365 days ago, I was telling myself this:
"Kevon. You’re going into year 2 of your journey. You don't have the same excuse anymore. You can’t say you’re exploring. Come on!"
Okay … way to start off 2022 with … a load of pressure.
I've always been a realistic person.
If things are clearly not going well, I don't want to hold on to it blindly. It is better to regroup and try again later.
So in a way, 2022 is a year of life or death to this journey. Oops.
In this retrospective, I'll tell you how things went in 2022 and what's ahead of me in 2023.
What I achieved in 2022
From Jan 1, 2022 to Dec 29, 2022:
🤗 Happiness & fulfillment from 9 to 9 (the same)
👶 Baby from 1 to 2 (will be born in Feb 2023)
🙌 Twitter followers from 7.6k to 16.8k
📩 Email subscribers from 1.4k to 2.4k
🎋 Income streams from 5 to 9
💸 Online revenue from $10k to $47k
Let me first get this off my chest - I’m relieved!
You can already tell how important 2022 (year 2) was for me, and the results showed that I should totally keep going.
While I’m giving myself a pat on the back, I can already foresee the upcoming challenges in 2023 (year 3).
Baby two, Audrey, is arriving. Baby one, Avery, is going to school. It is my greatest chance to get to our family breakeven point, meaning positive cash flow.
Once again, “Kevon. Come on!”
I love sharing my numbers, so let’s start with them. It gives you an open view of how I run my business. I definitely hope that you learn a thing or two here.
2022 Profit & Loss
I'd be honest with you. At the start of the year, I set the goal of hitting $100k revenue (10x from 2021). Well, I like to aim high.
Because even if I fail to do so, I'm still a lot closer to the goal than if I were to aim for $50k.
But, of course, by March, I already knew it was unrealistic and so I adjusted my plan.
What’s worth celebrating was that I managed to grow revenue to $46,918! That’s 4.5x from my 2021 revenue.
If you ask me how I feel about it, again, relieved. But also I'm optimistic. It is less about how much I’m making as a digital entrepreneur, it has more to do with self-validation.
That I can do this. That I’m doing the right things. That I feel my self-worth (the reason why I started at the end of 2020).
On top of these, my eyes are still on the ball - get my family to positive cash flow.
Yes, I live in an expensive part of the world and $47k is nowhere close to either my last salary point or our family's breakeven point, so that’s going to be my motivation in 2023.
Instead of just looking at total revenue and its breakdown, I like to look at how healthy the business is, and this graph tells me more.
Given that I was only doing only ~$1,500 per month near the end of 2021, I was doing slightly better at the start of 2022 in the $2,500 range.
Then in May 2022, I finally hit my first $5,000 month! That was a big moment for me.
A ton of growth came from the last 3-4 months of 2022. And I achieved my biggest month ever - $12,558 in December 2022!
What happened? I’ll share more.
First, I want to tell you about the purple line.
TTM Revenue is my health indicator
Running a digital business can be a roller coaster ride, so I don’t want to just look at monthly revenue. If I tell myself “Kevon! Make at least $5k a month!” It can lead me to focus on short-term success and neglect long-term growth.
You probably know that I advocate for steady growth, so the Trailing 12 Months Revenue (TTM Revenue) number tells me the average revenue of the last 12 months.
Looking at this number, I can influence my mind to focus on what I’m doing on an annual basis.
As long as the line is trending upward and getting closer to my goal, I know that I’m doing the right things.
In December 2022, my revenue is $12,558 but my TTM Revenue is $3,910. I definitely have a ton of room to improve.
Now I ask myself “If I want to expand TTM Revenue to reach $7k in 2023, what do I need to do?”
Revenue growth rate influences my decisions
I also look at my growth rate:
- It took me 8 months (May-Dec) in 2021 to get $10k
- It took me 8 months (Jan-Aug) in 2022 to get $20k
- It took me 4 months (Sep-Dec) in 2022 to get $27k
Again, it is so easy to go for explosive growth or want to replicate a good month when it comes to selling digitally.
But for me, it is the rate of growth that matters the most to me.
I want a steady business that balances my growth, purpose, and life.
I don’t mind not having a course that sells for $40k in 3 months. I don’t mind not hitting a $10k month in 12 months. These are great stories you and I hear all the time, but I know I have a better chance of business success if I focus on building up a solid foundation.
Now I ask myself “What can I do differently to get $50k in 4 months?”
Revenue source changes my lifestyle
Another noteworthy point is where my revenue comes from.
I know a number of entrepreneurs achieving $70-120k which is significantly higher than mine. Upon chatting, some say that 60-80% of their revenue comes from freelance, service, or consulting.
This has been an internal debate for me in the last 2 years.
If I want to get to a $100k year, the fastest track is to take on freelance or service work and trade my time for money.
