Looking back on some of the major lessons learned that led to my best year ever

I think we can all agree that any year is a step up from the year that was 2020...but I have to say, 2021 was better than I could've imagined.

I won't focus on my own results too much, but I made some big moves this year that have really paid off in a big way. First, I joined Pat Flynn and the SPI time when Unreal Collective was acquired.

That was a scary decision to make, and it wasn't easy to make either! But it was absolutely the right call for a few reasons:

  • I had the opportunity to lead the Community Experience team.
  • It gave Unreal members the opportunity to join an even better membership (for free)
  • I worked alongside an amazing team and saw how a creator business at scale operates.
  • It allowed me to focus on the non-service-related aspects of my own content business.

As a result, my overall business income increased nearly 50% this year. And while my 2020 income was nearly 70% service-based, less than 2% of my 2021 income was service-based.

It's been an amazing year, and I feel so fortunate. The business is in a place now where I can truly be intentional about what I create, who I partner with, where I invest my energy, and more. And YOU have had a big part in that.

But I want to highlight some of the other lessons I've learned this year that I think can serve you in your life as a creator too.

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Jay Clouse  00:01

Welcome to Creative Elements, a show where we talk to your favorite creators and learn what it takes to make a living from your art and creativity. I'm your host, Jay Clouse. Let's start the show. Hello, my friend, welcome to an abbreviated solo episode of Creative Elements. I hope you're having a great week. I hope you're excited about Christmas because it is Christmas week. I didn't want to go too crazy in terms of new episodes this week. I thought I would keep it simple. I have a solo episode for you this week that is actually an adaptation from my own personal newsletter Creative Companion. If you are not subscribed to Creative Companion, I would love for you to go to jayclouse.com and subscribe. But this past Sunday, I send these out every Sunday and wrote a piece called Lessons Learned in 2021. And I have 11 lessons here that I'm excited to share with you here on the show as well. 11 things that I have learned, sometimes the hard way, but just in general, in 2021 good things that have happened. I won't focus on my own business too, too much. But I did make some big moves this year that have really paid off in a big way. The first of them being that I joined Pat Flynn and SPI full time this year, when unreal collective was acquired at the end of 2020. If you've been listening to the show for a while, you might remember my conversation with Pat back in 2020. And he and his partner Matt Gartland were talking about their strategy of acquisition and how they were looking to build their team.


Pat Flynn  01:47

Voltron, basically.


Matt Gartland  01:50

I love that, Voltron is great.  Let's go with Voltron.


Pat Flynn  01:52

You know.   Let's go Voltron. I was gonna say Power Rangers but let's you know, although I grew up,


Matt Gartland  01:58

Voltron's nerdier. I like that.


Pat Flynn  02:01

Let's do, Voltron. You know, the different components coming together for a much larger hole, right? And what's cool is like, Matt, and I might be like, the two legs, right? Like you can't move if there's two important parts, but we're also seeking out looking for okay, well, where or what or who might be the arm and the other arm? And you know, how can we combine forces with others.


