Updated: Dec 30, 2021
It’s always a little funny to write a Year End Review as a freelancer.
Do I try to separate personal from business life? Is that even possible? I am the business, after all. Most of my favorite pastimes are somehow business related. It’s hard to know where Lewis Commercial Writing ends and where my personal life begins. Writing is equal part hobby and career.
That said, here is my 2021 Year End Review and some of the goals I have going into next year.
A year without social media
The big experiment is coming to a close. Last December I announced on all my social media channels that I would be stepping away from Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram for a year. I plan to write a full breakdown of what I learned during this break. But for now, let’s go through some high-level business highlights and personal insights.
The first highlight is that the business not only survived this experiment, but continued to grow. Before the experiment began, I legitimately wondered if the freelance business would fail without social media as a marketing and prospecting channel. I have garnered many freelance contracts through social media over the years. Would my leads immediately drop to zero when I stopped using social media? I wouldn’t know until I tried.
Things started off poorly. My website traffic dropped a bit for the first three months of 2021. But then, I started finding new ways to gain traffic. I doubled down on SEO, wrote guest posts for a handful of blogs, and now Lewis Commercial Writing receives about 4x the traffic we did this same time last year. Woohoo! (Hopefully the beginning of a hockey stick.)
You can see from analytics data that we have fewer one-off traffic spikes since being off social media. Our traffic is more consistent these days, and seemingly growing.
(In case you’re wondering, the really big spike in the middle came from two events: (1) I published an article about freelancing that went semi-viral and (2) I announced I was getting off social media, which drove more traffic than usual to our site.)
The second highlight was that, without social media, I had more time for personal content creation. This was my busiest freelancing year yet. But I still found time to write nearly 40 blogs and guest posts for myself. Almost all of these are between 1,200 and 2,500 words. So, I published enough blogs to write a full-length book this year. (And that doesn’t count the couple dozen articles I started and haven’t finished (yet!).)
So, was the social media break a success? Absolutely!
Will I get back on social media after this break? For now, no. But never say never.
Sarabeth took a real job!
That’s right! Almost three years ago, AppSumo hired Sarabeth and I as freelancers to support their team. We’ve become really close with the company over the years. Midway through 2021, AppSumo floated the idea to us: What if you both joined AppSumo full time?
After multiple months of back and forth, Sarabeth accepted a full time job as AppSumo’s Senior Content Designer. And I chose to continue freelancing (but I still work closely with AppSumo).
I jokingly tell Sarabeth that she was poached from the family business. With a few months of hindsight, we both agree that we each made the right decision for our careers.
Freelancing and entrepreneurship has always been my dream. For months leading up to the decision, Sarabeth mentioned many times that she was interested in opportunities to invest in companies and products long term.
Freelancing happens fast. You’re hired for a project one day. Three weeks later, the project is completed and you’re onto the next client. Sarabeth was tired of the fast turnover and wanted to help build something long term. And then the opportunity presented itself, from one of our dearest clients. So she accepted and has thrived in her new role.
We bought a house (and now have our own offices)
As of August, Sarabeth and I now own a small piece of Austin, Texas. We have been interested in buying a house for a few years. We read and heard about how hard it can be to get a mortgage when you’re self-employed, so we spent the last couple years dotting our T’s and crossing our I’s to get financially prepared.
We improved our credit, created a house savings fund, and learned everything we could about the home buying process in advance. When we finally started meeting with realtors and lenders, things went smoothly. In fact, no lender seemed to care at all that we were self employed, which surprised us. The internet made us think self-employment was an extremely big hurdle to overcome in the world of mortgages. At the end of the day, all lenders cared about was that we had at least two years of tax returns showing consistent income, which we had.
We intentionally bought a home that needed some modernization. We may have overwhelmed ourselves with the amount of expense and
work in those first few months. Between scraping popcorn ceilings, painting, completely redoing the front yard, and paying contractors and buying appliances and furniture, we tired ourselves out fast.
We still have many projects on the horizon. But we’re taking a short break to save money and just take a breather. All in all, we love our new home. And it’s nice to finally have our own offices, especially when both of us have calls at the same time.
I published a few places
As I mentioned before, I decided to double down on guest posting this year. I got articles published in The Write Life, The Next Web, Built In, The Startup, and The Writing Cooperative, among others.
Even six years into freelance writing, getting published hasn't lost any of its magic. I’m a sucker for seeing my work published by editors at major blogs and (even better) print magazines.
The business grew
Since Sarabeth took a full-time job halfway through the year, it’s hard to measure exactly how much Lewis Commercial Writing grew. From an absolute standpoint, the business earned more in 2021 than in 2020. So even after Sarabeth left in August, Lewis Commercial Writing still surpassed 2020s revenue (not counting Sarabeth’s full-time salary).
But perhaps there’s an even better way to think about where the business is going. Because not all growth is equal. Increased revenue does not always mean success.
Even with increased revenue, it’s possible for businesses to grow from something the owner loves to something they hate. That’s why Sarabeth and I have never tried to spin our business into an agency. We could have done this very easily (and some friends think we’re crazy for not doing it).
What has stopped us is the fact that we don’t imagine we’d enjoy managing other people as much as we enjoy writing and consulting. Managing folks, editing their work, and making sure people hit their deadlines sounds to me like an awful job.
But getting paid handsomely to write and consult? I’ll do that all day.
So, if revenue growth isn’t the end-all objective for freelance growth, then what is? How do you measure success as a growing freelancer?
For me, it comes down to a few core objectives that can be placed into one question: Do I increasingly perform good work, for clients I admire, at rates that provide me independence and creative freedom?
If my answer is Yes, then I think the freelance business is growing in a positive way. And this year, my Yes is more definitive than ever.
Favorite books of the year
I finished 15 books this year. (Maybe I’ll complete one or two more before January!)
Here were my five favorite books of 2021:
Open by Andre Agassi: A memoir (by ghostwriter J.R Moehringer) about Agassi’s life and rise to tennis fame.
Deep Work by Cal Newport: Reread this one and loved it just as much the second time.
The Splendid and The Vile by Erik Larson: A beautifully written, gripping book about Winston Churchill by one of my favorite narrative nonfiction authors.
Empire State of Mind by Zach O’Malley Greenburg: An inspiring biography of Jay-Z.