2018 - Year in Review
Every year I make time between the craziness of holiday celebrations and spending time with family to do an annual review.
Looking back I wish I would have taken the time to share a review publicly though because I’ve gotten tremendous value from the annual reviews other people have shared online over the years. Hearing about their successes motivates me to work towards bigger goals and reading their struggles or failures assures me that they are in fact human too.
So for 2018’s review I’m going to use a more detailed framework, go further into the weeds than normal, and be both honest and transparent. This will be really long, so…
Let’s dive in.
Body of Work
We’ll start with what my company and I made this year.
We published 25 YouTube videos (roughly two per month) and published four written blog posts (related to my accelerator launch). A few of my favorite videos were the two Tesla videos with Jason Zook, the 6 person conversation filmed at YouTube Space LA, the announcement video for SwitchPod, and the one about being an influencer.
These weren’t my most popular videos, but I feel like each of them was made because I wanted to make them not because I thought they’d be popular or make me money. I want to keep making more videos like that going forward.
One big project I was involved in filming, editing, and photographing that launched in 2018 was the I Am a Blogger series of 9 documentaries and 17 stories in a coffee table book. Working on all of the mini-docs was some of the most fun I’ve had on a client project to date and seeing them released online was a great finish to something we worked hard on.
I was a guest on 4 other podcasts in 2018. Studio Sherpas, The Ground Up Show, Money Lab, and one secret show not launched yet. With SwitchPod launching in 2019 I want to be a guest on way more shows and re-start my podcast.
One of my main clients again was Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income and we helped his YouTube channel grow from 86,000 subscribers to over 161,750 in 2018. It nearly doubled. He published 97 YouTube videos, 15 of which he live-streamed or filmed & edited himself, so that means we helped him film and edit 82 videos. About 7 per month or twice a week. This is a cadence I’d love to keep up for my own YouTube channel too, but more on that later.
We also filmed and edited videos for Convertkit, Melyssa Griffin, Amy Porterfield, Gretchen Rubin, The Watercolor Summit, and more. To film for my clients I travelled to Los Angeles six times, New York City twice, and to Idaho, Ohio, Arkansas, Missouri, Utah, Washington, and Nevada.
Metrics & Stats
To get into some of the nitty gritty numbers my YouTube channel racked up over 2,000,000 views. I just passed 36,000 subscribers, gaining about 10,000 subs in 2018. Timeliness and collaborating fueled that the most, as I wasn’t publishing very consistently and YouTube favors channels that do.
I continued to slowly grow my email list to about 9,000 subs with a net growth of 1,689 email subscribers. Since I email so infrequently and launched a high price product I had plenty of unsubscribes this year. Also, since I have never done anything drastic to try to grow it quickly (like giveaways, content upgrades, trip wires, or any of the other fancy tactics) and my list is 7 years old, now is the time to commit to growing this list more.
I’ll share a ton of the financial numbers later on.
What Went Well
As I passed the 4 year mark of running my own business full-time since leaving Fizzle, I feel like I have a strong handle on being the “CEO” of my company. Month to month I know where money is coming from, what we have capacity for taking on, and when I need to work hard or take time off.
The annoying thing is that as the top line revenue has gone up, so have the business expenses the last 4 years. Paying each month for a full-time editor, attending conferences to continually network, invest in gear, paying for a studio space, monthly subscriptions to software and other services, all the government fees, doing accounting properly, and travel expenses really add up so I don’t end up bringing home a ton more. Takes money to make money I guess.
Here are a bunch of things I think went well in 2018.
By far my most profitable year of client work. I worked with less total clients this year, but top line revenue was the highest it has ever been. (More detailed numbers later.)
Launched a Freelance Filmmaker Accelerator Program at $1,500 and had 5 people join. I’m having a blast each week teaching them and helping them on Slack. I will probably re-launch it in 2019 and maybe do an accelerator program for YouTubers too.
Doubled my income from online courses compared to 2017. Most of the increase came from the accelerator launch above, but without launching any other new courses the other three brought in over $11,000 passively.
Developed the SwitchPod. While I had the original idea in late 2017, this year we worked up a bunch of prototypes, publicly showed it off at VidCon and VidSummit, built buzz via a new email list and social media, got 4 of the final prototypes, filed for a patent, set up a new business entity with Pat Flynn, and more. I’ll spend a lot of time on SwitchPod related activities in 2019 as we launch it on Kickstarter and beyond.