But a few things stop me from doing that:
- I know I can’t multitask. It is not for me
- I have a runway, hence I want to use this privilege to bet on products
- I’m okay to sacrifice revenue now for revenue in the future
- I don’t want to work more hours. I’m building this business to spend more time with my family
So growing slower than my peers but focusing on particular revenue sources has helped me live the life I want.
This is an important point that I remind myself of all the time.
Bottom line is healthy
The biggest advantage of running a product-based digital business is the profit margin.
When a lot of other businesses are getting 10-20%, my business is sitting at 73.49%!
Well, because there aren’t a lot of costs when it comes to selling knowledge online.
The biggest cost is software subscription. In year 1, I tried to limit my spending here, but now I am not afraid to spend because they can improve my productivity by miles.
What tools do I use? ConvertKit for email marketing, Hypefury for Twitter, Loom for videos, Ecamm Live for recording, Riverside for interviews, Descript for video editing, and more (I shared all my tools I pay for in this video).
I’d like to push expenses up to 40% next year. You might be shocked why I’d like to do that. I’m going to share more about reinvesting profit later on.
For now, enough about the numbers, I also want to share some important lessons from the last year.
Proud of doing less, but doing better
I put this first because I feel a good balance right now.
I’m not working crazy hours trying to get growth. I’m spending a lot of quality family time already as I build this family-oriented business.
I’m not launching more and more products to get sales. I’m working on the right things that move the needle.
I remain positive. I am not too stressed out. I’m in a good mental state to keep going.
Honing my craft on my cohort-based course
I’m all for experimentation and diversification, also known as “placing small bets” on the Internet. But, it is important for me to double down and focus when something shows potential.
I started running my Build in Public cohorts in May 2022 and it has been 1.5 years with 7 cohorts.
I went from having 0 online teaching & facilitation experience to now finding my groove in sharing what I know with the community.
I have had early cohorts with 6 students. And I know a lot of people would have given up at this point. But for me, I saw times like this as an opportunity to upgrade myself so I can delight my future students even more.
Seeing that the Build in Public Mastery course has a steady growth trajectory, a great reputation, and an engaging student community, I’m fulfilled!
Also, a lot of students like Christine, Jannis, Shruthi, and Javier are shining like a diamond ever since they finish the course. Nothing beats this feeling.
Running the cohorts doesn’t come with no challenges. It is labor intensive (I’m still looking for a Course Assistant, send me an email if you're interested) and the time difference is wild sometimes. I keep reminding myself that nothing comes easy.
If you're wondering what contributed to my biggest month in December 2022 - I started enrollment for my January 2023 cohort (it closes on Jan 7, 2023)!
A natural next step: coaching
There are so many ways to create income online, so there’s no point jumping into one thing just because some influencers say they make a ton of money.
Avoid shiny objects!
To me, the most sustainable path is the one where I am mindful of my choices.
It is one thing leading to another.
I first ran a paid community and I realized I preferred teaching students and helping them make progress.
Then now I have plenty of teaching experience, I realized I enjoy working with students on a longer timeline so I could provide more guidance.
After my 1:1 calls with students in my cohorts, often they would go “this call is mind-blowing”. And that re-confirms my thinking that coaching is my next step.
I also ask myself - “Do I see myself as a coach in 10 years?” The answer is yes.
So that’s how I decide what to do next.
Starting my coaching program also contributed to my revenue in December 2022!
A big win: not losing myself
Entrepreneurship is hard.
I might come across as confident and mindful, but I have my low moments too.
Looking back, there were definitely many temptations and distractions along the way.
For example, in early 2022, I sent out a few pitches to get a contract role at other people’s companies. My thinking was to diversify my experience with collaborating and working for someone. Most importantly, to increase my revenue.
But later I took it back.
Taking on a contract role could be a huge distraction to someone like me.
- I am not good at multitasking
- I hold myself to a high standard so I often overspend my time beyond the scope
And then there is another distraction everyone faces … wanting fast growth.
Everyone seems to be exploding on the Internet. Everyone seems to have so many wins.
“Am I doing something wrong?” I’m sure you question yourself too.
Yet, I take my time to progress.
I don’t force myself to do things just to get more followers or revenue. E.g. writing tweet threads, covering popular topics, or using masculine or aggressive copywriting to get more customers.
It was hard to fight these temptations but I’m glad I did.
More willing to invest by spending money
The first year I ran this business, I was very reluctant to spend.
My mindset was that I haven’t made significant money, so it would be reckless to spend and hope that I could make it back later.
Year 2 was different. Seeing the growth toward a mid-5-figure revenue, I knew I had to invest if I wanted to continue my growth.
This year, within my expenses (26.51% of revenue), I got help in a few areas:
- Video editing - it would take me A LOT of hours to do a mediocre job
- Slides polishing - I am terrible at it
- One-off branding upgrade - design & feelings are important, I saw it as great timing to upgrade my brand
I also ended up spending $885 on ThriveCart, a checkout software. It was a big decision because of its huge lump sum. I was going back and forth for a while and decided to pull the plug to pay $690 first then later upgraded with another $195.
