My 2019 Year in Review: Finally paying myself back

What a year.

Looking back on the past 12 months, most of what stands out is personal stuff and business stuff is secondary. That’s surprising because my business still grew by a substantial amount, but the day-to-day struggle and grind of bootstrapping something from nothing has given way to something more like tending a garden or spinning a flywheel.

The foundation and systems I worked so hard to build beginning in 2016 are working and the payoff for all the stress of quitting a stable day job to jump into the entrepreneurial deep end has arrived.

Things are good in the business. I’m not saying I’m complacent and I’m definitely not resting on my laurels, as you’ll see in the Goals section below, but I’m in an entirely new phase of business and life.

Personally, things are fantastic, but there’s an alternate universe where 2019 was a horrible year full of pain and loss. Having had at least one year like that already, I can appreciate how special it is to have avoided virtually all of that potential pain and loss this year, finishing up the year with so much to be thankful for.

So while the business continued to move up and to the right, I was able to enjoy life itself more by appreciating all the great things I experienced and all the terrible things I didn’t experience.

Here’s a Table of Contents so you can jump to wherever you want…

2019 Goal review

Double revenue again

This was definitely a stretch goal and I missed it … sort of. Net revenue grew by about 54% this year, and that’s less than 100%. But it’s much easier to see progress if I break my revenue into two categories since I’m really running two distinct businesses that both happen to be built around salary negotiation.

Product revenue

I sell products like my book, Fearless Salary Negotiation, and other more narrowly-focused products like The Salary Negotiation Crash Course to help people negotiate job offers, get raises, navigate the interview process and that sort of thing.

Revenue for this part of the business was up by about 10% this year.

While I was hoping to double revenue in product sales, I’m still pretty happy to see any growth here because I stopped offering strategy sessions, which generated meaningful revenue in 2018.

This decision was driven by three challenges:

  1. Strategy sessions were somewhat time consuming and were more or less random. I couldn’t plan for them and they could be pretty disruptive to other work, including coaching engagements.
  2. Strategy sessions might occasionally cannibalize my coaching business. I don’t think this happened very often, but occasionally someone might decide to forego my full-service coaching offering in order to just book a strategy session. If they would’ve benefited from my full-service coaching offering, then we both lost—they got less and so did I.
  3. The pricing for strategy sessions cheapened the perceived value of my time and expertise. Although the sessions themselves were not cheap, when compared to my coaching offering, they looked cheaper and that’s not the best way to position a premium offering.

Last year, strategy sessions were about 20% of my product revenue. So that means I eliminated the offering that made up about 20% of my 2018 product revenue and still grew that part of the business by about 10%. I would like to see more growth here, but I’m still fine with it given my primary focus on coaching.

Services (coaching) revenue

Then there’s coaching, which generated most of the revenue and growth in my business. Last year, coaching was about 45% of my revenue. In 2019, my coaching revenue is up about 140% and it makes up almost 70% of my revenue.

This was driven by a greater focus on coaching, eliminating strategy sessions, changing my pricing structure, and by simply continuing to exist as my brand and reach grow.

Overall, I’m very happy with this growth and I expect coaching to continue growing into 2020 and I think I’ll see more substantial growth in product sales next year as well.

Sub-7:00-pace 5k

Miss. I was rehabbing a strained adductor for the first half of the year and didn’t get to 100% until September or so. I’ll have to push this one out to 2020.

Sub-60-second 400m

Miss. Same issue, but even worse because I would have to train specifically for short distance and even now I’m not back to full sprints. I’ll have to push this to 2020, although I’m still not sure if I’ll ever be able to get this done.

More trips

Technically, I took fewer trips this year. But I went to New York for the first time, so I actually chalk this up as a win.

2019 Year in Review – Business

This year was an unequivocal success.

Revenue was up more than 50% overall, and it grew in each of my two main categories—products and services.

I don’t actively track my time, but I’m sure I spent less time working this year than I ever have, so the return on my time is way up this year as well. That’s a sort of hidden side effect of the business I have been building and it’s a huge motivator for me to keep doing what I do and it was a big reason I quit my day job four years ago.

I had two issues with my day jobs:

  1. I thought the way we did work in corporate settings was really inefficient and I could do most of my jobs well in about 20 hours a week. The problem was that day jobs expected me to be “working” 40 hours a week. And that meant I spent about half my time doing my job and half my time performing the role of “person doing a job”.
  2. I was tired of making other people money. I felt that if I really dialed in my focus, picked a direction, and tried to build a business, then I could capture more of the value of my work, leading to higher overall pay.

The nice thing about both of these is that they are testable. If I was right, then I should be able to build a business to capture the value of my work without working excessive hours. So I decided it was time to put up or shut up and I quit my day job in 2015. I haven’t updated this chart since 2015, so I went in and added in my business income since then and here’s what it looks like:

Monthly earnings throughout my career

You can see that the first couple of years were very lean. But things started to take off in 2018, and they accelerated this year. I’m now generating far more value for my customers (millions of dollars over the past few years) than I ever did in my day jobs, I’m generating that value in fewer hours per week than I did at my day jobs, and I’m capturing more and more of that value for myself.

Two milestones to close out the year

The image above directly shows one milestone while indirectly showing another.

Income from my business now exceeds my day job income

It was slow going at first, and month-to-month income continues to be pretty volatile, but my overall income is significantly higher than it was at my day job.

Now I can definitively say that I can generate more value working for myself than I did at my day job and I can do it in less than 20 hours a week.

I’ve recovered all the savings I burned building the business

When I quit my day job in 2015, I had saved up a runway of about 18 months. The initial plan was to use that savings to bridge the gap while I built a business that supported me. Phase one was to publish Fearless Salary Negotiation. Phase two was to use income from Fearless Salary Negotiation to cover my expenses while I built TaskBook (a B2B SaaS app).

I quickly realized my plan wasn’t going to work. It was harder to generate meaningful product income than I thought, and building the Fearless Salary Negotiation business was going to be a full-time job. It wasn’t realistic to build two things that would require full-time effort, so I shut TaskBook down to focus on Fearless Salary Negotiation.

That was a good decision. But I was still burning through my savings pretty quickly and the business was growing slower than expected. Early in 2017 (about 18 months after quitting my day job), my runway had dwindled from 18 months to about three months and things were getting pretty dire. I began looking at day jobs and thinking hard about how to build my business into something that could sustain me and eventually make leaving my day job worth it.

That’s when I flipped the switch to focus on coaching as my primary business and things started moving up and to the right from there. My savings account pulled out of its nosedive beginning in May 2017. And in December of this year, it finally recovered to the high water mark that was set before I quit my day job.

The success of my business has come in several stages: When revenue actually started to turn up in early 2017, then when coaching started to really take off in volume and revenue, and now when I’ve totally replaced my day job with the business I created from scratch, built on a super-niche expertise that I developed over time.

I did not think this was possible even 18 months ago, but here we are.

The question now is how much value can I create and how much time will it take to generate that value?

Last year, I set a goal of doubling revenue in 2019. I missed that goal, but the point of the goal wasn’t so much to hit it as it was to force me to think about what my business would look like if I did hit that goal. It was a thought experiment codified as a goal.

At the time, I was thinking about doubling revenue in each part of the business, products and services (coaching). While it was unclear exactly how I would do that, I understood that doubling product revenue would probably be harder than doubling services revenue. I still don’t have a good answer for how to double product revenue, but I had some ideas on how to grow my coaching offering.

Products

Very quickly, I’ll talk about products. My revenue was up maybe 10% this year, and that’s fine. I didn’t create any new products and only made incremental changes with my sales funnels, so I couldn’t expect much change here.

I’m working on optimizing sales funnels, offering the right products at the right time, and generally trying to earn more revenue from the 100,000 or so visitors that come to FearlessSalaryNegotiation.com each month, but it’s slow going.

Salary negotiation coaching

January 2019 was my best month ever and that is still true. Almost 80% my revenue that month was coaching revenue. But I could sense a plateau lurking and I felt I needed to make a plan to push past that plateau before I got there.

The challenge was that I had worked very, very hard in January making it difficult to see how I could adjust one of the two most obvious levers to repeat or exceed January’s success.

The most obvious adjustments were to either work with more clients or raise my rates, but neither of those was really feasible. I didn’t think I could work with more clients and provide the level of service they deserved. That left raising rates, but that wasn’t really an option either because of some psychological hurdles I had begun to encounter.

My old fee structure

My fee structure at the time was both simple and complicated. Simple because I only charged a fixed fee up front to work with me. Complicated because that fixed fee was determined by “Total Offer Value” (TOV), a number I made up.

TOV was the total of base salary, sign-on bonus, and equity included in the offer. So an offer of $150,000 base salary, a $50,000 sign-on bonus, and $100,000 equity vesting over four years had a TOV of $300,000.

