1-Year Review

July 12, 2019

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Winston Churchill

Thanks for joining me on Flexibility Is Freedom!

A year ago, I left my job to build passive income businesses and design my dream lifestyle.

I explained my decision here: 5 Reasons I Quit My Job to Build Passive Income Businesses.

In the last year, I've often asked myself, "What's it all for?"

In those moments of doubt, I revisit my 5 Reasons post. And each time, I feel reinvigorated again about my vision: to build a life of Flexibility and Freedom.

In that post, I argued that time is the true currency of life.

Recently, a friend of mine showed me an interesting way to think about time:

  • The average life expectancy in Canada is about 82 years or ~30,000 days
  • If you multiple your current age by 365.25, you can find your approximate age in days
  • Now divide that number by 30,000 to find out what percentage of your life has passed. Conversely, you can also look at what percentage of your life is still remaining.

"How will you spend the rest of your 30,000 days on Earth?"

For me, I'm turning 27 next year or ~10,000 days! (a major milestone)

That means 1/3rd of my life has passed with another 2/3rds remaining!!!

This simple math exercise left me speechless.

It's yet another reminder of the true currency of life: time.

We don't get to choose when we live, only how we live our lives.

Now, let's review the results of my first year into passive income entrepreneurship!

1-Year Video Reflection

To commemorate this milestone, I created my first YouTube video!

This short video highlights what I've learned, what was challenging, and what I'd do differently.

The rest of this post covers:

  • 1-Year Results (Key Metrics, Vision, Goals, Timeline)
  • 1-Year Journey (What I did in the last year)
  • 1-Year Reflection (What I Learned, What Surprised Me, What Was Challenging, What I'd Do Differently)
  • Next Steps

1-Year Results

Key Metrics: What Did I Accomplish?

  • Revenue: $396
  • Unique Visits: 16,985
  • RPM*: $23.34
  • # of Articles: 82
  • # of Links: 6

*RPM: Revenue Per Thousand (M)

My first authority site, The Derm Detective, launched back in November 2018. However, there was no meaningful traffic or revenue until February 2019.

So the key metrics here represent February 2019 to June 2019.

Now, let's evaluate my results against the vision, goals, and timeline from my 1 year plan.

Vision: Did I Stay Focused?

Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”

Proverbs 29:18

We all need a vision in life. Without it, life can feel empty and directionless.

Not to be confused with goals, a vision is the "line on the horizon".

It's what you aspire to become, an ideal state of being, a dream that you shape into reality.

A powerful vision can be the source of endless motivation and inspiration.

If the "end" result is worth fighting for, you'll figure out the "means" to get there.

Here is the vision that I set for my first authority site:

  1. To become the most trusted site on acne scars
  2. To provide practical content supported by medical studies
  3. To improve my readers’ quality of life
  4. To generate recurring income from affiliate marketing and ebooks
  5. To reduce the time I spend on this business so it truly becomes passive income

So how well did I do?

Out of the 5 statements, I made significant progress on 4 of them (1-4). Not bad!

(1) I've taken concrete steps to becoming an authority site on acne scars, notably by creating a massive guide on scar treatment that combines dozens of medical studies. There are definitely more subtopics to cover here but this was a huge step in the right direction.

(2) Given my experience with acne scars, I made sure to keep the content as practical as possible for patients, while still maintaining a level of scientific credibility. I plan to further refine my writing style to seamlessly blend information with entertainment.

(3) I've received a few emails and comments from both patients and clinics who were happy to find such a comprehensive guide on scar treatment. These are some of the most rewarding moments of this journey as I really feel that I've helped someone else in this world!

(4) Earlier this year, my site started to generate traffic and revenue. While it's not much, I believe there's a lot of untapped potential here. I've focused on affiliate marketing in the last year but I'm still open to producing an ebook down the road (as I had initially planned).

(5) I have not yet started to "reduce" the time that I actively spend on my site. This is an important part of the passive income equation: to stop actively trading our time for money.

In the next 6 months, I plan to increase my overall productivity (and eventually decrease my active involvement) through two channels:

  1. Building Efficient Processes
  2. Automating and Outsourcing

I'll have more details in the coming months!

Now that it's been a year, how has my vision changed?

