2016 Annual Review: The Year of Transformation
It’s that time again! Every year I dedicate a couple days to reviewing my entire year, personally and professionally, so I can reflect on the health of my business, what I’m thankful for, goals I’ve accomplished, where I’ve succeeded, where I’ve experienced failure, and how I plan to move forward in the coming year.
The purpose of publishing this annual review is primarily for my own sake, but it provides the added benefit of holding myself accountable to my goals, being transparent with my students & readers, and perhaps it will provide inspiration for you to perform your own annual review! It’s really quite fun 🙂
The Theme for 2016: Transformation
As I look back on 2016, I realize the theme was “transformation”. With any transformation comes struggle and uncertainty, and I can confidently say I experienced my fair share of both in my business.
It was an eye-opening year for me, and I felt pressure to navigate my business in the right direction. But you know how the old saying goes, “Pressure makes diamonds”.
Here is a top-level summary of what you can expect, and then we’ll jump right in!
2016 Review Summary
- I added 6 courses to the Code College library
- I took a huge risk and launched my first flagship training course
- Udemy scared me, and what I did to fix a huge problem
- I published 5 blog posts + 22 YouTube videos
- I hired a team to help me in my business
- I caught the attention of Pat Flynn by singing karaoke on a boat
- My RescueTime Report (Plus my #1 most used app, embarrassed to say…)
- Some personal highlights
- The 2016 goals I achieved (and didn’t achieve)
- My 2017 goals
- My BOLD move
What did I create in 2016?
My Body of Work
When you run your own business, it’s easy to forget what you actually created throughout the year; things get busy and you’re thinking about now and the future. So when you take some time to truly reflect on your body of work, it’s surprising to see how much you can actually do in a single year. Here are the things I created:
I created (or helped create) 6 new online courses. Some were added to both Udemy and Code College, some are exclusive to Code College, and some are private courses only available to my email list.
- Ultimate AngularJS Course – this one is a guest course by Ryan Chenkie, a colleague and old friend. I coached him through the course creation process, and he provided me with a guest course on Code College.
- AngularJS Quick Start – another guest course by Ryan Chenkie. This one is a condensed version of the full “Ultimate” version.
- Get Freelance Clients – a 7-day video course all about how to get clients for your freelancing business.
- The Freelancing Freedom Course – my first official Flagship Training Program about starting & growing a successful freelancing business. It was successfully launched privately to my email list and was a huge eye-opener for me.
- The Sass Course – a coding course for front-end developers wanting to learn more the popular pre-processing language, Sass. I surveyed my audience earlier in the year and discovered this subject to be in high demand from my students.
- How to Craft the Perfect Portfolio – this was actually a live workshop for Web Professionals wanting to learn expert level strategies for creating a web portfolio. It was recorded and re-packaged as a separate product. It’s not really a course, but the replay is offered as a “course” on Code College.
I really didn’t blog much in 2016. I probably should have blogged more, but I did not make it a priority. That is going to change for 2017. The blog posts I wrote in 2016 were:
- 2015 Annual Review: A Year of Growth
- The new blog design
- Freelancing nightmares
- Travel Hacking a $10k Dream Trip for Free
- Learn jQuery for Free (repost)
YouTube has been a wildly successful traffic source for my brand. In only a few years, I’ve gone from less than 50 subscribers to nearly 30,000! I publish free coding tutorials and freelancing tips, and they’ve been dominating YouTube search results, which gets me a ton of traffic. Serving my YouTube audience will be a huge focus going forward. The YouTube videos I released in 2016 were:
- Travel Hacking Webinar with Matt
- How I really feel about people torrenting my courses
- What’s the “script” I should use for applying to jobs?
