2020 was wild. It was easily the most difficult and challenging year of my life. Each day demanded psychological endurance and emotional discipline. It was difficult and disheartening to watch the world suffer the way it did — the virus, the lockdowns, the violence, the politics — it was grueling.
But every day I chose to make the best of it and appreciate everything I have — my wife, family, friends, home, company, clients, and so much more. As a result, 2020 was filled with many exciting accomplishments, milestones, and progress that I’m excited to share with you.
My mechanism of coping with the chaos of 2020 was by becoming extremely productive (as if I wasn’t already productive enough, right?). I designed, coded, and launched 10 new custom websites this year. I wrote a new book, reached 2,000 newsletter subscribers, and made over $5,500 from product sales. It was my best year of business so far.
My wife and I took our annual trip to Skaneateles, NY and both our families took a trip to Bar Harbor, Maine together in the fall. The stock market crash led me to start investing, I celebrated my 30th birthday, and my wife and I began renovating the massive unfinished basement in our home!
First, I want to highlight some professional accomplishments (and interesting data points), then I’ll detail some personal events (with photos)!
The first thing I did in 2020 (literally on January 1st) was launch my new company website. This was a big step toward splitting my website into two distinct websites: one for my freelancing content and one for my company content and portfolio.
This was a major (and risky) decision, but one I knew was necessary if I wanted to keep expanding my educational freelance content while growing my web design and development business at the same time.
So far, potential clients seems to have no trouble finding my new company website, which is a relief!
Over 85% of my company website traffic came from this website (mattolpinski.com). That’s important because it means I’ve made it easy for potential clients landing on this website to find my work, portfolio, and services by clicking through to my company website. I’ll be looking for that number to decrease next year.
Overall, I’m thrilled with how well my company website performed in it’s first year:
3.4 Pages per Session
4:00 Avg. Session Duration
54.4% Bounce Rate
18 high-quality leads came in through my company site and several projects I did were direct referrals. I worked on 8 main client projects, 2 smaller client projects, and a few strategy workshops. I lost several projects because I stuck to my pricing, but I think that’s a good thing. Everything ended up working out well in terms of timeline anyway.
This year, I surpassed $1M in all-time gross freelance sales. While this was never a “goal” of mine, it’s certainly an exciting achievement. With all the uncertainty of 2020, it was reassuring to maintain stable income and continue growing my business.
I signed my biggest client ever and spent the year working hard to bring a new software product to market. I’ll be able to share that early in 2021 along with another major project I’ve been working on for nearly two years.
This was the first year I didn’t work with any bad clients. Every project worked out quite well! It was also the first year I hired several subcontractors to help expand and grow my business.
Overall, the uncertainty of 2020 didn’t seem to have much impact on my business, which is a huge testament to the stability I’ve been able to establish in recent years.
Here a list of the websites I designed, built, and launched this year (or will be launching early in 2021):
A few years ago, I worked on a large, multi-year redesign of a digital software product for one of the biggest companies in the world. Unfortunately, I was never able to share that work because of our NDA agreement.
With the extra time I had, I took a few days to redesign it from scratch, without any client limitations or user restrictions. I gave it a new name, new logo, new pages, new features, new layout, and a dark interface rather than a light one. It’s essentially an entirely different product, loosely based on the concept of the original project.
This is a technique I recommend freelancers (cautiously) use when restricted from displaying work in their portfolio due to an NDA agreement.
Remember: always read and understand your NDA before displaying derivatives of client work in your portfolio!
Looking back at my older projects, I can say with confidence that I did some of my best design work this year. I’m SO happy with the look and feel of everything I created and I feel like I took a big step forward as a professional web designer and developer this year.
I’m not exactly sure how to categorize my personal website and all my freelancing resources. It feels like something I do professionally, but it’s not technically a part of my legal business either. So for now I’m putting this all in a “professional achievements” section 😄👍
With my company website firmly established, I was able to completely re-imagine this website (mattolpinski.com). My goal was to make it an educational resource and destination for freelancers. It’s the home for all my articles, products, community, newsletter, resources, and more.
I absolutely love how it turned out and I’m proud of the hand-crafted design and code. It’s received glowing compliments and feedback this year. Requests for guest articles pour in on a weekly basis (which is a first) and it’s been the catalyst for several new and valuable introductions. Overall, it’s been a smashing success!
