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2017: Year in Review

We’re officially into the last week of 2017 and I’m writing this letter on a beautiful rainy night in Sydney. What a transformative year this has been.

Traditionally, I’ve done annual reviews of how my year went and since 2016, started publishing those reviews on the blog (here’s my 2016 review). I primarily cover:

  1. How my year went.
  2. What my high-level goals are for the upcoming year.

My goals with these annual reviews are self-introspection, being honest and useful to you. In line with making these letters more useful to you as well, I’ll also be covering my top resources of 2017.

Here’s the full review:

2017: Year of Embracing Solitude

It was another successful year in terms of following through on my goals. I completed 70% of the items that I had planned for this year.

Work

  • Conducted my first data-driven research project. We analysed data from 15000+ freelancers and published some interesting results. It got us heavy brand coverage (in sites like Forbes, Trello etc.) and a cool 1 hour talk slot at a conference in Pune.
  • Closed a research partnership with SaaS giant Buffer. I’m really excited to reveal it in 2018.
  • We increased Hubstaff’s annual revenue from $1.7 million to $3.2 million (well beyond our year end goal).
  • Picked up an exciting SaaS marketing project (a 5 year old SaaS that doesn’t have traditional SaaS billing, is on it’s way to $1 million in annual revenue and doubling down on digital growth channels). In the 9 months I’ve been with them, we’ve grown from a virtually non-existent blog to a blog that drives 1200 new organic visitors/month and a bunch of leads for us. We went from no strategy to a solid content marketing team with a vision and a scalable process.
  • Built a small newsletter for bootstrapped founders looking to invest in remote marketing teams. I even met some of the folks from this newsletter this year.
  • Started dabbling a bit on remote culture building at Hubstaff – a completely new field of work for me and a challenging one. I plan to share my learnings from it on this blog in Q1 2018.
  • I got promoted to our marketing management team that crafts Hubstaff’s brand vision, marketing roadmap & company direction for the next 5-10-15 years and manage the entire marketing of Hubstaff’s suite of products. It’s an exciting role and I’m trying to learn and contribute as much as I can.

With the new responsibilities I’ve taken up recently, it almost seems like I’m in a new job with a new role, new team and entirely unchartered territory in the types of goals we want to hit (our 2018 goal is to hit $6 million in revenue!).

I completed THREE years at Hubstaff this year! Time flies – from being the first marketing hire when we were a $2 million company to building a 100% remote marketing team of a $40 million company, it’s been a life-changing journey for me.

However, to say that I’ve always been happy at my job would give you a very incorrect picture of me. I WAS demotivated at my job at the start of 2017, but instead of job-hopping – I decided to do something about it.

Travel

Total trips in 2017: 14

Again, big year in travel. I’ve been travelling continuously for close to two years now and I might give it some break in 2018 to prioritise other things in my life. While I’m grateful for all these travelling opportunities, it would be nice to sit back home for a couple of months now and work on my side-project.

I FINALLY met Hubstaff team in Chicago earlier this year. As a bootstrapped company, we made it happen by partially self-funding the remote retreat.

I also made 2 solo trips earlier this year and was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed hanging out with myself. If you haven’t been on a solo-trip yet, give it a try.

Physical & mental health

Mental health got a bit of a refresh and reset for me.

I broke out of a serious relationship. Went through the infamous millennial crisis. Questions like why am I here? Where am I going? Why do I do what I do? Is there any meaning to my work, life etc. weren’t a rarity this year. I had a bunch of discussions with Hubstaff team, friends & family on how to get past this crisis – sparked some wonderful discussions that I plan to share on the blog someday.

The problem is that it’s harder to get past failed relationships when you work remotely. Social isolation is a huge issue, even though I live in the city where I was born and brought up. I’m going to cover this topic in detail sometime – how to deal with social isolation when working remotely.

Started appreciating being alone – not in a depressing way or anything, just in a more introspective way. I found this beautiful poem that’s inspiring.  Also, this quote covers my thoughts about this really well:

In our hyper-connected world, a world in which we can communicate constantly and instantly over the internet, we rarely remember to carve out spaces for solitary contemplation. We check our email hundreds of times per day; we shoot off thousands of text messages per month; we obsessively thumb through Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, aching to connect at all hours with close and casual acquaintances alike. We search for friends of friends, ex-lovers, people we barely know, people we have no business knowing. We crave constant companionship.

But, Arendt reminds us, if we lose our capacity for solitude, our ability to be alone with ourselves, then we lose our very ability to think. We risk getting caught up in the crowd. We risk being ‘swept away’, as she put it, ‘by what everybody else does and believes in’ – no longer able, in the cage of thoughtless conformity, to distinguish ‘right from wrong, beautiful from ugly’. Solitude is not only a state of mind essential to the development of an individual’s consciousness – and conscience – but also a practice that prepares one for participation in social and political life. Before we can keep company with others, we must learn to keep company with ourselves.

One of my goals in 2018 is to spend 30 mins with myself every day. Do nothing, just sit by myself & enjoy my own company.

What about my physical health?

I’m at the same fitness level as last year, so I’d score myself 5/10 here. Part of this was because of the frequent travel this year which regularly disrupted my fitness routine. 2018 has plans of me focusing on workout routine consistency, joining a bhangra class & running half-marathons (I hope my goals aren’t too unrealistic).

