EPISODE 18: Year in Review: What Worked, What Didn’t, and What to do Next
December 20, 2020


As we bring 2020 to a close, I’m sharing the details on all of the things that worked and didn’t work in my business and life amidst the pandemic.

All of my businesses experienced very different moves in 2020. One business flatlined, one business quadrupled in sales, and another business started at zero. On a personal level, I was able to appreciate slowing down, creating new routines, and avoid things I didn’t enjoy.

Ready to get the inside scoop on the success and failures of 2020, let’s dive in!

Sitting in Our New Home (2:27)

What Worked in 2020 (4:00)

What Worked in 2020: Professional Brand (4:15)

  • Community Virtual Events: Chasing the Bright Side Conference, Write the Dang Book Conference, and Book Pop Workshop
  • Texting via Community Application: 704-228-9495
  • Pay What You Can Model for Chasing the Bright Side Virtual Conference
  • Introducing Masks at Headbands of Hope

What Worked in 2020: Personally (10:50)

  • Not Traveling on Planes
  • Half-Caf Coffee
  • Facetime & Zooming People

What Didn’t Work in 2020 (14:49)

What Didn’t Worked in 2020: Professional Brand (15:30)

  • High Ticket Offerings Were Harder to Sell
  • In-Person Speaking Engagements
  • Press

What Didn’t Worked in 2020: Personally (18:40)

  • Hand Lettering
  • TikTok
  • Reading Big Books

One Liner: Your value doesn’t come from one thing you do. You are the sum of all the things you do. (20:50)

Use the code POD at Brightpages.com for 20% off the annual plan!

Micro Course: How to Host Your Own Online Events
Headbands of Hope
You 2.0

Review the Transcript:

Hello, everyone. Welcome back to Business on the Bright Side. I can’t believe it is already December. I feel like this year was like the slowest and fastest year at the same time. I don’t know if that makes sense, or if anyone else feels that way, but it’s been a year. So, today on the podcast, I’m going to tell you a little bit about what worked and what didn’t work for me this year.

And just to give you some context, one of my businesses completely flat-lined this year. One of my businesses quadrupled in sales, and then, another one of my businesses started at zero. And so, when I look at all of that, it’s really easy to attach myself to one of those things, like feel like a failure for the business that decreased, or feel like a superhero for the business that increased or feel like a beginner for the business that started this year.

And I think that it’s really easy to emotionally attach ourselves to what works, what doesn’t, and all of these outcomes. But if we just realize that life and business is just about trying, failing, trying again, and seeing what works, it makes all of this a little bit more fun. It makes it feel like more of an experiment, and less like we have to get it right on this final test. So, I’ll get into a little bit about what worked for me this year, and what didn’t, but I would love to help you do the same.

So, in January, I am hosting You 2.0, which is an online challenge and community to get clarity on who you want to be and what you want to do. We’re going to craft your personal mission statement. We’re going to level up your bio, and we’ll create a plan for you to build your platform as a thought leader in 2021. You can sign up. It’s totally free. Head to businessonthe brightside.com/18, to sign up for You 2.0, and I will see you in January. So, let’s get to it.

What’s up, everybody? It is Jess Ekstrom and welcome to Business on the Bright Side, the podcast where you can learn how to make a living and make a difference at the same time. Life is short, and so is my attention span, so let’s get started.

I’m currently sitting here on a mattress on the floor in our new house, not in an Airstream. We’re taking a break for a few months and moving into our new house in Raleigh. Our Airstream is literally parked outside, which is super funny. And I’m surrounded by boxes from our storage unit that we’ve had for two years. And I seriously can’t believe how much crap we had stored. I’m like, why did I think that I was going to store this sports bra, and then, magically need it two years later? But it is just reminded me how little we actually need after living in an Airstream and being so minimal for a couple of years. I’m embarrassed for what we had in our storage unit. So, it’s been a funny experience coming home, and I will be making a lot of trips to Goodwill.

But anyways, so in this episode, I want to talk about what worked this year, and what didn’t. Because I feel like at the end of the year, you always hear a lot of people that are like, “Best year yet,” And “Oh my goodness, I hit all my goals,” “Revenue through the roof,” blah, blah, blah, like bring on the new year. I think this year shook a lot of people up, but I want to be really specific personally and professionally about what worked for me this year, what didn’t, that way, you can learn from it and start setting your goals or kind of getting your stuff together for 2021 and figure out what you want to do. So, let’s get to it.

Let’s start with what worked in the professional category. So, going through this year and what moved the needle for me and my work, and not… I’ll start with my personal brand side, and then, I’ll show you a little bit on the Headbands of Hope side. So, the thing that really worked for me is having some sort of community virtual offering. So, earlier this year in March, I had planned my first conference called the Bright Side conference. It was one of those things that was like two years in the making. We rented the venue, got food, all this stuff, and then, the pandemic hit. And I thought I was going to be out a lot of money, and also, just disappointed that I couldn’t fulfill this opportunity that so many people had signed up for. But then, in this kind of knee jerk reaction, I said, let’s make it virtual. And I had no idea how I was going to do it. I just told people who had signed up, give me a month, and I’m going to figure it out and I’m going to make this virtual.

So, we hosted a virtual conference in April, the Bright Side virtual conference. And we were originally supposed to have 300 people at our in-person event, we ended up having 3,500 people at our virtual event, which is insane. I usually don’t do math in public, but that’s like 10 times more than what we were supposed to have. So, hosting these community virtual gatherings has really taken shape this year because so many in-person events have been canceled. And then, in September, we did a virtual Write the Dang Book conference for aspiring authors, and we had 2,000 people all over the world sign up for that. And so, what worked was finding ways to bring people together virtually, who care about the same thing, and then, also, figuring out how can you further their experience by having some sort of offering.

So, after the Write the Dang Book conference, people could sign up for my course book pop workshop, which helps women get traditional publishing deals. And so, when you bring people together that care about the same thing, it also gives you the opportunity to know what they need next and help create a product to fill that gap. So, something that worked really well that I don’t think is going to go away for a while is creating these virtual gatherings that bring like-minded people together. And if you want help creating one, I actually created a little micro course about how to host your own online events. So, I’ll put that in the show notes on businessonthebrightside.com.

Another thing that worked for me professionally is texting. I don’t know about you, but I was getting so freaking frustrated with Instagram, and also, with email, like I’m not giving up on email, you know, still have my Mondays emails going out. But this year, things got so noisy that I feel like my open rates declined. And then, with all of the algorithm changes on Instagram, and then, reels came out and all this stuff. And all of a sudden, you feel like only one 10th of your followers are actually seeing what you put out there, and you’re spending so much time creating this content that no one is seeing. Someone told me about community and it’s… This is not like an affiliate play or anything, but it’s this texting application where you can have people text you, and you can text them, and you can send out texts to different communities of people who are interested in different things.

So, the reason why this is actually different from other texting platforms is because it’s actually me on the other side. So, you can text me. The number is (704) 228-9495. And it’s actually me on the other side, and I’ll respond to you. I’ll do that today. So if you’re listening to this, shoot me a text (704) 228-9495. But what this did for my business was it was able for me to create a group of super fans. So, people who want to hear from me, because giving away your number, like having a text means you have to be like gung ho about this. I don’t sign up for just any texting platform. So, I know that the people who are on my texting platform want to hear from me, and they want to know what I have to say. I send a weekly motivation on Monday with a little tip, and it gave me a new way to reach people with a hundred percent open rate. So, texting was something that worked in my business this year that I hadn’t tried before.

Another thing that worked professionally that we did for the Bright Side conference, that I’m curious if anyone else has done this, or I also am curious how I can work with [inaudible 00:08:43] to other areas of my business, is a pay what you can model. So, this means that the customer picks the price, which is actually pretty cool. And at first, I was worried about it because I’m like, “Oh, what if everyone just chooses $0?” But with the Bright Side conference, I knew that it was a tough time for people. People were losing their jobs. I mean, their businesses were tanking because of the pandemic. And I said, I want to make this available to as many people as possible. It’s pay what you can. So, your experience didn’t differ based on how much you paid or not. It was just pay whatever you can.

And out of the 3,500 people that registered, the average ticket was $20. How amazing is that? I mean, that just like, if you need to restore your faith in humanity, what a social experiment. So, if you have something that you’re selling or something that you’re offering, whether it’s a course or a virtual event, maybe toy around with the idea of making it pay what you can, even if it’s just for a limited amount of time, in that way, people, you can meet them where they are. And you’d be surprised how much people actually will put in the dollars for something, because they care about you and they care about the product, even when they’re given the option to not pay anything at all.

And the last thing that I’ll tell you that worked professionally is on the Headbands of Hope side, we made masks this year. We were one of the first out of the gate to start making masks. We actually stopped producing headbands for about a month and just made masks when we realized there was a shortage of masks at hospitals. We ended up making almost a hundred thousand masks and giving them away to hospitals. Now, we sell them on our website. Now, we go on QVC basically like once a week selling masks. And I think the takeaway from that is, is you can have all the plans in the world, but be quick to pivot.

And one of the perks of being a small business is that you’re turning around a speed boat, not a cruise ship. So, when you see an opportunity, jump at it, because you never know what’s going to happen after.

Okay. So let’s get into what worked for me personally. So, outside of work, something that worked for me personally was not flying on planes this year. I didn’t realize what a toll the plane travel was taking on my body, my mind, my habits, my routine, just like all over well being. Don’t get me wrong, I love to travel, but pre-pandemic, I was on a plane. I was doing 50 speaking engagements a year. And so, do whatever math you want with that one. But there was a lot of plane travel. And so, it was really nice this year to realize what life was like without constantly packing my suitcase and going up in the air and going into those busy airports, and just all the things that go with that.

So, I was really grateful. At first, I was scared with all speaking being postponed or canceled, but then, it was cool to see what my life is like without that travel component. I miss being on stages though, I’ll say that. The other thing that worked for me is half-caff coffee. I love drinking coffee, but I also don’t need a bunch of caffeine. I already have enough anxiety where I don’t need to have another reason for my heart rate to be risen, raised, whatever the right word is. And so, doing half decaf, half caffeinated allowed me to keep drinking coffee and have two cups without the double caffeine. So, that’s something that worked for me personally. So, take it or leave it.

And the last thing that I’ll say that worked for me this year personally is FaceTiming people or zoom or something like that. I know we’re all kind of tired of zoom. P.S. I had no idea until last night that zoom had a feature to enhance your look. I was in the settings last night on zoom, and it was like check this box to enhance your appearance. And I did, and it smoothed out my skin and added like eyeliner or something to me, and I was like, what world are we living in? But anyways, so I feel like pre-pandemic, I was just really finding an excuse to text people and not call. Maybe that’s the millennial in me, and I know it’s such a bad habit. But this year, not having my cup filled with seeing people, I just started FaceTiming, instead of calling or texting, and just having that face to face interaction, I feel like it brought me closer to people, and I actually ended up talking to people more this year than I had in previous years.

Hey, real quick. Have you ever felt like you were made for more, but you’re just not sure what it is that you want to create, or maybe you have a ton of ideas bubbling over like champagne, but you just don’t even know where to begin. A blank page in front of you can feel daunting and overwhelming. So, I wanted to create a guided online journal designed to give people the clarity they need to make the world just a little bit brighter. Bright Pages is a guided online journal for people who do. Here’s how it works. You have your own private journal with a designated login, and each day, you get a daily prompt inside the platform, but it’s also emailed to you and you can just reply directly to that email with the prompt and it will save it into your journal. Technology, am I right?

One of my favorite Bright Pages features are the prompt pathways. You can pick a pathway based on a goal that you have, whether it’s writing a book, crafting a talk, or maybe starting a business, or even just getting out of a creative funk. Then, you’ll get prompts delivered to you for one week based on that specific pathway that you chose. I mean, sign me up. Business on the Bright Side listeners get a special discount. So, head to brightpages.com and enter the code pod, to get 20% off the annual plan. That’s brightpages.com and enter the code pod, P-O-D.

Okay. So life is not all butterflies and roses, so let’s get into what didn’t work for me this year. I feel like I am queen at throwing shit at a wall and seeing what sticks, which means that I’m going to try a lot of things and some things are going to work, but a lot of things aren’t going to work. And I think that it is my job as a thought leader or whatever you want to call this profession, to share both sides. Let’s get into what didn’t work professionally. So, high ticket offerings this year is tough because people are being super money-conscious, whether it’s with the pandemic or the election, or a lot of pivots that are happening this year.

So, things that are above $500 were harder to sell this year because it’s not that impulse purchase. And so, lower ticket offerings were working better this year. You know, that pay what you can model, and really, just almost having a community-building year instead of a profitability year, and we’re at the place in my business where that’s a luxury that we’re able to do that. And I get that. But those high ticket offerings were a bit harder to sell this year, just because of the world that we’re living in.

But I do think that this year brought a lot of shifts, but it’s going to push people to get a lot of clarity as well. And once they have that clarity of what they want to do, then, they’ll be more willing to invest in something that’ll help them get there. The other thing that didn’t work professionally, no surprise here, but in-person speaking engagements. Now, I am a course creator. And one of my flagship courses is Mic Drop workshop where I teach women to get paid speaking engagements. And so, before this year, it was all about getting on that stage. And this year, there was not any, almost any in-person events after March. I think I had one in-person gig, and it was because they wanted me there so they could film it, and then, live stream it. There wasn’t even really an audience.

But without the in-person speaking engagements, I would say that virtual events came out like two times the amount of in-person events there were. And so, just because the in-person events weren’t working, that means that the virtual events were that much stronger. And so, my students in Mic Drop workshop had to… We all had to shift a little bit in the way we approached speaking engagements this year. I mean, you can do three virtual speaking engagements a day. So, the quantity went up, but the fee that you get as a speaker per virtual engagement goes down. I would say in my experience, it’s been about 30% of what my in-person fee was. But there’s more of virtual events that are possible, and less prep to do them.

The last thing that didn’t really work professionally is press. It was such a noisy year between, again, global pandemic, election, you know, slow news. So, it was a little bit harder to stand out for some of the small wins, whether you had a book release or, you know, something, like we tried to get some press for our masks with Headbands of Hope. And it was just a little bit noisier, so it was harder to stand out. I would say though, in the past, press has boosted our credibility, but it hasn’t been the reason for our sales. So, even though press was a little bit harder to get this year, I don’t think that that was going to be make or break in our business.

Now, what didn’t work for me personally this year. This is kind of funny, but I feel like everyone, once the pandemic started, was like, I need a new hobby. You know, I’m going to make banana bread or something. And I said to myself, I’m like, “Oh, I love doing these little one-liners on Instagram. What if I could do some cute hand-lettering around them?” Oh my gosh, guys, it was like you had handed a two year old a notepad and crayons. It was awful. I tried some like YouTube courses of hand lettering on my iPad and it just did not go well. So, my one-liners are going to continue being in tweet format, and that’s the way it’s going to be. I tried TikTok for a good like two weeks, and I’m like, I am too old for this, can’t do it. Couldn’t get jive with the music and all of it. But I have some friends who are crushing it on TikTok right now with their business. I am just not one of those people.

And then, the last thing that I tried that didn’t work personally was I tried reading big books around big ideas, like a lot of self-help books, like things like Sapiens or something that is like a really monumental book. And I just couldn’t get into it because my mind was so overwhelmed and scattered with what was going on in the world that I couldn’t go to bed at night and just read about one more thing that I had to be doing. So instead, I just read a bunch of mindless books. I feel like this year, I’ve probably read 50, like just stupid $2 fiction books on the Apple bookstore, because it just allowed me to escape for a little bit. So, listen to what you need. Don’t force it, and give yourself a break.

And there you have it. That is what worked for me and what didn’t in 2020. Let’s see what 2021 brings. I would love to help you build your 2021 and really get clarity on who you want to be, and what you want to do. So head to the show notes businessonthebrightside.com and sign up for our 21-day challenge in January. I’ll leave you with this. Your value doesn’t come from one thing you do, you’re the sum of all the things you do.

Thanks for listening to Business on the Bright Side. I’m your host, Jess Ekstrom. For all the show notes, head to businessonthebrightside.com and be sure to tell me what you thought of this episode on Instagram. And if you’re picking up what I’m putting down, subscribe and write a review wherever you consume podcasts. See you next time, and keep chasing the bright side.


My first speaking gig was for a slice of pizza and now I’m a 7-figure speaker & author.

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