State of the Union, 2017
To start, 2016 was probably the most rollercoaster year for me ever. So many highs, so many lows. Oddly, all the highs were business-related and all the lows were personal-related. But I suppose it balanced out. Let’s recap first, then move onto what’s ahead:
What went well last year
Consistency. The thing I’m most proud of, year over year, is that I always make sure my newsletter and podcast go out every single week, no exceptions.
Whether I was travelling (which I did for October) or dealing with a loss (which I did in July, Sept and Nov… guh), I made sure I kept consistent with my publishing schedule. This only happened because I was always 4-6 weeks ahead of schedule: so if I had to take a break from work and life for a week or four, I was still covered.
Products. I spent all of 2016 making income only from digital product sales. (Remember when I was a web designer full-time? That seems like a lifetime ago.)
I continued to sell Creative Class, which now has over 2,300 students, but honestly didn’t put enough time into marketing it in 2016. I still love it as a course, and I still continue to see success from students who take it. I just haven’t had the bandwidth to get it out there to new audiences.
I also created and sold my new MailChimp course, Chimp Essentials, to over 1,200 students. I didn’t think I’d love teaching a technical course, but it quickly became the most enjoyable product I’ve ever made – mostly because I continue to watch so many students using the material and seeing massive gains with their lists.
Notoriety. I completely stopped trying to grow my audience by getting out there and doing interviews, talks, joint-venture stuff and guest writing. All those things have helped me in the past, but I realized that the people I reach are enough.
My audience now grows slowly, and only when people in it feel they want to share what I’ve written, said or created with their own audiences. I love this form of slow growth.
I’m grateful and honoured that so many folks pay attention to what I do, and I’d rather spend my time making them happy and helping them succeed than going after more, more, more of everything. Currently, I’m supported and I dig that I’m in a position to focus on those who currently pay attention (like you!).
I never want to be a “big deal” or someone who’s known across massive groups. I like staying small and being relatively available to my rat peeps.
Revenue. Although technically I made less this year, it was still enough to support my family and it was only about 2% less than last year. So I consider it a win.
As usual, I try to keep my expenses low and my cost of living to just the essentials. My business expenses were 20% of my gross revenue and I only paid myself 30% of my gross—keeping as much money as I can in my business to save and invest.
I don’t think it’s beneficial to share income report numbers, and I’m by no means rich like me, but I’m comfortable with the money I make from the products I sell.
What didn’t go well last year
Personal life. As I alluded to earlier, the latter half of the year was one of loss. My little rat friends, Luna and Osha, both passed away, as well as another close human family member (which is happening more frequently). I guess I’m at an age where the previous generation is starting to get to their “expiration date” (my family has a tradition of dark humour, dating back centuries, I’m sure).
All the productivity hacks on LifeHacker can’t fix things when life shits on your face, so there were weeks at a time when I basically did nothing but stare at my computer screen and wish work would do itself. What saved my ass was automation and working ahead of my content schedule.
Being a month or so ahead of articles and podcast episodes helped me schedule things when I wasn’t able to create. And then automation helped because I was able to “set and forget” a launch months before and just let it run while I dealt with life.
Luckily I have a partner who’s the exact opposite of me in the best possible way. We’re able to support each other and be strong for each other when we need it, and be the one who’s being supported when that’s needed too. Plus, we can both make fun of life with reckless abandon.
Tribbles. I’m a broken record, but I took on too many projects and created too many products. As a company of one, I stretched myself too thin and was only able to focus on a few products, letting others slide.
I was a web designer for about a decade before I figured enough of it out to really get efficient with my time. I’ve only been a product person for 5 years, and the learning curve still kicks my ass from time to time.
Data from the year end survey
Every year I send a survey to subscribers as my last email. This year over 1,400 of you responded! Every year I learn so much from it, so I figured that I’d share some of what I noticed:
- This list is most interested in marketing and writing. They’re least interested in programming and making software. Which makes sense, and even though I love the latter two topics, I rarely write about them anyway.
- Most of this list also loves: the Minimalists, Danielle LaPorte, Amy Porterfield, Marie Forleo, Being Boss, Alexandra Franzen and Seth Godin. Which is rad, since I love those people too.
- The online tools this list uses the most are: MailChimp (which is good, since I teach a course on it and have a free MailChimp tutorial here), WordPress (good, since I sell WP themes and plugins), and Instagram (I wouldn’t ever make a course about IG – I use it mainly to post rat photos and look at tattoo ideas).
- 66% of subscribers sell professional services (i.e. freelancing), while 33% sell products. 1% are smart-asses who chose “selling seashells by the seashore” (which is my own fault for making that an option, ha).
- 33% of this list have bought one or more products from me. Which is awesome. And when I look through the reasons people bought, it was what I expected, but maybe not what you’d expect: trust in me, my reputation, because they got to know me through this mailing list, and because of my personality. Those were the main reasons that kept coming up over and over again (which is great, because I’ve been preaching how important those things are for years).
The state of things to come
Now, I’m not one to have goals. I’d rather just work the processes I have, create what my audience is asking of me, and enjoy whatever happens in the moment it happens. That said, I’m definitely going to attempt to take on less and really focus on a few key things:
- Grow Your Audience. My new course that will teach folks how to work marketing as a process based on trust and communication. Basically, the opposite of every slimy “make money online!” product out there. Launching publicly in February and to the people who pre-ordered it in late-January.
- Chimp Essentials. I plan on launching it a few times in 2017 (every launch requires me to re-record lessons based on new features and designs in MailChimp – so it takes time). It does well financially, I see so much student success from it, and I just plain love teaching it.
- Free, weekly content. I have no plans to stop writing weekly articles and recording weekly podcasts. Both of those things keep a great line of communication with my audience and I enjoy sharing almost everything I know for free, with no strings attached.
- Looking for a literary agent. (Yes, you read that right.) Even though I’ve loved and done well with self-publishing, I figured for my next book it’d be fun to try going the traditional publishing route. So if you know a good agent or are a good agent, let me know.
What’s changing with the weekly content really comes down to nomenclature:
- I’m changing the name of my podcast from The Freelancer to the Sunday Dispatches.
- I’m merging my podcast list with this list.
- I’m releasing podcast episodes on Sunday, and including them in this newsletter.
The reason is the show and newsletter are the same content, so it makes sense to give them the same name and release them at the same time.
Last year my focus was on the technical, and I really enjoyed having a “theme” for the year. This year, my focus is on service.
It sounds like hippie-dippie altruism, but really my business exists because I thoroughly enjoy serving you, my audience. Yeah, I make money doing it sometimes, but only when the trade for that money creates a total win-win (a win for you because you learn something that benefits your life and/or biz, and a win for me because it makes me money and makes me feel good).
The bottom line
All I know is that, for the most part, I enjoyed what life taught me in 2016 and I’m excited to see what’s to come in 2017.
And of course, this will continue to share everything I know about combining creativity and commerce, while staying true to my unique style of “angry man shouts at the internet each weekend.”