I'm trying to get a book deal (in a weird way) →

State of the Union 2017, and Preview of 2018

Another year, another handful of lessons learned! I’ve come to appreciate the value of reflecting on a year as a whole (in life and business) and then sharing my thoughts and findings.

As a self-employed person, it’s very easy to get caught up in “the work.” Keeping your head down and trying to do ALL the tasks. But taking a moment to look back at where we’ve been helps us see more clearly where we want to go in the future. I thoroughly enjoy writing these annual reviews, and highly recommend you do the same.

Year in review

If you’ve never written a “State of the Union” of your own, feel free to follow the format I use below (and you don’t have to call it a State of the Union, you can call it a Year in Review, or some fancy name you come up with!)

I’ll link to my previous annual reviews at the bottom of this article. It feels like just yesterday I was writing the first one of these, my how time flies…

What went well in 2017

We got married!

Marriage has been a topsy-turvy topic in my mind. I have many conflicting feelings about the institution of marriage, but that’s for another time. What I realized, in one Uber ride home for an airport in January, was that we didn’t have to get married like everyone else. We didn’t need to do anything traditional or that served other people’s ideas of what a wedding was supposed to look like. Instead, my (now) wife Caroline and I had a “marryment” on a cliff, and it was absolutely magical. It’s cliche, but I definitely married my best friend last year. We’ve had so many laughs, adventures, and life-changing conversations since we first started dating in 2010. I happily put a ring on it (a ring that doesn’t have a diamond on it!) Oh, and we enjoyed tequila and donuts on our wedding day, overlooking our favorite spot in San Diego together. It was wonderful.

And of course Caroline made a simple website to remember our special day.

Jason and Caroline Zook Wedding

(Photo by Rad + In Love Photography)

Work/life balance was 👌🏻

This is one of those things we all strive for, but feels like a constant moving target. And while that’s true, trying to find balance is a constant moving target, I feel like my wife Caroline and I did a great job of living while working in 2017. Sure, we had our stressful moments, which I’ll share in a bit, but as a whole 2017 was a year very well lived!

Whole lotta travel ✈️

Piggy-backing off balance, we were able to take a few dream trips last year. The first was a 2-week adventure with our friends Omar and Nicole in Italy. We spent time in Milan, Florence, Rome, and Sicily, and ate our way through that beautiful country. Then over the summer we checked Iceland off our bucket list when my friend and business co-founder Zack married his best friend Kelsey (and graciously invited us to the Icelandic festivities). The food in Iceland certainly didn’t compare to that of Italy, but the adventures we had and things we saw absolutely made up for it. Toward the end of the year we knocked another item off our travel bucket list: Tulum, Mexico. We’d heard rave reviews and drooled over the white sand beach photos/videos, and decided to make it our year-end retreat and 2018 planning session. Tulum did not disappoint, even though we barely left the coolest hotel we’ve ever stayed at. We also took multiple trips back to Florida to visit our family, as well as a few trips here and there to visit friends across the country. Needless to say, a whole lotta travel! (Videos and full trip recaps are coming at some point in 2018…) Here’s everywhere we went in 2017:

  • Asheville, NC
  • Italy (Milan, Florence, Rome, Sicily)
  • Boulder, CO
  • Iceland (the Golden Circle and more!)
  • Joshua Tree, CA
  • Vancouver Island, British Columbia
  • Boston, MA
  • Fernandina Beach, FL
  • Jacksonville, FL
  • Tulum, Mexico
  • Jekyll Island, GA

Controlling my use of social media (and still having friends & family!)

In 2016 I quit Facebook. It’s been glorious to avoid that dumpster fire. In 2017 I knew I would be using social media sites (really just Twitter and Instagram) quite a bit less. How much less? After tracking my time spent online over the course of 4 weeks I realized I only spend 5% of my time on social media sites. HUZZAH! While this may seem like a silly thing to include in the “what went well” section, controlling how I use social media has been instrumental in staying in creation mode, coming up with new ideas, and not letting news feeds change how I feel on a day to day basis. Oh, and I’ve still been able to have real friendships and hang out with other amazing humans!

