My 2017 Annual Review

It’s March 2018 already and I’m feeling late writing the review for 2017. However, it’s my first time. So, here’s my annual review.

In the review I will answer three (and a half) questions:

  1. What went well this year?
  2. What didn’t go so well this year?
  3. What did I learn and what am I working toward?

1. What went well this year?

Here’s where I succeeded this year.

Business year design. While the years before I was slouching along, 2017 was my premiere to design my business year from start to end. I defined that I spend 48 weeks on business. To manifest that I printed out an accountability calendar (here’s how to make one). Because the 48-weeks concept worked so well, I’ll apply to 2018 as well.

My 2017 accountability calendar

A few more words on the accountability calendar. In my version of an accountability calendar (I use it for how much money I made daily) a day can be of 3 types: slack, straight, weekend.

A slack day (the term derives from „slack line“) is when I made less than the amount of euros defined in the beginning of the month. For example: That threshold number was 100 € in October (the lowest value) and 200 € in January (the highest value). Therefore, a slack day was what I tried to avoid. But I still wanted to document it to be true to myself, and hold myself accountable (in good and and bad times ^^).

A straight day is when I made the exact amount or more. These were the days I was aspiring to, obviously, and most of the time I made it.

The weekends I didn’t count as a work days because design-wise they were no making money business days. But I worked on them anyway (either for no money or only little money). So, the weekends were off and the whole September as well because 4 weeks of the year I go on an expedition. I 2017, I was in Cuba but what was supposed to be an educational journey became a Caribbean survival adventure.

A parking disc as tool to celebrate the 12 week year

Paper parking disc to make the 12-week year reality. An effective tool to execute one year as if it were 4, and a little reminder to myself to read „The 12 Week Year“. The parking disc lies left of my office door. Before I enter my office I see the disc, every day. That’s why it’s effective. When a quarter of the year (3 months/12 weeks) is over, I move the disc so that arrow shows the next quarter. The arrow therefore indicates the finish line and is either set to March, June, September or December. Note that in my point of view every month consists of 4 weeks (28 days). That creates a surplus of 29 days at the end of the year, which is why I have 4 weeks that is non-business time (as explained above).

Being that clear on how my year looks like structurally, I also defined a revenue goal of 50k, and by December 31 I had reached a gross revenue of 44,286 €. That’s a big success because it was the first time I took my business serious throughout the whole year. Other years have been poorer.

Continuing my routine. In January, I worked my ass off. I made 4.5k revenue because I was still under the excitement of having paid back all my debt (6,000 euros) and I having continued my new day structure using the „rich day“ concept. Along with that, I signed the (probably) most important personal contract for the next 7 years that says:

Starting in 2017 I will work 6 years. During those 6 years every year consists of 52 weeks (of course). Out of those 52 I have 48 weeks to spend rich days (according to my definition of rich days: Monday-Friday = work, Saturday = open and social, Sunday = artiste date). In the 4 weeks that I don’t use as rich days I’ll travel and study the world. These 4 weeks will be enriching as well but in a different way.

In the 7th year (2023) I have the option to take a full year off (meaning: I’ll work 4 weeks having rich days according to my definition above and spend 48 weeks on traveling and studying the world).

I’ll repeat this 7-year cycle until I feel I need to change it.

In January, I also signed up for an 8-week singing course. My goal was to find out what my (singing) voice is capable of. I learned about the foundations of singing, breathing, how to warm up, practice and much more. But at some point I stopped. Maybe because it was getting hard. But the discovery of my voice was still in my head which is why signed up for a British voiceover education program 6 months later. My voiceover coach who I started working with in May recommend this program in addition to his teachings. Up until today, I’m still part of the program.

Producing daily content. My daily content production had its ebbs and flows. I published video and textual content 7 days a week for almost half a year (with some short breaks here and then), and it all started in 2016. A little history:

Every Monday to Friday, I published the #weekdaykickoff, episode one aired in March 2016 on my blog and on Anchor (the platform now has become „the easiest way to make a podcast“). I published episode 70 at the end of August 2016 and it was no longer audio but only text. I then took a break for about 4 months to accomplish my most important goal for 2016 (killing my debt). I did it and so I returned to social media at the end November to continue the series until March 2017. For 4 months I did a daily video series published on Instagram and on my blog. In total, I produced 158 episodes. I considered Instagram the „Small YouTube“, with the smaller stage and audience. So, I wanted to produce video but I didn’t feel like going in front of the big audience on YouTube. This will maybe change in 2018.

