State of the Union 2017 (and preview of 2018)

Another year complete - time to peer back at what went well (and what didn't), while also looking forward to what's coming in 2018.

This is the first year I've written a year in review post. Early 2017 saw me spending a lot of time reading posts written by other entrepreneurs like Paul Jarvis, Jason Zook, Nathan Barry, and Austin Church, but at the time, I felt like I had precious little to write about, and only a small handful of people who would read it either way. Now, with another years' experience freelancing and growing my list, I figured it was high time I updated you on what I've been up to, and what you can expect from me over the next 12 months.

A quick disclaimer before I jump in: I wrote this post mainly for me. I want it to be a kind of journal, for me to look back on a snapshot of my progress and mindset at a particular time. So, if this post seems a little self-serving instead of helpful, that's because it is- it's just that you get to read it as well.


What went well in 2017?

Lots of Travel 🌏

Now that Sarah and I are both working for ourselves, we took full advantage of the newly-found freedom in our schedule to spend a lot of time travelling:

  • Road trip to Los Angeles / San Francisco / Vegas
  • Sydney to visit family
  • Whistler, BC to visit family
  • Camping in Wyoming for the solar eclipse (definitely one of the highlights of the year)
  • Revelstoke, BC to visit family
  • Orange County to visit Sarah's family
  • Seattle for a long weekend (our first trip without the kiddo)
  • Portland to visit Sarah's family
  • Wellington, New Zealand for 10 days

Partway through the year, I started getting serious about travel hacking and earning mileage points, signing up for a small handful of credit cards which gave us not only a ton of points but also a Companion Pass on Southwest, valid through the end of 2018. If you haven't heard of the Companion Pass, it basically means for any tickets I book on Southwest, Sarah can travel on the same flights with me for free.

We try to use Southwest for most of our travel already, since they're so family friendly, but the addition of the Companion Pass has saved us at least $1000 in airfares this year alone. And once Southwest starts flying to Hawaii this year, we're hoping to head out there as well!

Growing my audience 📣

I started 2017 with only a handful of people on my list and finished out the year with 1,149 subscribers. The vast majority of those came from a single article I wrote on my journey through burnout and depression - in fact, that one post made up 88% of my total traffic for the year.

Here are the highlights:

My burnout article was equally one of the hardest, most personal, and most rewarding things I've ever written. Like this year in review post, I wrote it mainly for myself, to look back on over the years and remind myself why I'm doing all this in the first place.

I posted it to HackerNews on a whim and the next thing I knew it spent most of the next two days on the front page, reaching #2 and sending more traffic to my site than I'd like to admit. I've received dozens of emails from you guys, thanking me for writing the article and sharing your own experience and recovery from burnout, and I try to respond to each and every one.

Spending more time with the family 👪

Working from home this year has given me the chance to spend more time with my wife and daughter than ever before. When you're working 9-5 every day, it's impossible to see how that time away affects your relationships and family life, until you've had the chance to experience the alternative.

I've been working hard to schedule regular "Dada and Amelia adventures" every week, although we haven't been able to do as much lately due to the colder weather. I'm proud of the fact that she's developing half an Australian accent - it's only a small thing, but it makes me happy that we're spending so much time together.

What didn't go so well in 2017?

Money 💸

I'd love to tell you that 2017 was a bumper year for me in terms of revenue, but in reality, it was the complete opposite. I've worked with a handful of marketing clients - enough to keep the business profitable - but not enough to cover all our expenses on a consistent basis.

A bit part of the reason for this is more personal than business-related. I've struggled to focus on valuable problems I can not only solve but that I believe in strongly enough to keep pushing through. As an introvert, I've struggled with finding marketing tactics that work for both me and my target audience. I've struggled with dialling in my wife's and my own working schedules to a point where we both have enough time to get things done.

Growing a successful business is hard. Much harder than I first expected. Especially as an independent, it's almost impossible to separate your personal feelings from the outcome of the business. This year has been more about slaying personal demons - I'm in a much better headspace going into 2018, and I expect our revenue numbers will follow.

Consistent writing ✍

Although I love writing this newsletter, I got nowhere near my original goal of writing a new article each week.

Good writing takes time, and sticking to a consistent publishing schedule means allocating time in advance. There were way too many weeks in 2017 when I left my writing until the last minute, adding a lot of unnecessary stress and pressure to write quickly. The articles I did publish weren't focused on a specific audience, which meant fewer people were reading and sharing. Altogether, this made it very tempting to skip writing a new article, which, frequently, is what ended up happening.

I did manage to publish 13 new articles - some of which were very popular, and some of which turned out to be complete flops. Although I'm proud of what I did publish, I want to do better in 2018.

Overworking and not switching off 🕗

Like many entrepreneurs, I have a hard time switching my brain out of work mode. If there's a problem that needs solving, I find it difficult to let it go and come back to it later. I spent way too many hours reading, learning, and working, and didn't focus enough on forcing myself to shut down and enjoy the other parts of my life. I've had a lot of trouble sleeping, and a lot of uncertainty around what my work boundaries and schedule are.