Jay Clouse  02:25

And I was one of those acquisitions that came in to help them build the team. And it has been an absolutely awesome process and experience. I won't lie it was a scary decision to make. It wasn't an easy decision to make, but it was absolutely the right call for a few reasons, I had the opportunity to lead the community experience team at SPI to build up our premium membership community SPI Pro to work within an amazing, amazing team super talented people, I could see how a creator business at scale operates how Pat and SPI runs that business, and allowed me to focus on the non service related aspects of my own content business. Because even though unreal collective in my mastermind program was acquired, I was still running my own content business, including this podcast. As a result, my business income increased nearly 50% this year. And while my 2020 income last year was nearly 70% services based, less than 2% of my income this year in 2021 was service based. So the passive more leveraged pieces of my business that grew a whole heck of a lot, and it has been an amazing year, I feel really, really fortunate. The business is in a place now where I can truly be intentional about what I create, who I partner with, where I invest my energy. And you have been a big part of that by listening to and supporting this show. So thank you, thank you, thank you for being here for helping make this all possible. I want to highlight some of the lessons that I've learned this year that I think can serve you in your life as a creator, too. I've got 11 of them. They're in no particular order here but let's get started.  Lesson number one, you may be more discoverable than your projects. Podcasting can be super frustrating for a lot of reasons but especially when it comes to audience growth. In most media is there is a platform acting to provide some organic search and discovery. And while there is technically some search and discovery through podcast listening apps, it's not on par with YouTube or Google. So a lot of podcasters are left asking, how do I help people find my podcast? In my approach is to use myself as the discoverable thing that can then introduce you to my podcast. Maybe you find me on Twitter, or as a guest on another podcast that you listen to or through my newsletter, or an article that comes up in Google search. I don't really care how you discover me or my work, but I care about ensuring that whatever brought you into my sphere however you found Jay Clouse, I then introduce you to the podcast in a compelling way. And since people are discovering me every day, if some number of them are now directly introduced to the podcast, I have created my own podcast discovery.  Lesson number two, dividing your focus is super costly. My friend Tim once said to me, you can have as many cats as you want, but you have to feed all of them. This is life for creative people. We love new projects but the more you divide your focus, the more time you pull away from each and every project or priority that you have. Not only are you losing time on Project A when you work on Project B, but you lose time when you ask yourself, should I be working on Project A or project B right now? And if your strategy to help people discover your project is by first discovering you, it becomes more difficult to direct them to the right project. For better or for worse, people have a really hard time associating you with multiple things. We want to put people into boxes. And when you build multiple boxes for yourself, it's hard to convince people to take any of them seriously.  Lesson number three, investing in content works. In 2020, I began focusing on SEO for a couple of my web properties, but most specifically, the freelancing school website where I teach people how to make a living by freelancing. The first thing I did was teach myself how to write articles optimized for SEO, I actually use Myles Beckler, his YouTube channel, he was a guest early on the show, I think episode number 19. Within a matter of weeks, not even months, those articles begin ranking on page one and eventually in the top three on Google. I have several articles now that rank number one or number two on Google search, month over month, I saw my traffic grow. But I was the bottleneck. If I didn't write new articles, my traffic would plateau at whatever volume Google was sending for that keyword. There's not unlimited search queries for a keyword, there is some limit. Even if you're ranking number one for some keyword, there is a limit on the amount of traffic searching for that every day. So unless there are more people searching for that over time, you actually plateau at the number of impressions and pageviews you get for a certain keyword if you're at the top. So I hired an excellent copywriter who I knew and trusted to ramp up content production on that freelancing school website by collaborating on the keywords that we're targeting, the first draft, the final draft, and so on. And the results have been really fantastic. I have continued growth in traffic, continued growth in keyword volume that I measure in Ahrefs. And as a result, I've seen more core students in more affiliate commissions. It's just a numbers game, more traffic at a constant conversion rate equals more revenue.  Lesson number four, design really, really matters. I'm on a mission to grow my creative platform and get my work in front of more and more people, my writing, this podcast, my workshops, etc. And while I believe in the quality of the work and the ideas that I share, I'd become convinced, unfortunately, that people are more willing to trust A plus design and B minus content than B minus design with A plus content. It's not true 100% of the time, and if someone does get past average design to dig into the content, that it may not matter. But when it comes to deciding whether or not to initially trust someone and give their work a chance. I think it comes down to design more often than we'd like to admit, we conflate good design with a good product, we often rule out products with poor visual design. So set yourself up to be given a chance in the eyes of the consumer, you really need to think about design.  