2016 in Review – Business & Freelancing (wasn’t what I expected)

You're allowed to change your mind -- the biggest thing I learned about my business in 2016.

My last post of 2015 talked about my business goals for 2016. I highlighted a lot of awesome wins in 2015 (great year!) and talked about my three focuses for 2016:

  1. Quality of life.
  2. Scaling back custom work.
  3. Teaching badass girls to code for WordPress.

I ended 2015 with this epic vision of how the year was going to go, but it definitely didn’t line up all pretty like I hoped it would. I achieved most of my goals on paper, but I think I FELT very differently about everything.

So what happened in 2016?

I DID focus on quality of life… maybe too much?

Some of my days were so low key and relaxing that they were actually… boring. I had so many days where I felt like I had nothing to do, so I spent time cleaning the apartment. WTF. That’s so unlike me.

It’s like I wanted to have all this free time to chillax and just do “whatever I wanted”, but then I didn’t know what to do? God it was stupid.

I did find an awesome new love for fitness though, which I’ll discuss in a later post.

I DID massively scale back custom work

In 2015, custom work made up 29.9% of my income. In 2016 I dropped that to 14.4%. E-courses picked up the slack, going from 1.1% to 16.1%. Crazy!

What’s funny is that towards the end of 2016 I started to miss custom work again, primarily working on good ol’ blogging themes. I can’t make up my mind, can I?

I DID release e-courses!

I launched #GirlsOnWP with my four e-courses (three of which I created in 2016). I had a very low-key launch with all these e-courses, but I was very happy with the results. I could have done more promoting, I could have done webinars, I could have sent more emails.. but I didn’t, and I’m fine with that. My e-course launch month brought in my most sales ever ($8,600 before expenses) until November (Black Friday), when I surpassed it ($9,600 before expenses).

To be honest, the courses were a lot of work. I think it’s particularly hard with this type of course where you’re building one single project (like a WordPress theme). If I make 10 lessons, then want to change one line of code in lesson 5, I have to go back and fix all the files in lessons 5-10 to have the update. Each lesson builds upon the previous one. What a pain.

I have thought about releasing another course on building a plugin, but that’s actually very hard. With a theme, you have a very specific end result, so that’s easy to teach. But with a plugin, it can be anything. Teaching someone how to code one type of plugin doesn’t mean they’ll know how to code any plugin in the world. So I think it’s harder to have enough material to really satisfy the students.

But as the year went on, I totally lost focus

From maybe August onward, I was A MESS. I actually still have a draft blog post on Nose Graze called, “The things I’m afraid to say out loud.” (And I guess I was so afraid that I never published it.) The gist of this blog post was:

  • I have no idea where I should take my business. What should I focus on? Pre-mades? Courses? Custom work? I don’t know which of those will bring me the most stability. I just kept making so many new things, when really I probably should have focused on a smaller number of them and marketed them better (ugh).
  • I have no idea where I WANT to take my business. I don’t know what will make me happy.
  • I’m so tired. I feel like I’m in this race of selling, marketing, advertising, and promoting, and it’s killing me. I did mention this a bit in my post about how much I hate selling.
  • I felt like some kind of core passion was just being drained from me.
  • Sometimes I think about what I could be doing instead of running my business, and I can’t think of a SINGLE idea that appeals to me.
  • I don’t know what to do.

The post was one huge sob story about how uncertain I was about everything. I was afraid of my business failing, I was afraid because I didn’t know what I even wanted to do with it. I think I was getting tired of the business side of running my own business.

Some people have the problem where they know exactly what they want to do, they just don’t know how to make it happen. My problem was that I didn’t know what I wanted to do anymore. It was scary.

But a cool guy called Pippin totally saved my ass.

I joined a team

Pippin Williamson, the amazing guy behind AffiliateWP, Easy Digital Downloads, Restrict Content Pro, and Pippin’s Plugins approached me about joining his team to work on supporting and building Restrict Content Pro (a membership plugin for WordPress). As a total fan girl of his work/products, that was pretty flattering.

So I said yes and have been helping out a bit since early November (look, I’m on the team!). His whole team is amazing (and super smart!) and it’s very exciting to be part of it. In 2017 I’m going to start taking a bigger role and doing more work on Restrict Content Pro.

Working for someone else will allow me to enjoy my own products more.

Working for Pippin will allow me to change my own business as well. There are two big things I’m excited about:

  1. I’ll be creating fewer new products (maybe none), and I’ll be focusing on polishing, refining, and updating the products I have now.
  2. I’ll no longer be working on these products as a “business” or something to financially support me. Hopefully my work for Pippin will take care of the finances, and I’ll be able to go back to a more carefree life of working on my products purely for fun.

That second point is most important. I think my big problem in 2016 was that I was so focused on being able to pay my bills and keep my business going, that I lost my passion. It wasn’t fun any more. I didn’t feel like I could afford to build whatever I wanted or something that just sounded cool; I had to build something that would sell.

When I poured all my energy into my new Book Database plugin, I knew it wouldn’t be a money maker (maybe I’d never even sell it) and I didn’t care. I made something that I wanted, and something that would be really freakin’ awesome. This carefree attitude is exactly what I missed.