I sold a lot of video gear, including my RED camera. This year I attempted to “clean house” with equipment I had bought that I thought I would use. Hopefully I’ve reached “peak gear” and will continue to simplify what I own and use to make videos and photos. I spent a lot of time (and money) trying to make the RED work for what I film and every time I used it was frustrating, so I sold it. I also put gear on eBay I wasn’t using like a jib, drone, lights, adapters, microphones, gimbals, and other random clutter.
Set up my work space to be 100% ready to film in minutes. After we moved into a new place around the start of 2018, I gave a quick tour of my garage studio as I was setting it up to function best for filming, editing, planning, etc. It took me the whole year, but the space is now set up with a permanent area for me to film that has 3 different colors of paper background rolls, which you’ve probably seen in my last few videos. I plan to do a full tour soon as I really like how the space has come together to inspire me to create and keep me focused.
Beyond doing video work with Pat Flynn, I joined his leadership team. I have weekly and monthly planning and feedback responsibilities.
Got to work with a couple new gear brands directly: Sigma and BlackMagic Design. Plenty more have sent me things I still need to test and review…
Went to 4 conferences this year. I spoke at VidSummit. Attended NAB & VidCon. Filmed Craft & Commerce. I missed attending FILM + MUSIC and Masters in Motion like I did in 2017 though. Eventually I’d love to set aside $3,000 to attend an ASC Master Class some year too, but I’m not sure if I’ll be accepted based on my current “resumè”.
I walked A LOT. One thing I like to do to clear my mind, get some exercise, listen to books or podcasts, stretch my back, and get outside is walk my dog Pippa. This year I went on 140 walks or runs for a total distance of 339 miles. The large chunk of that coming during a 36 day streak of walking 4 miles every day in October to November. I can thank my Apple Watch and wanting to close my rings for the motivation on a lot of days lately.
My wife Jen launched a new stock photography company called Sourced, which I helped with here and there. She photographed her last few weddings and finished some other photography gigs, so she has recently been helping on some of my projects going into 2019 (like the accelerator launch, SwitchPod’s launch, assisting on client shoots, and scheduling/publishing content).
What Didn’t Go Well
We pushed back the SwitchPod launch on Kickstarter. We were aiming to launch it at VidSummit in October, then again in November before the crazy holiday promotions everyone does, and now we’re planning for early 2019. Part of the delays are legitimate (waiting for prototypes, timing it with when certain influencers can be involved, or our other commitments) but part of the delays just come from fear of messing up the launch or overly planning every detail. We’ll launch it very soon though.
I struggle with releasing public content consistently almost every year. To me, accomplishing this would mean publishing at least one video every week. Or one podcast episode every week. Ideally both of those plus another video. Things just come up though. If I have a client shoot or project to edit and deliver I almost always give that precedence over a YouTube video since clients pay me almost all of my income. I’m never ahead of schedule with content either. All of this can and should change in 2019 as I start to prioritize content consistency with my team.
I’m slow at delivering gear reviews & commitments to companies. As this point I “owe” about 10 different companies videos reviewing gear they’ve sent me. One thing holding me back was having a set space to crank out videos, which I have with my studio now in the last few weeks. Another was just my mental barrier of doing these reviews “for free” to my audience without sharing my mindset on be an influencer. Now that I’ve done that and Jen will be helping me with the publishing aspect of the videos (YouTube details, Squarespace blog posts, adding affiliate links, sending emails, etc.) we will crank through the backlog.
Client work slowed down in Q4. One thing I’ve noticed every year I’ve been in business is how much client work slows down to close out the year. Most of the time I at least have one or two projects still in work or scheduled to film during this time, but the combination of leaving the country for a month in September and no large projects being filmed during the next few months meant there was definitely down time and less revenue coming in. To off-set this we launched the accelerator program, which definitely helped bridge that gap in revenue some.
I haven’t networked with other local production companies or agencies to have more shoots in San Diego. Unless I drive to somewhere in SD or LA, I’ve flown for most of my client projects over the past 4+ years. I’d love to have more local projects, but my network lives all over the world. To do this I’ll need to meet more production companies and agencies near me in 2019.
I didn’t film any narrative, passion, or larger crew commercial projects. Some of the most fun I’ve had as a “filmmaker” or video creator has been when I’m not the only one filming. Being a one-man band is great financially, as I get to keep all the production income, but I’d love to work on some larger crews or sets in 2019 with the future goal of working on full-length films, television, and documentaries in the future.
I only worked out at a gym 35 times. About 3 times per month. The 140 walks I went on definitely impacted this as a lot of times when Jen would be going to the gym at the end of a work day I just wanted to be outside and get Pippa some exercise. Not having boundaries around work or starting work right when I wake up in the morning instead of doing weight training are habits I’ll work on changing in 2019.
Money Numbers (Revenue, Profit, Expenses)
I go back and forth on whether I should share my finances in an annual review, but doing so holds me accountable to sharing the truth of how the business is going and may encourage someone else to see what is possible running your own business, so here you go.
Note: This year my wife and I legally merged her photography business and my videography business together to simplify the books, insurance fees, tax prep, etc. That means some of the production income is from photography clients of hers. These numbers are almost 100% final.
2018 went up by over $50,000 in total income compared to my biggest year, 2017.
Gross Profit was $275,921.69 with two weird caveats. This includes expense reimbursements from clients for things like travel and gear rentals of over $14,000. The other confusing part is the negative $7,600 amount for work done in exchange payments for SwitchPod R&D investments. (Basically I did video work for free as collateral for SwitchPod design and manufacturing fees.)
Here is the breakdown by category of revenue:
Video & Photo Production = $ 237,583.00
Digital Course Sales = $ 18,866.71
Reimbursable Billable Expense Income = $ 14,397.56
Affiliate Sales (Amazon, B&H, Direct) = $ 8,090.53
Advertising on YouTube = $ 4,589.71
Consulting trade for SwitchPod Development = $ -7,605.82
If you do the math and remove the 2 weird categories, more than 88% of the income in 2018 came from doing client work. (Either filming and editing videos or taking and editing photographs.) Where as a lot more than 12% of the time spent by my wife, my editor, and myself was on making YouTube videos, developing and promoting SwitchPod at conferences, starting a stock photography company, doing administrative work, and more.
The reason we still work so hard on making that other 12% of income (roughly $31,500) which came from making free content to earn money through YouTube ads and affiliate income or serving my audience through paid online courses is that I feel like I have more direct control over those aspects of my business. When client work is slow I can turn up the knob that controls that income more.
The videos and courses slowly become more passive assets that earn money over time versus us trading time for money like when we work with clients. I’m planning to grow this side of the business more and more in the years to come. I tend to only work on these projects when I have gaps in client work or during the slower holiday seasons, but we’ll make it a more consistent aspect each week.
This year was the first full year as an S-Corp LLC, so my expenses are a bit confusing since my base salary (without owner draws) and health insurance reimbursements are listed as an expense in the “payroll” department, but here are the expenses by category for 2018 from most to least.
Payroll (My Wages & Taxes) = $ 76,561.94
Subcontractors = $ 54,806.17
Travel & Conferences = $ 25,751.48
Office/Studio = $ 23,943.23
Equipment, Rentals, Repairs = $ 9,354.03
Accounting (Bookkeeping, Tax Prep, Quickbooks) = $ 6,050.00
Software, Subscriptions, Apps, Web Hosting, etc. = $ 5,790.11
Fees, Corp Tax, Other Gov’t + Taxes, CC Processing = $ 4,112.66
Depreciation Expense = $ 1,769.00
Meals & Entertainment = $ 1,234.85
Other Taxes & Licenses = $1,225
Insurance & Liability Coverage = $ 995.04
Postage & Mailing (mostly hard drives) = $ 676.07
Photography Film Development & Printing = $ 707.93
Training = $115.82
Misc = $ 53.74
Total Expenses were $ 213,147.07
I’m not that happy about my expenses being over $200K considering fresh out of college 10 years ago my salary at Boeing was about $45,000 before benefits. Spending that much money each year blows my mind.
But when more than 61% of that is paying for people (myself and contractors) it makes me feel a little better.
Most of the gear expenses were kitting out my RED camera, which was offset by me selling it for $20,000. Accounting wise that is a “gain on disposition of assets” in an Other Income category, so it doesn’t go directly against my expenses sadly.
