Most people reading this are likely psyched about the new year – excitedly planning and looking into the future.
I believe it’s critical for all of us to take a moment to stop, breathe, and look back. Only then can we learn from our mistakes and modify our future behavior.
I’d wager it’s more important to reflect than to plan.
I give you the second Annual Letter to the SJO Family (click here to read last year’s).
Looking back is 51% of planning for future success.
Just a Reminder of What is SJO
As a reminder, SJO is not a vehicle for me to sell you courses or to develop my coaching or consulting business.
I staunchly believe we all need outlets. My creativity tends to bubble in the realm of business, entrepreneurship, networking, and productivity, and the intersection of all of that in our day-to-day lives.
You may not be spending money on SJO.com and me, but you are spending your time and attention (which to be honest is far more valuable).
So I want to thank you again for trusting me in your inbox and even into your life. This goal of this letter is to strengthen our relationship and bolster it for the upcoming year.
Traffic and Impact
Everything was up-up-and-away.
Relative to last year:
- Unique visitors: up 125%
- Pageviews: up 144%
- Time on site: up 20%
- Traffic from search: up 200%
- Traffic from social media: up 173%
- Optins: from 2.78% to 2.91% of traffic
Honestly – I don’t even care about the traffic stats. What undeniably has happened is a massive uptick in the number of people who email me and say “Hey, I read what you wrote on X, and I started doing Y, and now I’ve reaped big benefits.”
Knowing that people are not just reading but also implementing and doing and seeing positive results = giddy up, it’s a great feeling.
SJO.com continues to connect with its audience, who are not just consuming, but do-ing
Content & Regularity
My big goal for SJO for 2017 was to put something new up every two weeks.
That’s 26 articles.
I managed 20 (77%, aka C+ grade).
In a way, I failed, but in a way, I won big time. While initially trying to hit home runs, I finally started focusing on generating output.
This practice has made me feel a lot more comfortable in taking what is bubbling in my head and writing an article on it.
Some of it turns out great, some of it not. All of it is meaningful to me, and all of it is useful to (at least) a subset of the SJO Fam.
If anything, it’s really hammered home my mantra of “you are not here to impress your peers.”
I’d write about things I found obvious and even simplistic (especially when it came to networking) only to find it struck a chord with a lot of people.
On the flip side, stuff I thought was important elicited a pretty “meh” response.
Social media trains us to chase what the audience responds to, and I’ve worked hard to disassociate myself from that.
Imagine you’re a musician – you can write out bangers that are popular or songs with depth that aren’t as catchy.
My goal for 2018 is to have a mix of both.
I did not hit my goal of 26 articles in 2017, but I’ve become a lot more comfortable creating content. My goal for 2018 is 25-30 articles, with a mixture of in-depth and also quick tips.
I also brought a lot of my personal life into my content. Others espouse the wholesale merger of their personal and professional life, whereas I like them to be two distinct areas.
For example, when I talked about how “networking” lead to an amazing trip, I tried to keep the focus on actionable tips and lessons that one could apply to themselves (instead of going for “look how amazing my life is”).
I added more of a storytelling component, which helped develop personality and build a connection, and also helped drive home lessons.
My content did not go as deep-dive as it previously had, but I am OK with that. It’s become a bit less practical regarding pure tactics, but also become a lot more actionable regarding mindset and getting shit done.
My favorite five articles in 2017:
- Networking 101: the most important person in the world
- Sometimes you need to prioritize output
- A case study on leveraging your assets to get shit done
- Don’t let gurus sell you on survivorship bias
- 62 tips on crushing public speaking
Overall I am happy with the content I put out there. From the feedback I received, each piece resonated with people into taking action.
Changing Up Content…
The subtle thing about constraints (my target of putting up a new article once every 2 weeks) is that by setting boundaries, your creativity soars within the framework that you’ve created. So while the every-two-weeks constraint was very useful in helping me get off my arse and writing regularly for SJO.com, it’s now become a bit suffocating.
For example, it was a huge headache trying to put something up while in the middle of Egypt because “two weeks deadline is up!”
