This year we had a plethora of spectacular 2014 reviews (many thanks to Charlie Irish for this lineup). I’m joining the crowd, too! Here goes everything that happened to me, my family, and my business in 2014.
So… I had two products planned for 2014: productized consulting and my own SaaS. Read on to learn which of them succeeded (and why).
Epic win! Without any doubt, 2014 for me was a year of productized consulting. I started putting together Correlation in February, then launched it in April.
As of now, I settled at the perfect number of 3 ongoing clients (4 and 5 being too much). Throughout the year I worked with 6 “productized” clients total (plus 7 regular non-productized clients).
I got some interesting names in my client list this year:
Brennan Dunn with Planscope — one of the early Correlation clients: “She sold me immediately on this. I’m a paying customer. Going to be HUGE for Planscope!”
Joanna Wiebe & Lance Jones from Copy Hackers — one-time client, we worked on their new product (sorry to hear that Disco was ultimately shut down): “Jane delivered the unicorn of consulting.”
Joel Hooks from egghead.io — an awesome ongoing client: “Working with Jane has been top notch. It’s like Xmas every month. Unwrapping cool new designs for egghead.io.”
Can’t recommend productized consulting enough. It’s comfortable, predictable, beneficial — both for the consultant and the client. In case you’d like to join the trend, my friend Brian Casel has an awesome course called Productize.
What’s awesome: the ability to make a predictable amount of money each month while maintaining a half-empty schedule. With recurring clients, you don’t have to spend any time negotiating new gigs. And this seems like a ton of rescued time to me.
Plus, I only get to work with the best clients, and we get a chance to develop a really great relationship based on trust.
Marketing, of course, remains. But it’s much more proactive, product-driven & strategic. And my living doesn’t depend on it immediately.
It took some time to find the best way of organizing those monthly design sessions that I provide. There is, of course, some communicational & organizational overhead. I tried handling clients one by one, and simultaneously. Finally, I succeeded in removing any possible strict deadlines (which provide unnecessary stress).
Here’s what I do: in the beginning of each month I contact all of my clients & we schedule and conduct our initial chats. Then I say something like “I’ll get back to you within the next couple weeks with the output” and do my work in a totally flexible manner, sending over the results whenever they’re done.
Splitting a single design session into two smaller parts (wireframes + actual layouts) has also been a big win. It seems like a no-brainer now, but actually it wasn’t that obvious — as the majority of work can be done without wireframes. But wireframes are a perfect way to gain that preliminary approval.
My overall feeling is that I totally transitioned from a sales-focused, schedule-managing machine — into a relaxed businessman. This feeling is worth a million dollars.
Fail! A very good example of “educated” procrastination.
I always wanted to run my own SaaS because I thought that’s something I’d enjoy, since I’ve been giving away advice for bootstrapped founders all the time.
The plan was to build a piece of software called Client Onboard that would help consultants interview their clients.
But slowly an information component of the SaaS overweighed the software functionality. The last straw was a chat with Samuel Hulick who was having similar thoughts about his software product. So I decided to settle on a course with the same name.
Then I put together a very nice landing page (here’s a screenshot) and started writing a free crash course to capture leads.
And then I began having doubts. What bothered me was a product-market fit. I wanted to sell something to designers, while being totally aware that they’re not a good audience (at least not for myself).
Actually, in the long run these doubts saved my poor soul from spending a few months on a wrong thing.
Only then did I have a revelation! My ideal customer is my potential client, a founder of a small software business. How could I not have this simple idea earlier?
I don’t want to teach designers like myself. I want to teach people who are like my awesome clients. Those who would like to do something themselves, can’t afford an expensive design consultant, or need clarification in many hard problems of a bootstrapped founder.
So one of my 2015 goals is to launch a course for business founders, teaching them the best design practices (going side-by-side with the business matters). The value proposition will get better as the sales copy starts emerging.
Oh, such a shame… Just 2 solid articles in my blog this year:
But I produced much more than this, where did it go?
Pro tip: the best content should always go into your own product or blog, otherwise you risk dissolving your effort like I did.
Looks like I did more interviews than I did my own stuff.
One of the reasons for media coverage was productized consulting. In our bootstrapped circle, I was lucky to become one of the “early adopters” and “great examples” of something that’s now a global trend.
Here are some mentions:
This year my mailing list grew from 200 (grown from zero starting September 2013) to over 800 subscribers (as of today). This is a nice growth rate, especially considering the fact that I didn’t do almost any active promotion.
I have two sign-up sources for the mailing list: a sample book chapter from Mastering App Presentation and my free course on managing designers (which has prevailed lately).
I sent 17 letters to my mailing list (not counting autoresponders), which is certainly less than I’d like to.
This year I bought a huge Blue Yeti mic and started doing things I never did before, like recording my own podcast.
