One of my favorite things to do at the end of each year is plan my Yearly Theme. It’s becoming a bit of a tradition and I’ve even got my wife in on the action this year. I find it’s better to have a guiding set of principles than a number of promises I may or may not1complete. 2020 caused many people to change how they do things, and I was no different. that’s why for 2021, my yearly theme is going to be The Year of Opportunity.
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Intro: Hey, everybody, happy new year, and welcome to Episode 200 of How I Built It. Now, I have a small confession to make. There are actually more than 200 episodes with bonus episodes and things like that, but this is the official 200th episode that is numbered that way. The URL is howibuilt.it/200. It’s the 200th main episode as opposed to a bonus episode. So we’re rolling with it. Happy 200th episode. Happy 2021.
This episode is brought to you by Restrict Content Pro, TextExpander, and Hostinger. You will hear about them later on in the episode. I just said “episode” about a hundred thousand times. I am super amped up, I’m excited because I am telling you about one of my favorite topics. It’s a solo episode. I’m telling you about my yearly theme. Now, the yearly theme is something I’ve been doing for a few years. If you need a little refresher on what a yearly theme is, you can find a description in the show notes as well as a couple of resources. But I learned about yearly themes from one of my favorite podcasts called Cortex by CGP Grey and Myke Hurley. They have crafted the idea of a yearly theme. They even have this fantastic journal to accompany the idea which I have. Myke or Grey, if you’re listening, I will happily subscribe to a yearly theme journal to get one quarterly.
In any case, here’s how Myke and Grey described yearly themes over on their site. “Instead of resolutions, we set an overall idea of how we would like to approach each year or season. This becomes almost like a guiding principle for our work and our personal lives for that period.” So, first of all, a yearly theme, it doesn’t actually need to be yearly for the entire year. It could be a season. Last year, I had the year of depth, but I switched. We’ll actually talk about that in a little bit. But I loved this idea when I first heard it, and I’m all in now.
The first time I did a yearly theme was 2019 and it was the year of new content, though I would argue that perhaps this year or last year, 2020, was a better year for new content for me. Then in 2020, I decided that my year would be the year of depth. Now this year, if you haven’t jumped ahead or read the blog post, is the year of opportunity. This has become a bit of tradition for me to plan the yearly theme. I even have my wife in on the action this year. Her year is the year of celebration. As a quick sidebar, I love her yearly theme because she says ee didn’t get to celebrate a lot in 2020. There were many missed opportunities, especially because she’s a nurse. So we played it extra cautiously when deciding if we should go to gatherings or not. More often than not, we didn’t. So she wants to make 2021, probably the back half, the year where we celebrate more. And I love that.
So I find that having a yearly theme it’s better to have a guiding set of principles than a number of promises I may or may not complete. I definitely will not complete those. If every year I say I’m going to lose 15 pounds and I don’t, what’s the point of even saying it? I actually lost 18 pounds in 2020. 2020 caused many people to change how they do things and I was no different. I reflected on my processes, how I could be more productive given these extreme constraints. So, for 2021, I decided my theme is going to be the year of opportunity.
Before we get into exactly what that means, I do want to evaluate my 2020 theme. As I said, my 2020 theme was the year of depth. Suffice to say, 2020 did not go as planned for most of us. When the pandemic hit in March, my wife and I realized that with her being a nurse, we would see no reduction in her hours and she would not be working from home. So with her still going to work and me being self-employed, we didn’t really have a surplus of time on our hands. In fact, with schools and daycares closing, my daughter would be home, and so I lost workdays.
Erin, my wife, her normal schedule is three 12 hour shifts, which I recognize is more flexible than a lot of people with me being self-employed and her working three weekdays or three days during the week. She does have to work some weekends. But with her normal schedule being three 12 hour shifts, I decided I’d work the three of the days that she did not work. And then we would have one day where we were both off for our family.
With one kid, it was fine. Sometimes we had a hard time filling the days. We still could have sent her to like virtual daycare but they were essentially charging us the same amount of money for us to then teach her whatever their curriculum was. The main point of us paying for daycare was that so we could both work on certain days. So we decided to not do the virtual daycare. So we had to come up with our own activities. That has continued most of the year. Again, we didn’t bring in a babysitter or anything like that, especially in the early days of the pandemic because we weren’t sure… I’m overweight, I have asthma, and we weren’t sure what the effects on our daughter would be. So we didn’t want to risk bringing COVID-19 into our house.
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Joe: Now, I should also say at this time, Erin was pregnant with our second—a boy. So we slightly benefited from that in the sense that if you are pregnant at her hospital, they won’t give you COVID patients. So she wasn’t completely out of the woods. Like she wouldn’t go help her co-workers if they needed it and they had a COVID patient. But for the most part, I feel like we could rest easier than many healthcare frontline health care workers. Anyway, that continued most of the year except for three months from July to October when Erin was on maternity leave for the birth of our son Louis.
