Back when my full-time job was blogging and writing my email newsletter, I would always complete an end of year recap post in December.
I enjoyed doing them because I could think back, month by month, and remember what I was focusing on with my business and where I was traveling to if I was digital nomading.
I haven’t done a recap post in a while… which made me wonder, why not?
I realized the change came about because gradually over the years I’ve become less of a ‘personal brand’ focused entrepreneur.
This is not new to me as I started out with no intentions of becoming a personal brand, or a writer or coach or anything like that. I spent many years mostly behind the scenes just running my websites, making money, without anyone knowing my name.
I fell into the role of personal brand and coach by virtue of starting my blog, my email newsletter and studying the information marketing business model.
In short, I decided to build a business that sells digital education products.
That was when being a ‘personal brand’ became a big part of my marketing strategy. The act of writing about myself and my business publicly became part of my day to day activities.
Social Media Made Everyone A Personal Brand
When I started writing about myself I was one of the first of a new generation of hyper-transparent entrepreneurs.
I wrote about raw practical business tactics, like how to build audiences and sell things online.
I also wrote about more emotional challenges, like fear of failure, comparing yourself to others and even went behind the scenes, sharing pictures and stories from my life (remember my new car and property purchase photos from 2007?).
I also talked a lot about money, including how much I was making from my projects.
I was rewarded for being so direct, honest and transparent. People connected with me, I built trust, and in turn this lead to more people buying from me.
There’s a powerful, if narcissistic, reward mechanism built in when you can make money simply by talking about how much money you make and how you do it, and show off the kind of life you can lead thanks to that money.
Today, this level of transparency and honesty has become standard practice for most people who do anything on social media.
Some people are like I was, entrepreneurs who are coaches, personal brands or ‘influencers’ as they more recently became known. They too have felt the addictive pull of watching as their audience grows and more money comes in simply by making the choice to share and keep sharing through their online platforms, be that YouTube, Instagram, LinkedIn or a podcast or blog.
However, most people don’t make money from social media, yet it’s safe to say that ‘sharing publicly’ has become standard practice.
I’d argue it’s all gone too far, with people dishing out advice, their opinions, thoughts and tidbits from their lives, when the world might be a better place if they did not.
The concept of an ‘armchair expert’ was fun back when the only people who could hear your commentary were friends, family or maybe your dog or cat.
Now sharing what would have otherwise been just ‘your thoughts’ has become something you present to the entire world, no matter the merit of those thoughts.
Yaro The Brand Takes A Back Seat
Perhaps because of social media or maybe because I’d spent 10 years as a personal brand coach marketer, I decided I wanted to build a new business that wasn’t about me.
And so I did… InboxDone.com kicked off behind the scenes in 2016, and officially as a company with a website in 2017.
InboxDone, while it got its start because of my audience, and has certainly landed a number of clients thanks to the awareness of the Yaro brand, has for the most part been its own brand.
Most of our clients haven’t heard of me. The team that delivers the service does so without me. It could continue to be successful without me.
I was a big part of marketing and sales for InboxDone. Over the last five years I built the marketing engine with SEO, paid ads and podcast interviews, but that’s thanks to my abilities and the support of various people who work for InboxDone, not because of my name or brand.
This engine today could run without me, with the company continuing to grow.
On top of this move to being more behind the scenes, my co-founder, being even more behind the scenes natured than I am, prefers that we are not as super-transparent as I have been in the past. Hence I stopped writing about growth, or income or anything at InboxDone several years ago (this was definitely going against my natural impulse to write about it all!).
The Yaro Coaching Business Continues And Consolidates
Even though InboxDone has been my main company for the last five years, I didn’t shut down my coaching business, which remains entirely powered by the Yaro brand and content.
One of the first things I can recap from 2022 is the consolidation of my coaching business behind the one product – the Laptop Lifestyle Academy.
Over the last few years I moved every product I’ve ever created into the Academy, all except Blog Mastermind 2.0, my flagship course. That is, until this year.
At the start of this year I decided to close down Blog Mastermind 2.0. I made one final campaign to market it as a standalone course, took in the last cohort of students, then closed down the sales page and the extensive evergreen marketing campaigns I had promoting it, including the Blog Profits Blueprint campaign and the Platform Launch Plan webinar campaign (both of which moved into the Academy as training resources).
Why shut down the best selling course I’ve ever created?
Well the simple answer is I felt it was time. I didn’t want to do a 3.0 version of the course, because I didn’t have much new to teach. Blog Mastermind 2.0 was deliberately made to be an evergreen course, especially after how badly the 1.0 version became dated over time. It focuses on strategies and tactics that have’t changed because how to sell with writing hasn’t changed.
Human psychology doesn’t change — we still respond to triggers like scarcity and urgency, we still look for authority and social proof, and amazingly enough, you can still use a blog and an email list as the foundation for a business. Blog Mastermind 2.0 hence remains largely a very relevant program.
I also decided to close it down because I felt the Laptop Lifestyle Academy was the product I wanted to continue to support in the future.
The Academy is a repository of all my best knowledge. By adding Blog Mastermind 2.0 as a product inside the Academy, which I did half way through 2022 (six months after closing it down as a standalone course), it’s now by far the best value I can offer all in one place.
I’ve been building the Academy for a decade. It has every significant training resource I’ve ever made in it.
From all the reports I’ve written, ebooks, audio guides, live trainings, members only interviews with experts, short courses, and now my flagship course, Blog Mastermind 2.0 (and even the 1.0 version!) are inside for members to benefit from.
Every business model I’ve ever used to make money with, from blogging and podcasting, email newsletters, buying and selling websites, product launches, to selling services, courses, membership sites and coaching — it’s all in there.
I feel great promoting the Academy because I know no matter what phase you are in with your online business, I can direct people to the appropriate resource. We also do coaching in the forums and regular live calls, so you can get personalized support too.
The Academy also has the most modern sales page I’ve ever created, so unlike many of my others that look dated, I feel very comfortable promoting it sill.
In 2022 I also made the decision to change the pricing model for the Academy. Instead of being an ongoing subscription, it’s now pay once for lifetime access (or break it down into a 12 month payment plan).
I think this represents great value – you can come and go as you need, seek help, study a training program, knowing the Academy has your back anytime.
All these changes were also made to simplify my coaching business.
I’ve put most of my growth energy into InboxDone, which has meant my blog has been neglected, so my audience growth there has slowed down considerably. It’s still great side hustle business, and I love supporting people with coaching and stand behind all my training resources, but I’ve definitely been a more behind the scenes entrepreneur in the last few years.
Leaving Ontraport And Switching To Systeme.io
As part of simplifying my coaching business, I wanted to leave Ontraport, the platform I switched to 10 years ago in 2012.
When I first switched to Ontraport it was because I wanted to make use of an all-in-on-tool that could send emails, deliver product behind a password protected members area, handle affiliates and do more advanced processes like upsells, downsells and triggered sequences like abandoned cart.
Prior to Ontraport I had a ‘frankenstein’ setup, combining Aweber for sending emails with separate software for checkout, affiliates and product delivery.
From 2012 to 2016 I created many new products and many email sequences to sell them all. I started with a premium audio interviews product, which later became an upsell to three eguide packages I created next. After that came Blog Mastermind 2.0, which had two short courses bundled with it, Power Podcasting and The Blog Money Finder (both of these are now inside the Academy as well).
By 2016 I’d built an octopus of a sales machine using Ontraport. I had multiple free email sequences, free reports, a webinar launch campaign, each one leading to a different product, often with discount specials, upsells and downsells, all being delivered through automation.
It was a beautiful mess.
Results were mixed, but overall it worked well. I was especially excited by evergreen automatic sequences that kept delivering sales.
Given that I can see today as I open up my Stripe account there is over $1.4 million in sales that came through during my time with Ontraport, my efforts were rewarded.
This year, as all my products became only available inside the Laptop Lifestyle Academy, I made a dramatic shift to my email marketing strategy. My downscaling process came to completion, as I went from multiple funnels down to just my one email newsletter, which you can see promoted on my blog today.
Given that I was spending close to $3,000 a year for Ontraport, I thought I could probably find a more affordable option going forward.
