Year in Review 2018
In this post:
For me, 2018 was probably one of the biggest, most impactful years of my life. It was easily one of my best years in a decade, and it was full of high-highs and low-lows. We’ll unpack all of that here.
But before I actually dig in, thank you.
Thank you to the entire Unicorn Think Tank family, Claire Suellentrop, Patrick Wiseman, Lauren Patrick, Kamil Rextin, Ryan Robinson, Katie Martell, Mojca Mars, Anand Thaker, Stefan Koenig, Atlanta Tech Village, and everyone else who contributed to this intense, but inspiring year.
Thanks to my amazing clients — I’m so honored to work with you and help you build amazing businesses and products.
And finally, thanks to my future partner in crime, Zac Orangio. It wouldn’t have been the same without your support, and I’m forever grateful (and deeply thrilled to marry you in 2019).
Theme of 2018: Fearlessness
As I sit here next to my Christmas tree sipping my too-strong coffee, I reflect on 2018.
While my brain naturally paints a positive picture of the year (believe me — it was truly the best thing that could have happened to me), I have to admit it had its downs too.
It was a near-constant cycle of courage and fear.
On the one hand, forming DemandMaven was terrifying.
Working as an in-house marketer at an early-stage, pre-Series A startup was already unpredictable, but creating a company and starting from scratch where you’re the product seemed infinitely worse.
That amount of perceived instability almost stopped me from starting DemandMaven and throwing in the towel a few times.
And on the other hand, I knew I wouldn’t be happy unless I tried it.
I knew I’d be sitting at my desk at the next in-house job wondering what kind of growth I would have achieved and what kind of career I’d have.
I was choosing between two evils: regret or fear. Knowing I’d rather live with fear than live with regret, I chose to start DemandMaven.
It wasn’t without a massive amount of hyperventilating, several “Oh my god.. what have I done?”, and “😂💀” emojis, but I dove in anyways.
(Surprise: I succeeded.)
The year of 2018, therefore, became the year of fearlessness and the journey of learning to navigate the unpredictable life of a marketer, founder, entrepreneur, and consultant.
I learned to find security and stability in myself while building a business that could withstand one of the most volatile markets in the universe: startups.
I wasn’t 100% convinced or sure that DemandMaven would succeed (and to be honest, time will tell if I’ve built something sustainable). I was, however, willing to draw upon my courage and self-confidence to put forth a solution to a festering problem in the startup world: not enough early-stage, hands-on, and affordable access to exceptional marketing talent.
Major 2018 Wins
I think this is the part where I get to unabashedly brag, but there’s too many accomplishments to list in this blog post. I’ll do my best to give you the highlights, but it’s going to be tough.
🚀 Launched DemandMaven in February 🚀
This probably goes without saying, but forming and launching was an accomplishment in itself. I officially formed DemandMaven in mid-February. By March 2018, I booked my first clients and was off to the races.
Executing the launch plan for DemandMaven was a huge success, and is an engine that continues to bring me referrals, introductions, and opportunities to this day.
It never slowed down, and that alone has made me incredibly proud.
🗣️ Put my voice out there 🗣️
I didn’t do a ton of writing this year, but I still did more than I ever did when I was in-house. I wrote for:
- Baremetrics about the importance of founder-generated content
- Appcues about troubleshooting the onboarding experience
- Ryan Robinson on how I made my first $10K in 90 days
- DemandMaven on how to read growth hacking posts like an enlightened reader
That same post was also featured in GrowthHackers.
I also did quite a bit of speaking — something I plan to improve and increase over the coming year. I did an AMA with Stripe, a podcast with Quuu, a podcast with Cheshire Impact, a talk at Simply SaaS, a talk at TechStars, and of course, Forget the Funnel.
All of these opportunities were incredible, and I’m excited to do more of it next year!
🖋️ First 5-figure deal 🖋️
Right around May, I inked my very first 5-figure deal with one of my existing clients. I don’t typically produce agreements for more than 3 months at a time, but I made a special exception for a client I’m still working with to this day.
Our teams really gelled, and I produced some great results and amazing work for them. They asked to book DemandMaven for the next 6 months, and the rest is history.