You know, I was expecting an average experience because it is a software that I only pay a one-off fee. I was skeptical. But, so far, my experience has been so positive. It is easy to use and I have had no issues so far. The best part is that I no longer pay a % fee on transactions and there is no recurring fee. It is impactful to my future Profit & Loss.
Since I was paying Podia $89/month previously, I can break even after 10 months! Great investment.
Next year, I’d be okay to push expenses up to ~35% of revenue.
Plus, I’d want to use the budget I didn’t use this year (the difference between 26.51% and 35% so that’s $4,000).
This means I have more budget to spend on projects to grow the business. They can be used for hiring contractors, or sponsoring to get exposure, or anything that can move me closer to my revenue goal.
I’m happy my mindset has shifted. I no longer want to keep every dollar I make. Instead, I am constantly seeking areas to invest in so that I can drive growth.
A better understanding of how online business works
In the last 2 years, I’ve created multiple products.
At first, because I was pushing hard to stand out, I wanted my products to be unique. They should make people go “WOW!”
And thankfully Build in Public guide and Making Twitter Friends both created that reaction.
But as I go on, I realized the product idea is less important.
A product doesn’t have to be unique or revolutionary. What matters more is that you’re solving a pain point for some people and you get to present the offer at the right time.
That’s really all it is to the equation.
This is why it doesn’t matter that someone has a Twitter book, I can still write and sell my Twitter book, Find Joy in Chaos, as long as people around me have this pain point.
So if the product idea is not the most important, what is?
- Networking with the right people → the group you hang with lifts you up! Seriously, your perceived brand value, your knowledge, serendipitous opportunities, and more. They all get better!
- Right message & right time → I think we all spend too much time on the product but not enough time thinking about how to get these two things right
- Trust > sales → when people trust me, I don’t even need to sell them. This means my landing page, email copy, or product visuals can suck, and they’ll still buy. So what creates trust? Helpfulness, generosity, consistency … this is why I show up daily hoping to help someone else
Room to improve my offer suite
I think a lot of us new digital entrepreneurs have this problem.
In the early days, we aren’t very sure about our directions so we create different things to test the water. It is awesome! But at some point, as we gain clarity, we do have to clean up the offer suite.
What I mean is that I have a few products, e.g.:
- Build in Public guide
- Making Twitter Friends course
- Find Joy in Chaos Twitter book
- Easy Content Magic course
- Build in Public Mastery live course
On the surface, they all look like amazing products. But if I zoom out a bit, I would ask:
“If someone finishes Making Twitter Friends, why would they take Build in Public Mastery?”
It is not entirely obvious.
Of course, not everything has to fit so perfectly.
But it would increase my chance of success if one connects better with another. Something for me to work on!
What’s ahead of me in 2023
When I look into the next year, I am a little anxious.
If achieving 4.5x growth in year 2 is proof that I deserve to keep going, then getting to $120k in year 3 will be another great milestone in this journey.
Why? It is our family breakeven point (when the kids are still young). Then I can finally turn negative cash flow into positive cash flow in year 4 to prepare for our two daughter’s future.
Doesn’t that sound like a lot of mental pressure? Yes!
Also, Audrey, our second daughter, is coming to this world in Feb 2023. We’re super excited to become a family of 4! That being said, the newborn duties will be adding pressure to the year too.
Then our first daughter, Avery, is going to school. This means we have to figure out the logistics to drop off & pick up, adding another layer of responsibilities.
And now you can see why I’m anxious.
In 365 days, I will likely look back and tell you that 2023 has been a “hell of a year” yet the happiest year too. I am quite sure about this!
Themes for 2023
To wrap this up, I love setting 1-2 key themes for the new year!
- Highlight more people around me - there are a ton of amazing people around me - students & friends, I want to showcase them more!
- Plan ahead & delegate - the curse of being a solopreneur is that … I am often planning for the next week. This works extremely well for my disciplined self but not for scale
Goals for 2023
I set annual goals but honestly they're more just guidance. I prefer setting actionable quarterly goals so I can actively work on them!
- Spend a TON of quality family time - lots of attention to both Audrey and Avery because we know the challenge of balancing attention between a newborn and a toddler
- Resume my morning routine (2x a week) - I know that I get my best days when I start off with exercise, yet I haven’t done a good job in 2022
- Expand to 6k email subscribers - I’ve been terrible at this but I believe there are more people interested in my work out there
- Achieve 2k YouTube subscribers - I want to put more effort into my YouTube channel. I have 403 subscribers and I enjoy connecting with my audience via video (an intimate medium)
- Reach $120k annual revenue - aim high. Do less. Do the right things!
Thanks for taking your time to read this long retrospective. So, did you learn a thing or two? I'd love to hear from you!
Jump into this tweet and let's chat: