This is Annual Review number seven!
I wrote the first annual review in the year my eldest son was born. He’ll be 7 this year. How time flies!
As always, I’m super grateful that I get to write this because it means I’m still working for myself and building this business for another year.
Let’s begin with a review of 2021:
Did I Meet My 2021 Goals?
2021 was of course the second year of the pandemic, so once again, work hours were more limited than normal, and there was an undercurrent of stress throughout the year.
Overall though, from a work perspective, 2021 was a great year.
I had my best year of revenue to date, of which 95% came from course sales. I launched and ran two amazing cohorts of my live Pro Sheets course, created one new online course, and finished updating my course catalog.
Outside of work, I finally saw (most of) my UK family again at the very end of 2021, after over two years of nothing but video calls. These few weeks with my UK family were a highlight of the year.
Aside from that, we had lots of great family adventures locally and I did tons of great hiking in our local mountains.
All in all, 2021 was a good year given the circumstances.
Each year, I take the goals that I wrote down at the beginning of 2021 and see how I fared:
2021 Work Goals
- Run 3 cohorts of the new live cohort based course Pro Sheets – Yes, and no. I ran two cohorts!
- Run SheetsCon 2021 in March – No, I realized early in 2021, with the pandemic ongoing, that I didn’t have the bandwidth to do this and create the new cohort course, so I paused SheetsCon for 2021.
- Improve the SEO and site speed of benlcollins – Yes, and no. I did improve both, but there’s still work to do.
- Publish 30 long-form blog posts – Not quite… I published 26 posts.
- Publish a comprehensive guide to REGEX in Google Sheets – Yes, here it is.
- Hit 60k newsletter subscribers – No, my list growth plateaud in the second half of 2022 and I finished the year around 45k subs.
- Send a Google Sheets tip email every week for the next year – Yes, I sent my Google Sheets tips newsletter every Monday 🙂
- Create one new on-demand video course – Yes, I created a dedicated REGEX course.
- One technical project, related to Sheets/Apps Script/Data in some way. – Yes, I wrote a script to control my home Nest thermostats. I worked on a few other project ideas but didn’t complete them.
Other 2021 Goals
- See my UK family! – Yes, finally, after 2+ years 🙂
- Have another healthy year – Yes, thankfully
- Exercise regularly: 4 hike or bikes each week, 2 yoga/strength – Yes, although I’ve no idea if I reached this cadence and frankly, it doesn’t matter. I felt like a did a solid amount of outdoor exercise. Yoga fell off my radar from Q3 onwards and I didn’t do as much biking as I’d hoped but I did a lot more hiking than I’ve ever done!
- Go camping again! I used to do a lot of camping trips but it’s been a few years since I last went 🙁 – Technically, yes, because I managed 1 night, but not as much as I’d hoped, haha! Bring on 2022.
- Take my boys out on lots of adventures and camping trips. – Yes, plenty of adventures, but only one camping trip
- Read 30 books (same target as 2020) – No, and I need to lower my expectations 😉 I read 18 books in 2021
Let’s look at the highlights from 2021:
1) Pro Sheets
My biggest work goal for the year was to launch a live cohort training course, called Pro Sheets. I ran two cohorts in 2021, in April/May and November/December, and it was a hugely rewarding and enjoyable experience.
Pro Sheets is a 5-week long, live, online training course where we meet 3 times a week for instruction around data analysis and automation with Google Sheets and Apps Script.
I had 37 students in the first cohort and 42 students in the second cohort, which was a huge success.
Running a cohort course is an enormous amount of work so I want to say thanks to a number of folks who helped me along the way:
- Billy Broas’ Keystone Accelerator program in January was a huge help.
- Jenny Sauer-Klein’s Scaling Intimacy training in February, which was really helpful for me in figuring out how to run successful and immersive online experiences
- Katey, my wonderful teaching assistant for both cohorts
- Jo, my amazing assistant behind the scenes who helps run my business
For a sense of what Pro Sheets is all about, have a listen to what the students from the first cohort had to say:
In 2022, I plan to run at least one more cohort of Pro Sheets — cohort 3 — and implement a number of improvements. Looking forward to this!
2) Other Online Courses
At the beginning of the year, I finally finished updating all my courses after re-recording the Automation With Apps Script course.
Over the summer, I created one new online video course:
This year I launched my guide to the powerful Google Sheets REGEX functions: The Google Sheets REGEX Formula Cookbook:
This course was a real joy to create, as it was technically interesting to research and teach.
3) Google Sheets Tips Newsletter
I sent my weekly Google Sheets newsletter every Monday, except for Christmas week.
It’s the backbone of my business and I love receiving responses from readers each week.
I plan to write a newsletter every week again this year.
4) Website Content
As you’ll see below, my website gets a mention under the challenges section of 2021 too.
But it’s still been a great year, although new post creation slowed down in the second half of the year.
This year, my favorite posts to research and write were:
- Control Your Nest Thermostat And Build A Temperature Logger In Google Sheets
- I Left My Corporate Accounting Job 7 Years Ago. Here’s How I Built A Career As An Educational Entrepreneur
- Data Enrichment with the Google Tables Apps Script Bot
- How To Draw The Cantor Set In Google Sheets
5) Non-Work Highlights
Lots of non-work highlights this year, mostly on our local trails.
Undoubtedly THE highlight of the year was seeing my UK family again. From the surprise visit of my brother from Australia to the epic hikes we did together (3 peaks, Raven Rocks), and the joy of Christmas with grandparents reunited with grandkids, it was a wonderful three weeks!
