This is my second year writing an “annual review” post to reflect on what went well, what did not go well, and what I will change in the coming year. This post is especially helpful for me, but I hope you can learn something from it as well.
For this year's “backstory”, you might enjoy reading my annual review from last year, My Annual Review (2015): The Year We Birthed a Business and a Baby.
TL;DR Summary: Business went well this year so I'm now working for myself (and clients) full-time! We have a second baby due this coming March (a boy), and I'm focused on scaling Notable Themes right now. In 2017 we should finish paying off debt (business and personal) with a focus on quarterly―rather than annual―goals.
What Went Well This Year?
1. High Level Consulting
This year I've had experience with two client relationships that were each all-consuming, yet not quite “employment”. I essentially worked as a high-level consultant on a monthly retainer first with Best SELF Co and now with The Speaker Lab.
Those relationships have definitely led to what I can only call “growing experiences” but they've also been a huge help in the transition from day job to self-employed, while also giving me a chance to test my online business know-how in a bigger playground than I've had access to before this year
2. Quitting My Day Job
This was a pivotal year in my online business because I was able to quit my full-time job at Chick-fil-A―twice! It's true, I built up enough monthly income from my business to allow me to quit my day job, but then some family emergencies came up that meant I needed to refocus at home.
Thankfully, I had a great relationship with my former boss so he asked me to come back part-time to help with training which worked out great. I did that for roughly a month, and then life (and business) smoothed out so I could return to 100% self-employment.
3. Hiring for The Right Positions
It took a bit of trial-and-error to figure out where I needed to hire someone to scale my business, but ultimately the winners were an A/V Producer (Ryan Estabrooks) for my podcast and Customer Success Advocate (Daniel Goldak) for Notable Themes.
These two team members fill the right balance of taking work off my plate at a cost I can justify while creating a much better product (or service) than I could possibly create on my own.
4. MeeseWorks HQ in Downtown Columbia, TN
I would not have believed this was possible one year ago, but I now have a 1,000 square foot office suite on the square in downtown Columbia, TN. Instead of working from home, I head to “the office” every day so I can focus on work (at work) and focus on home (at home) without trying to juggle both.
At this point, I basically just pay for utilities because I've subleased out three (and a half) different rooms in the suite to local entrepreneurs to offset the cost! I can see the downtown Columbia courthouse from my window and walk to lunch meetings or coffee shops as I need.
5. New “Unleash Your Blog” Podcast
I've been on the fence about podcasting for years, but at the end of August I finally took the leap and launched The Unleash Your Blog Podcast with a co-host (Danny Coleman). Sixteeen episodes and ten thousand downloads later… my only regret is that I didn't start sooner!
At this point we've had countless subscribers write in (or leave a review) who love the show, and we've been able to cover a solid foundation for online business strategy with episodes about list-building, motivation, growth strategy, and much more.
What Did Not Go Well This Year?
1. Spent Too Much Money on People
Most of my work experience comes from nearly six years working at Chick-fil-A, primarily in leadership and training positions. Over time I've developed a love of team development, culture, and delegation.
That's still true today, but I've now learned the (expensive) lesson that my business is still very small, very new, and not ready for a large team.
I never hired any actual employees this year, but I did spend far too much money on a half dozen different specialized contractors before I realized the job could be done just as well by myself and one or two part-time team members.
My wife now jokes that I “fired” her (among others)… but I swear it was “mutual.”
This lesson cost me at least $4,000 in 2016.
2. Spent Too Much Money on Software
Similar to mistake number one, this costly blunder comes from too much of a good thing. The right software can make a huge difference in online business, in terms of saving time or building your audience―but you need to justify each expense with revenue growth.
Early on in the year, I was quick to subscribe to time-saving software or marketing resources if I thought they might help, but I didn't make time to fully implement each resource into my business.
This lesson cost me at least $2,500 in 2016.
3. Going Pro Too Soon?
From the beginning of 2016, I felt good about this being the year I went “full pro” and worked for myself full-time. Revenue was looking good in the first quarter… so I took the leap and quit my job at Chick-fil-A!
I had a course launch planned for early March to give us a revenue boost―but my dad was diagnosed with cancer that same week, so my priorities changed really fast and I let the course launch fizzle out (nine months later, he's healing well with regular treatment).
A few months after all that, my wife and I found out we were pregnant with our second son―which is incredibly exciting! But also life-changing. With all of that going on I was in a constant state of stress related to revenue, cash flow management, and whether or not I'd be paying us at the end of each month (besides all the family stress, of course).
Thankfully, I read Profit First and put that system into practice in September, which smoothed out finances a good bit and led to our most profitable quarter ever (by far), but I learned that I should have paid off debt completely and saved much more before I quit my full-time job.
This lesson cost me my health and at least $5,000 in 2016.
