It's funny, I've been running my own business for over three years now and it's only been in the last little while that I've felt like an actual "business owner."
So, as business owners do, I'm taking some time out to review 2016 and look forward to 2017.
First, I'm following Greg Faxon's example by answering these four simple questions:
What did I do well last year?
What didn’t I do so well last year?
What am I working towards this year?
What is this year's theme?
Let's dive in! *splash*
What went well in 2016:
1. Record-breaking year of travel – about 33% of the year spent working abroad.
This much travel in my life (about 1/3 of the year) is definitely a dream come true.
2016 was a year filled with beaches (my fave) including Tulum, San Juan Del Sur, Tamarindo, Oahu, Lagos and the British Virgin Islands.
I also worked from some cool cities like New York, Montreal, London and Lisbon.
In total, I spent approximately 120 days working abroad and the rest from my Toronto home base.
As an aside: It's funny how when you achieve something you've worked towards all your life (in my case, since I was 18), priorities then shift and you look towards the next "big thing." More on that further in this post.
2. Expanded my learnings of the online digital business space.
It wasn't until the spring of 2016 that I got serious about growing and expanding my business. While most business owners start their business with this plan in mind, my original goals never really were to grow. I wanted to create a lifestyle business so that I could travel. Period.
After a year and a half of this coasting (and traveling), I guess I got bored. I think it's more natural to want to grow vs stay static. So I started learning.
In April, I began to study new content marketing methods. By the summer, I focused on my own Instagram more than ever. By fall, I knew I had to take this momentum to a new level. So I hired a business coach for the first time ever. And since then, I feel like I've been hustling and trying new things like never before. It was overwhelming for the first few months, but now that I understand the greater picture and have overcome many software and tech learning curves, I feel way more prepared to delve deeper into this world in 2017.
3. Launched a personal brand separate from my agency Canupy.
As I started to share more of my story via my Instagram posts and captions, it became clear that I needed a separate platform other than Canupy to share more of my personal side.
So in the fall, I committed to (and got comfortable with) creating and launching a personal brand (the very site you're on now!). The intent was for it to be an extension of my Instagram account, and become a hub for more valuable content beyond what I can share in short Insta captions.
It's still a work in progress, but I'm slowly chipping away, experimenting with new content ideas and seeing what resonates best with my audience (and me).
4. Invested in my business more than ever with a business coach.
In the summer of 2016, when I became serious about launching a personal brand and learning how to take Canupy to a new level, it dawned on me that I could use some help from someone who's done it before (*aha* moment).
After joining a frenzy of Facebook groups for entrepreneurs, I became privy to the world of business coaching. Though I didn't know what exactly I was looking for, I put out some feelers and they looked like this:
By mid-September, in the midst of traveling through Portugal, I was working with a coach, Halley Gray. I had lofty goals then and while major strides were made, I didn't quiiite reach all my goals (more on that below).
Stats for 2016:
120 days spent abroad
15 cities visited
24 flights booked and about $8,000 spent on airfare
Two LIVE classes with a total of 440 people registered
Worked with 10 Canupy clients and 2 one-on-one coaching clients (with more booked for 2017)
Hired 6 contractors
39,000 followers on Instagram
1,000 email subscribers
320 members of The Travelpreneur Lounge (join us there if not already!)
What didn't go so well in 2016:
1. Didn't make my income goals.
I can't say I had a specific amount in mind at the beginning of 2016, but it's always been a goal of mine (like most business owners) to reach the 6-figure mark.
Why? Well, I left the 9-5 world to break the salary ceiling. Most 9-5 jobs (at least in the workplace I was at) could offer you $50-75,000/year. With further education and management experience, you could look at $100,000.
As an entrepreneur, it's been my experience that running a business is more time-consuming and all-encompassing than a 9-5. So why was I putting myself through the extra stress if I wasn't taking full advantage of being my own boss, including making more than I could in a 9-5?
To a certain extent, I was taking full advantage of the lifestyle benefits (did I mention travel already?). But I had never made a plan for making six figures. And so it should be no surprise that I didn't reach that income level. My lifestyle business was designed from the beginning to reach five figures.
2017 = time to change that.
