Lessons learned from a year of evolution

Many of my long time followers will notice that I haven’t blogged lately. In fact it has been almost two months since my last post. 

For almost a year and a half I blogged weekly with not exceptions.

That worked well, for a while…

And then I started my year of evolution. 

My goal with this post is to share with you some of the drastic changes in my business over the past 8 months, and the lessons I learned along the way. 


Why I wanted to evolve my business

From mid-2013 to late 2014, my business was simple. I designed websites

Someone would pay me money, I would make a website. It paid well and I was pretty good at it.

But the truth is, I never wanted to be a web designer. It was simply something I fell into because I wanted the ability to travel and work from anywhere, and web design was a great start.

So in early 2015, I set out on a mission to evolve. 

In part, the idea of evolution can be attributed to Liam Veitch of Freelancelift. He has some great content about this topic and it totally messed with my head.

The concept of evolution is simple: Six months from today, how will my business look different from where I am now? 

In the past, it had always meant more web design projects and more income. But now as I looked forward toward evolution, I wanted something different. 

I wanted to be strategic.
I wanted to create more value.
And I wanted recurring revenue. 


My first pivot: Freelance Marketing Director

In order to achieve this evolution, I began phasing out web design work and in it’s place I started calling myself a “Freelance marketing director”.

It started off great. Within two months I picked up four clients and had over $8,500 in monthly recurring revenue.

Then one client churned, it just wasn’t a right fit.
But then things were ok for the next 3-4 months. 
I had recurring revenue, I ran marketing for my clients and things went well.

Then in June, shit it the fan.

Two of my three remaining marketing clients churned. 

I was left with one client, my smallest client of all who couldn’t even cover my rent expense.

I had nothing in my pipeline and no plan. (I know a marketing director without a pipeline of prospects... pretty pathetic!) 


Why my “Freelance marketing director” role failed

The value proposition was far too vague. 

Marketing covers such a wide gambit of activities, and calling myself a marketing director was putting a lot of expectations on me. I didn’t have a clear ROI for the service I was offering, and often the title lead to my clients expecting things from me that I couldn’t provide. 

So my clients churned, and I was left with nothing. In the course of 30 days I went from $6,500 in recurring revenue to nothing. 


How to handle a failed business

Over the course of 6 months I went from a steady $10-12k per month in web design work to making only a few hundred dollars a month. 

My thoughts were something along the lines of “Holy shit, what am I going to do?”

I picked up a bit of web design work again to cover the bills, but I couldn’t dive fully back in because the one client I still had on retainer was a web design agency so I would be stealing work from them if I took it on myself.

Now during the time this was all going down, I picked up a book that changed my perspective on this situation. This book was literally life changing for me.

The book is The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday. This book is in a nutshell Ryan’s modern day take on Stoicism and stories of countless individuals who turned adversity into opportunity. This book along with Marcus Aurelius’s The Meditations helped me keep my head on straight in this time of chaos.

In the past, when my businesses failed, I panicked, got stressed and overall became miserable. 

But this time, I wasn’t going to let that happen. 

I kept one statement running through my head during this failure. 

“You can’t change what happens to you. You can only change how you react.”

So I reacted. And I built a plan to pull myself out of this situation.

As I tumbled deeper and deeper into credit card debt, I stayed calm, looked at the situation and built a plan to get myself out of it. 


From the ashes comes a new, better business

The freelance marketing director business tanked, but that is ok because it lead me to my new business.

As I sat there trying to figure out my next steps, something kept running through my mind.

There were two blog posts that I had written over a year ago that I kept referring back to, I kept sending them to people and people kept asking about them. These were my blog posts about direct outreach.

How I landed Fortune 500 clients through stalking

How I made $12,409 through cold emailing

These two blog posts had become some of my most popular posts to date and they both detailed the ways that I won new business through reaching out to prospects that I wanted to work with. 

At this same time, I was asked by my friend Bryce Bladon over at Clients from Hell to do a webinar on the topic

As I prepped for the webinar, I thought to myself “Why don’t I turn this into a service? Why don’t I do outreach for other companies?”

I got on the webinar and briefly mentioned that I was considering starting this outreach company and before the episode went live I threw up a landing page at Outboundcreative.com and built an opt-in form.

I received over 65 opt ins from that one webinar and my first two paid clients. 

In a matter of about a week, I went from concept to validation of a new business and had paying clients in the door. 

Some may call it luck, but I feel as if I somehow ‘knew’.
I had a hunch, I just felt like this made so much sense and I knew I could create value for others. 

This was the one thing in my career that had created the most value, so why not turn it into a service?

So I dove in.


Focusing on the essential

As I began working on this new company, I faced a huge problem, a problem of overcommitment.

At the time, I had far too many projects going on. My blog, podcast, a new book, a video course, and more. 

I was spread far too thin and nothing I was doing was going to fix my financial problem.

Then I read another book that rocked my world, Esssentialism by Greg McOwn. 

There are a few ideas from that book which still stick with me today.

One idea that sticks out is asking yourself “If I didn’t already have this opportunity now, how hard would I work to get this again?” That simple question helped me shed many of my other commitments.

The idea of focusing on the essential actions, and ignoring the non-essential also meant that I had to realize my blog and podcast were no longer essential. While I love blogging, and I love podcasting, they simply weren’t going to fix my financial situation. 

So I stopped everything that wasn’t going to pay the bills and focused on the essential actions that would fix my situation. 


The results of a year of evolution

This has been a chaotic year where I have learned a lot. It hasn’t always been easy, but I am pushing through. 

Since launching this business in June, I have eight paid clients signed on. 

I am sending out campaigns weekly for my clients and creating a scaleable business that can generate income or years to come. 

Despite a bad June and July, I have hit my income goal for August. I am on track to hit it again in September and I have big aspirations for the future. 

Evolving your business isn’t easy. 
You may fail along the way. 
Sometimes it means doing hard things as you go through change. 
But don’t let the challenges stop you. 
Power through.