I love the start of a new year.
The desire (and energy) for positive change; the ideas that become goals (and eventually reality); the seemingly limitless opportunities that beg us to step up to the plate, at least to give it a try…at least this once…
The beginning of every year is a time when aspirations collide with unconquerable optimism in a beautiful, chaotic, hopeful cluster bomb of goals, timelines, and determination.
There’s something palpable about it for me, and I love surrounding myself with people who lean into this energy and funnel it into their projects for the new year.
That’s why I love reading year end reviews of my favorite personalities, brands, and people, like:
- Noah Kagan’s review of AppSumo, which hit 1 billion customers (!)
- John Lee Dumas’ year-end review of Entrepreneur On Fire and how he made over $2 million this year from live webinars (!)
- Or Brennan Dunn’s incredibly transparent look at a successful – but hard fought – year (well done Brennan)
I’ve found that transparent, in-depth year end reviews have serious gold buried in them – the kind that can help the rest of us take our personal and professional goals to the next level.
That’s why today I wanted to share my own year-end review, or what I like to call the 2014 After Action Review.
What’s an After Action Review (AAR)?
An After Action Review is a structured framework for learning commonly used by the U.S. Army (and other branches of service, to my knowledge).
In the Army, it’s common practice to conduct an after action review (or AAR for short) after every event, operation, and mission. Whether that means conducting an AAR after a routine training event in garrison or after every security mission we ran in Iraq, you name it, we probably did an AAR for it.
The objective of the AAR is to help instill in every participant key lessons-learned from the event that can then be used for future operations.
The premise of the AAR is continual, progressive improvement through structured and methodical evaluation.
This means a “successful” AAR is one in which every team member and every participant is more knowledgeable and more aware than he was prior to the AAR, and that each person walks away with practical information that can be used to improve future operations.
The Structure of an AAR:
- First and foremost, all key players in the event must be present. An AAR done in vacuum or without everyone who took part in the exercise misses out on real opportunities for learning. So if you’re part of a group, team, or collaborative project, make sure all key personnel are present for your AAR.
- Identify exactly what was supposed to happen. Often times, I see annual reviews where people jump into their results. This is fun, but it’s not as useful as it could be. In order for us to learn, we need to understand what the plans and expectations were at the outset. Notice that this necessitates having a measurable objective in the first place (more on this later).
- Identify what went well. We call these “sustains” and every AAR generally defaults to a minimum of 3 sustains.
- Identify what DIDN’T go well. We call these “improves” and like sustains, we default to a minimum of 3.
How to Use AARs
Before we jump into The Resistance 2014 After Action Review, I want to say this: the BEST way to use an AAR is not to wait till the end of the year. The best way to use AARs is after every project, every operation, and every test or experiment you run in your business or life.
3 reasons to conduct project-specific AARs:
- The more focused an operation or project, the better we can measure, and therefore the more we can learn.
- If we’re not measuring every operation or project individually, we can only make assumptions about our success or failure, which means no learning actually takes place.
- By conducting operation or project-specific AARs, we can compound our learning by applying what we’ve recently learned to future operations and projects.
I’m using the AAR format for my year-end review, but the reality is I’ve already conducted an AAR after every major project I’ve launched this year.
So if you’re wondering why I don’t go deep enough in this post on certain projects, it’s because I’ve already done so, either behind the scenes (or in some cases, publicly).
The Resistance 2014 After Action Review
So to begin my 2014 AAR, I want to start with my goals and expectations going into 2014.
To give this a bit of perspective, for those who have only recently joined The Resistance, I officially started this site in late 2012. I did it as a side project while I was still in the Army, writing and publishing during my free time early in the morning (before 4:30 am) and late in the evening on work days, as well dozens of hours on the weekends.
This is important to note for one reasons:
That doing anything well takes time…A lot of time…And a lot of sacrifice…And a lot of struggle…And a lot of small or insignificant progress…And a lot of time failing…and the rest of the time feeling like a failure.