While I still agree with the overall vision, I'd make a few tweaks:

  1. To become the most trusted site in skincare disorders, starting with acne scars
  2. To provide practical content supported by medical studies
  3. To improve my readers’ quality of life
  4. To generate recurring income from multiple sources, including affiliate marketing, ebooks, online courses, and physical products
  5. To reduce the time I spend on this business by designing efficient processes and leveraging automation and outsourcing so it truly becomes passive income

Goals: Did I Achieve Them?

"Goals are the markers and milestones along the journey."

If vision is the "horizon in the distance", then goals are the signposts along the way.

When I set my goals a year ago, I knew they were more "directionally correct" than accurate. And that's okay - goals are there to help you make progress towards your vision.

Here are the goals I set last year:

  1. Publish an ebook in 6 months
  2. Write 50+ blog posts
  3. Target 750+ visits per month
  4. Build 50+ links (added in Nov 2018)

(1) Publish an ebook in 6 months

Result: Deferred Indefinitely

My original plan was to create and sell an ebook about acne scars.

However, I quickly realized that selling your own product requires a ton of trust and traffic. Frankly, you need to build an audience first before you can promote your own products.

I still plan to create an ebook in the future (perhaps with an online course). However, there's no definitive timeline as I want to focus on growing revenue from affiliate marketing.

(2) Write 50+ blog posts

Result: 82 articles

50 blog posts is considered a starting point for beginners of The Authority Site System.

While I may have surpassed this goal, it's not just the quantity that matters, but also the quality. Some sites are very profitable with only a handful of well-written and well-optimized articles.

Going forward, I'll be focusing on traffic and revenue as my main goals instead of blog posts.

(3) Target 750+ visits per month

Result: 6K visits per month (as of June 2019)

My original target of 750 visits per month was based on data from SEMRush using competitors like AcneEinstein and SuperNaturalAcneTreatment.

However, I've clearly blown past that target in less than a year's time.

That's because third-party SEO tools like SEMRush (and even Ahrefs) will always be wrong - it's just a matter of how wrong.

It's exceptionally difficult to estimate organic traffic without the actual data from Google.

So many assumptions are "baked into the cake", including keyword volume, click-through rates, and long-tail keyword variations.

For example: Ahrefs currently estimates traffic for TheDermDetective.com at 470 visits per month while the actual figure is closer to 6,000 visits per month.

Despite this, I will continue setting traffic targets as it's a key driver of revenue.

(4) Build 50+ links (added in Nov 2018)

Result: 6 links (including 3 from a guest post)

Back in November 2018, I set a goal of 50 links as a starting point.

A more scientific approach would be to look at the number of dofollow links of my competitor:

  • PerformanceSkin: 44

Again, it's not just about the quantity, but the quality of the links.

While links are important for SEO, I don't plan to set a link goal again for two reasons:

  1. It's several steps removed from what we really care about: revenue. That's because links are supposed to improve rankings, which drives organic traffic, which generates revenue.
  2. Building links is very difficult and there's a lot of variation/randomness. Some people can build dozens of links a month while others (such as myself) can only build one or two. That's why I'm currently scaling my link building strategy via "shotgun skyscraper".

Timeline: Did I Follow It?

"Timelines mark the due dates and deadlines for your goals."

The final element of my 1 year plan was the timeline:


Overall, I managed to stay on schedule (more or less).

The main difference was that Phase I (learning SEO and other skills) turned out to be a continuous process rather than the 1-2 months I had budgeted. Wishful thinking!

While timelines are helpful, they are not the "be-all-end-all".

Even the best laid plans can change as you learn new things and discover new ideas.

On the other hand, timelines help keep you on track and provide a strong sense of progress towards meeting your goals (a positive association that encourages further progress).

In the next 6 months, I will continue using timelines to keep me accountable to my goals.

1-Year Journey

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Tao Te Ching

This next section is a summary of what I worked on in the last 12 months.

AcneScarsAnswers.com (July 2018 - Oct 2018)

July - August 2018

I began my journey with that first "step". During this period, I learned about dermatology (background research for my site) and basic concepts in SEO.

I bought a 7-day trial of Ahrefs to conduct keyword research and plan out my content.

I published a few initial blog posts and created an outline for my ebook on acne scars.

