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.
Shoe Dog by Phil Knight: A famous business memoir (also ghostwritten by J.R. Moehringer) about the founding of Nike.
New hobby: adventure racing
This has been a very active year for me. I rediscovered my love for tennis. Sarabeth and I go on multiple weekly walks and runs together. And at the beginning of 2021, I discovered a new sport called adventure racing.
Adventure races are outdoor activities that combine multiple (mostly) endurance sports into one event. I participated in two adventure races this year. Both were “sprints,” the shortest version of an adventure race, which lasts about six hours.
The fun part about adventure races is that they’re always a little different and you never know quite what you've signed up for until you're handed instructions on the day of the race. Often there are mini puzzles and quirky activities thrown in between more normal race activities like running or biking. The races I participated in included running, biking, kayaking, and random challenges like archery (which I’m terrible at, it turns out) and a memorization test.
I hope to go on more adventure races in 2022. It’s a hobby I hope to stick with for the long term.
I created my very first digital product (and sold nearly 50!)
Yes, I wrote an ebook titled 11 Copywriting Secrets You Can’t Afford to Miss. As of this writing, I’ve sold 49 copies. I priced the ebook low. So time for money, the guide has so far earned significantly less than if I had created the same guide for a client. But that wasn’t the point. For one thing, creating and publishing the guide was a creatively fulfilling endeavor.
More importantly, this is the first passive income Lewis Commercial Writing has ever earned. It’s inspiring to see sales trickle in without having to jump on a client call or turn in assignments.
Will I create other guides in the future? Absolutely!
I’m proud of the guide and the reviews and feedback have so far been all positive. I tried to highlight practical copywriting tactics to help people write better copy in less time. It seems to be accomplishing that.
There are other subjects I'm considering creating resources about as well, such as freelancing, marketing without social media, etc. I haven’t decided on the next subject yet. But you can bet that I’ll publish another guide in 2022.
Speaking of next year...
Career goals for 2022
Write for bigger blogs and magazines
For how satisfying I find the activity of guest posting, I don’t do it enough. I am proud of my publishing frequency in 2021, but I know I could have done even more.
I also know that I probably don’t target large enough publications for where I am in my career. I want to change this in 2022. My goal will be to publish 12 articles in new publications this year, one guest post per month. I want to target more reputable outlets that will challenge my writing, research, and storytelling. I’m ready to grow as a writer. Working with skilled editors is my clearest next step.
If you have recommendations about where I should contribute, or know an editor who may be interested in stories about freelancing, marketing, or the craft of writing, feel free to email me: email@example.com.
I’m always open to ideas.
Find a nonfiction book agent
This is probably my biggest goal for 2022. I’m in the beginning stages of writing a nonfiction book proposal. If you know an agent who represents Big Idea nonfiction books, I'd appreciate recommendations or introductions. Sometime in the next few months, I’ll begin querying for this book.
I don’t want to reveal too much too soon about the subject. But I’ve wanted to author a book for years. I finally think I have an idea, stories, and a throughline worthy of eighty thousand words.
Attend more events
I believe attending conferences and speaking at events are some of the easiest ways to connect with great clients and meet fellow freelancers. The problem is, I almost never make time to attend tech and freelance events. On the rare occasion when I do, I always leave the event energized and thinking I should attend more events. Because opportunities are everywhere!
Covid permitting, I’m committing to attend one paid industry event per month in 2022. I am not sure what these events will lead to. But serendipity is one of the most powerful forces in running a freelance business. I want to open myself up to more serendipitous encounters, whether that means making new friendships, winning clients, or just having an excuse to get out of the house and talk to strangers.
Revenue growth, more writing, etc.
Yeah, yeah. These two are obvious and hardly worth mentioning. I want to earn more and write more in 2022. I haven’t sat down to decide what these goals mean specifically for me yet, but I want to push myself. It helps that one of these goals naturally reinforces the other: The more time I spend writing, the more projects I complete for clients and the more clients I can service in a year.
In other words, I want to double down on my writing routine this year from two sides: I want to write for myself more this year (which attracts clients through inbound marketing). I also want to set aside more dedicated writing time for clients so that I get better writing done in less time. Both of these goals positively impact my revenue.
I’m excited to sit down and put these abstract goals into exact numbers sometime before the New Year.
Want to follow along in 2022?
As of this writing, I plan to continue without social media. The 2021 experiment was a major success and I’m going to extend my no-social media break indefinitely.
But I won’t stop writing about freelancing, marketing, and the craft and business of writing. So if you would like to read my latest stories and ideas, consider subscribing to my email list.
Here’s to an awesome 2022!