More than half of my travel expenses were reimbursed by clients, so that doesn’t bother me too much. My office / studio is all set up now after getting all settled in and that money is mainly just us writing off a large percentage of our home as a work space (since almost half of it is only used for that).
In general I’d just like to be more conservative when it comes to spending money in and on the business unless I’m going to see a direct return on investment. I’ll still spend money on travel and events to promote SwitchPod and produce my content.
Net income for 2018 beyond my salary was $76,200. Since my wages and taxes are expenses, when you add net income to that it is about $150,000 in profit, before taxes. After taxes that ends up being around $100,000 take home.
Some of the “net income” stays in the business checking account and some of which comes out as “owner draws” or to cover a percentage of our rent based on what % in square footage is “office space”.
Is that enough quotation marks for you?
Overall, a great profitable year for the business, but it has the potential to make way more in 2019 with continued client work, more income from the digital side of the business, and hopefully a large payout from SwitchPod’s success.
TRAVEL: I travelled a lot this year for fun. Jen and I spent a month in Ireland with family, I went to Seattle for a mastermind retreat, we spent 5 days in Todos Santos by Cabo in Mexico (4 photos above), went skiing up in Big Bear, and went to Denver & LA for weddings.
BOOKS: I tried to read more this year, mainly through listening to audiobooks or reading fiction while on vacation, but I plan to do even more next year. Non-fiction books I read this year were Discipline Equals Freedom, Atomic Habits, The Daily Stoic, Mastery, Rebel Without a Crew, Principles, and Do the Work. Fiction books I read in Ireland were Artemis, The Circle, and Dark Matter. Next up are finishing The Messy Middle, Sapiens, Scaling Up, and 48 Laws of Power. And then I plan to read Grit, The Future of Humanity, Armada, Quiet, A People’s History of the United States, Creativity Inc., Thrist, The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Catching the Big Fish, and Guns, Germs and Steel.
EXPERIENCES: I went and saw Hamilton in San Diego, saw James Bay & Ed Sheeran in concert, and went to Disneyland with my sister’s family.
MOVIES: I saw quite a few movies in theaters and thoroughly enjoyed all of them. Black Panther, A Quiet Place, Solo, Tag, Mission Impossible: Fallout, Avengers: Infinity War, Jurassic World 2, Fantastic Beasts 2, First Man, Mary Poppins Returns, Deadpool 2, and Ready Player One. A few movies I rented that stand out as favorites too are Annihilation and Eighth Grade.
Preview of Next Year — 2019
My words for next year are:
Consistency — with strength training, in publishing content, when agreeing to gear reviews
Saving — by spending less money in the business, by using the gear I already own, through traveling less for fun
Outreach — when launching SwitchPod, collaborating with other creators, networking with local agencies & production companies
My major goals and projects for 2019 are:
Launch SwitchPod on Kickstarter and beyond. Raising money for manufacturing, producing the first batch, and delivering to our customers.
Treat YouTube like a serious part of the business. Publishing multiple times a week, every week, and continuing to grow my audience there.
Re-launch my podcast as an interview show. I also plan for every episode to also be recorded on video to publish on YouTube.
Create more digital assets. Launch another accelerator, create more online courses, and sell other downloadables.
Fully launch “Studio Grandview” branding for our production company. We will consolidate Jen Wojcik Photography with Caleb Wojcik Films into one public facing production studio and network it more locally together.
Continue servicing my video clients well. I’ll continue to make talking head, documentary style, and event videos for my clients for the foreseeable future.
Learn and consume more from higher quality sources. I’m going to be watching Masterclass, go through paid filmmaking courses I’ve already bought, reading ASC magazines, and reading/listening to books. I’ll do these whenever I’m compelled to consume so many YouTube videos, podcasts, or social media posts. I love my peers, but this year I need to be influenced from outside sources so I don’t just compare myself to others and start to make the same stuff they make.
I encourage you to do an annual review every year. Even if it isn’t shared publicly, doing one privately can help you be grateful for the year behind you and help you focus on what is most important for you to do next year.
If you’re looking to do your own annual review, here are a few resources for doing your own annual reviews.
Here’s to 2019 and beyond.