For The Content Technologist, 2023 was a year of reevaluation, prolific networking, wrong turns, and failed experiments. One recent collaborator wondered whether I was going crazy (only on the surface). Another mentioned that I’ve pivoted so much that I’ll have done a full 360-degree turn before the end of the year (absolutely!). And I’ve landed, and here we are, back where we began.
In 2023, the highs were beyond revelatory, and the lows were crushing. Rapid scale and automated sales, which I believed in a bit too blindly, did not work. The self-driving car of business requires the same amount of human attention as training a student driver. I learned, as we all do, that even in the age of automation, there are no real shortcuts and few easy wins. So in the spirit of transparency, I present a year in review and a 2024 preview, with all my humility.
What I loved in 2023:
- “Social networking” means meeting people and getting to know them (and not automating the process). Being social, open, and collaborative remains my favorite part of building a business. Networking gets a bad rap in introverted circles, but when you think of it as connection and community-building, it’s a salve for when the world feels broken. I met so many fantastic people this year — readers, collaborators, clients, and friends — in person, online. I am thankful for every one.
- Publishing brilliant writers is a privilege. I am so proud of every single piece of content we published this year and stand by every sentence, every byline, every editorial decision. Although we weren't in a place to finish out the year with my big well-paid writer plans (entirely my fault), I’m extremely proud of every word The Content Technologist published this year.
- Working online now means getting comfortable with video. The biggest surprise for me this year was how much I loved working on video projects. I’d always avoided video because I’m shy, I don’t speak with the dauntless confidence of a broadcast journalism major, and I hate being judged on my appearance. Until very recently, I always thought I’d rather get by as a disheveled writer, seething and scheming behind a keyboard.
But our September salon—a pilot for what I want to grow into a bigger project—was one of my favorite initiatives all year. I’m way more comfortable on video than I ever thought I’d be, and I’m happy that we’re in an age of medium-fi content. And in 2024, I’m launching a year-long video project (see below).
- Generative AI is just fine. I don’t think AI is coming for my job, nor do I think it'll be a way to clone myself (although that’s tempting). But the monster is not going back in the box.
I think many of the AI tools were perhaps released too early, with too much fanfare and overhype. Last month’s executive kerfuffle at OpenAI had promise to be a fascinating story, the Scandoval of the tech world. But it turned out to be boring boardroom bs about sci-fi dreaming that, despite the "it's moving so fast" claims, remains many practical steps away.
But what I know is that AI is already making my life easier in video editing, channel distribution, and understanding the datasets I analyze for clients. I’m also excited for a future when I can use AI to develop a narrative novelistic RPG video game. I dream of a retirement where, in my 80s, I’ll just sit down and write nuanced character arcs by yelling into my smart bifocals.
What I learned in 2023:
- Sales, even in the age of automation, is challenging and best executed by professionals. I can participate in the actions of outbound sales, but I’m a much better inbound promoter, an assist in closing the warm lead.
Frankly, I hate cold emails of all kinds—sending them, receiving them, and it’s hard to get motivated when that is the most pressing part of my job and my survival. I know many people who are very good at sales, who are thrilled by the process of outreach and qualifying leads. I am not one of them.
(If you are/know a great digital salesperson looking to collaborate, please shout in my general direction.)
- Google Analytics 4 turned out to be a drag. Although I’ve done some pretty good GA4 setups this year, I admit the tool has many limitations, and it’s annoying for most users. Kinda wish I hadn’t devoted so much time to developing that course. (Which I will be updating in 2024!)
- Don’t ditch your old business model until a new one is actively working. A no-shit for the experienced, but a lesson I learned hard this year. Pivoting, especially when others depend on you, is not easy and requires a strong written, functioning plan.
- Being resilient means being realistic. Positivity and negativity alike can be intoxicating, but maintaining a realistic sense of what you can accomplish is crucial to functioning in this weird, fragmented world. Building timelines and understanding one’s limitations supports progress, while amplifying conflict—or, worse, apathy—helps no one.
- Rely on your strengths, even when you’re trying to grow. When this year has been difficult, I’ve returned consistently to the fact that, while everything hasn’t fallen into place as planned, I’m still doing a great job. When I’ve metaphorically broken my nose running into the wall of my own ambition, I have to remember that when it comes to content strategy, I can create like a motherfucker.
What’s next in 2024:
- Consistent, quality weekly content production. In 2019, The Content Technologist started as a challenge: I wanted to write a newsletter weekly for a full year. That project saved me from despair in the early days of the pandemic, and it helped me establish a thriving consulting business.
To amplify all the things I loved and learned in the past year and to stoke the fires of a better internet, in 2024 I’m again launching a weekly content project, this time experimenting with my newfound love of video.
Let’s Build a Website is a free weekly show where I’ll be livestreaming the process of rebuilding my personal website, DeborahCarver.com. Every Wednesday night from 6:30 to 7:30 PM Eastern, join me on YouTube, Twitch, or LinkedIn and watch along as I follow my process and develop my personal website in real time.
And if you want to build a website along with me, get each episode on-demand, receive templates and notes, and join a community of other website-curious builders, subscribe to the Substack.
- Monthly newsletters instead of weekly. The email newsletter will only publish new, original content monthly instead of weekly. Longer essays may be divided into two parts, but I’m aiming for only one essay per month.
Weekly publishing, while wonderful for keeping an audience connected, is a lot of work, and I need to focus on paid priorities: client work, the Let’s Build a Website video project, and building up a library of foundational educational content.
- A library of educational content is in active development. The Digital Content Strategy Expansion Pack is in the works — but we won’t be launching the program until more of it is written, and our sales process is more fully baked.
- And! A new email course is on the schedule for late January. More on that in the new year.
In the meantime, have a relaxing holiday. Enjoy spending time with your loved ones and gather peace in the serenity of the solstice.
–Deborah Carver, publisher of The Content Technologist, a resource for content professionals working in the age of algorithms