2020 - Year in Review

What went well, what didn't go so well, and the lessons I learned in 2020.
January 20, 2021
Queenstown, NZ

I’ve never published an annual review before because my assumption was that people don’t read them or don’t enjoy reading them.

But then I came across Corey Haines' annual review, as well as Nat Eliason’s, and felt inspired to publish my own.

What went well this year?

Doubled business revenue (well, almost)

This year was the first year that I didn’t set some arbitrary financial goal for the business.

In the past I’ve set lofty goals like “Make X amount of revenue with X% profit margin”

Then I realized that setting these type of goals provide motivation, but they don’t always lead to the best long term business decisions.

Sometimes you need to spend 3 months working on something that’s not going to make you money until 1.5 years down the road. That’s just the way it works. But if you’re fixated on making X amount of money that year, you won’t make the best decision and instead you’ll optimize for the short term.

That aside, EDMProd grew (revenue + profit) for the 5th consecutive year.


A big part of the reason for this jump was the positive COVID effect.

I don’t like sharing this because I know how many people have been negatively affected by COVID, by no fault of their own. It’s pure luck that I fell into an online-based business in a niche that was positively affected by a pandemic.

When COVID became serious, I was legitimately worried that it would trigger the decline of EDMProd because:

  • It would trigger a worldwide recession
  • People would stop buying courses on music production (it’s not a need)

Then a few weeks later I woke up to good sales day. Then another. Then another.

This continued for 2 months over the first lockdown period. You can see how our search traffic jumped.


We almost doubled our daily sessions over this 2 month period, and all we could put it down to was increased search volume. We hadn’t ranked for any extra keywords, there was no significant change in existing keyword rankings. It was simply more people searching for the terms.

As you can see, this normalized in June. Even with subsequent lockdowns there hasn’t been any change.

This is interesting to me, but I think it’s probably because the first lockdown was novel. People had more time on their hands. They could finally pursue that project they’d been putting off (e.g. learning to make music).

During subsequent lockdowns, novelty had (and has) probably worn off. Life is life. There are still obligations and responsibilities. Work has ramped back up as employers have figured out how to do the remote thing.

This is my assumption anyway.

Launched three new products

We launched 3 new products at EDMProd during 2020:

The first two were core courses, the other was a small offer.

Did next to no client work (except some consulting)

In previous years, I’ve usually done marketing or web design for clients. I’ve done this in the past to boost my income (even though I didn’t really need to as the business was making enough).

This year, I finished up one copywriting and web design project in January. After that, I made the commitment not to do anymore client work unless there’s significant asymmetric upside to it. In other words, I’m not doing one-off paid projects.

I consider this a win because I don’t really enjoy doing web design or “tactical” marketing work. I do enjoy the strategy side of things, and that’s where I think I can best provide value.

Which leads me to the only other type of “client” work I did this year: one-off business consulting calls.

I don’t advertise this, but occasionally have people reach out asking for a 60-min call to ask a bunch of questions.

Doing a few of these this year was enjoyable, but I don't think I ever want it to be a regular thing.

Worked with a coach

Near the end of 2019 I hired a coach to help me with some personal and internal mindset issues.

Transitioning into 2020, I retained this coach and we worked together throughout the year to increase my productivity, performance, and mental game.

While he wasn’t directly a business coach, he certainly helped me perform better as an entrepreneur.

Started & Quit the 100 Day Business Build Challenge

As you may know, I gave myself the challenge of building a business in 100 days.

I pulled out around day 40 because another opportunity came up that I wanted to take advantage of, and there was simply no way to manage that + EDMProd + the 100 day challenge.

I am annoyed that I had to quit. I don’t like doing that especially after making a public commitment. But the reason I did the 100 day challenge in the first place was to kick my ass into gear, and that’s exactly what it did.

So I’m happy I started, and I’m also happy I didn’t continue. It was the right thing to do.

Investments

It feels a bit disingenuous to share this as a win considering 2020 was the year of the bull market, but I’m happy with a few bets I made.

During covid I bought a few companies that returned ~20-50%.

I also bought some crypto (for the first time ever) starting around April/May and DCA’d in every month. This has performed best.

I’m smart enough to know that this is mostly a function of luck, and it could have easily gone the other way, but I’m glad it didn’t.

