2015 - A Look Back


Ryan Battles  •   Personal Growth

2015 - A Look Back

This has been a hard year to define success. People often ask me, “How is your business going?”…I’m not always sure how to answer that.

For the most part, my “business” is co-running Harpoon, my freelance financial tracking software. That is what I spend the most of my work time on, and what is slated to provide most of my income for the future.

However, right now, it is stagnant.

In my look back at 2014 I mentioned frustration that Harpoon hadn’t launched on time, that we experienced one setback after another and still nobody is able to sign up for the app. Well, now we have launched it (July 2015), and while we enjoyed some initial excitement and press, we are at a plateau of acquiring new users. In fact, the number of users that we have right now is pretty low and definitely isn’t contributing to my income.

So when people ask me how business is going, I stumble to find the right words to stay positive. I would like to say that we are blowing up and are hiring like crazy to keep up with the demand, that certainly makes for a better story. However, I usually end up saying something like:

“Harpoon is going well… we’re discovering what people want and are building out a bunch of new features.”

To be fair, that’s a true statement. We are getting some great feedback from users, and are building out features to meet their requests. Time will tell if that is going to be enough to break into this market and start attracting and retaining new customers.

So for now, we build…and have patience.

While I’m Waiting

My apologies for starting this post of kind of bleak. I wanted to get that out of the way so I could focus on what is actually going really well. As I mentioned, it’s been a hard year to define success. The reason why is that even though Harpoon isn’t achieving traditional success financially, I have been able to spend an incredible amount of time with my kids, help out a lot more around the house, and overall enjoy one of the best years as a husband and father that I ever have. Our marriage is strong, our kids are happy and healthy, and I am not missing these precious years stuck in a cubicle.

When I think about it that way, I’m essentially living the dream. We’re financially stable while I spend a ton of time with loved ones, traveling, and spending my days doing exactly what I want. What could be better?

I suppose the only thing that I’m missing is a good answer to the question about how business is going. It’s not as good as I’d like, but honestly I’m living the sweet life anyway.

Some of the fun activities I’ve experienced with the family this year:

  • Mornings at the zoo
  • 4 Vacations (Lake Michigan, Hilton Head, San Francisco, and Disney World)
  • Breakfasts and lunches out with the family
  • Afternoon dates with the kids
  • Day-hikes in the metroparks
  • Car time with my son to and from pre-school
  • Coffee with Heather while kids roam the playgrounds

On top of that we’ve been able to visit family and friends, become more involved with our church community, and renovate our home.

So where is the income coming from?

Okay, so far the math doesn’t add up. Renovations, vacations, no job, and Harpoon isn’t taking off? Where is the money coming from?

For one, we were wise to save a bunch of money while I had a full-time job, so some of that savings has helped us with the renovation project, but for the most part we’ve been living off of my wife’s part-time salary, as well as income that I have from other sources:

  • Freelancing - I’ve had a few freelance projects over this past year that range from building out websites for clients to managing marketing activity for startups. This has been about 40% of my income for the year.
  • Authoring - This was actually a great year for me as an author. I launched my SaaS Marketing Essentials book in January and have had steady sales all year. I’ve also written and published two more books on Amazon.com. The income from these three books has been another 40% of my income this year.
  • Passive Income - Several years ago my business partner Andy and I developed a few websites that are setup to provide passive income, Find Bacon and Director-ee (geared towards web designers and developers). These two sites have been chugging along and providing income each month with hardly any work on our parts. These provide the final 20% of my income this year.

Diving Deeper

My apologies if this is about to get boring, I’m also writing this post to chronicle the year for myself so I can look back on it :)

MicroConf

2015 was my first year to MicroConf, a conference in Las Vegas for self-funded startups (here’s my recap). Not only was I able to meet many great folks in person that I have been following over the years, but I learned quite a bit from the talks. I left the conference feeling inspired and renewed.

I’ve already bought my ticket to 2016’s MicroConf, which sold out in 7 minutes.