Around this time I met Aurelien Amacker via his appearance on my podcast. He is the founder of Systeme.io, an all-in-one email marketing and digital product sales tool, that does pretty much the same as what Ontraport does — at far less cost.
I shopped around briefly, looking at all the typical email autoresponder options like ConvertKit, Active Campaign, even good old Mailchimp.
While most of these tools are comparable in cost and features, Systeme does more than just email. I could maintain an affiliate program, take payments using their checkouts, do upsells and downsells – all the features that had led me to Ontraport a decade ago.
Systeme was growing like crazy, mainly because it’s easy to get up and running with, very affordable (there’s even a free plan now), and given how much it can do. I decided it was the one, we were going to switch to Systeme.
I ended up upgrading from the free plan to their top ‘unlimited’ plan because I needed the space for my 20,000+ email subscribers. Total cost, $828 a year, a big saving from Ontraport.
The move was not difficult because we were really only bringing across a database of subscribers and customers, and my one product. Most of what was on Ontraport was to be deleted.
Only a decade of my life’s work writing all those email sequences, gone!
Now safely on Systeme, mid way through 2022 I began writing a brand new email newsletter sequence, this time focusing on methods for content creators to generate an income online.
Just like my first ever newsletter, my intention is to have 52 weekly editions, ready to go out on autopilot. All my subscribers will get my best free content over a year. I will also send periodic broadcast updates, like the email you may have received to tell you about this recap blog post.
The InboxDone 2022 Report Card
While I won’t go into our financials, 2022 has been the most satisfying year as a founder of InboxDone.
We’ve grown to over 50 staff and our client base is delightfully diverse.
At the start of the year we increased our prices, which frankly we had to do just to keep up with inflation, so we could increase the hourly rate we pay our people.
We don’t hire offshore. Most of our team are Americans and Canadians, so we have to pay competitively. This is not like paying $5-$10 an hour to Filipino contractors, which many virtual assistant agencies do.
This increase in price had the added benefit of acting as a qualifier for the types of client we attract. To put it simply, we now keep away clients who can’t afford us, who were usually the most difficult to work with, or who cancel quickest.
Instead, we attract businesses who aren’t going to struggle to pay $2,000/month, and are usually growing and successful, hence they need help with email. This in turn has also increased our customer life time value, and lowered customer churn.
This would not be possible if my co-founder hadn’t hired a great management team, built an amazing vetting and training engine to recruit our email assistants, and refined our client success process, all over the last five years.
I call this the most satisfying year for the company because there were some very slow growth moments during the first three years, which mentally had me checking out on the future of the company. So to be here still, finally hitting the results I set for the company years ago, is gratifying.
Our new clients have come from the work I started two years ago. Back then I committed to really giving Google a shot. I invested hours of my time into refining our paid ads campaign, and setting in place foundations for organic search traffic.
This year, the fruits of this labour really came in, with many of our new clients referencing Google as how they found us.
I also spent many months working with our web designer on a complete overhaul of our homepage, which has had a positive impact on our conversion. The homepage does a better job of highlighting our points of difference, what areas we can help with, our case studies and who are part of our team.
I’ve always believed that the need for InboxDone services is huge. In some ways, I feel like this year was the start of the company really finding its stride. I believe many great things are ahead for us.
Not A Great Year For My Net Worth
While InboxDone was the star for 2022, much of the rest of my financial life this year has been negative.
I won’t go into a moment-by-moment breakdown, because there’s just been too many annoying things that happened this year that cost money.
In fact, in many ways it feels like it’s just been bad thing after bad thing financially since covid started two years ago.
Some of the negative financial events were triggered by the Canadian government being slow to return certain documents, or my accountants not advising me how certain things might play out now based on choices I made in the past.
There were good reasons for document delays, such as covid, but it’s uncanny how a few weeks after I’d miss a deadline, a document would finally come through. Some of this had to do with home loan refinancing, sometimes it was tax related for me personally or my companies.
It’s reached the point now that I just have to laugh when yet another completely avoidable problem surfaces, that will end up costing a few thousand dollars to fix.
I also lost money because of my own poor investment choices.
Like many, I got caught up in the hype around investing in SPACS. At first it was just some frustrating misses where I could have had big gains after deal announcements, but my money was locked away due to the aforementioned frustrating situations.
Eventually I did get one SPAC hit (a merger with an electric charging company – nice!) and locked in some profits selling my investment shortly after announcement. I also cautiously pulled in some smaller gains prior to deal announcements, when SPAC stocks were riding high due to hype.
Unfortunately all my gains were wiped out and losses came through when everything crashed this year. SPAC losses weren’t that bad because I had locked in those profits, but when you combine them with crypto loses, and just broad stock market loses, including the odd brain fart trying to day trade a hyped-up reddit stock, my investment portfolio took a hammering.
Some of these losses are only on paper as I type this, since for example I’m still holding my crypto that’s down as much as 80%-90% – ouch!
I also don’t touch my main long term investment portfolio, held in a low-fee trading platform in Canada. I switched this portfolio to ‘moderate’ mode rather than ‘high-growth/high risk’ mode months before the crash, so while it is down, it’s not catastrophic.
Unfortunately, none of these things compare to the worst news of all in 2022 — Russia invaded Ukraine.
The experience of watching one country invade another, with the world’s second largest army used to destroy lives in a peaceful next door neighbour, is horrifying.
At times this year I’ve been incredibly sad and disappointed with humanity, all of us — that we can still do this to each other in 2022, when we are supposed to be enlightened, with flying cars and everything.
That we still live in societies that support structures that allow one person to have so much power that they can make a decision to send hundreds of thousands of their own people to die, as they invade and kill thousands of innocent neighbours — and these soldiers willingly follow the orders! — is just so sad.
Plus, we devote so much of our resources to support the military industrial complex, because if we don’t, we won’t have the means to stop one of these crazies when they do decide to attack others!
It’s a vicious cycle that we’ve been caught up with for our entire history on this planet. I know it’s getting better – we are getting better – and we’ve never had it better than we do now (thanks Peter Diamandis!), but this form of war should be a relic of our terrible past, not something I am watching on YouTube in 2022.
Back in 2018, I decided to take my crypto winnings from 2017 and build a solar farm and also purchase and renovate an apartment, in Lviv, Ukraine.
I was okay with this unusual risk, because in my mind this money was ‘extra’, almost like winnings from gambling. I also loved the idea of building something physical, something in green energy, that could help the locals in the country where my father was born.
Of course, most important of all, it was also going to be a good investment decision, at the very least returning double my initial capital during a 10 year period, distributing income each year. It was, in my mind, sort of like an annuity, an income stream I could rely on for the next decade or more.
At the time I made the choice to invest in Ukraine I was aware that Russia was not a friendly country, yet a full scale invasion seemed like an outlier event. We even laughed a little about it when I discussed the possibility with my co-founder in Ukraine.
Ukraine appeared very much like an up and coming country, full of talented people, amazing food and culture — all of which I had experienced after spending quite a bit of time there. It seemed like a great place to invest in, with entry to the European Union coming on the horizon.
Everything went according to plan in 2018-2019. The solar farm was completed, my apartment renovation was done, and I even lived there for a little while during my 40th birthday party celebration in July 2019.
I took some amazing photos and videos with my friends, family and co-founder in front of the solar farm. Then I returned to Canada, content that all was well with my investments.
I got my first returns from the solar plant and had AirBNB guests staying in my apartment, returning a better rental yield than I would ever get in Canada on investment property. My manager handled the apartment and my co-founder handled the solar farm. I felt pretty good about it all.
Then Covid hit.
Travel stopped, so rental income stopped coming in from the apartment.
Ukraine’s economy did not handle Covid well, and given the government was our source of return buying the electricity we produce with the solar array, the money stopped for a while.
Things started to look better again by mid 2021, with money coming back in from the solar, albeit at a smaller rate of return than originally planned.
I was due to finally receive my next payment by the end of 2021, but as I had to do each year, I needed a tax document from the Canadian govt sent to Ukraine before the money could be released to my Canadian company.
The Canadian govt was still operating at a slower pace, so my document requested in October, should have been back by early December at the latest, but still hadn’t appeared by January 2022.