Another JasonDoesStuff website redesign

I’ve come to the realization that we should all be redesigning our sites on (at least) an annual basis. Unless you’ve REALLY nailed down what you love to do and the branding/copy for that, redesigns are fantastic ways to continue to hone your message and execute your ideas. JasonDoesStuff went through its biggest redesign to date in the beginning of this year. You can read all the details about it, but I’m still super happy with how the new site turned out.

JasonDoesStuff website traffic nearly doubled 😱

In 2016, JasonDoesStuff saw 323,600 visitors, which is amazing when you think about that as a group of actual human beings. This past year saw a nice steady increase in organic traffic, thanks to the SEO lessons I learned from Matt Giovanisci. Here are a few highlights:

  • Total visitors (aka sessions) – 533,600 // 63% increase from 2016
  • Most visited article – Social Media Detox (again!) // 171,000 visitors (awesome!)
  • Traffic from social media sites – 8,053 visitors // 1.5% of total traffic (hah!)
  • Articles written – 24 // Down from 43 in 2016
  • I wrote less, I promoted less, but traffic still increased 👍🏻
  • My favorite article I (c0-)wrote in 2017 – Breaking Out of the 40-Hour Work Week

You may be thinking, Jason, why don’t you try to get more traffic from social media, that’s a huge opportunity! And while that’s a completely fair question, I simply don’t want to rely on the tactics and effort it takes to grab attention from folks on FB, Twitter, etc. Plus, history has shown that if I continue to focus on writing good content and optimizing existing content for search engines, I’m getting rewarded with increases in organic traffic.

JasonDoesStuff.com Analytics

BuyMyFuture became BuyOURFuture 👫

The big business move for me in 2017 was transitioning BuyMyFuture to BuyOurFuture (with my wife Caroline… you may be seeing a trend for 2017!) We decided the time had come to combine business-forces and ratchet up the awesome of BuyMyFuture. In March we opened the doors to BuyOurFuture and were pleasantly surprised by how it was received. We did a second launch in September, and even recorded a little daily video journal.

BuyMyFuture/BuyOurFuture has turned out to be an amazing project, not only from a revenue standpoint, but in building a community of 400+ creative human beings that we genuinely enjoying chatting with on a daily basis and creating things for. We have another plot twist in 2018 with BuyOurFuture which I’ll hint at in a few paragraphs.

BuyOurFuture Testimonials

What didn’t go well in 2017

Automating our emails and course sales 🤔

Hmmm, I’m not exactly sure I’d consider this a failure, but more an experiment that we’re still toying with. Essentially, we wanted to take existing articles/newsletters and create a solid experience for new subscribers to get value from our older (but still awesome) content. We intended on that including a hands-off promotion process for some of our courses, but we never really got that far. I give my wife Caroline a TON of credit for diving into this super complex world of automation in our new email provider Drip (aff link). This is definitely something we’re going to spend time on in 2018 and figure out what to do next.

This is a very verrrry small preview of the intricacies that go into automated workflows in Drip…

Drip workflow madness

Spruce Metrics (building software is hard!)

What a roller coaster Spruce Metrics has turned out to be. What started as a super fun project with my friend Matt in 2016 kind of crashed and burned (a few times). I’ll save you all the nitty gritty details, but Matt has stepped away from Spruce, which was completely mutual and amicable (thankfully!) My friend Conrad, who helped me create Bumpsale, came on board mid-2017 and we’ve been completely shifting the direction of Spruce. It will continue to be a business analytics app, but we strongly believe that Spruce needs to do things FOR you. We have plans for weekly email reports and other things to help you track the growth of your online biz. I’m excited to turn the Spruce ship around and deliver a great product, especially to the Founding Members that took a chance on us in 2016.

…Speaking of Bumpsale

Poor little Bumpsale. You were ignored in 2015, you were mentioned in 2016’s review, and in 2017 not much happened with you. BUT… I’m not upset about this, because so much of my biz partner Conrad’s time was spent working on Spruce Metrics. Nonetheless, we’ll see what next year brings for little ole Bumpsale. Fun fact: We did have a 37% increase in “connected volume” (meaning, people using Bumpsale and making money with it).