If it were easy, everyone would do it. Alas, that’s not the case, which makes it your opportunity if you choose to take it…but I digress.
From the end of 2012 to the end of 2013, I wrote three books (The Art of Instigating, Notes from Seth Godin’s Revolution Conference, and The Complete Guide to Pay What You Want Pricing), started a podcast (In The Trenches), wrote about 50 blog posts, and created about a half-dozen mini guides and workbooks. I also started The Resistance Broadcast to keep in touch with the people who are most important to me (if you’re reading this in your inbox, that’s you).
In those first 12 months, I think I gained about 300 subscribers (and made less than $1,000).
I didn’t start tracking my time (I use Toggl.com– more on this later) until beginning of 2014, so I have no idea how many hour I poured into this site and my writing prior to 2014, nor what my Return on Investment was for any of the work I did. I honestly think if I did track my time and results in the beginning, especially from a financial standpoint, it would have been more depressing than anything, so I’m glad I stayed ignorant.
From Army to Self-Employed
In August of 2013, I got married. In September of 2013, I left the Army (and with it, the consistent Captain paycheck that came twice a month). And in October, my wife and I started an around-the-world trip (that we documented here) that lasted over 10 months, the majority abroad, with us getting back to the states in July of 2014.
I say all this to clarify the environment I worked in throughout 2014: on the road, mostly in developing countries, with nothing more than a giant microphone and my Toshiba laptop (see right) – and a lot of espresso drinks and micro-brew.
With that said, here were my original goals and expectations for 2014:
#1. What was supposed to happen in 2014?
- Travel around the world
- Accrue less than $20,000 in debt from travel (enough for me to cover from a combination of savings and getting a job when I got back to the States)
- Either have made enough progress on my online endeavors to keep plugging away, or apply to jobs in the states to get myself out of debt
If you’re thinking: “Wow Tom, those are some impressively low expectations,” you’re right.
After 9 years in the Army, I was ready to take a break. 2014 was my year to do that. Anything above and beyond what I expected was icing on the cake – stuff that I didn’t need to happen (but sure would be happy if it did).
So let’s go ahead and talk about the icing…
#2. What happened in 2014?
- Traveled around the world (New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, S. Africa, Namibia, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Belize)
- Accrued $0 in debt (actually came back net positive from the travel)
- Made enough progress through Tommorkes.com, Insurgentpublishing.com, Highspeedlowdrag.org, and other miscellaneous projects to keep doing this stuff full time
Overall, 2014 was an incredible year.
And I’m especially proud of what I was able to accomplish professionally and financially given the fact that I half expected it to fail.
Now I’m going to dig into the details of what happened in 2014 (and why).
A lot of this stuff is more for personal reflection than anything else. That said, I want to make it as useful to others as possible. So I’ll break down and highlight key elements and projects of 2014, go over what worked (and what didn’t), and why.
Let’s start with some basic statistics:
Total Hours Worked in 2014
Total hours worked in 2014: 1,939
This is an average of 37 hours per week, 52 weeks out of the year.
Couple things to note here: I track all my time using Toggl.com. I only started in 2014, so I have no 2013 numbers to show.
Sometimes I forget to start the timer, but for the most part, I’m on point. I almost always stop the timer when I take a break. So while 37 hours / week might sound like very little, these are actively engaged minutes.
I’d be curious how much actively engaged work I did in previous jobs…
I work a lot…but I also enjoy 93% of it. So while I don’t necessarily want to work more, I’m not in a hurry to work less. My focus isn’t on total hours, but impact via the products I create and services I provide. If I can maintain this amount of hours per week – or less – and double the impact I’ve made this year (personally, professionally, and creatively), then I’ll consider 2015 a victory.
Visitors to Tommorkes.com in 2013:
Visitors to Tommorkes.com in 2014:
2o13 Total users / unique visitors: 7,845
2014 Total users / unique visitors: 25,247
Visitor growth: 322%
Visitors (or “traffic”) is a metric I don’t care about. At all. At least right now.
