Around the web: Coaching and costs

by Jason on August 9, 2012 · 0 comments

A few links with commentary for today:

Chris Brogan: What do Coaches Do?

I’m letting the video play in the background while I write this, so this link was more of a prompting to get me talking about coaching rather than commentary about Chris’ post itself.  I’ve used a variety of coaches over the past few years, and I’ve always found it a good value, though in some cases I’m finding increasing value from old sessions as I get more experienced.  Maybe I’m a slow learner, but I’m discovering that fundamentals have value at different levels. Same concepts applied at the 101, 201, 301 levels etc.

This year my coaching has been physical, and it’s probably my best recommendation to people in business who want to dip their toe into coaching.  I started with a personal trainer in January and have been working hard three days a week ever since (I think I missed 3 sessions due to illness, and one due to a client emergency.)  I thought this was just an investment in stress relief, but I’ve found my business has skyrocketed this year.  Some of that might have been the result of lots of hard work lining up at last, but I think the real value was the environment of continual goal achievement - hitting a new personal record on a lift pretty much every week, if not every session has reframed my sense of ability to produce.

I’m also in a group coaching program for business right now, but it’s harder for me to engage – I typically skip the calls and grab the recordings (which I’ll listen to someday) and don’t ask questions. Previously I was doing one on one coaching with scheduled calls, and I made more use of that, so I’ll probably seek out a new coach once my goals are better defined.

What’s interesting to me is that the accountability aspect of coaching is so necessary for me, based on the results I just outlined above, but it’s such a minor part of the value.  ”Making sure I show up” is just a fundamental part of coaching, at least the kind of coaching that works for me, but the benefits I’ve gotten are so much more than that that.

Rae Hoffman-Dolan: The Cost of Entrepreneurship

This is a great intro for non-entrepreneurs about the realities of our lives, but I don’t think it’ll help.  The idea of missing a wedding (without judging that particular decision) is a great framer to give a concrete example of the kinds of decisions and sacrifices that get made, and might take people from the “oh yeah, you work hard and there’s no guarantee of a reward, sure, I get it, but anyway, let me tell you about these TPS reports” phase of understanding. I’d share it with some friends and family, but I think the end conclusion would either be more nodding, or at best/worst, “are you sure it’s worth it?”

And the reality is, no, it’s not worth it for a lot of people, and yes, there are times where I question it too.  But I’ve learned to see things how I think they should be, and I’m in a position where I can work towards that, so for me, right now, un-seeing that isn’t an option.

I’ve written before about how I track my hours on pretty much everything every day (originally in a spreadsheet, later just in a journal) as a means of spotting inefficiencies and opportunities to systemize and/or outsource, but this week I took it a step further.  Or backwards.  Not sure.  Anyway, I tried to log my hours for the week in advance.

Basically I wrote my schedule for whole the week on Monday and then tried to adhere to it.

Here’s what was awesome: my goals got a lot more realistic. Instead of just “complete project X, I’m sure I’ll come up with a way,” I had a look at how many hours I was actually going to devote to it.  I’ve done things like “spend 5 hours on project X” before, but actually assigning those hours to specific times and days brought me a new level of clarity.

Also, I really liked how much less I had to, for lack of a better term, think.  Each morning, I not only knew what I was going to be working on that day, but also the day after that, and the day after that.  So many “what ifs” and “potentials” and “just in cases” magically vanished, and I was a lot freer to focus on the task at hand. There’s a potential cure for “entrepreneurial ADD” in there, I think.

Now, what sucked? Actually following the plan.  The first two hours of the day were great, and the stuff I got done then made it worth it in itself, but things drifted a fair bit after that.  And that’s OK, it’s the first week I tried it, so there are going to be setbacks.

To do something like this successfully, it’s imperative to shut off the phone and email programs. And cover up the voicemail indicator.  I lost a good amount of time because I couldn’t resist answering the phone, which blew the whole schedule up.  That said, one of the calls was for a drop everything, last minute deadline opportunity to pitch for a lucrative project.  The kind of “what if” call that explains the entire tendency to want to answer the phone every time, but also the kind of call that really doesn’t happen that often.  For this kind of scheduling system to work, I need to decide if I want to pursue that kind of work.  Ever. (Still waiting to hear if I got this one…)

Basically, scheduling the week in advance isn’t normal behaviour, and as such it requires some abnormal changes.  I’m still not sold on whether or not it’ll be worth it, but it’s deep enough in the “don’t do what everyone else does unless you want to get what everyone else gets” category that I’m going to try it for another week or two, or maybe at least until I can get an 80% schedule match, so I might have some more insights to share soon.

Just don’t call me to ask about them.

(Oh, and in case you didn’t notice, daily posts are done, partly because I didn’t schedule them in, but also because I think the practice was more valuable for me than for you, so I’ll stick to my journal for that and work on different content here.)

One more day (off)

by Jason on December 28, 2011 · 0 comments

Vacation sign by Dan4th Nicholas

A one day break from, well, anything can easily become a two day break, which leads to the few days break, which leads to the “why not make it an even week” break, which quickly and nearly effortlessly can become an indefinite hiatus.

It’s true of fitness, habits, and yes, business.

One of the challenges to running your own business is that the hours are defined by you.  There’s no boss looking over your shoulder, no card to punch at the start and end of the day, just you.  Sure, your workload might dictate your time, but that’s a workload that was chosen by you as well, and when you get to, oh, I don’t know, Christmas/Hanukkah/Festivus/etc where in most cases the workload eases down while the rest of the world takes a break, it’s easy to take a few days off and then watch that time expand slowly.

In my case this year I took the 24th to the 27th off (yes, I’m aware that covered a weekend and two statutory holidays) with today, the 28th, being a slow “ease back in” day where I let my mind and body purge some of the excesses from the past few days.  But it very nearly became a full week, because I made the critical mistake of not actually scheduling a return date.

There are some who say that year end is the perfect time to double down and work straight through to gain an edge over your (presumably) slacker competitors.  I think there’s greater value in planned rest and recovery, but beware if it’s not strictly scheduled or you might find the time off was a lot longer than you thought it’d be.

Photo by Dan4th Nicholas

Marketing or procrastinating?

by Jason on December 23, 2011 · 0 comments

Join procrastination club! photo by Nathaniel F

I’ve spent a lot of this week working on a new marketing program for January.  This is a good time of year to do that kind of thing, since most people are either on holidays or thinking about them, so getting a decision on a project during this window is like pulling teeth (though I did get one approval today, so add dentistry to my skill set…)

The thing is, spending a few days on something other than my core billable activity feels weird.  That said, I have mentors who say that working on marketing is the only core activity I should be doing, ever, but at this stage it feels like I might be doing it to avoid “real” work.

In other words, my marketing activities might be procrastination in disguise.

I’m pretty sure they’re not, but it’s been on my mind, especially as this project goes on and on for seemingly forever (I’m great at estimating technical work, but this is video and copywriting, which is new for me.)  Am I simply hiding from a slow period by “working on marketing?”

I think the answer comes from logging my work and measuring results.  There’s a cost to acquiring customers, and a cost for running campaigns, even if the only expenditure is time.  I’ll be able to directly measure the feedback that this upcoming campaign generates, and the key is to see if it’s working.  If it’s not, and I find myself spending time working on another system that’s almost the same, then yes, that’s procrastination.

For the first run through though, it’s solid marketing work, plain and simple.  Projects like this should be big enough to be capable of generating a measurable result, but small enough that if it’s a total failure (as many early lessons can be) then I haven’t lost too much in terms of sunk time.

Truthfully, this one’s a bit larger than I’d like, but I’ll be able to track if it was worth it in a fairly short period of time, so there’s a good outcome either way – there’ll be more customers, in which case I’ll double down on the program, or it’ll flop and I’ll know if I’m “hiding” from tougher work if I catch myself wasting time doing more of the same.

Photo by Nathaniel F

Job security

by Jason on December 22, 2011 · 0 comments

Job Security? photo by Jeff Sandquist

This week I met a guy who’d recently been laid off from the tech industry.  He was pretty much taking it in stride, enjoying a bit of time off between gigs, basically. At least, that was the air he was pulling off.  I’m pretty sure I believed him.

And about a month ago, a former employer of mine laid off about 240 people, from what I heard, including about half of the bosses I’d had there.  This one sounded like it was targeting middle management who’d been there 20+ years, aged 50-60, which isn’t a situation I envy.

And it all brought home two things for me.

#1: I would have lost it a few years back if that happened.

I had my identity so tied up in my job, I honestly don’t know what I would have done if that was taken away from me, and that’s exactly what a layoff would have accomplished: the 95% removal of my identity.  It would have been seriously difficult to bounce back from.

#2: Job security is pretty mythical.

I remember when I left Big Company to work at a startup, one of the managers told me I was taking a pretty big risk.  As far as I know he’s still working there, but the reality is that my job is a zillion times more secure than his, because I don’t have one.  I have multiple clients, and multiple income streams outside of that, and it would take, well, the removal of the internet to cause substantial harm to that structure.  Salaried employees don’t have that level of redundancy in their income.

I’ll admit, my contrarian nature led me to abandon the idea of job security, as I then understood it, and that’s a big part of what got me here today, but in hindsight a lot of that was naiveté. I sometimes wonder, if I knew then what I know now, if I would have just networked more and prepared for “temporary work outages” or if I would have still moved to where I am now.

In either case, the most secure job is the one you don’t try to keep, I think.

Photo by  Jeff Sandquist

First impressions really set the tone

by Jason on December 21, 2011 · 0 comments

Handshake by Christopher Matson

An interesting lesson from video editing:

I bought a new wireless microphone recently for my video marketing, and it’s 100% amazing, but because it’s a condenser mic it picks up ambient noise regardless and still needs some post processing.  Not a huge deal; I’m used to it.  My workflow has a noise removal filter that I use, and it gets, say, 98% of the hiss out of the final output.

But here’s where it gets interesting.  Since most of my videos are of me talking, there’s a short pause before I start – no more than a second, but it’s there.  I found that if I muted that initial period, so instead of a slight hiss there was total silence, the hissing that was on the rest of the video was way less noticeable.

That’s right: otherwise identical clips, except for the first half second, and one seemed clearly more professional.  Simply because the first thing you noticed wasn’t a noise artifact. (Which, by the way, was only apparent with headphones at full volume.  But some viewers will be in that scenario.)

It really drove home for me the importance of that first impression.  Setting the overall tone, and driving attention to the aspect that you want the other person to see.  In this case, it was muting a video briefly so the visuals got the immediate focus.

What can you tweak in your first half second of interaction to drive your audience’s attention?

Photo by  Christopher Matson

Discoveries from the long run

by Jason on December 20, 2011 · 0 comments

treadmills

I managed to put in ten miles on the treadmill this weekend.  In a single session, minus the reset time in the middle because the machine doesn’t let you plug in more than an hour at a go. Yes, it’s as exciting as it sounds.

That said, it was interesting.  My lungs held up.  My legs didn’t get tired, really.  I knew, going in, that I was going at a pace that I’d been able to sustain for every (lesser) distance I’d previously attempted at that speed.

It’s the other things that went wrong that fascinated me.  My right calf started to seize up around mile 8.  My left knee grew progressively wobblier.  The basic conditioning was there, but the weaknesses in the mechanical underpinnings were starting to emerge in a way that I never could have found without a prolonged stress test like this one.

Now that it’s been a year (almost) of running my own business full time, I’m seeing parallels to that run.  I know I can sustain a certain pace, with small sprints mixed in, and in theory I can do that forever.  But the holes in the underlying structure start to appear after a while.  You can push through most of it, but ultimately, just like with the long run, if you ignore the problems for too long, you’ll get an injury that takes you out of the game for months.  In fitness, that’s a setback.  In business, it can be fatal.

