2014 in review — 3 years after quitting my job
It’s that time of year again. Time to buy Christmas presents, wrap up major projects, and ask two simple questions:
- What went well this year?
- What did not go well this year?
Yep, it’s time for the annual review!
This will be my fourth year doing an annual review. Here are the previous years:
- 2013: http://nathanbarry.com/2013-review/
- 2012: http://nathanbarry.com/2012-year-quitting-job/
- 2011: http://nathanbarry.com/2011-review/ & http://nathanbarry.com/looking-forward-2012/
Now as you read this keep in mind that it is mostly written for my benefit, so I can reflect on the year and have this journal to refer back to later. I do it in public because I think you may enjoy it and be able to learn from it in some way.
So if while reading this you think, “why is he sharing that?” it’s because this is for me. That said some of this does feel a little odd to share. Either way, I hope you learn something from the last year of my life, cliff-notes edition.
What went well
A few months ago I commented to Hilary that going to the gym had finally become a habit. Each day going to the gym isn’t a chore. It doesn’t require any energy to force myself to go. Compared to just a few years ago that’s a huge accomplishment.
This year I started to get into Olympic Lifting in addition to the timed Crossfit workouts. While I haven’t made huge progress it’s been fun to see continual improvements each month. Here are my current one rep maxes:
- Snatch: 125 lbs
- Push press: 170 lbs
- Clean and jerk: 180 lbs
- Back squat: 240 lbs
- Deadlift: 300 lbs
A few lifts really need work, but it’s way better than the beginning of this year. There should be a much larger difference between my push press and clean and jerk, but my limitation is on how much I can clean.
I’ve also been playing indoor soccer on two different teams, which means most weeks I get to play twice. I’m still pretty new to soccer—I’ve only been playing for a year and a half, but now I’m hooked! Now if only I could find opportunities (and time) to play more than twice a week…
Traveling is one of my favorite activities. If I don’t have at least one trip booked for the next month I start to get a little restless.
- Sailing trip to Key West
- This trip was one of the highlights of my year! We chartered a 40ft sailing catamaran and explored the Florida Keys for a week.
- Croatia with my brother-in-law
- A week long excursion in Europe that was just pure fun. The highlights included playing tour guide to a group of 12 strangers in Venice, hiking Plitvice lakes, and riding bicycles along the Croatian coast.
Here are a few photos from sailing in Key West (the cover photo at the top of this post is our sailboat).
Yes, that’s me riding a paddle-board pulled behind a dinghy. With our sailboat in the background.
This year I attended three conferences that I didn’t speak at:
- Vegas for New Media Expo
- Prague for MicroConf
- Portland for WDS
And then I spoke at seven more:
- MicroConf (Las Vegas)
- BaconBiz (Philadelphia)
- Pioneer Nation (Portland)
- Gumroad Creators Studio (San Francisco)
- The WooCommerce Conference (San Francisco)
- Boise Code Camp
- Author workshop (Boise)
My favorite would be a toss-up between Pioneer Nation and BaconBiz. Both were amazing crowds to speak to.
If you organize a conference and would like to speak, get in touch. I’m planning my 2015 calendar now.
On May 15th, 2014 my second son, Augustus Daniel Barry, was born. The last seven months have been incredible! Even though his brother Oliver is only a couple years older, it’s amazing how quickly you forget all the details.
Other than some health issues (which I’ll cover later) little August was a much easier baby than Oliver. I’m not sure how much to attribute that to his more mellow personality or the fact that my wife and I are now more experienced parents.
Either way, I’ll take it.
This year we bought a house that we love. It’s in a great part of Boise and has everything we need for our little family. After purchasing it we spent 6 months on a $60,000 remodeling project. I was able to help quite a bit on the remodel and really enjoyed everything that I learned.
We’ve rented for the last 5 years and it feels good to finally own a place. Hilary and I are the type of people who want to be able to work on projects and improve where we live, so that was a frustration with always renting in the past.