So I’m telling you all this because the reduction in work time, the reduction in free time meant that I didn’t do as much reading as I would have liked. I didn’t spend as much time on the business as I would have liked, and I definitely didn’t narrow down my services due to uncertainty in the market. There were a lot of things in flux because of the global pandemic. So I still did pretty well. I don’t think really, my bottom line was hurt all that much, thank God. But I did lose business early on because my new Done For You service for podcasting had just launched and I was courting a few potential clients. But with the uncertainty, they determined that that service was not something they wanted to focus on in the year. So I’m kind of resetting for 2021. But as a result, I didn’t get to go deep or as deep on that service as I thought or as I hoped.
Now, that said, I did manage a few wins for the year of depth. I did successfully evaluate tools and services to help me save time. I hired a lot more than expected. I brought on a new transcriber, I brought on a video editor and I brought on a virtual assistant. Those things were due in part to the fact that I was spending 40% less time working. So if I wanted to accomplish my goals, I had to hire out. Assume that my business expenses or my revenue would be able to cover those new expenses. Luckily, because I wasn’t traveling as much, most of my travel budget moved into paying contractors. So I think that worked out really well. I feel like that was a smart move on my part.
I also pumped out a ton of content this year and continued my path towards establishing myself as a podcasting expert. One of the things I did was hire a PR expert to work with me and come up with a plan for how to help establish myself in the podcasting niche or help establish myself as an expert in podcasting. We actually determined a different niche, which I’m very thankful for. So I believe I’ve made significant strides in moving from WordPress developer who podcasts to podcaster who is also a developer. So those were a few wins in my year of depth.
I think the flimsiest promise or goal for my year of depth was to pick like four topics that I wanted to go deep on and read about those topics only. The idea was pick a subject per quarter and just read about that. That fell to the wayside pretty quickly. And honestly, it was kind of a silly idea anyway. So I didn’t read as much as I wanted, but the books I did read I was pretty happy with.
In June, when it was obvious that this pandemic wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon, I did decide to change my yearly theme to better reflect my goals for the remainder of 2020. Again, in June, it was pretty obvious that the only part of the year where I would be working full-time is during my wife’s maternity leave. And I wanted to take about a month off too for paternity leave and spend some time with my family and my new son. So I was thinking eight weeks at best for the remainder of the year I’ll have to work full time. So I changed my yearly theme. I changed it to the year of consistency and decided that whatever I managed to do, I would do it consistently. This was mostly in the realm of creating content.
I think that was a big success if my goal was to publish content weekly. I managed to publish three pieces of content per week: an episode of this podcast, a blog post usually on Mondays and a YouTube video usually on Wednesdays. Towards the end of 2020. I also started live streaming weekly. I would love to do that more consistently like at a consistent time. I don’t think day of the week is feasible for me right now because, again, we’re open to bringing on an in-home babysitter assuming that they have the same level of safety that we have. It’s been hard because we are forward and tell people that Erin’s a nurse. We don’t want them to be blindsided by that, so we tell them upfront. And understandably a few potential babysitters have said no.
But Erin, luckily, she has the vaccine or is getting the most of the vaccine now. So we are considering bringing on a babysitter to be at home with both kids on days Erin works so that I can maybe get some work done as well. But nothing set in stone. I’m assuming that, at least for the beginning of 2021, I will be working at this same cadence. So in any case, that was a weird sidebar. But basically, I can’t pick a single day to live stream yet because my work week is dependent on my wife’s work week, which changes from week to week.
So I should say that my year of consistency I think was a huge success in two ways with me creating consistent content. And that is I was able to open up a new income stream, which is I hit the minimum requirements for YouTube so I could start monetizing my channel. It’s been going for a little over a month and I made about 100 bucks, which is not a ton, can’t live off of it, but it’s something. It’s more than zero.
It also significantly increased one of my other income streams, which is affiliate income. In fact, it 5Xed. It five 5Xed my Amazon affiliate income. That’s not including other more lucrative affiliate programs that I’m a part of. I think that was a huge success. I also consistently put out some major projects, including Podcasts Lift Off to LinkedIn Learning Courses, and a book, which is very exciting. Usually, I give myself a grade on my yearly theme. I’m not giving myself a grade this year, but I am generally happy with the way the year went all things considered. That’s a review of 2020, the yearly theme and how it switched.
Let’s get into the year of opportunity. But first, a word from our first sponsor.