Meanwhile, Russia had begun lining up its army on the borders with Ukraine. As was reported, it looked at first like a show of force but a bluff, with nothing happening and some of the army eventually pulling away.
I was nervous though, so I called the Canadian govt several times to hopefully speed up my document. I told the lady on the phone that Ukraine may be invaded, and then who knows what will happen…I need this document ASAP!
February 2022. Still no document.
Unfortunately we all know that by the 24th of Feb, Russia did what it did, and we’re still watching a war today as I type this.
As war broke out, the Ukrainian govt put a lock on all outflows of foreign currency, so my Euros were stuck. Needless to say, payments for electricity also stopped, since everything went to the war effort and survival of the Ukrainian state, which is totally understandable.
Of course the irony continued, as my documents from the Canadian govt finally came through by March, but I still had to get them certified and sent to Ukraine. They wouldn’t make it there until June, long after anything could be done, but at least Ukraine still existed as a country.
I made a video this year detailing what happened with my apartment during the war (so far). I’ll let you watch that if you want to know how my apartment fared during all the bombing of civilian infrastructure by the evil Russian army.
What’s In Store For 2023?
As I type this, the Ukrainian army is fighting back against Russia better than anyone expected. They receive support from the West and fight bravely for their country.
The Ukrainian people are enduring a terrible winter because Russia has deliberately knocked out the electrical infrastructure so people are cold. The idea is that they will lose hope and ask for a peace settlement, no matter what they lose.
Based on news reports and talking to my friends in Ukraine, it’s having the opposite effect, making the Ukrainians even more resilient, wanting to fight on even to the point they return Crimea to Ukraine.
What will happen in 2023 is hard to tell, but I suspect Ukraine will continue to gain ground, as long as they continue to get Western support.
I watch the news every day, hoping for a stop to the killing and destruction, yet also wanting the Russian army to be destroyed so they can’t do this again to any other country.
In terms of money and finances, everything came to a halt in 2022. Interest rates have been steadily rising throughout the year, and the expectation is 2023 will be a recessionary year, or at least very flat.
I don’t expect any big turnaround in crypto prices, or the stock market next year. Things could drop some more before they start the proper rebound towards good times again. I think the property market will remain fairly static as well, not that I intend to do anything with property for the time being.
I’m an angel investor. I have about 5 or 6 companies of the 30+ I invested in since 2018 that I watch closely for updates as they are growing nicely despite what is going on in the broader economy.
These companies operate in very diverse markets, from cat sitting, to blood sugar monitoring, dance classes, lead management SAAS and short term property rentals for movies and influencers.
Valuations for private companies during funding rounds have dropped significantly, which is not surprising given the market sentiment. Hence, I don’t expect much to happen with my angel investments in 2023 either. In some ways I hope nothing happens because if there is an exit event it will probably be at a lower valuation.
I see 2023 as a year for just getting work done, building and growing.
I hope my angel investment companies keep working, keep growing, and then in 2024 and beyond when the market is better for raising funds, IPOs or getting acquired, they will return better numbers.
I apply this advice to my own companies as well. I want to keep building InboxDone in 2023 and see how big we can get.
Throughout 2022 I’ve also been building a new software platform as part of my coaching business, to support other coaches and content creators. It’s called Candid and the MVP will be released in 2023.
I plan to work on Candid for years to come, regardless of how quick growth is in 2023. It will be fun no matter what happens to release this platform to the world and continue to build it.
Due to my less than stellar financial performance in 2022, I’m very much in a conservative mode. No new angel investments for now, but I will try and do follow-on pro-rata rounds for my existing top investments if I can find the spare cash, assuming any of them raise a new round in 2023.
I’ve also made a very clear decision to stop investing in property. No matter how many times I start I always come to the same conclusion — I don’t like it.
I will keep the two properties I have in Canada and the one in Ukraine. They do help diversify my asset base and make for a good retirement plan in case everything else I do blows up (assuming the Ukraine one doesn’t blow up!). I’m going to happily live in AirBNBs, hotels and co-living spaces in 2023, or my home in Montreal when there.