Back in April I declared that I had “enough” and took a couple months off. That went well. Mostly. It wasn’t as relaxing as I had hoped due to some health issues (more on that later).
The most important part of doing this was the mindset shift of not always pushing for more.
24 hour product challenge
Just a couple weeks ago I embarked on a 24-hour product challenge. The end result was a series of exercises called 10 Days to Better design. You can read all about it here. The rushed deadline gave me a ton of energy and focus and I had a lot of fun with a short break from the big goals I work towards every day.
This year I finally launched a podcast! It was on my todo list for last year, so it was good to finally get it live. I released 11 episodes and really enjoyed the process.
The podcast was well received and averaged about 3,000 downloads per episode. I didn’t know what to expect so that seemed low to me, but after talking to other podcast hosts those numbers aren’t bad.
I even hit the top of the Marketing category in iTunes and reached #3 in all of Business. Not bad!
In January 2014 I had 14,130 email subscribers. Today, almost a year later, I have 28,057 subscribers. Not quite double.
I’m pretty happy with that! Open rates have declined from averaging 45-50% down to averaging 38-40% when I send to my entire list. That’s not fantastic, so I may go through and scrub my list to remove a few people who aren’t very engaged.
As my audience grew I knew engagement numbers would decline, so this isn’t something I’m particularly worried about. Who knows, I may decide to keep this entire list just for bragging rights (and contract negotiations if I pursue a traditional book deal).
What did not go well
Productivity and happiness
The first three months of the year were insanely productive. Unfortunately the rest of the year wasn’t. This year I broke my chain of writing 1,000 words a day (it was over 650 days in a row). I worked off and on for months without getting anything meaningful accomplished.
I was distracted, unmotivated, and stressed quite often, all without much good reason.
I learned that I get a lot of my self-worth from accomplishments. So being unproductive turned into an unfortunate downward spiral.
Not long after we bought the house we were in the middle of remodeling it. I was very involved in the process and started to get stressed from all the work and decisions to be made. That, and I saw my business revenues dipping significantly.
In the middle of the downward emotional spiral, my son August was born. For the first two weeks he was a pretty easy baby (as far as babies go). But then both he and Oliver got sick at the same time and didn’t sleep well. Over the next two weeks the kids would alternate when they would wake up. As a result I didn’t sleep for more than an hour or two at a time.
I thought I could tough it out, but I was totally wrong.
Just as the kids were starting to sleep a little better I noticed a small rash on my leg. Over the next few days it got bigger and I started to get worried. I couldn’t think of anything I encountered recently that I would have an allergic reaction to.
I went into the doctor and it only took them a few minutes to say, “Yep, you have shingles.” The doctors next question was, “is there anything in your life right now that is causing you extra stress?”
“I have a 3 week old baby, does that count?”
“Yep, that will do it.” The doctor laughed. After going through the previous couple weeks I didn’t think it was funny.
They prescribed anti-viral medication and pain killers, but I hate the way my head feels when I take pain killers. So I just asked for the anti-viral medication.
That was a huge mistake. That afternoon I was back on the phone asking for the pain medication. It just got worse over the next couple days and I had trouble sleeping even with meds.
Pro tip: never decline pain medication.
Anyway, I eventually recovered and life returned to normal. But I took it easy for the next 3-4 months to recover. And I didn’t get back the same level of drive and focus that I had in the beginning of the year until maybe a month ago.
Travel with family
I realized that the only trip Hilary and I went on together was sailing in the Keys. That’s not normal for us. I’d really like to travel more with her and the kids, but she hasn’t been very interested. Travel with two kids is definitely more work and we just didn’t make it a priority this year.
Next year I want to make sure we get out and travel some more.
We’ll cover this in the next section, but finances were strangely rough this year. Now you’ll see in the next section that I did very well, but even with those numbers money still felt short for more than half of the year.