To listen to UI Breakfast Podcast, subscribe to http://www.uibreakfast.com/podcast/rss.xml in your favorite podcast app. Or use iTunes.
First episodes were dedicated to the Client Onboard project (see post-mortem notes above), but for the future episodes I’m just going to enjoy this media as my primary means of producing content.
I did transcripts for these episodes, too (of course I used an external service). This is excessively perfectionist. It’s undoubtedly good for SEO & overall image, but not really necessary.
Organized well, publishing a podcast episode should be easier than putting together a blog post. While listening to a podcast is a more immersive, personal experience than scanning a post. Win-win!
So I’ll give this genre another chance this year.
The idea is to run the podcast in series, inviting my friends to co-host — not “forever,” but for a limited number of episodes. Let’s say, 5 episodes (one per week, meeting up same time) — looks like a nice way to streamline the process & make things more interesting. Plus, it’ll be a way to share ongoing news, like a public mastermind group.
In April, I attended MicroConf in Las Vegas, and it was awesome. I made many new friends, and met some of my online friends in person for the first time.
In October, the second MicroConf happened in Prague, and I got a chance to speak. So awesome!
The talk was called “Design for Founders: 4 Shortcuts for Getting Great Design in Record Time.” Here’s the slide deck and here’s a recap by Christoph Engelhardt.
My feeling is that the talk went rather nice. At least, I didn’t fall off the stage, neither did I freeze in the middle of a sentence (both being my worst fears).
Big win — 4 large vacations this year!
We had nice solid vacations planned around these two conferences. In spring, we spent a week in New York City and a week in Las Vegas (both gorgeous, the only impediment being our 6-month-old younger son who was teething all the time).
In August, we had 3 weeks of a “working vacation” in one of Crimea’s resort areas. When I was there, trying to work instead of swimming in the sea, I swore that I’d never try to combine work with travel again. Retrospectively, it seems not such a bad idea — it allowed all of us to enjoy the beautiful sea longer than usual (since we were making money at the same time).
This was our first big trip with both kids & a babysitter. Pro tip: it takes 2 adults to manage 2 toddlers (like I didn’t know that). Bringing your own babysitter doesn’t mean you’ll be chilling all day long!
Then we had a “real” vacation in Greece, 10 days in the island of Crete (again, my husband, both kids & our awesome babysitter). This was much better, sipping cocktails by the pool, club hopping, etc.
In October, we spent a week in Prague doing sightseeing. What a beautiful city! Rather chilly in October, too. At least for myself, as a pedestrian (I hide from Russian winters sitting at home or driving a car).
We started a year having a part-time babysitter, and then hired a full-time babysitter in May.
With two small sons (little less than 1.5 and 3 years old, as of today) all my available time equals a babysitter’s workday. For me, it’s the time from 9:30am to 7pm from Monday to Friday.
This sounds like a lot of time. But it includes actual work, gym, everything beauty-related, shopping, cooking, house chores, occasional doctor’s appointments with kids, other errands, plus commute time.
Here’s my lifestyle breakthrough this year: I made my working schedule half-empty and totally flexible to accommodate all these things into a workday (see the above section on eliminating deadlines). I did occasionally pull all-nighters like I did before, but that was not often.
Generally, I feel healthy and happy today. Most of the credit for this goes to productized consulting.
Probably 2/3 of the time this year my husband spent in long business trips, away from home. If it wasn’t for such pleasant work-life balance, I’d probably have fallen into a depression, or something else.
December 27th (our 6th wedding anniversary) we unexpectedly decided to relocate to another city — closer to my husband’s business, promising less trips. So we found a new bigger house, packed light, and moved on January 17th!
As I’m writing this today, I’m sitting in a new home office with pistachio-colored walls (not exactly my choice but looks nice).
We’ll see if we like it there.
Embrace who you are, where you come from, and use this in your business. Do what you love. Do what you do best.
Get out of your comfort zone. Try new “uncomfortable” activities: writing books, going to conferences, recording podcasts.
Love your target audience, your clients, and what they do. Help them with their business. This is a recipe for motivation & success. Ideally, your product audience = your clients.
Be ready for big opportunities when they come. Get a passport before you think about going to a conference. Buy a good mic before you’re invited to interviews. Prepare your payment systems before you get a splash in revenue. Build a free course to capture leads before you have a splash in traffic.
Help people. Listen. Enjoy. Recommend. Retweet. Share. Do free stuff (occasionally & conditionally). This is good karma and brings on awesome fresh energy.
Here are my key goals that I’ll be working towards in 2015, to keep myself focused, motivated, and accountable:
Hope this writeup gives you a better understanding of my business & makes us better friends. Maybe you find something actionable for yourself, too.
And good luck in 2015! Who knows what tomorrow holds for us…
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