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Kjell’s 2021 Review

My year in numbers

New articles published: At least 36 + 31 interviews

Email newsletters sent: About 110 (Daily for about 9 weeks. Weekly the rest of the time.)

Website visitors: Coffee & Pens: 3,155 — Kjellv: 5,895 — Top Three Guide: 2,908

Email list growth: 20-ish (think 24) – 157 (544% growth)

Twitter follower growth: 55 – 2232 (3,958% growth)

Medium follower growth: 2 — 116 (5,700% growth)

Books read: 39

Podcast episodes recorded: 12

Conclusion: Looking at these growth numbers blows my mind. Often, it felt insignificant and slow. But these percentage points prove the opposite.

2021 Goals

My biggest goals for 2021 came down to this:

  1. Become a full-time freelancer with sufficient income to maintain my family.
  2. Grow my newsletter to 500 subscribers.
  3. Live more healthily by doing more cardio, drinking more water etc.

These are the results:

  1. I finally started my solo business in November and I earned almost 10k in the past two months.
  2. I started off according to schedule but lost focus and stopped spreading the word.
  3. In terms of diet, I did well for a while but lost control when I moved back to Belgium.

2021 Highlights

  • Got married in January.
  • Became the proud father of Mia in March.
  • Appeared on three podcasts and talked to 26 incredible people for mine since May.
  • Got my first retainer client in November.

2021 Challenges

  • Last year, I learned that I should invest more in myself. This year I made the same mistake of not investing much in myself.
  • I struggle to find a good work-life balance. I work from home and I love my side projects. All days are too short for me. Now that I’ve become a husband and father, it’s even harder to make everything fit in. Yet I’m often too distracted.
  • I don’t follow my gut feeling. Too often I worry about what others will think or what’s the acceptable thing to do. In the end, I regret not having followed my gut feeling.

Financial Review

My goal for 2022 was to start earning a full-time income as a freelancer.

While living in Bolivia and Peru, I kept a low profile. I didn’t need much money to live well so I didn’t feel too pressured to earn more. Instead, I focused on side projects. Let’s say they earned me a lot of experience and insight but not a lot of money.

Despite that, I did manage to save rather consistently in the past twelve months without wasting too much. So my savings and investment accounts have finally grown a bit.

This year, I invested in AT&T, Twitter, a Vanguard S&P500 fund and a Blockchain fund. This definitely isn’t investment advice because three out of four investments have been underwhelming. Fortunately, previous investments have picked up some pace and dividend collections are increasing too. Finally, I was forced to sell some stock back to a company at nearly 100% profit.

Back to earning a full-time income. Near the end of the year, I managed to earn a full-time freelance income thanks to my first retainer client. More about that below.

Next year

Until now, I’ve tried to save some money first but because I didn’t have a fixed income, it was rather inconsistent. Next year, I’ll aim to put aside 20-25% of each paycheck.

If I can increase my monthly income to 8-10k, that should put me back on track for my financial goals, because I’m a bit behind now.

Freelance writing review

I’ve been doing some odd gigs as a freelance writer since 2019. During that time, I’ve been fortunate enough to double my rate each year. I doubt I’ll be able to keep up with that, but I’ll aim to increase my rates gradually.

In terms of clients, I’ve finished a project I had been working on for about two years. I never received a pay increase but I learned to work faster. However, I was happy when the contract ended because I was getting a bit bored of it and the rate was starting to fall far behind my average.

On the positive side, a few clients found me through Twitter for some cool projects. I wrote some content for an accountability coaching programme in India, Linkedin promotion for a marketing course in Singapore, and cold email campaigns for high-profile American companies.

I still have a long way to go but every step in the past few months have been promising. Thanks to one of these clients, I got a retainer with Aspire App as their copy editor for a new blog.

It’s the best feeling when someone appreciates your work and recommends it to others.

Next year

As I said, my goal is to earn 8-10k per month this year.

Hopefully, that can come from a few more retainer clients. But I’m aware that there’s a lot of risk with getting a big chunk of your income from one client. So I want to move to a model where I can do high-ticket work for several clients. Preferably a model that’s easily repeatable like landing page reviews. Despite great initial feedback, that’s not worked yet.

Side Projects Review

Side project was without a doubt one of the key words for my 2021.

I quit my first side project Top Three Guide and dove into many others.

I created nine products—if I remember well. I started with a few paid ones but never got to a level I felt happy with. Then I moved to some free products to get some traction and build a wider audience. But even this has been difficult.

In the end, I figured out that I need more authority and momentum. I spent (wasted?) a lot of time on side projects in 2021 hoping to earn passive income. My dream is still to earn passive income from side projects but a this point I believe creating more products that likely won’t sell isn’t the best use of my time.

My newsletter is another side project I spent much time on. It started with Top Three Thursday, a leftover of Top Three Guide but the format stopped working for me as it became too time-consuming. I then made the completely illogical decision to start a daily newsletter.

It was a fun experiment at first and I got some meaningful feedback. But in the end, my audience wasn’t growing at all. And it became a chore again. So I switched back to a weekly newsletter in which I update my subscribers about what I write/create and what I learn as a freelance writer.

