If you would have told me 12 months ago what 2017 would be like, I would have laughed.
It’s been a weird year.
As someone who has always liked to plan, vision, and set goals, I am really surprised that so much has happened this year that I didn’t plan for or envision. Not even in my wildest dreams.
Thanks to friends, co-workers, and the WordPress community, 2017 has almost all been really, really good.
When I think of the root of most of this change, I almost always point back to WordCamp Ann Arbor 2016.
After working full time with WordPress for over four years, I was struck with the idea that maybe I should attend a WordPress event (go figure?).
So in October 2016, I shook off the nerves of going to a conference where I knew no one, got up at 5am, and made the 90-minute drive to Ann Arbor, MI with very little idea of what I was getting into.
Almost immediately, I knew I was home.
People were so kind and welcoming. They talked about topics I loved and didn’t have anyone else to discuss with. Adam Silver and Gerard Konars sat next to me and made me feel included. Topher and Cate DeRosia chatted with me during lunch. Rebecca Gill graciously answered my 984029834 questions about SEO.
— Sara Dunn (@Sara11D) October 16, 2016
It was here that I realized I wanted to be more involved with the WordPress community, and where I set a goal to attend Rebecca’s SEO Bootcamp in January 2017.
I continue to feel so indebted to and thankful for the organizers of WordCamp Ann Arbor for putting on an event that changed so much for me and my business. I took a lot of big leaps as a result of what I learned at my first WordCamp.
The Big Leaps of 2017
Going to SEO Bootcamp
I set a big sales goal in order to afford to go, and I was really, really proud to hit it. So in January, I flew to Dallas to spend 2 ½ days learning Rebecca’s SEO process in depth.
I loved it. The days were long and the homework was challenging, but I was completely up for it. I discovered that there is something about SEO that feels both like a disciplined process and an uncertain puzzle all at once. I love the challenge. It was SEO Bootcamp that started me thinking that SEO should become a much bigger part of my business in 2017.
In addition to the learning, I also had the wonderful opportunity to meet Carrie Dils and Cory Miller, two people I really respect and learn something from each time we connect.
I talked more about getting to SEO Bootcamp and what this event meant to me on the Office Hours Podcast: Stretch Goals and the Power of Live Events, Episode 134
Quitting my BNI Group
By March 2017, I was ready to start more actively marketing my business and to raise my project prices, and I knew something had to go to free up the time and energy. It was scary, but I decided to leave my BNI group.
Business Networking International is an international organization that provides a structure for passing business referrals. I joined a wonderful BNI chapter in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 2013, just six months after I started my business.
I attended meetings every single week for almost 4 years. I owe so much business and so many referrals to the amazing people who helped me get started in web design through BNI. The group had likely driven as much as 50% of my business.
But by this year, I knew I wanted to get more specific in the work I was doing and I started turning down more of the referrals I was receiving. I knew I was ready to leave the group, and I went to my last meeting in April. It felt like disowning family, and I was worried I’d never find another project.
Some of those fears were justified. I didn’t book a new project after leaving the group for almost three months. It was terrifying. To be totally transparent, two months in a row, my accountant called and asked if we were going to have enough money to pay my salary. We did, but just barely.
Then, finally, my marketing started to pay off. I landed a few larger projects that included SEO work, and the bank account has now grown to a much more comfortable level. But just to share, it wasn’t smooth or easy or all roses and confetti.
Speaking at 3 WordCamps
After WordCamp Ann Arbor, I dove pretty hard into the WordPress community, becoming more active in the (now-closed) Office Hours Slack group and connecting with others on Twitter.
By January, I received some encouragement that I should apply to speak at a WordCamp.
What, me? I just went to my first WordCamp. I have no clue.
I shared that I had no idea how to apply for a WordCamp or what to talk about, and Kyle Maurer graciously offered his help. We jumped on a Google Hangout for almost an hour, and he shared his best practices for what WordCamp organizers are looking for and how to apply.
A huge thank you to Kyle for giving me the confidence to submit a couple talks for WordCamp Jackson (MI) 2017. (I later talked about this more in-depth on his show, WP Round Table, and spilled all of Kyle’s best tips via Twitter.)
I ended up being accepted for WordCamp Jackson, as well as WordCamp Grand Rapids and WordCamp Ann Arbor later in the year. It was so fun to speak at every Michigan WordCamp in 2017.
Recaps and Talks from 2017 (This really happened!)
- Recap: WordCamp Jackson 2017: A Great First WordCamp
- Live Stream of my talk: Selling Ongoing Service at WordCamp Grand Rapids 2017
- Recap: WordCamp Grand Rapids 2017: Better than Summer Camp
- Live Stream of my talk: Make Website Visitors Take Action (Without Voodoo Magic) at WordCamp Ann Arbor 2017
Tell me how you really feel:
In 2016, I went to my 1st #WordCamp. A year later, they're letting me speak at it.
— Sara Dunn (@Sara11D) September 15, 2017
Starting a YouTube Channel and Personal Blog
Without a doubt, the biggest leap I made in 2017 was starting a video series.
I had reached a maximum frustration level in about March with being a plain-vanilla generalist agency. One of my biggest goals for 2017 was to narrow down who our target client was, and I had absolutely no idea.
I knew specializing my agency had to be a major focus for the next few months, or until I figured it out. (I had no idea it would take so long).
To add to my frustration, there didn’t seem to be anyone online who was sharing how specializing their web agency really worked. Everyone had the advice “niche down” but no one had any deep advice for how.
