Year notes: a reflection on and round-up of my work in 2023

Content is a service, project management is key, and other things I learned/did in 2023.
A minimalist digital illustration of a woman wearing glasses a sitting at a table in a cafe writing in a diary on new year's eve with pages from a calendar and clocks flying around her

Content is a service, project management is key, and other things I learned/did in 2023.

What I did (a non-exhaustive list)

  • Worked on the intranet project to end all intranet projects, encompassing a content audit, strategy, information architecture, and content model. It was brilliant to be able to go so in-depth and stay with the project for such a long time.
  • Designed a huge content model for a wonderfully complicated client’s new website. It was exciting to see such a large organisation starting with a content model in place, and it was great to work on something so challenging.
  • Crafted 2 strategic narratives/brand messaging frameworks. One of these was Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park’s Partnership Plan, and I still get a thrill every time I see the tagline — Here. Now. All of us. – out in the world. It was also amazing to work on something so laser-focused on confronting the climate crisis.
  • Carried out 3 content audits, covering tens of thousands of pages of content (not as many pages as last year, but still plenty)
  • Worked with 2 teams to define and capture their content strategies. One of these projects is still underway and has been melting my brain — in a good way!
  • Conducted c.60 user and stakeholder interviews/research sessions
  • Spoke at some conferences and events, including:
    • A Supercool session
    • Button (this was a year career highlight)
    • Content Club
    • GDS Learning Day
    • Arts Marketing Association, Digital Copywriting day
    • Media Trust, Websites Unlocked
  • Wrote 30 articles/posts for my website
  • Sent 36 email newsletters/updates
  • Took half a day off each week all summer for an ecotherapy course. (Another highlight of my year. Having three distraction-free hours to spend relaxing in nature was even better than it sounds)

Who I worked with

  • Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park
  • Change Grow Live
  • The Health Foundation
  • The National Archives, in partnership with Numiko
  • Southdown
  • Battersea
  • DACS
  • Community Works & Sussex VCSE/NHS Sussex
  • 3 brilliant coaching clients

I also got to team up with:

These two lists make me swoon.

Reflections

Money and success are complicated

Financially, I’ve had a doublecheck-the-numbers-rub-my-eyes-pinch-myself- good year. Having said that, I don’t *feel* like I’m doing any better. There are two reasons for this:

  1. Cost of living: The extra profit meant that I could increase the dividend I pay myself each month, but that’s all gone into covering the increase in our expenses.*
  2. Building reserves: I’ve been focusing on building up my reserves this year. I’ve never had the recommended 6 months of living expenses in the bank, but I’m almost there now. When I have this locked down, I’m hoping I might be able to start taking a bit more money out of the business.

It’s also tricky for two reasons:

  1. I have absolutely no guarantee that this will carry on next year. If you’re reading this and cursing me because you’ve had a bad year, fair enough. It might make you feel better to know that I’m under no illusion that this will last, just like your rough patch won’t last either.I know this from bitter experience (I’m still scarred by the great lulls of autumn 2022 and spring/summer 2019). It’s a tough market out there, and a lot of people who hold the purse strings still think content is a nice to have.
  2. Money ≠ success for me*. Money is important, but I think about other things too when I’m thinking about success. Things like my health and wellbeing, how much time I have for my family and friends, my other interests. And coming into the end of the year, I feel like a bit of a wreck. I’m tired, I’m sick, I’m not doing a brilliant job of being a carer or a friend, and I haven’t done much other than work for a long time. This isn’t sustainable. I have a busy Q1, but the plan is to slow down after that and make the 4-day working week I’ve been dreaming of a reality.

*I can’t talk about money or the cost of living without acknowledging my privilege. I’m not rolling in cash – I’m the only person currently able to work in my household, I’m not a homeowner, I have no pension or savings to speak of — but I’m comfortable. I’m not living paycheck to paycheck anymore, and I’m not choosing between heating and eating. And that’s the reality for a huge number of people in the UK right now.

Project management is everything

This year I started taking project management seriously. I got Lyndsay Borgonon to help me out and started using ClickUp. I thought I was pretty organised before, but it’s been a revelation. I had to-do lists, I kept track of my capacity and availability, but things always fell apart when things got busy. Since going through the Borgonon bootcamp, I feel way more in control. It’s also made it a lot easier to keep track of a couple of bigger projects. There’s no way I could have done the amount of work I’ve done this year without this in place.

I’m done with tenders (for the most part)

I took part in a few tender processes this year. All were unsuccessful and all were a big drain on time, energy, and profits. So I’ve decided not to take part in tender processes anymore — unless I have a genuine connection with the organisation running the tender. Otherwise, the risk is too great for the effort I put in. With tendering, sometimes the reality is that you’re there to make the process look fair when the organisation already knows who they want to hire.

Content is a service

This time last year, I wrote:

“Lots of my work has walked a fine line between content design/strategy and service design. I like being in this space. It poses some interesting questions that I’m looking forward to trying to answer next year:

  1. Is content a service in non-profits that offer information and advice? And does thinking about it as a service change how I approach it?
  2. At what point does an IA project start being a service design project? Should I be bringing in a service designer on some of my IA projects?
  3. What are the problems that content can’t solve, and at what point should service design take over? And how can I help stakeholders see when they need a service, not content?”

So here’s where I am a year on:

  • Content is a service. I feel pretty bullish about this. For a lot of nonprofits, the info they provide in their content is a part of their service offering. Whether they see it that way or not is a different matter. Another way of looking at it might be that content is a part of the service.
  • I think nonprofits stand to benefit from seeing content as part of their service offering. In terms of consistency, efficiency, and creating joined-up experiences for the people who use their services.
  • Thinking about content as a service hasn’t changed my approach. But it has meant that I’ve doubled down on approaching information/knowledge/expertise as a resource, and seeing content as data that needs to be structured.
  • I’m also doubling down on aligning content to user journey stages (and connecting the stages up). A webpage found via organic search might work when someone’s trying to get a basic understanding of a topic. But it might not be the right intervention when someone knows more and is looking to take action.
  • I’m thinking less about IA and service design, and more about linking up content design, service design, and ‘innovation’. Content has so much to bring to the service design and innovation work that many nonprofits are doing.

I’ve got a lot more thinking to do on this, and I’m really keen to speak to other people who are looking at this. Get in touch if you’re up for a virtual coffee and a chat.

That’s it. Here’s to more amazing projects, clients, partners, and revelations in 2024.

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