2015: A Year in Review

2015 was a year of big change for me. Actually, growth is probably the right word, since arguably my situation hasn’t changed dramatically. I’m still in Edinburgh, after all. But my life and business have both improved. Let’s dig in.

This Time Last Year

Oh god, where to start. Everything was going wrong a year ago. I was temporarily living at my mother’s, after escaping life with the flatmate from hell (honestly, who puts tablemats under your laptop when you leave the room for five minutes? Who doesn’t let you close the curtains? As someone who already despises being told what to do, this was a living hell). Now, I love my mother, and I’m grateful she put up with me over those few weeks, but I never want to live with her again.

My dog was on the brink of death, too, which obviously made me very sad. She was a total badass, and I’d grown up with her. She died in February.

On top of all that, the guy I’d been dating for a couple of months totally freaked out when I told him I’d decided not to go travelling that summer after all, instead wanting to stick around in Edinburgh for a bit longer so I could grow my business some more and improve my health. And that was the end of that. I was more surprised than anything because, come on, I’m clearly a catch.

And during all of this I was simultaneously trying to write and run a new course, and find a new place to live. Jesus Christ, I was busy and I was stressed. Fortunately, business itself was going well, so that wasn’t an issue. I just needed a break. (You may now also understand why I decided to take so long off over the holidays this year. I’d literally scheduled in my GCal, in big red letters, ‘TAKE TIME OFF’.)

I was gearing up for big change. I wanted to take my life and Untamed Writing to the next level in 2015. So, let’s see how that went.

How My Plans for 2015 Went

Here are the plans I laid out at the beginning of last year.

The Advanced Class & The Master Class
My plan was to create two separate courses: The Advanced Class, a course teaching people how to get into highly paid freelance blogging (this is what I was working on at the start of the year), and The Master Class, which at the time I announced as a ‘secret project’ (lol), and which I intended to be a course about copywriting. Did I achieve this? You’re damn right I did. In fact, I’d say I exceeded my own expectations. Even though I ended up scrapping The Advanced Class, and never even started on The Master Class. I combined the idea for both into one beautiful whole: Start Content Writing, a course that covers both blogging and copywriting, and which helps people to build freelance writing businesses they love.

Coaching Services for Freelance Writers
I played with this idea during The Advanced Class, and a couple of times when I ran Start SEO Writing (then The Quickstart Class), by adding a new level of service: you could take the courses with added mentoring, in the form of an hour-long Skype call each week. In the end, I decided coaching/mentoring was not a service I wanted to offer after all. Mostly because I hate having to be at my desk at a certain time to take a call. Recently it dawned on me that I could offer mentoring services via email, so that’s something I’m mulling over right now.

I really wanted a more professional appearance on my site, and something that was more in keeping with my brand. I’d always hated the pastelly, limey green colour on the site, and the logo was just something thrown together quickly for me by a friend. They did the trick and got me where I needed to be, but they weren’t right. They didn’t suit Untamed Writing, and they didn’t suit me. So I’d planned on hiring a professional to create a new logo for me and redesign my site.

The first part of the equation worked out very well. I ADORE my new logo, which I affectionally call Wolf Mountain. It’s just perfect. The design, however, did not work out to plan. I didn’t realise that the guy I’d hired was planning to use a drag and drop theme, not actually design something properly for me. What he ended up creating was clunky, ugly (compared to the badass, sophisticated design I’d had in mind), horrible to work on in the backend, and added shit-tons of unnecessary code into my pages. I was terrified this was going to affect my SEO, particularly for my Start SEO Writing sales page, which ranks on the first page of Google right now.

In retrospect, the relatively low price he’d quoted and the blurry lines in our agreement were warning signs, but the low cost blinded me to reality. I don’t blame him, though. Totally my fault for not being thorough and checking exactly what was involved. In the end I had to concede I’d wasted a few hundred quid, tell him what he was doing wasn’t good enough (never a fun task), and tweak my current design myself to get it closer to how I wanted it. The site ended up being more ‘on brand’, with new fonts, a new logo and a new colour scheme, though in every other respect it was still the same. It was better, but I still didn’t particularly like it, especially as time wore on. It was too childish, too plain, and too unprofessional looking.

As you’ll know if you read my previous post, I ended up finding a new theme in December that was just perfect. Well, you can see it on the site right now. It’s gorgeous and I love it. I think I ended up transferring the design over to the site on New Year’s Eve, so that’s technically a win for my 2015 goals!

Blog Twice Weekly & More for Writers
Yup! I managed both of these. I geared all blog posts towards freelance writers, and I blogged twice every week, up until around mid-November, when I changed my mind about doing it.

Pitch One Guest Post Per Week
TOTAL FAIL. I didn’t even pitch a single one, hahaha. Whoops. My defence is I was way too wrapped up in rebranding and creating. Luckily, I was still getting enough traffic to keep my business ticking over, so this was not a huge deal to me.

Stop Being So Shit at Social Media
Did I achieve this? Hmm. Questionable. I would certainly say I’m not any more shit. But I’m still not great. I think I’ve been better these past couple of months, but there’s not been much of a ‘plan’ enforced. I’ve just posted what and when I wanted, on both Facebook and Twitter.

Study More
I wanted to read more business-related books and complete more courses, with the goal of studying for at least an hour a week. Did I accomplish this? Uhh, no. Not exactly. I’ve studied some, but definitely nothing like an hour a week. I’m not sure the hour-a-week approach is right for me, because when I get into something, I tend to do it for hours. Maybe a one-course-per-month approach would be better. I read 6 books you could argue were business-related, which is, er, even less than I managed the previous year (though I did read more overall, soooo).