Henceforth, my goal will be once a week max, once every 3-4 weeks minimum. This breaks the “be consistent” mantra I preach… but the nice things about rules is once you’re established, it behooves you to break them!
In the future I’ll be writing both more frequently and infrequently. Now that a habit has been formed, it’s about modifying it to fit my lifestyle (downtime = more frequently, traveling = less frequently).
SJO is a testing ground for me to try whatever my whims dictate.
The big experiment last year was summed up in my Use reputation management to say hello to your stalkers article.
I made a bunch of articles based on what people were searching about me. They weren’t too serious and were a form of reputation management.
Looking back, what’s interesting is how people’s search behavior has changed over time…
Three years ago, the top 4 phrases people were searching for:
- sol orwell linkedin
- sol orwell interview
- sol orwell real name
- sol orwell examine
When I originally made the pages about 8 months ago:
Talking to other successful friends, “net worth” is always the dominant top one.
Seeing “wife” is a bit unnerving, and partially why I keep my personal versus professional separate.
“Weight loss” makes me happy – I have to write about that further.
And instagram… I already talked about why I’m not on Insta.
Next up is Quick Thoughts. It’s already out, but I’ll fully elaborate on that later this month.
The honeypot content experiment was hilariously worthwhile doing, and you too should do the same. Quick Thoughts I think will be far more interesting (in terms of impact).
Guests Posts, Podcasts, and Public Speaking
I went into hermit-mode this year. I stopped writing guest posts, going on podcasts, and doing any public speaking (with a few exceptions).
My primary focus this year was on SJO.com. The mental bandwidth and distractions associated with guest posts, podcasts, and public speaking is why I nixed any of them.
It was the right move.
When getting started, this kind of external exposure is good – it helps build up what you’re doing. But once you’ve established a solid audience, your time is better spent writing for them.
What’s also happened is as I’ve written more on SJO, I’m also being quoted in more random articles. From personal blogs to established websites to the mainstream media, my name pops up more.
They’ve had a nominal impact on direct traffic, but the links they’ve generated have helped with search engine traffic.
I stopped doing guest posts, podcasts, and public speaking this year and skipped nary a beat. They are useful when first establishing yourself (and when launching a product), but otherwise your time is better spent focusing on your own content creation.
I wrote about this in being purposeful with social media.
What I said last year is still valid:
Facebook has continued to be an enjoyable source of community building for me.
The Quick Thoughts experiment is an attempt to unlock the content from behind Facebook’s walled garden (as promised, more on that later this month).
I’ll continue to use Facebook. It’s a great way to throw out ideas and get feedback and thoughts from others (provided you open yourself up to it).
We hit peak #cookielife in late spring/early summer when I was getting 3-4 batches a week! But like most good things in life, the #cookielife has come to an end.
The #cookielife was never about brand building. It was always meant to be a case study on “look, this is ridiculous, so let’s do it!”
When I wrote my 2016 annual letter, I said the #cookielife was going to be amped up. What I did not foresee were charity food offs emerging from the spark of the #cookielife.
So it was fun, it was ridiculous, and I still love cookies (and I still like receiving them), but it’s on a quasi-permanent hiatus. We have bigger fish to fry…
I’m also happy I kept to its ad-hoc nature. People kept telling me to build a website, to register an Instagram account, to get press on it, to even write a (coffee table) book on it.
I always said no, and I’m glad. I never wanted to be known as the “cookie guy.”
I also have to be honest – the volume of desserts coming in was having a deleterious impact on my health.
I still need to do an actual article on how it all happened. Another article to write for this year…
The #cookielife was on fire in 2017. I’ve put it on hiatus as there are more interesting and novel things to do.
Charity Food Offs
When I was writing my 2016 annual letter, I put this under #cookielife:
Next up is the Chocolate Chip Cookie Off 2017. On January 14, roughly 75 people will be gathering to feast on cookies, with 25+ pros having committed to bringing their best chocolate chip cookies for us to judge.
I had no clue what was going to happen. I had never hosted an event and decided on a whim to charge $15 pre- and $20 at the door.
