02021 My Year In Review

Written by Matteo Cassese

02021 has been a surprisingly great year for me, one of the best of my life. It brought certainty, roots, and focus to my personal and professional lives. It was as challenging as it was rewarding.

Welcome to my yearly review. It’s an annual tradition; here are the past editions: 02014, 02015, 02016, 02017, 02018, 02019, 02020

As usual, this is a monster post. Read at your own risk. You will discover all I learned in 365 days in just 14 minutes. This year, we have five sections: Business, Financial, Personal & Mind, Body & Planet.

You can browse a preview of this post as a Web Story.

Ready for an 3.697-word-long monster read? I am! 

Contents hide

Business

The result

A year to celebrate

+57% in 02021. That’s a number I am proud of. I served 17 customers (+4 vs 02020) during the year, and the average invoice per customer grew 20%.

Screen Shot 2022 01 06 at 12.42.43

The revenue comes from several diverse sources:

Consulting still represented 59% of revenue.

I was consulting for just one client. But I am a teacher and coach, and I should say goodbye to consulting. The relationship with my consulting client will take a new, better form in ’22 and will not entail consulting anymore.

My challenge for ’22 is to present them with such training and coaching opportunities that they won’t resist and continue hiring me in this new role.

In any case, I need to find alternative sources of revenue in the new year.

Teaching and coaching made for 34% of revenue

I have coached mostly businesses and some individuals in 02021. I have delivered many online sessions and quite a few in-person workshops. Presentations, Virtual Presentations, and Business Storytelling are the most asked for coaching and training topics.

Now let’s remain focused on teaching and coaching and get into more details.

Open Training?

Open training is a way of assessing needs and developing a fitting combination of coaching and training. It culminates with a real-world experiment (an idea borrowed from lean startup) and learning from this experiment. Once this learning is absorbed, the cycle starts again.

Nobody is actively looking for open training. Thus it was impossible to market this approach to customers this year.

It will remain part of my offering, but it needs a new name and a new marketing that aligns more with what companies are looking for.

In 02020 I celebrated returning customers. In 02021…

This year I had fewer returning customers than in the previous years. Specifically, I count three customers that came back for more. Customer satisfaction seems high, so I must assume that my interventions solve the issues and allow my customers to succeed independently.

That said, I am looking into how I handle the customer relationship in case:

  1. non-repeating customers are not satisfied;
  2. there is anything I can do better to leave them wanting more.

Great acquisition, many one-offs

17 active customers is a lot for a freelancer. But I realize that I would need to probably reach 20 to 30 customers in 02022 if I want to grow another 50%.

This leads me to reflect on the customer journey of those 17 clients.

Let’s look into that in more detail.

Where did my customers come from?

4 were repeat business, and additionally, 2 came from my network, and 2 came from partnerships, that’s a total of 8 customers originating from my reputation and network.

9 came from my digital marketing funnel.

My marketing funnel is based on SEO and SEM. It primarily focuses on three keywords: presentation coach, storytelling coach, business storytelling. My extraordinary positioning on these keywords (or paid ads) has led a certain amount of prospects to the website.

Of the many prospects I enticed with my marketing, 9 became customers. Why? They first found my website trustworthy and convincing enough. And they enjoyed my process, starting with my free 30 minutes consultation.

These 9 new customers, for now, enjoyed their coaching/training project but did not engage with my invitations to follow up the first project with more in-depth interventions.

For ’22 I am structuring the customer relationship differently. I will clarify the advantages and benefits of the different interventions developed beyond the first one.

Partnerships are essential, clear rules too

Partnerships are becoming increasingly important to generate revenue. They only produced 7% of the revenue, but it would be 7% missing income if not there.

I signed an official partnership with Link Campus, where I have taught for many years. My offer is now present in the training portfolio of the World Energy Council Italy. And even more importantly, my courses are part of the offer of Livello 7.

Educazione Globale took home 7% of the revenue

My little diversification project soldiered on in 02021. Since we could not update the site this year, our traffic is down -29% from 02020. Its Google ranking makes it still very attractive to advertisers. I can’t expect the site to bring much next year unless we start investing in it again.

Analytics

Net of some referral spam, traffic on my website has been stable year over year. Here is a graph starting from February to reduce the impact of said spam.

Screen Shot 2022 01 06 at 12.51.03

What’s interesting is that the quality of the traffic has gone up. Starting from Q3, I got better quality leads that led to more business than ever before.

WordLift’s Knowledge Graph is the key to organic traffic

I can’t transform this review into an SEO treaty. Still, this year I relied more than ever on leveraging the power of semantic SEO. I’ve begun experimenting even more. I can now “instruct” Google on my content, purpose, and value. This puts me in a perfect place to attract the right organic traffic.

  Screen Shot 2022 01 06 at 12.53.11

My competitors are not always as tech-savvy as me. This is giving me a vast albeit temporary edge over them. Until they learn about semantic SEO (or read this review), I need to do my best to conquer the highest value keywords that can bring business to my website.

If you want to know how semantic SEO works, please reach out to me, and I will put you in contact with the right person at WordLift.

Internships are too intensive for the result

I’ve trained countless interns during my more than 30 years working. It’s a great experience. Until they leave. I started 02021 with an intern. They left abruptly after I invested countless hours in their training, and they were beginning to generate value.

I don’t have the resources to develop an internship without a guaranteed return for my business. Hence internships are over for now.

OUT as YOU

I expected this to be a big year for OUT as YOU. I have done my own digital coming out, which is crucial to lend credibility to OUT as YOU. But it hasn’t yet generated any revenue.

Diversity and inclusion are enormous themes for my clients. I strongly believe in embedding inclusionary concepts in all my training projects.

How did I fare against my 2020 goals?

Let’s see how I fared against my goals.

  1. I Teach: Yes, but it’s complicated since I consulted a lot. I need to teach (and coach) more.
  2. Consolidate business relationships into yearly commitments: this is not what happened during this year. I worked consistently with one client over the year. Still, I never developed the structured relationships that would lead to yearly retainers.
  3. Increase average invoice per client: it increased 20%. But mostly thanks to consulting. It will be hard to keep it growing in the new year.
  4. Acquire More Clients: I acquired more new clients than ever before. Check!
  5. Be Exactly Who You Are: I came out to my whole network, if I haven’t reached you yet: I’m gay, and it matters to you.

The Future

Refine my positioning even more

In ’22 I want to make it easy to understand what value I can bring. This value comes in the form of 4 main propositions:

Reliably acquire at least 18 new clients

I want to step up from 9 to 18 new clients this year. This should be achieved with even better SEO, specific SEM campaigns, and by doubling down on partnerships.

Generate even more revenue with existing clients

With at least 4 of these news clients, I would like to develop a roadmap that makes it easy for clients to hire me multiple times and for different purposes during the year.

Also, I would like to generate new business with at least 4 clients from this year.

Continue the growth trend

I’ve realized how hard it is to go from consulting to teaching. Digital marketing consulting translates into high-value, longer-term contracts with few clients. Teaching into lower value shorter-term commitments with many more clients. I am close to the sweet spot of maximizing my productivity and my happiness.

The goal is to increase the average invoice per client and grow at least another 50%.

The most effective and joyful work is creating new content

Doing what I love is the most powerful business driver. I love communicating and inspiring. And I love creating the content that leads to this communication and inspiration.

In ’22 I want to create even more content than this year. More on that in the Personal & Mind review.

Financial

The Result

What a year!

I made the biggest financial decision of my life this year. My portfolios performed great, and if I consider my business and my financial perfomance, my revenue was 85% better than last year.

Bought a house

As I started mentioning in ’18, I wanted to buy a house.

Finally, I did. It’s an old country house from 1700 with a roof on a big plot of land with a huge barn in the middle of a nature park. It’s not far from Berlin, and I love it there.

IMG 7067 1

Finding it was the messiest, most unpleasant, and anxiety-filled process I’ve ever experienced.

I visited hundreds of properties in two countries before settling on this one. I’ve dealt with a highly unpleasant real estate agent and panicked owners.

But I forgot about all of this the moment I got the keys.

I now have a beautiful place to live, plus a financial asset. And some debt.

Got a mortgage in Germany as a foreign freelancer

My banks delivered the anxiety I didn’t get from real estate agents and websites. Commerzbank, the outfit where I manage my portfolios, refused to provide a mortgage. Intermediaries would not even touch me. Through a personal introduction, Sparkasse offered the mortgage at excellent conditions, but through a slow process that had me waiting for a final confirmation till the very last second.

House expenses

To deal with the down payment and the accessory expenses (taxes, notary, agent), I liquidated my WhiteBox account. The fully-managed, tax-optimized roboadvisor was routinely outperformed my ETF-based portfolios. It had to go. I also moved some money from my savings account.

No other long-term investment had to be touched.

Great portfolio performance

My portfolios performed great.

Permanent Portfolio +11,85%
Growth Portfolio +24,22%
AuxMoney P2P Lending +7,08%

Even considering an inflation rate reaching 5% in November in Germany this is outstanding performance.

With the rise in inflation, peer2peer lending seems somewhat less attractive. Still, since it has been so reliable in its returns, I will keep it as an extra cash option.

I bought another car

But there is nothing much to celebrate. It drives. It hauls people and things. It’s reliable. It’s blue. It’s a 02007 Ford Focus C-Max with 130.000 Km I bought from a nice guy for very cheap.

IMG 5642 1

How did I fare against my 02020 goals?

Let’s see how I fared against my goals.

  1. Buy a house: yesss! Check!
  2. Future portfolio: looks very similar to the past portfolio, and that’s a great sign.
  3. House owners car: easy, cheap and cheerful.

The future

Liquidity for renovations

Renovations (more on that in the next chapter) will require excess liquidity. This means that I can’t keep my usual financial discipline and spend rather than invest.

Repay the loan as quickly as possible

I have already repaid 10% of the mortgage and plan to continue to add extra repayments so that my debt will be paid out in about 15 years.

Stable portfolio

I plan to finance renovations and all other expenses through business-related income and not touch the portfolios.

Personal & Mind

The Result

Another pandemic year

Another year of uncertainty, of shifting plans and fear. Getting double vaccinated gave me some confidence. Getting Covid19 and being here to talk about it tells me that the plan is working. But I missed many great personal opportunities this year because of the pandemic. And nobody is giving us our time back.

But let’s first focus on the positive.

House: the search, the negotiation, the bank

IMG 6961 1

No pleasure in that. I started the year sleeping like shit and having sizable amounts of anxiety connected with the house purchase.

House: the move, the setup, the ownership

Moving is, as usual, super stressful. I’ve had a couple of months of near-burnout. But I finally recovered from that.

House: the enjoyment

IMG 6889 1

I own a place where I recharge my batteries by being active and surrounded by nature. In 45 minutes, I can be in Berlin if I need to. If not, I can work from my garden, take conference calls in nature, explore the nature park.

Sleep quality has gone up enormously. Air quality is excellent.

House: the hosts & the neighbors

IMG 5128 1

The first few weeks, I dealt with nature that got a bit too close for comfort. But inhabiting the property and waiting for the natural rhythm of migrations allowed me to get rid of the hosts for now.

I live in a village of maybe 20 houses, with a total population of 44. The neighbors are great. The people around me are sweet, caring, nature-loving, and I couldn’t be happier with them.

House: the home gym

I set up a home gym made of used equipment. And I’ve been training there regularly. What a luxury!

House: car heaven

IMG 5766 There is plenty of space to store, maintain, and care for cars in the barn. It took a bit of time to clean it up. But now it’s car heaven.

I will be buying a lift and setting up the garage even better in the coming year.

Now let’s change the topic

Dating: I’m back

I started dating again, and it felt good. I did not devote nearly enough time to meet new people between work and the house. But I am enjoying the process again.

Phone: still a dynamically challenged relationship

I still spend way too much time on my phone, and it does not make me happy.

GTD, Journaling, Meditation

I’ve got a great routine. I exercise in the morning so that my body has natural endorphins flowing early on. When I don’t train, I go for a walk in nature. I journaled and meditated daily. And have been relying on GTD more than ever.

Distraction, not focus

I still seek the escape into the phone, social media, news, and other distractions during many uncomfortable moments. What brings me joy, though, is the focus of writing, watching good movies, reading a good book. I want more of that in the new year.

Media Production

Speaking of focus: producing content requires a lot of it. That’s why I am happy to have increased my production this year.

I’ve written 4 articles for this website (5 with this one). That’s less than last year, but:

I produced more than 10 videos and 2 articles for my client WordLift. I went live 3 times with my beloved Tommaso Lana with our format The New Habitat. I published an e-book. I made countless revisions to the website and published new case studies, new landing pages and went live with the new branding thanks to the extraordinary work of Konrad Röpke. I’ve sent 9 newsletters. I’ve updated the automatic sequence you get when you subscribe to my newsletter. It’s worth subscribing just to get my first 5 emails. Trust me.

What gave me joy in ’21

According to my daily journal entries, this is what gave me joy this year.

  • Connecting with my loved ones both virtually and in person. This is an essential lesson from the pandemic. Let’s keep in touch.
  • Each time I made, delivered, or published new content, I was happy and proud. This means new pages, articles, courses, materials, and presentations.
  • Doing car stuff. Driving relaxes and focuses me. Dealing with the physicality of minor car maintenance, cleaning, and detailing gives me flow.

How did I fare against my 2020 goals?

Let’s see how I fared against my goals.