Be More Productive
You know what? I actually think I managed this. I don’t have any datapoints to reference or anything, but I definitely feel like I’ve been more productive. I started renting a desk at a beautiful co-working office down the street from me, which has helped, though I don’t go every day. I also did a couple of productivity experiments which helped me figure out more about the way I work best. I moved into a place of my own, too, so I didn’t have any flatmates to distract me, and I bought a huge desk (ahem, dining table), as well as some bits of kit to give me a more ergonomic setup. This eased my upper back pain (according to chiropractors the world over, my spine is too straight), meaning I could work for longer.

I mean, I certainly got some good work done, so it can’t have been all that bad. Still not perfect, but as far as I’m concerned, perfection can get fucked.

An Overview of the Important Things

Alright, so those were my plans and goals. Now I want to take a look at the various areas that matter most to me.

2015 was a good year for me, business-wise. The best yet. Which is sort of the direction you want things to go in when you run a business. My revenue and profits increased (I think. I had to pay more tax, although I don’t exactly keep a close eye on these things), and I shifted the business more in the direction I want it to go, both by rebranding and by creating Start Content Writing.

I took on fewer copywriting jobs than I had in previous years, which meant I only worked on stuff I actually wanted to work on. Any time somebody enquired about my services and I either didn’t want to take the project on, or couldn’t schedule them in as soon as they wanted, I put them in touch with one of my students, which is a nice thing to be able to do.

Aside from the shitstorm at the start of the year, 2015 was good to me.

I was determined to find a place to rent by myself. Everyone I have lived with in Edinburgh, bar one person who has become one of my closest friends, has been totally fucking insane or weird. What is it about this place? I found a gorgeous flat with plenty of space and in a great location. I’ve always wanted to live on my own. Life goal accomplished.

The other standout thing that happened was my niece being born. Luna Marston. She’s a hilarious little fighter, and I blame her entirely for the fact that I now sometimes find babies cute. (A phenomenon that never afflicted me before.)

Figuring out a good morning routine was one of my main aims and, although I’ve figured out a few things I do like to include in my mornings, I’m a long way from having my ‘ideal morning routine’. I’m leaning towards letting this go now. So long as I enjoy day-to-day life and get what I need to do done, it’s all gravy, right? I don’t feel too disappointed about not nailing it, anyway. I still learned a lot about myself.

I also trained myself to watch less TV. On Monday mornings, I used to be terrible for watching the latest episodes of my favourite shows that’d aired in the US the night before. (Obtained by completely legal means, of course.) Now, I’ve trained myself to wait till the evenings before I watch anything. Because Jesus Christ, a business owner should not waste her Monday mornings.

The most incredible thing that happened was learning more about my disease and how to control it. I have ulcerative colitis, which is a bowel disease that involves lots of diarrhoea (sometimes with a fun dose of blood), cramping, discomfort, pain, bloating and, weirdly, fever. I’m one of the lucky ones, though, because the mildest form of medication sorts me out. However, I’ve always wanted to find out if I could control the disease through diet alone.

Anyway, I stumbled on this diet called the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, which is designed specifically for my disease, and so far I’ve seen some very positive results from it. I’m still far from understanding how this disease affects me, but I’m super excited about what this could mean for the rest of my life. I’ve never been able to make my symptoms clear up without meds before, but now I believe I can do it. (Also, bonus points for accidentally dropping 15 pounds.)

The worst thing that happened was that I basically stopped exercising altogether from September onwards. That’s when I was discharged from physiotherapy, which I had been doing for two years, thanks to a knee injury. Honestly, I just wanted a fucking break from exercise I ‘had’ to do. I really hate having to do things. I’m not too disappointed about this, because it’s not my priority right now (my diet/disease are way more important to me), but it is something I’d like to get back into this year. Mostly, I’m disappointed that I can’t do pushups any more. I felt like a total badass for being able to do proper pushups for a while there.

I’d set the goal to read 52 books by the end of the year – something I’d never managed before. And I did it! Largely thanks to the fact that I read the first 12 volumes of The Walking Dead comics, but still. It all counts. During the first few months of the year I basically got shit-all reading done, thanks to my stressful start, but things picked up around June. (I didn’t finish a single book in May!)

I also discovered audiobooks. Obviously by ‘discovered’, I mean I started listening to them. I didn’t find them under a rock or anything. Anyway, they are one of my favourite discoveries of 2015. I adore them. I’m getting through lots of books I’ve always put off reading because I thought they’d be hard work… and I’m loving them! I now see Victorian romances in a whole new light. (Previously I’d gravitated towards Victorian adventure novels, which are the fucking best. Have you ever read King Solomon’s Mines? Bloody marvellous.) Audiobooks are also partly why I managed to hit 52 books this year, since I could ‘read’ while I was driving or doing chores.

Most of my writing in 2015 consisted of two blog posts per week, a handful of copywriting projects, and the course materials for Start Content Writing, as well as a bunch of journalling. I’d say I probably wrote most days, though I didn’t keep track. (Hmm, maybe I should.)

The most notable thing I did was take Amy Paturel’s Essay Writing class, which I thought was brilliant. I still haven’t put into practice what I learned by pitching any personal essays to publications, but it’s something I’d like to do this year. Not the most lucrative path, to be sure, but I’m more interested in the writing itself than how much I’ll make from it. I loved writing up some of my own stories for the class’s homework.

Next up: my goals for 2016!