👩🏾🏫 Became an advisor of Atlanta Tech Village 👩🏾🏫
I’ve been involved in my city and startup community pretty much from the get-go, but I especially dove in this year. I was honored to speak at Atlanta Tech Village, Simply SaaS, and TechStars this year.
As of December 2018, I became an advisor for the community at Atlanta Tech Village. All of that hard work does help my build my business, but more importantly, it helps elevate the city, startup community, and its founders. Every month, I’ll be contributing a few hours of my time for free.
🎓 Invested in all kinds of education and skills 🎓
I’m definitely not the kind of person who’s weird about talking about the courses I took. (We’re all still learning, right?)
It’s also been actual years since I invested in my skills. While building DemandMaven, I knew I was going to need to upgrade some of my capabilities — whether for money or time (or both).
These were the books I read and courses I took this year! More than happy to dive into each one in a separate post. Let me know if that’s something you’d be down to read in the comments below.
- Brennan Dunn’s Double Your Freelancing
- Grow and Convert’s Customers from Content
- Ahref’s Blogging for Business
- Copyhackers’ Tutorial Tuesdays
- Ryan Robinson’s Built to Blog
- Good Strategy, Bad Strategy
- The Business of Expertise
- Business of Software Conference
- Rand Fishkin’s Lost and Founder
- Kim Scott’s Radical Candor
- Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
- Elad Gil’s High-Growth Handbook
🏅 First case study — Exposure 🏅
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention DemandMaven’s first case study from an amazing client. I’ve been working with some pretty amazing companies all year, but I am especially proud of Exposure.
I helped Exposure increase visitor-to-trial conversion rate by 68%, prove out an acquisition models, and gave the founder immense clarity on who he was building for and where he needed to take the product.
📵 First no-tech “vacation” 📵
This one makes me glassy-eyed just thinking about it. I took my first “I’m not doing any work” vacation in about 3 years.
I used to wear the #hustlemuscle badge on my arm with every vacation I took, feeling like I had something to prove by the amount of hours I put in on PTO vacation time.
But over the years, it amassed so much physical tension and mental exhaustion in my body that it started to take an ugly toll on everything.
I signed up for a no-tech, 10-day meditation retreat and was accepted. It was sun-up to sun-down meditation, 10.5 hours every single day, and on top of that, a vow of silence. For 10 days.
It was the best vacation I’ve ever taken, even though it was incredibly hard work. I came back rejuvenated — proud of myself for having accomplished such an incredible feat, and completely de-stressed.
Challenges of 2018
🥾 Bootstrapping this baby 100% 🥾
I understand, now, why many people save up a few thousand dollars before starting their business.
I didn’t. I took my last paycheck, popped open Stripe Atlas, and had a company in a few minutes.
I hit the ground running with securing a few clients, but I forgot about this thing called “cash flow” and it was a bitch the first months of DemandMaven’s life. I realized too late that my contracts weren’t actually going to pay out until May, so I posted a big fat goose-egg of revenue in April.
It ended up being perfectly fine, though. It was comfortable again after the first few awkward months.
✍️ Inconsistent content creation ✍️
Looking back on everything I did, I produced a lot of content in 2018.
It just wasn’t all on DemandMaven.io — something that’s probably fine in the long-run, but I admit I was hyper-aware of the lack of content on my website.
I also had several false starts on some content initiatives for the website. Everything from writing a book to filming website teardowns to regular articles on the DemandMaven blog. There’s a lot of unpublished drafts and unedited videos that I just haven’t been able to bring to the light of day.
Part of this inconsistency is due to just running a services business — you end up more focused on clients than your actual business.
And at the same time, I know that’s not an excuse. I have the team now to help me streamline the content creation process for the business, and I’m looking forward to producing thought-provoking, high-value, high-quality content next year.
🔎 Accurate asf account qualification 🔎
When I first started DemandMaven, I knew exactly who I wanted to work with. And for the most part, I had placed amazing first bets.