- How you do anything is how you do everything
- The Freelancing Freedom Course – Trailer
- Interview with John Sonmez from Simple Programmer
- Sass Course Blooper Reel
- Sass vs. CSS Race video
- 14 Sass Tutorials
Interviews & Features
In the online business world, getting featured by influencers in your niche is huge — you get social proof and you get put in front of a new audience who may have never heard of you before. It’s kind of like “leveling up”. I was featured on a few different sites/podcasts in 2016. You can read/listen below:
- Featured Story on VideoFruit
- Family & Freedom Through Freelancing – Live Limitless
- Brad Hussey on Becoming a Successful Freelancer – Simple Programmer
- Teaching Code Online with Brad Hussey – Learn to Code With Me
Freelancing & Client Work
This is an interesting one. I have surprising news regarding my freelancing business, so read to the end of this post to find out! I didn’t take on much client work in 2016, due to the demand of my online course business, but I invoiced 40 jobs for 11 separate clients. Much less than in the past, but that was an intentional choice.
One of the most notable projects, interestingly enough, was for my mom! It was obviously a pro-bono passion project, but the results it accomplished are noteworthy even on a professional level… Here’s the thing: my mom has cooked nearly her whole life, and while she’s not a professional chef, she’s well known for her passion for cooking. For years, she wanted to start her own cooking show but has never had the time.
Now that my parents are retired, they both have much more time on their hands. Long story short: I encouraged her to start filming “episodes” of “Bonita’s Kitchen”, and I set up her channel, created a brand, website, marketing strategy, content calendar, social media presence and have helped grow the Bonita’s Kitchen YouTube channel from 0 – 1,387 subscribers. We’re now working on monetizing the brand, working on a cookbook, and a line of “products”. She’s been featured on CBC news twice and is growing a highly engaged niche audience.
Traditional clients pay big money for those sorts of results, so I thought it was worth mentioning!
How did I spend my time in 2016?
A breakdown of my focus
I use a service called RescueTime, which constantly runs in the background of my computer and tracks all of my activity on my computer. Not only does it tell me which software, websites, and activities I’m using — it also organizes all of my activity into categories like Business, Design, Learning, Communication, and allows me to see how “productive” I have been throughout the year.
It’s a really useful (and free) tool if you want to know where you’re wasting time, when you’re most productive and how to optimize your workday.
25% of my time was spent doing Business Activities
- Facebook Ads
19% of my time in Design & Composition
- BradHussey Blog
- Apple Pages
16% of my time in Course Creation & Learning
- Code College
15% of my time in Communication & Scheduling
Top 3 Activities
- Gmail (Boo! This is embarrassing. I spent more time answering email than creating courses! Gmail makes me $0… Courses pay the bills…)
- Code College
- 71% of time spent on productive or very productive activities
- 29% of time spent on neutral, distracting or very distracting activities
- Early in the year, my most productive was between 8am – 10am (woke up really early)
- Later in the year, my most productive was between 10am-12pm (started getting lazy)
Important metrics in my business
Ultimate AngularJS Course
- 84 total students on Code College
- 1,234 total students on Udemy
AngularJS Quick Start
- 423 total students on Code College
Get Freelance Clients Video Course
- 112 total students
Get Freelance Clients Email Course
- 10,371 total students
- 31.3% open rate
- 2.9% click rate
The Freelancing Freedom Course
- 60 pre-order sales
- 75 launch sales
- ~16 refunds / failed payments
- 118 total students
The Sass Course
- 207 total students on Code College
- 184 total students on Udemy (minified version of course)
Code College Membership
- 119 new members added
- 150 total members
- 94,674 sessions (+225.17% from 2015)
- Top 3 viewed courses:
- AngularJS Quick Start
- Freelancing Freedom
- Bootstrap 4 Quick Start
- 4,839 new students
- 604 new paying customers
- 69,699 sessions (+52.37% from 2015)
- Top 3 pages (excl. Home):
- Start Here
- 14,891 new subscribers
- 17,417 total subscribers
- 15,249 subscribers gained
- 727,491 video views
- 27,366 total subscribers
- Most popular video:
- Bootstrap 4 Tutorial [#4] Code a Responsive Website, Part 1
- 70% profit margin
- 94% course & passive income
- 6% service & consulting income
Quick overview of what went well in my business
Online Business Growth
I dedicated significant time & effort to growing my online business (courses, tutorials, affiliate marketing, etc.), and that effort saw clear results. My online business grew significantly in 2016, and accounted for 94% of my total income! Creating online courses, marketing third-party products as an affiliate, and creating regular, high-quality training content is a ton of hard work, but it pays off!