I know a lot of people focus on this, but to me it’s mostly irrelevant. That said, I found it interesting that even though I didn’t focus on it, I was able to grow by over 300% in 2014.
I expect that the number of visitors to Tommorkes.com will increase in 2015, but it’s also something I won’t be measuring (except perhaps in my 2015 AAR for fun or in relation to a more important metric), nor do I have any strategies to share. I’m sharing this more for situational awareness in relation to the next numbers, specifically conversion (more below).
Resistance Broadcast (newsletter) Subscribers
By the end of 2013, I had 397 subscribers.
My goal was to reach 1,000 by the end of 2014.
I ended 2014 with 2,670 subscribers.
That’s an additional 2,273 subscribers.
List growth: 572.5%
While I find traffic generally irrelevant (anyone can create misleading, upworthy-esque headlines to drive click-through), I believe there’s nothing more powerful than a group of people who’ve asked to hear from you and given you permission to connect with them on a weekly basis. My newsletter, The Resistance Broadcast, is this group of people for me. It’s also where I spend the majority of my time and effort, focusing on creating consistently good content and dishing out exclusive stuff.
I am constantly surprised and humbled when I look at these statistics and realize that’s over 2,000 people who have asked to hear from me. If you’re on that list – thank you.
And here’s a deeper look into The Resistance Broadcast statistics:
It’s pretty crazy to think that I’ve sent close to 70,000 emails with a 66% open rate overall (I think industry average for a “marketing” newsletter is something like 7%).
Because this was my primary focus for 2014 (getting more people to join my newsletter while simultaneously delighting those who are a part of it), I want to share with you a couple strategies that work for me (that you can use if you’re an author, artist, entrepreneur or anything in between):
How I Grew My List by 572.5% in 2014:
1. Free PWYW Crash Course
In the first quarter of 2014, I created a free “Pay What You Want” 7 day Crash Course for people interested in PWYW pricing. While I already had a book on the topic that started at $1+, I figured most people are skeptical of the concept, so the more I can education, the better.
I ended up getting over 500 subscribers in 2014 from this free course alone.
On top of that, it’s been the single most consistent, passive sales generator for any of my books, guides, or resources.
So if you’re wondering how to increase subscribers to your blog or website in 2015, my best suggestion: create a ridiculously valuable free education series (written, audio, video, or something else entirely) and share it with people who are interested in the subject.
2. Blog-specific content upgrades
About mid-2014 I finally bit the bullet and invested in LeadPages.net. I’m glad I did. While I spend $67 / month on LeadPages, implementing it on my blog and using their LeadBoxes feature + blog-specific value upgrades (free bonus material like mini-guides, books, templates, swipe files, etc.) has helped me bring in hundreds more subscribers than had I not. And when it comes to online business, the more relevant, targeted subscribers you have, the better your chances of success.
Besides creating an email course, the next best way for you to attract (and keep) the attention of customers in 2015 is to create blog-specific bonuses. Yes, it takes an extra couple hours of work per blog post you write, but the results are unmistakable. Here’s a blog post I wrote for Tribeboost.com that shows you the results of creating what I call “value upgrades.”
While most people like to ramp up all their goals, I am choosing to refocus time and energy into other parts of my businesses. I would like to grow The Resistance by 2,500 more people (clearing 5,000) in 2015, but it won’t be my main focus (although I will continue to implement the above strategies and potentially expand on them).
Optin Rate Conversion
In 2013, Tommorkes.com received a total of 7,845 users (unique people who came to my website) and 397 optins.
Conversion rate: 5%.
In other words, 1 out of every 20 people who came to my website in 2013 signed up to hear from me again. Not terrible, but not great.
In 2014, Tommorkes.com received a total of 25,247 users and 2,273 optins.
Conversion rate: 9%.
Conversion growth: 180%
My goal for 2015 is to get this number to 20% (1 out of 5 people who see my website sign up for The Resistance Broadcast). This might be an unrealistically high percentage, but shoot for the moon, right?
