I can’t quite believe another year has gone by. 2022 seems to have gone incredibly quick and I don’t feel like I’ve done much. Which is also why I appreciate putting these posts together and proving myself wrong. After an hour of writing and looking back through memories of the year, turns out I got up to plenty and got quite a bit done.
I find these reflective posts extremely useful to notice patterns, find issues and make goals for the next year. Much like doing my end of year accounts; I hate the process, but once it’s done it’s satisfying and useful. And I’m not alone in the value of this sort of exercise.
I’ve been working too much
I think a large part of feeling like I’ve done nothing and the year fast-forwarding is the amount of client freelance work I’ve done.
As I’ve talked about in previous years posts, I’ve really found my groove with coding. I love doing it, I love solving problems and seeing my code solve real business problems. It’s also great to work with other developers who push me to learn new things and take new approaches, as well as to work with designers who just get it and want to make beautiful web creations. It’s satisfying for me turn those beautiful designs in to 1:1 code but which are fully responsive, editable by the client and also optimised for web performance.
One of the things I enjoy about freelancing is being able to pick my clients and say Yes or No as I want. I’ve learnt over my career that not all clients are good – maybe they pay too little, want too much for too little, don’t respect down time, pay late, or they don’t care about the final product (this is more important to me than I realise). I’d rather fire a client than slog on when i’m not enjoying working with them. It’s better to do that as soon as possible and I’ve got used to listening to my gut and just going with it.
So coming in to 2022, I’ve got an excellent collection of clients, and I like working with all of them. A majority of them have integrated me in to their companies and projects permanently. This is awesome and I’m lucky to have that, but this created a new problem – that they all expected a piece of me! They all relied on me and I didn’t want to let down friends and colleagues so it was hard for me to say no and not take on their projects.
This came to a head at least twice this year – once in April and again in October – where I’d simply over committed myself by a long way and I was overloaded and stressed. This resulted in me doing really long hours on the computer – far more than I wanted to do or needed to do. Good for the bank balance, not so good for my mental health.
Looking at my hour tracking data, it seems my working limit is around 160 hours per month. For the months where I worked over 160 hours, the following month it looks like I was burnt out and worked far less.
(P.S. I know 160 hours per month is approx 40 hours per week / 8 hours per day which is a fairly normal amount of working hours. But my tracked time is purely my client time on the computer, it doesn’t include emails, accounting, invoicing, my own projects etc, which likely adds another 3-4 hours to each daily total)
In 2023, I’m committing to working far less on freelance work. I don’t need new clients, I won’t take on any new clients, and I’ve already informed less regular clients that I’m not going to be available as much. Just typing that makes me feel more relaxed!
Not having any time for my WordPress plugins
I sell three premium WordPress plugins, but with the amount of client work I did in 2022, I unfortunately didn’t find any time to work on new versions of my plugins outside of support requests.
This is a pretty bad situation to be in as plugins need to be regularly updated so they are compatible with updates to the underlying WordPress and WooCommerce platforms (of which there seem to be an increasing/relentless amount of). However the plugins have kept on working (phew!), so I’ve managed to get away with it.
Regardless of updates, the plugin sales have kept on coming, making approx $300 USD per month. My main plugin has now crossed 1,000 total sales on the CodeCanyon platform. From a business point-of-view, making no updates could have affected plugin sales which is not ideal, so I’m leaving money on the table there.
I had big plans for one of the plugins in 2022, I wanted to spin it out to its own website, with an improved licensing system, a subscription payment plan, and bundles for developers to purchase. I’ve started planning this and building some of it, but I’m nowhere near finished. I also hired a designer to develop the plugin in to more of a brand, but this process is still on-going.
My main plugin stats for the year:
- 170 total sales (2% increase from 2021)
- Crossed 1,000 total sales
- The best ever year for sales of the plugin
- Top sales locations – United Kingdom, Sweden, Netherlands, Germany
- 69 support ticket requests (average of 6 per month, up from 4 per month in 2021)
- 30 hours spent replying to support tickets (approx 25 mins per ticket which was same as 2021)
Because of my lack of work on the plugins, I basically earned approx $4,000 USD for doing 30 hours of support work which isn’t too bad.
My goal for 2023 is to launch my most popular plugin on its own domain with its own brand, better marketing, a better payment and licensing system, and I am targeting being able to make $1,000 USD per month from sales by the end of the year. I really should have done this in 2022, so a big regret I did not achieve it yet.
On a similar note, in the middle of the year I hired a Shopify developer to spin out one of my plugins to the Shopify e-commerce platform, but due to workload the project stalled and the contract ended. Again, a waste of time and money, but a task for 2023, and ideally I would like to develop that plugin myself.
Closing my music forum and radio station
Back in 2001 I started a music forum which turned out to be quite successful, gaining over 25,000 members. The forum was super busy in the days just after MySpace but before Facebook, and I spent most days of my 20s posting crap on the forum.
Out of the community grew meet-ups, events, labels, festivals, marriages and much more – including in 2004 an internet radio station. The radio station took on its own life separate to the forum, only using live DJs to play shows, and getting a worldwide fan base.
Over the years, probably from 2010 onwards, the forum pretty much died – replaced by Facebook, Groups, Twitter, WhatsApp, Telegram, and all the other platforms that now vie for your attention. The radio station kept on growing, with more and more listeners, but it was getting harder to find DJs and even harder to grow the station out of anything but a niche radio station.
The station was also competing for attention alongside Spotify, Soundcloud, Mixcloud, Apple Music etc and they had a slightly bigger marketing budget than I did. I tried rebranding, adding new marketing, trying to get funds from various sources to pay for expansion and more marketing, but it was always such a hard slog, and with other things happening in my life, I realised I wasn’t really up for the fight anymore.
So in September, we (I’ve ran the station with good pal Simon for 18-odd years) abruptly decided to give 48 hours notice of the station closing to all DJs and listeners. The radio went off on a real high note, and the last few hours of the station was pretty emotional for many people who have had the station as part of their lives for 10-20 years. We had nearly 1,000 live listeners at one point, the chat room was so busy and scrolling so fast that no-one could read it, and SMS and Telegram messages were coming in of memories and thanks – it was a great vibe.
And then at exactly midnight, we deleted our custom broadcasting software and 1TB of recorded shows, turned off the server, and a project I’d worked on for 21 years was all over.
Enjoying music again
One of the reasons I had started that music forum and radio station all those years ago is that I love music. I used to be a DJ but sold my turntables back in 2006 (a big mistake). Being a digital nomad and living out of a backpack for the last 8 years has meant my love of music has been restricted to listening to Spotify and Soundcloud on my headphones.
This year I decided to change all that after I saw someone selling some Technics 1210s in the Chiang Mai Facebook marketplace. The Technics 1210 is an iconic turntable for DJs and with it no longer being made is rising in value as vinyl has a resurgence of popularity. When would another opportunity like this come up in Asia? So I decided I must buy them. And it was a great decision. Using vinyl again is awesome, the feel of it, the smell of it – it beats digital every single time.
To go with the decks I also purchased some KRK studio monitors which are super cool and sound great. It’s been amazing to listen to music out loud again after so many years of headphones – so much so that I decided using them strictly for my decks wasn’t right, so they have now graduated to permanent fixtures on my desk so I can listen to music while I work.
No international travelling
2022 has been a year of staying put. Since the middle of 2021 we’ve been based in Chiang Mai, Thailand. With COVID still making travel unpredictable and expensive, and Thailand being empty of tourists for most of the year, we decided it made sense to stay in Thailand instead of trying to travel somewhere else.
We got to check out various places around Thailand throughout the year – Bangkok, Phuket, Mae Khampong, Hua Hin, Chiang Dao, Koh Lanta, Krabi, Chumphon, Surat Thani. Lots of beautiful places.
Highlights – I really liked the north of Phuket (Naiyang Beach, super chilled, very local, lots of nature, not many tourists), I have a soft spot for Hua Hin (and we always have excellent seafood there), and I would like to spend more time in Krabi as the sunsets are just amazing and although a lot of tourists it has accessible local areas.
A large chunk of this travel was during the Chiang Mai “Smokey Season”. We drove from Chiang Mai all the way down to Koh Lanta past Krabi. It was fun to drive through Thailand, although tiring, as it was four days on the road each way. But it was great to have the car in the south as hire cars are expensive and scooters are dangerous.
We ended up staying about two months on Koh Lanta, a place I’d not been to since 2015.
It was great to be back on the island, and we managed to have some great times with friends, BBQs, stray friendly dogs, sunsets and chilling out at the villa we rented. Unfortunately this coincided with me doing lots of client work (great timing Jimmy!) so I couldn’t totally enjoy relaxing as I wanted.
Koh Lanta felt different to the last time I was there. Coming from Chiang Mai where foreigners are treated like locals, it felt really weird to be treated like just a tourist again and I am sure that’s not how it was the last time I was there. It gave me the vibes of being in the touristy areas of Phuket or Samui, with many places overcharging and under delivering knowing they will likely never see you again. Prices of food on Lanta was generally high and quality low – “but we’re on an island” is really a poor excuse for not having fresh produce or charging 2x or 3x more – you can drive to Krabi in 45 mins and get anything you want at regular Thai prices.
Another downside on Lanta was accommodation; of the three villas we rented all of them had issues of one thing or another (all foreigner owned, not Thai), and the owners literally couldn’t give less fucks as you’ve already paid your money (Tip: don’t pay in full in advance for a rental, even if they are friends of friends, or use a platform with some protection like AirBNB. I was too trusting and got burnt). Anyway, I’m not sure I’ll be heading back to Lanta any time soon, it’s a beautiful place, but it’s just a bit too western for me, and with a new bridge project connecting it to the mainland, I can’t see it regaining its charm.
Avoiding the Chiang Mai “Smokey Season” (generally February to May) in the end was a waste of time for us – typically its a time when Chiang Mai is badly polluted as farmers burn crops, forest fires burn and the air becomes some of the worst in the world. But in 2022 the smoke wasn’t bad (2022 has been the best year since PM2.5 measurements began), which means we made the journey for nothing. In 2023, we’re going to risk it and stay put (mostly).
Looking forward to 2023
OK so I’ve already mentioned a couple of goals for 2023 – work less on client work, work more on my plugins. I’d also like to spend time on some passive income projects which I’ve been thinking about for a while – these are SEO-focused niche projects which I can work on with my girlfriend.
We’ve made plenty of travel plans for the first half of 2023. I’m writing this from Bangkok, and we’ll be visiting the city a few more times (one time for WordCamp Asia which I’m really looking forward to), plus taking trips to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Kuching, Kota Kinabalu, and London.
We have three renovation projects coming up – a new kitchen and extension on the house we’re renting long term in Chiang Mai, and once we have the keys we will be fitting out our new apartment in Kuching too. I also want to renovate my London apartment and fix some heating/water issues I’ve been having (energy prices are insane in the UK right now, so worth making the changes to be more economical). Renovations of this scale are all new to me, so I’ve been looking at floorplans, using SketchUp, looking at appliances, colour schemes, contractors etc, as well as understanding the differences between the way things are done in the UK and in Asia (and there are some real big differences!).
As I said at the start of this post, I feel like 2022 has gone in a flash and I haven’t done much. But I’m glad I spent the time to put together this post so I can be thankful for everything I did. Hopefully it’s useful to you too.
Other 2022 recap posts I like:
Freek Van der Herten (a prolific Laravel developer)
Iain Poulson (Delicious Brains and lots of WordPress stuff)
Maarten Belmans / Studio Wombat (in-depth yearly analysis of WordPress plugins)
Barn2 (serious WordPress plugin team yearly analysis)
Got a recap post I should read? Share it below in the comments.
Thanks for reading. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.