June 23, 2022
It happened without a ton of fanfare: my business turned two. More accurately, our business turned two, as Claire officially joined as a co-founder of this new venture. We’ll share what we’re calling it, and where all that is at, in a moment.
But back to birthdays.
I’ve honestly had a hard time figuring out when to say this baby was born. Is it the day I incorporated the company, the day I quit Google to work on it, or the first day of our company’s financial year. Who knows?
Does it matter? Not really, but kind of.
One lesson I’ve learned this past year is that as a solo entrepreneur, and now as a small little company, we need to build in the rituals to celebrate wins, reflect on losses, and express gratitude for the journey.
It’s the journey, not the destination, right folks?
Personally, I find it too easy to get lost in the question, “what’s next?”, as there is always more work to be done in a small business. And while this forward-focused mindset can be beneficial, it’s equally helpful to pause and take stock.
Which brings us back to this article.
In this post, I’m going to give you a breakdown of our past year in business, including financials, then share a few highlights, lowlights, and lessons I’ve taken away from Year Two. I'll end with a glance at our future plans, including sharing our new name.
This is part of my effort to contribute to the Build in Public movement and champion transparency and honesty in business. I hope you enjoy!
For those new here, a quick introduction.
The purpose of our company is to stop burnout and build strong, resilient teams ready for what comes next.
We help people re-architect their working days by rethinking productivity and building mental and emotional resilience. We believe this leads to increased satisfaction and performance at work.
We think a world where human-centric work cultures are the norm will be a better world, so we’re trying to help get us there.
We do this through live training, online courses, and educational content.
The main thrust of our business activity is centered around live training courses that we facilitate to organizations on topics like sustainable productivity, mental resilience, and emotional intelligence. Make Time, Adaptive Resilience, Mixed Mental Arts, and Search Inside Yourself are examples of these.
We also provide scaled educational experiences for individuals and companies through online courses, such as The Highlight Course. Mixed Mental Arts is also available as an e-learning program and as a blended-learning program. We're also planning to launch our own online course later this yaer(more on that below).
Finally, we’re increasingly working to provide free, valuable educational content online. We're experimenting with sharing this content on Instagram, where we launched a new One Percent Wisdom page this year, as well as YouTube and on my personal Twitter.
The last year has been a big one in terms of growth. We doubled revenue, trained our first new trainer, and grew the core team. But this growth came at a cost, as I neglected writing, taught less of my own content, and struggled to launch a course.
Let’s start with the numbers.
Here’s a breakdown of a few metrics covering the timespan of April 2021 through to March 2022.
Once again, I'm sharing these metrics here in hopes they are useful for others. If you have specific questions about what's below, don't hesitate to shoot me a message.
Now let's take a look at the money.
Here’s a breakdown of our Profit and Loss this past year. I've tried to simplify these metrics to be useful but it does get a little hairy when you deconstruct Net Profit because the business has been paying me (and now Claire) a salary, which technically comes out of the Total Expenses bucket.
Total Revenue — £215,946 (compared to £86,585 in 2020-21)
Total Expenses (including tax) — £95,164 (compared to £86,585 in 2020-21)
Net Profit — £120,647 (compared to £38,892 in 2020-21)
I'm honestly amazed when look at these numbers. Year One was all about testing my proposition and seeing if it matched a need in the market. It certainly did.
Year Two has been about building upon this foundation and starting to test ideas for "scale" in a business that honestly, I don't believe can scale that much. I've also seen firsthand that many seeds I planted in Year One began to blossom in Year Two, which is a potent reminder for me to continue investing with longer-term horizons.
I have to also name one huge advantage I've benefitted from, and that is the Make Time at Work program. It has continued to resonate in a big way with many of our clients, and thus, it continues to drive a majority of our overall revenue.
I still think we have only scratched the surface of the potential for Make Time to transform working cultures, and I'm pumped to have new Certified Trainers in the Make Time family this year, who will undoubtedly support our mission in new and exciting ways.
Year two was harder in many ways and easier in others. I’m more comfortable in many aspects of running the business, including sales and business development, but this was also the year we grew the team, and with it, came a lot of new complexity.
Let’s take a look.
Around June of 2021, I made one of my better decisions and hired the brilliant Anna Stebbings as my VA. Now look, she’s way more than a virtual assistant—she runs so many of our operations that she’s really part of the team. Learning to delegate has absolutely been a learning curve, but having Anna in the company has done more for my sanity, wellbeing, and productivity than I could have imagined.
My wife Claire has been involved and helping me with the company since the day I started, but in January 2022, she finally came onboard full-time as a co-founder of the next evolution of this venture. Many people are pretty surprised when they learn we work together, but we have loved it so far.
I believe business is an amazing training ground for personal development, especially when you run your own, and I now see that running a business with your spouse is an equally amazing place to build your relationship.
We’ve had to learn where to draw boundaries, how to effectively communicate with each other, how to deliver better feedback, how to adapt to each other’s working styles, and so much more.
Ultimately, we are more in-sync than ever before, plus we love the flexibility and freedom we get from self-employment, so it’s been good so far.
A big focus for us this past year has been training new trainers. Not only has this been necessary to help us meet the growing client demand we've experienced, it’s also a strategic move for us in terms of diversifying the perspective of our trainings. As a white man raised in relative privilege in America, my perspective is limited. By bringing other humans with different lived experiences than my own into our trainer collective, we can better serve a broader array of people.
But damn, I underestimated how much time, energy, and love needs to go into the process of an effective training program.
Last year, we did a small pilot with a new trainer that I lightly coached and trained in preparation. It didn't click, and it was the first time I had received negative feedback from a client. I believe there are a number of reasons this pilot failed, but the big lesson I took away is that developing trainers takes a lot more time, effort, and love than I had anticipated.
As I write this, we are in the final weeks of a 2.5 month training journey with two facilitators, and I think we've done a good job of investing in them properly and have taken the learnings from last summer to heart.
I’ve found that running a business often puts money at the forefront of my mind. It’s a practicality that I need to earn enough revenue to pay salaries, but it’s also an easy yardstick for success. I wrote about this in my post, Make More Money.
Over this past year however, I found myself less and less motivated by money. I think in Year One, every time I made a sale, it felt like a vote of confidence by others that I could actually do this. But the reward of sales has felt less and less motivating over time.
Luckily, I came across a book last year called The Surrender Experiment by Michael Singer, which reminded me of a personal mantra I held close for a long time in the recent past: born to serve. Service to others is one of my core values, and it’s what really lights me up.
Reconnecting to this intention in the past year has helped me stay energized and has been a source of replenishment when I’ve started to feel burnt (yes, this happens even to those of us teaching others how to avoid burnout!). It’s incredible how a simple mindset shift can change my tangible physical experience. It’s been a big lesson for me.
Related to Lesson 3, I reshaped my perspective on money in a big way this past year. I owe most of this to Michael Ashcroft, who introduced me to a system called Profit First. (Here is Michael's original post that inspired this: Paying Myself Properly as a Solopreneur).
Profit First is essentially a different way of accounting that has given me an incredible sense of peace when looking at how the business is performing. It’s allowed me to put my emotional and mental well-being first, rather than trying to engineer a business that is simply trying to be as revenue-efficient as possible.
What does this look like? For one, I started paying myself a monthly salary for the first time this last year, rather than randomly and occasionally paying myself dividends when I need cash. This consistent flow of money makes me feel much different about my lifestyle, because I know what I’m earning and I know what I can spend.
It’s also allowed us to get very clear on just how much money we need to make each month in order to sustain our ideal salaries. This sounds easy, but it’s actually harder than you think. Many business owners just make as much money as they can in a year, then pay expenses and taxes, and then pay themselves what’s left. Profit First flips that on its head, and we’ve loved it.
One major evolution in my thinking has been the role of the individual and the role of the system, especially when it comes to wellbeing at work. Many of our training programs focus on individual behavior changes and techniques to help increase focus, resilience, and ultimately human thriving. But I have come to see that there is only so much an individual can do in system that is broken.
Johann Hari's Stolen Focus was definitely influential here, along with Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman.
Ultimately, I believe we need both individual change and system change. Company cultures need top-down leadership as well as bottom-up engagement.
But if you feel overwhelmed, stressed, distracted, burnt out, or are struggling in a different way, then I think you should know that you're not alone and this isn't just a moral or personal failing. It's an ingrained challenge of the modern society we've created for ourselves. It doesn't mean you can't do anything—because you can—but you can also know that larger forces are at play.
There was a lot to be thankful for this past year, and in the spirit of sharing openly, I wanted to share a collection of various moments that I'm grateful to have had this past year.
Public SIY: I co-facilitated my first-ever public Search Inside Yourself program alongside SIY Global staff member Grace Edwards. Most of my trainings are private and to companies, so it was great to have a publicly available offer.
Note: I’ll be teaching another public SIY in September, message me for details if you want to join!
Financial Times: I was quoted in a piece in the Financial Times on multigenerational teams and how to build healthier, more productive working cultures. Thanks Sarah Drinkwater for including me!
Certified Trainer: We certified an incredible new Make Time trainer, Ros Croad, who has been wonderful to have in our growing team of trainers.
Mixed Mental Arts: I’m in the final phase of a teacher training journey with Tough Cookie, so I can begin offering Mixed Mental Arts to my clients. This is an incredible mental resilience program and I can't wait to begin sharing it with more of my clients.
Building a Second Brain: I really enjoyed taking this live, online course with Tiago Forte about personal knowledge management. Not only has it helped me get more organized and creative, it was a great learning experience to see him run an online course with over 1,000 students
IRL: I included this in my personal Annual Review for last year, but it was incredible to get back in-person with a few clients. I joined teams in Stockholm, Berlin, and Cannes and each event really filled up my cup.
And now for a few of the challenges and obstacles of the past year that come to mind.
Course: Previous plans to design a course for the University of Wisconsin stalled, and while I found an even better avenue and partner for my course, I have not been able to complete the curriculum. I’m planning to take off July & August this summer, and this course will be a main focus.
Content: I taught a lot less of my own content as the demand for Make Time grew substantially and took up most of my bandwidth. I love the challenge of writing, designing, and teaching my own content, plus the learning it provides, so I missed that over the past year. I feel like designing and producing the course will really help scratch that itch this year.
Writing: I wrote a lot fewer newsletters and my writing practice slowed in general. Writing is hard but incredibly satisfying at the same time. It is where I do my best thinking and learning, and I am actively working to make sure I keep writing this year. One thing we're developing is a better accountability system as Claire and I both want to be more consistent publishing. After the summer break, look for a more regular, twice-monthly cadence to the newsletter.
Tax: My tax complexity has increased, meaning I needed to bring on new accountants and this process has been arduous and energy-zapping. Being a US citizen who resides in the UK with a UK-based business isn't as sexy as it sounds when you have to file tax returns, basically. Luckily, everything is easier the second time through and I think now that we've gone through this process with our new accountants once, the next year should be easier.
When I published my personal Annual Review 2021, I mentioned three areas of the business I wanted to focus on this year: Course, Training Trainers, and Brand.
These continue to be our focus, and I wanted to elaborate a bit on each.
Since starting on this journey in 2020, I knew I wanted to create my own course and bring my own perspective into the field of sustainable productivity. I had a deal signed with the University of Wisconsin in 2021 to produce this together, but a change in their leadership meant that we shelved the proposal after a few months of planning.
In hindsight, this was a gift. It allowed me to reconsider my approach, and to think about the platform that would serve this course the best. While UW would have been a great partner, their learning platform was not state-of-the-art, and their marketing channels were fairly limited.
Luckily, an old friend of mine reached out last year eager to explore partnering up on a course. Chris runs an education company called 42courses that makes short courses taught by real-world experts.
They’ve built partnerships with amazing brands and individuals, from Cannes Lions to Rory Sutherland, and they host courses on a platform that is modern, engaging, and built with behavioral science principles in mind.
This summer, I’m stepping away from the day-to-day of the business to run a sprint and get this course completed.
I can’t wait to share Sustainable Productivity (naming WIP) with all of you soon!
When you run a small business, it’s easy to think you should do everything yourself. Not only does this satisfy my desire for control (muahaha), it’s also more profitable (at the start).
But as we grow up, I know it’s important to go beyond just me delivering our training. For one, my perspective is limited and so having other trainers will naturally diversify the perspective we can bring to clients. Second, it’s smart financially. While there is an upfront cost in training other trainers, we can start to detach our earnings from our direct time. Lastly, it’s just fun. Having other humans to work with, to support, to learn more — it’s incredibly enriching to the experience of work.
I’m excited that we’ll have a small cohort of Make Time Certified Trainers by the end of summer, and who knows where we'll take it next.
P.S. If you're interested in getting certified to teach Make Time, shoot us an email!
When I left Google, I made the decision to trade under my own name to start. I felt like I was really selling my own expertise and experience, and having a brand between me and potential clients didn’t really serve me.
But at the same time, I always knew the next phase would involve building out a brand that goes beyond just me. This will help us professionalize the offer, create an umbrella under which we we can offer different products and services, and
I’m so excited to share what we’ve been working on this year.
The new name for our company is Forgewell.
One definition of forge is "to form or bring into being especially by an expenditure of effort." In many ways, we are helping people forge new emotional and mental skills and capacities to help them thrive in this new world of work.
Another definition of forge is "to move forward slowly and steadily" and with "care and attention." I think this get to the heart of what we're hoping to accomplish with organizations; helping them forge a more sustainable path forward.
We can't wait to share the new website with you soon!
I want to wrap up this review with a note of thanks to the many, many people who supported me, inspired me, and lifted me up throughout this past year. This is by no means an exhaustive list, so my apologies if I have missed anyone significant because I'm sure I have.
And thanks to you, my dear reader, for following this journey.
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