Code College Monthly Members
When you’re an entrepreneur, recurring income is key to a successful business. This is why so many businesses are embracing the “subscription model” — think Netflix, your energy provider, your cell phone company. With Code College, a student can purchase courses “a la carte” or they can subscribe for a monthly fee and get access to everything. This is clearly a much better value for many students who want to learn a bunch of material, rather than one single topic.
In 2016, I focused on increasing the number of paid monthly subscribers. Before 2016, I didn’t really promote the subscription model, but in 2016 I experimented with a marketing plan that worked well. I offered new students a 30-day trial, where they get access to everything for just $5. After the 30-day trial expired, they could choose to cancel their subscription if they didn’t think the value was there, otherwise, their account would be upgraded to the standard monthly subscription. Obviously, some people would cancel after the 30 days, but as a whole, this strategy increased my monthly paid subscribers from 31 to 150 by the end of 2016. I plan to focus even more on growing the monthly membership in 2017 by incorporating a more refined marketing funnel, Facebook advertising, and optimized lead magnets to boost new trial sign ups.
The Freelancing Freedom Course
This course was a huge risk for me. When it comes to creating an online course and selling it, I would almost exclusively rely on Udemy to generate sales. Udemy does all the marketing, and in turn, takes significant cuts from each sale (depending on how the student purchased, i.e. Facebook ad, organic sale, affiliate marketing, direct email, etc.)
This is all fine and dandy, and has served me well (and continues to do so), however, it’s not my audience… I don’t “own” my list of students. If Udemy decides to go away tomorrow, so does my list of nearly 200,000 students! This is my main reason for creating CodeCollege.ca a few years back—to own my student list. Over the last few years, I’ve grown my email list to nearly 19,000 (at the time of this writing), and I knew that a large portion of my students wanted to start a freelance business or improve their current freelance business. After surveying my students and gathering valuable insight, I got to work on building a brand new course that wasn’t going to be launched anywhere but to my own email list.
The course took nearly 8 months to create from start to finish. I pulled out all the stops: I hired a team to manage my freelance business, stopped taking on new large projects, and shifted my schedule to focus almost exclusively on creating this course. Before I completed the course, I opened up a few spots for my students to pre-order, which was my way of validating if I should even continue with production. To my delight, I sold 60 pre-order seats, which validated that people actually wanted I was making. With some of the profits from the pre-orders, I hired a professional video marketing company in my city to film and produce a cinematic promotion video for the course and it was worth it.
In August 2016, I officially launched the course, and I opened enrollment for 7 days, which resulted in my largest, most profitable product launch to date! My strategy for selling seats included email marketing, Facebook advertising, and live webinars. The whole launch phase was exhausting, exhilarating and so rewarding — I think I worked harder and focused deeper in those 7 days than I did the 3 months prior!
Quick overview of some highlights in my personal life
When you have 2 young kids, it can be difficult to travel. The whole experience just involves more concentration, effort, stress and crisis management. Don’t get me wrong, it’s always worth it because the memories you create with your family in special new places is priceless. Another thing to note is, when traveling with young kids, the amount of stuff you have to pack for a 2-day trip is the same as a 2-week trip.
Family Vacation in Phoenix, Arizona
As a well-deserved break from the Canadian winter, we made our way south to Phoenix, Arizona and stayed at a family friendly resort. We enjoyed the sunshine, the lazy river, the cocktails, and eating nice food at different restaurants. We even rented a car and did a little side trip to Tucson.
