UI Breakfast Year in Review 2016

Published December 28, 2016 by Jane Portman
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Year in Review Illustration

My dear friend, it’s time to pick up the stones and line up the ducks. This year at UI Breakfast was big! Read on to see how different ideas worked out, and what the plans are for the upcoming year.

If you’re curious, here are the reports from 2014 and 2015.

Consulting

Consulting work this year was occasional and enjoyable. I only took on a few interesting projects which resulted in healthy revenue. Some might ring a bell for you: Airstory by Joanna Wiebe, FirstOfficer by Jaana Kulmala, Audience Ops Calendar (early stage) by Brian Casel.

I also did plenty of custom UI audits and strategy calls (applying my own method from the book) which were hugely inspiring for all parties.

The UI Audit

The UI Audit was a big success this year.

I started the year publishing The 1-Hour UI Audit — free crash course to collect signups for the book. It did well (luckily it launched before free email courses started feeling redundant). Pre-orders have also been running since October.

A number of custom UI audits in January and February helped me to finalize the book content. Everything finally fell in place with the audit method. I diligently finished the remaining chapters, brought in a few awesome founders as beta-readers, made a hard decision to skip illustrations, did a final revision with my editor Ine, and launched on March 31.

The sales went great, fueled by $3,000 in pre-orders. As of today, the book made over $13,000 in gross revenue.

Later on in October I did a complete rewrite of the sales page. It shifted the focus from SaaS founders towards the general design public, and highlighted the new “pains” which I consider more relevant. Here’s a detailed blog post about it.

The book is still my flagship product, and I plan to further improve and promote it.

UI Breakfast Website Redesign

I’ve long wanted a fresh look for UI Breakfast website, but kept postponing this big effort. Until it became a must. I had a strong feeling that the old page layout was hurting book sales, and it was time to take the bull by the horns.

I laid out the pages using Webflow (did you know I’m not a coding person?) and hired a WordPress developer to make a custom WP theme, based on my HTML/CSS.

I launched the new website in July and never looked back. It makes me absolutely happy because it’s simple yet truly polished: great responsive typography, all the spacing honed to perfection, etc. The book page looks great, too.

I could finally build simple text pages without having to invent imagery for them. That led to a plethora of useful new pages: Content Guide, Services, Email List, Now, Contact.

Mailing List

My mailing list grew from 5,500 to 8,000 subscribes this year, which I’m endlessly proud of. Here are the biggest growth factors: The Design Superpower (more on that below), webinars, a series of guest posts at InVision blog, the podcast tour.

After the advice heard at the Chicago retreat (more on that below) I decided to double down on my list, and started mailing out things up to 3–4 times per week. Overall, I sent out more than 100 broadcasts this year. All of that collected great feedback, but was probably too intense — now I’m taking a pause with most of the formats.

Successful Content Formats

The following formats worked great this year.

UI Practicum. It’s a series of hands-on UI/UX articles which further evolved into video teardowns. I had always guessed that readers would love something like that, but at the same time it’s much harder to produce than high-level advice — which you see everywhere. I’m proud that I doubled down and published specific case studies. I also made an attempt to monetize these articles, but it didn’t go anywhere (lesson learned).

Webinars. The trend started with two successful webinars hosted by InVision: Indispensable Business Knowledge for Designers and Productized Consulting for Designers. Then I did three webinars on my own platform using Crowdcast: here they go. And some more for other platforms: one for Webflow and one for Viking Code School.

The general effect from these events is very positive, but I don’t enjoy the real-time pressure (the responsibility to show up for a large number of people, and the technical burden). As a result, I’ll probably skip on webinars for now.

The Design Superpower (now inactive) is a free email course collectively written by 12 famous designers. I did the outreach and content gathering, Ine did editing, Heidi Pun implemented everything else — it was originally her initiative. Here’s a podcast episode with Heidi where we talk about behind-the-scene details. Collecting all these articles was a great exercise in outreach for me, and also the inspiration for Tiny Reminder. It was also a big source of growth for my email list here at UI Breakfast.

UI Breakfast Podcast

UI Breakfast Podcast turned out much more important (and more successful) than I expected it to be. Over the last 12 months it collected more than 60,000 listens.

This year I published 39 times (episodes 7—44, plus two bonus interviews from the book). From sporadic episodes I switched to publishing consistently every Thursday. I also started sponsorships for the podcast.

It took me a while to find the right format. After recording three seasons (Kai Davis, Christopher Hawkins, Marie Poulin), I settled on publishing individual episodes with different guests. New faces are just more interesting. I also love the style of black-and-white portraits for each episode, they look classy at the website and on social media.

These days I’m inviting guests to talk about a specific design-related topic (not just “appear” as a guest). I also have a 5-question blitz questionnaire that allows us to learn about the guest and quickly dive into the main topic. Such focus makes episodes more valuable to the listener.

The Podcast Tour & Other Interviews

After the book launch I did what we call “a podcast tour” — a round of appearances at other podcasts, talking about a specific topic. You can find the entire list (10 podcasts) here in the content guide.

These appearances didn’t bring in wild book sales, but they were fantastic for building more authority.

