2016 State of the Union

2016 State of the Union

It felt appropriate that the first article on our brand new blog should be a review of the last year, helping you get acquainted with what’s been happening with Wanderoak, and serving as an excellent public post we can look back on over the years.

Any good recap (call it an Annual Review, State of the Union, in the end it means the same thing) reflects on 4 aspects: what went well, what didn’t go well, lessons learned, and what’s next. So without any further ado, let’s roll.

What Went Well

More, more, more!

We did a lot of things last year. We worked harder than we’ve ever worked before—it resulted in 7 times more income than we made in 2015, 7 times more projects, and 7 times more clients (at least).

When all’s said and done, we are super happy with the success we achieved in the second official year of running our own business.

We found our people.

One of the most powerful exercises we did last year involved identifying and clarifying the people we most wanted to work with. The result of this exercise is our home page; we’ve been complimented on it many times, and it has successfully attracted the type of people we enjoy working with most. This later turned into something we call the Audience Workbook – a resource and exercise all our clients go through now.

We launched three clients with entirely different websites.

The Canadian Society of Environmental Biologists (CSEB) is a simple, clean website used mainly for providing updates to members, facilitating educational workshops, and facilitating membership applications and renewals (we made a complex form into a—dare we say—pleasant experience).

In an entirely opposite direction, we launched The Tempest—a publishing platform changing the narrative of diverse millennial women in the world. Sounds big, and it is. Each month, The Tempest reaches over 300 000 people, and growing. We’re proud to be part of the journey.

Finally, we launched Muslim Nannies, a place where Muslim families can connect with Muslim caregivers with the same values and beliefs. Think job board + agency, with a twist.

Yet, each of these clients were exactly the kind of people we wanted to work with. People with a vision and a mission to create something positive and good in the world.

We have personalities! And people like them!

Being yourself is a good thing. Who knew? (The truth is, everyone knows this deep down, the trouble is actually making it happen). This year, we did that. We made jokes, threw in the occasional bit of sarcasm, and in general, let our craziness shine in all its glory. Not surprisingly (or perhaps quite surprisingly), it was received very well.

Need an example? We shared a 5-part story with our newsletter subscribers about the transition from our initial company into Wanderoak. This could have been your average (boring!) business story, but oh no—not on our watch. It was filled with actual screenshots of silly things we said and conversations we had. A contender for our new company name? Waffles of Adventure. No, really.

We’re part of an industry filled with stereotypes, so to many of our clients we’re a breath of fresh air. We’ll be keeping it this way, since being ourselves is one of the things we love about what we do—even it gets a little unconventional sometimes.

What Didn’t Go Well

Too much work, too little system.

One of the consequences of having so much more work in 2016 compared to 2015 was that the systems and processes we had broke down. They simply weren’t equipped to deal with so much work or that many ongoing projects. Many of our processes were manual and involved reinventing the wheel every time we were writing an email or creating a contract.

This slowed things down a lot, just when we had to be speeding up. So in the last few months we started to identify which systems could be repaired and which ones had to be totally scrapped and built anew.

Burnout is the enemy.

Burnout can take many forms. In our case, it took the form of procrastination and bunking work. We’d worry all day, every day, about the work we needed to get done, but not be able to get ourselves to begin work. Many times in the year, we both took random time off without telling the other person—just disappearing. This is perhaps the most difficult form of burnout, since it doesn’t feel like it. It just feels like we’re being lazy.

There were only a couple weeks in the entire year that we truly took off. Both times, we came back rejuvenated, energized, and motivated to work. The task list suddenly didn’t seem so daunting, and we could see ways how we could break up the projects and tackle them one manageable bit at a time.

So lesson learned: we have to take true breaks. This means taking at least one day off every week where we absolutely don’t touch or look at work. It also means scheduling small chunks of time off throughout the year. Planning to have some work-free time actually increases our productivity and allows us to get more done, simply because we are able to work better when we aren’t burnt out and tired.

We tried to do everything together.

This is an expected problem. We’re a partnership. We’re best friends. We’re opinionated. Trouble is, attempting to do everything together is an extremely inefficient use of time, and with so much work to do, time has become incredibly valuable.

Though we did improve over the course of the last year (out of necessity, we’re sure), we still have a ways to go. No doubt, our time is just going to become more valuable as the days go by.

Marketing—what’s that?

