow, as I started to get better and life started to improve…we started to win awards and get invited to work with some of the world’s largest brands. I was invited to judge the Johnson and Johnson Beauty Awards, I hosted events, I sat on Media panels and I was invited to be on the committee, and later the Ambassador for The London Lifestyle Awards. That little blog (Love London) I’d started from my bed became a completely unexpected success, with hundreds of thousands of views a month and a community of readers whose engagement that was more rewarding than any of the invitations or recognition we received elsewhere.

I always redesigned the site every year, to keep it fresh and interesting. I started by adapting WordPress themes, and sometimes designed them from scratch. I never took anything out of the box and took pride in the positive comments we got (this was LONG before the big money came to blogging, it’s not uncommon to see some truly stunning blog designs now! Some I’m thankful to have been a part of). Before long, blogging friends started to ask me to update their sites, and I enjoyed doing it. A lot.

Fast forward a bit, and I started to do some freelance work with my friend and colleague Steve, who ran the best social media recruitment agency in London. I helped him build the businesses online community, and we put on some events together, bringing PR, Social Media and Bloggers/Influencers together to improve their practices and understanding of each other. We loved every minute of it, and I learned so much about the digital world. I also met some of the best people I know, many of whom just so happen to be Digital superstars, and the people who had been in the industry from the outset. The Digital world, which has been my hobby and my playground, became my passion, and I knew this was my future.

Once I’d had my baby, I knew after a few months that I wanted to get back to work. I was a single Mum, I was skint, I was still suffering some long term health conditions thanks to the trauma of my accident (CFS and Fibromyalgia) and I was scared – but I knew I was not going to sit back and do nothing. So I started very small, doing some freelance social media and community work for friends. I designed my own websites, of course, and people liked them. They started asking me to design some for them, too. And I realised I LOVED IT. Whilst I knew, and loved social media, and creating communities, website design had become my core skill, my most in-demand service and the thing I was most proud of.

And so, here we are. From learning to code 10 years ago, to doing what I love EVERY DAY now, it’s been a journey full of lessons and one I’m looking forward to continuing for a very long time. I’m now proud to be combining website design with website maintenance and workshops on all of the above; there’s nothing I love more than talking to clients, getting to understand their business dreams and helping them to bring those to life.

If you’d like a chat about how we can help you, please do get in touch at hello@jjmiller.co.uk – and if you have any questions about any of the above please do send me a message. My story has not been a smooth one and there have been times it’s not been easy, but as the old quote says…

The 12 Best FREE WordPress Plugins You Should Be Using

The 12 Best FREE WordPress Plugins You Should Be Using

Today, I wanted to talk to you about something that’s very close to my heart. WordPress plugins (and yep, total Geek and proud!)

WordPress plugins are a huge part of what helps take a really standard, boring website and makes it into something wonderful. They help with everything from design to security, and help speed up your site, protect it from hackers and of course, make it look really pretty.

The best thing about them though, is that thousands upon thousands of them are completely free. And free is one of my favourite words. With so many out there though, which ones should you be choosing, and what exactly do they do?

I’ve compiled a little list of the FREE WordPress plugins I think you should install, to supersize your site.

Important Plugins

These are the plugin I would highly recommend installing on every site. They cover the basics and are easy to set up and use.

  1. JetPack
    It’s almost unbelievable how much this plugin does, especially considering it’s invisible cost. It helps with security (basics), design, stats, social media integration and so much more. If you were to choose to only have one plugin? This would probably be it.
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  3. WordFence Security
    This is a great way to protect your site. It protects you from hacks and attacks in various ways but one of my favourites is that is emails you to let you know when there’s something to update – and as I’ve said before – updating is crucial!
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  5. W3 Total Cache
    Caching speeds up your site by presenting pre-stored pages to readers (which update when new content is added). It makes a huge difference to the performance of your site, and your users experience. There are loads of great caching plugins out there, but this is my freebie of choice.
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  7. Askimet
    Protects you from spam comments. And unless you’re a sadist, you want to be protected from spam comments! Sign up, get a free API key and never (or nearly never) have to worry about reading some fairly disturbing comments when you login in the morning.
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  9. Yoast SEO
    The simplest and best SEO plugin available. Helps you with the readability of your article and highlights where you can make any changes to improve your SEO (which of course means you get placed higher in search engine results). There’s great documentation available and set up is easy, so you don’t have to know much about SEO before you start. Brilliant.
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  11. Updraft
    You should probably be aware of the importance of backing up your website – can you even imagine how stressful it would be to lose everything you’ve worked on for months, or even years? I can – as I unfortunately learnt the hard way many years ago. Updraft can save your back ups to file, email, Dropbox or various other options. Set it up, leave it and know you’re safe should anything go terribly wrong.

 

Recommended Other Free Plugins

  1. Monster Insights
    This fab plugin is the best for connecting your site to Google Analytics (in my opinion). It allows you to monitor where your visitors are coming from, what they’re doing while on your site and allows you to optimise and adjust your content accordingly to maximise you revenue, readership or other objective.
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  3. Simple Custom CSS
    If you’re not familiar with CSS, which helps WordPress present your website beautifully, this is the perfect plugin for you. You can make adjustments without ever having to know a single line of code, saving you time or money hiring someone who does.
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  5. Pop-up Maker
    Allows you to create various pop-ups around your site. These could be used for email list building, giving away freebies or general information. It’s a handy tool that’s flexible too.
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  7. WP Members
    If you need a site with a membership option, to lock out people who aren’t signed up (or give away more content to those who are), WP Members is definitely worth a look. With so many membership plugins being silly-expensive, this is the perfect starting point and super useful in lots of ways.
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  9. Call Now Button
    If one of the main objectives of your website is to increase engagement with customers, or if you simply want to show there’s a human being behind that screen, the call now button plugin is perfect. It pops a small button in the corner of your website (on mobile devices) and allows people to reach you with a single touch.
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  11. WooCommerce
    Looking to sell something on your site? WooCommerce is the perfect e-commerce solution. The fact that it’s free is pretty amazing as it’s so flexible, and you can sell digital or physical products. It works perfectly on it’s own or can be souped up with add-ons, although some of those are paid for. Only fair, considering how much they’re giving away!