Social Media Marketing World, San Diego, California
Social Media Marketing World is a huge annual convention hosted by Social Media Examiner in beautiful San Diego, California. I wanted to go to this convention for 3 reasons:
- I’d never been to a convention before
- It’s San Diego… there are waves.
- I wanted to meet some influencers in my field (specifically, Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income)
The convention was amazing. I learned a ton about online business, Facebook advertising, email marketing, and networking. Laura and Ilikai even came along to get a little vacation out of the trip! We stayed at a nice resort in Mission Beach, enjoyed the sunshine, the waves, and my favourite restaurant in San Diego — World Famous! There’s something magical about eating steak & lobster, drinking a local IPA and watching the sunset over the ocean with the love of your life.
Oh, and did I get to meet Pat Flynn?…I’ll just let this picture speak for itself 😉
My Brother’s Wedding, Brightsand Lake, Saskatchewan
In July 2016, we left the kids with the grandparents and went on an 8-hour road trip to a tiny little town in Northern Saskatchewan for my brother’s wedding. It was special for Laura and myself to have time to ourselves while getting to celebrate by brother’s nuptials! Laura and I even performed the music for the first dance. We created a medley of From The Ground Up by Dan and Shay interweaved with a handful of Great Big Sea songs (the Husseys hail from Newfoundland, and we’re big fans of GBS). You can listen to the song here.
Kimberley, British Columbia
Later in the year, we wanted to go on one more “family vacation” that didn’t involve flights. Lucky for us, Canada is beautiful, and you can vacation in some pretty beautiful locations without going too far. Driving is (sometimes) more manageable with kids, so we opted to go to Kimberley, British Columbia. We rented an Airbnb overlooking the valley, ate drool-worthy baked goods and swam in the local lake.
We Bought a House!
For the last 7 years of marriage, Laura and I have been renters, and we’ve moved 7 times. At the beginning of 2016, after moving cities, we finally felt we were ready to set some roots. We house hunted for about 6 months, and we finally found our dream home! We moved in at the beginning of December — just in time to host both Laura’s and my family for Christmas! We love it. I also have a new studio space that I’m currently remodeling 🙂
What Didn’t Go Well
Some things that didn’t go as planned
Earlier in 2016, Udemy restructured their entire pricing model, and it failed miserably for them and their instructors. It was so bad that high performing instructors on the platform lost tons in Monthly Revenue — my earnings dropped more than 80% in a 2 month period. Udemy has since realized how bad this mistake was and basically reverted back to the old pricing structure, which has helped improve my earnings (but it’s still at least 50% less than what I was earning before the change. I learned 2 things from this experience:
- Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
- Building on “rented ground” isn’t a reliable business model
Thankfully, I already knew the dangers of building a business on “rented ground” and I started building my email list, and launched CodeCollege.ca a few years ago. The positive takeaway from the Udemy debacle is that I hustled incredibly hard to build Code College, and improve other revenue streams. Moving forward, I will still create for Udemy (love my Udemy tribe!), but I will be focusing more on my own websites.
As I mentioned earlier, I wasted far too much time in Gmail, Slack and other applications that don’t truly push the needle forward. If I would have managed my time better, I could have created way more stuff, published more content, helped more people, made more money. That will change this year.
Team Management in my Freelancing Business
In 2016, I tried desperately to juggle a rapidly growing online business with a busy freelance business. It was the equivalent of burning the candle at both ends, and eventually, something was going to break — freelancing, my online business, or me! I anticipated this at the beginning of the year, so I hired a Project Manager / VA, a Customer Support VA, and ramped up my Web Developer VA’s hours to virtually “run” my freelance business for me, while I worked on my courses, helped my students, created new content, etc.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my team, and they’ve been very helpful. The problem was I spent way too much time managing them, in order for them to manage my freelance business. Looking back, communication wasn’t clear, I didn’t create a Standard Operating Procedure document for them to follow, and it resulted in some client frustration, a few projects taking too long to complete, and resources being delegated in the wrong places.