So, after some serious encouragement from my husband, I decided to share how I was feeling. I recorded a video about my business struggles in March, and finally got the courage to post it to YouTube in April.
It was terrifying. I seriously disliked watching myself talk. The production quality was awful. I was afraid my real-life friends and clients would see it. I was afraid people would think I was self-centered.
But I did it anyway. And it was the best thing I did this year (more on that in a second).
I declared that I was starting a “video series” and started making super-short update videos on an almost-weekly basis. I shared why I wanted to specialize, the steps I was taking, lessons learned, resources I read, and just honestly how I was feeling.
I convinced myself to be real and not let it take up too much of my time. I just wanted to get the message out, and not worry too much about rehearsing or perfect video quality or editing. Some of my videos are out of focus for minutes and some have awful auto-focus issues. But I posted them anyway.
Each video takes me about 15 minutes to plan and record, and 1 to 2 hours to lightly edit, write an accompanying blog post, upload to YouTube, write descriptions, and upload to my blog.
To date, I’ve made and shared 25 videos. To put things in perspective, the channel has 40 subscribers, 884 video views, and about 1,800 minutes of watch time. The blog posts have been read by about 1,300 unique visitors. We’re not breaking any internet virality records here, and that’s OK.
From the beginning, I promised myself I wouldn’t obsess about the numbers. If one person heard and connected with the message, that’s what I wanted. And it actually happened.
I’ve received dozens of comments, emails, and tweets from freelancers and small agency owners saying “I know how you feel.” I’ve spent hours in email conversations talking about what it’s like to be a generalist. The heartfelt encouragement from strangers has made me smile and cry and keep pushing forward.
I directly attribute a few crazy things that happened this year to my video and blog series, including an invitation to an awesome mastermind group, a few podcast interviews, and inclusion on the Genesis Developers list.
In November, after 8 months of videos that basically said “I still have no idea,” I finally landed on a specialty that fires me up. I can’t wait to see where it goes in 2018, and I plan to keep sharing along the way.
Crazy Stuff That Happened in 2017
I’ll keep this short because it feels a little yucky and self-congratulatory, but here are a few things I never imagined would happen in 2017.
A feature in Southwest Michigan’s 269 Magazine, in their Design in 269 column.
That moment when you realize how awkward it is to take a selfie with a picture of yourself. . So anyway, I'm really excited about this but can't figure out how to share it without feeling like a dork. . Lots of smiles and thanks to 269 Magazine for the feature in 'Design in 269' for the May/June issue!
My first podcast interview ever was on one of my favorite podcasts ever, Office Hours with Carrie Dils. I thought the chance of ever being asked to be on this podcast was approximately 0.
— Office Hours Podcast (@officehoursfm) February 6, 2017
Was the first guest on Rebecca Gill’s podcast, SEObits.fm.
— Rebecca Gill (@rebeccagill) July 31, 2017
My agency was added to the StudioPress Genesis Developers list (I know, I still can’t believe it).
What a great year! This December got extra special when we found out 11Web was invited to join the StudioPress Genesis Developers list.
This is an elite list of just 24 web agencies who use the technology we use. Find out more: https://t.co/QRVgf6BYgh
— 11Web (@11Web) December 18, 2017
Took a spontaneous trip to Greece with a wonderful friend in October
(This one is personal, but I’m so thankful to work for myself so I can work from anywhere and have the freedom to say “why not?”)
So Much Gratitude
So many people have had such an impact on me this year. I am so thankful for you. Here are just a few:
To Tara Claeys, who has become a wonderful friend. After only knowing eachother for a few months through the Office Hours Slack group, she reached out to me when she found out I was going to Washington DC in April and offered me a personal tour of her favorite monuments. Tara, you are an amazing person, and I cannot thank you enough for the way you connect others and share your advice, talents, and encouragement.
Savor the Success
To the smart, driven, generous women in my mastermind group through Savor the Success. I’ve been part of this organization for over three years. This year, my Savor Circle of experienced entrepreneurs really pushed me to uplevel, provided such excellent advice, and helped me to believe in myself.
The annual conference in October, Savor Life Summit, was also extremely impactful, and where I got the idea for my specialty.
My Mastermind Group
I was invited to join an online mastermind group of seriously incredible designers, consultants, and developers earlier this year. No one really talks publicly about who’s in it, so I’m not sure if I’m supposed to (is this the online version of Fight Club???) but you all are amazing. Thank you for your support, advice, and friendship. I’m still not sure how I snuck into such an awesome group, but you’re stuck with me now 🙂
Your online course, Bootcamp, SEO Mastermind, and ongoing advice have changed my business for the better. Thank you, thank you for your encouragement and for sharing what you know.
Nothing above would have been possible without my co-workers at 11Web. To Kristin, who makes our work beautiful and professional. To Nancy, who keeps everyone smiling. To Devin and the team at Rivvly for getting things done. To Matt, who was an amazing addition to several projects this year and made our visions possible. I love that I get to work with all of you.
So much happened this year that I never planned for. It’s making me think hard about the idea of long-term goals.
I think for 2018, instead of goals like “XX amount of revenue” or “XX number of clients,” I am going to focus more on a vision for the future and things I’d like to work on that are less concrete. I think the rest will take care of itself.
In 2018, I’d like to:
- Focus on getting more done in less time
- Focus more on rest, fun, and creativity
- Pursue photography more actively
- Help more people reach their work goals, however I can
- Continue my video series (or in some way continue to share authentically about business)
- Easily make the money I need to to accomplish all of these things
I wish you all a positive, exciting, joy-filled 2018.
Much love from my family to yours. <3