For a long time I thought being my own boss was the only thing that would make me happy.

Turns out, maybe it’s not.

It’s still immensely important to me that I enjoy what I do. I need to be passionate about the company/product/process. But there’s also something very freeing about being able to separate work from hobbies, rather than merging them together into one big thing. This will allow me to have hobbies that may not be money makers, and I can just explore them for fun.

In 2016 I learned that it’s okay to change your mind

When I was freaking out about not knowing how to move forward, I was mostly afraid of admitting to myself that maybe I didn’t want to run a business any more. Even if that was purely my choice, I had it in my head that changing my mind would equal failure. …but why?

If you want to do something else, it doesn’t mean that you’ve failed. You’re allowed to change your mind and go in a totally different direction. You’re allowed to want new things. There’s nothing wrong with that.

So working for someone else is the new thing I’ll be trying out in 2017, and we’ll see how it goes. It’ll be a huge change, for sure, but it’s one I’m looking forward to!

Goals for 2017

  • Hopefully everything with Restrict Content Pro will go well. I’m looking forward to learning a lot with this great team, but also contributing a lot.
  • Figure out what the hell to do with UBB and do it awesomely. I’m very excited about some big updates, but I’m struggling with finding the best way to do them. So we’ll see!
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I'm a 27 year old California girl living in England (I fell in love with a Brit!). I like to inject a little #girlpower into the WordPress development community by teaching women how to be coding badasses. more »

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18 comments

  1. And here I thought you would think I was nuts for wanting to do a passion project instead of worrying about creating a sales funnel. Ha!

    I really hope your 2017 turns out as well as you hope and even better in ways you haven’t dreamed of. You have no idea how much you helped me this year. You took my exhaustion, my “I just can’t look atWordPress one more second” to “I can do this!”.

    They say you shouldn’t try and sell your product but sell the effect your product has. Well, you sell relief and certainty and clear the way for people to live their dream. Even if you weren’t aiming for that, I can assure you this is a gift many need.

    I know marketing is exhausting so I hope your new opportunity gives you energy to contribute with what you started here. If there is anything I can do to help, please let me know.

    1. I’m so over even the word “sales funnel” LOL!

      Anyway thank you so much Leann. πŸ™‚ I hope you have a wonderful rest of the year and 2017!

  2. I love the stream of consciousness your writing has a lot of times, it makes me feel like I’m right there with you listening to you talk, haha!

    The encourages you’ve released this year have been so super helpful and I’m really glad you decided to do them. I’m sure your 2017 will go great. You’ll have more time to create for the sake of creating!

    1. Haha thank you Colin! Steam of consciousness is pretty much my way of blogging. Though I tend to call it “word vomit”. πŸ˜€

      Happy holidays!

  3. I’ve been involved in the online business community ever since I started my business back in 2011… and I felt like I was “doing something wrong” by going to work for someone else in 2015. But it’s honestly how I function best. It’s hard to change directions, but you ultimately have to do what’s best for you (which it sounds like you are).

    1. Yes I know exactly what you mean Amanda! It feels like we’re surrounded by people going the other way around (leaving “employment” to start your own business). And when you’re around all those people it does feel like you’re “doing it wrong” if you want to leave your business to go work for someone else instead. It can be hard to overcome that feeling!

      Have a wonderful new year. πŸ™‚

  4. Ashley, I love that you always keep it real. You’re one of my favorite people ever and though I know that this wasn’t the intended point of your post, you give a sort of authentication to those of us (like me) who feel bad for feeling exactly like you do. I’m proud of the changes you’ve been brave enough to make–and voice. And I appreciate you more than you’ll ever understand. I hope you and Coding God had a great Christmas. xo

    1. Thank you Kassiah!! ♥ That really means a lot. πŸ™‚ I think I was really afraid to say any of this out loud, but then it became easier to voice when I actually had a way to move forward.

      Our Christmas was lovely, thank you! I hope yours was too and have a happy new year!

  5. There’s something about reading a post like this about another human being trying to figure it all out that puts me at ease. I’ve had some similar struggles this year (even if my job and situation is completely different). It’s always nice to know I’m not the only one. I guess this is young adulthood, huh?

    1. Yeah I can be a real mess sometimes and it’s definitely comforting to know you’re not alone! πŸ˜€ Sometimes you look at other people and only see the positives, so it’s easy to assume they have all their shit together. But in reality that may not be the case!

      Screw adulthood. πŸ˜›

  6. As women, we always tend to be in “get it done” mode, at the expense of everything else. It was great that you were able to look at yourself, your goals and needs to make good decisions for what’s up next so you can be happy. Kudos and Happy New Year!

  7. I so appreciate your honest reflections, Ashley. So many times we only see individuals highlighting the glitz and glams of entrepreneurship. It’s nice to see someone in the trenches that still trying to figure things out. All the best to you in your new position.

  8. Thank you for doing this post! I’ve been freelancing for a year now, and while it’s still working for me, I can foresee a time when I’d just be doing it to pay the bills.

    I always want my passion to be my passion, so if that time ever comes, knowing that pressing the brakes for a bit is totally fine is a good thing to have in the back of my head!

    I hope your 2017 turns out to be the right balance of paying the bills and working your passion!

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