What the f*ck happened this year?
In February I was having a ball in New York City, in a Super Bowl war room for my day job, going to NBA games and getting drunk at speakeasy bars. I was doing a little freelance work, had a slowly dying podcast and not really too sure where the year would take me.
I ended the year working remotely, earning £9k in side-income and having a thriving podcast which has passed 5,000 downloads in it's first 3 months. My side project revenue for the year looked something like this:
- Freelance: £6,458
- Weekend Club: £1,700
- Indie Bites: £644
- Whitstable Craft Co: £242
This year I've learned a shit ton, so I've ended up doing a few different reviews (this being one of them). This post will be a curation of my thoughts, learnings and plans for 2021, but feel free to take a look at these:
If you're new here, I'm James, and I run the podcast Indie Bites where I interview founders of profitable bootstrapped businesses in 15 minutes or less. I work full-time as a marketer at a company called System1, but spend most of my spare time on the podcast and some other side-projects. I write about my successes and failures of trying to work my way to being a full-time indie hacker on this blog.
I didn't really know what I was doing
When I started out in 2020, I didn't have much of a plan. I'd written a nice annual review of 2019 and had set out a few goals that I was hoping I'd achieve.
They were something along the lines of:
- Make $2k per month from Striqo (my video marketing business at the time)
- Double down on new biz and content strategy
- Continue to experiment with new business ideas
I've been part of Weekend Club since it launched in late 2019 and also spending time lurking around the indie hackers community. I wanted to have a legitimate 'business' I could say I was working on and running an agency was the only thing I'd had much experience with.
I figured it was the easiest route to make some cash while I figured out what I actually wanted to do. This meant I set some arbitrary numbers not based on anything that would be particularly fulfilling to me.
I don't want to trade time for money
Since then I've stopped calling Striqo business, because it's not. It's glorified freelance work. I have no interest in scaling an 'agency' where I trade time for money. It's just a name I can have a website and invoice from so I've removed all mentions of 'we' from the website and stopped hiding behind the fact it's just me doing the work.
I was sick of constantly quoting for work and playing politics with clients I wasn't interested in working with.
In May, I turned Striqo into a productised service for podcasting. This was my first step away from traditional freelance work and simply trading my time for money. The aim here was to niche down into podcasting where there has been a healthy boom in 2020, then eventually scale this into something I could outsource.
I got the site setup (at this point still saying "we") and started pushing my new podcasting productised service. It was the first time in a while I'd felt some momentum and I was enjoying the work I was doing on the side. I whacked up some Twitter ads and got to work.
Since that launch I've won 1 client - which I still have - for £150 per month.
Total productised service revenue: £950.
Side note; I launched my service at the same time as my buddy Julian, who has absolutely smashed it with his SEO agency. He's since grown it to 6-figures, where I haven't grown out of 3...
I'll get onto not being discouraged by the success of others later on in the article.
Hosting Weekend Club
There is a little overlap between point #1 and #2, as if it wasn't for doubling down on Weekend Club, I don't think I would have launched the productised service.
Weekend Club is a community of indie hackers that was born out of the London Indie Beers meetup, which started life as an in-person event but expertly pivoted to remote when we went into lockdown in March. Charlie, the founder, and the Weekend Club community has been my only consistent support network throughout this year and for that I am very grateful.
While the event was still in person, Charlie and I had discussed me potentially running another London location for Weekend Club, an idea that was squashed thanks to our good friend COVID. As forward thinking as Charlie is, he then asked me if I wanted to co-host our Saturday remote sessions with him on alternate weekends, paying me £75 for each session.
At this point Weekend Club was only at ~£400 p/m revenue, so was a 40% chunk of Charlie's money he'd been giving me to host twice a month.
It was a no brainer for me; hosting each session means I get to chat with indie hackers working on cool projects every Saturday, spending the rest of my time working on my own side projects.
It's been fun to see Weekend Club grow every month, with new members joining every session. I wouldn't be where I am today without the support of those members. Joe, David, Dave, Rich and Stefan are a few people that spring to mind, but each person in the community is equally as helpful.
It's crazy to think of the relationships I now have with these people, some of which I've never met in person but speak to on an almost daily basis.
Weekend Club has had the single most impact on me in 2020; so you should sign up with code 'Indie Bites' for 50% off your first month...
(David joked I am a walking Weekend Club advertisement, but it's not far from the truth)
Total Weekend Club earnings: £1,700 (inc £200 bonus from Charlie)
Writing is my therapy
As I mentioned at the top of the article, writing all my thoughts down is genuinely therapy for me. It started out in early summer when I started journaling every day to give myself a little clarity, and is one of my favourite habits I've started this year.
Since then I've decided to publish my thoughts on this blog and it's been an encouraging added bonus to see 100+ views on each one I post. I even made some revenue selling wallets when I posted this article.
The thing is, learning how to write has benefits way beyond this blog and it's something I want to get better at, but I know it's something I'll need to repeatedly practice to get any good at. It's also helping work my publishing muscle, as I aim to post something every week.