Another highlight of the year was the summer road trip that Lexi, me, and the boys took around our home state of West Virginia. We did a big clockwise loop around the State, taking in the mountains, the new National Park, cute towns, cabins in the woods, and lots of history. It was a memorable way to spend 3 weeks this summer when most other options were still off the table because of the pandemic.
Other specific highlights that stand out from the year are all local adventures:
- Old Rag Mountain and Robertson Mountain Double Header with Lexi
- Getting into paddleboarding properly this year
- Harpers Ferry to Raven Rocks Long Walk
- The crazy flooded walk along the Appalachian Trail
- Some fantastic winter hikes in early 2021. I hope we get more of the same this year, although it’s been a remarkably mild winter so far
- The backpacking adventure with my 4- and 5-year old sons
Challenges In 2021
It goes without saying that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic continued to be the major challenge of the year. Staying safe and sane, whilst growing the business and running a household, was one long risk-assessment-and-schedule-juggling-nightmare. But we got through it, and somehow came out the other side fitter, healthier, and in a better place than we were at the beginning of 2021.
I’m relieved to not have a “health” subheading under the challenges of 2021. Let’s see if I can keep it that way in 2022.
Of course, most of the challenges of 2021 were related to navigating covid, but there were a couple of big work challenges too:
Website Traffic Decline
This year, I’ve decided to list my website under “Challenges” as well as “Highlights”.
Yes, I did publish 26 posts in 2021 and my overall traffic figures were similar to 2020 (over 2 million unique visitors to this site and nearly 4 million page views!).
But… since the summer, when the traffic peaked at over 400k pageviews and 255k users a month, it has steadily declined back to around 200k pageviews/month. I believe this is partly because the frequency of my posts decreased, some of my popular posts are getting old (and thus losing ranking spots), and there’s much more competition in the Google Sheets space now than there ever has been.
Email List Growth Plateau
My goal at the beginning of 2021 was to hit 60k newsletter subscribers. A lofty goal to be sure, but not impossible.
I missed it and ended the year on around 45k subscribers.
So I’m keeping this same 60k goal for 2022 and dedicating more time to email list growth this year.
My email list grew at a steady clip for the first nine months of the year but plateaued for the last three months. I believe this is due to a combination of decreasing web traffic (see above) and higher unsubscribes during a couple of months where I did a lot of course launches (the additional sales emails result in higher unsubscribe rates for a short period).
One of my big challenges for 2022 is to figure out how to grow my audience (see more below).
Well, not really a challenge as such, but I really missed not attending any in-person conferences this year. The Google Next conference online is not a patch on the in-person event. I thoroughly enjoyed my trips to San Francisco in 2018 and 2019 and felt inspired for months afterward. Fingers crossed Next can happen in-person again this year!
Looking Forward To 2022
I’m excited and hopeful for 2022.
I’m hopeful that we’ll see an end to this wretched pandemic, although I thought this last year and look where we are (record cases! Thanks, Omicron! 😡)
With each passing year, I gain a better understanding of my business. What works and what doesn’t. Which levers make a difference and which ones don’t.
I’ve realized that growing my business boils down to two main levers: i) growing my email list, and ii) creating more courses.
With that in mind, my goals in 2022 are directly in line with increasing one or both of these levers. If I run a marketing campaign that results in hundreds or thousands of new subs, then that will correlate with increased revenues down the line. Similarly, if I can create great new courses for my existing audiences then I can increase my revenue.
2022 Work Goals
In no particular order:
- Create 3 new video courses (the first of which will be a dedicated QUERY function course 🤩)
- Run cohort 3 of Pro Sheets
- Send my Google Sheets Tips newsletter every Monday
- Hit 60k newsletter subscribers
You’ll notice that I’m not setting a goal for posts published this year or other technical projects etc. I’m sticking to fewer, bigger goals. Goals that fall into my two buckets of i) list growth, and/or ii) new courses.
Other 2022 Goals
- Complete a century bike ride (100 miles). It’s been a few years since my last century rides and I miss those long days out on the bike.
- Twelve challenge walks (walks that start and/or finish at home and are a challenge by virtue of their length or difficulty)
- Family trip to the UK this summer
- Have another healthy year
- 10 nights camping this year (at the very least, I want to beat the low target of 1 from last year!)
- Read 20 books
- Weekly brainstorming hike with my wife
My plan this year is to be super-efficient with my time and ruthless with what projects I pursue.
My approach is to block my time by day. Previously, I’ve blocked my time into hour blocks, but eventually, the whole system breaks down and merges into one soup of activities with a large amount of associated context switching costs. This year, I want to stick to this weekly schedule as closely as possible and for as long as possible (provided it works!).
I’m sure it will help me get more done in the same or less amount of time.
So, Monday and Tuesday will be reserved for work on new courses.
Wednesday will be my admin and miscellaneous day, where I get stuff done.
And Thursday and Friday will be dedicated to marketing and list growth.
The simplicity of this approach is deeply appealing to me too.
If you’ve read this far, thank you!
Thank you for being a supporter of my work. Thank you for being part of this weird little corner of the internet where I continue my mission to create the world’s best resources for learning Google Sheets and data analysis.
Best wishes to all of you for 2022!
Finally, a huge thank you to my wife, Alexis Grant, who has been my biggest supporter from day 1. I couldn’t do this without you!