The 2018 Annual Letter to the SJO Family

Written by Sol Orwell

Unless we take a moment to absorb what has happened to us and distill into knowledge we can apply for ourselves, we’ll be forever doomed to repeat our mistakes.

So – I always take a moment to reflect on the past year to see what we did.

I give you the third Annual Letter to the SJO Family (here’s 2017 and 2016).

Future planning has to consider the past.

The purpose of SJO

SJO.com is for me. It’s an outlet for me to talk about whatever is on my mind. It’s an outlet for me to get ideas into the world, regardless of the quality of said ideas!

It’s why I’ve placed constraints on it too (creativity thrives in constraints). It’s why I do not monetize it. It’s why I have strict rules on how I operate.

With that said, you give me your time. Many of you give me your thoughts and ideas and open up honestly and bluntly.

I do hope SJO.com makes a positive impact. The other day I highlighted someone who taught internet marketing who considered themselves a “freedom fighter.”. Gag. I want fellow humans who see that and eyeroll at that kind of trash.

And so this annual letter helps me push the talk-ers away and brings the do-ers closer

Traffic and Impact

Traffic was down.

Relative to last year:

  • Unique visitors: down 21%
  • Page views: down 17%
  • Time on site: down 1s (so nominal)
  • Traffic from search: up 38%
  • Traffic from social media: down 33%
  • Optins: from 2.92% to 2.96% of traffic

So – overall it looks “bad.” Traffic is down!

But – I’m actually quite OK with it. Over the past year I made an active effort to go with less emotional titles and ones that spoke to me.

As an example, I gave the title “How readability can make sure people actually read your content” to my readability article. If I were to do it again, I would go with “Stop being annoying and make it easy to read your content.”

The former would do better on social media. The latter not as well.

SJO traffic is down, but that is OK. I’ve focused more on the philosophical and less on the tactical (which gets shared more).

Content & Regularity

In 2017 I wrote 20 articles.

In 2018 I wrote… 20 articles.

Well then!

My goal for 2018 was to write about whatever I wanted. Ostensibly SJO started as a place to talk about entrepreneurship, but I’ve realized that tactics and strategies are moot if you aren’t in the right mind space.

What’s the point of a solid thank you page if your level of output is shoddy?

What’s the point in making sure it’s easy to read your website if you’re drowning in things to do?

I still did some tactical stuff – eg SEO and EAT, but I’m appreciating the philosophical side of being an entrepreneur (and even a human) over everything else.

It’s why my article one how to host your own dinners talked both about the tactical, strategic, and indirect benefits you gain.

My one bugaboo was that I have about a dozen articles 90% finished – I just haven’t cleaned them up to post them.

For example, my article on negative space leads to an article on friendships. This then leads to a series of articles on networking – first about Dunbar’s #, then about geographical constraints in networking, and then about how  little you matter (all are interconnected).

I just haven’t had enough focused-time to clean those up.

The other fail was I still haven’t finished my ‘the malarkey of the rags to riches story.’ It’s a spiritual successor to gurus scamming you with survivorship bias, and it’s sitting there, mocking me!

Overall I’m happy with the content I produced. It covered a gamut of topics, but most importantly, it was an expression of what I cared about.

My favorite articles of 2018

The most important articles that I wrote in 2018:

Read the above!

Clarity on SJO

I broached the why of SJO above. In 2018 I became quite particular about details (I’ve always been pretty detail-oriented, but I took it to the next level in 2018).

I wrote about this two years ago – this isn’t about you – about people trying to reach out to me because they saw me somewhere.

This kind of in-flow increased after the NYC Cookie Off in late 2017.

And with the last Chocolate Chip Cookie Off raising over $100,000, suddenly a whole mess of people wanted my time, my connections, and my money.

So I’ve become even more prickly. A lot more NOs. The aforementioned “policy” page that I have.

I’ve become even more focused on what I want, not what others expect of me.

Quick Thoughts Experiment

An experiment I started at the beginning of the year was my Quick Thoughts Experiment.