2. Didn't create or launch a product.
With launching a personal brand (hello Elise Darma!), I had the lofty ambitions to not only launch a website, grow a community outside of Instagram but to ALSO create digital products that would help my audience who didn't want or couldn't afford one-on-one coaching.
I knew this was ambitious, and originally I was planning to launch a product this month (January), but alas – it didn't happen... but will!
3. No business partner or full-time team.
In 2016, I wanted to *magically* meet, date and marry a business partner to help me grow Canupy. (From what I hear, finding a co-founder is legit like finding a life partner.)
I explored various options, like networking and testing the waters with a few people in my warm network, but nothing stuck.
When it's not right, it's just not right, ya know?
Why was I so hell-bent on finding a partner? Well from my experience in the startup world, the most successful businesses were created by a team of people, not just a solo founder.
At the same time, I did not have ambitions to run a business on my own forever (can you say #burnout?).
In 2016, I had been doing the freelance/#girlboss/entrepreneur thing for two years and as much as I was loving the travel, I was never not "on." I was always working or connected to my business in some way. I began to crave a mental break from it all.
While I didn't meet "the one" in 2016 (or maybe I did and just don't know it yet?), I did create a team of people who I love to work with, and the ultimate goal would be to work with these awesome creatives on a more full-time basis.
4. Productivity plans (and new habits) didn't last.
In 2016, I became sick of my own lack of focus and planning.
With a business as small as mine, it didn't have any immediate negative effects on myself or my clients. But long-term, the mental anguish began to build. And I found myself battling feelings of overwhelm, lack of motivation, paralysis and sometimes slight depression..? #realtalk
While I do keep a daily list of tasks to focus on each day (The Ivy Lee Method), it soon became clear that prioritizing daily tasks to accomplish larger projects was lacking. I began to work a little at a lot of projects, and ultimately, felt like nothing was getting done.
This year, I'm changing my tactics up to focus on one project at a time in one- to two-week increments. We'll see how it goes.
5. (Personal) No consistency with working out.
Ah, the ongoing inner struggle to work out.
While working out definitely helped relieve mental stress and made me feel physically strong, there were periods where I wouldn't go for weeks or months. It became a huge mental hurdle just to get to the gym.
The inconsistency was causing unhappiness within myself and in turn, my relationship.
I had worked with a trainer in the summer of 2015 and loved it. While personal training is a huge investment and I was already investing in my business more than usual, I decided to get back into it at the end of 2016.
Once again, working out became a pleasure. Clearly, I need the commitment of paying someone to kick my ass, or else I won't go at all.
For 2017, I'm working on budgeting for personal training and making the gym a more regular habit.
What I'm working towards this year:
1. Growing my audience.
It's become more fuel for the community-building fire.
I love hearing what people are looking for or are struggling with, and creating material (like the two live classes) to help out as much as I can.
Who knew live classes could be so fun (and not as scary as they sound)!?
2. Expanding my services by offering lower-end products.
When it comes to my coaching services here at EliseDarma.com or the content marketing services via my agency Canupy, I've seen a need in both businesses for lower-end, more DIY products that people can purchase when one-on-one services are beyond the scope of their budget. This is something I'm super excited about creating and offering.
3. Developing a core team of 1-2 sharp hustlers.
I can't do this alone. That, I know 100%.
I'm excited to grow both my businesses with people who are just as keen and excited about the online space as I am.
4. Less coasting, more growth and scaling.
Bye-bye, lazy lifestyle business!
While the travels have been fab and a dream come true, it's time to stop being okay with coasting at the same level and instead hustle harder to grow and scale my business(es) to new levels.
Otherwise, I might as well go back to a 9-5 job. 😜
5. More improv and adventure.
In 2011, I immersed myself in Second City's improv program for a full year. The program helped me personally and professionally – mostly, to just be comfortable being me. Think: less social anxiety, less insecurity and more confidence. Win-wins across all scopes of life!
I want to have more fun with improv this year, as I know it'll help my business in so many ways. I have some character ideas to possibly incorporate into my content and exercising my improv muscles will surely help.
On that note, I want to explore the idea of adventure more – both personally and business-wise.
I think a lot of people find me or follow me based on my travel photos. I'm really interested in connecting with those who love the adventures that come along with both travel AND business.
To me, adventure is the uniting theme between both.
If you like to travel, you probably enjoy adventure and risk to some extent. And if you want to be your own boss, you're probably not turned off by the risk that comes along with it.
So, adventure it is. In travel, business and life.
This year's theme:
Last year's theme was along the lines of "growing up" as a business owner. Shifting things from being static and closed off, to smartening up, learning new tools, and waking up to the world around me.
I want 2017 to be a year of scaling in a planned, purposeful way.
Maybe that's a redundant way of putting it (to a certain extent, I'm still learning the true meaning of scaling a business), but I want to ensure I'm putting in place a plan with targets and deadlines.
At the end of 2017, I want to look back and see a business that has grown in revenue, community members, customers and team members.
In addition, I've been toying with the idea of opening up more in the online sphere. We so often paint a perfectly edited picture of our lives when SO MUCH MORE is going on under the surface.
Would you be interested in more "real talks" and entrepreneurial truths behind the pretty travel pictures? Let me know!
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BONUS: 2016 Month-By-Month
When I look back on 2016, I notice that each month seems to have its own theme, focus or event. I thought it'd be fun to sum up one main theme for each month of 2016. Let's see what happens!
January: Nesting and planning
Freshly home from spending NYE in Tulum, I spent this month planning for the next, while taking my first foray into business accountability: starting bi-weekly check-in calls with my savvy business friend, Abigail of That Clean Life.
February: Costa Rica & Nicaragua
Escaping Toronto's winter, I spent this month in the heat. I worked from Tamarindo on my own, then spent some time with Roadmunk in Monteverde, and then hung out at Costa Dulce in Nicaragua on my own (the couples and honeymooners were cool with me tapping away at my laptop in between their surf lessons – I think).
March: Taxes and moving
Got home and – surprise – I'm moving! Not to mention it's time to catch up on my 2015 taxes. This month was about catching up with life after being away – with super exciting stuff like bookkeeping and packing.
April: Hawaii and family time
This month, I celebrated my 29th birthday and chose to spend it in Hawaii with my mom, aunt and her family. Aloha and mahalo!
May: Down to biz
Client work ramped up this month and I took a quick weekend trip to NYC – always a source of business inspiration for me.
June: Networking game strong
I attended Traction Conference in Vancouver and was blown away, realizing what I don't know when it comes to running and scaling a top growth tech company (I gained a new appreciation for what my Canupy clients might experience in their own companies).
I also met some cool tech peeps who I ended up seeing all summer long in the tech events circuit.
July: I became my brand, Canupy
With all the tech events I was attending (Startup Fest and TechToronto, to name a few), I decided to literally become my brand.
I dressed like my brand whenever/wherever possible, I made custom Snapchat filters for all the events, I bought palm tree sunglasses and a mini pineapple plant, and – I just had fun with it.
I also (finally) set up a proper home office with a desk that faces the window (it's now that I'm starting to buckle down on my biz goals).
Oh, and sadly, my family cat passed away this month due to cancer... that was a lot harder than anticipated.
August: Dipping my toes in the water
This month, I stopped ~thinking~ and started ~doing~.
I spent the summer thinking about how to make my next move (after growing my Instagram to 10,000 followers) and how to share more of my personal story.
I began the hunt for a business coach and also created a private Facebook group just for a handful of friends – for their supportive feedback and to gauge what people were *really* interested in.
September: Diving in head first
I'm traveled Portgual this month so what better time to start working one-on-one with a business coach and make the biggest investment in my business ever!?
It honestly didn't matter that I was abroad – I was just ready to GO. This month, I began creating a personal brand, a new website, and asking my Instagram followers what they were interested in.
October: Werk, werk, werk
Juggling client work and creating a new business proved to be a lot of work. I was pretty much just heads down working this month, and wasn't really going out (or drinking) until Halloween arrived.
November: Going live!
After months of anticipation (in my mind, at least), I held my first live online class! Though it was slightly nerve-wracking, I found the actual class to be quite fun – and I learned that giving people TOO much information is totally a thing.
Around mid-December, after three months at this new pace of juggling two businesses, I probably burned out a bit (it's such a buzzy term in the online biz world but alas – there it is).
I kept the sprint going through most of December because I knew there was a tropical holiday to the British Virgin Islands at the end of it. (It was the closest trip to a vacation in three years and the perfect way to end 2016.)
Looking back is great, but time to look forward!