We were so busy with all this new work that all our social media, and marketing in general, ended up on the back burner. Then we accidentally shut the back burner off.

In 2016, we proved that you can get work and create a flourishing service business without marketing. If you do good work, engage in low level marketing (aka ask your clients for recommendations, tell your friends you’re for hire, simple and small things), you can make money. It does, however, have a ceiling.

You can only get so far without marketing and actively trying to reach new people. So this year, now that we know what kind of people we like working with, now that we have a good amount of experience with wildly varied situations, we are ready to engage in some content marketing and build up our brand.

What We Learned

Multitasking is out. Routines and processes are in.

The temptation to multitask is strong, and it always seems like a good idea. When you’re multitasking, you feel like a super worker—you’re on top of everything, you always know what’s going on, you’re getting so much done. Until the day is over, and you realize you’ve dabbled in a bunch of things but didn’t accomplish anything significant. And that one thing that’s been sitting at the bottom of your to-do list for two weeks? It’s. Still. There.

Hard work (and good work) takes focus. This year we’ll be trying extra hard to play one role at a time, and focus on the task at hand. Something else we’ve learned is that we love systems, and we work better with clearly defined routines. It also helps with collaboration; if one person doesn’t finish something, someone else can take over and keep going because the process has been standardized.

We bought an annual team subscription to Todoist, broke down all our projects, and tracked all of our tasks together. This was far better than spending the first hour of every day trying to figure out all the things we had to do, which were done, which were due soon, and which we had forgotten. We’ve also set up client onboarding and invoicing processes, and brought back the (much loved) dedicated Wanderoak day of the week.

So established routines combined with the determination to not react instantly when things happen means we’ll definitely be crossing off those to-do list items (oh, and they won’t be at the bottom of the list anymore, they’ll be at the top).

We’re not quite finished rebuilding our systems—in fact, we’ll probably keep tweaking them forever. However, we’re in a much better place now—things that can be automated, are, things that can’t be automated now have templates and rules in place to speed up the work.

Face time is productive time.

Meetings have a bad rep. Sometimes they’re characterized as a waste of time, red tape for corporations, or entirely useless. In some cases, this is definitely true, but as we found out, the opposite (lack of any meetings at all) can be just as bad.

Being able to explain and discuss an idea or concept in person is valuable. Being able to see the facial expressions and responses of the people you’re talking to is valuable. Covering a lot of points in a short amount of time is valuable. On top of all that, meetings add another level of accountability to help keep things from dragging on unnecessarily.

Every time we make sure to regularly meet (usually via Skype or Hangouts) with our clients, good things come of it. Plus, just think of all that personality and fun you can inject into a meeting.

Repeat after us: Put it in the calendar.

Are you noticing a theme yet? We love creating systems, routines, and rules. So here’s another rule we worked out: put it in the calendar.

Got a concert coming up? Put it in the calendar. Have a hair appointment on days when we meet with clients? Put it in the calendar. Going shopping with your sibling? All together now: put it in the calendar.

Running your own business, setting your own hours, and having a lot of flexibility is all well and good. However, all successful ventures require some sort of structure. We figured out that it’s important to communicate with everyone involved about what’s happening in our lives, especially if it changes how or when we will be at work.

Build. Launch. Share.

A side effect of having more client work and improved processes is that we’ll be launching a whole bunch more projects in 2017, client projects and Wanderoak projects both. The first was our own (which is the one you’re on, if you’re reading this on wanderoak.co). Once you’ve finished the article, click around. We’ll be adding more pieces (think client case studies and more in depth descriptions of our services) throughout the year, so be looking out for those.

To give you a real sneak peek, here are some slightly cryptic but totally descriptive things we have on the go:

  • A donation platform
  • An agency that connects speaker, performers, and artists with events
  • A professional development / online learning website for a very specific niche
  • A revamp of a website we’ve already completed
  • A business building resource to help you create a business on the foundation of doing good

(Sound interesting? Sign up and you’ll hear all about it when they launch!)

We also want to make sure we’re building our brand and reaching new and awesome people, so we’ll be becoming more active on Instagram (Come join the party! We have stories!) and Facebook (because eeeevveerrrybody is there, you liked our Facebook page, right?). You may even catch the occasional Facebook Live video (gasp!).

And there you have it, folks. That was 2016 in a nutshell and our very first article on wanderoak.co! We’ve plenty of other useful articles coming up, so stay tuned!

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Filed under State of the Union