State of the Union, 2020

(2019, 2018, 2017, 2016)

For the fifth year in a row, I present to you my state of the union address.

(Not that I think I’m a president of this mailing list, or even slightly presidential in any way—I just enjoy the routine of summarizing the year and looking forward to the next.)

What went well in 2019

Book. It’s hard to believe that Company of One came out a year ago! What started in 2017, finally came to fruition on Jan 15, 2019. I really enjoyed the process of writing this book, but definitely burned out on doing interviews for it (over 200 of them). If there is a next time (I don’t know if/when I’ll write another book), I’ll be taking advice from Company of One in regard to interviews – less, but better.

Writing. As usual, I was able to stay consistent with my writing for this newsletter, and I’m currently on an eight year writing streak for not missing a single Sunday (outside of defined breaks). And for good reason – this newsletter is the connection between the people who pay attention (that’d be you) and the rest of my business. While it makes zero money directly and costs quite a bit to run, it is still the main promotion tool for everything else I do. It also helps me stay connected to the people who matter, so I can listen and pay attention.

Products. My current offerings (i.e. how I make money and keep my business running) are as follows:

Fathom Analytics. My simple, privacy-focused website analytics company with Jack Ellis. It was a huge year for Fathom. We rebuilt it from the ground up, launched version two, and have seen some nice organic growth. We even launched an affiliate program that pays 25% lifetime commissions.

Chimp Essentials. My course on helping online business owners master Mailchimp. I rebuilt this course (all videos, all lessons, the entire brand) in the summer of 2019 and it’s sold quite well through the last year.

Creative Class. My course with Kaleigh Moore on the business of freelancing. We’ve continued to see student signups grow for this, and the community we’ve built is going strong (people in it continue to hire each other, collaborate and share). Our podcast is still going strong as well, with over 100,000 downloads so far.

WPComplete. My WordPress course plugin with Zack Gilbert. I’m constantly pleased by how well this plugin sells and just how much folks find it useful.

Company of One. If you include the final payment of my advance and royalties I’ve received by selling it to to be translated into 18 (and counting) languages, the book made some decent revenue for 2019.

Revenue. My business revenue didn’t increase by much this year, and has stayed the same for a while. This has been purposeful for me, because I know what enough is. My cost of living hasn’t increased, nor have my needs, so I work to make enough to cover those, invest heavily in index funds, and pay my freelancers well. If I made more, I’d be working more and have more responsibility, which isn’t appealing to me. I'm going to write and share an article about how I invest soon.

What didn’t go well in 2019

Death by 1,000 cuts. Dramatic, you betcha. But so many times this year I would finish working my usual 5-6 hour day and think, “What did I actually accomplish today?” Too many days this year were spent doing tiny things that of course needed to be done, but didn’t feel like they progressed large projects further. I’d love to get back to a place where about half my time is spent on deep and focused work (like writing, designing or coding). This year felt like it was 80% tiny tasks and 20% deep/focused work. The hardest part of massive projects that take years of work, is that a lot of times it feels like you aren’t moving forward on a daily basis.

Lincoln. In early 2019, we lost our final little pet rat, Lincoln. His last year was tough because he had aggressive cancer, and ended up getting 6 surgeries to remove tumours. Luckily we had the best veterinarian EVER. She treated him (and us) like family, and we’re forever grateful for her skills as a surgeon (rats are tiny, so operating can be tricky) and her compassion. We currently have no plans to adopt any more rescue rats or other animals in the near future, so dealing with a life without animals to care for has been an adjustment.

My voice. I struggled with being able to truly and honestly express myself this last year too. It’s tiring to consider how other people will react to everything you say, and take almost everything in a way you didn’t intend. So I’ve been a lot quieter, not in terms of sharing less, but in terms of sharing less of my own perspective. It’s also why I’ve started leaning further into projects (like software) that are much more detached from me as a brand. I don’t think I’m cut out to be a “brand as a business”, which I’m actually pleased to figure out, as it can help me move forward.

