What I learned in 2017

January 10, 2018

2017 was a roller coaster year. This is the first time I’ve done a retrospective publically, but binging on the great reviews from people I look up to it seemed like the thing to do. So without further ado, here’s my year in review and some goals for 2018.

Building Sail

My main focus in 2017 was designing, marketing and launching Sail.

First, some backstory. In August 2016 I joined Compass as Director of Growth to help make creating a professional online presence affordable for everyone. In mid March 2017 the team split to focus on 1. Making client projects more profitable and 2. Building tools to help creative projects run smoothly. I spent the next month rapidly prototyping ways to scale the client <> creative match process while providing a clear understanding of the costs and work involved to all parties. This was a great exercise in building a complete solution with non-technical tools.

In mid April, the difficult decision was made to downsize the team and build a SaaS product to tackle some of the most painful problems the freelancers we were working with faced. After 2 months of user research, design, and engineering we launched Sail in private beta on July 5th. The launch went well with early users keen to give feedback and use the product.

Sail allows me to bill my clients professionally and get paid in the most efficient way possible.

– Hicham Moutahir, Owner, Shibi Designs

On reflection, our initial release wasn’t rich enough to convince users to switch from more mature solutions. We quickly followed with ACH payments and a clear indicator of our approach by allowing users to make immediate charges. We had a product that a small number of users loved, but we were facing challenges acquiring users without requiring adoption of our approach to getting paid.

My biggest learning was the importance of targeting a specific audience when you don’t have an established brand to fall back on. In our case the freelance audience was made up of fragmented groups with many different needs our product could not solve in their entirety. Product development is always iterative, I wrote a dedicated post on the process of building Sail if you’re interested in a more in depth review.

Coaching Freelancers

One of the most enjoyable parts of building Sail was having the opportunity to work closely with so many awesome freelancers. I was able to learn a lot about the specific problems that freelancers face; both as independent business owners and as digital creatives. Sharing my knowledge and seeing the impact on an individual’s business was especially rewarding. The biggest success was helping Paige Brunton more than double her prices! If you’re a freelancer interested in increasing your income in 2018 take a look at my new Freelance Growth Plan.

Personal

This year was much more stable than 2016 without visa applications and weekly train journeys between Boston and Philadelphia. Brittany and I celebrated our first year of marriage and began the tormentuos process of buying a house (yet to close, but close). We found a house we love and are looking forward to making it a home in 2018. We will still be a short commute to Philadelphia and close to family in the area. I’m excited and a little nervous to move in and take on some new “hobbies”.

Key Takeaways

Simple doesn’t mean easy. Anything that appears simple is usually anything but behind the scenes. It takes conscious effort to build a simple, focused product. Don’t be afraid to cut bloated features, or even better don’t build it to begin with.

Marketing is getting personal. Sending blanket emails and “hacking” growth provides a poor user experience. Get to know your customers better and focus on positioning your solution to their unique problems. This usually requires a combination of product design and education.

Experiences go beyond products. Products don’t exist in isolation and need to meet users where they do work to be successful. Every touch point you have with a user counts, whether it’s on your blog, your welcome emails or your product itself.

Goals for 2018

This year I wore many hats in both product and marketing roles. My focus for 2018 is to build long term value as a product specialist.

  • Complete 5 productized consulting projects. I want to apply my knowledge to help more people build focused, customer-centric products.
  • Launch a focused product with $1000 in real revenue. I’ve learned a lot about building products the past few years, this year I’m going to go through the whole cycle with something of my own.
  • Publish 24 posts on this blog. 2 per month, that doesn’t seem like much but I’ve been really bad at sharing publicly, and this year it’s going to happen.
  • Learn to cook a new healthy meal each month. I currently don’t cook nearly as often as I should and stick to a few select favorites.

What was the most important lesson you learned in 2017? Shoot me an email stuartbalcombe@gmail.com. I’d love to hear from you. If you’d like to help me achieve my goals you can help in 2 ways:

  1. Sign up for my new product PaymentLink (or tell a friend about it).
  2. Apply to work with me on a project.

I hope 2018 brings you much success and happiness.

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