It has been 20 months since I became a full-time creator!
After an intense Jun 2022 month running a live cohort, I took a full week to recharge, review, and plan for the 2nd half of 2022. 💪 Felt great!
I'm going to openly share my review with you. This retrospective is my effort to continue to share the key learnings from this not-so-easy journey!
You know, “being a creator” has always been branded as sexy, fun, and flexible. I’m sure you and I are both attracted to this “do what you love and make a living” concept. But, of course, the reality is always different from the expectations.
In the last 20 months, my biggest learning is that a creator business is no different than any business out there. I need a business model and a strategy behind it.
I think most creators give up because they spend all their time creating content and not improving the model fast enough. At this point, I have a good grasp of what I need to do to get to the next stage.
Can I do it? I don’t know. But I will give my best!
In the first 6 months of 2022, I’ve doubled my revenue from the whole 12 months of 2021. If I achieve the same in the next 6 months, it will mean I achieve 4x growth in 2022.
Well, 2021 was small because I just started out. But 4x? I say it is good progress!
How’s my life overall?
Honestly speaking, I still haven’t achieved my family break even point. But the uptrend revenue line plus the lower burn rate are motivating to keep me going.
I’m a firm believer of continuity.
If you stick around long enough, it will get easier because a lot of people have you at the back of their mind.
I’m also a firm believer that all I want is slow and steady growth, and then when luck strikes, that’s when the exponential growth comes in.
For example, a large company might want to license my course, or someone wants to bring me into teach. I don’t know what it is, so I can only keep going to find out.
While this creator lifestyle is 90% fulfilling, the remaining 10% is that I do crave real-life connections and recognitions sometimes. I want something more tangible.
When I roll out the paperback version of my book, Find Joy in Chaos, I think I’d be happier!
I actually made a video to share how creating tangibles can help creators level up credibility.
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Profit & loss
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How did I conduct this midyear review?
I like to keep it simple and I like to ask myself questions to lead me to reflect. Here are the questions I used (you can duplicate the Google Doc):
- What’s my goal for 2nd half of 2022? Preferably revenue goals
- Where will the revenue come from? Which products?
- What will block me from achieving these goals?
- What can I do to unblock myself?
- Let’s cut down to a short list of top priorities to focus on
- What’s key in Q3? What does a successful Q3 look like?
- What’s key in Q4? What does a successful Q4 look like?
When I answer all these questions, I pretty much have a good 6-month plan where I can further break down to my monthly and weekly priorities.
I know a lot of people overcomplicate it and look for the best review template. I just want to say there’s no best template. Take a simple one and tweak the questions to suit your own style and that’d be the best one for YOU.
I pick out the top 5 learnings for where I’m at (full-time 20 months in, mid 5-figure annual revenue) to share with you:
Lesson 1: Scattered work
Once you get past your initial stage of figuring out your topic/niche to focus on, you’ll start creating values and selling them.
So far I’ve created a bunch of things:
- Build in Public Mastery - a live cohort-based course
- Find Joy in Chaos - a Twitter book
- Use Twitter Meaningfully - a list of tweet prompts to build in public
- 45-min Twitter Profile Revamp - a service to help creators craft their positioning and profile
- 1:1 Consulting - a service to answer creator’s burning questions and move the needle
From the look of it, it feels like they all fall into the same niche. Pretty good right?
But what I’m struggling with is that I’m not totally sure if someone new comes into my world, which one should I introduce to this person? And which one next?
On the Internet, I can be selling everything at the same time. But to be effective in doing so, I need to present the right things at the right time for each person. I need to hold their hands and tell them the best option next.
Clearly, I haven’t done that part yet.
While I’m mapping all my offerings to a customer journey, I’m also thinking about the communication touch points. After a creator reads my book, what should I say next that is not overly salesy, but helpful?
💭 For the people I am helping, what does point A to point B look like? Where does each of my offers fits in that journey?
Lesson 2: Creators’ biggest enemy: ad-hoc creating
We creators love freedom and flexibility.
While this is a big plus to this business, it is also a big minus. Without constraint, many people would slow down, get off track, or do things without a goal in mind.
I like to think that I’m highly organized and disciplined, but I still find myself chasing after content creation.
What do I mean by this?
I write tweets, write newsletters, and create videos. What I have been doing is to plan what I want to talk about next week, and then make it happen the following week.
Like the week before my break, I found myself writing a long article to share on Twitter (which did crazily well with 428 replies and 658 likes) and I was writing another newsletter about the same topic.
I wrote them separately! What a waste of time.
I reflected and the cause was likely because I didn’t have a bigger picture content plan. I didn’t set aside time to plan for my quarters, so my weekly execution was misaligned.
So this is what I do to stay ahead:
But I want to emphasize that while I believe in planning, I don’t believe in over-planning. Strategize and get a plan and then start executing! That’s the best way to grow.
⏩ Block out my calendar for a quarterly review where I first set my goals and then come up with a content creation schedule for tweets, newsletters, and videos. Also, before a new month starts, I plan ahead what is being created across all channels.
Lesson 3: Not getting out enough
Another creator’s pitfall.
I’m sure most creators are like me. I love the fact that I can sit behind my computer, create, and generate revenue. Who doesn’t like this?
But if you’re not careful, then you would fall into a trap like I did in my first 6 months.
I had a lot of plans to create (e.g. releasing my book Find Joy in Chaos), so my focus was all “behind the computer”. I spent way too much time on Product and not enough on Marketing.
Doesn’t this sound familiar?
So now I set myself some new goals to battle this pitfall:
- I’m going to do one scary outreach each month (inspired by Jay Clouse's open retrospective inside his community)
- I’m going to outreach to podcast hosts and other businesses or communities to speak or run workshops for them
- I’m going to connect and help creators who are ahead of me
- I’m going to get back to my own show, the Public Show, by releasing 1 interview each month
This is all because there is no secret in business. Each bit of growth comes from putting yourself out there, and I need to do more.
Don’t get me wrong. I still value interacting with people behind me. It is my principle to reply, talk, and help them. I don’t need to do more because it is already a regular activitiy for me.
⏩ Set aside time on 3rd week of the month purely for outreach. Start building relationships without asking anything.
Lesson 4: Not improving my brand
Create content! Publish content! Build products! Sell products!
When I was heads down executing, all my attention was on these 4 parts.
If I hadn’t zoom out to review my growth, I likely wouldn’t have noticed that my brand was … not updated.
I’ve spoken on more podcasts. I have more success stories from my students and readers. I was interviewed and featured by Mailchimp on Building in Public.
I could easily craft a better brand for myself and Public Lab. But, of course, I didn’t have time to do that.
So it is important that I allocate sometime to do a bigger revamp to the brand and add more credibility!
⏩ Allocate time to polish up Public Lab’s and Kevon Cheung’s brand based on latest achievements.
Lesson 5: Missed opportunities in old work
This one is big. Similar to the last lesson, us creators create a lot and a lot of new things.
But, what about all the old content, products, and stuff we created before?
Usually, they remain the same.
But hey, my brand and following have been growing and people are checking out my blog posts, videos, and products, there are huge opportunities to optimize what they get from me and also what’s next.
Some parts I didn’t do well:
- My free email course, Making Twitter Friends, has no “next step” for the first 12 months
- My thank you pages after someone subscribes suck … they’re very dry
- I started making YouTube videos to answer my audience’s questions, but I didn’t spend enough time on keywords, title, and description.
- My Build in Public Definitive Guide, my 1st project as a creator, has been the same since day 1
My gut tells me that revisiting these old work and optimizing them have a lot of growth potential.
⏩ Take a quick look at the work that is generating the most traffic and identify areas where I can share what the next step is. It could be one line of reminder, a lead magnet, or even rewriting part of the content.
These 5 lessons sum up my 2nd year running this creator business very well. As you can see, I am at the optimization and scaling stage of my business.
There are loads of opportunities for me to tap into, and they’re all uncovered by asking the 7 questions during my midyear review.
“You need to strategize a plan and then be flexible to iterate the plan!”
That’s my motto in growing my business!
I hope this helps you whether you’re an earlier stage or similar stage to my business!