State of the Union, 2016

So, I googled it (since I’m not American)—a State of the Union address is delivered annually, outlines an annual agenda and speaks to the condition of the nation.

It sounded like a good idea, so I wrote my own. Not that I consider myself the president of anything, I just want to give my “rat people nation” an idea of what’s up, where things are heading and what my focus for this new year will be.

PSST: Stop guessing when I publish new posts and get articles like this in your inbox every Sunday.

I’ve spent the last few months quietly reflecting on both 2015 and what lies ahead for 2016. (I also spent a lot of time making and eating lasagne—it helps with quiet reflection, or something…)

What went well in 2015

Consistent writing. I wrote one newsletter a week from January 4, 2015 to Nov 29, 2015 (when my planned writing break started). I didn’t miss a single week. Of my work accomplishments, this is what I’m most proud of.

Partly because of this consistency, my list grew from 10k to almost 20k, without a drop in open rates or click-through rates. My site received 445k visitors this year (where I post my writing every week too).

Products. 2015 was a landmark year for me and products. Creative Class turned a year old in October and has become where I make the bulk of my income. The class has over 1,700 students now (which is staggering) and 11k subscribers.

I also launched a solo podcast, an audio course on creativity, a personal branding workshop and even a handful of other collaborations. When I looked at my income split (since I track revenue by source), 80% of my income for 2015 was from products. In 2014 it was less than 20%.

Money. I did well financially in 2015. Granted, I worked harder and more than most years, and it showed in the books. The exchange rate was also on my side (a high USD and low CAD, and since all my revenue is in USD… hello bonus money!). I remember having a conversation with my financial advisor in January 2015 about how I was going to try to make a lot of money over the next 12 months because I now had a mortgage again for the first time in 7 years. And I did (granted, most of that revenue went to paying down my mortgage as quickly as possible since I hate debt).

What didn’t go well in 2015

Overworking. Yes, I made more money than usual last year, but it took a toll on every other aspect of my life. I worked way too many hours, way too many evenings and weekends and didn’t focus enough on other parts of my life. I don’t want to repeat that for 2016, so I’d rather work less and say “yes” to less even if that means I make less money.

Opportunities. Since most of my revenue came from products, which is newer to me than client work, I ended up saying “yes” to too many things that were presented as “great opportunities” on the chance that they would lead to increased product sales.

What I found out was that pretty much every single “amazing opportunity” that was put in front of me amounted to very little other than taking up a ton of my time. Moving forward, I’d rather focus on work, say no to anything that doesn’t serve my audience or myself, and do things my own way, regardless of the opportunity.

Client work. It embarrasses me to say this (since I teach a course on freelancing), but the hardest part of 2015 was client work. Sure, I had lots of amazing clients, but I also had some projects that took longer than expected, cost me far more than I made on them and stressed me out beyond belief. I should have rewatched the lessons on Creative Class (on repeat).

I’m not blaming those clients either—it’s my own fault for not communicating things more clearly, not standing my ground more, and not walking away when I should have.

Health. Related to overworking is that my health and fitness level tanked in 2015. Several times. Sitting at a computer more than anything else isn’t smart for me. Luckily, in November, with the help of my wife Lisa, this started to change. I’m exercising daily again, letting my Fitbit figuratively and literally run my active life (in a good way) and getting back on track. Not so oddly enough, my body rewards me when I take care of it. I’m more able to focus and work efficiently when my body is running optimally.

Notoriety. I struggle to even write this, because I’m by no means a known person, but I had problems dealing with what comes as the result of lots of people seeing what I do for a living. From trolls to threats to just feeling the weight of responsibility from people listening to me en masse—there were times in 2015 I wanted to walk away from everything and go back to quiet work instead.

What I figured out is that I just need to be more intentional with the ways that I show up. For example, writing for this mailing list is a perfect example of how I love to show up. My podcast as well. Where I didn’t as much like to show up was some interviews, collabs and online events that I only said “yes” to because I thought I’d see some gains.

I also really need to stop reading what other people are saying about me.

I’d rather be less known and less visible, only showing up for the folks who I want to show up for. Rat people and all that.

What’s ahead for 2016

A focus on the technical. If I had to pick a mission statement for this year, it’d be that. Super sexy, right?! Actually, I can’t think of a less motivational-sounding anchor word than “technical”, but still, bear with me.

What I mean by technical is that I’m not a motivational speaker, a guru or thought-leader… I’m a nerd. I get super excited about the specifics of how technology works. It’s what I love to share and teach the most.

To that end, all the products I’m making this year relate to using technical skills to get where you want to go.

Here are a few of the products I’m working on for you currently:

  1. Chimp Essentials. No-bullshit video walk-throughs that teach you how to use MailChimp’s feature set to grow your business. So basically, walk-throughs where I show you how to use things like automation, segments, reports and conditionals to help you use your mailing list to drive business growth. I’m hoping to launch this in a few months (but pre-registration for free lessons is open now).

  2. WordPress themes. This isn’t my first foray into selling themes, but previously I tried to sell themes (and it failed—not financially, but in terms of me being super unhappy doing it). So I decided to make the themes I wanted to make (based on what I’ve learned about online business over the last 20 years) and sell them how I wanted to sell them. They’re available now: ContentsNadaand Photos. There’s a free one too, Ponder.

  3. “Still a secret SaaS” with Jason Zook. No name and vague details on this one for now, but Jason and I are working on a piece of software that we think every online course could benefit from. You’ll have to listen to our podcast to learn more, since season 4 will focus entirely on the behind the scenes of building a piece of software from scratch. This starts in February and is sponsored by our friends at Acuity Scheduling.

Connecting with my community. I could give a cute rat’s ass about “everyone on the internet”. 99% of those people aren’t my target audience, aren’t a good fit for my community (or list) and shouldn’t buy the things I create.

In 2016, I want to better focus on attracting the right audience for what I do. That means a stronger line in the sand, bigger opinions and being honest about who I am (and who I’m not).

Less online work, more tactile work. Sure, I’m working hard this year to release some products that deserve the attention they’ll get. But I also plan on being on the computer a lot less.

This relates to the first point for 2016 too, a focus on the technical. I want to get more technical with my offline life as well. Like getting further into the science of growing food, tending to and stewarding my land and hopefully building a greenhouse. I love working with my hands and my incurable creative virus that drives me to “make things” doesn’t just apply to digital products.

A continued push for consistency. Just like 2015, I want to stay strict to my publishing and podcasting schedule. Consistency isn’t easy, it’s hard work. But it’s necessary work, and that feeling of accomplishment when you stick to your plans is like nothing else. 2016 will be a win if I can write again that I’m most proud of how I showed up every week with content for you.

The bottom line

I hate new year’s resolutions which is why this isn’t one. I don’t resolve to do anything but relentlessly question the value of what I’m doing and creating, in order to try my best and stay on course with what matters to both of us.

As I’ve said over and over, I don’t know what I’m doing. I only learn by taking action. I create, write and share because I’ve figured a few things out (not all of the things). The reason I’m consistent with my writing is that it requires me to continue learning about new topics, which I then share with you.

I’m excited for this year. I hope you are too. It’s a privilege and honour to share with you every week. The reason I do it is because you’re awesome.

Listen to this on my podcast, The Freelancer