It’s hard to say how much I wrote in 2013, but between 2012 and 2013 I published about 80 or 90 blog posts, and about a dozen guest posts. I was originally posting about 2 or 3 times a week consistently for Tommorkes.com, which I’ve since scaled back.
- 32 blog posts for Tommorkes.com
- 10+ guest posts (the majority of which focused around Pay What You Want Pricing and drove traffic to my new free email course on the subject).
- Estimated word count: 150,000 – 200,000 words
Not much to say on writing except that I focused a lot more on guest posting and course creation material than blog-specific content. The effect of this is an increase in subscribers to my newsletter (see above).
What is interesting to note is the articles that got the most traction and how much time on average was spent on each one. In order:
- Lean Launch (5:04)
- 3 Ways Pay What You Want Leads to More Profit than Fixed Pricing (5:26)
- How to Get Paid to Travel Around the World (6:02)
- The Complete Guide to Crowdfunding Your Next Book (6:14)
- 3 Step Pivot Framework (5:25)
- How to Get Paid Twice as Much as a Lawyer by Letting People Choose Their Price (5:04)
If I can decipher a trend for popular content, it’s three things:
- Very in-depth blog posts with a crazy amount of actionable content (not bragging – just click to read to see what I mean)
- Topics that help people start, finish, and ship creative projects
- Pay What You Want is a hot topic for me (makes sense)
For 2015, I hope to maintain about 2 high-quality blog post on Tommorkes.com per month, with a new focus of content creation for books and courses I’m working on.
My goal is to maintain a very high average time on page because it’s important to me that I’m creating content that is valuable enough to sit down with for an extended period of time (this is the best metric I have for measuring the impact and value of my work).
Miscellaneous Marketing and Promotion
I have no idea how many guest posts or podcasts I was on in 2013, nor in 2014, although I know the number increased significantly. I estimate I appeared on over 30 podcasts in 2014. A few highlights:
- Growthhacker.tv with Tom Morkes on Pay What You Want Pricing (my interview is next to guys like Eric Ries, Derek Sivers, and Tucker Max, among others…and yes, I’m bragging)
- Entrepreneur On Fire with Tom Morkes on a new veteran’s mastermind High Speed Low Drag
- Featured first interview on Join Up Dots (thanks David!)
I’m always humbled and thankful to be interviewed by podcastes around the world. However, much like many of the other metrics referenced here, I’m scaling back the total time and energy devoted to this to focus on product creation (more on this later).
Projects Launched in 2014 (chronologically):
The Creative Entrepreneur
What a better way to start off a review of 2014 than with my biggest success…
And biggest failure.
The Creative Entrepreneur was a donation-based (PWYW!), small business + arts journal (with a portion – you decide – going to Kiva.org to fund entrepreneurs around the world). I intended to make it a semi-annual journal, something I figured I could manage. With over 100 initial paid subscribers, I thought I was onto something great…but I also knew that 100 subscribers wasn’t enough to break even on the project (there was a physical print component to it, which cost about $50 per issue to product and more to ship).
I had to do something better with the next launch if I wanted to make this thing work. So I teamed up with a professional design team, rebranded to a magazine for bootstrapping startups (appropriately titled: Bootstrapped), and upped the game on interviewees and articles (Andrew Warner, Ruben Gamez, and many other rockstars).
However, after hundreds of man-hours put into the production and creation of this magazine, we only ended up with about 20 new subscribers (with a concerted marketing push, mind you).
The results are in: I failed. Hard.
It wasn’t until this past week when I finally had to let go and pull the plug. I kept working to get the third issue out, hoping it would turn around, but all that happened was that I went deeper into debt and my design team wasn’t working for good will. Bootstrapped is now indefinitely postponed, although it’s a project I hope I can breathe life into in the years to come when I have a bigger base of supporters and readers (and this time, keeping it lean before I scale to physical print).
- Jumping into physical production of anything is dangerous – approach with caution.
- Early adopters are different than the early majority – just because it seems like your first launch is a success doesn’t mean you can have equivalent success the next time, nor that you can comfortably scale.
