Summary: My business did about $447,000 this year with close to $250k in unexpected or unavoidable expenses, and another $50k or so in business overhead.
At first, this might seem like the most depressing annual review you’ll read this year. It starts pretty shitty, but it ends well — and further drives home just how blessed I am to be able to work for myself and make more money on my terms, rather than at the whim of an employer.
This year didn’t start out too great
I’m often labeled a perpetual optimist.
Every year, at around this time, I create lots of lists. I try to list out where I want to be at the end of the next year, and then I work backward to deconstruct these goals into concrete milestones.
So going into 2014, I had a lot of goals in mind: I’d rewrite, redo, and relaunch my flagship course, Double Your Freelancing Rate. I’d recruit a team to work with me on Planscope. I’d systematize and automate the gaps in my business — namely, my Consultancy Masterclass, the Freelancers Guild, and more. And I’d finally figure out this whole work/life balance thing.
…And then, just weeks into the new year, I learned that my wife was going to need to go away for 6 weeks. Now, I’m no stranger to this sort of thing, but as I was riding the high of the new year, it upset me. It wasn’t the hospitalization that necessarily was upsetting; rather, it was that something I had zero control over was derailing me, my business, and everything I had planned.
So, Deborah went away for a month and a half, and I basically shuttered my business and went into full time dad mode (which always trumps any business concern). However, I tried my best to keep up “business as usual.” I still wrote my weekly newsletters, and I think I was even able to teach a Masterclass. Thank God for family — I don’t think I would have been able to otherwise deal with the separation, anxiety, and the unending questions of, “daddy, when’s mommy coming home…?”
To make matters worse, we learned a week into her stay that insurance wouldn’t cover us — despite the fact that we had pre-authorized the stay. My stress levels… spiked. We were going to fight the insurance company, but if we lost (which we ultimately did, “this is a pre-existing condition”), we’d be on the hook for about $100,000.
And a few weeks later, I had to deal with yet another curveball.
I was sued by a former employee of mine. Had I been wiser when drawing up my employment and commission agreements, this wouldn’t have happened. So rather than dealing with talking with my lawyer and coming up with what options I had available, I decided to settle for about $40,000 — this being on top of the six-figure check we’d be cutting to the hospital.
I put away my goals and ambitions, and instead depleted my entire savings account and most of the sanity I had left. Ugh.
My health slipped. I stopped exercising. I was tired. I wanted to give up. And the icing on the cake was that my financial plan this year was to totally pay off our tax liability from the year before, and it looked like that wasn’t going to happen.
Things got better… slowly
After Deborah came home, I was able to think and function again. Throughout her hospitalization, my mind was in a fog. I had a hard time focusing. Some friends, who were legitimately trying to help, recommended that I just defer working until after the girls were in bed. The problem, though, was I didn’t want to do anything. Writing, teaching, and even coding requires a lot of creative energy — and my tanks were empty.
But once she was home, I was able to think again. We were a family again, and I was able to… get stuff done!
I rewrote and relaunched Double Your Freelancing Rate (which I’ll talk about shortly), and then took about a month off to visit family and to just relax together. I traveled a bit, and took my wife to Las Vegas and then San Francisco for our eight year wedding anniversary. I also was able to knock out most of the goals I had for 2014.
What went well
- Spoke at MicroConf Vegas in April, and Deborah came along. We had a great time, and she got to meet a lot of my “Internet friends”.
- Spoke at BaconBiz in Philadelphia. Got to hang out with some of my best friends, and stayed for a few weeks to work with the Freckle team.
- Traveled to Colombia for a client project — and this is the team that’s now working with me on Planscope.
- Spoke at a publishing conference in Edinburgh that Rachel Willmer invited me to. First time in Scotland, and as a lover of whiskey… I had a great time 🙂 I then took the train down to London and visited Charlie, Ali, and others, and spoke at the local bootstrappers meetup.
