2017 in Review
December 31, 2017
Here’s my fourth annual year-in-review post. It’s an opportunity for me to reflect on my progress and compile a collection to look back on over time. If you’re not me, you probably won’t find this too interesting. It’s not meant to come off as bragging or self-deprecating — it’s simply an analysis of my progress.
2017 was a year of big mental leaps.
This was the year of books for me — I read/listened to 27 books and am currently working through 2 others. Over the past few years I’ve heavily leaned towards non-fiction, but this year I mixed in some fiction and mostly enjoyed them.
Regarding online courses, I doubled down and worked through some previous online courses (mainly Zero to Launch) to continue to pull value from them.
I purchased one additional course this year (How to Talk to Anybody) to work on improving my in-person communication. Haven’t used it as fully as I would like but have pulled some tactics into my daily conversations! I’m also starting to work on some Hubspot courses/certifications to become a better marketer.
Finally, and this is a first since leaving college, I scaled back on some of my education investments. Either I was no longer using them, or I found free alternatives that I liked more.
2017 was a completely new way for me to make money with all of my focus on income via products. I had an ambitious goal to come close to what I made last year.
Needless to say that, from a brand new business lead by someone learning every step of the way, I didn’t make nearly as much as I did last year.
But I’m not upset about that at all. I learned so much and managed to cover nearly all of my expenses starting in Q2.
In the end, I made approximately 46% of my income last year. It was definitely a drop but nothing I wasn’t prepared for mentally and financially. Like I said last year — the goal was to change how I made money, not how much. I don’t need much to live an incredibly comfortable life anyways.
My goal was to make all of my money through courses/books. In the end, I made 68% via my courses and 32% via consulting. Making all of my money through courses is fine, but I miss building things. I’ll talk about that more in the business section.
This is where I spend a lot of my time. Not only is this how I make a living but it’s also my hobby — there are so many things to do and learn.
As I mentioned in the finances section, I made a majority of my income in a completely new way — education products. I taught people how to build things using React Native and Meteor. It made a decent amount, for me, for my first year. I’ve got big goals going forward, but I’m happy with how things turned out.
Something I realized about 6 months in is that I miss building actual products. Teaching is very rewarding but a lot of what I would spend time teaching came from me building things. I missed that, and still do. It’s something I’m planning to change in 2018.
As I was creating these products, I also realized just how little I know about business, especially in the area of marketing/sales/advertising. I can make products, I can compile information, but when it comes to selling, I’m afraid. After spending weeks working on a product I just wanted it to be out there and didn’t do much planning for promotion, and I think it shows.
Over the year I put together 7 information products (2 came out in the last two weeks), but I’m confident in saying that most people only know about ~3 of them.
Another area that I didn’t understand (and probably still don’t) is on the front of conversions. My Medium blog is decently popular — it had about 1.1 million views and about 500k reads in 2017.
For a long time, and even still, the conversions from these reads to my email list & courses has been quite minimal. A few months into the year I put together a free course (React Native Basics: Build a Currency Converter) and that has, by far, the greatest number of students. Even such, the conversion rate from my blog to any course is minimal.
People come to my posts to solve a specific problem. They may sign up for my email list once they see my name a few times, but even then, people are looking for solutions. “Sign up to my email list” is not a solution.
Creating relevant and valuable lead magnets is how I grow my list, and thus my business.
I’m not sure where my list was at when the year started (would be a cool stat to have from ConvertKit), but I’m guessing it grew by about 400%.
Regarding students, I would say I have about 5,000 unique students between all of my courses. It’s hard to determine exactly because of the minimal information I get from Udemy.
By far the biggest area of learning for me. Though I’ve always been a fiercely independent person, I’ve never managed 100% of my time. Before I was in school my parents dictated my schedule, in school, my teachers and parents did, in employment my employer did.
My problem isn’t sitting down to work. I would say I tend to lean towards an addiction to work (which I’m working on). I’ll sit at my computer from the crack of dawn until I go to sleep — eyes dried and bloodshot by the time my head hits the pillow.
It’s never been the input problem I had — but I’ve since learned how important it is to have a plan and vision to apply that input towards. Many, many, many times I found myself spending days or weeks spinning my tires without making an ounce of progress.
Why didn’t I make progress? I didn’t have a clear goal with a clear deadline. I need a plan. I need a goal, and I need a strong why behind that goal. When I have those, I’m unstoppable.
In 2018 I’m going to set clear and specific goals. I’m going to set fewer goals, and I’m going to focus on them more. If I accomplish my 3 goals for the quarter in 1 month, I’ll happily deal with that over accomplishing 0 of my 15 goals for the quarter.
Sticking to the topic of goals and plans I’ve realized that, especially in a new business, they constantly move. When I was in school, and when I worked for someone else I always had a clear goal that by X date Y should be done.
Now that I was setting the goals and deadlines (when I did) I would often underestimate how long it would take to accomplish something. When I missed a deadline, I would often lose all motivation thinking that, since I missed it, then I couldn’t do it anymore. That I had to throw in the towel. Fuck that.
I need to learn how to make adjustments and, better yet, learn to push back against myself on my deadlines. As I said earlier, I can tend towards the side of a work addiction and burn myself out. I need to be honest with myself and realistic with what I can turn out given a time input.
Work by Myself
To wrap up the business section, I want to reflect on working by myself for the first time.
I should preface this by saying that my girlfriend also works from home which means that I’m not physically alone, but in business I am. We work in decently different fields that use different vocabularies. We can talk to each other about higher level things, but when estimating what it will take to accomplish a specific goal, I haven’t had anyone to bound ideas off of.