It started when we paid $65,000 as a down payment on our new house and then immediately spent another $60,000-70,000 on remodeling. Then expenses were far higher this year. I hired out a lot of development on ConvertKit and hired multiple employees. Salaries get expensive.
We still have quite a bit of money invested that I could fall back on if needed, but it was unnerving to go from $150,000 in the bank to dangerously low numbers.
In 2013 I never worried about money. In 2014 I worried quite a bit (whether it was rational or not).
Growing up we didn’t have much money and I was determined to make a lot when I was older. I was also determined to not let my lifestyle creep up to the larger amount of money I made. Unfortunately that happened in 2014. So I’m cutting back a lot in 2015.
That said, I made some very expensive business decisions for 2015 that will require me to watch my finances much more closely (more on that later).
There were some months that I made $10,000 (you can see it in the charts below) and spent $25,000-30,000 (house remodel, etc). This made me very nervous. Combine that with a few launches that didn’t go as well as I would have liked and I started to develop a scarcity mindset.
Instead of thinking that it was very possible to make more money I started to think that my run of making a lot was coming to an end… Something that is just not true.
In 2015 I have to fix those mindset issues and double down on growing my business—while maintaining the lifestyle and priorities that are important to me.
I think the change starts with mindset.
Just in the last month I lost two people who I miss dearly. First my grandmother passed away just before Thanksgiving and then my friend Esau passed away on Sunday.
Both of those hit me really hard and have been weighing heavily on me.
They were both wonderful people and I miss them both a lot.
Before I get into exact numbers I should make a few notes. First, the year isn’t over yet. So the totals for December and the year are not complete. Second, these are gross revenue numbers. Before any fees, royalties, or expenses. Though I did remove refunds. Fourth, I probably made a mistake somewhere. These numbers should not be considered the equivalent to what my accountant will file with the IRS. Finally, there are things like sponsorships, some royalty payments, and a little contract work that I know is missing. I’m just not ready to compile all that right now.
There are a few things I’d like to point out about these numbers. If you notice any interesting trends please post them in the comments.
At the start of the year I set a goal to make $250,000 in the first quarter of 2014. I didn’t hit that goal. But having such an audacious goal forced me to work hard and I reached over $125,000 in the first quarter! Only half my goal, but still amazing.
Then I took time off. It’s very evident in my revenue chart.
Authority and Photoshop for Web Design both did very well. Bringing in 25% and 27% of the total revenue. The biggest difference is that they each had launches this year. The Photoshop course actually had three different launches (January, February, and September).
Authority continued to sell really well each month without much promotion. I think it’s because that book has a huge impact on anyone who puts it into action, so it gets the most word of mouth promotion.
Now I’m not impressed with the sales from The App Design Handbook and Designing Web Applications. Especially since I split The App Design Handbook revenue 50/50 with my co-author.
But there’s a clear explanation for the low sales: I didn’t launch either of them this year. I also didn’t write about design that much, and when I did it was to promote the Photoshop course.
Both of those books were rather neglected and it shows in the revenue numbers.
They are still fantastic books, so I need to give them the time they deserve in 2015.
A pleasant surprise
Until compiling these graphs I didn’t realize how much Commit had made this year. Over $8,000 is not bad for a $2.99 iPhone app that hasn’t received much promotion.
I never expected much from app sales, but that’s actually really good! A lot of it comes from a spike over a couple days in April that resulted in $1,000 in 3 days. I still don’t know where the sales came from.
This post is getting pretty long, so it’s time to wrap things up. Despite some challenges, this year has been amazing. I am incredibly blessed to be able to run my small company and make a great living.
My little family makes me very happy and I love to have the flexibility to spend time with them.
One thing I didn’t talk about is ConvertKit, my email marketing company for authors. That’s a big topic and deserves a dedicated post. For now I’ll just say that I’m working on it like crazy. And that work has been paying off very well.
Finally, I want to say thank you for reading this blog and joining me on this journey. I couldn’t have built my little business empire without your support.