- Went to Austin to hang out with Noah Kagan and James Clear. Had a great time, and go to meet up my sister and her fiancee (who I’d never met).
- Spoke at MicroConf Europe in Prague. Had a great time, seeing even more Internet friends (most of which were, not surprisingly, European — though I got to hang out with Nathan, Ryan, Rob, Mike, and others I’d seen recently at the Vegas conference.)
- Spoke at the WooCommerce Conference. Convinced my wife to come along and made it an anniversary trip. Explored Sonoma, drank a lot of wine, and had great sushi.
I moved ALL of my educational content (3+ years worth) to DoubleYourFreelancing.com. This includes my newsletter, my blog, my podcast, and my books and course. This was really risky and it definitely impacted traffic early on, but it proved to be one of the best business decisions I made this year. (I finally have a single domain to point people to.)
My list grew by 2.5x this year, and is now at just north of 23,000. Also, I spent a lot of time optimizing who sees what, and the various call-to-actions across the site.
Right now, about 9% of all new visitors who visit my site opt-in to either my newsletter or email course. I’m VERY happy with that stat.
Double Your Freelancing Rate (DYFR)
I redid Double Your Freelancing Rate, which is my most popular product. The version 1.0 was the first teaching product I had ever created, and it showed. So with two years of production data and plenty of discussions with customers, I rewrote and expanded it… and the feedback has been exponentially better. More people are getting direct results from the course, and adding an accountability element (follow-up course and live office hours) has increased the likelihood that someone will consume the content, rather than just buying it.
Revenue: $201,611.75 for version 2 of the course; $6,125 for v1 (prior to May).
Sell Yourself Online: The Blueprint
This course was a follow-up to Double Your Freelancing Rate, and it’s all about how I brought in $100k+ a month to my agency. It’s highly focused though: it centers on generating and cultivating leads through educational seminars. I’m in the process now of redoing this course, much like I did with DYFR, and expanding the scope to include networking, job boards, referrals, and more.
Revenue: $40,796.70 with zero promotion.
For most of the year, Planscope stagnated and lost a lot of money. It used to be easy for me to switch context and jump from writing an email newsletter to writing code, but I really struggled this year in giving Planscope the attention it deserved.
I tried out a few partnerships later in the year, but ultimately I knew I had to more-or-less hand off the reigns of managing the product and its development, and instead focus at a high level and do what I do best: sales and marketing. I’m now working with Koombea, a past consulting and coaching client of mine, who is handling all the design, development, and management of the product. I’m still leading support and direction, but I’m no longer needing to both respond to a bug report AND jump into the code to fix it myself.
Over the last few months, we’ve shipped a ton of new features, including a brand new dashboard. We’re shipping more now each week than we did in the entire last year, and I’ve never been more excited about the future and growth of Planscope.
The Consultancy Masterclass and the Freelancers Guild
I used to teach my Masterclass once a month, but over the last year have dialed it back to just a few times a year. I haven’t been as proactive in selling it — so most students tend to stumble upon its website and apply unprovoked. And I think a part of the reason why I haven’t been as proactive is because, well, I’ve had a lot of other stuff going on and it’s one of the few things I need to actually block out on my calendar.
But I love the class, and those who go through it get a lot more value out of it than they’re able to get through my self-serve courses (it’s two solid days of group coaching and live teaching, limited to just 14 students). I’m hosting another class in about two weeks, and there are still some seats left.
The Freelancers Guild is no longer something that people can join directly, but each new customer of DYFR automatically gets two months for free (and probably more — I still haven’t written the billing logic associated with the DYFR trial!) The Guild has continued to grow and mature, though I’m still struggling to really systematize certain aspects of the Guild, like monthly Guild meetings and guest interviews.
Revenue: $44,382 over the span of 3 live classes.
Consulting and Coaching
I love consulting, and it’s a good thing I do. Otherwise, my weekly articles, podcast, and more would be little more than a chore.
