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My 2023 in Review: The Year of the Plateau

Every year, I share a full retrospective about my journey as a content creator, making educational content for Flutter developers.

This is a great chance to reflect on what I have learned but also share my journey with all my readers in a transparent and honest way.

And in this 2023 edition, I’m sharing a lot of data and insights from running my sixth consecutive year in business (if you’re curious, here are the 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, and 2018 editions).

But before we get to all the juicy details, I want to clarify one thing:

I'm not going to share a full income report anymore.

I made this decision for two reasons:

  • Personal Safety: Last year was the first time I hit over $100K in revenue. That's a very significant amount of money for many people, including me. But as my business continues to grow, I don't want to draw the wrong kind of attention.
  • Learning > Money: Quite simply, I want this review to be more about what I learned than how much money I make, and on the learning front, I have plenty to share.

While many Twitter influencers are bragging about MRR and how much money they make, my choice may seem unusual. But ultimately, it’s a personal decision. If you're after stories of real creators who still talk numbers, I recommend following Tony Dinh, Pieter Levels, or Florin Pop.

With that said, I still make many data-driven decisions about my business, so in this retro you’ll find plenty of charts supporting my insights. 🙂

So, let’s dive in!

My 2023 in Review: Executive Summary

After many years of steady growth, in 2023, I’ve hit a plateau on various fronts.

Here’s the short version:

  • Website traffic: down ~10% 🔻
  • Newsletter growth: fairly flat, similar to last year 🟰
  • Twitter growth: slower than last year 🔻
  • LinkedIn growth: faster than last year 🔺
  • Course sales: this is a function of all the above, so you can guess 😉

FYI, I also have a YouTube channel which is no longer growing, since YT is no longer part of my business strategy. ☠️

Let’s break these down.

Website Traffic

In 2023, over one million people have visited my site. It is truly an honour to reach and help so many people with my content:

Analytics for codewithandrea.com in 2023
Analytics for codewithandrea.com in 2023

I hit the peak in March 2023 with a high of 105K visitors. But the overall trend has been down for the first time since I started tracking data:

Analytics for codewithandrea.com since December 2020
Analytics for codewithandrea.com since December 2020

For context, this year, I published 21 new articles (and updated 5 older ones), keeping my output consistent with past years.

So what can explain the decline in traffic?

While I don’t have a definitive answer, the Google search trends for Flutter, Swift, and React Native show a similar trend:

Google search trends for Flutter (blue), Swift (red), React Native (yellow)
Google search trends for Flutter (blue), Swift (red), React Native (yellow)

Since 69% of my traffic comes from Google Search, there is a correlation here (less searching for Flutter means fewer folks landing on my site).

But that begs another question: why is search volume down for Flutter and related tech?

I can think of two reasons:

  • Tech Industry Downturn: It's been a rough year with tech giants laying off loads of people and the market cooling considerably. This was likely reflected in Google search trends.
  • Rise of ChatGPT: It’s possible that devs might be asking ChatGPT for help more often than hitting up Google or StackOverflow (which has seen a marked decline).

While these external factors matter, there's another point to consider.

Keeping My Content Up To Date is Getting Harder

As my total body of work continues to grow, keeping it up to date takes more effort, and I reached an inflection point where it’s hard to keep my website traffic steady (let alone increase it).

But as far as the business goes, website traffic is not the most important metric. As I said in my 2022 retro, email marketing is king, so I’m more concerned with growing my subscriber list.

Newsletter Growth

In 2023, I managed to get past 20,000 email subscribers while keeping an average open rate of 40%.

And since more subscribers = more sales, I’ve been paying attention to my newsletter growth:

Monthly net new subscribers to my email list in 2023
Monthly net new subscribers to my email list in 2023

The stats show that I'm gaining about 300 new net subscribers monthly.

To get people’s emails, I offer three different things on my site:

  1. A Flutter email course, where I share a curated list of resources for getting started with Flutter
  2. My “new” newsletter, where I share my new articles (usually every two weeks)
  3. My monthly newsletter, which covers all the latest Flutter news

Additionally, I also put up a landing page with a waitlist every time I announce a new course.

Buy where are the signups coming from?

Here are the top sources for my “new” newsletter (which contributes to most of my signups) over the last six months:

Top 4 sources of newsletter signups (July to December 2023)
Top 4 sources of newsletter signups (July to December 2023)

This shows that LinkedIn and Twitter have, by far, the highest conversion rate (4.5% and 3.3%, respectively, compared to 0.4% from direct traffic and 0.1% from Google).