Lesson number five, borrowing from social media is necessary. I've been a hardcore email or bust creator for several years, social media platforms felt too fickle. And I couldn't stand the thought of building my creative platform on top of a third party social media platform, only to lose it all. That changed this year as I've seen just how much more willing people are to follow me initially versus commit to subscribing. At this point, I'm convinced that if you want to reach a large audience, social media or YouTube is a necessity. People want to have a passive higher frequency but lower dose experience of you to determine whether or not they like your work and whether or not they want to subscribe for more. And right now I see the most opportunity on Twitter, Tiktok, Instagram reels, and YouTube shorts. And since I don't love doing video, you'll see that I am focused on Twitter.  Lesson number six, we expect more in return for our email address. This is a quick follow up to the last point. It's harder and harder to convince people to subscribe to an email newsletter. The traditional lead magnets don't work well anymore with the exception of maybe email courses or quizzes. So if you're wondering what type of opt in or lead magnet to create, I now tell people to imagine a product that people would actually pay for something so good that people would trade money for it. And then make it free for subscribing to your newsletter, or your podcast vecause PDFs, ebooks, one off resources, they just aren't doing it anymore.  Lesson number seven, community is really hard to do well. I have been eating, sleeping and breathing online community this year. I love building community. I love helping others do it too. But it's so much harder than people realize when they first get into it. I wrote a thread that I'll copy in the show notes on Twitter that covers most of the reasons why community is so hard. But people imagined communities or memberships, which are different things by the way, as this magical passive monthly recurring revenue almost like software but community is not passive. Community requires a lot of consistent care and energy. And even when you cultivate a space that is self sustaining, or self governing or members feel co ownership, it's always at the risk of a downward spiral. And while some businesses have positive network effects, where having more people makes the product more valuable. Communities have a negative network effects sometimes where more people makes the community and the product and the experience worse. Plus, when people leave, especially core people, then more people are likely to leave and follow them out. Building community is one of the most rewarding pursuits you can take on. It's just much more difficult than simply standing up a digital community space in inviting people in. So know what you're getting into if you're going to go in this direction.  Okay, lesson number eight, buying a home is super, super rewarding. In February, Mallory and I took possession on our first home here in Columbus, Ohio. It was a big, stressful, scary decision to make. But as easily been one of the best decisions that we've made all year, probably in my whole life. I've worked more on the business this year than ever before. But I've also picked up a lot of practical skills from doing projects around the house. We've painted, we've laid baseboard, we've installed new light fixtures, we've swapped out all kinds of hardware, created a board and batten wall in our bedroom. In every step of the way, we were happy in knowing that the hard work and money we were putting into making this house our home is actually an investment in the value of the property. It feels so great to be incentivized to not only maintain your living space, but to improve it and make it your own.  Lesson number nine is maybe a little controversial. But I believe Web 3 is a huge opportunity. I've taken the red pill and I've gone deep down the rabbit hole of where things are going with the internet and technology and what seemed like noisy, overhyped nonsense several months ago, it has now become clear to me that we are in a paradigm shifting time. I'm super super invested in studying what the developments in Web 3 technology mean for creators and community builders. And spoiler, I'm going to be creating a lot more content around this next year. I'll have more information on that soon how you can read along with me in this new project about Web 3. But for now, make sure you're subscribed to my newsletter at jayclouse.com. And you'll be the first to know when you can start reading more about Web 3 and what I'm learning.  Lesson number 10, access is compounding. As part of my deep dive into the Web 3 rabbit hole I have found yet another example of the magic of compounding access. When you have access to information or opportunity, you are often presented with even more information and opportunity. In the Web 3 world that means as you find yourself in certain community circles, they often surface new circles, new sources of information, and so on and so on. It's pretty unreasonable for most people to get so immersed in this world that you can feel like you're truly keeping up with it. It's so loud, it's so noisy. There is so much bogus information, and it moves so fast. So again, instead of trying to spend your time getting up to speed with Web 3 and being fully immersed in it, I invite you to just subscribe to my newsletter at jayclouse.com and I'll be sharing more and more about it over the coming months.  All right, final point here. Lesson number 11, having a life partner is truly life changing. I wouldn't have accomplished nearly as much as I did this year without having Mallory in my corner. There's just no way to overstate the benefit of having a loving partner to support you, share the load and challenge you. It's been amazing watching her grow as a realtor and community builder this year. And she's had an even bigger year than me in a lot of ways. I just can't say enough about how amazing it is to be building a life with someone else and not just a business. It's been an amazing year. I hope your 2021 has been awesome. I hope you're excited about 2022. I'm excited about doubling down on this podcast. I'll have more time in the new year to focus on this show. It's getting easier and easier to get big name guests. I'm super excited about it. Thank you again for being here if you're following along, if you want to give me any Christmas gift at all, please leave a review on Apple podcasts. It goes so far so much further than you expect and it just takes a minute. So thank you for being here. Thanks for listening to the show. Thanks for listening to this solo sort of rambley episode here today. I'd love to know what you think about it. If you want more solo episodes like this, just tweet at me @jayclouse and let me know or send me a message on Instagram creativeelements.fm. I'll be back next week with a new episode. I hope you have a fantastic Christmas. I hope you're surrounded by loved ones. Thanks for listening. I'll talk to you next week.