What’s ahead for 2020

Stoking THE FIRE. I’ve been more aware of the energy I need to accomplish tasks on any given day. Some days I feel like I can push hard—whether it’s at the gym or in front of my computer screen. In my own mind, I call this THE FIRE. When I have THE FIRE, I can push through hard workouts or cross the finish line with something I’m writing. THE FIRE gives me energy, drive and determination. The problem is, THE FIRE isn’t always there. And I can’t call it at will (I guess I can’t metaphorically strike a match?!). I plan to get better at accepting that THE FIRE isn’t always there and being ok when it’s not.

On the other side, I want to work on better understanding how THE FIRE is stoked. A good night’s sleep stokes it. Healthy eating stokes it. Keeping up my routine of working out every day for about an hour stokes it. Stress smothers it and diminishes the ability for it happen often. Working too much for too long diminishes it. Not working at finding occasional experiences that bring me unadulterated joy (like spending a day at a race track in a 911 GT3 back in May) smothers it.

For me, stoking THE FIRE is a balancing act. THE FIRE will die out if I don’t recharge, but it will BURN EVERYTHING if I push for it constantly. This year I’m working at keeping THE FIRE burning at a healthy blaze.

Humane-ness. When I think about why I’m drawn to questioning growth in business, and why I wrote a book like Company of One, it’s because I like when business is run in a humane way. What I mean by that is, I like when companies treat their customers or audience like real people. Not numbers or vanity metrics, not faceless numbers in a support queue, and not ignoring people who buy to focus on people who could potentially buy.

I like that my business is me (and a few partners). If someone has a question or problem, they can contact me directly. I like that I can solve problems for them that may not always be the best for my bottom line, but is the right thing to do. I like that a customer can suggest something to change, and if it makes sense, I can implement that change almost instantly.

Being a small business allows us to be humane. No phone trees requiring you to press 1, then 7, then 4, then OMG DO I GET TO TALK TO A HUMAN? No corporate messaging to cover our asses when mistakes are made, just an apology and genuine effort to do better.

Humane-ness is harder when a company is huge. There’s PR and legal teams stopping them from acting like humans helping other humans. There are overworked and underpaid support staff doing their best to meet quotas for answering questions and closing tickets.

I don’t care if running a humane business means I’ll never make billions or even tens of millions of dollars. While I’m sure that making that kind of money would be fun, I wouldn’t want to behave like a huge company to get there. My humane business does well enough, and my one of my favourite parts is when a sale of a product comes in and I’m like, “Oh hey, I know that person [from my list, Twitter, as a buyer of something else I sell]!”

Growth doesn’t make sense for the business I run because I value the freedom that comes with staying small enough and profitable. Growth doesn’t make sense anymore (for my business specifically) because I wouldn’t want to lose even a little bit of the way I try to be humane in it. And this year, I want to continue focusing on that.

What’s specifically ahead for 2020:

The bottom line

Considering all of the issues going on currently on this planet can be disheartening. None of us can take all of it in and still feel good. Of course I hope there are some global changes in the near future for certain things, but I also know that I don’t have the power to affect things on that scale. I just have myself and my own interactions. Those are (mostly, sometimes) manageable. If I can find more grace on that level, the needle moves, however slightly.

Part of being humane is finding grace, or unreciprocated acceptance and kindness to other humans (because trying to change other people is hard/impossible). Everyone’s going through their own shit, possibly broken in some way, and probably trying their best.

I don’t know what’s next, mostly because I dislike goals and hate long-term planning. But, as always, I’m glad you’re here with me and we’re in this together. Yes, I’m just that internet guy who shows up on Sunday mornings, but that connects us in some small way. Know that I appreciate the attention you give my words.


Hi, I'm Paul Jarvis. I write a weekly newsletter called the Sunday Dispatches where I share articles about working and living online with 35k subscribers: