I’m going to start with the things that didn’t work out for me last year.
Not because I’m morbid, or because I’m British and don’t like to celebrate success — a habit that this country needs to shake itself out of — but… because it’s ok for things to go wrong.
You can gorge yourself with information about how other people have found success, but until you try things out for yourself and get comfortable with failure, the most likely result is brain-bloat.
Stuff that went wrong in 2014
An unprofitable e-commerce store
At the end of 2013 I launched a sister project to CycleLove with my friend Fiona, which we christened CycleLux. I’d sold a decent amount of CycleLove posters and tshirts in the first Christmas after starting the blog, so we thought we could build on this by launching a dedicated online store selling a wider range of products.
Due to a combination of factors which I’ll write more about once I’ve crunched the numbers, we didn’t shift as much product as we thought we would. Selling t-shirts online is no walk in the park, setting up a proper online store even less so. Stock, packaging, inventory, book keeping, postage, returns, and customer support… all plates to spin whilst designing and marketing the product itself.</p>
Not writing my unDesign book
There are lots of excuses I could give for this, but of them are valid.
I could claim to have been scared to do the interviews with the designers on my shortlist — but it wasn’t really fear of the primeval ‘this-is-actually-dangerous’ kind. I could claim not to have time — but I could have made time if I really wanted to. I could claim that I didn’t feel ready to write the book — even though I know that starting before you feel ready is the best way to push yourself forwards.
Another component of the unDesign project which didn’t materialise for similar reasons: a collaborative event exploring the future of the digital landscape for deisgners and journalists. This was shelved after several months of planning/procrastination.
Skipping my own birthday drinks
In January I arranged a joint birthday celebration with a friend whose birthday is within a week of my own. But the night before hand, and without planning to, I went out for a beer too many, and woke with one of those paranoid hangovers that puts stupid questions into your mind like “Do I have any friends? Are they going to turn up?”. (They did, and I imagine they were pretty pissed off that I didn’t. Something to make amends for this year).
Neglecting to keep a record of my successes
Because of the way the human brain works (we are wired to remember negative events in more detail than positive ones), it’s worth keeping a record of your victories each year, no matter how small they might be. A simple text list or draft email that you keep adding to will do the trick — anything that allows you to quickly update your list as the months progress. I didn’t do this in 2014, so instead I’ve just been searching back through my diary and emails to jog my memory, and this article is three weeks late as a result.
But that’s enough of the fuckups — now for some of the more enjoyable things that happened to me last year.
What did I make in 2014?
Tour de Cycle Hire
It’s easy to underestimate how much energy you’ve exerted on side projects because it’s spread all over the place in little bursts of energy. But because interest compounds over time, little and often can be a powerful way to make things happen.
- 149 blog posts (94 on CycleLove, and 55 here). Takeaway: You can't run two blog singlehandedly. Which is why I decided to close CycleLove in November.
- 24 email newsletters, with a straight run of emails sent every Sunday since the start of September. (I've written on trains and even the top of double-decker buses to make sure I don't miss sending a newsletter)
- A film and exhibition. Technically it was my Chris Lawson who shot and directed the film, I was just one of the people riding a bike in it. Kudos here to my good friend Graham McLoughlin who came up with the idea of riding Boris Bikes from London to Paris and then sweet-talked TFL, Eurostar and Airbnb into backing the adventure. Takeaway: want something? Ask for it.
- A book, containing my best writing from this blog. It's now been downloaded over 400 times at an average price of $1 per copy, which I'm delighted with considering that most people choose to set the price to nothing. (That's not a criticism, I'm delighted that people have found it useful reading, and encourage you to do likewise). Takeaway: if you've built up a body of writing on a blog, consider turning it into a book. Leanpub is a really easy way to do this. And nothing beats the feeling of making money in your sleep.
- I never finish anyth- hit the top of Hacker News in January, clocking up almost 30,000 page views that day as a result. Takeaways: I think the internet needs more from-the-gut writing. Anger can be a positive asset if used carefully.
- How to sidestep creative perfectionism by acting like a startup was featured by Adobe's 99u and as suggested content by Buffer. Tip: spend almost as much time promoting your content as you do making it. This post only appeared on the 99u and Buffer feeds because I told them about it.
- The unspoken D word that eats you from the inside, one of the toughest things I've ever had to write — popped up all over the place. If it helped just one person experiencing depression, I'd have been happy, but it seems to have resonated with a whole bunch of people. Takeaway: if you're scared to write about something or hit publish, you should.
- How to get your first (genuine) 1000 followers on Instagram continued to clock up thousands of hits a week, ironically mostly from people searching for ways to cheat at this. Takeaway: share your knowledge freely. This was a post I cranked out in 2013 during my 30 day writing challenge, and never expected to get much traction. But it was useful content, and people *love* useful stuff. Feed them!
- CycleLove’s Top 10 Bike Blogs netted 25,000 page views (mostly from organic search for 'bike blog') even though it was a list I published in 2013. Takeaway: publish a list of what you consider to be the best blogs in your field, and include 'blog' and the keyword you thing people would find you with in the title.
- My best paid writing assignment to date: £300 to send 6 @CycleLoveHQ tweets.
Graphic design / freelancing
© Paul Calver for Vulpine
I designed and built a new Wordpress website for photographer Paul Calver, as well as several digital lookbooks for my favourite cycling startup Vulpine, designed a website for Borough and worked with new menswear brand NOMOI on their newsletter. (I was also the lead designer on a very cool iPhone app project which is still top secret).
It’s taken me a couple of years to find my stride as a freelance graphic designer, and 2014 was the year when things started to click into place in terms of earnings.
My largest freelance job to date kicked off in January, working with Prophet on the rebranding of a mobile network operator. The scale of the project only hit home when I was flown to another European city and back in the same day for a meeting. Everything is still hush hush on this, but I’m looking forward to sharing the outcome in 2015.
In October I moved out of my studio space at Creative Blocks in Haggerston, as I was now spending at least three days a week with my new favourite design studio MultiAdaptor. I’ve been working on an exciting project with them that involves conductive ink and Arduino boards, but agin it’s under wraps until later this year. Stay tuned…
Some things I've learnt about freelancing this year:
- Charge what you are worth, and stand firm in your valuation of your self. People will almost always try to negotiate your day rate down — I now only do this for projects of 4 weeks or longer.
- Don't put all your eggs in one basket. It's worth registering with a recruitment agency just in case your other sources dry up.
- Be careful when working at a reduced rate for friends, and don't feel obligated to price yourself into a corner. If you have other stuff going on that's paying better, it's gets hard to juggle things.
- Don't let people screw you around. A client booked me in for a week, only to cancel the job after the first day. I asked for an extra day's pay in lieu, and ended up making 6 times what I used to make in a day when I had a full-time job.
Paris was the city I visited most in 2014, once to splurge on coffee shops and restaurants, and twice as part of Tour de Cycle Hire. (We had to reshoot all of our footage from Paris due to a corrupted memory card; cue a 48 hour trip by van with the bikes, too much alcohol, and hardly any sleep).
Guirdil Bothy, Isle of Rum. © James Trickey
Once a year I head up to a remote corner of Scotland with friends for a hiking trip. We camp wild whenever possible, carry our food with us, and sample a different single malt whisky each night. This year the destination was the Isle of Rum. (I don’t have any photos of my own from this trip because I delibaretely left all my electronics at home).
Exploring Antwerp. Photograph by Adrian Cano Franco
I spent a wonderful five days exploring Antwerp with a fine bunch of creative folk under the acronym of D.A.T.E — Discover Antwerp Through Experience. This was my first (and probably last) professional blogging trip via CycleLove, and the organisation and generosity of our hosts was jaw-dropping. Check out Hello Sandwich, Adrián Cano Franco’s beautiful Momentos blog and La Buena Vida for more photos from the trip. Takeaway: blogging can have its perks.
Looking down onto Loch Voil and Balquhidder
In December I headed back to Scotland, this time sleeping with a solid roof over my head and some incredible food in my belly courtesy of the Mhor 84 motel in Perthshire. There was another hike — with snow this time — and more whisky of course.
Objectives (not resolutions) for 2015
- Add a /books page to this website, and write something to sit there alongside How to Reset Your Brain's Operating System. (In other words: build some products).
- Stop beating about the bush and start guest blogging... (I have a few exciting things in the pipeline already on this front).
- Send a newsletter every Sunday of the year.
- Be a writer who does graphic design on the side, rather than vice versa. Although I've a feeling this won't happen in 2015, I'll know that I'm close the first day that I make as much from writing as I usually do from design.
- Have more fun. It's been pointed out that I can get too darn serious about stuff. So, more joy, more dancing, more singing, and less worrying this year.
With thanks to Justin Jackson whose 2014 review informed the structure of this essay.
Ok. Enough about me.
How was your 2014? What’s up your sleeve for 2015?
Posted to Life in 2015.