This site tells me that I had 250 working days in 2016. One holiday mid year brings that down to 240. So what did I learn during those 1920 hours of occasional focus? Well, here are five snippets that, with 20/20 hindsight, provided me with a sizeable dollop of knowledge. They may do the same for you.

Dollop #1 – Do It Different

We are lucky to work with a wide range of very smart clients. Looking back, I can see that the fast growing ones have a number of things in common. One of those things is their focus on creating and ruthlessly promoting a clear point of difference that makes them stand out in their respective markets. Google then does a great job of providing the necessary leverage to kick their growth numbers skyward. Whilst their “same as everyone” competitors are left to struggle to make those rising click costs pay.

So what makes you different from your competitors? Is there any way you can make that difference big, bold and obvious? Is it your guarantee, your range, your approach, your people – or all of these and more? Earlier in the year I wrote this blog post that talked to this point. Once you have a clear “message of difference”, your Google Search Ads stand out, your landing pages almost write themselves, and if the difference resonates with your audience then your conversion rates bump upwards.

Do different – it pays.

Dollop #2 – Passion Plays a Part

Back in November I attended Nurture Change in Fiji. While there I met and heard Murray Thom present – he’s the person behind “The Great New Zealand Song Book” and lots more. Murray would have to be one of the most animated and passionate business speakers I have had the pleasure to listen to.

But his was not the usual blah story of success linked joyfully to even greater success. Nope, there were numerous roadblocks, challenges and plain hairy obstructions that lined up in front of him as he built his publishing empire.

Through all this strife it was clear to me that it was his passion in the project that kept him keeping on. There’s plenty of talk about passion in business, but how many times do we really dig down and check in on the real reasons behind the “why” in what we do?

Dollop #3 – Give it a go: the power of the start.

I began 2016 with a plan to launch Google Group Training. Nothing new there – I had started 2015 with the same plans. But things just got in the way. Finally in May it all happened. We put a few days aside and designed and wrote the content for our first Google Analytics course. It sold out in a week.

Later in the year we kicked off Google AdWords training. We tried to condense it into one session and failed miserably. People complained that their heads hurt, there was so much content to consume. So we stretched it out to two sessions with a two-week break in between.

Next month we launch training in Email Marketing and, after that, Search Engine Optimisation – both introductory courses running for three hours each. Registrations are whistling in.

But the success is not the message here – getting started is. So what’s been on your 2016 task since late 2015? Why not give it some air in 2017.

Dollop # 4 – Help Loves Experience

In July my left knee decided that trail running was not such a good idea any more and it was time to stop. NOW. Exercise can be addictive, so it took me a while to listen until the pain became loud and clear.

Off I trotted to a physio who I chose because they were nearby. It was first physio experience, so how else should I chose?

I spent weeks working with this person with very little to show for my money and, more importantly, my time. Thankfully around this period Ark Advance started working with Darren North from Urban Athlete. Now “athlete” is not a classification I would readily put myself into but I can make the “urban” part work – so off I limped.

Darren had seen this problem many times before – we were on the right track from the first session. He had me running up and down the hallway, bending this way and that, and exploring models of troubled knees. In no time at all he taught me what was wrong then showed me how his unique list of new exercises would help – IF I took the time to follow them.

Thankfully I did – things settled down enough for me to have mildly pleasant experiences on a big hill near Waihi and a jumble of rocks around a mountain.

So has 2016 been like a rinse and repeat for the advice you are receiving in your business? Perhaps 2017 could be the time to break out and experience something new?

Dollop #5 – You Can Never Stop Learning

Last month the company turned 14. I have the grey hairs to show that this and a bit prior all adds up to roughly 32,000 hours of experience – and the odd stressful moment – in online marketing. But no matter how much experience you have, there’s always plenty of room to get better.

In October we spent the most we ever have on external training for ourselves. The figure made me wince, but we wanted to upskill on the latest advertising methods, so we gave the credit card a hard nudge and started to learn from the best in Australasia.

As mentioned before, in November I did the Nurture Change experience for the second year running. Yes, it was in Fiji and the resort was stunning BUT I didn’t go for the sand – it was the speakers who make this worth the time. Honest :).

But training and education don’t always need to cost the earth. Here’s the list of books I read in 2016 that made me take notes and apply new stuff. They may for you too.

Confessions of the Pricing Man: How Price Affects Everything – Herman Simon

My book of the year. Pricing is so important and rarely do we get it right. This book helps you navigate around the traps along the way. I gave it as a Secret Santa for my BNI group and was laughed out of the room. I admit it may look like a textbook – but it is an easy read once you get into it.

Making habits, breaking habits: how to make changes that stick – Jeremy Dean.

Learn the easy path to starting what you want and getting rid of what you don’t.

Two awesome hours: science-based strategies to harness your best time and get your most important work done – Josh Davis, Ph.D.

Thankfully, it’s not about working longer. Find the way to design your day to best use the fixed amount of energy you have.

The power of more: how small steps can help you achieve big goals – Marnie McBean

An Olympic-medal-winning rowing athlete explains her approach to goal setting.

Feet in the clouds: a tale of fell-running and obsession – Richard Askwith

Trail running porn. We think we have hills to puff our way up – those fell runners take it to an even higher level.