2015: My Business Year in Review

With only a few weeks left in the year, this is the perfect time to both evaluate the year behind and make some plans for the year ahead.

Welcome to my third annual “year in review”!

2015 Business Goals in the Rear View Mirror

In my 2014 year in review, I outlined 4 broad goals:

  1. Double consulting/project income
  2. Grow passive revenue stream
  3. Improve my skills & processes
  4. Flex to new opportunity

1. Double consulting/project income

If 2014 saw me getting more selective about my clients, then 2015 was a year for getting really picky. I upped my project minimum to $5K and went from working with roughly 30 clients in 2014 to less than 15 this year. By upping my project minimum, I narrowed the field of clients to those who:

  1. Could afford to work with me
  2. Had larger-scope projects (more interesting to me)

Of these clients, around half were legacy clients, meaning I sent out plenty of sub $500 invoices. All told though, having a notably smaller client list than previous years was quite freeing – I felt like I was able to give better focus and attention to each client as a result.

2. Grow passive revenue stream

Passive revenue is such a misnomer. The reality is that I invested a lot of time and effort this year into building up passive income streams. There’s nothing passive about the process, but my goal was to invest time/work now with the hopes of future payoff.

That said, there was payoff this year, too. For the first time ever, my “passive” revenue surpassed income generated from client services.

For me, passive income falls into 3 buckets:

  • Product sales
  • Affiliate income
  • Royalties from Lynda.com

I’ll hit on each.

Product Sales

In January 2015, I retired the original Utility theme and released the Utility Pro theme for the Genesis Framework. The theme has sold reasonably well, although I’m a long way from breaking even with the 500(ish) development hours that went into it.

If I think of those hours as an investment and not a cost, however, then the income generated from the theme helped give me the financial flexibility to be more picky about the projects I accepted.

I also created a WP Development Workflow webinar to provide training around professional development practices, such as version control and task automation. While I didn’t have the webinar series in mind a year ago, I had tremendous fun producing it. It’s also served as a great sales funnel for the Professional License option for Utility Pro, which includes a developer version highlighted in the webinar.

In addition to laying the original Utility theme to rest, this year I said goodbye to the Winning Agent Pro theme, created in partnership with winningagent.com. It had a couple of good years on the market, but between the low, one-time price and the ongoing support costs, it was not financially sustainable. While a little extra time investment to revive the theme might have paid off, I opted to let it go and sold “my half” to my partner.

Affiliate Income

I tried an interesting experiment earlier this year – I removed all affiliate banners from my site’s sidebar and footer. I also ditched the standard “after post” banner.

My hypothesis was that removing the banners wouldn’t negatively impact affiliate income. Turns out I was right.

I saw a 32% increase in affiliate income over 2014.

It’s no mystery that consistent (and quality) content creation is a key driver of site traffic (and presumably affiliate clicks). My goal was to publish 52 posts this year. This post puts me at 36 for the year, which isn’t awful but is less than intended.

As a side note, I wrote around 10 guest posts in 2015. Writing for some different audiences was awesome, but there were definitely times when I missed posting on my site because I spent that time posting on others.

Anyhow, I don’t write posts for the sake of generating affiliate income – I write because I enjoy sharing my knowledge and experiences. Some posts (like this one) don’t include any links. That said, affiliate revenue is a nice side bonus, so I’ll continue focusing on content creation for 2016.

Royalties from Lynda.com (a LinkedIN company)

I’m now in my second year of being a course author for Lynda.com. I recorded nine new courses this year, bringing my total course count to 11.

I’ve had multiple folks ask how this works from a financial perspective, so I’ll share the basic structure here. Keep in mind I am not an employee, but a contractor, which makes the financial relationship obviously different.

For each course, I’m paid an advance – 50% when I sign a contract to do a course and 50% when the course goes live. Once the course “earns back” the advance pay, I begin earning royalties. Depending on course popularity, it takes anywhere from six to nine months to start earning royalties (in my experience).

It’s not a get rich quick scheme.

For me, working with Lynda.com is a perfect alignment of my love for teaching and the desire to invest in things now that generate ongoing revenue for me later.

3. Improve my Skills and Processes

This was a rather broad goal that encompassed everything from learning to be a better developer to using task automation or other tools to make life easier.

While I didn’t Nail Itβ„’ and could re-add the same goals to 2016, there’s one area where I both grew in knowledge and felt like I made a positive impact in the WordPress community:

Web Accessibility.

A few items on the highlight reel:

A huge thank you in particular to Gary Jones, Rian Rietveld, and Amanda Rush for helping push forward my understanding of web accessibility issues.