4. Burnt Out and Boundary-less
By nature, I love to please other people by exceeding their expectations and helping them succeed. That trait comes in handy when I'm genuinely pitching a product or service, but can become tricky in long-term client relationships.
If I don't set crystal-clear boundaries… I agree to take on more and more responsibility until my own business suffers and I burn out―making poor decisions along the way as I struggle to keep up.
This lesson cost me sleep and at least $10,000 in 2016.
5. Our Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Vacation
With all the business and family chaos going on in 2016… the light at the end of the tunnel was a vacation my wife and I had planned for early December (the first we've ever had, unless you count our honeymoon).
The original plan was that we would fly into Ft. Lauderdale, spend a couple of days on the beach, and take a three-day cruise in the Bahamas before staying in an Airbnb and then flying home.
The first red flag was when the island we were scheduled to visit in the Bahamas was shut down because of massive damage from Hurricane Matthew. Our cruise was redirected to a different island, but we never made it that far.
Here's a rough order of events on what went wrong while we were gone:
- Our flights were mixed up, so we paid extra to change Rachel's flight at the last minute.
- We forgot to pack our passports, so called in the in-laws to drive them to Nashville last minute.
- We got in late to an okay hotel, but they didn't have food so we walked around town to get fed.
- We missed a movie the next day because my phone was still in the wrong time zone, apparently.
- We tried to relax in the hotel hot tub, but were accosted by a Jehovah's Witness in swim trunks.
- When we went to pick up boarding passes, we got stuck in a four-hour timeshare presentation.
- Finally we got to the port to board our cruise… but got turned away, because Rachel was 25 weeks pregnant (their cutoff for pregnant women on board was 24 weeks).
- After several calls, we got hotel rooms and food vouchers for a crappy Ramada an hour away.
- We tried to make the most of it and swim at the beach… only to get harassed by fish and an eel.
All in all… I think you get the idea. The vacation was lousy (though it was so comically awful that we laugh when we tell the story these days).
On the bright side, I'm determined to take vacation more often from now on to make up for the experience.
This lesson cost me a week of my life and at least $1,000 in 2016.
What will I change in the coming year?
1. Justify Each New Expense with Related Revenue
I know, I know… this should have been obvious from the beginning. But the truth is, sometimes I make impulse decisions to sign up for a new software or video course without doing the math on how that will help my business grow.
Also, I almost never take full advantage of the resources I already have. How many courses do you have access to, which you've never completed?
To change that, I'm now taking a disciplined approach to each new expense. Does it help grow revenue or cut expenses? Great, let's keep it if we can track the growth directly through some kind of segmentation in analytics. This plan should keep most expenses in check.
For example, 2/3rd of Notable Themes support costs are now paid for directly by Notable Care™ subscriptions. Soon that will be 100%, and we won't invest in scaling support further until the revenue is there to pay for it.
2. Spend More Time Working for Google.
I've always paid more attention to email marketing than anything else, which seems to work well, but the majority of my blog traffic comes from Google despite the fact that I've done very little work to optimize my website for search results in the first place.
This next year, I want to learn more about SEO tactics and target specific keywords for landing pages across my website(s). If it's working now despite little effort, my work here should yield a significant ROTI.
3. Email Automation and “Evergreen” Products
For the most part, revenue I've generated from my own products or affiliate products has come from one-time promotions or “launches” that I've spent concentrated time on over a few days or a week. While that worked well up until now, I'm ready for predictable (ideally recurring) revenue.
This means I need to spend more time creating automated email sequences that promote products (like ConvertKit Quickstart and Project LAUNCH Bootcamp) to new subscribers based on where they optin.
I will also have a renewed focus on scaling Notable Themes, which has done remarkably well considering how little time I've had to devote to it.
4. New Format for Podcast (with Coaching)
The first dozen or so episodes of The Unleash Your Blog Podcast were excellent, but priorities change―so my (former) co-host has amicably moved on from the show and I'm back to just me (more on that in Episode 16).
Rather than shift to a “talking head” podcast with just me and a mic, I've decided to start recording 1-on-1 coaching sessions and using those for podcast content this year. I'm eager to see how this works out! This is definitely an experiment, but one I'm excited about.
5. Quarterly (Rather Than Annual) Goals
I set quite a few annual goals last year… and made some progress on each. The goals themselves were great (related to fitness, finance, family, etc) but I had a problem connecting to the goals because they seemed so far off (perhaps because I'm still young, so 12 months is a very long time).
This year I've set exactly zero annual goals. Instead, I've begun planning life and business in terms of quarters (inspired by The 12 Week Year). In fact, I've written my quarterly goals in my SideKick which I keep in my back pocket at all times of the day.
The new year is still incredibly young, but I'm looking forward with bright eyes and excited about the journey ahead.
Question: What about you? How was your year, and what do you have planned for the next?