2021 Annual Review

One of my favorite things to do at the end of each year is to check out the annual reviews of writers, bloggers and other online content creators. Typically, these reviews talk about how their year went, what they did, how much they earned, etc. These kinds of reports and reviews are actually what got me into pursuing freelance work. It’s kind of crazy that people online are so open about their careers, life, etc., but I’ve become one of those people over the years.

My favorite annual review that I’ve read multiple times over is Nat Eliason’s 2020 review. He basically spent two weeks planning and reviewing his year and setting goals for the next year. I’ve decided I’m going to take two days to just look over how my year went and see how I can improve for the next year. This is still kind of weird and pretty new to me since I’ve been in the daily hustle of trying to make money online for a few years, but I chose to block out two days to do this.

This also gives me the chance to start just sharing what I learn on a weekly basis. I’ve wanted to have a place in my blog where I share case studies, entrepreneurship, financial freedom and other things I find interesting. This will give me a good piece of content to start with. Some of my favorite blogs I’ve read that are like that are Four Pillar Freedom, Nat Eliason’s blog and The Woke Salaryman.

I don’t really have a solid structure of exactly what I’m going to write, I’m just going to cover my wins, losses, any important lessons I learned and how I’m going to approach the next year. If you’re in a specific field like law, marketing, etc, you can probably find other creators who share their income, annual reports, etc. Take a look, you’ll probably learn a ton of things that can help you in your personal life. If you want to do an annual review for yourself, check out the Gustin annual review template. It’ll give you an outline of what you can cover in your review. 

Highlights

Started my blog: 

The biggest highlight by far this year was starting my blog. I still remember buying the domain, hosting and getting started with WordPress in late December. I had no knowledge of blogging, SEO, content marketing, etc. I knew blogging was going to be a long-term grind, so I was ready to put in years of work before I went full-time with it. The first 6-8 months were a real struggle since I had no knowledge of keyword research or basically any SEO concepts.

I published around 65 blog posts with little to no traffic to show for it. Although I was working hard, I had revise my strategy to accelerate my progress. I took a couple of blogging courses and learned the basics of SEO, link building, etc. This helped cement my fundamentals when it comes to blogging. As I write more content and acquire more links, I’ll generate more traffic and ultimately more revenue. I’m more excited about blogging now than when I started. I know my efforts will compound over the next few years and this will provide me with more time and financial freedom.

Increased my domain authority

For the last few months, I’ve focused heavily on link building for my blog. My DR is currently at 39 in just over 3 months since I started link building. I wanted to give my blog a solid foundation before the new year and having a DR of almost 40 definitely helps. I’ve seen a ton of sites take years to reach this level of authority, so increasing my DR this much in a short amount of time is a huge win for me.

Although DR is not a metric by Google or other search engines, backlinks are definitely a significant ranking factor. Taking the time to learn how to outreach, write guest posts and build backlinks has provided tons of opportunities that I would’ve otherwise never gotten. Also, it gives me the chance to get out of my bubble and make some real industry contacts that can be beneficial in the future.

Quit freelance writing (mostly): 

My last major win is mostly quitting freelance writing. Freelance writing was how I got into making real money online and it was probably one of the most important decisions. Although it took me a while to get good at outreaching, writing content, etc., it opened the door for me to work remotely and on my own schedule. As much as I liked freelance writing, I didn’t like trading my time directly for money. I probably could’ve scaled my freelance writing business much more if I took it more seriously, but blogging was much more appealing to me.

Since I’ve started making money with SEO work and my blog, I’ve slowly reduced my number of clients and I’m down to two clients that I really enjoy working with. The content I write for them is interesting and the clients are pleasant and extremely easy to work with. I viewed this move in terms of opportunity cost. The more time I spent freelance writing, the less time and effort I put into my blog and this would ultimately slow down my growth. I have a vast enough portfolio of work and marketing experience to go back to freelance writing basically anytime I want, so not a big risk in my view.

Shortcomings

Set too many goals: 

I saw one of my excel sheets I’ve made in January and it’s almost laughable how many goals I set. I set almost 10 goals that were difficult to do and this ended up with me not reaching most of them. Examples of some of the goals I set were like lose X amount of lbs, make $X per month, etc. I had almost 10 of those kinds of goals. Although those are nice and aspirational, they have almost zero real-life impact.

Instead of setting those kinds of goals, I should’ve set process-oriented goals. Examples of this would be maintain a 300 calorie deficit, write X amount of blog posts per week, etc. Those actions are what actually move the needle and ultimately help reach the goals you set.

Physical fitness: 

In 2021, I lost between 20-25 pounds. Although that’s a great step in the right direction, I could’ve been much better with my diet and exercise. I started the year pretty determined and got my workout routine down. Over the course of the year, I’d workout 4-5 days a week on average. Although I’d train hard, I’d slack off with my diet and this hindered my progress.

Nutrition still remains the most difficult part of getting in shape. I’ve progressively added weight to my workouts over the year, but I started to plateau towards the end of the year. This was the first year I took lifting seriously, so I did manage to make some newbie gains even with my inconsistency. I’m going to take a long-term and easy calorie deficit moving forward.

Although I fell short of my fitness goal, I made a ton of strides this year. I feel like I have a solid foundation of knowledge about nutrition, weight lifting, etc. I basically didn’t know how to do anything at the beginning of this year in terms of how to train effectively.

Time wasted: 

I’d say I’m above average when it comes to productivity, work ethic, etc. Nothing crazy, but I can get stuff done when I need to. It wasn’t until mid November of this year that I realized how much time I waste on a given day. I felt like I was being productive, but I was easily wasting >3 hours per day doing random stuff.

I found out how much time I wasted from my screen time on my phone. I was spending on average 8-10 hours a day on my phone, which is insane if you think about it. Between YouTube, social media, occasional emails, etc., I was spending 80-90% of my waking hours on my phone. At first I thought it was a typo or something, but I checked the settings on my phone and it gives averages for how much time you spend per day.

I looked back a few months and saw I was easily averaging 7-9 hours per day on my phone. When I went back even further on my screen time history, the averages were the same. I’ve had the same phone/screen time habits since I got my first phone in my teenage years. I’m almost 24 now, so if you do the math I’ve spent at least a year of my 20s on my phone and a year asleep. This was a pretty big wakeup call because at this rate I can spend decades of my life just staring at a screen.

I’ve reduced my screen time significantly and currently average around 4-5 hours. I’m not aiming to have no screen time, but 7-9 hours per day is wild to say the least. I’ve gained back 1-2 hours each day just from being aware of my phone usage and I’ve used it to decompress and at least do things I like doing instead of mindlessly looking at my phone.

Biggest lessons:

Focus

Focusing on one thing is probably one of the most difficult things to do for most people. It’s very easy to get shiny object syndrome and jump from one thing to the next, but you’ll never reach any meaningful success like that. Focus applied to basically any are of life will generate dramatic results over a long period of time. In business, this typically means focusing on one product/service and one distribution channel over a period of time.

When I used to start a new year, I’d make a long list of things I wanted to do and each year I’d end up completing none of them. It makes sense why I’d continue to fail because I never gave any endeavor enough attention or time. You can basically have all the things you want in life, but over a lifetime, not in a single year. Some years you may need to focus more on your career, while other years might require you to focus on family, health, travel or something else.

Additionally, what you focus on is often more important than how hard you work. I remember a Naval quote that stated “work as hard as you can even though what you work on and who you work with are more important”. In my personal experience, I was objectively working harder during college than I am right now. Even though I still work longer hours, I had school, a night-time job and a bunch of other extra curriculars. I’m way more productive now and a lot of that is attributed to what I’m focusing on.

Time management

I’m cognizant of how I spend my time, but I’ve gained a newfound appreciation for just how valuable time is this year. I’ve gradually gained an appreciation and urgency for how I spend my time, so I’m always open to learning how to manage my time better. Ideally, you’d want to spend your time going after meaningful goals, bettering yourself and being around positive people. A framework that really helped me with gaining an appreciation of time is quantifying how much your time is worth.

I watched an interview on the My First Million podcast with Hubspot CTO Dharmesh Shah this week. He’s one of the co-founders of Hubspot and has a net worth of over $1 billion. In the interview, he talked about how he started putting a number on how much an hour of his time is worth in his 20s. He got a job as an engineer and started to make $125/hour. He basically decided to outsource every single thing in his life that cost him less than $125 per hour. This included a lot of daily stuff that took up his time.

Fast forward 30 years, he’s the CTO of Hubspot. He did the math and said that on average, an hour of his time throughout his career was worth about $10,000. What shocked me more was that he said he’d be willing to pay a premium (>$10,000) to not spend his time on things that he didn’t enjoy and didn’t improve his business.

This concept can be applied to your personal life. If you reached the goals you set out for yourself, how much would the future you be willing to pay for you to not waste time on frivolous activities? Most people would think about mowing lawns, doing laundry, etc., but my first thought was all the hours wasted dealing with negative people (bad clients, acquaintances, etc). Instead of wasting years of your life going back and forth with people, you can do much better things with your time. You don’t really know how valuable your time is until you’re forced to put a number on it or the amount of energy it takes from you.

Finances

Money is a very touchy subject for a lot of people and rightfully so in some cases. Most people pursue traditional paths and generally share the same beliefs about money and it’s taboo to talk about it without judgement and emotions involved. My personal belief is that if I keep improving even at a marginal rate over a long period (ex. 10 years), I’ll do pretty well for myself. I’ve generally had more of an abundance mentality when it comes to making money. Most people are unaware of just how big the world and the economy is. A person earning 1 million, 100 million or a billion dollars has virtually no impact on me and it doesn’t hinder my earning potential.

With entrepreneurship, you can acquire new skills, scale processes or do many other things to dramatically increase your income. I’m 23 and have gotten most of my views on money, personal finance, etc. from the internet. I’d say I’m pretty open in regards to my finances and that attracts like-minded people and this ultimately helps me gain more knowledge and increase my income.

Prior to reading personal finances blogs, subreddits and seeing YouTube videos, I had almost no clue what people made, how they manage money, etc. This was a couple of years ago when I was in college and I started to come across people who shared their income online. At first, it was shocking. Most normal people go to extreme lengths to hide their income, so seeing people just openly share it was eye-opening. I signed up for a few of those people’s email lists and they’d send emails every month telling their subscribers how much they made that money.

The email subject lines would be like How I made $35,234 blogging in December 2021. 

I’d read them for fun and go about my day in college. After getting them for like a year straight, I started to get curious about how people made money. I’d do Google searches on a variety of careers and see what people were making and this gave me the motivation to do something for myself.

In regards to my finances, I have a pretty simple philosophy: build my business indefinitely. I don’t have any investment strategy or anything similar. I’m far more likely to get greater returns investing in something that I have domain expertise in like SEO or blogging than starting over and trying to learn how to invest in a specific asset. I can predictably build a 6 or 7 figure business over the next 5-10 years and sell it for a multiple if I were looking for an exit.

In regards to my personal income, my monthly revenue has increased significantly since the beginning of this year. In January, I think I made like $900 total for the month. It took maybe 4-5 months to regain a steady income, but I lost most of my major freelance writing clients due to COVID, restricted budgets and a few other factors. I knew I could probably rebuild my clientele, but I needed to acquire more skills and stabilize my income. Fast forward to December, I’ve earned just under $7k in the last four weeks from my work. A couple of my invoices were direct deposits.

Probably $4-5k was profit, I spent close to $2,000 on some one-off business expenses like courses and a few other software related expenses.

Although I’m glad I increased my income over the year, I don’t really put too much stock into it. I don’t really attach my self-worth, intelligence, etc. to how much I make. I know over a long period of time, the swings in income are unimportant and if I keep putting in consistent work and acquire more skills, things will typically go in the right direction. It took a while to learn this, but keeping a level-head is crucial to avoid making emotionally-driven mistakes.

I approach money more from a curiosity/learning perspective than anything else. I’ve had some of low income months, a few very high months and many in between. My overhead for my living expenses is maybe $2k a month (rent, business expenses, etc). Keeping my overhead low is key to feeling light and being able to take on more risks.

What I did find interesting regarding finances is this year is the happiness vs money debate. There’s several studies that say happiness can increase dramatically with income until like $70-80k or something similar. Personally, I’m much less stressed when it comes to daily life and expenses. Dropping out of college with no real skills a few years ago was brutal to say the least. In addition to worrying about getting clients, getting skills, working extra jobs, etc, I had to make ends meet (pay rent, get groceries, etc). This often meant making a lot of sacrifices in terms of working during weekends, nights, holidays and not buying anything except necessities.

My lifestyle hasn’t really changed from that besides I don’t worry about making ends meet, which is huge. Of course I still work hard, but saving your first $500 or $1,000 is life changing for most people. This changed my entire perspective on saving, living below your means, etc. Not worrying about car issues, late bills or similar stuff would probably increase the happiness of most people. Personally, as long as I can work on my business and get some UberEats once in a while, I’m pretty happy.

Favorite content:

During 2021, I’ve probably spent maybe 3-4 hours a day just consuming content. Whether it’s SEO & blogging content that’s relevant to my business or random other content, I’m always listening or reading something. Here are some of my favorites that

My First Million podcast:

My First Million is a podcast that covers business topics, tech trends, etc. I mainly enjoy the interviews with successful entrepreneurs. It’s hosted by Sam Parr and Shaan Puri, who are successful entrepreneurs in their own right. What I like most about the podcast is how informal it is and the personal questions they ask about money. You rarely get access to successful founders and entrepreneurs and seeing the frameworks they use in their lives and careers is insightful.

A recent episode I really enjoyed was with Rob Dyrdek (yes, the one from the MTV shows). He basically talked about his entrepreneurial journey and how he’s had multiple $100 million exits. What I liked most about the episode was him mentioning a high net worth peer group called Tiger 21 that he joined. This group is consisted of 8 and 9 figure entrepreneurs and they’d do a deep dive on each other’s finances once a month.

So basically each month, they pick one person and that person has to do a “portfolio defense”. All of their assets, cash flow, spending, etc is seen by everyone in the group. The person explains what they are doing, future plans, etc and they get constructive criticism from the group. It’s a pretty radical concept but I found it super interesting. Finding a peer group like that would probably be super beneficial for most people if you approach it with an open mind and good intentions. You can check out the episode here if you want to hear more about it.

Four pillar freedom:

Four pillar freedom is one of my favorite blogs. It’s a personal finance blog, but there’s a lot of self-improvement content there also. The biggest lesson I probably learned from that blog is the power of compounding in blogging and SEO. Zach, the owner of the blog, scaled his blog from $0 to $3k per month, then $3k to $15k per month and now he’s close to doing $30k per month this year. He did all of that by just writing SEO-optimized blog posts for four hours a day. I really enjoy his content and he has a very manageable approach to building wealth and living on your own terms.

The Woke Salaryman:

I was introduced to The Woke Salaryman from the Four Pillar Freedom blog. It’s a fun and informative comic-style blog that talks about different finance topics. I learned a lot about saving, keeping a manageable overhead and other finance concepts from The Woke Salaryman. I enjoy reading their content and it’s a fun way to think about personal finance.