Speaking of co-living spaces, I’m typing this from a cafe in New York City, where I’ve been living in Brooklyn, in an Outsite co-living space. It’s the first time I’ve tried this kind of accommodation, and so far I like it. Outsite has other spaces, so I may try this again, perhaps in Lisbon next.
Experimenting With ‘Passive Income’ High Yield Dividend ETFs
Early this year I sold a condo in Montreal just before the property market ground to a halt. I’ve been sitting on most of the cash, waiting to see what happens.
There is one type of investment I wanted to try out and may continue to put money into in 2023, because the timing is good and the result is passive income (I know right – too good to be true!).
I discovered high yield dividend ETFs in 2022 thanks to YouTubers, in particular Adrian and his Passive Income Investing channel. I did some research on the various funds he talks about and decided to test a few investments with some of my property sale cash.
I won’t dive in too deep here because it is early days for me, but in summary, these are managed ETFs that use techniques like partial leverage and covered calls to return yields as high as 20%.
I was shocked that 20% was possible. Even a 10% yield is considered rare for all but the most risky investment vehicles, which usually have a downside of being illiquid for years at a time (you can’t sell to get your capital back). ETFs can be bought and sold like any stock, so there is full liquidity here, assuming enough demand.
All of this sounds too good to be true, so I was skeptical. I decided to dip my toes in cautiously and see results for myself.
The funds I started with are investments in a collection of companies in Canada and the USA, in strong sectors like banking, insurance, energy, health care, utilities, property (REITs) and technology. Often they are ETFs that contain other ETFs, so you get a very broad exposure.
If you want to see an example, take a look at Hamilton ETFs. I have purchased HYLD and HDIV, which at the time of writing return 13.6% and 9.07% per annum respectively.
The idea here is not to focus on capital gain or loss over time. It’s about cash flowing dividends every month, regardless of whether the underlying asset class is up or down.
Adrian on his YouTube channel shares his portfolio breakdown regularly, which has been a helpful tool for discovering different fund options. At the time of writing this, Adrian has a $1 million portfolio of various high yield funds returning $11,652 a month in dividends.
His strategy is about retiring as soon as you can on the cash flow you can generate today (assuming you have the capital), rather than a traditional buy and hold long term, watch your capital grow (and sometimes drop!), then adjust and sell your portfolio when you are old to live off the proceeds.
It’s an interesting mindset change as you don’t worry so much about how much your underlying funds are worth. They can be going up or down, but what matters is the dividends keep coming.
Nothing is too good to be true though. These funds won’t be 100% reliable with dividend payouts (I’ve already seen one missed month for one fund), and the yield will change. There are also other downsides depending on market conditions and the strategy of the fund manager.
You will likely end up with less capital in 25 years compared to having invested in other assets, but those assets won’t spit out this much cash every month during those 25 years.
I’m happy to experiment for now using a small portion of my net worth. I’m already earning over $1,000 a month in ‘passive income’. I love how completely hands off it is. Compared to property, it’s a whole lot easier to return positive cash flow, there are no tenants, repairs, insurance, rates, etc.
That’s not really a fair comparison though, as a property in 25 years will likely be worth a lot more and will have paid out a mortgage. These dividend stocks will go up in asset value because they are invested in stable, growing industries, but likely not by as much.
Now you could reinvest the dividends back into the underlying ETFs for compound growth, but let’s not go down that rabbit hole. There’s also tax considerations. These dividends are considered a capital gain, so for me Canada that’s a better tax classification, but you are still taxed on the income every year.
Oh and of course, none of this is financial advice!
I plan to test this type of investment in 2023 and beyond. The longer it performs well, the more I’ll move into it.
I’m well diversified now, and I don’t want to overly index into anything.
I have to say I like the idea of $10,000+ per month coming in from dividends no matter how my businesses are doing, whether the stock market is up or down, if crypto is crashing or flying, or whether my properties are in a cash flow positive or negative position.
Here’s To A Steady Improvement In 2023
Given the last few years have been turbulent, I’d be happy with a slow and steady, building and improving year in 2023.
The war in Ukraine ends, markets slowly improve, things remain stable and we can all focus on growing our companies.
Happy new year all!