I think most of us are glad to see the back of 2020, but before I shake the dust from my feet (and there was a lot of dust), I wanted to share my annual review for 2020.

Ever since I started working with a business coach, I’ve been carrying out monthly, 90 day, annual (and more recently, weekly) reviews. I’ve discovered how powerful they are for keeping up motivation, spotting patterns and gaps, and staying focused.

A few weeks ago a client asked me to talk about my business journey as a way of helping her learn from what I’ve done (and my mistakes) and I realised that I’d been keeping pretty quiet about this stuff.

So, here’s my year in review- warts and all. There are three main questions I use, and I’d fully recommend you use them too (and not just for your business/work life) :

  • What went well?
  • What didn’t go so well, and what did I learn?
  • What am I working towards in 2021 and how will I ensure it happens?

What went well in 2020?

Started a small group programme: I unexpectedly found myself with a lot more time on my hands when a project went south (this isn’t the going well bit), and decided to go ahead and launch my small group programme for ELT Freelancers, Flourishing Foundations. This is a combination of practical small business skills, such as niching, marketing, negotiating etc and building confidence, becoming more assertive, and managing boundaries. It had been in my mind for a while, but I had been ‘too busy’.

Then my business coach suggested I launch it straightaway, in the middle of lockdown, and plan the weekly sessions as I went along. ‘Are you insane?’ I thought, but I did it anyway, and it was fabulous. I have just finished running it again, and already have people signed up for the next cohort in spring 2021. And I’ve started an on-going membership for the programme Alumni, so they maintain a level of support as they grow.

Filled my 1-2-1 client roster: For the past six months I have been pretty much booked up at least two months in advance for 1-2-1 work, which is amazing. I’ve worked with some brilliant people and helped them with a huge range of issues, from starting a business, managing redundancy and creating a new career, to dealing with stress and a tendency to take on far too much, to quite serious family related stuff.

Got visible online and known for what I (now) do: As a long time ELT-er, I already had some online presence, but I had to get past being known for materials writing and teacher training only, into being trusted as a coach. I think I’ve made good headway in this through building my Facebook group (now 500+ members), running a 5 day Learn to Meditate Challenge, and blogging, posting and going live regularly about coaching related topics. I can measure my greater visibility in this area through the podcasts, guest blog posts and webinars I’ve been asked to do on stress and personal development related topics. (Next one is the Opening Plenary for the 2021 Online ETAS Conference on 16th January).

Invested in myself and my business: I really think this is key to growth and success. Last year I invested in coaching in social media, copywriting and running a membership.  This year I worked with a wonderful business coach, Gemma Gilbert, for six months, which is a big part of why things started happening at warp speed. (And thank you, Gemma for teaching me the review process and questions) I also invested in help setting up some systems: using Mailerlite to send out weekly emails, and a client management system called Dubsado, which I LOVE as it manages all the paperwork such as sending out contracts and getting them signed, invoices, appointments, feedback forms and so on.

What didn’t go so well, and what did I learn?

Took on too much work in the latter part of the year: Ironic I know. To be fair to myself, it was hard to avoid. An important writing project that had appeared cancelled was suddenly back on again, but with an unchanged deadline (e.g. an insane deadline), and I had already committed to running my group programme September to December, plus my 1-2-1 clients.

What have I learnt from this? How much I HATE being overloaded, and what a terrible idea it is. Practically, I took the decision not to run my group programme in January as planned and to wait until April to do it again. This means I can concentrate on my 1-2-1 clients, and finishing the writing project. This wasn’t an easy decision in many ways. This is partly because I have a deep message of ‘if you’ve said you’ll do something you have to do it.’- I’ve had a few clients with this message too, and it can be quite damaging. Of course you need to consider other people, but this rule shouldn’t be so hard and fast that you’ll kill yourself to keep to it. The other factor was that my writing royalties have been down by 90% this year, which is pretty catastrophic, believe me, so giving up a project that would bring in money was also hard, especially as my current writing project is also royalty-based and I haven’t yet seen a penny.

But I knew it was the right decision when I made it and felt the sense of relief.

My mailing list and Facebook group grew, but nowhere near as much as I’d hoped: What I have learned from this is that a) it’s much easier to achieve growth when a business is new and people are hearing about what you do for the first time and b) you have to take positive and big steps to achieve this growth. Blogging and posting regularly will only achieve so much. By far my biggest growth was in February last year when I ran a 5 Day Learn to Meditate Challenge, and got over 100 people involved. I’m planning more of these kinds of momentum builders in 2021 (especially once the book is finished).

My training pack on stress management for staff in language schools bombed: This might have had something to do with the fact that I was launching it just as Covid19 hit and the schools mostly closed.

What I learnt from this is that no matter how well you plan, sh*t happens. And, let’s be honest, it was far worse for the schools, than for me. The training pack is on the back burner for now, but hopefully the time will be right again in the future.

What am I working towards in 2021, and how will I ensure it happens?

Well, I’ve certainly learnt this year (again) that I actually can’t control everything that happens (hello, Covid), but I’ve also learnt that to a very large extent I actually can make sure I have consistent 1-2-1 clients and a full group programme, through the actions I take. (And that’s very much what I teach on the group programme).

The first quarter of this year is going to be relatively quiet in terms of my business (deliberately). I’m booked up with clients until March (not too many), and I want to be around more for my kids, who are doing GCSEs and A levels early summer. However, I will be doing some webinars and generally trying to keep visible in the run up to the second quarter.

In April I’m starting the next round of my group programme. This is the third round and I think I’ve really honed it now. I’ve also added in an implementation week in the middle, to give people a chance to take a step back and get things done before moving onto the second half of the programme.

I’m going to take the summer completely off. No clients, no group programmes, no writing. This is MASSIVE for me, and not something I’ve ever done (I’ve had 2-3 weeks off before, but never the whole 6 weeks). But I reckon I deserve it after this year, and what’s the point of running your own business if you can’t make decisions like that?

Then in September I’m running the group programme again, and I’m going to start work on some new digital courses that I plan to offer alongside my group programme and 1-2-1 work. Watch this space.

Final thoughts

This year has both been very difficult, and amazing. This time last year I had only been in business a few months, and had a handful of clients. This year I’ve had over 30 clients, many of whom have gone on to work with me again, in different ways. Everything can change that quickly, even in the middle of a pandemic.

If you’re a freelance teacher, trainer, language coach, editor or writer and worried about where your next client is coming from, download my new free guides (links below) with a range of ideas to help you get clients quickly.

And if you want support to consistently get work and clients, contact me about my upcoming group programme (spaces are limited).