- Biting off more than you can chew works…until you can’t do everything by yourself, then it will crush you. Don’t buy into the sexy notio of 1,000% growth. First, it’s near impossible without lots of capital. Second, it’s not essential. There’s nothing wrong with starting small and growing small if you’re a solopreneurs or working on a small collaborative project (and especially if you want to keep it that way).
- Stay lean. The only reason I couldn’t keep going is because of the physical component of the magazine, which was too much overhead. Had I kept it purely digital, it might still be around.
The High-Performance Athlete
The first standalone book from Insurgent Publishing, written by my friend and high-performance expert Dr. Jason Winkle (who was actually the head of the combatives program at West Point while I was there…small world!).
I loved working on this book – a labor of love, like the first of anything is. I learned a lot through this process, from creating editing timelines and workflows, to formatting and design, to getting things print ready, to marketing in a niche I’m not directly involved in (sports / team psychology).
I’m lucky to say: it all panned out and people that have read the book have thoroughly enjoyed i.
If you’re interested in sports or performance psychology, check it out.
Pay What You Want Consulting
I wrote a book about Pay What You Want pricing in 2013, but up to the first quarter of 2014, I hadn’t actually tried PWYW pricing for a service yet. I don’t like to teach something I haven’t yet experienced, so I decided to make the leap.
I ended up averaging over $150 per hour for my consulting services – an amount much higher than I would have felt comfortable asking for.
You can read about my experiments in PWYW pricing here (and how I technically made more per hour than the average doctor or lawyer in the United States….rad).
The Flight Formula
The world’s first ever heart-centered business incubator. We launched this coaching and mentorship program as Pay What You Want and raised $40,000+ to fund it. Because the event was live, we had quite a bit of overhead (it costs money to cater food and rent a resort for 7 days), but impressive nonetheless in my opinion (simply as a testament to the fact that if you find the right people, Pay What You Want works).
I’ve since moved on from The Flight Formula team to tackle new projects this year, but if you’re interested in being part of its evolution, check it out.
Paid to Exist
The second standalone book from Insurgent Publishing. I loved having the chance to work with my friend, brilliant author, and somebody who I’ve admired for a long time: Jonathan Mead of PaidtoExist.com.
This book took close to a year to bring to life, but I think it’s a great testament to what Jonathan has built at PaidtoExist.com, and what’s possible if you can collaborate with the right people. You can grab a copy here if you haven’t yet.
Money Freedom Roadmap
Another project with Jonathan Mead, this time tackling the question of financial freedom – specifically, how do we get to that point where we’re not enslaved by money? I loved working on this project because it gave me the creative opportunity to expand on Jonathan’s original ideas and design bonus content (like spreadsheets, workbooks, cheat sheets, etc.) that would really improve the reader experience.
If you’re looking to create financial independence for yourself by doing work you love, there’s no more authentic voice out there than Jonathan, in my opinion. You can check out the Roadmap here.
High Speed Low Drag
HighSpeedLowDrag.org is a collaborative project I co-launched with John Lee Dumas (entrepreneuronfire.com) and Antonio Centeno (realmenrealstyle.com). Our first premium product offering, High Speed Elite, is a veteran-exclusive business training platform, mastermind, and network. We have a half-dozen students in the program creating some amazing things, and I’m excited to share more of their work soon. Beyond that, the opportunity to work with Antonio Centeno and John Lee Dumas is amazing – another reason I encourage collaborative projects: you can learn so much when you work alongside the best in the world.
Shoot me an email and let’s connect – we’re getting ready to launch version 2.0 here soon and have limited slots (and that means exclusive access to John, Antonio, and myself).
Creating Best-Sellers through Book Consulting
In September of 2013, I randomly happened upon Dan Norris of WPCurve.com. He was opening up a part time position for content marketing at WPCurve.com. I sent him a message to see what the position entailed. By the time I’d reached out, Dan had already found the right person for this new part-time position…but as it turns out, he was working on a book: The 7 Day Startup. In fact, it was basically complete (formatting, design, etc.) – but he had no idea what to do with it. He was planning on giving it away free to his list and letting that be that.
