2012 was the year I said farewell to my twenties, celebrated the birth of our beautiful baby daughter, and started to see some real growth in my business. Whilst blog posts were evidently sparse, it has been an absolutely incredible year, both personally and professionally. So much has happened that the past 12 months seem to have flown by.
In this post, I'll document a brief summary of what's happened, and offer my thoughts and goals for the new year.
The Past Year
In January, I moved Plymouth Software from the incubating LaunchPad to its own offices on Tamar Science Park Scott Building. The business has grown its client base and income over the year, and whilst by no means enough to let me take a mini-retirement yet, feels a lot more solid than 12 months ago.
As well as winning several new clients (commercial, academic and charitable), I also expanded the company's service offer to include development of native iOS applications, and I am currently engaged developing an iPhone app due for release in February 2013.
In June, I ran the Plymouth Half Marathon, shaving a couple of minutes off my 2011 time. Thanks to the generosity of friends, family, colleagues, and everyone else who donated, I managed to raise over £600 for Macmillan Cancer Support.
We travelled to Spain, Jersey, Scotland, several cities in Northern England, lots of spots around Devon and Cornwall; and of course, drank plenty of tea.
Of course, the highlight of the year occurred in August, when Claire and I celebrated the arrival of our baby daughter. Becoming a Dad really puts a new perspective on things, which has inevitably changed my thinking for what I want to achieve in the next 12 months.
2013: The Goals
Produce More, Consume Less.
With our amazing new addition, running and building Plymouth Software, and generally trying to balance life and business, my time seems to have become incredibly limited. This is evident by the sheer lack of posts here. I realise though that this is just an excuse - it's all too easy to be suckered into the endless river of social media streams, news feeds, blog , etc. and procrastinatory opportunities that present themselves when you run your own business. My first goal then is to focus on producing rather than consuming. The Internet is endless in its ability to offer more, so it's better to try to output (quality) content rather than read it.
*Goal: *Publish at least one relatively in-depth blog post to this site each month. Write content for products (see goals below).
Lack of focus really hit me this year when I realised just how many task and project management apps I'd signed up for in an effort to become more organised. The time spent trying out what are essentially list apps could have been put to far better use. Again, the endless distraction of the Internet was the cause, offering an escape from dealing with code problems and producing.
Goal: Start using the Pomorodo technique again to focus on work that_ generates value_. I've also signed up to Freckle for the quickest way to see where my time is being spent.
Sidenote: For task management, I settled on Wunderlist. With the release of version 2, they've added the absolutely vital Reminders and Repitition to tasks, which were essential. Wunderlist is also multi-platform, and now has a nice native Android app.
As part of developing Plymouth Software's business model, one of my aims is to ensure a good work-life balance. As more client work has come in and deadlines approach, I've felt more of a drag to do just a few minutes in evenings and weekends.
*Goal: *Hit the reset button to keep work at the office. Establish business hours with myself and clients, and stick to them.
Sidenote: According to others' experiences, reducing time available to work talks should actually help to improve my focus and efficiency.
When it's your own, I don't believe selling time is a viable way to build a sustainable business - irrespective of your rate. In order to grow Plymouth Software financially, it needs to a fundamental change away from the freelance model (selling my time) to a business model, sustainable through the sale products, or services which can be packaged as products, that begin to remove my time from the equation.
This has been the aim since day one. I've tried to figure this out before, but could never make the break away from selling time. The freelance model also provided the quickest way to generate some income and build capital, which is essential for a bootstrapped business. Now, though, in order to grow the company (both financially and taking on staff), this approach needs to change.
Reading about very talented people in similar situations have made the switch inspired me to get thinking, and taking Brennan Dunn's excellent Consultancy Masterclass opened my eyes to a new way of productising my services, as well as offering products that are not a traditional part of the business, such as eBooks, code plugins, and workshops.
Goal: Schedule time and funds to develop revenue-generating assets (more details on the first of those in the next post).
To my mind, self-employment - having the ability to quickly adapt to situations and generate new streams of income - has always been far more stable than being an employee, where your income is firmly in the hands of somebody else. The real advantage of working for yourself is the freedom to be in control of my own future, as well as the sheer enjoyment that comes with building up a business.
Plymouth Software has so far granted an income and turned a profit in Year 1. However, in 2013, with lots of new responsibilities, I would like to at least double the turnover that the company has made in its first year (as a limited company).
This should be easily achievable by fulfilling some of the goals above, as well as following in the footsteps of bigger consultancy firms from whom I take inspiration. For example, I hadn't come across weekly billing until taking Brennan's Consultancy Masterclass course, but it seems to be quite common in software development shops, particularly those practicing agile techniques.
Goal: Double the company's turnover for Year 2. Acquire at least 4 retainer-style contracts for clients. Set value-based standard rates, and move to a weekly billing model for project/consultancy jobs.
Brand / Marketing
I'll be the first to admit the business must improve its marketing output. The company website is functional, but the portfolio is already outdated, and doesn't much promote the core service offering of the company. Along with changes the underlying business model above, I'd like to take the opportunity to refine the company brand itself.
One thing I've recognised is that the business actually offers clients much more than simple code-and-deliver development services. As I've taken on more involved projects, I've found myself consulting on a range of subjects, from business development and marketing, through to experience design and technical environment considerations.
As I move the company away from a freelance model, I need to ensure that the brand reflects the full scope of what the company offers.
Goal: Reduce friction of updating company website by moving to more flexible content management system. Rewrite marketing copy to focus on full range of services offered. Send at least one email newsletter per month. Write one white-paper on mobile apps, to be distributed though the company web site.
In both 2011 and 2012 I ran the Plymouth Half Marathon, and the fitness that came with running was great. However, with no running goal for 2013 - and a lot of sleepless nights since August - my running has taken a back seat. In 2013, I'd like to rectify this by committing to get back into running, as well as taking advantage of January membership discounts for the local gym and swimming pool.
Goal: Get back into running at least once a week, minimum of 3 miles per run (road or gym). Gym or Swim session twice a week.
Final Thoughts - The Overall Goal
Hopefully, as we move to 2014, I'll be able to look back over this post and check off all those goals.
I'm sure though, like any plan, they will change a little throughout the course of 2013, but it feels good to have committed to writing where I want to be. Ultimately, the most important goal (and that which has influenced all others) is to provide and spend as much quality time with our daughter as she grows up.
2013 is going to be a great - Happy New Year!