The takeaway here is — in theory, having a team to run a part of your business is a very good idea, and can dramatically free up your time, however, if you don’t have the proper training material or create Standard Operating Procedures, you’re going to spend too much time managing the people who are supposed to manage things for you.
My Bold Move for 2017
One huge thing I’m changing in my business
One of the great things about doing an annual review like this is you can clearly see what’s working, what’s not, and what you can do to improve your business (or life). The glaringly obvious thing for me is that my freelancing business has to change…significantly.
I have identified as a freelancer for almost 8 years…I mean, my flagship course is called Freelancing Freedom! But the catch is this – my online course business (courses, affiliate marketing, YouTube tutorials, blogging, email marketing, etc.) is growing at a near exponential rate, and it requires a ton of my time and effort (courses take me 1 – 6 months to create).
Not only does my online business earn me the bulk of my income, but it is where my heart lies right now and I have found great success in listening to my heart in the past.
So, for 2017, I’m not taking on any more client work. I have a couple projects that I’ve already signed on to, and I will be honouring those contracts, but for the foreseeable future, so I can better serve my students, I will be focusing my attention on:
- Launching Freelancing Freedom
- Producing more online courses for Code College
- Creating regular YouTube coding & freelancing tutorials
- Hosting more live workshops & webinars
Needless to say, I am a little nervous and mostly very excited for this transition.
How did I do?
In my 2015 annual review, I came up with a list of goals I wanted to achieve in 2016. Here’s how I did:
- Increase annual revenue at least 30% (almost! about 25% increase)
- 30,000 email subscribers (not this time. currently at 18k)
- 25,000 YouTube subscribers (nailed it! more than 28k)
- 100 paid Code College subscribers (nailed it! 150 paid members)
- Attend a conference (nailed it! SMMW16)
- Meet Pat Flynn (nailed it! met him at SMMW16)
- Get featured on SmartPassiveIncome.com (not this time. although I tried multiple times!)
- Get featured on EntrepreneurOnFire.com (not this time. although I tried multiple times!)
- Get featured on VideoFruit.com (nailed it! chatted with Bryan early in the year. featured as a “story” on VF)
I like to set far-reaching goals because they challenge me to be creative, force me to take risks, and inspire me to achieve greatness. Here are some of the primary goals I’d like to achieve in 2017:
- 35,000 email subscribers
- 50,000 YouTube subscribers
- 300 paid Code College monthly members
- Increase total revenue at least 25%
- 4 weeks vacation (spread out throughout the year)
- Fly first class somewhere
- Attend a conference
- Meet 3 influencers in person
- Get featured on Smart Passive Income
- Get featured on EOFIRE
What’s next for 2017?
I have some very big plans for 2017, and I’ve already been strategizing so I can start the year on the right note. Here are a few things you can expect from me in 2017:
More Training Content. Coding and freelancing YouTube tutorials on a regular basis. I’ll resurrect the 1-Minute Freelancer and rebrand it to be the 4-Minute Freelancer (name TBD). Regular tutorials & courses on Code College (within the paid membership). I plan to create companion blog posts with most YouTube videos as well, so I hope to pump out some real value this year.
Improved onboarding experience. Whether from my Blog, YouTube, or Code College, I want my Student Journey to be fine tuned so that you get the most value possible from me.
More Freelancing Freedom. I’ll be launching this course at least 3 times this year. Current students have experienced tremendous results from the course, and I’m excited to open it up for a new round of freelancers! Join the waiting list to be notified when seats are available.
Enter your name & email below to get on the waiting list for Freelancing Freedom. You’ll be the very first to know about launch.
If you’ve read this far, I appreciate you taking time out of your day for me. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the primary reason I write these reviews are for my own purposes, but I publish them publicly so that my readers & students can learn more about me and my business. Perhaps it will inspire you to make write your own annual review, make a big change, start something new, or grow your own business in 2017.
Do you have any outlandish goals or big plans this year? Don’t be afraid to share some of your goals in the comment section, I would love to hear from you!
Cheers & here’s to a mind blowing 2017!