I also did interesting written interviews for Frontify blog and for Balsamiq Champions blog. The final touch before Christmas was my interview in Net Magazine published in the UK (here’s a modest scan). Great final touch for 2016!

New SaaS Product: Tiny Reminder

I’ve always been an aspiring founder, but this year it felt particularly timely. After a few sleepless nights with other (less attractive) ideas, I came up with a pain worth solving — getting things from people on time. After some brainstorming, it evolved into a more specific tool for consultants called Tiny Reminder.

Not only it solves a big pain by automating the client interactions, but it also has a built-in growth opportunity (since it’s a client-facing app like Calendly). Here’s a video overview.

The timeline shows some great traction:

If things go as planned, we’ll do the public launch in January. Zapier integration is on the way, too. I’m enormously excited about this project, and making it the #1 goal in the upcoming year. Something to grow and nurture!

Things That Didn’t Stay

A few things were started but later removed off the plate — because they didn’t align with the main direction.

Consultant WordPress theme. I started this as collaboration with Press75 last year (and even designed the wireframes). As The UI Audit required more time, I made a tough decision to back out from this project. We parted amicably!

Coaching. Honestly, I’m glad it didn’t attract much attention (here’s the announcement) — my ultimate lifestyle strategy is to shed off commitments, not to take them on.

Community (Forums). It seemed a right move to give my awesome readers a place to hang out. I did a poll. A healthy number of people wanted it — here are the results. I did a ton of research and set up a whole forum on Disqus, all before deciding that it’s not a viable investment of my time.

One of the big factors was Alex Hillman’s audiobook about community building. I realized I wouldn’t be able to carefully nurture this community without sacrificing other things. So I let it go without any big announcements.

Training. The spark to start training was Reuven Lerner’s amazing talk at DYFConf in Stockholm. I did all the necessary steps, outlined the program, wrote the sales page. Then I got heavily inspired and decided to take the bull by the horns — and do a training tour in London.

The problem with training lies in the format. It can be done onsite (traveling away from family) or remotely. In a private consultation, instructional design coach Stacey Howe-Lott said it’s really tough to do a productive workshop remotely. My experiment showed the same. One week before London I had a half-baked training program, which I tested as an online version. And it wasn’t a good fit. While the cold outreach for onsite workshops didn’t yield any results either — and it was totally draining.

By the time we arrived at London, I was so tired I could barely speak. So it was a great vacation instead! Plus, a ton of lessons learned. After that trip, I was happy to wrap up the training idea — I guess the format just isn’t a good fit. Let’s keep travel for conferences and leisure.

Conferences & Vacations

Travel was big this year! I did one mastermind retreat, three conference talks, and four vacations.

Key takeaway: travel is awesome, but you need relaxed at-home time to recharge — ideally around 2 months. Otherwise, you’re at a high risk of burnout — like I nearly did in the middle of the year.

We normally do all trips together with my husband, family vacations being an exception. This year I did two trips on my own (Stockholm and Brighton). Traveling solo has its own cons and pros: you can focus entirely on business communication, but you also feel lonely and less secure.

Lifestyle & Family

Family is just great (as opposed to the drama of 2015). We moved to another city in September, far away from friends and relatives. This meant less business trips for my husband. We’ve been enjoying more family time, sprinkled with awesome local daytrips.

As of today, our boys are 3 and 4.5 years old, we have a wonderful babysitter, and my time is everything between 9am and 7pm. This year (particularly towards the end of it) I’ve been enjoying some guilt-free spare time during the day — shopping around, taking care of myself, eating out. That’s great, and I’m intending to keep it up.

Early in the year I hired a personal stylist for an extensive consultation, and this helped me to understand myself better and to be more decisive about my clothes (feeling good in gray and white, and not worrying about “colors”).

With all the travel, healthy eating and exercise got very much diluted. I hope to do better in the upcoming year.

Both myself and my husband have been thinking a lot about necessities vs luxuries. As one gets more money to spend, we have to make decisions. Should it be diamonds and furs (definitely not), travel, food, savings? What’s the best way to deal with your wants and needs, especially if there aren’t many — any more?

Key Takeaways from 2016

Build content for your platform. Guest posting is great, but focus on your own audience. Ideally your website should be a beautiful place with decent amount of content, not a business card of someone who’s too busy jumping around.

Explore new formats. Only by doing can you figure out what works for you. Don’t be afraid to try. Let things go if they don’t work. Stick to them if they do.

Don’t count on others. When planning new projects, think as if other influencers didn’t exist: count on your own mailing list only. Don’t count on magic external events or platforms — if anything comes along, it will be a pleasant bonus.

Travel wisely. Find your balanced home vs travel schedule and stick to it. Make breaks between trips. Buy nice travel gear. Travel with a friend or spouse to share new impressions.

Friends are everything. Mastermind groups and Slack communities are amazing. Support, accountability, technical advice — friends are always out there to help.

Goals for 2017

You’ll see that most of my goals this year are marked “if I feel so” — while Tiny Reminder is the main goal. I’m not so adventurous this year about new formats and new commitments.

Thank You for Reading This

Thanks for making it to the end of this huge post! Maybe these takeaways will help you in your own business. I hope the new year brings success, peace, and happiness to you and your family!

Best regards,
Jane.

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