Even though it took a little bit longer to define the services I wanted to offer, I always knew my target market. I just needed to adjust my offerings to fit my ultimate customer: first-time non-marketing founders of up-and-coming SaaS startups.
They could be seed-round or Series A. They could even be 100% bootstrapped. For the most part, I can work with any startup in those stages.
The hardest part was distinguishing between a founder being a Time Waster™️ or a Real Deal™️.
Time Wasters often wanted me to start
today immediately — stop everything I’m doing and start working on their projects. They also usually wanted me to give them an hourly rate as opposed to my standard project rate. If I hear the words “But how many hours is that?”, I know it’s probably not going to be a founder I partner with.
Other red flags include:
- not being a subject matter expert for their own product in their own vertical or industry,
- not being able to sell their product and close a few deals, and
- not being able to describe the pain their product solves.
Imagine trying to sell commission tracking software to commercial real estate brokerages, for example, and never having worked a day in a brokerage in your life. Or selling photography software, but you didn’t know Canon and Nikon were different brands.
But the biggest indicator of a Time Waster? They won’t let me go through my tried and true, proven process.
Closing deals effectively for DemandMaven meant defining a real qualification process — one that I use for every single discovery call I take.
They have to fulfill certain qualitative and quantitative requirements. Even if they have the budget, they must be the right cultural fit for DemandMaven. Otherwise, we’ll waste each other’s time and not get the results either one of us wants to see.
When a founder is the Real Deal, they know the pain and the product they’ve built so well that they’ve sold it to me by the end of the call. They trust in me and my process, and they follow my lead when it comes to defining their initial go-to-market strategy.
They’re incredibly engaged in the customer development process, and they have an ear for hearing the product suggestions and possibilities that emerge in the conversation.
The calculator I use now helps me objectively those founders, and it’s been pretty indispensable so far.
💼 To become an agency, or not become an agency 💼
Every time I talk about what DemandMaven does and what it’s built to do, everyone and their grandmother tells me to go upmarket.
They’re probably not wrong — I could be making infinitely more revenue and money by catering to businesses that can afford a higher-ticket consultancy. I can charge more for our services and therefore pocket more of that income.
There’s a big glaring catch, though: I’m not interested in serving a more mature market or audience.
I love working with first-time founders. In a way, we’re in the same boat. I’m a first-time founder, too. Except I’ve got a strong marketing and product muscle and I’d love to use it on fellow founders’ businesses.
If I want to keep working with founders, I need to be both affordable and high-quality. Needless to say, it’s tough to do both. At least for now, I’m rejecting the “move upmarket” mindset.
I’m not hiring any full-time employees anytime soon. I wouldn’t be able to remain affordable otherwise.
Other options include bringing on contractors and freelancers to help execute the strategy we develop during the first strategic engagement — a path I’ve already begun to pursue.
🧞♀️ It’s (probably) okay to be a generalist if the market is niche enough. 🧞♀️
I’ve been struggling with this one for a while. At first blush, it very much feels like I’m a generalist (a dirty word in the consulting world).
I’m not perfect at everything in marketing, but I do understand the breadth and depth of the marketing channels and strategies available to an early-stage startup.
And because my target market and ideal customer profile are so niche, I’ve mastered figuring out that combination for companies. I’ve figured out how to turn my expansive knowledge of marketing into a formula and a process that my client and I can trust, implement, and leverage to get results.
For once, being a generalist has paid off, even though it feels incredibly weird. I could probably niche even more, but so far, it’s working. This is something I’ll continue to test in 2019.
🦃 Don’t go cold-turkey 🦃
It probably goes without saying, but I don’t think I’d go cold-turkey again. I trust myself more now than ever before, but I probably didn’t need to put myself through that kind of proving-ground.
Don’t go cold-turkey, kids. Just don’t. You don’t need that kind of stress in your life.
📈 20% effort; 80% results 📈
It’s the mantra I’ve adopted over the past few weeks: focus on the activities that are 20% of the effort and bring 80% of the results. Not necessarily from a marketing perspective, but for my own personal productivity.
I found myself constantly asking the questions “Is this important? Or is this urgent? And should I be doing it?” towards the last quarter of the year. The reality is that a good portion of the work I do isn’t remarkably improved by me specifically doing it.
