“I think I’d like some data!” late 2022 me said to myself. So for all of 2023 I tracked 12+ metrics every single week. I wasn’t quite sure what I’d find — but I knew that with the mix of qualitative and quantitative data I had going on, it was going to be good. I didn’t disappoint. I learned a lot of little nitpicky things about my own business. But I also got data that backed up some larger themes I’ve been stewing on for a while.

Here’s the six themes I found:


Theme 1: the importance of context.


Last year was weird. The flow of business was very slow for the first two quarters or so (for myself and everybody else I talked to), and the old reliable, sure-fire ways of getting clients just weren’t working.

People who had effortlessly filled courses suddenly got crickets. Pipelines dried up overnight. Social media stats plummeted. (And everybody was pretty sure they were the only one – more on that in a sec.)

This didn’t overly worry me. I was anxious. I was attentive. I had a nasty cashflow crunch. But I didn’t feel like the sky was falling, as so many other people on the internet seemingly did.

As I said so many times last year, this was like, my fourth internet apocalypse. These things happen. And I was reminded so much of the importance of experience and context. I could be chillish because I’ve been through soooooo much of this before and come out the other side.

And, as is always the case in these situations, this weirdoism served as a sorting mechanism. The people who have been in it, putting in the work and doing right by their people saw this for what it was and pivoted as needed. We raised our standards, embraced craftsmanship over “ship fast/fail fast”, and dug our roots down into our relationships.

The hype machine and those trying to run their business according to The Big Lie handled it with somewhat less chill.

Just look at the way the internet economy responded to the AI hype. A large chunk thought “Oh thank god, something to make this ridiculously hard and weird year easier!”, another chunk loudly clutched their pearls over its evils (because god help us, the internet loves an opportunity to virtue signal), and the rest of us saw it for the tool it is, and understood that even the smartest, prettiest tool is still just that. A tool. And no replacement for humanity and human work.


Theme 2: the power of conversation.


When the internet shat the bed last year, one of the things that struck me the most was how silent the online space was for a while. People still had their standard posts going up, but there was virtually no recognition of the weirdoism that was going on out loud, but which I mean outside of Voxer conversations and private groups … until I decided to do a whole series about it on Instagram called Diagnosing the Internet.

Then, all the sudden the conversation exploded, because someone had stood up and admitted that things weren’t all shiny happy perfect in their business, and that something was going on.

It was so cool to see how people came out of the woodwork, and even the “internet superstars” were struggling.

While I’ve been soapboxing about this for a loooong time, it was just a further reminder of how easy it is to get isolated in our little internet-bubbles, thinking we’re the only person having issues (which must of course mean that there’s something wrong with us, deep down, right….) when really, this stuff comes for all of us. And as soon as we start talking about it, everything gets better.


Theme 3: the illusion of hurry and the importance of integrity.


I like being fast – so much so that I used to torture a former COO of mine by making him watch me write sales pages in 7 minutes. But there’s a difference between fast and hurry, and that really became apparent for me last year as I looked at my metrics around results and response times.

Here’s where things got really interesting though: in looking at my weekly qualitative metrics (aka how I felt about things), I noted that I almost always felt rushed, even when I actually wasn’t.

That’s a me thing. The stress is coming from inside the house there. Which is excellent, because that’s something I have total control over changing. So I’ve been experimenting with it over the past few months, and turns out the whole entire internet doesn’t blow up if you take two days to respond to an email, or take a few weeks off of social media.

The flip side of this is that you have to be airtight on your integrity. Integrity’s been the internet’s favorite buzzword for a minute now, but what I mean by this is simple: you know what really matters, and you do what you say you’re going to do.

There’s always been a variable level of bad behavior among internet entrepreneuers, but the pandemic years exacerbated so much of it, especially the tendency to treat internet work like it’s not “real”, and to screw over clients because you just don’t feel like doing the work. You don’t have to run on the constant adrenaline of “trying to keep up”, but you do have to meet your deadlines and obligations. There’s a reason that there’s only two things that will get you insta-fired at Bolt: plagiarism, and blowing off a deadline without notice.


Theme 4: Client weirdoism is also on the rise.


The pandemic years didn’t just exacerbate the bullshittery among online workers, it really did a number on client behavior. I’ve been tracking this over the past several years, and the data from last year shows that bad behavior, abuse, and straight up weirdoism is still on the rise.

From late payments and nonpayments, breaking contracts, abusive and insulting behavior, and incredibly blurry boundaries, clients have been wild.

In my case, as I wrote about last time, I had clients walk out on over $40,000 in the past year. I’ve had clients tell me that I was an amateur and a fraud. I’ve had clients be surprised that the legally-binding contract they signed was, like, OMG for realsies legally binding??

I’m not the only one – when I wrote about this a couple of weeks ago I was flooded with responses from other business owners. Clients are ghosting on them, relying on them to act as stand-in therapists when that has nothing to do with the service they’re providing, devastating their businesses with fraudulent credit card chargebacks, insulting them, flying off the handle at the wildest things, and generally doing some very bad humaning.

I think this comes down to three things:

  1. The stuff I’ve already talked about with the pandemic years. Stress is a filter and an amplifier, and that is often not comfortable. I think it’s making clients AND providers behave more erratically, which is just amping up the bad actors on both sides to do even crazier things.
  2. The flood of new service providers and clients in the online space further bumped by EIDL loans. We’ve got a whole bunch of newbies around, and the “norms” of internet culture aren’t standing like they used to.
  3. The atmosphere of “my AI could do that!” that’s being perpetuated by the tech bros. I think the reduction of the talent and hard work that actually goes into creativity to something a machine can do is having a low-level but pervasive atmospheric effect on how people view creative service workers, even if they don’t buy into all the AI hype personally.

Theme 5: What worked then worked then.


I long oh so deeply in my bones to come up with the perfect system for things that will always work exactly the same every single time … and I am smacked in the face again and again with the reminder that this is impossible.

I came up with a phenomenal system for running my business last year. We’re talking super-sexy Notion templates, a work cadence that felt amazing, and a metrics spreadsheet that made me smile every.single.week. because it was just so pretty.

Turns out that none of those things have really been a fit for this year. I made a pretty dramatic shift to my business model in January, I’m doing a pretty intensive CMO project with a client that takes up a lot of my time, and I’m deliberately taking on far fewer clients than before. I’m running what amounts to a different business – so it makes sense that my system (as beautiful as it was) isn’t going to be a fit. I’ll figure out a new one. And, I’ve been having to reconcile myself with the fact that the old system didn’t “fail” just because it’s not a fit for a new business.

This is the best and worst part of entrepreneurship – the whole entire job is just problem-solving, over and over and over again. Everything constantly changes, and as I’ve said before, while almost nothing is your fault, almost everything is your problem.

The key is to solve the right problem at the right time, and recognize that what worked then, worked then, and might not work now. (Or to try to apply somebody else’s system to your circumstance without modifying it for fit.)


Theme 6: human is the only move left.


I’ve said this for what, five years now? But it remains true.

The reason my business survived last year was because of the relationships I’ve built, and the new relationships I went out of my way to build last year. The reason people are still coming to me despite me doing virtually no marketing so far this year is because every single element of my business is set up to regard them as human, and to have a relationship with them. People are hungry for it, even more so in the post-AI age. It’s slower. It’s about 10,000x more complex. And, it’s what will keep you going, apocalypse after apocalypse.