Rich Roll podcast:

The Rich Roll podcast is a podcast that talks about endurance sports, mental toughness and related topics. I really enjoy watching this podcast because it introduces me to people who are able to do extreme endurance achievements and gives me insight into how they are able to overcome extreme hardships. I don’t even have an interest in endurance sports, but endurance athletes have some of the most practical concepts about mental toughness and achieving life goals.

What I like most about many of the guests on the podcast is that many of them are late bloomers. These are people in their late 30s and 40s who decide to change their lives and become some of the best athletes in their sports’ history. I just watched a great interview recently with James Lawrence. He completed 100 ironman’s in 100 days. Pretty crazy stuff, you can check it out here.

Goals for 2022

I don’t have any set goals for 2022. Instead I’m focusing on the key daily actions I can take to move my business and life forward. I’m setting 4 main daily activities as my goal for 2022 and that’s how I’m going to judge my year. Here are my daily activities that I’m going to do in 2022:

  • 4 hours of focused work (writing blogs, guest posts, etc.)
  • Maintain a 300 calorie deficit
  • Reduce screen time to 3-4 hours
  • Spend 30 minutes reading

4 hours of focused work

The 4 hours of focused work is the most important daily activity I need to succeed in 2022. This year, I worked 6 days a week and average about 9-10 hours of work per day. Although this was difficult, I found that my actual time that I worked was closer to 4 or 5 hours. The rest of the time was spent being distracted, doing random work that didn’t matter, etc. By setting a time limit on my work, I’m forced to do the important work and not let it take up my entire day. If I get my important work done in 4 hours, the rest of the day is light work doing emails and other admin work.

Maintain a 300 calorie deficit

This will likely be the hardest for me to stick to long-term. I’ve spent weeks and months at a time sticking to a diet, but whenever I’m stressed, I revert back to my old eating habits. This is often because I used to set crazy calorie deficit goals like 1000 calories per day. 300 calories is something I know I can do on a daily basis and as I get better with my nutrition, it’ll get easier. I’ve already formed a daily habit of going to the gym, I just need to couple with good nutrition to see the results of my work.

Reduce screen time to 3-4 hours

Reducing my screen time is the meta habit that impacts all my other habits. Whenever I spend a ton of time on my phone, it’s highly unlikely that I’ll be workout, be productive with work, etc. When I consciously reduce my screen time, I have nothing better to do than my work and go to the gym. The cheap dopamine I get from hours of endless scrolling makes everything less enjoyable.

This also gave me time to actually sit with my thoughts. It’s crazy how rare boredom is when you have a phone. Whether you’re standing in line, shopping, driving, you can always be entertained. I had severe withdrawal the first few days I stopped using my phone as much. I’d see myself checking my pockets or being very fidgety. After a few weeks, I’ve started to use my phone in moderation and this helped a ton with my clarity and just overall happiness.

Spend 30 minutes reading:

Before I got caught up in school, work, etc., I used to enjoy reading. I’ve sort of lost most of my hobbies since I dropped out of college because most of my time was spent building and growing my business. I’d rationalize ignoring my hobbies by saying I’ll do it when I’m more established. Now that I’m aware of how much time I actually waste, I could’ve done all my favorite hobbies while getting the same results I have. I’m making a conscious decision to read things I enjoy over the next year.

This is actually how I found most of the things I do now like SEO, blogging, etc. I read Jeff Bezos’ last shareholder letter earlier this year and he talked about the impact of wandering. Many of the major product innovations at Amazon were a result of wandering. Instead of constantly focusing on efficiency, giving yourself time to wander will help you think about what you’re doing, where you’re going and how things can be better. I’m going to use this 30 minutes to just follow my curiosity and see where it takes me. I don’t have any expectations, I just want to enjoy the process and take time to decompress during an average day.

Overall, I’m extremely grateful for how my year went. I’m starting to see the fruits of some of the work I’ve been doing for years, so I’m going to continue to better myself. As I get older, I realize nothing is guaranteed, so I’m going to try to enjoy the process as much as I can. Looking forward to a year of focus, discipline and growth for myself.

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