2021: A Year in Review

So, it’s December 2021 and the annual urge to sum it all up is upon me.

What can I say?

When I was writing a similar post just a year ago, I hoped 2021 would be different from 2020. There was a sense of hope and of turning the corner despite the COVID-19 pandemic still raging. It was supposed to be a new year in which vaccines were arriving and businesses were coming back to life.

So 2021 *was* different from 2020 but it was a different shade of dark—it felt like an incredibly hard, endless and at times a hopeless year that seemed to pass in a blink of an eye.

Putting my business aside for a moment, I want to acknowledge the collective and individual suffering we have all been going through this year. The COVID death toll around the world; the discovery of unmarked residential school graves in Canada; the ongoing threat to abortion rights in the United States; and more, and more, and more. The barrage of tragedy seems at times endless and with the new omicron variant swooping in just before the holidays, the outlook on the beginning of 2022 is looking grim.


I believe things will get better. Not as quickly as I may want, but they will. And after all, I’m not here only to complain about 2021 but also to summarize the good that happened in it—and there was plenty.

How it started

SMM Headquarters entered 2021 as an agency focused on SEM and PPC as its core service. I, as its owner and lead consultant, grew my portfolio of Google Ads clients, maintained and expanded my certifications, and looked to the future as a PPC expert.

Little did I know that in spring my professional world would once again flip upside down with the certification I earned in Customer-Led Growth. It opened my eyes to the many possibilities in overall strategy and direction of growth that so many companies miss by forgetting to focus on their customers.

The possibilities exist not just beyond paid ads but alongside them too. The Customer-Led Growth framework reminded me why I couldn’t help certain clients reach the best results when we simply didn’t know who we were talking to and how we were trying to reach them.

So I think it counts as another pivot when I decided to go all in on CLG.

How it’s going

So far, in the second half of 2021, SMM Headquarters and I:

  • Focused on understanding my clients’ customers and the strategy to reach them as a whole;
  • Worked on intensive, Customer-Led Growth informed projects for several SaaS and non-profit clients in partnership with Elevate;
  • Stopped accepting clients for “straightforward” Google Ads management projects that didn’t include at least a component of Customer-Led Growth to do research and identify customer “jobs to be done”;
  • Conversely, I moved away from discussing Google Ads in my newsletter, LindkedIn and Twitter, talking more about growth, research and strategy instead.

Right now, I am working on marrying the knowledge and experience I have with Google Ads to Customer-Led Growth. CLG for PPC, anyone?

Exciting? You bet!

What’s in store for 2022

Reading my end-of-year posts is a great reminder that I’m notoriously bad at predicting what’s going to happen.

(This is also a great lesson to learn when doing customer interviews—never ask your interviewee to predict the future as people will usually be wrong!)

I can only plan for a year filled with determination and working smart, not hard. My eyes are on the prize of bringing the customer to the fore of my clients’ attention. Building a product or service with your best customer in mind can be a life-changing decision that transforms an entire business. I would like to see more companies adopt customer-led thinking while recognizing the challenges it brings and the changes it requires.

Not predicting anything more than that or else I’d read this post in a year and think, “Oh my sweet summer child Katya, little did you know…”

Although I’m sure that’s going to happen regardless.

Season’s greetings to you and yours 🎄

I wish you all a wonderful new year filled with hope, new opportunities, prosperity and, most importantly, health. Please take some time off, rest and disconnect. You deserve it.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and I will see you in 2022!

With love,

Katya Ryabova

SMM Headqurters owner

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