In addition, I published a visual and long-form text every Saturday and Sunday in a series called #weekendpunchline with 42 episodes on my blog and Instagram.

Then I stopped both series in between March and May 2017, one year after I had started. But it was not the first time that I had trained my myself to produce daily content. I did it earlier in 2016 for 3 months when I was still a UX designer and sharing visuals with little „clues of wisdom“ that I called the #dailyUXnut.

Democracy and business under one roof. Democracy was a topic throughout the year, heavily influenced by KenFM’s and Aral Balkan’s publications. I was actually calling myself a „democracy apprentice“ at some point (June) and I supported the European democracy movement „DiEM25“ with a monthly donation. Later on, I stopped the donation because I focussed on my business which was more important to me than this project. However, in October I started my own democracy project, „Join Democracy“, with the incentive to spend 20 minutes on a project listed on the site. The site is still up though not updated anymore.

Training mode. In the first months of 2017 I had established well-working routine: I got up early, took a 20-minute walk, brain dumped (or wrote) for 30–120 minutes and started the day with a one-hour break fast incl. social and social media check followed by the work day. Since August 2016, my focus has been on getting to know me better, and the training mode helped because I’m by default a sportsman - in addition to being a worker and writer. So, during the „training mode months“ I had been observing myself and see how I can use my natural archetypes and character traits to my advantage - and explore with which psychological mindset I can perform best.

I continued documenting every day. This why I know exactly what I’ve been doing, every day. Also my spare time. Documenting allows me to recognize time gaps. At peak times, I was working 8–10 hours productively. Even if I only took little notes as bullet points, I knew what I did until when. For distractions I used the whiteboard trick.

I read my first book an finances, reviewed it and shared my book review on one of Germany’s most-visited finance website. Since 2017, finances and taking them serious is a bigger topic for me. It only took 34 years :P

Masterclass on storytelling. In December I started the „Story Creation Masterclass“. With not super big marketing I had the pleasure of teaching 3 people who joined (from Sweden, USA and Germany). The idea behind the masterclass is to provide valuable knowledge on story-creation, story-marketing and to eventually help people sell more of their products on their landing pages.

From identity research to acting. Towards the end of the year I discovered an interest for theoretic identify research, as part of my work at free write camp. I even founded the Institute of Applied Identity Research („AIR“) at which I play the role of the professor. Then, because of how fascinated I was about identity discovery I’ve started applying the identity research in the real world, I chose voice-acting as my field to apply it to.

The now page. Reading and editing my now page has tremendously helped me to get to know me better, stay aligned with my „ideal line“ and avoid distractions (not all, but some).

2. What didn’t go so well this year?

I also slipped up this year, here’s where.

A German podcast - on entrepreneurship, productivity and philanthropy that didn’t happen. It was an idea the evolved during the time when I was still doing the #weekdaykickoff series on Instagram.

Client work, SEO and Marketing - nope. I thought SEO would be my thing in the beginning of 2017. So, I bought two SEO books, wrote SEO articles for an event marketing blog and some other German blogs, bought the Basic SEO training from Yoast - which I could apply pretty well. But towards the end of 2017 / beginning 2018 I stopped writing for clients and therefore I didn’t use the material anymore. Moreover, I bought Neil Patel’s Advance Marketing Program for around one thousand dollars but in fact I never went through it. Also, I bought a course on value-based pricing for 2,500 dollars. The content is great (in theory) but I had a hard time to apply it in the real world. Still, there were some timeless parts I was able to apply to my business. So it has long-term value and is therefore not a waste of money - in the long run. However, for my immediate client work needs it was not helpful.