I convinced him there was a better way to launch his book (while still giving it away free). He ended up hiring me to help market and launch it.
We ended up getting it to #1 best-seller in Amazon in the Small Business and Startups categories (paid). In fact, it’s still #2 in both those categories, 4 months later, sitting right between rockstars like Peter Thiel and Eric Ries.
Dan asked me if I could document the process on Wpcurve.com and I happily obliged, writing a 7,000+ word behemoth article on book marketing.
Note: If you’re interested in being a best-seller yourself, I’m putting together a comprehensive book creation and marketing program for authors and publishers. Sign up here to be notified when we launch.
And then…more best-sellers…
After Dan’s success, I had lots of people reach out about book marketing consulting. I ended up helping multiple authors launch their books to best-seller in Amazon, including:
It’s been a crazy ride and a lot of fun to work with so many incredible authors and to help get their books into the hands of thousands of people. I hope to continue to work with authors on their book marketing in 2015, primarily through my new publishing training platform Publishers Empire.
Collaborate: The New Rules for Launching a Business Online
My most recent book and one I crowdfunded in November of 2014, raising over $12,000.
I’ll be honest: I was nervous that I wouldn’t hit the $7,500 goal I set.
Crowdfunding is a scary, humbling thing. I don’t recommend it for everyone, but for those who want to take a bold leap, read this 10,000+ word blog post I wrote about my strategy and results.
What’s In Store for 2015
- Travel around the world…again (Philippines, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Scotland, England, Ireland, France, Italy, Croatia, Greece, and Iceland – projected)
- Double my income from 2014
- Free up more time for relaxing and enjoying life while simultaneously focusing on fewer projects with a bigger return
In 2014 I launched a lot of stuff.
Some worked, some didn’t (I actually failed a lot more stuff I didn’t even talk about this article – would have taken up too much room).
In 2015, I’m still planning to launch a lot of stuff…but I want to start 2015 by identifying specific projects and saying no to everything else.
I’ve already started the year off by saying no to a lot of opportunities. It’s hard for me, as someone who believes in a 1/N strategy when you’re just starting out…but I’ve hit my stride this past year, and now it’s time to evolve.
That means building fewer, but better things in areas where something I’ve created “stuck.”
Key projects for 2015:
The most comprehensive publishing training platform online. I’m teaching students how to create best-sellers from scratch (from brainstorming to writing to editing to formatting and design to marketing and sales). I’ve done a lot of market research and can confirm there’s not a single platform out there that comes close to the amount of content I’m creating for this (nor, in my opinion, something quite as focused and easy to follow…but I’m biased).
Estimated launch: February
Signup here if you’re interested in being a best-seller in 2015.
High Speed Elite v2.0
The premeire veteran’s business training platform, mastermind, and network. We’re expanding and improving the program and getting ready to launch to a broader audience of veterans interested in starting (or improving) their own business.
Estimated launch: February
If you’re a veteran, sign up here: www.highspeedelite.com
Collaborate – ebook, ecourse, and more
My magnum opus on the topic of creative collaboration and online business product launches.
Estimated launch: March
To be notified when this hits the streets, sign up for the free collaboration ecourse I’m developing (sorry for the delay!)
Super-Secret Collaborative Projects
For my crowdfunding campaign, I offered the chance to work with me to launch a product or service. I’m working with two rockstars right now and hope to launch some cool stuff later this year.
Estimated launch: May
Books from Insurgent Publishing
I’m working with a few authors right now on their books. Hoping to create more high-impact stuff that improves peoples lives. Stay tuned for these later in the year.
Estimated launch: throughout 2015
Next blog, I’ll show you how I’m approaching this years projects and specifically the tools and technology I use to create an ship new products…
But before we get to that, I want to hear from YOU:
What are your goals / expectations for 2015?
If you’ve already written a blog post with this info, share it here.
The Resistance is here to back you up and hold you accountable, so share your goals and ideas with us!
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