Building a savings buffer

We wanted to have $50,000 in our saving account by the end of the year, but we ended up spending a bunch more on travel in 2017. I’m not upset at all by this, because I truly believe in enjoying our money and spending it on experiences we’ll remember forever. That being said, building up a financial cushion is important, so this will be a priority in 2018 for sure.

Releasing my second book, Do It Differently

I’ll chat more about this in the “what’s coming in 2018” section below, but I didn’t get my second book out the door. I absolutely could’ve released Do It Differently, but I chose to use that time, energy, and attention on bigger projects. Not upset at all about this decision, just wanted to admit that I had it on my 2017 to-do list, and it didn’t get done.

More tools, less content

Arrrgggg! I didn’t get a single “tool” created and out the door in 2017. I did, however, enjoy watching my buddy Bryan Harris crank out this tool, this tool, and this tool. It was fun to watch him actually get those things out the door (but it frustrated me that I couldn’t prioritize them for my own projects – that’ll change in 2018!)

What surprised me in 2017?

Going vegan was a huge (but awesome) surprise

We actually made the leap to eating 100% vegan at home at the end of 2016, but let’s just call it 2017. After watching a few documentaries about food, I picked up the book Eating Animals and it changed my life. If you want to hear me talk about our move to veganism you can listen to this podcast episode or this podcast episode. We’ve stuck with eating vegan at home and we’ve never felt better (nor do we miss meat). I no longer subscribe to the myth that you need ALL THE PROTEIN in your diet as I’ve stayed at my 230-pound fighting weight and haven’t eaten any animals in an entire year.

Full disclosure, we try to eat vegan when eating out, but on our Italy trip, it would have been nearly impossible, so we ate vegetarian (still no meat!)

Reading more books

I read 45 books in 2016 and that trend continued in 2017 as I read 33 books. My genre of choice has shifted from non-fiction business books to science fiction and non-fiction autobiographies (or biographies). My favorite books of 2017 were:

I started writing 1-sentence reviews (including emojis) for all the books I’ve read and you can read those here.

Selling ofCourseBooks (OCB)

It was never our intention to sell OCB after Paul, Zack, and I created this piece of software during a season of the Invisible Office Hours podcast. But, your focus changes, and ours did when it came to supporting OCB. I put some feelers out and a BuyOurFuture member (hi Reed! 👋) ended up purchasing OCB from us. I’m super happy to have OCB in good hands and still in the “family.”

Diving into the craaaaazy world of Cryptocurrency (Bitcoin)

Oh boy… If you’ve been following the trajectory of Bitcoin, or any cryptocurrency, you know what a crazy adventure it’s been in the past year-ish. In 2013 I was going to purchase 10 Bitcoin when the price was $100 per coin. However, we were $100,000+ in debt and it seemed like money I shouldn’t spend. I’m not upset, those 10 coins would only be worth about $180,000 right now (haha!) Nonetheless, after reading countless articles and watching the Banking on Bitcoin documentary we decided to invest some of our riskier investment money into Bitcoin, Etherium, and LiteCoin. As of writing this article we have $7,000 total invested and our crypto portfolio is worth $21,500. That’s a 122% ROI! Not. Too. Shabby.

I believe in cryptocurrency as a long-term investment, but I’m certainly far from an expert. We look at our crypto portfolio as something we could lose and it wouldn’t kill our overall investments. The money we put in crypto only accounts for ~10% of our “portfolio.” (Gosh, I feel like such an adult writing about diversified investments!)

What’s ahead (projects) for 2018?

Un-named huge project 🙊

Caroline and I are making a huuuuuuge move in 2018. After many, many, many conversations, we’ve decided to take a big risk. I’m horrible at keeping secrets, so I can’t continue to write about this new project. We will, however, be doing a publicly viewable build out of this new project in mid-January. Should be fun to watch!

Do It Differently book is coming in 2018!

Heyo! This bad-boy has been in the works since I wrote the first draft publicly at the end of 2016. I’m happy to report that my second book will be coming out in 2018, but not before I try something weird to attract a traditional book publisher. The book itself is a giant leap in quality from my first book, Creativity For Sale, but that’s no huge surprise since I’d barely done any writing at all when I wrote my first book in 2014. A big shoutout to Caroline for putting in a ton of work to make my second book awesome.