Here’s what the fee structure looked like:

Fee | Total Offer Value
$3k | < $300k
$6k | $300k–$600k
$9k | > $600k

I was able to work with clients in each tier, so it was “working”. But there were occasional objections about the structure like “Why should I pay you more for coaching when I did the work to get the good offer to begin with?”

I had good reasons for doing this, so I was pretty comfortable responding to those objections. Basically, higher-value offers required more work because they would often be paired with multiple offers from other companies and each offer would require more rounds of negotiation with more sophisticated recruiters and comp teams. Higher-value offers would also generate a higher nominal ROI on average, which meant my expertise was more valuable for higher-TOV offers.

There was also occasionally some discomfort around the step-function pricing. If someone had an offer with a TOV of $299k, they would pay $3,000 to work with me. But if their offer had a TOV of $301k, they would pay $6,000 to work with me. This didn’t happen often, but it was awkward when it did happen and I would sometimes make one-off adjustments to alleviate that awkwardness.

Still, it was working! The bigger issue was that I could see that plateau coming. There were two main things that concerned me:

  1. As I approached an up-front fixed fee of $10,000, there was real psychological resistance to paying that much for coaching.
  2. That resistance meant I would struggle to raise my prices beyond the existing fee structure and it meant it was harder to actually find clients in that top tier (which is obviously where I wanted to be).

My business is a weird hybrid of B2C (Business to Consumer) and B2B (Business to Business). My customers are consumers, but they think like businesses.

A major factor in their decision to work with me is “What’s the ROI on this? If I pay Josh for coaching, how much am I going to get back in terms of improved compensation?” That’s how businesses often approach spending decisions.

But when it came to the actual amount of money I charged, they thought more like consumers. “Six thousand dollars is a lot of money. That’s multiple mortgage payments.”

I don’t think this was a real issue before I started approaching the five-figure price point. But even the most business-minded clients would eventually become consumers and say, “I can’t send $10,000 to someone for a service.”

So I couldn’t just “charge more” to generate more revenue and find clients who put a higher value on my work because there was a psychological barrier around that $10,000 price point.

I also had a little bit of a psychological barrier myself: I had coached multiple clients who improved their TOV by more than $1 million, and I had only charged them a few thousand dollars to do it. On one hand, I was making a good living with the current fee structure. On the other hand, selling someone a million-dollar compensation improvement for $6,000 seemed a little … silly. It didn’t feel quite right to charge so little for a relatively enormous result.

My new fee structure

So I totally changed my coaching fee structure in April.

A quick reminder: January 2019 was my best month ever by a wide margin, and almost 80% of that revenue was coaching revenue. So the old fee structure worked really well.

But January 2019 was unusual because I started the month with a glut of clients waiting in the wings due to a weird hiring pause at some of the big tech companies. The last few months of 2018 had been pretty slow because I didn’t actually book new clients—they were all waiting on offers that showed up in January 2019.

Also, I had to work long hours to keep up with all that client work. So I knew if I had another month like that, I would have to work really hard again.

So what to do?

The answer: Switch to a fee structure where the up-front fee is less prohibitive and where I earn more when my clients earn more.

So I did. My new fee structure would be as follows: $3,000 + 10%.

$3,000 up front to work with me (a service fee), plus 10% of the improvement we negotiated in the first year’s total compensation (the result fee).

Still pretty simple, and I earn more when my clients earn more. Remember that client who got a million-dollar compensation improvement? That would’ve netted me a $25,000 result fee because that million-dollar improvement was basically $250,000 a year for four years. Ten percent of $250,000 in Year 1 would’ve been $25,000.

The two issues I felt would lead to a plateau would be significantly mitigated with this model.

Yes, that “I don’t know about writing a five-figure check to Josh” issue still persists, but they wouldn’t write that check unless we negotiated an additional $100,000 in the first year’s total compensation—a much easier check to write since that meant they’d keep $90,000 after writing that check.

Also, the up-front fee fell all the way to $3,000, which meant I would face a lot less resistance at the beginning of the engagement. And if I wanted to raise my rate, I could bump that fee up without tripping over any consumer psychology tied to that magical four-to-five-figure threshold.

Smart people have suggested that I charge a result fee for a couple years, and I resisted because I didn’t want to build my coaching business entirely on contingency pricing. Sometimes my clients don’t see an improvement in their salary—that’s just the nature of negotiating with big tech companies—but it’s not clear that will the be result until it is the result.

I just couldn’t stomach a business model where I might have a very busy month that also generated no revenue.

But since I had proven the pricing model with an up-front, fixed-fee price, I was able to transfer that to my new pricing so that I could charge enough for my expertise to cover my time and ensure I would be able to keep operating even if I had a few clients whose offers didn’t improve.

This makes sense to me because part of the value I bring is in monetary ROI, but for some clients the primary reason they hire me is they just want to be absolutely certain that when they start their new job at a big tech company, their compensation is the maximum possible compensation. I can always provide that reassurance using my proven methodology.

So how’s it going?

I haven’t done detailed numbers for 2019 yet, but there are a few data points that I think clearly indicate this is the right direction.

First, even with limited data, I’m pretty sure my average per-client revenue is higher than it was before even though my current service fee was previously the very bottom of my fixed-fee pricing range. That’s because the result fees I’ve earned have been meaningful.

Second, the clients whose total fees have approached that magical five-figure mark are thrilled to pay it because that means they will earn around $70,000 more in their first year at their new job. The service-plus-result fee structure makes sure that the reason they’re paying me that five-figure number is because they earned so much more.

Third, the revenue is spread out a little bit, which smooths month-to-month bumps and often sets me up for a good month before the month even starts. For example, the result fees I plan to collect in January 2020 (from engagements that finished in December) will make January my third best month ever even if I don’t see another dime of revenue all month. More likely, this January will be my best month ever, possibly by a wide margin, surpassing last January (which was an outlier driven by weird hiring practices at big tech companies late in 2018).

If you’re still reading, I’m impressed! And now we go full circle.

Last year, I set a goal of doubling revenue in 2019, mostly as a thought experiment on “What would my business look like if I doubled revenue?”

While I managed to more than double coaching revenue, product revenue only grew a little bit, so I didn’t hit that high-level goal of doubling revenue in 2019.

But with this new coaching fee structure, and even if product revenue is flat this year, I think I can double 2018’s revenue in 2020 because of this new coaching fee structure.

Mistakes were made (by design)

Before I wrap up, I should tell you about a pretty big misstep I had this year.

As soon as I changed my fee structure to the service-plus-result fee structure, I got pretty busy. Too busy. I had a ton of applications and I was struggling to keep up with demand.

The nice thing about the service-plus-result fee structure is that adjusting to demand (low or high) is easier since I can move the service fee up or down pretty easily.

I decided to run an experiment to see what the price elasticity for salary negotiation coaching looked like: I raised the service fee from $3,000 to $4,000.

I expected demand to fall (price goes up, quantity demanded goes down), but I didn’t know how much. I figured that even if it dropped significantly, I’d be comfortable enough with that $4,000 service fee that it wouldn’t matter.

I was right—demand fell—but I had no idea how much it would fall. As soon as I raised my service fee to $4,000, I entered a 10-week coaching drought where I booked zero new clients. Zero.

This was during a busy season when I still got a lot of applications to work with me (and the application clearly stated the higher price), but none of my prospective clients were actually hiring me.

Oops.

I did the math later and I suspect I probably lost about $20,000 in revenue with this experiment. I never booked a client at the $4,000 service fee price point and I dropped back to $3,000 in the middle of the year.

I’m ok with this result and I understood it was a possibility before I ran the experiment.

To uncover hockey sticks, I have to be willing to take real risks and run real experiments. In the long run, this experiment will make me much more than the $20,000 I spent running it.

How do I know that? Because I realized that I had bumped into another consumer pricing barrier. People who would hire me at $4,000 had different expectations and required a different approach than those who would hire me at $3,000.

I had gotten lazy with my “pitch” and fell into just describing the features of my coaching service. I would tell people “First we’ll do this. Then we’ll do that. Then I’ll get this information from you. Then the recruiter will ask for this, and we’ll tell them that.” It was very tactical.

That wasn’t ever a good pitch, but it was sufficient up to a $3,000 service fee price point. At that price, the people considering my service didn’t need much persuading, so what I said to help them decide whether to hire me didn’t matter very much.

But at a $4,000 price point, the pitch mattered more and my features-focused pitch wasn’t cutting it. I realized that I needed to focus my pitch on the benefits of working with me, not on the features of my service. People don’t care specifically what we’ll do step-by-step; they care about the outcome we’ll achieve together and how they’ll feel about the negotiation process when they work with me.

I will raise my price again in the future, and I think I’ll be able to continue finding new clients. I’ll start with a smaller jump in price (I think a 33% jump was too much), and I’ll be able to describe the service in a way that’s more compelling to people who might work with me. That’s a win. An expensive win, but a win nonetheless.

This is what running a business looks like

I know most of the people who read this have day jobs and might be wondering what it’s like running a business versus having a day job.

This is what it’s like. I run experiments all the time, and I look for experiments that I’m pretty sure will fail, only to see how much they fail so I can learn from them and apply what I learn back to the business to make it stronger.

It’s the anti-fragile approach to entrepreneurship. It’s uncomfortable and I love it.

Stats

Nothing too interesting to report this year other than more steady growth in revenue.

Visits to FearlessSalaryNegotiatin.com: About 1.1M
Unique page views: About 1.7M
Total email subscribers at the end of the year: ~46,000 (up from about ~26,000 to begin the year after a small end-of-year pruning in 2018)
Product sales through the site: ~800
Coaching clients: ~30
Product revenue: Up 10%
Service (coaching) revenue: Up 140%
Total revenue: Up 54%

Conversion rates are more or less the same as last year.

2019 Year in Review – Personal

Before I really dive in here, let me say that everything is great. Even though most of my highlights were difficult, the year itself was fantastic and I had a great time. It’s just that the things that stand out were pretty tough.

Injuries

I had a couple of injuries that set me back this year, so I got really familiar with rehab protocols.

Adductor

For most of 2018, my right adductor was sore and slowly got more sore as the year wore on. At first, I only noticed it during a specific dynamic stretch when I did my weekly track workouts. Then I noticed it was tight at the beginning of most of my runs.

Then I ran a half marathon and my adductor did not like that. I think I actually tweaked it during the penultimate week before the half when I went pretty hard on some shorter runs. The half marathon just pushed it over the edge to the point that it hurt pretty much all the time and it didn’t seem to be getting any better.

At first, I tried just resting for a couple weeks and that didn’t work, so I saw a doctor and a PT who both confirmed it was an adductor strain that would require some rehab.

I decided to take this pretty seriously because adductor injuries are sort of notorious for taking a while to recover and for recurring if you don’t recover fully before pushing it again. A friend of mine has had recurring adductor injuries that lasted years, and even now LeBron James is dealing with an adductor injury that doesn’t seem to be healing. I’m obviously not LeBron, but he has the best trainers in the world and he still can’t fix his adductor, so I knew it was going to be a slog.

It turns out adductor rehab is pretty relentless. For 8–12 weeks, I would spend about an hour a day doing various exercises to strengthen my core and eventually repair the adductor. And of course I couldn’t run at all while this was going on. It was pretty awful, but I just took it one day at a time.

It eventually started to get better, then I did a return-to-running protocol, and eventually I was able to run normally again. Only now, at the end of 2019, do I think I’m back to 100%.

Looking back and talking this over with my PT friends, I’m pretty sure this was an overuse injury exacerbated by a training error (I was running on graded roads, especially leading up to the half marathon, and I think that eventually hurt my adductor).

Shoulders

If that wasn’t enough, I also screwed up my shoulders. This injury was actually at its worst in the middle of 2018, but I tried resting and other half measures that didn’t do much.

The initial diagnosis was that I had biceps tendonopathy in both shoulders, so we started by rehabbing that issue. Early in 2019, that was starting to abate and we were able to see (via palpating, which is a fancy word for poking to see what hurts, and MRI) that the real culprit was likely infraspinatus tendonopathy from overuse, maybe exacerbated by minor impingement.

And so we started another round of rehab that overlapped with my adductor rehab. In addition to the seven days a week of adductor rehab, I added three days a week of shoulder rehab.

I cannot emphasize enough how mind-numbingly boring this was. And what made it even worse was that I was doing the rehab instead of normal running and weight lifting. So I was slowly getting further and further out of shape while spending a lot more time at the gym than I normally did.

Eventually, the rehab worked and I was able to start regular weight lifting again. My shoulder is basically 100%, but it occasionally reminds me that I overdid it last year.

As I finish out 2019, I’m back to normal running and weight lifting activity and I feel great. I’m also focusing on nutrition to make sure I get the most out of my workouts, and I’m paying closer attention to potential overuse injuries so I can catch them before they sideline me next time.

Eye surgery

This is not something I’m comfortable talking about, but it’s a big part of my year and kind of a big deal for me, so I’m going to power through it even if the writing will probably be stilted.

I’ll eventually write a longer post on this, but it’s worth capturing a snapshot for posterity here as well.

This year, I had eye surgery. Not that kind of eye surgery—you’re probably thinking LASIK or PRK—but surgery on my eye muscles. The technical term—mostly for Google—is bilateral strabismus surgery, which means an ophthalmologist moved the attachment points of the medial rectus muscles of both eyes so that they aligned better.

For the first time since I was a kid, my eyes work together. If you know me, you probably noticed this right away when you met me: I had a lazy eye. (Technically, I had “wall eye” since I had full vision in both eyes; lazy eye implies loss of vision in the affected eye). Since I’m left-eye dominant, that meant my right eye would drift.

This is not a great way to make a first impression on people. Fortunately, most people were kind about it and pretended not to notice. Meanwhile, any time I had face-to-face interactions (and I’m including “looking at a camera” with that), anywhere from maybe half to 80% of my mental energy went into trying to mitigate the lazy eye and keep it aligned with my dominant eye.

If there was anything worse than someone noticing my lazy eye, it was having a close-up action shot of the lazy eye show up on someone’s Facebook or Instagram feed. Most of the time, I could control my lazy eye long enough to snap a photo. Video was a totally different beast and I avoided it as much as possible. This BBC interview was cool because it was on international TV, but it was also a mental marathon. For three minutes, all I thought was, “Keep your eye focused on the camera. Keep your eye focused on the camera. Keep your eye focused on the camera.” The answers I gave were all more or less reused from my previous interviews or articles I had written, and it had to be that way because if I lost concentration for even a second, the eye would’ve drifted.

The best analogy I can think of is to imagine that any time you talk to someone face-to-face, you also have to balance a kickball on your head. If the kickball falls, the other person looks at you a little weird and quietly wonders what’s wrong with you. Most of your brain power would be focused on the kickball, and the leftover brain power would be used for that conversation.

That describes pretty much every social interaction I have had for my entire life. I could sort of control it, but it took almost all of my mental energy and lots of little coping mechanisms I developed over time.

Now I’m unlearning all of those coping mechanisms since I don’t need them anymore. I’m less worried about making a bad first impression and I’m slowly becoming more comfortable with cameras.

And while I feel quite a bit different, other people perceive me much differently. It was remarkable how many people had never said anything about my lazy eye, then suddenly I would talk to them and they would say, “Wow! It’s like talking to a different person.”

It’s too bad I can’t redo all those bad first impressions, but at least I won’t make any more.

Travel

I only took a couple trips this year, but they were a ton of fun.

In Breck for the Breckpocalypse

I had another amazing ski trip in Breckenridge and skied my first black (without falling!) to finish up the trip. Although I had an amazing time, I limited my skiing because my adductor was still in pretty bad shape.

In hindsight, skiing at all was probably a bad idea since I was only about four weeks into 12 weeks of rehab when I went on this trip. I was fortunate not to reinjure myself and I’m glad I took it easy.

It was still really fun to get back to Breck, and I’m glad I finally conquered a very easy black. I’m hoping to make some big leaps forward on the next trip in February.

Me in my 80s Day onesie

My first trip to New York with a quick stop in Jersey

In June, a friend of mine was coaching in a professional flag football tournament so another friend and I went to New York to see the sights and root for some flag football.

We only got about two days in NYC, but we covered a lot of ground in that time. Not only did we see most of the popular sights, but we ate a lot of great food (and that’s really what I’m after when I travel).

It’s hard to pick standout moments, but Central Park is fantastic, and the 9/11 Memorial was really moving.

Central Park - NYC

Running

Thanks to my adductor injury, I don’t really have anything to report this year. I’ve been mostly doing medium-distance runs of three to five miles a few times a week, and my pacing has been pretty strong. I tried a couple of track workouts later in the year and they went well, so I’m looking forward to doing more track workouts in the new year.

Best possible outcome

I won’t go into detail because this stuff doesn’t have to do with me directly. But this year could’ve been very, very bad in terms of pain and loss for my family. Several family members had significant surgeries and health scares, and all of them emerged on the other side happier and healthier than they were before.

In the early 2010s, I went through a similar stretch where pretty much everything went as badly as it could have. I lost a close friend and several family members during that time, and it was really painful. I’m so thankful that 2019 was the opposite and that my family didn’t have to experience that sort of pain and loss again.

2020 Goals

I’ve been putting this write-up off for the past month or so because I don’t really have new big-time goals for this year. I’m basically still going after the same goals from last year.

Increase revenue by 50% again

Last year, I set a stretch goal of doubling my revenue, and I “only” got to 50%. If I do another 50% this year, I’ll have more than doubled revenue over a two-year span. That would be pretty fantastic.

If I can increase both product revenue and coaching revenue by 50% each, I think that would be a great, balanced way to hit this goal. I suspect the improvement will be more skewed toward coaching, but I am focused on growing product revenue this year, so I’ll just have to see if I can get traction there or not.

Sub-7:00 pace 5k

Since I basically lost this year to my adductor injury, I’m refocusing on this goal and I hope to hit it this year.

Sub-60-second 400m

And while I’m training for faster speeds at shorter distances, I might as well take another crack at this goal. I’m still not sure it’s even possible for me, but I got so close in 2018 that I feel like I need to give it another honest effort.

One of my track workouts before the holidays was a 400m repeat workout and I got all my reps in the mid-80s range. That is better than I thought I’d be after a year off, so there is some hope that I can get this done. We’ll see.

Travel more

I’m carrying this one over from last year. I did ok with 2019, but I’d like to get some more trips in, especially since I have a ton of reward points on a couple of credit cards and it’s a shame for them to go to waste.

Be more generous

Business is good and my personal life is simple. There’s room for me to be more generous in many ways, and I want to be more intentionally generous this year. There are lots of ways to do this, and I don’t have any one way in mind. But “be more generous” seems like a good high-level goal to think about as each day passes.

Surviving Breckpocalypse 2019 (another awesome ski trip in the books)

Our group in 80s gear

I’m back from our annual ski trip and I had a blast. This year was an interesting mix of firsts and caution, and I made a ton of progress. (Last year was great too, read about it here.)

80s day was a hit

This year, we added an 80s day, which got us a ton of attention and made our first day on the slopes a lot of fun. There were two types of outfits:

  1. Authentic retro 80s attire. Maybe half the group went this route, wearing headbands, sweaters, jackets, and pants that were either actually from the 80s or could’ve been.
  2. Caricature 80s attire. And about half the group wore stuff that I describe as “What people today think people wore in the 80s.” I was in the camp, wearing a super loud 80s onesie.

Me in my 80s Day onesie

We picked the perfect day to do this since it was relatively warm, the sun was out, and the sky was blue all day. The groups pics we got at the top of Peak 8 made the whole thing worthwhile (the rest of the day was gravy).

Our group in 80s gear

Our group playing our air instruments

Slow and steady progress as a skier

This was basically my second time skiing. Technically, I skied a few times in high school, but I don’t count those because we were on east coast ice, and no one ever actually showed me how to ski. So I was terrible and I hated it.

Last year was the first time I skied on anything resembling powder and I also took lessons, so I immediately felt better about it and made progress quickly.

This year was interesting because I was the worst skier in our group, so I was the one holding things up most of the week. But I wanted to take my time and work on some things to make sure I was actually improving as a skier and not just ramping up the difficulty.

First day on the slopes

Our first day on the slopes, I felt pretty uncomfortable on my skis. Skiing is not like riding a bike—and I felt like it was my first time out. But after a few runs, things started coming back and I felt a bit better.

By the end of our first day, I felt like I was pretty much back to where I left off last year. I could comfortably cruise down most of the blues, occasionally feeling like I wasn’t quite in control. This was a super long day because we went out early-ish and came home late-ish. We did a bunch of runs and those runs were challenging for me since my form was so rusty. I was totally spent at the end of the day.

Second day on the slopes

I decided to take our second day and just focus on technique—specifically turning and maintaining my speed while staying in control. My friends would frequently say, “Wow, you really flew down that one! You’re getting a lot better!” And I would say, “Well, that’s because I only have two speeds—Stop and Go. Once I’m in Go-mode, I’m just trying to stay upright until I can slow down.”

I wanted to feel in control most of the time instead of feeling like I was just trying to stay upright and avoid wipeouts. So I stuck to blues and slowly improved.

Although I didn’t move up to more difficult runs as quickly as I did last year, I made a lot more progress in my first couple of days on this trip. By the end of the second day, I actually felt more like I had control, I could slow down when I wanted to, and I was able to choose my lines rather than just taking wide S turns and hoping for the best.

My turns got much tighter and I was intentionally hitting spots that seemed easier to navigate. I actually went in about an hour ahead of most of my peers because I was still beat from the first day, and I felt I had accomplished what I wanted for the second day.

Third day on the slopes

I asked a couple of friends where I could find the easiest black run at Breck. The answer came back: “Dukes.” It was a relatively short run that used to be a blue, but they turned it black so intermediate skiers wouldn’t get spooked. So it was technically a black, but only just.

My goal for the entire day was to get more comfortable and eventually do at least one black run, so I pretty much mapped out the day to slowly move toward that goal.

Powder, powder everywhere

Even before I started going on this trip last year, there was much lamenting that fresh snow never arrived. It was almost like this specific trip had some sort of jinx on it so that it was always warm and sunny with no new snow during the trip.

That all changed this year, and we made up for lost time. In our last two days at Breck, I think there was over a foot of snow and it just kept coming.

So I swapped out my regular skis for “powder” skis to start the third day. At first, this was kind of frustrating because I had to re-learn a lot of what I had worked on the previous day. Turning was harder, stopping was harder, maintaining control was harder. Everything was harder.

But once I got used to the new skis, they were much better and easier to control.

A solo run for my first black

After several good blue runs, it was time to make my way to Dukes, the easy black my friends recommended. I actually scoped it out during my first run of the day since it starts from a common catwalk that we use to move between peaks.

I was going to run it with a friend, but he ended up stopping early, so I was on my own. But before we parted ways, I asked if he had any suggestions—he had three:

  1. Stay to the right, away from the moguls.
  2. Wait for a big opening so I could do “my run” without traffic around me.
  3. If I felt like I needed to slow down to regain control, turn slightly back up the mountain to regroup.

And off I went.

The lift dropped me about 100 yards from the top of Dukes, so there wasn’t too much time to think about it once I was off the lift. I initially planned to get to the top of the run and give myself a minute or two to gather my courage, but it turned out I didn’t need that kind of time.

I got to the top of Dukes, looked at it and thought, “Meh, that doesn’t seem so bad. Let’s go.” And I was off. Overall, it was a pretty good run and I used all three of my friend’s tips.

I actually made it down the steepest part without any issues, but I relaxed too early because I didn’t realize there was a second steep part that was also icy and bumpy. All of a sudden, I realized, “Uh oh, I’m going too fast and this is all bumpy ice. Need to slow down… or need to at least try to maintain control until I can slow down.”

I didn’t quite succeed, but I didn’t quite fail either. I basically ended up spinning out so that I didn’t technically “fall”, but came as close as I could’ve. After a few very ungraceful flailing spins, I found myself stopped, skis splayed, hands on the ground in front of me, holding me up. I regained my composure and it was easy from there on out.

I remember getting to the bottom and thinking, “Huh. That wasn’t so bad.” I almost talked myself into doing it one more time, but I thought better of it and made my way back to our house.

Right after my black run on Dukes

Fourth day on the slopes – or not

I finished my third day on a real high. I finally felt comfortable on my skis, I felt more in control than I had at any other time this year or last, and I did my first black.

But I also felt like I had been pretty lucky so far. I had been really tired a few times during the week, but had managed to get good runs in despite the fatigue. I also had a strained right adductor to watch out for.

Before I went skiing, my doctor said, “Sure, you can ski. But don’t do anything crazy and stay off the tougher blacks.” Remember the spinout I mentioned on Dukes? It was exactly the kind of awkward motion that could’ve reinsured the adductor. I’d been rehabbing that stupid thing for 5 weeks, and hadn’t run in almost 10 weeks because of it, and I wasn’t looking to re-injure it if I didn’t have to.

So I had a really tough time deciding whether to go back out for our fourth ski day, or if I should just take it easy.

I ultimately decided to take an actual vacation day and just hang around the house, and there were a few factors at play there:

  • I felt like I had been pretty lucky that I didn’t re-injure my adductor despite some close calls.
  • I accomplished my primary goal for the trip—do a black run.
  • The conditions were very powdery, but I wasn’t good enough to really take advantage of that. And powdery also meant cold, snowy, low-visibility.
  • It was the Saturday beginning Spring Break, and I knew the lift lines would be long (so I’d be waiting around a lot, and wouldn’t do much skiing for the time I would be out there).
  • I hadn’t taken a real vacation day—a full day off to just relax—in…I can’t remember the last time I did that, but it was years ago.

It was basically a coin flip that came down to, “I’ve checked all the boxes for this trip and I didn’t re-injure my adductor. I finished on a high and I am anxious to get better and ski more when I’m healthy. Maybe I should just quit while I’m ahead.”

I decided to just take the day off. If my adductor had been healthy, I would’ve gone out. But I knew that if I went out, I would want to try tougher blacks, and that would make re-injury more likely.

Even in hindsight, I’m not quite sure if this was the right thing to do.

A great trip with friends

The coolest part of the ski trip is that each day essentially has two major events: Skiing and hanging out.

Skiing is typically over around 4:00 at the latest, and that means we have another eight hours before we go to sleep. We typically try to squeeze in all four of these things after skiing:

  1. Hot tub time
  2. Dinner
  3. Crepes a la Carte—an amazing crepe place in Breck
  4. Games (usually Body, Body, Body, but not always)

We checked all those boxes a couple times and hit three of four every night (I think).

We had some amazing food—The Canteen, Michael’s, Giampietro, Empire Burger (the sides and sauces are amazing)—but I didn’t document any of it because I was too busy eating it.

And I was finally mafia in Body, Body, Body and got the win. So now I’m one-for-one as mafia, but still only like one-for-fifteen being mafia. The law of averages will eventually catch up and I’ll go on a mafia spree (or maybe I’ll just cheat—ahem, GP—and make it happen on my own)

Surviving the Breckpocalypse

About half way through our trip, it began to snow. And snow and snow and snow and snow. There was a lot of snow.

This made my final ski day a lot of fun, and I’m sure it made Dukes (at least the top part) much easier. My friends said it was the best snow day they had ever seen, and some of them even extended their trip to get more time in the powder.

Here’s a short video of the view off of the balcony…

Short video of our balcony view

Of course, the snow giveth and the snow taketh away… the ability to travel. We had a few rental cars with varying numbers of passengers, and some of the cars had trouble either explicitly getting through the snow, or in driving from Breck back to Denver. My car was pretty lucky because we left early. It took us almost three hours to get to Denver (normally two hours), and we had to stop to manually de-gunk the windshield a couple times, but we made it. There was also an avalanche about 20 miles west of us on I-70, so I’m obviously glad we missed that.

Some other folks either missed their flights after a long (five hours!) drive to Denver, or simply got stuck in the snow in Breck and had to wait it out (this may or may not have been related to an ill-advised decision to rent a 2WD truck despite a steep driveway and a snow-heavy forecast).

When we finally go to Denver, it was 3 degrees outside—the lowest March temperature in like 140 years. Apparently it got as low as -6, so we got there when it was nice and toasty outside.

All in all, this was another amazing ski trip and I can’t wait to get back out there and hit some real blacks next year.

Keeping small pains from becoming big problems

I usually run three days a week, like clockwork. Monday is a track workout, Thursday is a short run, Saturday is a longer run. It usually adds up to about 10 miles a week unless I’m training for something (like a 10k race or a 15k with the flu).

Here we are on January 16, and I haven’t run at all this year. Last time I ran was December 29, 2018, about six weeks after I finished my first Half Marathon.

It’s really frustrating, but it’s also necessary.

I have been battling a couple of overuse injuries for a few months, just sort of hoping they would work themselves out if I kept training with good form. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. This time it didn’t work and it made things worse.

I noticed I was struggling to keep up a good pace, and that maintaining good form was more and more challenging as I tried to compensate for various aches and pains.

I should’ve stopped running right after the Half Marathon, but I was too stubborn.

Now it’s time to pay the piper. What would’ve been a week or two of rehab has probably ballooned into a month, all thanks to my stubbornness.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how there’s a fine line between “Just tough it out!” and “Why didn’t you stop before you hurt yourself?!” It’s really hard to see that line in real time, and it seems like the only way to really know where the line is is to look backwards and find it.

But I also think that identifying that line is a skill that can be honed over time.

The best way I know to hone that skill is to constantly monitor pain points: Is it better or worse than last time? How hard is it to aggravate it? Can I work around it? What’s the upside to continuing? What’s the downside if this turns into something bigger?

I’ve been doing this with my business lately and it has helped me identify some small pains that I can resolve before they become big problems. That makes things easier for me and better for my customers.

You can use this sort of analysis with your career. Small pains often become big problems if left untreated, so it’s worth identifying those small pains and thinking about solutions before they become big pains.

It’s the beginning of a new year, so this seems like as good a time as any to start planning ahead to make 2019 more productive by finding and fixing small pains before they become big problems.

Take a few minutes and ask yourself, “What are some small career pains that could become a big problem if I don’t handle them now?” You might find some easy wins with a big payoff for very little effort.

My 2018 Year In Review: Finally making a good living

It’s been three years since I quit my day job to build the Fearless Salary Negotiation business. It’s finally paying off.

I didn’t think this year would go so well for my business, especially considering that I was almost out of runway only 18 months ago. But my 2018 income is very close to what it was when I quit my day job in 2015, and now I have the freedom, flexibility, and personal satisfaction that comes with making a living from something I built from scratch.

The decision to double down on salary negotiation coaching in 2017 continues to pay dividends as I work with more clients and raise my rates to capture more of the value I create with my work.

That’s the business side of things.

Personally, things are great. I’m fortunate to have a very close group of friends. I’ve gotten better at running, and I’m pretty good at making omelettes. Of course there are things I would like to work on for 2019, but 2018 was amazing!

Here’s a Table of Contents so you can jump to wherever you want…

2018 Goal Review

So how did I do this year? Let’s take a look at my 2018 Goals.

Make a good living

The goal was I want to make $10,000 per month in net revenue in 2018. More specifically, I would like to do that by selling $5k in products and booking $5k in coaching per month for the year.

I missed this goal, but not by very much. And each $5k sub-goal is pretty close to what I actually did.

The difference between hitting and missing this goal comes down to a consulting retainer that ended in September after about a year. If that kept going, I would’ve made it.

I also could’ve made it if October wasn’t so horrible revenue-wise.

To be honest, this is bonkers to me. I didn’t actually think I might hit this goal—I just wanted to make sure I set an ambitious-but-achievable goal to maximize my earning potential in 2018.

I did hit a secondary goal, which was to double revenue year-over-year from 2017 to 2018. I did that from 2016 to 2017, and it seems like “do twice what I did last year” is a reasonable goal that can be achieved through good planning, execution, and moderate growth.

More traffic

The goal was I would like to build my organic search traffic to 100,000 unique visitors a month.

This one is interesting. I did hit this goal, but then traffic fell off and settled in around 80,000 visitors a month.

2018 Organic Traffic

The good news is that with more traffic came more revenue, so there was a direct benefit to this goal.

Improve at Sales

Here’s that goal: My goal is that 2% of email subscribers become paying customers within the first 30 days.

This was a huge miss. HUGE miss.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is I did build one funnel—the one that gets the most traffic—that pretty consistently converts 1% of subscribers to customers for a $47 product.

So there’s a lot to build on there.

Help other businesses get more search traffic and email opt-ins

Ehhh, I did some of this but not very much. I worked with a few clients to tweak their SEO, and I worked with some clients on their content strategy. But I just didn’t feel motivated to push this part of the business.

I think there are still things to focus on in my core business and I didn’t want to get too distracted.

Running goals

  • 10k – Sub-8:00 pace Hit it with a week to go in 2017
  • 5k – Sub-7:00 pace (currently 7:14)
  • Mile – Sub-6:00 pace (currently 6:08) Ran a 5:54 mile in August
  • 400m – Sub-60s pace (currently ~64s~ 62.75s)

I’ll write about this later, but I also ran a PR for 15k and finished my first Half Marathon.

A detailed 2018 Year In Review – Business

At the beginning of this year, I felt like the trajectory was in the right direction, but I still had some concerns. I started the year in a bit of a cash crunch as I was still digging out from the financial hole I dug to get through 2017.

To free up cash for 2017 taxes, I had parked some expenses on a 0% credit card. It looked like I would be able to pay it off before the interest rate jumped in August, but it would be close. I also decided all 2018 taxes would be taken off the top and held in a dedicated account so I wouldn’t have to scramble to pay taxes this year.

Saving ahead for 2018 taxes plus paying down that 0% card meant 2018 could be sort of a financial grind. I knew that was likely when I made those decisions in 2017, and now it was time to pay the piper.

January was mediocre, but then things took off: February was my best month ever, and March, April, and May were all consecutively better.

By June, I was out of the woods and starting to replenish my savings. It was almost exactly one year from “Uh oh, I might have to get a day job.” to “This seems to be working and I have some room to breathe again.”

With the exception of a horrible October, the second half of the year was great (but not quite as strong as Q2). I may be doing enough business that I’m able to spot some seasonality, but I’ll have to wait and see.

For now, things are good with the business and I finally feel like I can relax a little and enjoy what I’ve worked to build over the past few years.

Salary negotiation coaching

In June of 2017, I repositioned myself as a salary negotiation coach for experienced software developers. Before that, I was basically positioned as an author who also did some coaching.

That shift in focus is what saved my business.

I kept pulling on that thread in 2018 and it continues to pay off in a few ways.

First, I’ve gotten more and more reps negotiating job offers with big tech firms, so I know their playbooks. This has made me more confident and gives me the tools to pitch my coaching offering more effectively.