 

So there you have it – some of my favourite free WordPress plugins available now. If you have any questions about these, or anything else WordPress related, please do ask away on Facebook, or comment below.

Exciting News…& 20% Discount!

Exciting News…& 20% Discount!

It’s been an exciting few weeks here. Not only has Spring truly sprung and we’re enjoying some gorgeous sunshine after the long weekend break, but we’re in the middle of some huge changes here too.

Just over a year since my business was launched, I’m proud to say we have just received some backing that is allowing us to grow. Next week, we move into new offices, and the team will be growing substantially, allowing us to take on more projects and also extend our offering…but more on that a little later.

To celebrate this rather incredible development, we’ve decided to pay it forward and offer a 20% discount to anyone contacting us about a new website design for the rest of April. There’s no obligation to go ahead, or to proceed immediately – the offer will stand for any genuine enquiries made between today and the end of the month – on any size website. We have options for everyone, whether you’re just starting put and have no online presence at all, to larger corporates who want to update their existing digital profile.

We specialise in creating beautiful, easy to use WordPress websites that help you shine online. We integrate your social media profiles (or can help establish them for you, if needed), get to know you and your business and can even help you create your online brand if you don’t have a formal branding plan in place. We want to put your personality on screen so that your website truly reflects you, your objectives and your achievements – creating something you’re truly proud of.

Putting that into perspective financially – it means that you can get a ready made website, including one year’s free hosting, for under £120. Which pretty much means that anyone, at any stage of their business, has the perfect opportunity to get online, even on the tightest of budgets! Bespoke websites are available from just £680. You can’t argue with that…can you?

We’d love to talk to you over the coming weeks, whatever stage you’re at, and whatever the scale of your project.

We can be contacted on Facebook, or via our contact form, or directly at hello@jjmiller.co.uk.

Please do share this offer with anyone you think may benefit.

The Importance of Updating WordPress…

The Importance of Updating WordPress…

Over the years, I have built, advised and worked on so many WordPress websites, I’ve lost count. Whether they’re my own, a client’s or a friend’s, there’s always one thing I do when I log in…

UPDATE EVERYTHING.

In fact, it’s become somewhat of an obsession, with very good reason. When I first started using WordPress, my blog was just a baby. It was hacked and infected so badly, I pretty much had to start again. How did they get in? Through out-of-date Plugins and an old, unpatched version of WordPress. BOO.

It may seem like only a week or two since you were last updating WordPress to the latest version. Sometimes, updates are released even quicker, even daily, and it can seem like a chore to keep checking and waiting for new versions to install. But that’s a GREAT thing. It means that the development team of this amazing, free CMS framework are constantly working to fix bugs, patch up security holes and keep your website secure against hackers. (Pesky blighters, who are also constantly working on ways to to get in). And the teams behind our lovely (again, usually free) Plugins and Themes are doing the same…to keep your site safe. And it works. The system is fantastic and keeps you protected – but only if you actually remember to update 😉

The latest update, (4.7.2 as I type), fixed some recent security issues which saw vulnerabilities behind the scenes, resulting in “hacked by” posts cropping up. WP actually do all the hard work before the issues are announced, meaning that IF YOU UPDATE you’ll be fine. But, thousands of Admins who didn’t hit that little button could have been affected, through no fault of WP’s. And believe me, sorting out a hacking issue is a lot more painful than taking 2 minutes out of your days, I promise.

So. What easy steps can you take to help secure your WordPress site?

  • Install a security Plugin. The best ones in my opinion are Sucuri and Wordfence, both of which have free versions and are incredibly easy to install. They’ll notify you when there are any problems on your site, and tell you when you need to update. Don’t ignore those emails, get straight in and update ASAP!
  • Make your passwords hard to guess and change them regularly. Either use WP’s crazy, random generated password, or choose something with a mixture of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols. And change them regularly.
  • Add yourself as a new user (withyour own name, or business name), with a new password, and then delete the “admin” User completely. Remember to make sure you select “Administrator” rather than “Subscriber” in the drop down when adding the new user so you can access all WP’s dashboard functions. It’s much easier to hack a system using automatic scanning programmes when the User name is still Admin by default.
  • Back up regularly – both your content and database. There are some free plugins for this which are fine – but if you have valuable info on your site, this is an area where paying for a plugin is a good investment.
  • Make sure you’re with a good host, who is set up for using WordPress and in a position to help you if you need them. I have been with TSO Host for years and their customer service is fantastic (plus they know not everyone speaks “tech” and keep things nice and simple when you need them too.) Siteground is another good option. Have a chat to your current host and make sure that they are optimised for WordPress and are doing everything they can to protect you, too.

 

So that’s it! There are many other, more technical ways to really protect your WordPress site (this is a great recent article from CodeinWP on that), but if you’re not confident with getting a little bit deeper into WordPress, the 5 simple security steps above really are a great place to start and should protect you from any issues.

If you have any questions about any of the above, please do feel free to email me.

But for now? Go. UPDATE! 

 

PSST: If you ever want to know if you need to update, just login and WP will tell you, like this: