Reflections on 2020, and Pledges for 2021

Well, that was an interesting year wasn't it? Here's my thoughts on what the hell just happened. As well as what we have planned for the coming year.

I'm not one for new years resolutions. Like many people, I've tried and failed multiple resolutions over the years. Some I've shared with friends and family, some I've kept private, but 100% of them have failed. Going to the gym regularly, stopping biting my nails, not being afraid to say no to someone. These are all things I've declared on January the 1st, then broken two weeks later. 

Now I'm sure there's something to be said for this, because there are a number of people who can declare new years resolutions and stick to them. However I have concluded and made peace with the fact I am not one of them. Because if I really wanted to do something, I would start instantly. Purely because I'd be too impatient to wait until January the 1st to put it into action.

Side note, I actually managed to stop biting my nails in March this year. Full on cold turkey! I figured of all reasons to stop, a pandemic is probably the biggest.

What happened this year?

Ah yes, that's where I was going with this. I personally do not find new years resolutions to be useful. Instead, I took a page out of Tim Ferriss' blog and began carrying out past year reviews instead. To do this, you simply reflect on what went well, what went wrong, and what you could have done differently (without dwelling on it) in order to make amendments for the next year.

This allows me to use both past successes and past pain to help fuel and dictate the decisions I make the next year. So it's kind of like a new years resolution, but with far more weight behind it. Rather than an arbitrary decision I pull out my arse that bears no repercussions if I get it wrong.

This year however, I've decided to add new layer to my past year reflections; accountability.

This blog post is going to share everything that went well in the past year, what did not go well, and finally what I'm doing to fix it next year. This will not only keep you in the loop of what to expect, but will add a sense of urgency to my goals the moment I press the publish button.

What went well?

Alright, let's get the fluff out the way to start with. Despite it being a tricky year for us all, here's what I believe went well and what I'm proud of. These are in no particular order by the way. I'm just grabbing them from the top of my head.

The Garden Workshop Series

This series was filmed throughout the initial lockdown in the UK while I couldn't justify travelling to my workshop. A few days prior to the lockdown being introduced, I gathered a bunch of tools, equipment and materials from my workshop, took it home, and setup a workshop in the garden.

The series itself was extremely challenging to film but was also very fun. The best part of it however was the goal at the end: making three boxes for three frontline NHS workers while simultaneously proving that you do not need to have a fully kitted out workshop to be successful in woodworking.

The Free Online Woodworking School

Despite being cut in half by the lockdown, I eventually managed to finish filming the second project in the Free Online Woodworking School, the cabinet. This 30 part series took a lot of patience to film, but seeing all the videos filmed, edited and posted at the end was incredibly fulfilling. Not to mention the countless people who have sent me photos of their completed cabinets!

Rob has also done an incredible job at migrating the school to our new dedicated website and YouTube channel. You'll be hearing more news on this very soon!

The Email List

I finally got around to properly building and automating an email list this year. For those of you not in business, apparently this is one of the key metrics in valuing your businesses worth, especially if your business is based on social media. For context, YouTube could fall off the face of the Earth and take all 200,000 of my subscribers with them. My email list however, is mine. As long as the internet doesn't die.

The email list is mostly automated and provides extra resources to people who want information according to their skill level. Every week, you will get a recommendation on a video or blog post I created that you may have missed from my archives. Additionally, I use it to gather feedback from people who are struggling in certain areas. This way I can use it to inform future videos, or refer them to a resource that already exists.

The Fan Club Community

Throughout the DailyME videos filmed in August (You can be damn sure you'll hear more about this in the ‘what went wrong' section) one of the unexpected side effects of the videos and daily live streams was the incredible community that was built alongside it. We had people tune into the streams every single day to chat with each other, guide each other, and also help us out with purchasing and upgrading equipment for the workshop. As well as having a fair few laughs of course.

In addition to this, a Facebook group was created called the ‘Matt Estlea and Rob Harvey Fan Club‘ which has become an absolutely thriving community of people who are passionate about what they do. This group is run entirely by voluntary admins who are doing a cracking job at building and tending to the community. Way better than I could ever do myself. So a massive thank you to all the admins and of course the people who are part of that community!

Japanese Picnic Bench

A pretty cool, unexpected project that came out of this year was the Japanese Picnic Bench Project. Rob and I now have a lovely place to dine during the scorching hot summer heat. Shame about the view. (Of each other that is) This project was not only a challenge to make, but also gave us a chance to test some of the lessons we had learnt from books we digested throughout lockdown. 

In addition, it also taught me never to work with cedar in solid form again. Because I have never experienced chiselling a timber so soft and prone to damage in my life. Perhaps I should have moved this to the ‘what went wrong?' section….

I've read a ton of books!

Honestly, they're all pretty businessy. Most of them were based around email marketing and are what I used to guide me when building the email list. But other books included subjects such as branding, advertising and story telling, which is what we put into practice throughout the Japanese Picnic Bench Project.

My Level 3 Students Completed their course!

The UK lockdown unfortunately cut my students course a couple of months short and we had to resort to remote teaching and working from home. As you can imagine, this is somewhat difficult to do when you study a practical based qualification such as furniture making.

This was a real shame as this was my second year working with these students, all of which had an incredible level of skill, creativity and chemistry between one another. Despite the circumstances however, these guys pulled it out the bag and managed to produce some incredible work. Effectively managing to complete 3 months of work in 8 days.

After submitting their work at the end of the year, I gave them all a marking knife each as a congratulations for their incredible work over the last 2 years.

I fired 30,000 Cocopops into my mouth

Ever since getting a job at Axminster in 2013, I always wondered what would happen if you put a bunch of Cocopops into an extractor and stood with your mouth open at the top of the flute. 

Well, 2020 allowed me to live that dream and despite the vast majority of viewers not finding it funny, we found it hilarious. Particularly Rob. We probably should have put it on the second channel though!

Side note, don't try this. It feels like glass is being fired into your face.

The Mezzanine Floor

I tried my hand at some carpentry in late 2019 and by early 2020 had a completed mezzanine floor that didn't fall down! This area became a dedicated office space for Rob and I to edit videos and host live streams from. We definitely didn't follow standard protocol when building it and received a lot of flack from viewers (Understandably so) However the structure was checked by an engineer after being built and was deemed safe to use. We've since removed these videos from the channel as it doesn't do my credibility any favours!

The 'Where's My Thing?' Podcast

Myself and Rob have finally got round to starting out podcast called ‘Where's my Thing?' This podcast is focused on starting a business as a maker / creator and some of the lessons we learnt throughout the process. Not only that, but we saw it as a great opportunity to learn a thing or two ourselves. So we're also going to be having a bunch of tough lessons taught to us that you can learn from too. In short, we want to help you find your thing, as well as help us find our thing, whatever that entails.

Marking Knives

I had an extremely successful sale of Marking Knives in early September after working on a batch of 250 throughout August. They all got swiped up within 10 minutes and provided some much needed income to help fund new equipment for the business. There will be some big news on this in 2021 so please be patient if you're interested in owning one of these beauties!

We moved into a much nicer house

My housemates and I finally escaped the endless loop of only being eligible for student properties and managed to bag ourselves a lovely house in our hometown. This place is a huge improvement on our beaten up, gloomy, damp house in the centre of Reading that I filmed the garden workshop series in. The new place is spacious, light, and much closer to Axminster Tools and Machinery!

Prior to moving into the new place, we found ourselves homeless for 10 days due to contracts not overlapping. Consequently, I decided to live in my workshop during the transition period and film the entire thing. While working on the video, I wanted to test a different format of editing and storytelling, which was a risky move, but people absolutely loved it. This moves us onto the next point…

We finally nailed the video format!

Ok, this is a segway into the next part of this blog ‘what went wrong in 2020'. Over the past few years, myself and Rob have been throwing random videos at the internet, not really paying attention to seeing what sticks and what people actually react to. However while looking into the analytics after our failed daily video attempt, we finally realised where we were going wrong.

It took a while to get round to it, but eventually we posted two new videos towards the end of 2020 with the new video format and the response was absolutely incredible!

What went wrong?

Ok, onto the good stuff now. Let's have a look at what went wrong throughout 2020.

Subscribers numbers plateaued

We thought we were onto a really good thing with the Free Online Woodworking School and the Garden Workshop Series etc. However upon looking into the analytics, we realised that all the videos we filmed in the past 2 years were underperforming and had only equated to 15,000 new Subscribers. In fact, it was only my videos from 3 years ago that were actually bringing in the subscribers and keeping the channel afloat (The videos published three years ago generated over 105,000 Subscribers in the past 2 years!). This was a sobering realisation that the channel had been going in the wrong direction for a very long time, and it was going to take us a long time to pull it back.

Does this mean the past few years have been a waste? No. Because the videos we have been posting have been very good at cultivating and strengthening bonds with our existing audience. Particularly the Free Online Woodworking School. However from a numbers perspective, they haven't done very well.

Only 15,000 people had subscribed to the channel after watching one of the videos we posted in the past two years. The videos posted 3 years however, bought in 105,000!
Energy Levels plateaued

Understandably, 2020 has been a very up and down year for energy levels. However I felt that my decrease in productivity was not actually due to the pandemic, but rather my structure of working itself. It took a while to realise what was causing this, but we eventually figured out that it was because I was not proud of the work I was putting out there. This moves onto the next point.

We focused on quantity, not quality.

If the daily videos taught us anything, it's that quantity doesn't matter. Quality does. For the past 2-3 years, we've been focusing too much on getting as many videos out there as possible, without taking a step back and focusing on the little things that matter.

This had two effects. Firstly, the majority of viewers on YouTube aren't interested in long series or videos (such as the Free Online School.) Instead, they're much more interested in short, overview videos with effective storytelling. 

As a result, they either didn't click on the video in the first place, or stopped watching it shortly after it begun. This meant that the YouTube algorithm looked at the video less favourably and recommended it to less people. Therefore giving us less of a reward for our efforts.

The second problem with this is that I was focusing too much on making videos, and not enough on the actual project. The looming pressure of needing to film and present enough to fill out one video, all to repeat again 2 days later for the next video was something that really got to me. You can clearly see the degrading in quality, patience and effort for the Japanese Picnic Bench series if you go back and watch it.

Haven't focused on myself enough

This year, I've been too caught up worrying about the health and wellbeing of others without focusing on myself as much as I should have. Which is relatively easy to do at the best of times, but didn't bode well when timed with the lockdown, decline of the channel statistics, teaching students in difficult circumstances, as well as moving house and various other adversaries. 

As a result, I unfortunately had to end a long term relationship with my girlfriend as well as cut ties with various other elements of my life in an attempt to become more centred and in control once again. A few of you flagged something was up between September and December. It was basically all this catching up to me!

We sh*tposted too much

To lighten the mood a little, 2020 was the year of alienating viewers. We didn't make effective use of the second channel and put too much irrelevant content on the main channel. At times, this resulted in 200,000 people getting a notification for something they're not interested in (the best one being a Minecraft Live Stream) and would eventually cause a lot of people to unsubscribe. Or be under the impression that the channel is not as focused as it once was. Which wasn't too far from the truth.

We still ended up with a net gain of subscribers by the end of the year, but managed to lose 15,000 in the process. Oops!

What we're going to change.

Without wanting to overpopulate this blog post, I am writing a separate blog post that will summarise all the targets for 2021, as well as what you can expect to see from us. This way you can use it as a quick reference if you want to know more about when and where things will be posted to ensure you don't miss anything!

Targets and Plans for 2021

Want to know when are where things will be posted? Click the button below!

10 Comments

  • what drew me to your site was the simple yet fun step by step guides to work in woodworking. not just the how to, but also the how NOT to do something. keep it simple , fun and informative and it will be as awesome as it was at the start

    Reply
  • I’d emailed you back in the summer thanking you for the inspiration and I stick with that thanks. 2020 was supposed to be the year my partner and I moved into our own house (offered on a place in January) and the prospect of some projects around the house got me interested in getting into woodworking. Then when the pandemic hit, watching maker videos like yours seriously helped keep me sane. I had to put my woodworking ambitions on hold while we were stuck in a small London flat, but I did pick up a bit of spoon carving for something that I could swing in my back garden (much like you made do with the garden series).

    Now 11 months later we’re finally into our new house and I’m finally going to have the space to start working on some projects. Need to start picking up a few basic tools for the jobs, but I have a couple of projects in mind to dip my toe in before I take on the ambitious task of building us a dining table. I’m itching to try out the marking knife as I managed to snag a cocobolo and copper one of yours when you did one of the open orders, just need to find it in the pile of boxes.

    2020 has been a struggle for everybody. I appreciate the openness of your own struggles and that you did keep putting out what content you could to help make the year a little bit easier for the rest of us.

    Reply
  • Liked reading this, not many would fess up to the downside. I do think it’s quality over quantity as you found out. It must be mental having to bang out a video every couple of days… anyhow looking forward to 2021 and to see what’s going to come. Less said about this shit year the better.. need to start on that box now, I have all the tools and wood but have been busy on a guitar build..
    You need a hair cut … too bushy 🤣

    Reply
  • As someone well into retirement (by that I mean quite old) I’m finding your instruction really informative, interesting and dare I say it without sounding too creepy, inspirational. I’ve been in and out of woodwork all my working life and never really got past the “bodger” stage, I now feel I’m on the right path so keep on doing what you’re doing becauseyou are certainly helping me.

    Reply
  • Keep up the great work Matt! I personally love the longer series and being able to see you, or Rob when he did the dovetail box, really dive deep into the project and see all the little details that could be omitted in a shorter overview. I love the channel and have watched all your videos multiple times. I had never done any furniture making or hand cut joints prior to finding your channel. You really gave me the confidence and knowledge I needed to get into it and give it a shot. Now I’m working on custom dovetail humidors for all the groomsmen in my wedding. I never would have even dreamed of trying this before seeing your videos, so thank you so much for everything you do. Can’t wait to get my hands on one of those marking knives! Best of luck in the new year!

    Reply
  • Matt
    As someone who requested a marking knife early but missed out I expected to see this in the “ will do better” column. Since you are into metrics, what proportion of people who requested a knife, answered the early surveys, did not give you money in a regular basis but who were ready to part with cash for a knife actually got one? I understand that demand far outstripped supply but please think about fairer ordering queues.
    Cheers
    Phil

    Reply
  • Covid was a weird year for the world and for youtube. I watched lots of your fun stuff and it was a good distraction, although it did coincide with a slightly directionless time in my own life so maybe in another head space I wouldn’t have had time for it. Having said that, I would never unsubscribe just because I didn’t like a few videos. You’d have to completely go off the beam for that. People can be utter twats. I’m inspired not only by the projects you make, but the sheer energy that goes into what you do. Just reading a list of everything you did last year makes my head spin. I’m also impressed by your self examination and analysis. It’s not always easy to take an impartial look at your work and be objective about what was genuinely good and what was crap. This subscriber will be with you through 2021.

    Reply
  • Keep them coming Matt.
    Like Covid – it can only get better.

    Have a great New Year.

    Reply

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