(I’ll never do door again. It adds uncertainty, which causes stress, which is just plain irritating)
I also decided to give 100% of the ticket sales to charity.
It was a no-brainer to me. I had no desire to get into the events space, and I often talk about how entrepreneurs don’t really exercise philanthropy (not because they’re miserly, but because they are too busy). Why not leverage my skills and make it a win-win-win for everyone?
The inaugural Cookie Off did $1400 in ticket sales. I topped it off with $1100 to make it a nice even number.
The first Chocolate Chip Cookie Off raised $2500 (CAD) for charity
In May I was hanging out with my buddy Benji in SF and he asked why I’m not considering doing one in SF? “Sure sure” I said… “maybe one day.”
I then did a Sausage Showdown. Why sausages? Because I figured no one would get excited about it, so it would be a challenge to do. And I bumped it from $15 to $100 per ticket.
Sold out in a month. 21 people flew in. The location was amazing, the weather was great, and everyone loved it.
The Sausage Showdown raised $10000 (CAD) for charity.
I was meeting interesting people in NYC in early August when Benji’s words came back to me… why not do one in NYC?
I started asking people I was hanging out with – everyone immediately said they’d be in.
In under 75 days we put it all together. Of those 75 days, I was traveling for about 35 of them.
I bumped the price for the Chocolate Chip Cookie Off NYC to $250 per ticket (USD now).
It sold out in just 12 days.
It was incredibly hectic – we flew to Egypt in early October, flew back on the 1st, flew to Chicago the next morning, got back on Friday night, had a death in the family + a birthday, and flew to NYC on Wednesday to host it on Saturday (November 4).
By coincidence, Netflix had created a documentary on the organization we were supporting (via She’s the First). And not only that, but the director and girls in the documentary were in NYC during the event. So we had them attend and had one of the girls tell the attendees her story; it was a strong reminder on how lucky many of us have been in our journey.
After hearing her story, others donated beyond the ticket price.
We raised over $30,000 for charity!
I’ve stuck with the 100% goes to charity. My expenses went up (oh NYC prices!) – but it was 100% unequivocally worth it. Going back to my earlier article on leverage – the entire NYC cookie off cost me roughly $7000 (including flight + hotel). BUT – for every dollar I put in, it generated $4.25 for charity.
Slam dunk worth it
In retrospect, NYC was too rushed. I had to do Nov 4 because any earlier date was impossible (due to the traveling), and any later made it too close to Thanksgiving (when everyone starts shutting down).
By the end I was mentally and physically exhausted; I had to take a break from everything for a few weeks to fully get back on my feet.
NYC was a bit hectic and draining, but the “return on investment” from a purely financial point of view made the entire event absolutely worth it.
I had planned the next cookie off for January 2018 in Toronto, but decided to push it back to July 7 for a few reasons:
- I love Toronto. So why am I doing the main event in January when no one will want to come?
- I was too burnt out from the NYC one
- I want to make this one big. I want to crack $50k, hopefully $75k, and an idealistic $100k. And that requires time!
It has been gratifying to note that other people are picking up the torch and will be doing their versions in 2018. Looking forward to seeing how that pans out!
Toronto is next. Mark your calendars: July 7 2018.
A big reason for the success of these food offs is how tightly I’ve managed them. I max out at 100 tickets. I only invite people I know, who I like, and I know have experience and success.
By curating the audience, I give everyone who buys a ticket an indisputable win-win-win situation:
- You support a great cause
- You get your feast on
- You will meet amazing entrepreneurs who you can truly connect with and learn from.
If you bring the value, people will come.
I’m always trying to take things further. In 12 months we’ve gone from “I just want to see if we can do this” into a serious networking event that raises a significant sum for charity. I’m looking to amp it up in 2018.
Networking (and my network)
My goal in 2016 was to expand my network (which I achieved). My goal in 2017 was to go deeper on my network.
I said this last year:
Networking became a means to an end of my ultimate goal: to live an exciting life
I stand by that more than ever.