Most things in life have varying degrees of interest from the people who are consuming it.

And what Quick Thoughts has let me do is give people who are more interested in my musings to get more.

Furthermore, by moving away from the walled-gardens of Facebook and onto my own domain, it’s now open to the public and being indexed by Google.

Roughly 5% of the SJO.com Fam is subscribed to it. Unsubscribes are very very low (< 0.1% per email), and open rates are high (> 60%).

IF my goal was to sell something, this would be the perfect audience to help co-create things to sell.

Quick Thoughts has turned out to be an excellent addition to SJO.com

Dinners

I think the most important (in an impactful way) article I wrote last year was about hosting your own dinners.

I’d guess I hosted 50+ of them last year. Not all of them were large. For example, David Perrell was in town this week. I invited Bram Warshafsky and UJ Ramdas and the four of us had an engaging convo for a few hours over some delicious arepas.

The best part is each sized dinner gives you something else. To me, it’s akin to food.

A 2-4 person dinner? That’s a hefty steak.

A 10-12 person dinner? That’s a buffet of deliciousness.

One thing I did that I’m very proud of myself for is that at my larger dinners, I started charging people an extra $50. I then took this money and donated it to a local charity.

So each dinner became a ~$600 donation to a local charity.

We ended up donating $10,000.

Not too shabby eh?

I am also starting to bring people together for a specific reason. For example, I brought subject matter experts to talk about online education:

I will say – there’s an immense level of satisfaction where I can sit back, watch a dozen people all engrossed in conversation, and tell myself “yup, I brought these people together.”

I hosted (and attended) a lot of dinners in 2018. And I’ll be having a lot more in 2019.

Facebook + Social Media

My social media habits have continued as before. I mostly share my opinions on Facebook once a weekday (at most). I still take an irreverent approach. I continue to write about things I care about, not what will garner me social media love.

One thing I did go ham on in the past year was treating “friend” as literally as possible on FB. I started the year with roughly ~3500 friends, and I’m at ~2500 now. Factoring in that I likely added a few hundred throughout the year, that’s 1200 people I’ve removed.

This is part of the tightening I mentioned above… unless you’re someone I would wave my hand up for and say ‘ahoy!’ if I saw you on the street… I don’t want you listed as a friend of mine.

It’s one of those “It’s not about you, it’s about me.”

I culled social media to have it serve me (and not vice versa).

#cookielife Retired

The #cookielife always started on a lark – me dicking around and pushing it to wherever it went. As it reached a peak of 2-3 senders a week, it began to have a negative impact on my health (aka, I ate too much and was getting faaaaat).

Furthermore, people kept thinking it was some marketing ploy. I have no desire to be pigeonholed as the “x” guy (x being cookies in this case).

It was always something inane, and to keep it going for the sake of keeping it going would have been counter-productive.

So I shut it down. It was fun, but it had its moment.

(I get tagged in cookie stuff all the time… which I do love. So don’t stop that!)

I retired the #cookielife (but not the charity food offs… yet)

Charity Food Offs

I recently read The art of Gathering, and it left me with a singular message – ‘what is the purpose behind your gathering?’

By all accounts, the chocolate chip cookie off was an astonishing success – we raised over $100,000! Eighteen months previous to that we had raised $850…

That’s a 99,000% increase – not bad!

But – similar to #cookielife, this was just something I did on a lark.

It was first – can I do this?

Then it was – can I do this with sausages?!

Then it was – can I do this in NYC?

Finally, it was – can I convince people to come to Toronto? (70 people did – from as far away as Malaysia, Singapore, Japan!)

I don’t want to be in the events space. I enjoy bringing people together, but it’s also pretty exhausting. Furthermore, I don’t want this to be a gimmick. We have enough gimmicky people in the world already.

So I think 2019 will be my last one. I want to do it in a charming venue. I want to up the price, feature more of Toronto, and really give people time to relax and chill and connect.