  1. New Home: check!
  2. More Driving: I failed here. I did the same amount of kilometers (14.468 vs 14.472). And zero trackdays.
  3. Meditation, Journaling, Being Present, Letting Go: this discipline and approach worked fine.
  4. More Video, More Live, Same Articles: it’s not been possible to produce more video content and more written content simultaneously. Overall I increased my content output.
  5. More books: I missed the mark here. But I have the feeling that my “book refusal phase” is nearing its end.

The Future

Home improvements

I am taking it slow. But I have some projects that include creating an office/video studio in my barn. Also, fixing the roof, the garage, and the carport and tidying up the garden are part of my tasks for the new year.

Road trips

I aspire to find new customers around Europe to combine road-tripping and work.

Dating

I will be setting up a brand new profile starting in January.

More of what gave me joy

Connecting with people. Moving my body in nature, in the gym, and around cars. Driving. Creating. These are the things I want to do more in ’22.

Keep improving my routine (GTD, Meditate, Exercise)

My routine is far from perfect. I want to continue improving my habits, including becoming more disciplined in the morning and at night, meditating in the afternoon, and refining my journaling and GTD hygiene.

Body

The Result

Form first

I abandoned aggressive goals at the gym year and focused on form for each of the main lifts.

This means perfecting the squat, deadlift, press, and bench-press every week. The year required a few “resets” of my program due to my move and minor lower back pain.

I am delighted to train with Nico at Spree Crossfit and at my home gym very regularly.

Not having specific weight gain goals helped too, as I settled back into my average weight of around 66 kg.

Thank goodness for the vaccine

IMG 6834

I got my COVID vaccine relatively late in 2021. I was fully vaccinated with two doses of Biontech/Pfizer only at the beginning of August.

This helped me when in November I got diagnosed with Delta. I had a typical flu, but the symptoms lasted for over a week. I needed 2 weeks to recover from fatigue fully.

I am grateful for the vaccines, yet it sucked to be sick. Get your jabs people!

What’s up with my tonsils?

I had tonsillitis twice this year. The only recent year I didn’t was 2020, which was understandable since the year was mostly spent in lockdown.

In ’22 I will get my tonsils removed

Sleep from bad to good

Looking at my journals, I had quite a bit of anxiety before moving and some exhaustion after it. This led to poor sleep in the first half of the year.

This lousy sleep was very well compensated in the second part of the year. I benefited from sleeping in a quieter and healthier environment in the countryside.

There is nothing like an old house to increase your quality of life. Being surrounded by wood and reed, all-natural materials, makes for a much healthier environment than bricks and cement. Co2 escapes naturally through the porous walls and roof during the night, while wood naturally regulates excess humidity by absorbing it.

How did I fare against my 2020 goals?

Let’s see how I fared against my goals.

  1. Continue: I continued with my routine of exercising, walking in the morning, and eating well.
  2. Sleep More Consistently: Goal achieved in the 2nd part of the year.

The Future

This year I will get my booster shot. I plan to get my tonsils removed and do more of the same.

Planet

The Result

This year I produced about 19 tons of CO2.

Calculating one’s footprint is important. But how much is 19 tons? Is it much? To put things into perspective here are some transport activities and how many tons they produce:

  • A fully laden single truck carrying 40 tons of payload from Los Angeles to Buenos Aires produces 20 tons of CO2 (one trip = one year of my consumption).
  • A fully laden freight plane carrying 140 tons from Amsterdam to New York produces 373 tons (or 19 times my yearly emissions).
  • A fully laden container ship carrying 154.000 tons from Amsterdam to New York produces 5.507 tons. (299 times my emissions in a year).

Screen Shot 2022 01 06 at 16.07.06

All these estimates were calculated with Carboncare’s website.

Every year, I offset twice as much I produced buying credits in one of the projects sanctioned by the UN. This time a recycling facility in India.

Depressing carbon fact: I now have around 10 trees on my property. They contribute to offset just 1% of my yearly emission.

The Future

Next year, I should calculate my house’s emissions more precisely.

Since carbon capture is still out of the picture, my choice is to rely on offsets.

Conclusion

Great things have been accomplished in ’21. Big challenges are coming up in ’22. My training and coaching business wants to blossom. My well-being wishes to grow through work, focus and pleasure. My house needs care. My productivity & health routine must flourish and sustain all other growth.

Thanks for witnessing. Reading this far means a lot to me. Thank you for being part of this journey. Send me your review, I am eager to read it. If you’re not getting my monthly updates: sign up now. If you feel like reaching out: send me a note. 

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