When I took the first steps on this journey, I talked to a lot of people. Many of them mentioned having a mentor to talk to/discuss things with. I listened, but I didn’t act.
I’m now starting to understand that piece of advice. Having someone not bogged down by the day to day but still familiar with the industry can help you from getting caught in your head.
Something else I’m thinking about for Handlebar Labs, and future businesses, is having partners/alliances in projects or the business as a whole. Having another stake holder that will help make better decisions and be another set of eyes.
Steph and I did a lot of road tripping this year! A few trips I can think of…
- Atlanta, GA (Check out the federal reserve, especially if you’re interested in economics!)
- Michigan (Multiple trips) Asheville, NC (Potentially multiple times? Absolutely beautiful. Be sure to visit the Biltmore Estate)
- Chattanooga, TN (Again, beautiful. The area is cool)
- Outer Banks, NC (Family vacation)
- Myrtle Beach, SC (Different family vacation)
- Cincinnati, OH (Many, many times)
- Huntsville, AL (GO TO THE SPACE CENTER)
- Explored Nashville, TN and the greater area a lot this year
We had planned to go to Vancouver, BC at the end of this year but it didn’t quite work out. Fortunately, I’m better with adjusting travel plans than business plans.
Years ago Steph and I said that we want to travel at least 4 times a year. We both have an urge to explore, and it’s been building. Currently our plan for 2018 is to go on an indefinite road trip across the western US with our 2 cats.
We’ve been leash training them (yeah, we’re those people) and kennel training them. Our older cat, Bitsy, has traveled dozens of times. Our younger cat, Astro, has done one long road trip now. They’re both great travelers and have incredible setups in the backset of our car.
We’re looking to go from Nashville to somewhere in Colorado, then Portland, a few places in California, Phoenix, Austin… jeez no wonder our 3 month trip is turning into indefinite…
When we get to one of our major stopping point we’re planning to sublease (via Airbnb or elsewhere) for approximately a month before moving on.
I plan to document the preparation and the trip via text and video. Our lease ends mid-July, which is when the trip should start.
I’m excited to explore the country for such a prolonged amount of time and to live in so many places. These next few months will be dedicated to getting business systems in place to ensure we can enjoy all these different places we’ll live.
More on this in the coming months (and years?)…
I don’t have much to say here other than that I feel incredible… This year I focused on consistency and accomplishing a few goals. A few things I did:
- Learned how to do a handstand at the beginning of the year
- Ran a 5K (my first)
- Had a solid weight training routine for 6–9 months of the year (poor form and too much weight led me to an elbow injury which is, finally, all cleared up)
- Yoga (2–5 times a week)
- Continued my plant-based lifestyle, which I highly recommend you giving a shot for at least a month
My philosophy with health is just to listen to my body and have routines. If I’m craving something, I’ll eat that. My body wants it for whatever reason so I’ll give it to it. If I have a routine, it typically wants what makes me feel good (be it food or an exercise).
I’m finding more and more that the most important thing is the inputs to your body. Give it good food and good rest, and it’ll likely take care of you. The biggest results for me have been from
- Reducing meat consumption (to the point where I haven’t eaten meat in two years)
- Reduce dairy consumption (holidays excluded, I eat dairy about once a week on my amazing homemade pizza)
- Sleep & rest more (I’ve gotten worse about this but I still get a fair amount of sleep — 6 or 7 hours a night + a 20-minute nap each day)
- Drink more water
I’m really happy with where I’m at and plan to continue without many changes next year.
Relationships are in a solid spot, I think. I’ve mostly let them just go on autopilot and do what feels natural.
One area I would like to improve on is better-understanding people and expressing my appreciation for them in a way that resonates with them — I want to understand them better.
The big thing regarding relationships is getting another cat, Astro Dave. Dave was his name at the shelter, and Astro was pulled from the Latin word for stars, Astra.
Per aspera ad astra
Like health, I kept this one simple for the year. Every month I allocate a percentage of my income to giving and then put that money into a separate account. When there’s someone or a cause I want to give to I pull from this account.
It’s a system that works well for me, and I was able to mobilize those founds on a few different occasions to help people and causes throughout the year.
I also continue to sponsor a cat at STAF. For a small amount each month I can ensure that a cat has everything it needs.
A random assortment of lessons I’ve learned in the last year
- Recognize/appreciate mortality. Life is going to happen. Appreciate as much as you can and do things that scare you while you can. You never know when you won’t be able to do something anymore.
- Money is a tool that enables you to do things. Use it for experiences.
- Calculate risks, minimize risks, and then take risks.
- Don’t ignore your mental health. There’s no shame in working on it.
- Try new things. Try new diets. Try new religions. The only way you’ll know what’s “right” is when you try something different.
- Make adjustments, nothing works out as planned. And that’s okay.
- Document your journey. You don’t have to know the end and you don’t have to be an expert but document it. You learn and experience so much along the way that you’ll forget about.
- Have too much to do. Prioritize and fully use your time.
- A goal is useless without a plan. When you set a goal, set a plan to accomplish that goal.
- Think about how you’re going to maintain products once they’re live.
I like to finish these reviews with gratitude, and this year won’t be any different. It was a strange year for many, but there are still so many things to be grateful for. Hug a loved one, hug a stranger, and let’s continue to an incredible 2018. Use what you’ve learned to continue pushing yourself forward, wherever that may be.