This is not surprising since my strategy is to ask people to sign up the day before dropping a new article or newsletter (like in this example tweet).

This technique is somewhat effective, and I usually get a small spike in signups every time I do this. However, there is certainly scope for improvement, and boosting email signups is a key goal for 2024.

Twitter And LinkedIn Growth

For the past two years, I’ve been posting my Flutter tips and tricks on social media and collected them all on this GitHub repo.

Crafting these tips takes effort, and it's not always easy to keep the ideas flowing. This year, I created 52 new tips, down from 67 the previous year.

As a result, here’s how my follower count has grown compared to one year ago:

  • Twitter: from 25,600 to 34,200 (~715 new followers/month)
  • LinkedIn: from 3,370 to 12,840 (~790 new followers/month)

Even though I only started posting on LinkedIn in 2022, I already see faster growth compared to Twitter, and often, higher engagement too. Since I share the same content on both platforms, it definitely pays off to cross-post.

Of course, follower count is only one metric. Engaging with the community and forging connections is key, and this is an area where I hope to do more in 2024.

Word of Mouth

Word of mouth can’t be measured and is often not considered as a marketing strategy, but it is very powerful.

Whenever I put out a new piece of content, answer a student's question, or do anything that helps people, I know that my effort is appreciated. And the more I do it, the more people recommend my content to their peers.

Besides, I’d much rather be helpful and let others recommend my work than write a bunch of sales emails. 😅

Course Sales

Earlier on I said I won’t be sharing my revenue numbers for this year.

However I can say that two main events have contributed to a big spike in sales this year:

  • The launch of my Flutter & Firebase course
  • My Black Friday sale

This chart shows these two spikes quite clearly:

2023 Teachable weekly sales. Left spike: launch of my Firebase course. Right spike: Black Friday sale
2023 Teachable weekly sales. Left spike: launch of my Firebase course. Right spike: Black Friday sale

To date, the Flutter Foundations course remains my best-seller, and my latest Firebase course has not performed as well. This doesn’t come as a surprise since 1) it is a follow-up course, and 2) many people may prefer to use other backends and have no interest in Firebase.

With that said, my Black Friday sale deserves a special mention. For the first time, I offered all my courses as a bundle with a 50% discount. I was worried that offering such a big discount would upset those who paid full price, but as the chart shows, it paid off.

The Year of the Plateau

Earlier, I mentioned hitting a plateau: growth has slowed in many areas, and I wanted to figure out how to break out of it.

So I asked myself some questions:

  • What factors are causing this slowdown?
  • How much of it is under my control?
  • What can I do about it?

When it comes to creating content, I’ve been fairly consistent and produced nearly as much as last year.

Though external factors like the tech industry's downturn are at play, I can’t do much about those, and I need to focus on the things I can improve.

And ultimately, consistent growth boils down to one thing. 👇

Inputs and Outputs

At some point, I came across this brutally honest video by Alex Hormozi, who quite clearly says that if you want to multiply your outputs, you have to multiply your inputs.

And the inputs are the things that you have control over.

This confirmed what I knew already: if I want to boost my traffic/sales/followers, etc, I have to share more and better content, and the results will follow:

  • more/better content → more followers/traffic/sales

Of course, this takes time. Working more hours is something I occasionally do, but it's not sustainable long-term (I tried and it caused more stress, worse mood, and a negative impact on my relationships).

If working more hours is not the answer, I have to reconsider how I spend my time. 👇

The Elephant in the Room

The biggest issue with the way I do things is that creating video courses takes forever. 😭

For instance, I spent over 800 hours creating the Flutter Foundations course. As a result, I’m only managing to roll out one new course each year.

Course updates are painful, too, especially when there are breaking changes, and I need to update a bunch of videos.

All this got me thinking: can I make courses that are just as valuable (if not more) without relying so much on video content?

And that’s when I decided I was going to ditch Teachable and build my own course platform. This way, I’ll be able to create different kinds of content and offer a better learning experience to my students.

My New Course Platform: Code With Andrea Pro

When I set out to create the new platform, I knew two things:

  • I had to use a traditional web stack
  • I had to outsource the work

I needed to build a multi-page application (MPA), capable of presenting rich content with good performance and SEO. So Flutter web was a no-go from the start.

And since I’m no web developer and my strength is on the content side, I knew I had to outsource the work.