Sustainably growing Teachery 📈

In 2017 I wanted to focus on growing the customer base for Teachery, but I didn’t want to invest too heavily in marketing. Instead, we brought on a third partner, the aforementioned Zack (whose wedding we went to in Iceland!) Zack has been cranking on Teachery along with my original co-founder Gerlando. We released an entire new course editor interface and finally got some new features out the door. We’re trying to get a few more things added to Teachery in Q1 of 2018, and then we’ll be shifting focus to some fun/unique marketing efforts. My goal is to 10x our current customer base as that would create enough monthly revenue to pay all of us a full-time salary. Not sure that can happen in 2018, but we’ll find out!

Fun fact: In 2016, Teachery course creators generated over $380,000+ in sales. In 2017, that number jumped to $1,130,000! Super proud of that for our customers and hope to continue to see that number grow.

Investing in Elon Musk (AKA: Buying a Tesla Model 3)

Yep! I was one of those people who put down $1,000 when the Model 3 was announced. I will admit that we have a perfectly good vehicle (our 2013 VW Tiguan) that’s in great shape, but the decision for us to upgrade is based on a few factors:

  1. We want to support Elon Musk to continue changing the world, just buying Telsa stock didn’t feel like enough.
  2. We don’t want to continue to contribute to climate change, so going vegan and driving an electric car are the two biggest impactful moves we can make.
  3. I have a passion for cars and have put that passion on hold for a few years. Our Model 3 reservation should come up in late February or early March.

We’re excited to be Tesla owners!

A better system for charitable giving

This is something we’ve been talking about prioritizing for awhile. Caroline and I donate every year to multiple causes, but it’s very sporadic (which isn’t a bad thing, because at least we’re doing something!) We want to get more organized and contribute more in 2018. I’d love to get to a place where we’re donating $100,000 per year like Mr Money Mustache – wowzers!

Continuing to focus on balance

It’s really easy as a self-employed person to get sucked into a project (or two, or three) and sacrifice health and other things. While OREOs are vegan, they aren’t a great replacement for vegetables and real meals. I know we won’t be traveling nearly as much in 2018 as we did in 2017, but we’ll prioritize shorter road trips and continue enjoying the life we’ve created for ourselves.

How am I framing 2018?

Each year I like to pick a word to use as a point of focus. These are the words I’ve picked the previous three years:

  • 2015: Experimentation
  • 2016: Moderation
  • 2017: Different

I don’t know that I fully embodied the word “different” in 2017 (at least, not as different as I would have liked to have done things). I do know that it was always in the back of my mind and the word different is ingrained in my soul, so I think I’m doing okay there – ha!

What’s my word for 2018? Predictability

A big lesson I’ve learned over the past few years is that I’m getting too old for the unpredictable spikes in revenue associated with the “launch model” of online business. That model has served my wife and I very well financially since 2013, but it’s also been a stressful grind. With our new upcoming secret project, and putting more focus in growing Teachery’s (and Spruce’s) revenue, my goal in 2018 is to have more predictable income. I want to rely less on launching and more on building up consistent, predictable recurring revenue.

2018 feels like a year that will have more of a financial focus than years past, but that’s just the nature of writing these annual reviews. You see in one year you need one thing, and the next you need another. While we are focused on revenue growth in 2018, it’s not about unlimited and monstrous growth. We have specific, achievable milestones we want to hit (which, when we hit, will make things like increasing saving and charitable giving much easier to accomplish).

It’s time to write your 2017 review, 2018 preview, and pick your framing word

Writing your review doesn’t need to happen in January. You don’t have to do these annual reviews when everyone else does them, just prioritize actually doing them. And, whether you publish your review/preview/word publicly is completely up to you. It might just be a great exercise to do with a loved one, business partner, or Internet BFF.

If it helps you get your review and preview done, I’d happily read yours! You can follow the format I’ve laid out here and then email me your review

  • What went well in 2017?
  • What didn’t go well in 2017?
  • What surprised you about 2017?
  • What’s ahead for 2018?
  • What’s your word for 2018?

Remember, this review is as much about business as it is about life. For us, those things are nearly one and the same. They certainly don’t have to be for you 😉.

Thanks for reading and being part of my journey!

Read my 2016 State of the Union
Read my 2015 State of the Union