I really enjoy the yearly review process. A year is a long time. It’s easy to forget all that you accomplished over the past 365 days. The yearly review is also a good way to keep yourself accountable for making progress toward your goals.
One new thing I’m going to institute this year is quarterly reviews in addition to this yearly review. Though I likely won’t make these reviews public, they’ll help me better stay on track throughout the year. Who knows, maybe I’ll make them public as well.
So, here’s what I got up to in 2017.
Most of my income comes from consulting. I work with architecture and engineering firms to make their processes and workflows more efficient. This can be through BIM strategy reviews, custom tools and add-ins, bespoke Revit templates, or custom training.
As with the previous years, the majority of my consulting work is done with Gehry Partners in Los Angeles, CA. This year, they accounted for half of all my consulting income. I worked at the firm for seven years before starting on my own so I have a deep understanding of how they work. This past year, I did a range of tasks including converting AutoCAD details to Revit, conducting new employee software training, automating the creation of ceilings in Revit, and creating a tool to batch import DWG and Rhino 3D models into Revit.
In addition to the Gehry work, I did a number of smaller consulting engagements. These included a custom Revit template Works Progress Architecture, a new CAD standard for Elysian Landscapes, some advanced Dynamo automation for SolidCAD, an Excel-based drawing production workflow for NEME Design Studio,as well as some other custom tool projects and consulting.
All in all, 2017 was a good year for consulting. I got to work with a range of new firms and people, which always helps broaden my experience. One issue I struggled with throughout the year, but especially toward the end, is my own limitation and ability to get stuff done. I largely work alone and a lot of my consulting work took a lot longer than anticipated. As a result, many of my projects backed up and I overextended myself trying to finish them before the end of the year. This didn’t happen so I’m in the process of wrapping several projects up now rather than gearing up for the next batch.
One of my resolutions for this year is to start developing a team who can support me in getting this work done. Doing so will help me better serve my clients and ensure I don’t jeopardize my health by overworking myself trying to meet unrealistic deadlines. This is a huge priority for 2018.
I launched four new courses in 2017. These were BIM Manager Boot Camp, Mastering Revit Macros with C#, Hot Rod Your Revit Template, and Dynamo for Busy People. These courses were beta versions. I’m in the process of fine-tuning each course so look for re-launches later this year.
I also experimented with new teaching formats, which was fun and enlightening. I had been frustrated in the past with the level of interaction I’ve been able to have with students. This year, I added private forums for some of the courses. I also taught the courses over a five to six week period. This allowed some time between lessons for questions and also let me adjust the curriculum as needed. I liked this approach a lot and plan to continue it in the future.
In the past, I’ve always tried to keep one or two architecture projects in the office at all times. This lets me practice what I preach here at ArchSmarter and keep my skills somewhat sharp. I haven’t been actively marketing this part of my practice so these projects largely come in through word-of-mouth. As a result, I only completed one project this year, a restaurant fit-out on the ground floor of my office.
One goal this year is to better market my architectural services in the local area. I’d like to get back to keeping one or two projects going throughout the year. This will require more attention paid to my marketing, which has been difficult to schedule.
This is one area that has definitely slacked off over the past year. In 2017, I only added five new or updated macros to the ArchSmarter Toolbox. I had also planned an overhaul of the ArchSmarter PowerPack, but aside from a quick fix to add Revit 2018 support, this didn’t happen.
On the positive side, one thing I did this year was upgrade my programming skills. I finally taught myself C#. All of the existing Revit macros in the ArchSmarter Toolbox were written in VB.Net. I had been hesitant to learn C#, thinking it would be too difficult. Turns out, I far prefer it to VB.Net. As a result, I’m planning to rewrite all of the existing Revit macros in C# and consolidate them into a single RVT file, rather than separate RVT files. I’m also going to rewrite the PowerPack in C# and add some new tools to the lineup. Look for these changes later this year.
2017 was an off year for writing. I published 26 new blog posts, which averages about two per month. Some of these were links to webinar recordings and such so they don’t really count as writing. Also, I only wrote one article for ARCHITECT magazine, which is down from the six articles I wrote for them last year. Though my website traffic remained consistent, I personally felt the lack of writing. Truth be told, I really missed it. I enjoy writing as it helps me clarify my thinking. While some blog posts are hits and others misses, I always feel better having written.
2017 was a down year for speaking in terms of the number of events I attended. I spoke at two events, unlike last year when I spoke at five.
That said, this year marked my first paid speaking gig, which was quite exciting. I give the keynote speech for Edison Price Lighting’s customer appreciation dinner at LightFair in Philadelphia. This required a LOT of preparation as I developed a new twenty-minute talk on the future of technology in the AEC industry. Twenty minutes doesn’t sound like a lot of time. If I had to riff on technology, I could easily do that on the fly. But I wanted to make sure the talk was memorable so I created a five-part narrative of a day-in-the-life of an architect and construction worker in the year 2037. In wasn’t just pie-in-the-sky, however. I researched emerging technology to ground my speculations in some semblance of reality. As a result, those twenty minutes took me nearly 20 hours of writing and research. It was worth it though as the talk was very well received, and a lot of fun to deliver. Look for excepts in a series of upcoming blog posts here on ArchSmarter.
I also made a trip to Toronto for this year’s BiLT conference, where I channeled my best ringside announcer voice and presented Code vs Node: The Ultimate Revit Automation Smackdown“, live and in person. This is the second time I’ve presented this talk live. Despite some technical issues with the projector, the talk went well. I tried something new this year, doing the code parts live, which always ups the ante. Fortunately, there weren’t too many typing gaffs on my end.
I attended two other events where I wasn’t the speaker. One was the AIA TAP’s Building Connections Congress, which you can read about here. The other was a business related conference, Craft + Commerce. This was organized by ConvertKit, the makers of the email marketing software I use. It was a great opportunity to meet other small business owners doing TOTALLY different things. Plus, I got to visit Boise, Idaho for the first time. Great city!
I definitely felt the lack of outside connections this year. It felt like I spent most of 2017 hunkered in my office by myself. I recognize this is my preference, given my introvert personality type. However, staying inside isn’t necessarily the best thing for me or my business. I plan to be a little more active outside this year, either as a speaker or attendee.
Overall, 2017 was a steady year for website traffic and subscriber growth. The site was visited by 253,365 people, with 200,000 new visitors. This amounted to 436,553 total page views with viewers reading an average of 1.72 pages per visit and spending a total of one minute and thirty seconds on the site. This is a slight uptick from last year, which is encouraging given that my writing output was down. This was largely due to the popularity of some older posts, which continue to rank well on Google. Click here to see the list of most popular articles on ArchSmarter in 2017.
My email list continued to grow in 2017. I ended the year with a little over 10,000 subscribers, which was my goal. I reached the 10,000 mark early in the year but I knew many of those subscribers were no longer active. In order to keep my list relevant, I removed many of the inactive subscribers, cutting my list size down to 6,700. This was a bit discouraging, having just hit that 10k mark, but I instantly noticed an uptick in email opens and clicks. Personally, I’d rather have active readers than a big list number so the purge was worthwhile. My goal this year is to grow the list to 15,000 subscribers, which amounts to 416 new subscribers a month or 96 a week. Right now, I average about 350 – 400 a month so I’ll need to make some changes to hit this target.
2017 also marked the first full year of the “Thursday Top 5” weekly email. Honestly, sending out this email is easily my favorite part of the week. The response has been great with an average of a 30% open rate and a 10 – 12% click rate.
As for the website, I hired a designer to create a new look for ArchSmarter. It’s not a full-blown redesign. It’s more of a refinement. There are a lot of things I like about the existing site but a lot of things that don’t really work. The new version will hopefully address some of those shortcomings.
The relaunch will happen in a couple of months. The new site is hosted on a new platform. Moving a website is a real challenge. ArchSmarter is a moderately sized site with about 150 or so pages. I am in the process of reviewing the new site to make sure everything transferred over.
Vacation and Travel
I did a lot of work-related travel in 2017, including seven trips to Los Angeles, one to Boise, Idaho and another to Toronto. By the end of the year, I was wiped out. All I wanted to do was stay home. I realized that one trip a month is too much for me. I’m much happier with a trip every two months.
Between all this business travel, I did manage two vacations. In February we headed to Quebec for some skiing. Despite the unseasonably warm weather, it was a great trip. Then in August, we headed back up to Canada to spend two weeks in Prince Edward Island. This trip is a family favorite. We eat lots of seafood, spend a lot of time at the beach (especially Basin Head) and catch up with family. All-in-all, it’s my favorite time of the year.
Lifestyle and Health
One consistent goal over the past two yearly reviews has been to establish a regular exercise habit. When I lived in LA, it was easy to work in some exercise on a regular basis. I frequently rode my bike to work so the 45 minutes each way easily counted for a day’s worth.
Given the weather here in New England, it’s not so easy to replicate this. As a result, I’m still struggling with fitting in exercise. I was pretty good during the middle of the but my routine fell apart toward the end of the year, as work picked up considerably.
To start the year, I’ve recommitted to regular exercise. I’m only a couple of weeks in but I already feel much better physically. One of the big reasons I’ve been consistent is that I make sure I exercise first thing in the morning. This means getting up at 4am (ugh) but I’m usually halfway through my workout when I finally wake-up.
Goals for 2018
So what’s in store for this year? Here are some things on my yearly to-do list:
- Launch the new ArchSmarter website.
- Write a new blog post every two weeks.
- Write six freelance articles.
- Produce one video tutorial a month for ArchSmarter’s YouTube channel.
- Relaunch the beta courses (BIM Manager Boot Camp, Mastering Revit Macros, Hot Rod Your Revit Template, and Dynamo for Busy People).
- Update the Learning Dynamo course.
- Develop a membership service to help small design firms maximize the value of their technology.
- Build the ArchSmarter team of four employees.
- Complete four residential design projects.
- Grow the ArchSmarter mailing list to 15,000 readers.
Last but not least, thanks to all you regular ArchSmarter readers! I couldn’t do this without you. I really enjoy interacting with you and hearing about what you’re up to. Hopefully, we’ll get the chance to meet up in person this year!