2019 In Review And A Look Forward To 2020

Best wishes to all of you for 2020!

Family hike
Photo from a recent family hike up our local mountain. A great way to finish 2019!

This is my 5th annual review post.

I’m proud and thankful that I get to write this post every year, because it means I’m still running my own show and my business is still going.

At this time of year I like to pause. Stop doing the busy work. Step off the treadmill and look back at 2019 to acknowledge what I achieved, what went well, and what can be improved. To look forward to 2020 and make plans for the year ahead.

2019 was my most successful year as an independent, small-business owner. It was great to hit some big milestones this year and see the previous years of hard work pay off.

I’m full of optimism for 2020 and think it’ll be another fantastic year, building on the success of 2019.

Did I Meet My 2019 Goals?

My goals for 2019 were:

  • Create a follow-up Apps Script course — Yes, I achieved this!
  • Create two other courses — 50% success. I launched one other new course
  • Attend the Google Next 19 conference — Yes, it was one of the highlights of the year
  • Continue to grow the community on this site and the online school — Yes (this was a rather meaningless goal without any metrics though!)
  • Hold more webinars in 2019 — This I completely failed at, although I was a guest on a number of webinars and podcasts
  • Deepen my digital analytics and marketing knowledge, and also continue experimenting with data science and Google Cloud topics — I did improve my knowledge of SEO this year, but didn’t really make any progress in other topics. However, I’ve come to realize that my expertise doesn’t lie in this area and my time is best spent on my core business. I do still want to dive deeper into Google Cloud this year though.

2019 Highlights

Online Courses

I launched two new courses:

The Collins School of Data continues to grow with over 20,000 students now! (Thank you all!)


  • I published 17 new pieces of content on benlcollins.com (down on previous years and something I want to increase again in 2020). However, almost all of them are long-form tutorials.
  • The traffic to benlcollins.com continues to climb, reaching around 170k users/month for around 300k pageviews/month. Overall, the site has seen 3.4 million pageviews this year and 1.8 million users. Wow!
  • The traffic grew in the first quarter of the year and then largely plateaued for the rest of the year, so I have work to do to grow again.

My favorite posts of the year were:

Google Sheets Tips Newsletter

  • I sent out a Google Sheets tip every Monday of this year except two (once I was sick and once for Christmas week). I was really happy to achieve this consistency and I’ve seen great growth and engagement around this list.
  • Over 30k people are now signed up to my email list
  • Popular emails were the formula challenges and this long form email on the mind-blowing facts behind card shuffling

Travel & Conferences

This year I traveled three times for work:

  • In April, I attended the Google Next conference in San Francisco. It’s one of the highlights of the year for me because of the energy and people I spend time with. It’s such an inspiration for the rest of the year. Like 2018, I live blogged whilst I was there, covering anything related to Google Sheets. I’ll be there again in 2020. Holler if you’ll be there!
  • In August Google invited me to New York to give a presentation to the Google Sheets team about my work. This was a real honor! I enjoyed meeting the team responsible for this product that I love.
  • In December, I traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark to lead a 75-person workshop for the UN, teaching advanced Google Sheets techniques to help their team transition from Excel to Google Sheets.

Becoming a Google Developer Expert

2019 started in the best possible way!

I became a Google Developer Expert (GDE) in January. It’s been an honor to receive this award and be part of the program. The relationships I’ve developed with other GDEs and Googlers have been fantastic and inspirational. The G Suite GDE family are a great bunch!

I was sad to miss the 2019 GDE summit but hopefully I’ll be there in 2020!

Non-Work Highlights

  • Moving to a mountain town. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE having the woods and mountains easily accessible. It’s made a huge difference to our lifestyle. (I wrote more about our move from a work perspective and an outdoors perspective.)
  • A huge benefit of living in the mountains are the weekly hikes (like this one up Loudon Heights on the A.T.)
  • A wonderful trip home to the UK to visit family. My brother came over from Australia with his family and it was a joy to see all the cousins play together. My eldest son Dominic, upon meeting his 1 year-old cousin Henry for the first time, exclaimed, “He’s a little bit fat isn’t he?”. It made us all laugh.
  • During this trip, my brother and I had a sublime day hiking in Snowdonia National Park.
  • On the three work trips I did, I explored each city on foot (San Francisco, New York City and Copenhagen).
  • Getting fit again with the weekly hiking, running and biking. It hasn’t all been plain sailing though with injuries and illnesses still impacting my year, but I’m in much better shape than I was in Florida last year.
  • The weekly brainstorming hike with my wife. This has rapidly become one of the highlights of my week.
  • Watching my boys grow. Teaching them about the world. Taking them on hikes. Laughing at their silly questions and funny actions. It’s both the hardest and most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.
  • I read 24 books this year, beating last year’s tally (my long term goal is still 52 books, so some way to go!). My highlights this year were:
    • Company of One – Paul Jarvis
    • Atomic Habits – James Clear
    • The Paris Architect: A Novel – Charles Belfoure
    • Kochland – Christopher Leonard
    • Shadow Divers – Robert Kurson
    • Seveneves – Neal Stephenson
    • The Goldfinch – Donna Tart
  • Other things I enjoyed in 2019:

Challenges In 2019

In recent years I’ve experienced a number of health challenges, and this year was no exception. A nasty chest infection in March turned into pneumonia and landed me in hospital again. I recovered completely but work and life was impacted (another course launch postponed, sigh).

I was pretty healthy through the summer with lots of time outdoors. The trip to the UK was tiring and took some time to recover from. Right at the end of 2019, in the week before Christmas, another chest infection completely knocked me off my feet and necessitated a trip to the ER. A dose of meds straightened me out but it was a rough week.

After years of slow decline in my fitness levels, I reversed the trend this year and am now fitter than I was at the start of the year. I can run and hike much stronger than my Florida self could.

The transition from flat road-running in Florida to mountain running in West Virginia came at a price though. I suffered shin splints for the first time in my life over the Summer and am still managing my running now. I’m confident I’ll be back to normal on that front soon though.

By far the biggest challenge of my life continues to be the balance of being a good husband and father whilst running my own business and keeping fit. It’s hard to not feel like you’re failing on all these fronts, despite going full tilt all the time. All one can do is keep trying!

Looking Forwards To 2020

New Initiatives

  • In January, I’ll be launching a new website, Excel to Sheets, to help organizations migrate from Microsoft Excel to Google Sheets. This is one of the big project areas I want to work on in 2020. Expect to see some blog posts tackling objections that Excel users have to Google Sheets.
  • In March, I’ll be running an online event for all things Google Sheets. It’s going to be huge and very exciting! More details coming soon!

2020 Work Goals

  • Publish more high-quality tutorials than in 2019 (target > 17)
  • Hit 50k newsletter subscribers and send out a tip every Monday
  • Update my existing Google Sheets courses
  • Create one new Google Sheets course
  • Run 10 in-person workshops
  • Re-brand my digital assets
  • Find a VA to help with the business
  • Live-blog Google Next 2020 again
  • Work through this book from last year that I haven’t started yet Data Science on the Google Cloud Platform

Other 2020 Goals

  • My overall number 1 goal for 2020 is to be healthy
  • Fitness goals: be active 5 times/week (a mix of spin classes, runs and at least 1 run/hike up the mountain)
  • Keep up the weekly brainstorming hike with my wife
  • Read 30 books

Thank You

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to share my experiences and knowledge, and carve out this teaching niche.

My mission remains to create a world-class resource for learning Google Sheets and data analysis. The work continues!

Finally, best wishes to all of you for 2020!


Previous years