September - October 2018

In late August, I decided to pivot towards affiliate marketing. For the next 2 months, I created several info guides on acne scars and began a series of product review posts.

In September, I made several major investments - purchasing the beginner course by Authority Hacker (The Authority Site System) and an annual subscription to Ahrefs Lite.

In late October, I made a second pivot - expanding the vision of my authority site beyond acne scars. This was partly influenced by a major update to The Authority Site System.

TheDermDetective.com (Nov 2018 - Onwards)

Getting my second site up and running was a lot faster than the first one.

During November and December, I published several "Best X for Y" posts and released the first version of my ultimate guide on acne scar treatment.

From January to June 2019, I continued to build "content silos" - subtopics within my niche.

Aside from content, I also worked on improving site speed, adding new features (social share icons), fixing tech issues, and fine-tuning the site design (very time-intensive).

Link Building (Jan 2019 - Onwards)

Starting in January, I began exploring link building initiatives.

I focused on gathering links to my info guides, notably my resource on acne scars.

After several unsuccessful campaigns using "shotgun skyscraper", I experimented with other methods such as the "sniper" approach and guest posting.

In late April, I decided to return to "shotgun skyscraper". In June, I began building a massive email outreach process using Ahrefs, ScrapeBox, and Hunter.

1-Year Reflection

“Shall I tell you, the secret of the true scholar? It is this: Every man I meet is my master in some point, and in that I learn of him.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

What I Learned

1. The Value of Patience

Perhaps the most important lesson from this past year is patience.

In SEO, it may take many months before you start seeing any results.

There will be days when you wake up, look yourself in the mirror, and wonder what you're doing.

Moments when the "going gets tough, and the tough get going".

Those who end up ahead have the patience and stomach to ride out the initial period of inertia.

2. SEO. A lot of SEO

SEO is the "art of getting search engine traffic to your site for free."

I quickly discovered that the SEO industry is full of contradicting theories and opinions.

While there are tests and studies, most of SEO is akin to religion - hard to prove or disprove so you'll just have to trust that it works.

My advice to beginners: take everything you hear about SEO with a pitcher of salt.

3. Don't Be Afraid to Change Direction

I've also learned that there needs to be a balance between sticking it out and changing direction.

Don't be afraid to adjust your course along the way.

Perhaps your initial idea wasn't fully developed? Perhaps the competitive landscape has changed? Whatever it is, don't tie yourself to one direction if you discover it's the wrong direction.

On the other hand, you also need to know when to stick it out.

If your thesis is intact but you don't see results yet, then it goes back to having the patience and stomach to keep going.

Don't make changes so quickly that you never see the results of your work.

If you believe in something, you need to give it a chance to flourish.

What Surprised Me

1. Social Isolation

The biggest surprise for me was the social isolation of working as a solo entrepreneur.

While I'm naturally introspective, I still miss the energy of working with my peers and colleagues.

Overall, I'd say the solo entrepreneur route is a mentally tough one.

You make all of your own decisions, often in isolation from other people. As a result, there's fewer opportunities to "bounce ideas" or seek guidance and mentorship from coworkers.

I also find it's more difficult to meet new people as you naturally would working at the office.

However, it's definitely an addressable issue.

For me, I have several ideas and plans, some of which I'm already working on:

  • Join meetups on affiliate marketing, ecommerce, and entrepreneurship
  • Visit Southeast Asia to connect with digital entrepreneurs in the region
  • Attend an SEO conference in Chiang Mai, Thailand this fall
  • Try out a co-working space
  • Join local sports leagues and pursue interests (archery, sailing, music concerts)
  • Be open to new opportunities and always look for ways to help other people

2. Frustration with the Slow Pace of Progress

I am someone who gets excited by a grand vision but frustrated by the slow implementation.

I often feel like I'm falling behind my "expectations" and running behind schedule.

As the saying goes, "Rome wasn't built in a day."

I need to learn to "chill out" sometimes - you only have two hands.

Getting frustrated doesn't lead to more productivity. The key is to stay focused, take breaks to recharge, and persevere.

Remember, the tortoise ends up winning the race!

3. Revenue (Sooner Than Expected)

I anticipated that it could take up to a year to generate SEO traffic and revenue.

So I was pleasantly surprised to see some revenue coming in after 3-4 months.