I look forward to learning more and teaching others about accessibility in 2016. I said it in my review last year and I’ll say it again here: Accessibility is not going anywhere – compliance standards will only increase. You would do well to see where/how you can align your service or product offerings with better web accessibility.

4. Flex to new opportunity

One of the things I love about my job is the ability to flex to new opportunities. I can’t possibly predict what will happen in 2015, but I want to be ready when opportunity comes.
– me, December 2014

This year was full of great opportunity. The most notable was in September, when I accepted a position with Crowd Favorite. This decision shocked some of you (frankly I shocked myself), but with even a few months in hindsight, I can say it was a good decision.

For starters, I love working with Chris Lema. To be around him is to learn. I also love being back in a team environment. There are so many little things you pick up and learn when you work closely with others. For as much as I love freelancing, a true team dynamic is hard to replace.

In addition to working with humans I respect and enjoy, the work is also technically challenging and I needed that. Think of going to the gym by yourself versus with a personal trainer. Even if you’re fairly motivated, you’ll almost always work harder with a trainer. And you can take the risk of lifting heavier when you’ve got a spotter. Maybe that was a weird analogy, but my new position is pushing me harder than I would’ve pushed myself. And that’s a good thing.

Looking forward to 2016

This was such a full year and by far my most “successful” on record — I feel blessed and thankful. I also feel tired.

So, what’s on the docket for this next year? Well, I have a few ideas.

1. Create new educational products

I had such a blast creating the WP Development Workflow webinars. I’ve got some ideas for more topics that I’d like to explore (if you have a request, leave a comment!) and plan to do at least one or two new series in the new year.

The format may be another webinar or it could be a more traditional e-course. I’m not sure yet.

2. Nurture customer relationships

While I’ve done my best to offer high-quality products (i.e. themes and webinar) to customers, I know I can do better by creating post-sales education. This wouldn’t necessarily involve much new content creation – I just need to compile resources I already have and put it in the form of follow-up email sequences to teach customers how to get the most out of products they’ve bought from me.

I want to continue creating value even after people have spent their money with me – I’ve already got the plans, I just need to make the time to put them in place.

3. Officehours.fm

In January 2016 I’ll fire up Officehours.fm, Season 2.

After 85 episodes (and over 100 guests), I’m ready to change things up a bit. More details on this later, but the primary change will be breaking up the podcast into multiple seasons per year, giving me the opportunity explore topics in more depth, over the course of a season.

If you want to stay up to date with the podcast, you can subscribe to the officehours.fm newsletter.

4. Overhaul carriedils.com

I think this makes my to-do list every year, but especially in light of career changes, I want to update this site to reflect my business focus.

In case I haven’t made that clear yet, that focus is on educational content via my blog, courses, webinar, and whatever else 2016 holds.

5. More of the same

Do "All the things"! memeI want to continue active development of Utility Pro. I want to continue writing, sharing, and teaching. I want to continue learning and growing. I want to continue making new friends in the community.

How About You?

I don’t write these posts to brag. I write them because I find value in speaking my goals out loud and because I want to encourage others to dream big and do awesome things.

So, what about you? Consider writing your own end of year post (here’s some tips to get you started)? If you do, leave a link in the comments. If you don’t have a full post in you, still feel free to leave a comment with your plans for the new year.

33 thoughts on “2015: My Business Year in Review”

  1. Thanks for sharing, Carrie! Thanks also for the insight on getting rid of banner ads, yet still making affiliate income.

    I really need to write my own review!

  2. Thanks for sharing your process. I’m changing some aspects of my business and it’s really helpful to see how your thinking about your business has developed and changed. I like focusing on a smaller group of clients too and working to bring value to their businesses on an ongoing basis.

  3. One of my only regrets about WCUS was not to get more time to talk about “WordPress Business” with you πŸ™‚ Heck, I even forgot to congratulate you about your new Crowd Favorite position. Yikes!

    Thanks for a great post. What a focused year for you! I dream about a year like that πŸ™‚

    2016 will be the best year ever!


  4. Hi Carrie!

    Thanks for sharing your year in review. I especially found it interesting that clearing up banners around the content didn’t negatively affect anything. I haven’t tried affiliate income yet, but am inspired to remove the ads from my content/sidebar and find other possibilities for passive income.

    I also love your series on accessibility and am looking forward to learning more from you in 2016. πŸ™‚ I was inspired to write my own year in review thanks to your post. It’s less business in review, and more general, but it was nice to look back and see how far I’ve come in the last year. Thanks for the inspiration. Have a great new year!


  5. Pingback: Recap of 2015 year in review posts from the WordPress community – Matt Geri

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