Launched „Help Me Find a Topic To Write About“ (HMFATTWA). In July 2017, I wanted start and scale this project to make money out of it. This was a very naive approach. In my project’s „mission statement“ I wrote:

This weekend I want to solve the problem of finding a topic to write about. Sean McCabe has talked about this topic in different ways and there are plenty of other articles. What if there’s one place that sums all that up, right? That’s what I thought, too. So, starting this weekend I will give myself 4 weekends to come up with a product, build and launch it. After, I want to grow and monetize it. I’m documenting everything on: naii.io. The final product you will see on: helpmefindatopictowriteabout.com

Only 5 days later I gave it up and wrote:

I spent 2 hours working on it and I was mostly writing. I wanted to find the ultimate answer to „how to find a topic to write about“ and the result were 4 words (and a thank-you note) to Sean McCabe and his community.

I also realized that as much as I would have liked to develop an independent product in the realm of writing, with „Free Write Camp“ I had this product already. I only need to work on free write camp and not get distracted with other ideas. So having had this „distraction project“ was a good lesson because I finally documented my distraction process. In fact, I had started other distraction projects in the past but I never documented them. That’s why I forgot that I have this „I start something but it’s actually a distraction from my path“ problem. I learned something. That’s why I didn’t waste my time. I hope.

Oh and why am I able to know now and say all that? Because I wrote it down. Life can be so simple hehe

There were more thoughts that address other struggles of mine but they wouldn’t add value to your reading experience. So I’ll skip them.

Training your mental muscles with the Weekday Kickoff. It started with an idea to help people stay on track with their actions and mindset. Then, I got challenged by a colleague to create a landing page in 7 days where he could enter his email address to receive a daily motivational email. After this week, I have to admit, I didn’t get a landing page done. Not because I’m not capable to program the functionality but because I thought it would be wiser to first write the copy of the landing page with a call to action that would link to a prompt asking the visitor to enter his email address so that he then would receive a relevant mini-course in return. Conceptually, I first wanted to write the text of the page and then visualize the page. I even thought about the pricing model, hm…

My colleague’s feedback and my conclusion: I was losing sight of the simple task he had asked for: a landing page with an input field for the email address and the delivery of a daily email that motivates him. Instead, I did other things that were too early at that time and irrelevant.

Both, HMFATTWA and weekdaykickoff.com, I wanted to do rushy, and then did them headless. At the end, both projects died or are on hold.

Other ideas. I was taking the execution of „Pain in the English“ and translating it to German to make it the German proof-reading service „Deutsch ohne Schmerz“ (German with no pain). I still own the domain but nothing is really happening with it since I no longer want to offer writing or editing services for clients. My focus has shifted to voice-acting as a client service.

In the context of text, I had in mind to write summaries of books to have an incentive for people to read my blog. I stopped doing it because it’s a very time-demanding way of marketing - as a solo maker.

Also in the context of text, I wrote a whole German sales page on naii.de on what I would offer for small online business owners (SEO, content strategy, programming modules) but I was never really convinced about it being a topic to explore in the long run.

In the context of getting my focus back, I started focusrecipes.com to help people follow one course until successful („focus“). What started in January ended in March 2017 because I had to find focus again, and the project was not part of it anymore.

Road to 44k until 24 August 2017. I wanted to run 44 km (my version of a marathon). Starting on 29.01.2017, I was training every Sunday until one Sunday when my knee went on strike. It was the day when I was supposed run 20k. I managed 19.4k. Here’s how I got there:

As you can see I made a real training plan. I was in the mindset of a professional athlete who has such a plan and goals. Like a pro soccer soccer player has his match on the weekend (sometimes Friday or Monday), I had my „match day“ on Sunday - my day of the truth. Ideally, I wanted to run 2 kilometers more than the week before. It sounded good in theory and in practice it worked out until it didn’t. A friend of mine warned me but I didn’t want to listen. So, I suffered from quite some pain. I didn’t see a doctor because it got better but I now know that I need to take slower steps, like 1 kilometer more every week. At the moment, running is not a thing I’ve been doing since then. Apart from that, the reason I wanted to increase the length by 2 kilometers every week was obviously impatience but also the desire to end before I was going abroad for a month (in September).

Documenting my voiceover journey on voiceactorjourney.com. I wrote in German and English and I audio-recorded text text. That was super time-demanding. So I stopped after 3 episodes.

Four Twitter accounts. I did an experiment with 4 Twitter accounts in parallel for all my topics I want to talk about (copywriting, voice-acting, identity research, tech and art). Eventually, I abandoned them and focused on only one account.