45,000 people from 190 countries visited 87,000 pages on my website in 2020.
I launched this website in mid-April, and there’s been a steady increase in traffic ever since. Nearly 90% of my visitors are new. Here’s how the data stacks up against last year (2019).
44.9k Users (+108%)
55.6k Sessions (+88%)
87k Pageviews (+56.9%)
1.5 Pages per Session (-16%)
1:14 Avg. Session Duration (-28%)
81.9% Bounce Rate (+13.8%)
The average session duration decreased and bounce rate increased significantly, but that’s likely due to this website primarily being a blog now. That would be more concerning if my newsletter subscribers weren’t also increasing significantly, which is amazing!
I wrote 10 new articles this year and published 9 guest posts to my blog, which was exciting! Here’s a list of what I wrote:
I’d say that’s a heck of a year for the blog. In 2021, I hope to reach over 100+ total posts and publish more guest articles as my website starts to become a destination and resource center for freelancers!
That leads me to another milestone: reaching 2,000 newsletter subscribers! You can see the clear (and massive) spike in subscribers in April when I launched my new website along with a free eBook as a lead magnet and an exit intent modal via RightMessage. Those changes had a huge impact on my conversions!
Around the same time I re-launched this website, I was inspired to write a free eBook to use as a lead-magnet. I knew this would dramatically improve conversions and I wanted to have a high-quality free product available for freelancers.
I titled the book Freelancing 101: 101 Answers to Common Freelancing Questions. As the name suggests, this isn’t a traditional book. Instead, I wrote down 101 common questions freelancers ask, organized them into 12 topics, and wrote short, detailed answers to each of them.
I’m extremely proud of the colorful design and how it matches the design of my new website. But most of all I’m proud of the incredibly valuable freelancing insights I was able to include in all 52 pages.
I redesigned all of my freelancing products this year so they felt more cohesive, recognizable, and like they matched the new look and feel of my website. All these changes translated to my first successful Black Friday sale of $600 from one email and $5,500 of new revenue from selling my freelancing products.
That’s a major achievement for me and I think the fresh new designs contributed to that success.
The Freelance Institute
The Freelance Institute, the community I created for freelancers back in 2018, needed a post of its own. But the short version is that it’s been a struggle trying to grow the community using Slack (the live chat app for work). Late in the year, someone introduced me to Circle, a platform built for communities like TFI.
I knew almost immediately that the community would be much better off using Circle, but the transition wasn’t going to be easy. All the marketing material (including the website) and the behind-the-scenes automations were based on Slack, but I knew it was the right move.
So with just a few weeks left in the year, I designed and built a brand new marketing website and set up the new community on Circle! I’m extremely excited to see how the community grows in 2021. I’m anticipating higher conversions, increased engagement, and better member retention.
It’s rare that I share anything personal outside of my Instagram account, but this is the one post, once a year, where I get to share the highlights from my personal life. There are lots of photos in this section, which I’m excited to share with you!
As soon as I was done re-launching this website, I designed and built one for my wife, who recently became a freelance makeup artist and esthetician and started her own beauty blog! We designed it together and I built all kinds of fancy features into the WordPress CMS to make it easy and fun for her to use.
This was a whole new style for me and it was fun to flex different design muscles. We both love the way everything turned out. Now we just need to increase traffic and visibility.
In April, I celebrated my 30th trip around the sun. Unfortunately, it fell in the middle of a global crisis and a stock market crash, so my wife and I celebrated quietly at home with family and that was just fine with me 😄🎂🎉
Trip to Skaneateles
Skaneateles is a beautiful and romantic little town in upstate New York that my wife and I find particularly relaxing and peaceful in the winter time. Unaware of the impending lockdowns, we coincidentally took this memorable trip just in time!
Trip to Maine
In October, after 8 months of hard work and an onslaught of negative news, myself, my wife, and both our families decided to take a road trip to Bar Harbor, Maine. We all desperately needed a break. So we rented a remote AirBnB cabin and got to visit Acadia National Park in the fall. If you’ve never seen the Northeastern United States in the fall, it’s absolutely stunning.
The week of time we spent together as a family was relaxing, memorable, and a much-needed escape from an exhausting year. For the sake of completeness, I have to note that the drive was 10 hours without stops and we did it in a single day, with our dog Lily, two sets of parents, and two separate vehicles.
My wife Rachel desperately wanted to see a moose, which densely populate northern Maine. So, I made it my personal mission to find her a moose.
On the last day of the trip we drove north before heading back west. There’s a “road” that leads through Baxter State Park where every blog will tell you is the best place to see moose in Maine. What Google and I didn’t know is that the so-called “Golden Road” is actually a completely dilapidated, unpavedlogging route riddled with potholes and giant rocks. We could not drive more than 10mph.
At this point, we had driven hours just to get there, so we had no choice but to push through. Google Maps said we’d be on this 50-mile route for about 1.5 hours, but the road conditions made it more like 5 hours in one of the most remote places I’ve ever been. No cars, no people, no cell service, and unfortunately, no moose.
Google Maps lied to us.
We drove for what felt like an eternity. How our tires didn’t explode and our dog didn’t hurl remains a mystery. The scenery was beautiful, but difficult to enjoy when your whole family is panicking in full-blown survival mode with a 13-hour drive ahead. But it was an adventure and it’ll make quite a story for our children someday.
Over the summer, I bought my wife the Canon G7X Mark III camera for her birthday. In anticipation of our trip, I also bought a pair of binoculars — to help us spot moose, of course. Just before our trip, while enjoying one of many backyard bonfires, I saw the moon bigger and brighter than ever before.
I had this radical idea to hold the camera up to the binocular lens and take a photo of the moon. If you’ve ever tried to photograph the moon before, you know it’s pretty much a lost cause. It looks like a tiny white ball with no distinguishable features.
But what I was able to capture was incredible:
It was such a cool shot, I had to share it. That’s the moon, captured through a camera/binocular lens from my backyard in upstate NY on a clear night. I’ve rarely seen such detail in the moon. As it turns out, it’s not made of cheese after all!
The Verse Project
2020 underscored just how lost and broken people are. In September, I was inspired to start a new side project called The Verse Project. It’s a way for me to share bite-sized biblical truths with the world while focusing my mind on something positive and encouraging. I even got 4×6 desk cards printed, which turned out great!
This is a deeply personal and unique project for me. I even debated including it in this article at all. To the best of my ability, I try to separate my personal life and beliefs from my professional career. But my faith is a big part of who I am and, for a number of reasons, I felt like this was something worth sharing!
My wife and I have dreamed of renovating our basement since we bought our home. It’s a huge 1,200 sq. ft. unfinished area. Converting it to usable space would dramatically improve the day-to-day lives of two people who work from home.
However, basement renovations are expensive and this wasn’t our top priority. As it turns out, our renovation company, Knaub Home Solutions, needed a new company website. So they hired Matthew’s Design Co. to renovate their website and that allowed us to renovate our basement this year!
Here are some before photos of what the space looks like:
As I write this post, their crew is making all kinds of noise downstairs with saws , drills, and other power tools — ah, the sweet melodies of progress. When it’s done, we’ll have a massive living space, two new bedrooms, a full bathroom, a dedicated storage room, and storage under the stairs.
I’ll update this post with “after” photos in a few weeks and include this as a part of my 2021 year in review article too. You’ll also be able to see the photos on the new Knaub Home Solutions website when it’s done. How cool is that?!
Plans for 2021
After a year like 2020, I’m not so sure I want to make predictions about the future. I’m not sure where my career is going, but I love everything that’s in the works. Should I double down on Matthew’s Design Co.? Will The Freelance Institute take off and supplement my income? Will my articles and products start generating more revenue? I’m not sure, but I do have a few plans and ideas!
First, I certainly want to keep growing my web design and development business, Matthew’s Design Co. This is the bulk of my income and it’s important that potential clients continue to find my business easily. I’m hoping to work with some past clients again as their products launch publicly this year!
I also need to make some adjustments and improvements to my newsletter. There’s a lot of missed opportunity there right now (although freelancers seem to love the emails), so look out for more strategic improvements there if you’re a subscriber!
Overall, I’ve gotten A LOT of positive feedback from both clients and freelancers this year, so I’m looking forward to building on that in 2021.
If you’re interested in seeing how my business has taken shape over the years, check out my annual reviews from 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016 and 2015.
I hope some of this information gives you some insight into my life and business that can be beneficial to yours. Thanks for reading!
About Matt Olpinski
Matt runs his own web design and development company Matthew’s Design Co. and teaches thousands of freelancers how to succeed through his personal blog, newsletter, and community for freelancers — The Freelance Institute.