Who knows – I may change my mind. But I feel confident that I will, at a minimum, skip 2020.

The Chocolate Chip Cookie Off was a resounding success. The 2019 Cookie Off will likely be the last one for a while…

Purpose Without Purpose

One thing I’ve always decried is the extremism that a lot of people display online. And I don’t mean the ridiculous misinformation people spread.

I’m talking more about how people become obsessive about all the little things while also talking about the most grandiose plans (“I’m going to have a billion dollar company”).

I’ve always been an ad-hoc human. I don’t have a master strategy or vision. What I’m doing today I could not have envisioned two years ago, and I want to be able to say the same in 2 years time.

I’ve slowly been evolving in this direction and it now makes more sense – I want more purpose when it comes to a discrete moment without having an overarching purpose behind it.

For example: my dinners. One may have a purpose of introducing just one or two people. Another may have the purpose of “I want a bunch of cool entrepreneurs to meet each other.”

But – I don’t have a overarching purpose behind it. I’m not organizing these dinners to sell them an event or get them to give me testimonials or whatever.

So – the little things I do will have purpose, but there will be no master plan behind it all.

There was a purpose behind what was done, but there was no big-picture purpose that tied them all together.

Networking

My network has continued to expand. As I said – no dreaming here, we’re making things inevitable.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve also tightened my network more. My carefactor for what someone else thinks (or how they perceive what I do) is at an all-time low. So I’ve stopped talking to people I don’t get along with. It doesn’t mean I think they’re bad people – they’re just not my kind of people.

This tightening was part of my reduction in Facebook friends. My evergrowing grumpiness. My firm policy.

My network has grown — a lot. But it’s also developed in a way that it’s comprised of people I genuinely like (and not because someone is “influential”).

SJO Fam

The people subscribed to SJO.com continue to be both delightful and exhausting (hey, just being honest).

On to the exhausting side – people demanding of my time. Asking things that are inherently lazy. Trying to sell me stuff. Etc.

On the delightful side – the broad background of the people who are part of it. The openness with which people introduce themselves (loooove it). Once a month I try to meet someone random from SJO that has asked to meet for coffee. Almost always someone who is not an entrepreneur. But there’s great joy in having exposure and conversations with people I would not have ordinarily conversed with.

The complimentary words I receive always brighten my day. And it also helps keep me grounded as it exposes me to people I likely would not have met.

I love sending out emails to SJO.com and getting people’s thoughts and responses.

Consulting and Coaching

On-target. I had a goal of zero clients, and I was able to hit it.

Big success!

I hit my consulting and coaching targets.

PET.ORG

Still no progress. The itch is there, but not strong enough. There is another itch I have (involving cookies actually), but that’s for another day.

Public Speaking

I mostly eschewed public speaking after 2016. In the middle of November I spoke in New Zealand and constructed my first talk on networking.

And I had a blast.

I’m thinking of possibly doing it a few more times in 2019. So far I’m slated to speak at TravelCon, but we’ll see!

I spoke about networking once in 2018 and enjoyed it enough that I may do it a few more times in 2019.

Overall

2018 was a wild year. It started off with me in People Magazine.

Right after that came the SOLCOOKIE.

In the middle we had the Chocolate Chip Cookie Off 2018.

And we ended it with a giant Twix.

And over the course of the year, I ate dozens of meals with fascinating humans. Met hundreds of interesting people. And had thousands of conversations.

I’m living the immigrant dream.

What to expect in 2019

Honestly, more of the same. More of whatever is rattling on in my head — smaller and quicker thoughts on Facebook/twitter. More fleshed out thoughts on SJO.com.

All revolving around not just entrepreneurship but being a thoughtful member of this world.

Two of the best compliments I’ve received over the past year was one person said I was a renaissance man and another said I was a philosopher. If I can get a few more people to think and expand, that’s worth it for me.

Follow the journey into 2019...

I've been doing this for 20 years, and have carved out success by being atypical to all the other gurus.


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