My top resources of 2017

Top online product purchases:

I was high on investing in SaaS tools this year to push forward my side-project. I didn’t make much progress, so I feel I overspent here. But 3 tools particularly gave me excellent ROI this year:

1) Serpstat

This was one of my favourite SaaS purchases this year and one that drove the highest ROI for me. It’s a fantastic keyword research tool and great for competitive intelligence. Their blog deserves a praise-worthy mention as well. I got some tremendous insights from it.

A key project win in 2017: I grew organic traffic for one of my sites from 0/mo to 500+ visitors/mo in just 9 months using this tool.

2) Landingi

In the past, I’ve always got landing pages built with the help of a web designer. I would spec the design for them and then work with them to get the design ready. Then I discovered landing page builders like Leadpages, Unbounce & ClickFunnels but their pricing was prohibitively expensive. I tried various WP plugins, but they were expensive and limiting.

I came across Landingi earlier this year. It’s a beautifully simple landing page tool with tons of templates that are fast and it’s surprisingly affordable. Here’s a simple landing page that I whipped up in barely 30 mins. The cherry on the cake is A/B testing capabilities within the tool. Highly recommend.

3) Vervoe

This is a recent purchase (about 2 months ago) but I’ve already had some good success with it. Over the last 2 years, I’ve had to hire several writers, illustrators, virtual assistants & marketers for multiple projects. My most frustrating part of the entire hiring cycle is to deal with folks who’re not at all a fit for the role and realising that 3 weeks into training them.

With Vervoe, I’m able to automate the candidate qualification process which saves my time so much. Their tag line rings true in such depth – “find a candidate in 4 hours, not 40.”

The unexpected benefit for me was the large talent pool that I have available now to contact if and when a suitable opportunity arises and if my network has a need for talent. Also, their UI is beautiful as hell.

Top offline product purchases:

1. A co-working space membership

Considering that I’ve been working remotely for the last 5 years, it can get lonely to work from home/cafe all the time. I took up a seat at 91springboard and it probably was one of the best decisions I made this year. I go to the co-working space twice a week, have made a bunch of friends there and now I know what it feels like going to an office.

Also, I’m now more and more grateful with each passing day that I get to work remotely.

2. A running arm-band

Over last couple of years, I’ve really started enjoying running. I’ve invested in great running shoes, apparel, earphones and built some great playlists to push my running limits. The only remaining thing that used to distract my running was carrying my phone in my hand all the time. The running arm-band made me run hand’s free with my gear and that positively affected my running speed and timing. I’m averaging about 5 mins 20 seconds per KM for all 10km+ runs.

3. A laptop stand

Working on my laptop for hours daily had a bad effect on my neck. After some physiotherapy sessions and an appointment with my orthopaedic, I decided to buy a laptop stand so my monitor and eye alignment could be correct.

Now, I know I could buy monitors that could connect with my MacBook but that restricts my mobility, especially if I’m working from multiple places in a week. I needed a mobile solution to this problem.

Buying a laptop stand was the best workaround as my neck ache went away in a couple of days and it’s made working from laptops so much easier.

Top influencers in my work/life

  1. My support system – close friends, sister, parents on just being there for me.
  2. Hiten Shah (on making me love customer interviews & understanding our customers better)
  3. Claire Suellentrop (on writing landing page copies that influence visitors to take action)
  4. Naval Ravikant (on building mental models)
  5. Chris Martin (on getting over a failed relationship)
  6. David Nevogt – on the ongoing mentorship by him on my goals in life

The full list will be much longer than the six people above, but the above six people gave me transformative ideas to overcome my most complex challenges of 2017.

So what’s the plan in 2018?

I’ve aimed to make 2018 the year of calm & focus –  learning the art of balancing the two. Most of my resolutions are aligned towards this one goal. Here’s a preview of my mind-map:

2018 mind-map
I use mind-maps to craft my yearly resolutions.

The core cultural values that I strive for in 2018 are:

  1. Build routine-centric lifestyle. Routines makes one systematic.
  2. Be comfortable with the uncomfortable.
  3. Drop my ego in every aspect of my life.
  4. Treat my brain like a muscle that needs to be trained. If I achieve that, I can balance calm and focus.
  5. Slow progress is better than no progress at all. Ship projects, don’t leave them mid-way.
  6. Hobbies & relationships are as important as my professional work itself. Never neglect them.
  7. Start single-tasking over multi-tasking. One item at a time keeps me focused and calm v/s chaotic execution.
  8. Prioritise ruthlessly. Focus on the top 20% that bring in 80% value.
  9. Become a better storyteller. With words, images, video, audio or conversations.

Thank you everyone for being there, I’m so so so grateful to have you all in my life (including all you online readers). You give my life purpose, keep me motivated, make me work harder towards my goals and enrich my life in more ways than you can ever think about. Cheers to a transformative 2018!

What’s your plan for 2018? Share your goals, mind-maps, resolutions in the comments below.

BTW I usually talk about building, running, managing & scaling a remote marketing team. I share that advice in a bi-monthly newsletter to 232 folks who believe in the power of a distributed workforce. If you subscribe to it, I’ll send you 3 core lessons I learnt while building a remote marketing team of a $40 million company.

Madhav Bhandari

I'm a SaaS marketer and I share my thoughts here on growing a SaaS business with a bootstrapped budget.

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