Fortunately, I already had both a good designer and a strong developer who previously helped me build this site. So, I was thrilled when they agreed to take on this new project.

The A-team for product development: one product owner, one designer, one developer
The A-team for product development: one product owner, one designer, one developer

Of course, creating even a simple course platform comes with many challenges:

  • authentication & authorization
  • student UI: lessons, course progress, profile page
  • content types: images, videos, code snippets, interactive examples, etc.
  • checkout flows
  • admin dashboard

All of the above takes time. And since I wanted to deliver a simple but lovable product (and not a scrappy MVP), my developer and I had to put in the work:

Contributions to Code With Andrea Pro (November 2022 to December 2023)
Contributions to Code With Andrea Pro (November 2022 to December 2023)

While I’m very happy with all the progress so far, the platform is still in private beta and won’t launch until Q1 2024 (if you’re interested, you can sign up for the waitlist).

This platform will be at the core of my business, so I see it as a worthwhile investment for the years to come. I can’t wait to share more details, including a technical deep dive into the stack I’ve used.

Next up, let’s take a look at how I spent my time in 2023.

Time Invested

This year, I spent 1425 hours working on my business, averaging 27 hours per week:

Time spent by month in 2023
Time spent by month in 2023

This is a bit less than last year, as I had some big holidays in April and August.

Here’s a breakdown by task type:

Time spent by task in 2023
Time spent by task in 2023

The distribution of tasks is fairly similar to 2022, and I still put nearly 600 hours into my latest Firebase course.

Other than that, my largest activities were:

  • Blogging (12.9% or 184 hours): writing new articles and updating older ones.
  • Code with Andrea Pro (12% or 170 hours): creating stories, reviewing PRs and designs, and testing for my new course platform.
  • Community Engagement (10% or 142 hours): answering questions on Teachable, Slack and email.

But am I spending my time wisely?

Automation and Delegation

Creating good content is my biggest priority, and if I want to do more of it, I need to spend less time on tasks with lower returns.

So, in 2023, I automated some tasks and hired a virtual assistant (VA) to help me out with customer support.

However, this only saves me 2 to 3 hours every week. Ideally, I would delegate more time-consuming tasks like answering student questions. While a few experienced devs have lent a hand in my Slack channel, it's tough to hand off this responsibility fully, and I'm still handling most of it on my own.

Hiring Writers

This year, I wanted to try something new: hire Flutter experts to write articles for my site. So I created a page explaining what I’m looking for and reached out to some devs in the community.

Many were busy, but Alicja Ogonowska took me up on it. Together, we published this new piece about Flutter deep links, which was one of my most popular articles this year. So, I hope to hire more writers in 2024.

The Things I Didn’t Do

2023 was a busy year as I’ve been juggling my courses, articles, newsletter, tips, and my new course platform.

At any point in time, my TODO list had at least one month's worth of planned work, and this left little room to explore and learn new things.

Given the pace of innovation in tech, this is not a good thing, and I don’t want to fall behind. So, in 2024, I want to allocate more time for learning and research.

The Next Five Years

As far as the content creation game goes, I see three possible options going forward:

  1. Scale up and hire a team: Companies like Kodeco and Zero To Mastery have gone this route and decided to scale up by hiring content writers and instructors.
  2. Become a world-class instructor like Josh Comeau and Kent C. Dodds, who seem to run solo but create content that is so good that it brings in 7-figures annually.
  3. Keep doing my thing, improve at my own pace, and grow slowly but steadily.

While I’m more than happy to outsource certain things, I don’t think option 1 is for me.

Option 2 is very aspirational, and while I’m extremely inspired by some of the top creators, I also recognise that they are in a league of their own.

So, it would seem that I’m headed for option 3. I’ll try to do my best creative work and see where that takes me.

Looking Ahead to 2024

It’s taken a lot of work to get where I am today, but I couldn’t be happier with the path I’ve chosen.

Every day, I get to do what I love and run a profitable business that helps people advance their skills. In other words, I found my Ikigai:

Ikigai
Image Credit: Ben Freeman. License: CC BY-NC 2.0 Deed

Given the ongoing challenges in this world, I know this year has been a struggle for many (including some people close to me). And that makes me even more grateful for the position I find myself in.

So, I’m sincerely thankful to you and everyone who has been following along in this journey.

I’m as motivated as ever to continue helping people advance their skills, and if that gets them to a better place in life, then I know that my work was not in vain.

So thank you once again, and I wish you all the best in the coming year!

Card saying thanks!

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