Second, I’ve been able to raise my prices so I earn more for my work by reaching a more experienced market where my work has more value. Basically, I’ve enabled more and more experienced software developers and senior managers to find me when they have job offers, and their job offers are usually very substantial, which means their improvements are often substantial.

The combination of those two things is what has really enabled my coaching business to take off.

I also really like what I do. It’s fun to help people who’ve worked so hard to build a valuable skill set actually capture more of the value of the skill set they’ve built.

Product sales

Selling digital products is at once a boon to my business and an enigma. Traffic and sales were up this year, but I continue to suspect that I’m selling far less than I should given my traffic levels, and the quality and value of my products.

This has to be a focus for me in 2019. With over a million visitors to my site in 2018, I should be selling a lot of products.

Email list growth

I hit some pretty big milestones this year. I was this close to hitting 35,000 email subscribers before I pruned almost 10,000 subscribers. Since I started building my list in January 2015, I’ve had more than 60,000 people join my list. About 20,000 of those unsubscribed over time, and I pruned another 12,000 or so.

The churn is normal. The pruning is sort of controversial among my peers. But the bottom line is I had a ton of people on my list who were not opening or interacting with any of my emails, and I don’t think it’s good for anyone if I keep emailing those folks.

So I’ll end 2018 just shy of 30,000 active email subscribers. That’s crazy to me. I had 600 subscribers after my first full year doing this. Now I get more than that in a typical business week.

Now I just need to get better at aligning my product offerings to my email subscribers’ needs.

Consulting retainer

I also had a fun opportunity to consult with a very successful business. It was an unusual arrangement without any real parameters: Just come hang out, observe what we’re doing, and make suggestions to help us improve.

It worked really well for a while and it was a ton of fun, but the business itself eventually became so active that I found myself lost in the shuffle. I would love to do more of this sort of thing, and it’s good to have this experience so I can help define the desired outcomes—for myself and for the business—of this sort of engagement better in the future.

Essential Salary Negotiation Email Pack

Last year, I made a small product called The 15-Minute Counter Offer. I was trying to learn more about how I could help folks finding FearlessSalaryNegotiation.com when they needed help negotiating a job offer.

What I found was that most of those people were in a real hurry—they had just a few hours from the time they found myself site until they had negotiated their offer.

So I built The Essential Salary Negotiation Email Pack to help with their specific needs in a very short timeframe. That product, plus The Salary Negotiation Crash Course—a more in-depth-but-still-streamlined, end-to-end job offer negotiation course, offered as an upsell to the email pack—made almost $12,000 in 2018 and I didn’t start selling it until April.

This is by far my most successful new product and I hope to create a similarly successful offering for folks who aren’t sure how to ask for a raise in 2019.

Overall stats

Here are some high-level stats for 2018 (all as of December 26):

Traffic

There were 1.023 million New Users on FearlessSalaryNegotiation.com, and 90% of those were from organic search traffic.

My email list

Here’s an updated list of end-of-year email subscribers:

December 2015: ~700
December 2016: ~2,500
December 2017: ~11,500
December 2018: ~28,500

In 2018, I had 24,300 new email subscribers, but since I pruned about 12,000 recently, active email subscribers is “only” 28,500.

Here’s a graph of my email list growth in 2018:

2018 Email List Growth

No hockey stick this year—just consistent growth.

Conversion rates

They’re basically the same as they were last year—about .4% of email subscribers purchase something from me in the first 30 days. The consistency is a little deceptive as I did significantly increase conversions for one funnel, and I also significantly increased opt-ins for all other funnels.

Last year, I said, “If I hit [5% opt-ins and 2% conversions] by the end of 2018, I should be able to hit my revenue goals.”

On one hand, it’s really frustrating to see such a huge miss. On the other hand, I almost hit my revenue goals anyway, so if I actually find a way to get those sorts of conversion rates I’ll be doing very well.

A detailed 2018 Year In Review – Personal

Two things stand out when I think back on this year: traveling and running.

Travel

2012 was the beginning of a years-long plan to build a business and stop working for other people. That’s vague, but it’s about as specific a plan as I had in mind.

I started by getting a good-paying day job to leverage my prior career experience and newly-acquired MBA. I used that income to start paying down debt as aggressively as I could, and I began slowly acquiring the basic skills I would need to (eventually) build a successful business.

For the next few years, I was either paying down debt or saving up a runway while basically working seven days a week on my day job and side projects.

In 2015, debt free and comfortable with my runway, I quit my day job to focus full-time on building a business. For a little over two years, I worked really, really hard seven days a week. I think that sort of work was necessary to build the basic infrastructure of my business, but it was also very taxing.

In 2017, I decided the seven-days-a-week schedule needed to end, so I sort of re-entered normal society and focused on community. Either the foundation I had built would facilitate a real business or it wouldn’t—it was time to find out.

So I stopped working so much, but I still wasn’t earning enough to take non-business trips or anything like that. I had to pass on a number of super fun trips to avoid burning too much of my savings.

That changed in 2018 as my business actually started to take off.

Ski trip

I went skiing for the first time since high school and I loved it. My friends go on a ski trip every year, and I was always a little jealous I couldn’t make it. But I also remembered absolutely hating skiing, so it didn’t sting too badly to miss that part.

I figured I would give it a shot this year, mostly so I could say, “See! I went skiing and it’s still awful!” But it turns out I really liked it, and that getting ski lessons is actually very useful. Who knew?

I had a blast and I can’t wait to get back out there in 2019.

Our group at Vail

Boston

I also went to Boston with a couple college buddies in June. It was amazing. I hadn’t taken a trip like that in a very long time, and it was everything I hoped for.

Classic Allen face

I have a lot of “Allen makes this face at a sporting event” photos

Running stuff

At the end of 2017, I asked “Am I a runner now?” In hindsight, that question was pretty naive. The answer is vey clearly no.

Runners run a lot more than I do. But I am a hobbyist and I made progress on my hobby this year.

My first 15k

In January, I ran my first 15k and it did not go well. Turns out that running a 15k with the flu just isn’t a great idea. But I finished and my time wasn’t terrible (for a guy with the flu).

My first 15k

Sub-6:00 mile

One of my original running goals was to run a sub-6:00 mile. It took me a few tries and about 18 months, but I smashed that goal with a 5:54 in August.

My six-minute mile time with 400m splits

This may have been my most satisfying PR yet because it as almost exclusively mental. I had to try and fail a few times to understand exactly how to run a fast mile, but once I understood it I was able to knock it out.

15k PR on a training run

I was prepping for a Half Marathon and I ran an 8:00-flat pace 15k. This wasn’t even on my list of goals, but it felt pretty good. When I started running at the beginning of 2017, I set a goal of running this pace for 10k. So it’s cool to run that time for a longer distance.

15k training run - 8:00 pace

My first Half Marathon

I was planning to run a Half Marathon earlier in the year, but the aforementioned flu ruined my training and I bailed. Plus, the Half I was going to run would be during the winter and the weather was going to be awful.

A wise friend told me, “Do you really want your first Half Marathon to be a miserable experience? Why not just wait for a better one?” So I did.

I ended up running a Half in sunny, 60º weather and it was a pretty good experience. The one hitch was that the course was only 12.1 miles, so I literally had to go the extra mile to finish.

At least we got cupcakes at the end.

My first Half Marathon (with cupcakes!)

I ended up with a pretty good pace of 8:24. I was very happy with my race strategy as I felt I did the best I could, and I’m certain I could go quite a bit faster with better training.

That said, I doubt I’ll run too many more Halfs. I’m glad I did it, but it really took a toll for like two weeks after the race.

2019 Goals

I’m going to keep things pretty simple this year.

Double revenue again

I have no idea if this is possible or how I will do it, but I don’t think it’s a crazy goal.

Can I double product revenue? I think I can, although I don’t quite know how. I have the traffic and products to do it. There are also a lot of sub-goals that I won’t write about here, but which I think will help with this high-level goal.

Can I double coaching revenue? Yes, by more consistently booking clients and continuing to raise my rates.

This year, I earned pretty much what I earned in my last year of full-time employment. That feels amazing. But I didn’t quit my day job to make the same money I made before. I quit my day job to earn multiples of what I was earning before (among other things). So I want to continue pursuing that as long as it doesn’t require me to return to being a hermit.

Sub-7:00-pace 5k

I’ve been chasing this one for a while, and I probably should’ve tried to knock this out when I ran the sub-6:00 mile earlier this year. Unfortunately, I was battling some injuries and decided to slow down before I really hurt myself. I would like to check this one off the list.

Sub-60-second 400m

I’m honestly not sure if I can do this or not. For one thing, I’ve got nagging injuries that basically prevent me from sprinting. But if I can get healthy, I think I’ve learned enough about proper running that I can do this.

This wasn’t one of my original running goals (I wasn’t sure I’d ever break 70s), but I think it’s still an achievable stretch goal. Or maybe it’s not. I dunno.

More trips

I travel to relax, and I’d like to do that more this year.

I’d like to take another trip with the Boston crew this summer. That trip was a lot of fun and I think the three of us are pretty much an ideal traveling group.

A trip to Europe would also be great—I miss Italy—but I don’t have anything specific in mind yet.

Going the extra mile in my first Half Marathon

I got peer-pressured into running a Half Marathon a couple weeks ago.

Also I was promised free cupcakes at the end of the race and I have a very, very hard time saying no to cupcakes.

So I did some light training, re-aggravated some nagging injuries, and ran my first Half ever.

How’d it go?

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with my performance. I ran an 8:24 mile pace and finished in a decent time and I finished 9th overall out of 99.

Half Marathon Split Times

But I also ran out of gas on the back half and I couldn’t find enough energy to push for the end of the race. My mile splits just sort of kept slipping and slipping until I finally finished.

Part of this was my training—I didn’t run more than 9.3 miles before the Half—and part of it was probably nutritional (I should’ve had some gel packs or something).

Overall, it’s a good result and I’m happy I finished.

Nagging injuries

Unfortunately, I went a little too hard in my training two weeks out from the race. I didn’t mean to, but I felt so good on my longer training runs that I just sort of kept going.

I started on Saturday with a 15k (9.3 miles) and smashed my previous PR with an 8:00 even pace. Then I did an easy-ish track workout on Monday, but also threw in a fast 800m (a PR of 2:44). Then on Thursday I ran a fast 5k (7:26 pace).

I felt really good after all those runs.

Then on Saturday, eight days out from the race, I ran a medium-pace 10k (7:54) and that’s when things started hurting. I’ve had a nagging groin injury for a while, and it lit up during this run. Then my knee on that side also started hurting, probably because I was changing my gate to compensate for the other pain. My calf on the opposite started aching too—also probably compensatory.

So I went from feeling amazing to having a few dings that would still be sore on race day.

Fortunately, I was able to get in for a sports massage session, and that calmed things down enough to finish the race.

Still, it’s been 10 days since the race and my calf and groin still aren’t quite right. I just have to take it easy for a while so things will heal.

And this also confirms for me that I don’t think running a full marathon is even remotely a good idea for me.

Pacing myself

Since I hadn’t run this far before, I started off by taking it easy. I held back on my first mile and it still only took 8:15. I was hoping to end up at 8:15 for the entire race, and I felt great at this pace—I thought I might actually hit it!

Once we settled in, I was able to start keying off my cadence and how I felt in general. I felt great for the first several miles, but I also knew I wouldn’t feel too great for the last few miles. So I picked it up a little bit and passed a few people, but still held back.

The middle of the race was pretty hilly and painful, and I was happy I hadn’t pushed too hard earlier.

Once I got near Mile 10, I thought I might try to push and pick up the pace. I did push, but my pace started slowing as I just ran out of gas. I’m fine with that—I expected to get tired on those final four miles since I’d never run that far before.

My biggest problem was muscle fatigue—my muscles (especially my calves) just were not used to running that far. My cardio felt really good the whole time—I was never even remotely out of breath, had no side stitches, nothing that indicated I need better cardio.

But to go faster, I’ll need to increase my cadence from an average of 171 SPM to at least 175 SPM. To do that, I need better muscle endurance and more late-race energy.

I feel like my plan and strategy were very good. I’m not sure I would do anything differently if I could run this race again.

How I’ll improve for next time

This is actually pretty simple:

  1. Train better. I think I’d be much better off running a few 11–12 mile training runs in the weeks before the race. I think that’s the only way to get my muscles used to doing that much work. It will also give me a chance to slowly push my cadence higher and get used to running faster.
  2. Mid-race energy. I drank a few ounces of Gatorade at the mid-way turnaround, but that was it. I should’ve had gel packs or something for a late-race boost. I don’t know much about this, so it’s something to look into before my next race.

I’m very happy that my cardio was strong for the race, and not surprised that my calves got tired. I can fix that.

Going the extra mile

But the most interesting thing is that I got a rare chance to literally experience a figure of speech: I went the extra mile.

It’s not quite as crazy as it sounds, but it still felt pretty crazy at the time.

This particular race was totally disorganized. It was so disorganized that the actual race distances weren’t right. Not even close, actually.

About 10 minutes in, I realized the course couldn’t possibly be 13.11 miles. It was an out-and-back race, and I could see that the shorter distances (5k and 10k) weren’t right because I got to their turnaround points before I should have.

So I started prepping myself: “Josh, you’re going to be tired when this is over. But you’re also going to need to keep going past the finish to get the full distance. That’s not gonna be fun, but you didn’t come out here to run ALMOST a Half Marathon, so you’re gonna keep going until you hit 13.11 miles.”

Sure enough, I crossed the finish and my Watch said I had only run 12.1 miles. So I ran past the guy handing out finisher medals, grabbed my medal, and just kept going for one more slow, painful mile.

But when I finally stopped, I had completed an actual Half Marathon and I’m glad I did that even if it probably looked a little strange to everyone else at the finish line.

Of course, I’m still a little dinged up—my calf and hamstring are both strained—but I finished a Half Marathon and I got to experience a real-life figure of speech to boot.

Next time I hear someone say something like, “We need to go the extra mile here.”, I’ll know what that’s actually like.

Would I have tricked you with this Halloween costume?

As you can see, my friends and I go all out on Halloween—we do not mess around:

Wonder Woman Halloween Ensemble - 2017

That’s our ensemble costume from last year. I played Charlie, the military-looking guy on the right side (Wonder Woman’s left side). Friends and strangers alike have commented on how much I looked like Charlie, right down to his posture and facial expression.

That’s pretty cool!

But my appearance as Charlie was built on a dirty little secret…

I hadn’t even seen Wonder Woman and I had no idea who Charlie was before I put on the costume.

WAT?!

I did just enough to pull it off. Here’s what I did once we finished my makeup:

  • Watched a one-minute Wonder Woman clip featuring Charlie
  • Studied pictures of him on Google
  • Asked friends to describe Charlie to me

I didn’t need to be Charlie for Halloween, I needed to look like Charlie for Halloween, and I only had to keep it up for a couple hours.

In a weird way, I’ve built an entire business on this concept. My customers don’t need to be negotiation experts—that’s my job!—they just need to know enough to negotiate a job offer or two and then they can go back to their normal lives.

They can do this through self study or even hire me to coach them through it.

Maybe it’s time to update my coaching page to say “I’ll show you how play the role of ‘Expert Salary Negotiator’ next time you get a job offer”.

The many ways we say yes and no

I’ve been thinking a lot about how imprecise “yes” and “no” answers can be. Here’s what I mean:

FRIEND: “Do you think we’ll make it to the move in time for the previews?”
ME: “Yes.”

Here’s how yes and no translate to numbers:

Yes | 51–100%
No | 0–49%

My friend asked me a yes-or-no question, and my response was “Yes.”, which is a direct answer to the question, but it could mean a wide range of things. I could be saying, “We’ll definitely be there for the previews!” or I could be saying, “I think it’s more likely than not that we will be there for the previews.”

Although there are only two answers, each answer can mean many things, which means “yes” and “no” are actually pretty vague answers.

I think we all intuitively sense this, and that’s why most of us wouldn’t just say “yes” or “no” to that question.

If a friend asked me the question above I might respond with “Probably!” or “Probably not.” or “I think so!” or “I doubt it.” or something like that.

Although those answers are still one word or just a few words, they convey a lot more meaning.

Those answers encapsulate two ideas:

  1. Whether I think we’ll be there in time for the previews
  2. How confident I am in my answer

Here’s what I mean…

Question: “Are we going to make it to the movie in time for the previews?”

Answers:

A hundred percent! | 100%
I’m pretty sure! | 80%
Probably! | 75%
Probably. | 65%
I think so! | 60%
I think so. | 55%
I think so? | 51%
Maybe. | 50%
I don’t think so? | 49%
I doubt it. | 45%
Probably not. | 35%
I doubt it! | 25%
I don’t think so! | 20%
Now way, LOL | 0%

And of course those interpretations will vary by person, culture and many other criteria.

It’s also interesting how the punctuation—how emphatically we give our answer—can make a difference. “I don’t think so!” (with an exclamation point) seems more pessimistic than “I don’t think so.” (with a period).

One last thought: I struggled to come up with “yes” answers for 80% and 100%, and “no” answers for 0% and 20%. Maybe my vocabulary just isn’t strong enough, but it seems like that’s sort of a gap in the English language.

It’s fascinating how many things we can say with so few words.

How the right environment makes all the difference

In March, I ran a 10k training run (a little more than 6 miles) in just under 50 minutes. That’s slightly faster than a pace of 8:00 minutes per mile.