I may do a breakdown of my personal finance strategy in another article, but as it stands currently, my portfolio is:

  • 60% cash
  • 25% stocks and indexes
  • 15% crypto

2021 I plan to reduce cash position. Personally 60% is way too high for me right now.

Reading

I didn’t read that much this year at all. I already had enough going on with business that I didn’t want new inputs to take me off the path.

That said, I read a number of books that were certainly worth the time investment:

Spent more time with friends (than ever before, despite lockdown)

A few years back I realized that I was an extrovert.

I’m not the most enthusiastic person and probably don’t fit the traditional extrovert mold, but I am energized by being around people.

After coming out of lockdown mid-year, I’ve spent time with friends and family most weeks. It’s been great.

What didn’t go so well this year?

Personal habits & self-discipline

As business has grown and I’ve “achieved” more, my self-discipline has waned significantly.

It’s not that I’ve rested on my laurels, but it can be incredibly hard to put your ass into gear when things are going well.

My 2020 self was far less disciplined than my 2019 self.

I let habits slip in almost every area of my life:

  • Health/Fitness: I started eating more junk food. Gained about 6kg over the year. I still exercised multiple times per week, but it wasn’t enough to counteract what I was eating.
  • Spiritual: Went from daily practice to almost non-existent by the end of the year
  • Marriage: Less intentional time together, less meals shared, etc.
  • Productivity: Not putting first things first, less deep work.

I still managed to execute on some big projects despite this, so it wasn’t a bad year, but going into 2021—this is something I need to work on.

Pursuing side projects that I wasn’t committed to

I spent a good chunk of time this year playing around with different ideas and projects that didn’t amount to anything.

Sure, I’ve learned some stuff, but this was mostly a waste of time. I should have doubled-down on EDMProd instead.

Mostly, this was a manifestation of “grass is greener” mentality and a desire for novelty.

Not spending time with people who push me and energize me

I wish I’d made an intentional effort to meet and spend time with people who push me.

Other entrepreneurs, artists, and just generally driven people.

Most of this happened online, which is great, but I’d love to build more relationships with people who energize me here in New Zealand.

Spent way too much time thinking

This year I was faced with a few decisions that I overthought. Big time.

I would spend literally hours each day thinking about them. Not active thinking. Reactive, stressful thinking.

I’ve always done this. It’s a personal trait. But it was bad this year, and it drained me more than anything else.

Going into 2021, I’m changing the way I approach decisions:

  • Don’t make decisions, talk about them, or think about them when tired. Being tired affects how I think more than anything else. I’m less optimistic, more catastrophic. I’m anxious. Going forward, I need to tell myself that it’s okay to just leave things until the morning.
  • Write it down. Journal. Get it on paper. Analyze it from there.
  • Move from thought to action more quickly. Identify the next step and go. Figure it out.
  • Realize that most decisions don’t even matter.

What did I learn?

Optionality is not the goal, it’s only a tool

The biggest takeaway from 2020 is that optionality is overrated.

I’d estimate that 80% of my stress and anxiety this year came from choice. I was in a position to do almost anything I wanted, and I suffered from it.

It’s better to pick a path, invest in it, and adjust course if needed.

Even though it’s overrated, it’s still useful. You should build optionality if you don’t have much, but just realize that it won’t make you happy. It’s what you can do with that optionality that will.

I am not in control

There were two events in 2020 that viscerally reminded me of the fact that we (as humans) are not in control.

The first was COVID for obvious reasons.

The second was an unexpected personal event that shook things up.

It’s been a sobering reminder that shit happens, but also that everyone is dealing with something in some way or another.

Better to lead by example than give advice

I love giving advice.

But this year I noticed that it doesn’t produce any significant results.

In fact, most of the time it’s better to not give advice at all.

I realized this with a friend I kept giving advice to about starting a business. I was making recommendations, giving tips, saying “you should do this, you should do that.”

But here’s the thing: I didn’t start my own business based onpeople giving me advice. I did it by trial and error.

I was in the wrong paradigm for any advice to really click for me, because I had no experience.

I think often when we give advice, we are coming from a certain paradigm. We have “achieved” what the other person hasn’t, and so we think differently.

Without a good deal of empathy and situational understanding, any advice that’s given just won’t land.

Going forward into this year, I’m focused on leading by example and asking good questions.

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That’s my year in a nutshell.

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