Masterminds

At MicroConf I kept hearing people talk about their mastermind groups, and what a difference they have made. Basically a mastermind group is typically 3-4 people that meet together on a regular basis for business discussions, group problem solving, resource sharing, and accountability.

This year I joined 2 mastermind groups (one for SaaS software and one for content marketers). I also wrote a blog post and released a podcast episode on mastermind groups.

I had to bow out of one of the groups due to scheduling, but I’ve always gotten something valuable out of every meeting.

Podcasting

I’ve always wanted to get into podcasting, and 2015 was the year I gave it a shot. I am big on repurposing content, so I decided to try a podcast where I simply read aloud my blog posts with some ad-lib thrown in there.

My goal here was to provide my audience with a way to consume content on the go, and perhaps reach new folks with a different medium. For the most part, this worked. I’ve had people tell me that the learned about me through the podcast, and I even reached the “New & Noteworthy” section of the iTunes store after launching.

I released 11 episodes before putting a pause on the podcast, in order to focus deeper on Harpoon. However, in 2016, I plan on releasing some new episodes as a part of my ongoing content strategy.

Find Bacon

This year I added some minor enhancements to Find Bacon after a discussion with my mastermind group. I was already brining in a small amount of income, and wondered if I doubled-down on it if we could generate some more.

I had a list of enhancements suggested to me by my peers, and sadly, none of them really moved the needle after implementation. I gave it about 2 weeks of work to try to take it to the next level by clarifying the message, building in some virality, and implementing weekly email updates to a growing list.

In all, while we are actively growing a list for the site on a daily basis, it isn’t heading anywhere fast, we we’ve decided to remove our attention from it for now and just enjoy the income it already produces without putting more time into growing it.

It is on auto-pilot.

Self-Publishing

In January I released SaaS Marketing Essentials. Sales were strongest at the beginning, but a steady mention on various podcasts and a recurring autoresponder that goes out with a coupon to new members of my mailing list has kept sales trickling in throughout the year.

I launched with packages ranging from $49 to $249, and after 8 months when sales started to taper off I reduced the prices to $29 to $99 while altering some of the offerings within the packages.

For 2016, I plan on removing the middle-tier package and providing more incentive for downloading the free chapter. I also plan on doing more promotion of the book throughout my site to drive more free downloads, while optimizing my autoresponder email sequence to encourage a purchase for qualified recipients.

In short, I’m hoping to keep selling this book this year, add some more value, and keep the whole process automated.

Amazon Books

I released two books on Amazon.com this year:

The 9 Habits of Successful Entrepreneurs - This book is essentially 9 blog posts that I’ve written throughout the year packaged up into a $2.99 PDF that I have formatted and optimized for a mobile reader. It was also my first experience publishing on the Kindle platform. To kick things up a notch, I also formatted it for print and sell that as well for $8.99. While I did reach a few top 10 lists for a while after publishing it, I realized that I needed to publish a lot more of these books if I was going to make a living off of them.

Using Periscope for Business - My second Amazon book released in August was trying to capitalize on the rising wave of Periscope users (a live-streaming app bought by Twitter). I also offered this book as a print version, both a little more expensive at $4.99 and $12.99. At the time, there were only two books on Amazon about Periscope, and according to Google Trends, the search volume for this app was blowing up. However, it just so happened that interest for Periscope peaked in August, and has been declining steadily over the past few months. That, and there are now dozens of books on Periscope within Amazon.com (although mine is still near the top). All that being said, this wasn’t a big money maker either, but it was a fun experiment and it is cool to have a printed book with my name on it sitting on the shelf.

With the two books on Amazon, I learned that just about anybody can publish a book, and many of them are very low quality. Even though I have hundreds of reviews with an average of 4.5 stars for my books, it is still hard to sell copies of them amongst the volume of books on Amazon. I either need to focus on more marketing for these books, or continue to release new ones in order to compound the income from Amazon. Since I’ve decided to focus on Harpoon for the time being, I’m going to resist the temptation to dive deeper into Amazon book selling and keep it in my back-pocket for a source of income for the future.