March 10k Training Run Time

That was almost six months ago.

Then I stopped running more than 5 miles at a time and started training for shorter distances (like a mile) and just trying to get through the miserable Florida summer.

The first signs of Fall have arrived, which means race season is coming up and I need to start training for longer distances if I want to run a half marathon this year.

So I decided to try a 10k training run this weekend to see how it felt. I ran the same route as I did in March, but this time was significantly faster: It only took me about 48:30, which is a pace of 7:44 per mile.

October 10k Training Run Time

Ninety seconds is a pretty big improvement considering I hadn’t run that far in six months. That’s a big improvement over my previous personal best, and it felt great to run such a good time. 

Can you guess what I did differently to run so much faster this time?

Think about it for a second, then scroll down to see the answer.

Spoiler below!

Are you ready?

The answer is: Nothing.

I’m pretty sure the difference was the temperature.

When I ran that 10k in March, it was 79 degrees outside. When I ran on Saturday, it was only 72 degrees.

There are lots of studies showing that race times improve as temperatures drop (to an extent, of course).

So it feels good to run a personal best, but most of the improvement was just the lower temperature. My job was to train hard enough that I could finally take advantage of the improved running conditions once the weather cooled off.

Sometimes, the conditions just aren’t right to get the result you want. But as long as you keep preparing and putting in the work, you can make sure you’re ready to capitalize once the conditions are right.

Here are some other examples that come to mind:

  • Starting a business
  • Getting a raise
  • Running for office (a different kind of running, har har)
  • Inventing something
  • Planting plants

For all of those and lots of other things, timing is often the crucial ingredient that dictates success or failure.

Learning a skill, practicing, looking for ways to improve, waiting for the right moment to capitalize is often the key to success. And a big reason to keep working is that it’s not just doing the thing, but being prepared to do the thing when the conditions are right that makes all the difference.

I ran all summer in hot, humid weather, just waiting for it to cool off. I called those runs “maintenance runs”, and my goal was usually to run at an 8:00-per-mile pace regardless of the distance.

Maintenance runs were not fun and it often took a few hours to fully recover from them. But I knew they were helping me build strength and endurance that I could use later on when the conditions were right.

Sure enough, the weather cooled off and I smashed another personal best. That gives me confidence going into race season, where I’ll be able to capitalize on favorable running conditions after all those months of training in the Florida heat.

Before you write something off as a failure, consider whether the conditions are right for success. If they’re not quite right, keep working so you’re ready to capitalize next time there’s a good opportunity.

Would you be as calm as Maggie?

Imagine that you’re learning to fly an airplane. You’ve already spent hours and hours flying with instructors, and now you’re flying solo.

You just took off on a solo training flight and the tower radios with the following news:

“…your right main is now missing from the airplane – it’s fallen off the airplane. Say your intentions.”

What would you say?

I know exactly what I would say and I’m not going to write that here. But let’s say it translates to roughly:

“AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

I’m generally very calm under pressure, but this would freak me out. I don’t know much about flying (I flew Cessna once, and that’s about it), but it seems like one of the main objectives of flying an airplane is to land the airplane (I did not land the Cessna—my uncle took care of that).

And the tower just said, “One of the things you need to land the plane just fell off. State your intentions.”

I’m not sure I’d be all that calm.

Maggie, on the other hand, remained calm as a cucumber and landed her plane like a pro.

That seems sort of like a spoiler, but it’s really not. The beauty of this recording is in the story itself—knowing Maggie lands at the end only makes it better.

Do yourself a favor and watch this—it’s well worth your time:

WATCH: 17-YEAR-OLD STUDENT PILOT LANDS HER PLANE WITHOUT A WHEEL!

Then I’ll share just a few of my thoughts.

All done? Wasn’t that fantastic?!

Every now and then real life gives us a story that’s better than the best screenplay or audiobook. This is one of those times.

Three things stood out to me in this recording.

Maggie’s voice over time

She’s cool, calm and collected at first (:59 in), then she sounds a little concerned, but not overly so (1:13), then it sounds like the full weight of the situation sets in (1:30), then she sounds much more relaxed once an instructor jumps on the radio (3:00).

Even when she was talking with the air traffic controller, she wasn’t nearly as calm as when talking to the instructor. Talking to the right kind of expert for that situation made her a lot more comfortable.

Once she knew she could rely on a veteran pilot’s expertise to help her get down, she knew she was going to be ok.

The importance of her training

Most of the instructions she’s given mean nothing to me because I’m not a trained pilot. I just hear a bunch of lingo punctuated by words I technically know, but don’t really understand.

If I were talking with that instructor, he would’ve had to stop every few seconds and explain basic things to me. I’m sure he could’ve done it, although it would’ve been a lot more work.

But Maggie already knew how to fly a plane, so they could skip over basic definitions and jump straight to the tactics to land the plane (even without one of its wheels).

It’s a lot easier to conquer difficult situations when you already have a grasp of the basics—then you can jump straight to tactics to help you get through it.

Everyone says “Good job, Maggie!” when she lands

It’s great to hear everyone applauding Maggie and acknowledging that she’s the one who actually landed the broken airplane. Sure, they helped, but Maggie had to execute the plan to land safely. She executed the plan to a T.

As a teacher, instructor, or coach, the most satisfying thing is to see your student deliver a perfect performance. That’s how you know you did your job well.

There are lots of other great things about that video—it’s definitely worth 12 minutes of your time to watch it!

The breakthrough that helped me smash the six-minute barrier

Earlier this week, I ran a mile in under six minutes for the first time. It felt really good for a couple of reasons.

First, it’s nice to achieve a challenging goal and it felt good to cross it off my list and see some results from all the hard work I’ve been putting in.

Second, I had already tried and failed to run a six-minute mile twice—both of my previous attempts were about 6:11—and that was really frustrating. I had been so close yet I felt so far away and it really stings to be totally exhausted without much to show for it. But not this time! This time I got it done.

What’s even better is that I had a significant breakthrough with this particular goal, but it’s difficult to describe without some context.

My one-mile run in almost-real-time

Before this attempt, I made a lap-by-lap plan so I knew exactly what I needed to do. It’s one thing to know I have to do four laps in 360 seconds. It’s another to know exactly what I needed to do on each lap to make that happen.

Here’s a summary of how I felt throughout the run—I took this down as a note on my iPhone once I managed to catch my breath and stave off some leg cramps:

First lap—1:27 I wanted to start fast because I knew that I could go much faster than the 90-second pace that I required. I added about 10m to that first lap to make sure I ran a full mile, so I wanted to be sure that I got around with time to spare on my 90-second-per-lap limit. That would give me some cushion if I slowed down later.

Second lap—1:28 I already felt tired, but I knew that would happen and had already prepared myself to just keep pushing and try and maintain the same pace through the second lap.

Third lap—1:32 This is when the mental fatigue really hit me. By this point in my run, my brain was repeatedly shouting STOP THIS RIGHT NOW!

I told myself that I was going to finish running a mile either way and if I just kept going at this pace it would be over quicker.

For the final 100 meters of the third lap, I basically had to get myself to focus on a six-minute pace again knowing I had been gradually slowing down and that I had probably used up most of the cushion from the first lap.

Fourth lap—1:26 I actually felt pretty good going in because I knew it was almost over. I’d also kept some energy in reserve, which I think was a result of my recent training to keep my legs working when I’m tired.

I started picking it up with about 300m left and began kicking with about 200m left. I went pretty much all-out for the final 100 meters although I never got into a full-on sprint.

My six-minute mile time with 400m splits

Even though I had been monitoring my time after each lap, I was really surprised to see a final time of about 5:54. That’s a significant improvement over my previous times. I actually had a little left to give at the end and the overall run went about as well as I could’ve hoped.

Before I say any more, take a minute to look back at that recap and see if you notice a theme.

My big breakthrough

Do you see it? There’s almost nothing about the physical difficulty of running a mile. The entire recap was almost entirely about my mental state throughout the run.

I started fast because I knew I had to. I got tired, but I knew that would happen so I just kept pushing. I told myself I would finish the mile regardless of how long it took, so I might as well just get it over with. I felt great and had some left in the tank, but I may have left some time on the table because I relaxed a little when I realized I had hit my goal.

It was all mental.

The last two times I tried to run a sub-six-minute mile, I lost too much time on the middle two laps. Those two laps are really tough because the initial adrenaline rush has worn off, yet there’s still a long way to go.

I expected to lose time in the middle due to physical fatigue, but I had also lost time due to mental fatigue because I wasn’t totally prepared.

I suspect I’ve been physically ready to hit this goal for over a year now. I just had to try it a couple times to see my own weaknesses and find a way to work around the mental fatigue that slowed me down.

And now, of course, I’m wondering if I can get that time down to 5:45. We’ll see.