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Joe: Okay. So let’s talk about the Year of Opportunity. The main goal of the year of opportunity is to create more and better opportunities for myself. I want to be more open-minded and I don’t want to do things just to do them. I’ll talk about this in a minute. But blogging weekly, for example, was something I was doing just to do. I didn’t have a real plan in place. It was pretty clear that it didn’t benefit me very much. The reason I’m choosing the year of opportunity now is life presents you, us, me, life presents all of us with lots of opportunities that we might miss, or where we just say no. And I’m at a point in my life where I want to slow down and make fewer snap judgments and be open-minded. I’m self-employed. I have two kids now. The main way that I networked was going to events, and I didn’t go to any events in 2020. So I want to be more open-minded and make fewer snap judgments.
Again, there are a few reasons why I think that this is a perfect theme for me in 2021. Like I said, I make lots of connections through in-person events that are not happening. Honestly, I have one on the books. It’s a pretty small group of people getting together in Orlando if all things go well by the time the event happens. But I don’t really know how many conferences I’m going to be going to. The major ones I usually go to are already announced as online only. So the connections I make are through in-person events aren’t happening.
The reason that this works for me is I’m generally more open-minded when I meet someone in person because I can get a better read on them. I’m a pretty good judge of character, I believe and I’ve been told. So when I meet somebody in person and talk to them, I can better judge where they’re coming from. Since most of my opportunities to connect with people are online now, my shields are up more often, and I’ve said no to more things. This includes people who I talked to regularly who are like, “Yeah, we’re definitely gonna work together.” I’m just kind of like, “I don’t believe you.”
I’ve always been skeptical. I’ve especially been skeptical when people overhyped opportunities, when they say things to me, like, “Oh, you can make thousands of dollars a month doing this.” And I’m just like, “If it’s so easy to make thousands of dollars a month doing it, how come everyone’s not doing it?” So I’ve definitely turned down opportunities because of that. But I do feel like I’ve missed chances by saying no. I feel like my network is maybe smaller than it could be. It is a big network. I’m a connector and I do talk to a lot of people, but I feel like I have a smaller network, especially because it didn’t really grow much this year.
I maybe have fewer income streams because I’ve just kind of shut down certain ideas because I didn’t give them enough thought. I’m also kind of worried that I’m becoming a curmudgeon. I’m just kind of like cranky about a lot of things, and I feel like being open-minded and making fewer snap judgments will serve me better and make me less of a curmudgeon. While my skepticism has generally served me well, I have broken off bad deals that I had a bad feeling about. I’ve just said no to things that I knew would go sideways and then ultimately went sideways.
So I feel like my skepticism has generally served me well. But I’m sure I’ve also missed opportunities because of it, partnerships with others conversations I shut down too quickly, or saying no because I thought the other person was just out for themselves and using me in the process. I don’t know, maybe it’s because I’m a New York Italian and maybe there’s something in our culture that’s just like, “What do you really want from me sort of thing.” But I feel like I’ve missed opportunities because of that.
So I definitely want to strike the right balance between being a skeptic and taking a calculated risk. I won’t say yes, for the sake of saying yes but I won’t be so quick to say no either. Some examples of this include being more open to guest pitches. In the past, I have either ignored or just outright shot down guest pitches when I felt the person was being too, let’s say, self-indulgent or self-promoting. So I wouldn’t even give them a chance. But now that I am doing more of this outreach myself, I’m trying to be more open-minded about it. So I’m actually reading the pitches, I’m seeing what do they want to talk about.
I’ll still say no if it’s very clear that they’re just promoting themselves. I did this the other day. Because the person basically talked about how great they were, and then they said, “And we want to promote our product.” And I’m like, “Well, I have sponsors if you want to promote your product. My guests are here to provide value for my listeners. I don’t just want my show to be a 30-minute long pitch for your product.” But I do want to be more open to that.
I also want to do more guest posts or speaking without being a pain about it. I’ve taken a weird stance over the last couple of years that if it’s not a WordCamp and someone asks me to speak, I believe I should be paid. Maybe that’s not a weird stance. A speaker should be paid. But I also understand that there are benefits, there could be benefits for me without getting paid. So especially in a year where I’m trying to expand into a different niche and establish myself as an expert in a different niche, perhaps doing a free speaking gig where I can soft pitch myself at the end, it would behoove me to take on those speaking gigs or those guest posts. So I’ve softened a little bit on that after hardening probably in 2019. So I definitely want to be more open about that.
Connecting with more people on LinkedIn, if I don’t know somebody personally, I’ve always just said no and ignored them. Because too many times I’ve connected with somebody and then they immediately try to sell me. Karen North actually gave this advice in an episode last year. But what I’ll do instead is start a conversation if I think that the person is true to having a good connection, where we can benefit from each other. And if it seems like they’re a good match, then I’ll connect with them.
Then finally, spending money on the right products and services. That’s the last example I have written down here, which I’ve done a lot of in 2020. So I don’t think I’ll have any problems doing that in 2021. I always want to try new things and learn new things. Something that is often tied to my yearly theme. But I want these things to be tied to some opportunity now. So instead of just taking an online course for the sake of taking it, I want to determine how does this increase more opportunities for me?