I hope to set myself apart by being fully transparent about everything.

Next year

My goal for this year is to be more consistent with my side projects. So I’ll start fewer.

And I want to double down on the ones I already have:

  • Weekly newsletter
  • Weekly Medium post
  • Daily tweets
  • Monthly Coffee & Pens episode

Besides, I have a few more things I want to finish this year.

  • Copywriter’s guide to the galaxy (10+ sources to add)
  • Something similar about SEO (10+ sources available)
  • Perhaps get back to Top Three Guide with a paid product because organic traffic is growing.

Coffeee & Pens Review

Coffee & Pens was by far my biggest side project of 2021.

It started with an interview in April or May. Then I did 25 more. Twelve of those are also podcast episodes.

I created a separate Twitter account for it, an Instagram account, a newsletter and a YouTube channel. But it’s been too much to keep up with, especially since I wanted to do a weekly episode.

And I wanted to sell an ebook based on the interviews.

Sales have been underwhelming. (Again). And the growth of the C&P community is close to non-existing.

So I’m at a crossroads: Cut my losses and move on or double down some more?

It’s been really hard to figure this out. Also because I’m not sure how much more I can continue learning myself. Maybe if I improved my questions and research?

For now, my plan is to publish one interview per month and spend more time distributing the content. Therefore, I want to upload past videos to YouTube, share short clips on Twitter and Instagram, and connect more with aspiring authors.

With two more interviews lined up (if they don’t cancel), I want to give this approach a try for two months and see where things stand after that.

Learning Review

At the start of the year, I joined ship30for30 and wrote 30 short daily essays 3 times in a row. I made the decision to learn something about writing every month but I soon didn’t have the time or interest to buy more courses.

It’s something I want to change this year. I even want to invest in a high-ticket course related to storytelling or copywriting. But I doubt I’ll have the time for it.

I paid for a virtual copywriting conference back in November and I still haven’t watched a single minute of the footage.

It’s on my to-do list, just like the other ten videos and twenty+ articles I’ve bookmarked.

Fortunately, I’ve had the guts to unsubscribe from most newsletters so that’ll be less time-consuming.

Personal Life Review

My personal life has been a rollercoaster ride.

In December 2019, I moved from Bolivia to Peru with my wife. She was 6 months pregnant. We soon figured out it would be hard for me to get a temporary visa for Peru so we got married on the 30th of January. I finally managed to file all the paperwork by half March, one day before the deadline.

Meanwhile, my first daughter, Mia, was born on the first of March. Thanks to the family visa I was able to stay in Peru and watch her grow up.

In June, we did our first trip together. We went to Cusco for six days to get Mia’s certificates legalised and send them to the Belgian Embassy. Fortunately, getting her double nationality wasn’t too difficult.

We went on another trip in September/October. This time to Cochabamba (Bolivia), where everything started for my wife and me. This trip got us one step closer to getting my wife’s degree but it wasn’t without roadbumps.

Due to some administrative incompetence, we had to stay longer and reschedule our return flights to Peru. But we also needed to reschedule our flights to Belgium for the next week. The positive thing is that it gave us just enough time to get our vaccines before and after the trip.

Getting on these flights between Peru and Bolivia was complicated. The local airline acted as border control and they wouldn’t let me board unless I had a return flight. I hadn’t booked it yet because we didn’t know when we’d be able to return. They made me buy a ticket at the airport or they wouldn’t let me on board. So that’s part of why we had to reschedule our flights.

By the end of October, we finally made it on a plane to Belgium. I was super stressed to get my wife’s travel documents sorted, but this time everything was more relaxed and we didn’t even need to show all paperwork. That surprised me.

Back in Belgium, I changed my residency and started my solo business, something I had been looking forward to for a while. My wife and daughter still officially live in Peru, though. That’s something we want to change next year.

Now, hopefully, I won’t get in trouble to get back to Peru in a few weeks. I definitely haven’t a clue when I’ll be leaving the country again so I guess I’ll need to rebook our flights a few times again.

Next year

Me-time, family time and personal health are my priorities for this year. I’ve let myself slip in the past few months and I’ve gained a few kgs. As a result, I’m weighing more than ever before.

Due to COVID-19 and other circumstances, I’ve done very little exercise in the past two years. These circumstances aren’t circumventable, however. But they’ve made it too easy to find excuses. This year, I need to stop making excuses if I want to get back into shape.

Unfortunately, I’ve made a terrible start to the year. I tested positive for COVID on the second day already. And just after receiving the result, I lost a piece of a tooth. Worst possible timing.

Biggest Lessons

While taking a shower after writing this, I had a Eureka moment.

I always feel like there’s too much to do and too little time to do it. I’ve been aware that focus is an issue. When you want to do too many things at once, you can’t do anything well.

So a while back, I decided to schedule one side project per month. But now I’ve realised that isn’t the right approach. My deadlines are too tight. I already feel the stress and the month hasn’t even properly started.

Instead, I’ll just focus on one project after the other. And I’ll give each project the time it requires.

No more deadlines, but more routines and structure to make things work.

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