I’m gonna be real with y’all: 2021 was a weird year around here.
Things started with a bang. In January, my longtime friend and head writer, Teri Vannoy, made the decision to move on and accept a full time position elsewhere. I ended up hiring three new writers to help take over her client work with us.
In February, we had our biggest revenue month ever. It seemed like the year was off to a roaring start. But over the next few months, a lot of weird things started happening…
We onboarded more retainer blogging clients than ever — but then we also had more churn than ever before.
Our Facebook ads, which had been working to send a steady (if small) stream of inquiries every month, stopped working.
We decided to clean up our email list and ran a re-engagement campaign, but ended up going from around 5,000 people on our list to fewer than 300. Saved a ton on email fees, but was a real hit to the old ego.
By mid-summer, our regular flow of referrals and inquiries dried up almost completely. I hired a fractional sales person to try to drum up business, but even she struggled to find qualified leads.
I’m not going to lie: these were stressful, anxious times. Summer is always a slow time in our business, but this felt different. I remember telling my mastermind group that next year I would just take August off completely because it’s so dead.
By October, I was crying on the phone with my accountant, feeling like a complete failure at everything, and considering if I should take out a government SBA loan.
Interestingly, after I decided not to panic and trust that business would bounce back, I had a burst of intense creativity. I came up with a SUPER FUN podcast project that will launch in early 2022 (stay tuned!); I launched a low-cost content planning template product for Black Friday with great success; and I created my new Power Platform assessment.
And then, like magic, people started booking calls and projects again in November. I sold double the number of VIP days I set out to sell and completely booked myself out until January. I had a very successful Black Friday sale. We’re getting solid leads and inquiries and selling retainers again to fantastic clients I look forward to long relationships with.
So the big question is, WHAT THE F*%& HAPPENED??
I had the opportunity to have this conversation in a business group I belong to a few weeks ago and the consensus was that this summer was outrageously slow — and not just for B2B service businesses like mine. People weighing in to say “me too” included a lawyer, SaaS company founder, high end business coaches, and more.
There doesn’t seem to be consensus around why — I saw one suggestion that people were traveling for the first time in a while this summer, or that people were feeling conservative, not knowing what was going to happen with COVID.
Regardless, here are a few lessons I’m going to take away from 2021:
- Operating with a net makes the ups and downs of business a lot easier to tolerate — in this case, I’m talking about a savings account with a couple months of operating expenses saved up. (Thank you Profit First and my amazing bookkeepers!)
- I can scale up the agency — but with more writers and more clients comes more management tasks and oversight that need to happen.
- Facebook ads can work for a service like ours — but if we ever try that again, I need to have strong pre-qualifying questions in place. (Almost 100% of our client churn happened with clients who came in through Facebook ads.)
- Shockingly, you have to talk about your offers. When I did a debrief for my coach about what I had done differently to sell out my VIP days for the 4th quarter, the biggest difference (beyond the beta pricing) was just that I was talking about them more than ever. Guess sometimes I have to take my own medicine!
- But sometimes you have to change up how you’re talking about your offers — especially if you’ve been offering the same thing for a long time.
- One of my biggest challenges is watching my expenses. I have a strong value of paying people well, and that isn’t going to change, but I also have to be more mindful of what percentage of my revenue is going to my expenses. “Can I afford it?” is about more than whether or not I have cash in the bank.
- There is no easy button when it comes to marketing and selling. It’s a lesson I apparently need to learn over and over again. I have to remind myself not to fall for anybody selling me a pole.
We’re ending the year on a high note. 2021 will go down as our highest revenue year ever — despite the ups and downs. I’m excited about what’s next for us and what 2022 will bring.
- My TOP SECRET podcast project! So excited about this one.
- Partnering with Mike Roderick to offer the Content Innovation Circle workshop (in January — watch for it!).
- Expanding my Power Platform diagnostic.
- A brand refresh.
- A return to blogging for my own biz and a greater focus on SEO.
And if you read this far, I want to say a big, humongous thank you for being a part of this crazy ride with me. Without you, there is no Content Direction Agency, and I hope you know I never forget it.