As I look back on the year during my Annual Review, I think about what went well and what didn’t in several parts of life.
This post refers specifically to the business side of AONC, especially UnconventionalGuides.com and related projects. The business grew substantially this year, despite having only one big launch, and despite my working from around the world at a frantic pace.
Here are a few lessons learned while making a living in 2011.
Monthly Pricing: A Good Thing
Much of the business growth came from one important decision: to create a membership site with monthly subscription payments. In the past, the business was humming along well, but depended a great deal on how popular the various operations were on any given day. If affiliates were working hard, or if we had a big product launch, overall revenue would substantially increase. But otherwise, it was hit-or-miss, with income coming in on a fluctuating cycle.
Launching the Travel Hacking Cartel in the beginning of the year, then continuing to draw in new members throughout the year, has brought a lot of sustainability into the business.
Tiered pricing, or offering products at a range of price points, created the most significant improvement last year. My first recommendation to anyone creating digital assets would be: offer your products or services in a (limited) range of prices. Your customers will like this, and you’ll like it too—because people will spend more. But now I have a strong second recommendation: find a way to ensure that at least some part of your income arrives every month, regardless of how popular everything else is.
In fact, this shift helped so much that I now plan to switch most of my business projects to this model in the future. I’ll continue to operate Unconventional Guides under the single-purchase model, but my next big projects will follow the pricing structure I used for the Travel Hacking Cartel.
LESSON: Whenever possible, get paid more than once.
Webinars: Quick, Easy, Profitable
A few months ago, I had planned to launch something, but it just didn’t come together in time. Then, another project was also delayed—leaving me with a calendar of more than twelve weeks with no product development or promotion. I’ve always operated AONC on a very low-key, no-pressure sales model (the majority of our readers never buy anything at all, and that’s fine with me) but I also like building and launching things on a somewhat regular basis.
That’s when I had the thought: instead of building a huge program, why not find a way to launch something quickly? Every day, people ask me the same questions over and over. Two very common ones are “How can I get started with traveling?” and “How can I work from the road?” Of course, we answer those questions in considerable detail with the Unconventional Guides products, but not everyone wants a whole product.
Therefore, I decided to offer two one-hour classes, one of them a “Beginner’s Guide to Travel Hacking” and the other on “Working from the Road.” I made them simple and cheap: just $29 for each one-hour class, with a free recording and resources page delivered afterward.
It actually took me a fair amount of work to prepare the materials, since I wanted to make sure they were jam-packed with helpful info instead of me just talking about general ideas. Still, it wasn’t a huge effort compared to the thrill of launching something quickly. We filled up both classes within a few days of launching, and it ended up being a lot of fun.
LESSON: If you can easily do something, do it.
Working from Anywhere – An Observation
Speaking of working from the road, I’ve recently noticed a key point in my own work. This year I visited 26 new countries—many of them fairly difficult ones to get to and work from, such as Somalia, Mauritania, Palau, and others. (The next post will be a full travel roundup of the year.)
Wherever I go, I’m always pounding away, making sure my commitments are kept reasonably up to date, answering lots of emails, and performing various administrative tasks.
What I’ve realized in more than a decade of doing this in one fashion or another is that I can maintain things from anywhere, but I wouldn’t want to develop and launch things from anywhere. The distinction is important: for long-term creative purposes, I need a certain amount of stability and reliable infrastructure.
The biggest challenge is not that I want to take it easy; it’s just that my creative energy is greatly reduced while on the road. I still work at least 4-5 hours a day wherever I am, but much of this work relates strictly to existing commitments. I have a lot less “creative space” on the road to build detailed projects, so I’ve learned to be more clear on scheduling extended periods of writing and building things when I’m not always jetting off.
LESSON: Travel the world, but set aside time to “make stuff.”
Future Planning: What’s Coming Next
I remain consistent in the core beliefs that have brought AONC this far, many of them originally articulated in 279 Days to Overnight Success: readers are extremely important, so maintaining relationships with them is also important. Don’t outsource your email or use autoresponders to keep people at a distance. Never pretend to be too important to communicate with those who care about what you have to say.
More than anything else, this perspective—and the ongoing commitment to publish and build things—are what sustains the ongoing work. I don’t always get things right, of course, but I try to keep these two principles in mind.
Business-wise, I hope to continue refining processes, moving everything over to our own server, our own shopping cart and processing service—basically our own system from start to finish. This has been a dream of mine for a long time, since every other solution inevitably has shortcomings, and we may even be able to license this solution for other small merchants as well. My small team and I also have other ideas, most of them working in conjunction with THE $100 STARTUP book launch in the spring.
Here are two projects in the works at the moment.
PUBLISHING GUIDE. I’ve been working with my master literary agent / Jedi knight, David Fugate, to create our first Unconventional Guide in 16 months. Yes, it’s been a long time, but this one is worth the wait.
Studies show that more than 80% of people want to write a book, but very few actually do so. Of course, you don’t need a publisher to write a book, but part of what holds people back is that they have no idea how the publishing industry works. The Unconventional Guide to Publishing will demystify the whole process, telling you everything you need to know about how to get a book deal from a traditional publisher, or how to take advantage of the many options now available for self-publishing.
I’ll have more to say about this project very soon—since we’re planning to launch on January 10th. Yikes! I’d better get to work.
EMPIRE BUILDING 2.0. After getting the publishing guide on the market, I expect my most significant business project of 2012 will be the sequel to the Empire Building Kit, our most popular seller in the shop. I’ll be carving out time to work on this soon… preferably not while I’m traveling in Central Africa!
I enjoy writing and most of the things that come along with being an author, such as planning tours, doing interviews, and connecting with foreign publishers putting out different versions of my book around the world. But I also enjoy my self-published business work. I feel fulfilled and motivated by the feedback I hear from customers, and I wouldn’t want to choose between the two different “jobs.” Instead, I want to create convergence (my theme of 2009) with everything I do.
How about you… what did you learn in your work during 2011?
Feel free to share a few highlights or lessons of your own.
Reminder: we’re compiling a list of other blogs doing their own Annual Reviews. If you’d like to share yours, include a link to one of this year’s AONC posts, and we’ll share a few highlights at the end of the series.