Perfect example: building a landing page. Can you really tell the difference between a landing page I build myself or one I’ve taught my assistant to create? No. Not really.
There’s a long list of activities that I don’t inherently contribute value to. Building contracts, landing pages, website pages, writing blog posts, entering content into WordPress or some other CMS, building graphics, re-sizing images, etc. are all things I probably shouldn’t be spending my time on.
My true value manifests during the go-to-market strategy work, customer development, and defining and setting up the marketing department. And then, of course, running that engine.
So now, every activity that ends up on my plate goes through the following checklist:
- Is it urgent? Sudden, pressing matters; interruptions, etc
- Is it important? Generates a desired outcome, results, and/or revenue
- Do I actively provide value by doing it? The work relies on my deep expertise and knowledge; isn’t easily transferable or trainable
This helps me stay more in line with making sure my time goes towards the activities that produce the results with as little of my own time as possible.
Depending on the answers to those questions, I’ll either delegate it, or make a plan to do it myself.
✊🏾 Just f*cking believe in yourself. ✊🏾
Kick fear to the curb — where it belongs.
Fear, imposter syndrome, and anxiety were my close friends at the beginning of the year. By the end of 2018, I lost all of their numbers, blocked them on social, reported them, and had my lawyer send a do not contact and a cease and desist.
Some fear and anxiety are perfectly healthy. Keeps you on your toes.
But the fear that prevents you from exploring new opportunities, doing great work, or pursuing relationships just isn’t welcome. At all.
I learned that you must shake fear. And if you can’t shake it, at least put it to work.
Theme of 2019: Balance
I’m tempted to say the theme of 2019 is going to be growth, but that’s only the half-truth.
It really needs to be about balance.
I met my revenue goal for DemandMaven in my first year, but it definitely wasn’t 6-figures.
I spent the first half of the year understanding my business and figuring out what I could offer that would produce results for clients, and the second half of the year executing on that new vision.
(In fact, I just ran the numbers and I only charged my full rate the last quarter of 2018 — which means there’s a lot of revenue to be generated next year.)
For 2019, I’ll continue to execute that vision, but I’ll be introducing a concept that will allow me to accomplish all of my non-career goals: balance.
When I say balance, I mean the things in life that make it complete and whole. I need to make business investments that allow me to take vacation without everything coming to a full-stop. I need to build a business that enables me to enjoy exercise again, meditate regularly, and work no more than 40 hours a week.
Remember hobbies? Remember hiking and playing the uke and open mics and hosting dinner parties?
There’s also personal relationships with friends and family I want to make sure I can make time for.
From a business perspective, this means freeing up more of my time. Cultivating a shortlist of contractors and other consultants who can take on the tasks I don’t need to be doing. (Side note: if you’re a freelancer who works with consultancies like mine, please @ me.)
I’d also love to focus on products and even more niche services that can scale my efforts.
I have wild dreams of writing books that motivate founders and marketers alike. I dream of designing and building courses for founders that teach them what they need to know about marketing to either execute themselves or hire amazing talent.
Some of these dreams have actually taken root and are coming down the pike next year (no spoilers, tho). Stay tuned on that, because it’s coming. 😉
And then, of course, there’s revenue — crossing the 6-figure mark in 2019 is 1000% achievable for my business. It’s going to require:
- Excellent project management
- Personal work-life balance
Did I mention I’m completely booked through April 2019? I’m mf’ing booked through April 2019 and I’ve been booked since November 2018. And yes — there’s a queue forming which is something I need to figure out how my business can reasonably manage without sacrificing the quality and high standards I hold myself and others to.
Kind of blows my mind that this even happened, and I consider myself extremely lucky.
All said, I know what’s ahead of me.
I can see it pretty clearly — but I’ll need to focus and remain as balanced as possible to prevent burn out and keep me executing in healthy non-workaholic way (because ya’ girl can definitely workaholic to a fault).
Thank you so much for reading! I’m looking forward to next year, and I hope you are too!
So, uh, will you join me then?