I sympathized with the idea of becoming an Estonian e-resident to benefit from the pure digital administration of an Estonian business and avoid the high German taxes but I neglected it because my business is not that big at the moment so taxes are not such a pain.

What did I learn and what am I working toward?

I learned a lot in 2017. Here are some of the main takeaways.

Brain dumping in the morning prevents that distracting thoughts creep in during the day. As a top-heavy person (thinking too much) I’ve been suffering a lot from distraction. I even called it a disease at some point. Still, some thoughts can be of value (opportunities) und some not so much (distractions).

Distracting myself. I tend to question fundamental things which distracts from being in the here and now. This often led to paralysis. To overcome that, I’m calming down, grounding myself and say as a mantra: „I can’t save the world but I can make it a little nicer.“

Bad decision maker (but getting better) and I know that my sports mindset can help me here. This means: If I were able to translate how I’m acting as a sportsman to my actions as an entrepreneur I’d be more agile and would act with more penetrating power. I know that by making decisions and procrastinating less, I can become a better decision maker.

Less focus on me, more on those I’m helping. As a person who tends to have a big ego it’s hard to tame it. But focusing on other people to help them become better at X has so much more value. For example: When I’m thinking less about me, I’ll spend more time on what matters and waste less time thinking about general things I can’t change anyway.

Combining wanderlust and travel lust with business. An on-going struggle of combining my business goal with my desire to travel and move around. So the challenge is: How settled do I have to be to have enough focus time for work and how much mobility do I need to not be depressed and enjoy traveling?

Lacking patience. I want things to happen faster. 2017 was no different in that regard. Usually, a good chamomile tea (as well as breathing and walking) help me calm down and be more patient for the moment.

Focus. At the end of November I invested a thousand dollars into a course on copywriting because I wanted to make to financial commit first to eventually stick to doing it later. Sticking to things has been one of my main issues: I’m a bit jumpy in this regard. However, it didn’t work because mid-January I stopped doing the course and no longer engaged in their Slack community. I had decided to focus on voiceover acting instead. Initially, I was sure to handle both copywriting and voice-acting in parallel but I learned it was not that way. So, industry-wise my focus is on practicing and learning the craft and art of voiceover facilitated by Gravy For The Brain (GFTB), a community of VO professionals and students. In terms of building and shipping, I’ve discovered a new community, WIP.chat, that works like a public todo list with a great streak feature when you finished something. Both, GFTB and WIP help me to hold me accountable, directly through feedback and weekly reviews as well indirectly through the streak system.

Paper. For 3–4 months during the year I always had a paper at my side. The purpose was to scribble down quick ideas the moment they showed up. It’s what Sean McCabe calls the „whiteboard trick“ that helps you get things out of your head and on paper quickly so you don’t get distracted for too long and can continue what you were doing. For example. The trick works for „Check Facebook“. Once it’s on paper and you’re tempted to check Facebook, you can confidently say „No, it’s on the list“. Do it later when it’s the right time.

More social life. Admittedly, 2017 has been a pretty isolated year for me but I also made much more money. However, on 2018 I want to make more connections with people - in personal and business life and avoid any form of unhealthy addiction caused by the lack of social connection.

Reading Derek Sivers' Anything You Want was a revelation

Ideas are just a multiplier of execution.“ I read Derek Sivers book „Anything you want“ and it was a pure joy and revelation! Only a day or two after I had read it, I came up with the idea of weekdaykickoff.com as a commercial service (as described above). Although the project failed eventually, it was good to have had read the book. On a more positive side, I was able to use a practical advice from Sivers’ book: In „From:“ field of the emails he sent out in the name of his company, „CD Baby“, he used „CD Baby loves (NAME OF CUSTOMER)“. His customers loved it, and I’ve applied a version inspired by him to the emails I send to my masterclass students at free write camp. I received nor a positive or negative feedback, maybe because it’s only 3 people at the moment.

That’s all I can bring to the table for this year’s annual review. Thanks for taking the time to read. I know it’s not all perfectly written and maybe also too much but I hope to improve over time. I’m looking forward to share new exciting projects in 2018, with less mal distractions, more patience and more focus on you, the reader that I care about. Really.

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