I've already started making some essential changes, like disabling all notifications on my phone and keeping my phone out of the bedroom, and they seem to be helping. I don't want a repeat of 2017, so I'm going to keep making changes and see what helps.

Health and fitness 👟

Sarah and I both started 2017 with the goal of improving our fitness, so we both started running regularly in the first half of the year - we even ran the Bolder Boulder 10k together! Unfortunately, I injured my knees by pushing myself too hard (no surprises there), so my overall fitness tanked in the second half of the year.

This year, I'm making a solid attempt to get back into a consistent workout schedule. I bought a Fitbit at the end of 2017, and I've linked it with Strava and MyFitnessPal to track workouts and calorie burn. I also want to start biking again - when I was working full time, I used to commute nearly every day on my bike, and it left me feeling both fitter and happier.

What surprised me in 2017?

My love of writing 🖇

If you had told me when I left my job in 2016 that writing would be the one thing that helped the most with climbing out of burnout, I probably would have laughed at you. But here I am - there's no way I can deny that it's become my favourite creative outlet.

I still don't consider myself a creative person, but I definitely underestimated how much I would enjoy writing and sharing my thoughts, both with you and also guest posting for other audiences. Being an introvert, I've realised I don't do well with live formats like webinars and video, but writing gives me the chance to make sense of the constant swirl of thoughts, without the pressure of feeling like it needs to be perfect. In fact, in 2018 I'm shifting my entire business to be focused on using content to help companies grow, doubling down not just on what's working, but what I enjoy doing as well.

What's ahead for 2018?

Growing the family 👶

Our second daughter is on the way next month - the prospect of having two kids is equally exciting and terrifying. Sarah and I both keep picturing this kid as being an exact replica of Amelia, so it's going to be fascinating to get to know her!

Building a sustainable consultancy 📈

I spent most of 2017 learning to separate my own personal feelings from the business enough to see where I can provide the most value, and which audiences I can help. Now that the fog is lifting, it's becoming much clearer where I want to go with Letterbox Lane (my consultancy) in 2018:

  • I don't want to build a massive agency. I already know managing people is an enormous mental suck, and I'd rather focus on building strong relationships with my audience and clients.
  • I don't want to spend all my time on fulfilment. As a lifelong perfectionist, this is a hard one for me - but the business model needs to account for hiring skilled freelancers to help out with the day-to-day fulfilment work. Something similar to the Austin Church's Unagency Model would be the ideal end goal.
  • I want to actually make a difference for my clients. One of the main causes of burnout for me was feeling disconnected from the outcome of my work - I never want to go through that again. I want to work with businesses with personality, who aren't afraid to let their values shine through in their marketing.
  • I want to keep putting life first. I'm not trying to just build another 9-5 job for myself. Keeping my workflow, overhead, and my schedule flexible is non-negotiable.
  • I want to be excited to work, every day. For a short time, I flirted with building a small consultancy around Shopify, helping store owners rescue lost sales and grow their revenue. But, I eventually realised that services like CRO that only provide incremental improvements just aren't exciting to me, and if I'm not fired up about the work I'm doing, why would anyone else be?

So where does that leave me?

In 2018, Letterbox Lane is becoming a content marketing consultancy.

At the core of the business, we'll provide done-for-you content marketing services for small-medium businesses. We'll also help clients with email marketing, distribution via Facebook ads, and all the other necessary bits and pieces that go into building an audience.

Helping businesses succeed with great content is never something I would have considered a couple years ago - but I get excited every time I think about the possibilities. If you're interested in finding out more, give me a holler.

Oh, and if you're a freelance writer who wants to be a part of this, I'd love to hear from you!

More (and better) free weekly content for freelancers 📚

Consistency is king in marketing, and 2017 was about as inconsistent as they come - it's time for that to end. I'm planning to keep publishing new articles every Thursday, for a more focused audience of freelancers, consultants, and service business owners. I'm also planning to write more guest posts on freelancing and content marketing, to help grow my audience even more.

In 2018, I'm planning to share all the juicy details about growing an audience and freelance business using content marketing, with the goal of inspiring and helping other freelancers to do the same. Your work doesn't have to rule your life - my goal is to help you build a sustainable and profitable freelance business that works for you.

Even more travel ✈

We've got rough plans for a handful of domestic and international trips in 2018. We're also considering a more permanent move to Wellington, New Zealand, at some point this year, so stay tuned!

The Bottom Line

There are two main takeaways I want to remember from 2017 - that I don't always know where I'm going to end up, and that that's perfectly OK. The last year has been a massive roller coaster - at times, so much harder than I could have imagined, and at the same time, so much more fulfilling.

I've learned more about myself - my motivations, my internal battles, and my passions - than any other time in my life. I can't wait to see what 2018 has in store, and I'm so excited to continue sharing everything I learn with you.

If you've written your own year in review post, or if I've inspired you to write something similar, I'd love to read it! Feel free to email it to me - I read and respond to every email I get.

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