Like many of you, I’ve been reflecting on my 2023 and pondering what I want my 2024 to be.
Today, I’ll share some of those reflections with you. Maybe I can provide you with a little inspiration. Maybe you’ll reply and provide me with a little inspiration. Everybody wins!
My 2023 Year in Review
One of my favorite quotes: “There’s what happened, and then there’s the story we tell ourselves about it.”
In other words, the way you choose to tell the story of your 2023 will affect how you approach your 2024 and beyond.
I’d sum up my 2023 as:
“Positive life changes meet character-building.”
Let’s break that into bits. First, the positive life changes:
My wife Kara and I upvoted our quality of life and moved from Chicago (population 2.7 million) to McMinnville, OR (population 35,000) on Dec. 1.
This is not a swipe at Chicago! We enjoyed the decade-plus we each spent there, the last seven years as a married couple. We were simply worn down by its population density, and all that brings with it.
We’d visited Oregon wine country several times before semi-impulsively deciding to make it our home. McMinnville offers a charming little downtown, a food scene that punches above its weight, and proximity to hiking and kayaking. The area is green and the air is clean. If we decide we need a dose of a bigger city, Portland is an hour away; if we want to dip a toe in the Pacific Ocean, that’s about the same distance.
We’ve been here five weeks, and we’re already happier and calmer.
Now, the character-builders…
Last year, to make the move happen, we sold our Chicago condo, moved into a different unit in our building as short-term renters, switched properties in McMinnville VERY late in the game, sold or donated much of what we owned, drove cross-country twice (once in a sprinter van full of our remaining possessions), and moved to Oregon three months earlier than originally planned. The first version of this paragraph was about seven times longer.
Because the universe has a peculiar sense of humor, it was a particularly busy year in terms of keeping clients happy too.
In January, I got a call from the co-CEOs of Bob Rogers Travel, a client since 2012. Their head of marketing had just resigned; the ask was, “We need a big chunk of your bandwidth, we need it immediately, and we need it indefinitely.”
In most cases, this would be a swift No. But since I adore BRT, it was a swift Yes. They’re fantastic executors, they actually live their values, and they’re committed to creating life-changing experiences for educators and students.
Over the next few months, this evolved into a fractional CMO/CSO role, which is what it will be for the foreseeable future. This was/is on top of other client work, including multiple engagements at the business-unit level of Fidelity Investments, working on some intricate positioning and brand story projects.
These are all good things, but I’m not gonna lie: At some point, right around the holidays, I realized just how tired I was.
All the above had implications for my metrics.
’23 By the Numbers
For years, it’s been my preference to turn behaviors I want to reinforce into measurable habits. It doesn’t work in all instances, but it does help me to follow a good maxim: “Think in decades, act in days.”
Here are a few of my personal metrics:
Target: 24. Actual: 19.
I’ll let myself off the hook, just this once, because of the kind of year it was. But since “reading less” is a terrible objective, I’ll keep my target at 24 in ’24.
Days of Exercise
Target: 300. Actual: 312.
Though I beat my target, this was my lowest number since 2018. Several years ago, I broke my annual goal into weekly goals, and that made all the difference. I’ll maintain this target in ’24.
I tracked this number, for the first time, out of curiosity. Since that’s exactly one TV-free day per week, this can be improved upon.
Target: <10% above ’22. Actual: 44% above ’22.
Yikes. To be fair, we completely furnished a home (including window treatments, which are apparently made of gold), purchased several large appliances, rented a moving van, etc. For ’24, we’ll look to bring this closer in line with our ’22 actuals.
And how about some of those business metrics?
Revenue per Hour
Actual: Exceeded target by 29.8%.
I don’t publicly discuss my income; I find that a little gauche. And having been client-side, I wouldn’t love it if my freelance partners were bragging about their revenue on LinkedIn, which happens perhaps a little too often.
As I’ve written before, revenue per hour is one of my preferred measures, because it signals effective use of time. When this number goes up, you’re making more money from the same amount of time, or the same money from less time.
The key is to ask why. This year, I blew past my target because I was doing steady work that paid well, and I needed to do very little business development.
No target, but Soloist Sundays subscribers grew by 41%. Thank you for being one of those readers, and for your questions and feedback throughout the year. Keep them coming!
I topped 3,000 followers last year, for growth of 40%. But! My impressions per follower are down 80% since A Certain Someone bought the platform. We are witnessing network effects in reverse, as people keep their accounts active but spend less time there.
I’ll likely remain on Twitter – when it works, it’s the best platform that’s yet existed to find like-minded people – but the mass exodus indicates that I should explore other options.
My Dashboard – And Yours – for ’24
I hope I’m not too late to the planning party, but there’s also no rule that says we can’t recalibrate whenever we like. I do it about every 90 days, actually.
I don’t know the particulars of your life and business well enough to presume to suggest what your priorities should be. Rather, I can offer a few principles that have helped me:
Focus on the few most important things.
As the saying goes, “You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.” You don’t want to start the year with dozens of things on your dashboard, setting yourself up for failure as you spread yourself too thin.
One approach is to think in terms of categories – for example, personal wellness, learning and growth, money, relationships, and memory-making – and identify one most important goal for each. That’s enough to focus on in a single year without feeling overwhelmed.
Emphasize inputs, not outputs.
For our businesses, total income is a necessary goal. But it’s also a lagging indicator. It’s an outcome of other things.
Better to make sure your dashboard is heavy on inputs – those good habits and behaviors that drive income. Some examples: Number of pitches; hours invested in quality business development; and intelligent expansion of your network.
Similarly, “lose 15 pounds” is an output; “30 minutes of movement, five times a week” is an input.
Start with life stuff, then move on to biz stuff.
This, for me, is the biggie. Our solo businesses are ultimately exercises in lifestyle design. So we should start with our life priorities, and mold our businesses as needed to help us reach those priorities.
The “life stuff” things I track tend to focus on protecting the asset – exercise, personal growth, etc. In the past, I’ve tracked nights of quality sleep and alcohol-free days.
This year, we’ll be setting some light goals for exploring our new corner of the world, but not in such a strict fashion that it sucks the fun out of life. “Visit one coastal Oregon city per month” is an achievable goal, and nothing bad happens if we come up a little short.
No matter what’s on your dashboard, my sincere hope is that you’re prioritizing yourself in ’24. You can’t take care of your clients, or the important people in your life, if you’re not taking care of yourself first.
Your time is valuable, and I hope I’ve rewarded it. If so, your shares are greatly appreciated, as I try to spread the gospel to as many freelancers as possible.
I have a limited number of slots available for 1-1 coaching. I’m not some guy who’s been freelancing for a minute – I’ve been doing it since 1997, with brands you’ve actually heard of. Click here to find out more about how my coaching services can help you level up.
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