I started hosting dinners (some in fancy libraries, some in other cities). I connected more people to each other than ever (I’m oddly proud of how many people I’ve connected). I had my charity food offs. And I wrote here on SJO.
The combination meant that my network has exploded over the past year (and continues to gain steam).
One of my golden rules to manage all this is that I’ve started to take all my calls/meetings on Fridays. This lets me focus on other things during the week, and then really focus on other humans on Fridays.
As I did more things, networking became easier because it showed I was a do-er, not some self-proclaimed expert. As my buddy Paul Jarvis says: I showed up.
The inflow peaked right after my NYC Chocolate Chip Cookie Off. People saw the pictures of who attended and I had quite a few people suddenly trying to become my BFF.
As the activities I did grew, my network grew at an exponential rate.
2018 portends more of the same. I’m going to double down on hosting dinners, both large and intimate, and I’m going to continue to host my bizarre food offs (and oddball adventures like our annual Ice Cream Crawl).
I’m also likely to stop going to any conferences and instead visit random US cities to just hang out with other smart people (planning NYC and DC end of January, and then Austin with my buddy UJ sometime in Feb or March).
Nothing builds bonds like breaking bread with someone. I’m going to eschew conferences and events this year, and focus more on simply meeting someone in-person for a meal and/or a delicious chocolate chip cookie.
I’ll also be writing a lot more on networking; I have at least a dozen+ articles already outlined.
Emails to the SJO Fam.
My goal for 2017 was to take what I was emailing to the SJO Fam and put it on the website.
With that said, I still sent out a few emails exclusively to the Fam. The last one (on the “truth of meeting and befriending ‘eFamous’ people”) had some of the strongest reactions yet.
So if you’re not on it, you’re missing out.
I’ve really enjoyed the personal nature email lets me indulge in, and it’s been amazing for building a deeper bond with my audience. This practice shall continue.
Consulting and Coaching
I hit my target of zero consulting clients and zero coaching clients.
Another year of no clients and no coaching. 2018 will be the same.
PET.ORG & Examine.com
I planned to launch pet.org at some point in 2017. Why didn’t that happen?
- I never felt the itch. SJO has kept me busy (combined with traveling), and so I had no extended downtime that made me go “okay let’s do this.”
- Impact. One of my main words for the year (check out Chris Brogan and his “my 3 words“), I’ve been increasingly focused towards a positive impact. And you know what makes a huge impact? Examine.com – tens of millions of people visit us every year!
And so if making an impact is my big driver here, why am I starting up something new when Examine.com is still rife with potential?
Why can’t Examine.com get 100,000+ visitors per day? 250,000+ per day?
So it’s very likely that 2018 will have me involved with Examine.com and not PET.ORG. The potential is too high to ignore.
PET.ORG never happened, and I may have realized that Examine.com demands my attention
What to Expect in 2018
This is what I said was 2017’s plan:
So my overall goal for SJO.com for 2017 is to take what was previously email-only, and converting them into mini-essays I publish online.
So what’s in store for 2018?
I’ve been working on finding a groove, and it’s starting to come together. I have a ton of things I have written and just not put online. Hell, of the four articles I alluded to last year, I only published two of them!
Some of the upcoming articles:
- My Quick Thoughts experiment (inspired by Seth Godin)
- A dozen+ articles on the various facets of networking
- How Ray Dalio’s book actually got made (a fascinating story)
- How rags-to-riches is a bullshit mythos
- The #1 thing I carry on me
And a ton more…
With the change-up that I’m no longer going for ‘every-two-weeks’ schedule, I predict more articles will come out this year.
My mindset is far more in-tune to generate content.
Going back to impact, one thing I have decided (because, why not?) is to write in more mainstream publications. I want to be frequently contributing to organizations such as Entrepreneur, Inc, Forbes, VentureBeat, and more. 2017 helped develop my voice, 2018 will be to amplify it.
SJO’s continuing evolution will be what I’ve found has made me thrive – from entrepreneurship to business to networking to productivity to whatever else fits towards being “successful.”
Follow the journey into 2018...
I've been doing this for 18 years, and have carved out success by being atypical to all the other gurus.
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