If I can learn how to write well, I'll be able to write more convincing marketing copy, communicate with customers more effectively and help navigate through life's challenges (such as buying a flat, which I did this year!).
Launching Indie Bites
My life as an indie hacker got rocket fuelled in September when I launched my podcast, Indie Bites. I'd become frustrated with my hour long podcast, Marketing Mashup, both with the time it took to produce each episode, and as most people had lost their commute they didn't have time to listen to an hour long pod.
At this point I also felt I wasn't much part of the marketing community as I was part of the indie hacker coterie* and interviewing founders was far more appealing to me. So I combined all of these factors and created the podcast, and I got to work.
*I looked up synonyms for community cause I didn't want to say it twice and that came up, does it make sense?
I spent September booking guests, recording and publishing 8 fantastic episodes. Some of my favourites include Sabba from Veed, Courtland from Indie Hackers and Anne-Laure Le Cunff from Ness Labs.
After I recorded with Courtland, he floated the idea of the Indie Hackers podcast network and asked if I wanted to be a part of it. With the distribution of Indie Hackers and the knowledge Courtland has about podcasting this was, of course, a no-brainer. The podcast network has been invaluable to me and was the kickstart I needed. My episode with Sabba was featured in the Indie Hackers main podcast feed and has given Indie Bites a fantastic boost and the podcast has since been growing at a nice steady pace.
Not only did I see a nice bit of growth from the Indie Hackers boost, I also set out to monetise Indie Bites from Day 0. When I launched, Charlie (Weekend Club) agreed to sponsor the first few episodes for £49 per episode. This was a huge bet on me because at the start it was at 0 listeners, and Charlie put his trust in me to grow it to the point he'd get a good return on the sponsorship. For 2021, Weekend Club will be the official sponsor for the entire year, only breaking for other brands that are looking to get a slot on an episode ?
I'll also be launching my membership for Indie Bites, which I'll talk about more in another post!
Total Indie Bites Revenue (since Sept): £644
An eventful year, what did I learn?
This year has been challenging for everyone, but since September it's been very clear what I'd like to do going into 2021. It's also been a year I've learnt a bunch, so here's some of my highlights.
Having a support group is bloody helpful
I couldn't have made the progress I've had this year without the support of the Weekend Club folks and the wider indie hacker community. I literally wouldn't have started Indie Bites if it wasn't for the feedback and encouragement around me. I've also had the accountability to those in the community, so I'm not just working alone slipping on my own deadlines.
I need to focus more
A common theme for me throughout the year has been my lack of focus. I often drift from project to project without much direction. That has helped considerably with the launch of Indie Bites, but I still find myself exploring too many ideas that distract me from my main goal of making this podcast a success. That being said, exploring other ideas should still happen regularly, especially those that are genuinely fun and let me learn a new skill, but it shouldn't take away from staying consistent with the pod.
I need to stop buying shit
This is more of a note to self, but my word do I need to stop buying things. I genuinely have a problem with buying myself nice things. I don't think there is too much of a problem of using the money you've worked hard for to buy yourself something, but I often put myself in difficult positions because I want to buy a new laptop instead of paying my credit card...
Don't be discouraged by the success of others
I mentioned this earlier with my buddy Julian, who has done amazingly well with Embarque. So often we see people on Twitter and around the indie hackers community sharing their incredible revenue numbers from SaaS products, ebooks and courses. It's fantastic to see how well others are doing, but it can sometimes be demoralising when you're struggling along. I'm here to tell you to keep going, stay consistent and you'll get there. Study what they're doing right and why their products are successful, then apply those learnings to your own work. That's what 2021 is gonna be for me!
Don't bite off more than you can chew
Another note to self, and ties a little into my problem with staying focused. In November I had my best side-project income month to date, earning £2,000 (22% of my yearly revenue), yet I completely burnt out. I need to pick the work I do carefully, choosing the things that give me most fulfilment while also having the biggest impact.
What am I looking to achieve next year?
I'll put some of the things I'd like to do next year here; I'll be interested to see where I'm heading in 3, 6, 9 months, then finally where I end up at the close of 2021.
- Turn Indie Bites into a full-time income
- Develop the membership into a no-brainer for people
- Build a portfolio of revenue generating projects; Indie Bites Sponsorships; Indie Bites Memberships; Whitstable Craft Co; Canterbury Digest; Striqo / Freelance
- Keep making fun stuff; Get A Haiku
- Grow my Twitter following; people have seen good success from Twitter and it's the place I enjoy being the most, so would like to be have a more active following here
- Build in public
It's fun to see how much changes in a year. It might just be a change of the big number on the calendar but I always love to use it as a mindset switch. It's nice to use the time to take a step back to see the progress you've made.
I started out the year wanting to build a video agency and ended up making a 15 minute podcast for indie hackers. Who knows where 2021 will take me?