The Year That Was 2017

This is going to be the first part of a two-part email series – “The Year That Was” and “The Year That Will Be”.  I’m going to warn you now, these will be a bit more introspective and reflective on my part, so they might seem a tad self-indulgent – sorry about that if you feel that way, but there will probably be some lessons and takeaways for you in amongst all the talk of me.

I’m going to start with an overall summary of the year – it was “meh”.

If I had to describe 2017, I’d say that it was a 6.5 out of 10 – there were no absolute low-lights but equally, there was nothing in the year that I’d consider to be an outrageous, unconditional win.

I’ve actually been thinking about why this year was so mediocre and I chalk it up to not REALLY setting myself up with a solid plan with objectives that I could focus and execute on.

This is where I’ll make an excuse for myself a little bit by way of explanation.

When I started Casual Marketer in January 2016, one of the things I committed myself to was sticking with it for two years.  I assumed that the first year would be a bit slow and that I’d build momentum into the second year and that’s when things would take off.

Except it didn’t really happen that way – Casual Marketer from a business perspective (newsletter subscribers and coaching students) kind of exploded in around June 2016 and then stayed that way.

In late 2016, I made the decision to kill off our SEO business because I grew tired of it and I figured it would free up time and headspace to work on other things.

But then I never really decided on what to do… So I really didn’t do anything.

It’s at this point in our story that it would become easy to get disappointed in yourself and begin having a little pity party.

To my credit, I didn’t do that.

I knew something was wrong in the Casual Marketer business in July.  I’m usually pretty intuitive about stuff like this and don’t have to think much about it.  But this time, the answer didn’t come to me, so I just assumed I was being paranoid – subscriptions were holding (albeit not growing because my lead gen was woeful) and my coaching client list was full pretty much all the time.

In essence, as a side hustle business, which is what Casual Marketer is for me, it was seemingly doing “ok”.

Then in August, I was in a forum I sometimes frequent and I started reading about a few things other people were doing and got inspired.  I decided that I would set some new objectives for myself and think about the processes needed to make them a reality.

And I promptly forgot about them.

Then my day job got stupidly busy in September and I started thinking about how I’d get everything I wanted to do this year done.

That’s when the penny dropped… I didn’t really have ANYTHING I wanted to do.

Those of you who know me a bit more personally will have started to probably notice at this point I began talking more about doing some new stuff and crafting ideas.  I’d come to the conclusion I had no “big hairy goals” at all for the business.

You can’t win big if you don’t dream big.

So by the end of September, I was thinking about some stuff that I could do to push myself out of this rut and reshape the business.

Ok, I’m just going to pause for a second to make a public service announcement…

Being bored is not the same as not having a plan.  It’s easy to get bored with your business then start making sweeping changes but 95% of the time, that’s a bad idea.  For me, Casual Marketer is a total side hustle – it makes pretty good money, sure, but if that all went away (which it kind of did as I’ll talk about in a second) my family and I would be perfectly fine because our other online business does well and frankly, I have a job that pays pretty nicely that I enjoy going to most of the time.

So don’t do rash things if they’ll financially put you at risk.

Back to the story…

In October, I decided that I would create the Authority Matrix program before the end of the year and would push hard with Scott to get our new AWS course out for Black Friday on Udemy.

Both of these things have been pretty successful because I came to the realization that I needed to set some bigger objectives and really, I needed to rethink my next two year strategy for Casual Marketer.

The other big decision that sprung out of this was that I decided to kill off the physical newsletter after two years.

This had been something that my wife suggested in July when we were on a mini-vacation for our joint birthday and I must have mentioned I that I wasn’t enjoying the whole process anymore. Like most things that my wife says, she was right and it just took me a bunch of time to recognize it.

So in late-November, I cancelled everyone’s subscription and made the call to wrap it up.

That’s been the main product of the Casual Marketer business which had done north of $100k in both 2016 and 2017, so that was not a small call.

But it was the right decision – that product was holding me and the business back. I don’t think I was going to be able to grow it and scale it to something like 1000 subscribers at $50/mth so it was clearly limited.

And candidly, it was limiting my thinking about what the business could potentially be and who I really want it to serve.

Money and a certain level of success can slap blinkers on you – Casual Marketer had achieved an unexpected level of success in 2016 much faster than I had anticipated and I became both complacent but also nervous about tinkering with something that was clearly working.

Interestingly, that was where I was letting other people’s “rules” guide me. I like to think I’m a pretty strong-willed and mentally tough person, but I’m not entirely oblivious. The “six-figure business” is a benchmark that most people strive towards and I’d achieved that pretty quickly. As a result, I was hesitant to change it.

There was also a bit of hubris there too, it was a good ego stroke to be able to say that I did this without really even trying that hard.

Your ego can become your prison – that’s the lesson that I woke up to in late 2017.

I also want to diverge a bit here and say that one thing I’ve done successfully over the last year is read (listen) to a lot more books.  Some of them are bad and there’s not much to take away from them, but a really good book that resonates with you has the power to change the way you think about things at a pretty fundamental level.

I had a couple of those books this year – “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg, “Peak” by Anders Ericsson, “Unscripted” by MJ DeMarco, “Win Bigly” by Scott Adams and “Principles” by Ray Dalio are the ones that spring to the front of my mind.  I also listened to “Influence” and “Presuasion” by Robert Cialdini and “Grit” by Angela Duckworth again this year – people don’t re-read/re-listen to books NEARLY enough.  This is a practice that every process driven, methodical, persistent and consistent person I know swear by and I have to agree – I pick up new things and re-affirm my own thoughts every time I re-listen to a good book.

In particular, “Principles” impacted me a great deal towards the end of the year.  As I was listening to Ray Dalio read the introduction, it was like he was speaking directly to me when he talked about understanding the principles by which you govern your decision making by writing them down and testing them.

This is a big gap that I have in the way I do things.  I’m good at writing down my objective, I am excellent at mapping out the process that will get me to that objective, but I never define and document the decision making criteria that govern whether I should or shouldn’t actually do something.

It was a lightbulb moment for me.  I immediately wrote down in one short, sharp sentence who I felt my core audience was and it made sense.  Then I defined the “principles” that would guide my decision making on whether or not I did things in 2018. – think of these principles as the “rules” for deciding on whether or not you should do something.

Without getting too touchy feely, this has been a good period or personal growth and development over the last two months.  I’ve really had to stop and think about my priorities and delve into why I let myself become a bit complacent and how I’m going to avoid letting that happen again.

Out the back of that comes the question of course, “What am I doing this for?”

Thankfully, I have a better answer now than maybe I did six months ago.

It would be easy to say things like, “I want to help and serve others” or some other bullshyte, but it’s the last day of the year, so I’m going to spare you that and tell you the truth.

I want to be better.  It’s that simple.

My own ego and ambition are driving me to create and do more than I’ve done.  Dollars are a measuring stick, but that’s not really the motivator – I feel like for the last few years, I’ve been “successful” by most people’s measurements while meandering.

What would happen if I put my foot down on the accelerator?

I want to find out… And we’ll talk about that in more detail tomorrow when I look ahead at what’s coming for 2018.

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