What Was Challenging

1. Link Building

No surprise here, link building is HARD.

It's similar to sales (think door-to-door sales or telemarketing).

You get ignored a lot, a bunch of no's, a few maybe's, and very very few yes's.

There are many reasons why link building is so difficult:

  • Multiple ways to do it (blackhat vs. whitehat, PBNs, buying links, sponsored posts, guest posts, directories, blog comments, shotgun vs. sniper, etc.)
  • Extremely time-intensive: creating amazing content, gathering prospects and emails, and trying to convince total strangers on the Internet to give you a link
  • You need to keep refining the process to get better at it. It's easy to get discouraged after sending hundreds of emails and not getting a single link (I've been there!)

Overall, link building is challenging but a crucial piece of any SEO strategy.

My Advice on Link Building:

  • Don't take it personally when your emails get ignored, when people tell you "no", when all you get are requests for money ("our rates are $60 a link")
  • Keep refining the process and trying out new ideas (subject lines, ways to provide value) - you'll eventually find those "diamonds in the rough" who give you a (well-deserved) link

2. Balancing Multiple Workstreams (and a Personal Life)

As an entrepreneur, it's important to learn how to deal with the lack of structure in your "job".

It's up to you to decide what's important and what you should be working on.

At first, everything seems important because you don't know what really moves the needle. So you want to dive into everything and anything all at once.

But once you have a little experience, it becomes more clear what you should work on and how to balance multiple workstreams, along with your personal goals and interests.

3. Making Decisions in a Time Efficient Manner

Early in my journey, I spent an insane amount of time trying to do everything "perfectly".

But I realized that it's not always necessary to find the "best" solution, simply one that works.

For example: I spent a lot of time comparing different SEO tools before going with Ahrefs.

In the future, I'd set a time limit on the research stage (1-2 hours) and make a decision faster.

Trial-and-error often works much better than the most sophisticated decision-making process.

What I'd Do Differently

1. Don't Obsess Over Short-Term Results

In our day and age of instant gratification, we can't help but crave those daily jolts of satisfaction.

Whether it's reading email, posting on Instagram, or checking if your friends texted you back, it seems we're growing more and more addicted to daily affirmations of our existence.

But in SEO and affiliate marketing, there's little value in obsessing over short-term results.

The truth is, traffic will be volatile no matter what you do.

In fact, the hours that I've spent checking traffic and revenue everyday have caused me more stress and anxiety than they're worth in actual informational value.

It's better to spend your time actually improving your business, rather than just worrying about it.

2. More Time for Personal Development

Whether you're bootstrapping your own business or have a massive workload at your job, it's so easy to get lost in the day-to-day "doing" that you have no time left for "becoming".

A huge part of the journey is growing - learning new things, improving your skills, and maturing.

If I could start my first year again, I'd put more time into developing my knowledge and skills.

3. More Structured Business Plan

For my next authority site, I'd create a more rigorous "battle plan".

This would include a strategy for each "department" of the business.

For example:

  • Content: Write 50 articles myself and hire a writer for another 50 articles
  • Site Design: Select color/font palette myself, create logo, build layout, use Elementor
  • Link Building: Use ScrapeBox, Ahrefs, and Hunter to implement "shotgun skyscraper"
  • SEO Optimization: Use PageOptimizer Pro for on-page SEO, Ahrefs for technical SEO and internal linking, WP Fastest Cache and Autoptimize for site speed
  • Conversion Rate Optimization: Adopt best practices in copywriting, UI design, and A/B testing to create the best converting content

4. Accountability Partner

It's a great idea for solo entrepreneurs to find an accountability partner. And it doesn't have to be someone in your industry, either! This is something that I'll be looking into very soon.

It's Been 1-Year Now: What's Next?

Scaling This Business

Overall, my first year has been about "proving out" the business model.

In other words, "Does the wheel work?"

And I'd say that it definitely does!

Now, the next leg of this journey will be focused on scaling traffic and revenue.

As I mentioned earlier, there are two channels to doing this:

  • Building Efficient Processes
  • Automation and Outsourcing

Next Steps

In the next 6 months, my main goal is to hit $1K per month in revenue.

I'll publish a full business plan later this month with all the details!

To Flexibility and Freedom,


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