Email List

Between all of the writing, podcasting, networking, and marketing activities I’ve been involved with throughout the year, my email list has tripled this past year. This has been exciting, but expensive, as email marketing tools charge you buy the size of your list, and the larger it gets, the more you pay. Thankfully, when you find a good way to monetize your list, it is a worthwhile expense.

Since I have put a pause on a lot of the personal content marketing that I’ve been doing in the latter half of 2015 in order to focus on Harpoon, I haven’t been monetizing my list very well. One of my goals in 2016 is to brainstorm a way to keep up the effectiveness of my email marketing, without requiring me to spend a lot of time away from Harpoon to do so. I have some ideas, stay tuned :)

Simplification

At the end of 2015 I decided to take a few steps towards simplifying my life:

  • Deleted every app on my phone that was a distraction, time-waster, or time-filler. I removed games, Twitter, and even Safari. My goal is to spend more time interacting with my surroundings (instead of my phone), and save work-related apps for when I am at a computer working.
  • I deleted several of my social media accounts (Pinterest, Facebook, & Google+). I’m trying to reduce the ubiquity of my profile online, while keeping to a few that really make a difference (namely Twitter and LinkedIn).

At home we’ve simplified things quite a bit too, by getting rid of our own clutter, and encouraging the kids to donate more of their unused toys to charity. As a result our home is cleaner, more organized, and less stressful.

Strategy for 2016

So there’s the recap from 2015. I am excited for a few things moving forward into 2016, as I gain more clarity towards where I am heading as an entrepreneur.

My Blog

I shouldn’t give up completely on my blog. I understand that Harpoon needs to take up most of my time since it has the largest potential for future income. However, my blog gives me an outlet for my thoughts, provides connection with others, and expands my platform for reaching an audience.

Specifically, I plan to do the following with RyanBattles.com this year:

  • Continue to market evergreen content that I’ve already written on the blog. For example, this post is not evergreen since it is a 2015 recap, but my article on the effectiveness of journaling is relevant both now and into the future. Already I’ve queued up 30 of my most popular evergreen posts to go out regularly on Twitter to reach new audiences. This has been automated to continue until at least June 2016.
  • Expand my auto-responder sequence. I used to write once a week. This gave me something new every 7 days to send out to my audience. However, since scaling back the amount of writing that I’m doing, I’m going to set up a long list of emails to go out every week for new subscribers to my list. Right now I have 6 emails going out, I’d like to extend that to closer to 24.
  • Write a new post once per month. This is just good practice for me, and keeps my writing skills sharpened.
  • Record 13 more podcasts. Really, there is a lot of content that I have already written that can be turned into a podcast with low effort. I just need to set aside the time and make it happen. This will again help to enrich the existing content that I have on the blog and draw in new audience members.

Harpoon

2016 is going to be the year that makes or breaks Harpoon. We have a solid set of milestones to hit in regards to features, and we firmly believe that creating these features will alleviate 90% of the concerns of our customer base that tries the app and then ends up leaving for one reason or another. We are no longer surprised by customer feedback, as solid patterns have emerged and we have a clear roadmap of what we need to do.

That being said, development has traditionally been slower than we’d like, which is why I have kept saying throughout this post that Harpoon is going to be my main focus. We hope to finish up our major feature push within the first three months of 2016, then we’ll hit some marketing channels pretty heavily.

In the meantime, we’re not going to ignore marketing, just focus on channels that will continue to provide benefit for the long-term. For example, we’re not going to spend money on advertising right now, but we are going to grow our content marketing and blogging channels.

Educational Products

As the Amazon sales are nothing impressive, I’m going to pull my two books from Amazon and begin selling them myself through Gumroad.com and my own website. This will allow me to offer coupon codes to my audience and improve my own commissions.

As I anticipate learning a lot from marketing Harpoon in the second quarter of 2016, I will likely begin blogging more regularly on my own site, sharing our lessons learned. Done correctly, this should be great content for a new book to be released towards the end of the year. So, I’ll say it here, I’d like to write my fourth book in 2016. Hopefully it will be a success story from our efforts growing Harpoon :)

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