Because of the hole left in our savings from the hospitalization and litigation, I needed money. And consulting is still the best way to get it quickly. In a little more than 6 weeks of work, I billed $89,000 and replenished a lot of our savings.
I’m now working on creating a new agency, which will be a more productized equivalent of what I’ve been doing on-site and in the span of a week or two for my clients. My intent with this agency is to remove myself as a dependency, while also allowing me to focus on my business as a whole when working with clients (I had to put a halt to anything else I was working on when consulting on-site with clients this year.)
Revenue: $89,000 in client revenue in 6 weeks.
Work and Life Improvements:
- Hired Gina Horkey to help me manage my inbox, my schedule, and everything else I have going on. This has been hugely helpful.
- I ditched the addiction to my inbox (Gina’s helped a lot with this). I try to check email only occasionally (and by “check”, I mean I only look through the “ASAP” folder that Gina segments incoming email into).
- I’ve cut out as many distractions as possible, and try to only work while my kids are at school. I’ve hung out with them a ton this year, and it’s become evident in how much closer my daughters are with me now. This is the “end goal” of every other strategy and success I’ve outlined in this review.
- 30 years after my Christening as an infant, I’m going through RCIA and hope to be in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church on Easter Vigil. This is a business blog so I won’t go into much detail here, but if you’re interested in knowing why don’t hesitate to reach out.
What didn’t go well
- I’m still struggling to get back in the habit of exercising. I’d love to get into running — it’s a great way to see new cities when traveling and it doesn’t require me driving to the local gym — but I enjoy free weights so much more…
- Missed all my estimated tax payments this year, primarily due to everything that was going on earlier in the year plus the backtaxes.
- For the better part of the year, I ignored Planscope. It stagnated and shed MRR. That’s being reversed now, but I overestimated my ability to switch from teaching and writing content to writing code.
- Supporting WordPress plugins isn’t for me. The support overhead in dealing with obscure setups and systems makes selling my WordPress plugin not even worth it. I’ll probably shutter it soon, and just continue using it on my own site.
- Consulting took me physically away from my family at a time where they really needed me most. This new agency I’m starting is remote and won’t require me to be on-site at all, so this problem should now be a non issue.
My big goal for 2015 is to ship the new version of Sell Yourself Online: The Blueprint, which is now going to be named Double Your Freelancing Clients (it was going to be Double Your Freelancing Leads, but “clients” is ultimately more attractive than “leads”).
Afterward, I’ll be heads down in helping to bring Planscope toward making tens of thousands of dollars a month in revenue.
And since my website funnel is highly optimized and performing well, I want to focus on growth and traffic. I only get about 500-700 unique visitors a day to my site (with close to 10% of them opting in), so I’m going to be focusing on growing that number and attempting to maintain (or lift) my existing opt-in rates. I’m aiming for 200-300 opt-ins a day, which would be 3-4x what I’m at now.
I’m also going to be working on growing and sustaining my new agency, using the exact tactics I cover in Double Your Freelancing Rate and (soon) Double Your Freelancing Clients. I have two clients so far, and am working on finalizing my the processes I’ll be using to fulfill engagements. This has been a ton of fun so far — I love sales, and I also love delivering unique value to people/companies… which is something that’s not easily doable with more mass-market products, like my courses.
Finally, I’ll be working to better refine how my products all relate to each other, and make it easy for my readers and customers to know what products are right for them. I’m also going to be highlighting more success stories from students, and hope to feature one student a week with a dedicated blog post. (If you’ve ever emailed me with anything testimonial-ish, you’ll probably be hearing from me soon.)
And thank YOU!
For all of you who knew what I was going through earlier this year and sent me little notes of encouragement, thank you.
For all of you who trusted me to help you grow your business this year, thank you.
And for anyone who’s ever commented on my blog, left an iTunes review, sent an email or tweet, or referred someone to my work… thank you. You guys are amazing, and I couldn’t be happier doing what I do for a “living” 🙂