And finally, before we get into kind of the last bit here, I want to use platforms more judiciously to create opportunities for myself. I want to strike the right balance for Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I was off Twitter completely for a while around the election. And I felt really good about it. But I also feel like I missed something. I wasn’t engaging with as many people. So I want to try to find the right balance there. The same goes with Facebook. I want to do more than just share photos of my kids on Facebook.
In fact, one of my former high school teachers reached out to me because it quote-unquote, seemed like I did a lot of podcasting. But she didn’t know I had a course on it. So she’s in the course now. I just kind of felt like my Facebook friends didn’t care about what I did with business, but that’s clearly not the case. I do feel like Instagram is the most prime real estate for me to cultivate opportunities. And I will figure out how in 2021. That’s part of my goals.
So we’ll get into a few more specific kind of opportunities too. We’ll finish the sentence. I want more opportunities to in a minute. But first, let’s hear from our final sponsor.
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And let’s get back to it.
Joe: Okay. So we talked a lot about the blue sky stuff, the why I want to do the year of opportunity, and some things I’d like to try, but we haven’t really gotten into the specifics. Honestly, I don’t have any specific actions in mind for this year. In previous years, I’ve said I wanted to read X amount of books or publish every so often and things like that, but I don’t have any specific actions in mind. What I do have are some general categories.
I want to create more opportunities to experience, which is say yes to things out of my comfort zone. I want to create more opportunities to teach. That is, make more teachable moments for friends, for clients, and for my kids. You know, sometimes I’ll just kind of respond glibly if I think something is stupid. And that’s not fair to whoever is making the statement. So I want to try to create more teachable moments, especially for my kids because I want them to understand why I’m acting or responding the way that I am.
I want to create more opportunities to be in the moment. So beyond my phoneless, create more opportunities to be less distracted by work. On the Focused podcast with David Sparks and Myke…Oh, my gosh. Myke, I’m really sorry. I’m forgetting your last name right now. You know, they talk about having a shutdown process so that they can kind of mentally end their day. It’s been a struggle for me to do that because I’m only working about 60% of the time I would normally work. But it’s not fair on the days when I’m not working and I’m dad. I’m dad all day. It’s not fair to my kids for to be on my phone or to respond to that email. That can definitely wait.
So I want to create more opportunities to be in the moment. I want to create more opportunities to grow specifically in my business. I really think I’ve made a lot of good strides this year and I figured a lot of things out. But I want to be open to more connections and partnerships, especially as I start to grow outside of my normal network. I’m pretty embedded in the WordPress space. I want to grow beyond the WordPress space. So I need to be more open to connections and partnerships.
And I want to create more opportunities to provide better feedback and solve problems. Instead of and I quote here, “Just pissing and moaning on Twitter.” I always try to contact support by means other than Twitter first, but Twitter is the thing that gets the results most of the time. So instead of just being annoyed and continuing to do things in an annoying manner. I want to provide better feedback so problems get fixed. I should try to solve problems on my own more. And I want to create more opportunities to do that.
Finally, part of this theme is being more intentional. Like I said earlier, sometimes I do things just to do them and sometimes I dismiss things out of hand. One example of doing things just to do them is consistent content. I’m not sure blogging weekly really helped me professionally in any way. Sure, there was good content, but the weekly grind for three pieces of content is hard. And I know that I let deadlines slip a little bit because I had to get that blog post out. So I think I probably would have been better served writing more guest posts, or putting that time into my newsletter, or into one of the many writing projects that I have throughout the year.
So, I will not be blogging weekly in 2021. I’ll be blogging regularly. They might be shorter blog posts, but I think I want to save, at least in the short term, the beefy stuff for guest posts. At least in a particular niche. And that niche is podcasting. A weekly YouTube video on the other hand was very helpful. So maybe I should have taken time to do more YouTube videos and create more opportunities to do more YouTube videos instead of trying to grind out a weekly blog post. Maybe I could have spent that time creating higher quality YouTube videos and putting more thought into it.
As we wrap up here, I don’t have specific metrics in mind for this year and I think that’s a good thing. If I did, I feel like I might as well have resolutions instead. But I’m optimistic about the year of opportunity. I think this guiding principle will help me take what I’ve learned in 2020 and build on it in 2021. I think my family and my business will both benefit from those things.
Outro: So thanks for listening to Episode 200 of How I Built It. You can find show notes for everything I’ve mentioned as well as some helpful resources. I think the show notes will be pretty light this week. But you can still find them over at howibuilt.it/200. That’s howibuilt.it/200. While you’re over there, if you want to sign up for the Build Something Weekly newsletter, it’s free, it’s weekly, and there’s even more great content included in that. Thanks to our sponsors: Restrict Content Pro, Hostinger, and TextExpander. Thank you so much for listening. And until next time, get out there and build something.