The end of December is a great time to notice this stuff and put plans in place to address them.  Everyone else is slacking off, and of course you’ve got the choice to do the same, or you can push through and try to accelerate past them, but as a third option, I’d strongly recommend looking for those aching joints and cramping muscles, and see if you can get some basic maintenance put into play to prevent problems in the next quarter.

Pushbutton businesses

by Jason on December 19, 2011 · 1 comment

pushbutton

Things I did on a Sunday afternoon: ordered and provisioned a few domain names, a VOIP 1-800 number, and shot 15 videos.  If I’d hustled a little more, or spent the whole day on it, I could have had a mostly viable business up and running in a day, and it’s worth noting that it was a day that not that long ago was traditionally a day of rest where nothing was open.

Now, I didn’t open a bank account, since I didn’t have the need for a new one, and if I’d gotten to the merchant account application it would have taken two weeks or so with my chosen provider to get that set up, so accepting money would still have been a challenge (or maybe not: I can’t remember if PayPal is instant setup and it’s just the first withdrawal that takes a week or so to validate.)  Also, if this was a full business I’d need to register a few things with the government, but all those things are possible, instantly, online; it just has to be during business hours.

The thing is, I have fallback accounts for most of those, so after you set up a pushbutton business or two, the obstacles just become todo items for later in the week.  And that’s pretty amazing.  None of what I did on that Sunday required much technical knowhow (I’ll do a few neat things to the videos in post-production, and probably I’ll have a custom website put together instead of a template, but those are optional items.)

So what’s your excuse?

Oh, and if you’re curious, these updates were extensions to my existing business, but throughout the process my mind kept drifting to making a “pushbutton business in a box” checklist, to use as a serial entrepreneurship experiment and/or an info product for sale.  I may go ahead with that depending on how much baggage I can clear before year end; email me for details.

My two biggest lessons from 2011

by Jason on December 16, 2011 · 0 comments

Flying lesson by Jon Oakley

When I refer to my biggest lessons, there’s a reason I don’t call them insights or learnings.  No, these were lessons, the kind of training one gets on the battlefield, and on a battlefield, you don’t emerge unscathed.

To that point, I’m a little hesitant to share these with two weeks remaining in the year, in case Murphy shows up and decides I’m not done with the education yet.  But here they are.  They’re focused on work for hire kinds of business, since that was a big part of the year for me (and there’s a third lesson lurking in there, I think, but more on that another time.)

Don’t worry about everything getting approved at once

From past (salaried) work experience, and talking to others, I don’t think this is unique: you put out a lot of proposals and responses, and at first it looks like your quarter is lined up perfectly with one deadline magically set to happen after the other, with everything spaced out just right.  And then clients start to delay approvals, and it starts to look like everything’s going to be shifted so it all has to be done in the same week.  All eight projects that you’re a shoo in for, they’re all going to need the same resources (typically: you) at the exact same time.

So you pull back, even if subconsciously.  You don’t push as hard when new leads arrive.  You start “selling from your heels” on the existing stuff.  Work gets devalued.  And at the end of it, you’re lucky if two of the projects are a go.  And that’s the thing: you really feel lucky that you somehow dodged a bullet of having clients want to pay you to do things.

Yeah, it’s pretty much crap.  Having too many projects on the go is a nice problem to have.  Focus instead on the terms of the contracts, so you can get some cash flow in to support the extra resources you need.  Yes, you’ll be very busy for a while, especially since you’re doubling down on marketing for even more work, but the alternative is that slow trickle that comes from timidity in the face of potential, which, trust me, sucks way worse.

Don’t do work until the deal’s approved

And while you’re waiting for all these deals to close, just, you know, not all at once, the temptation might come about to start on one or two of them a bit early, so you can be more comfortable with the workload when it’s official.  And maybe, you think, starting early will let you beat the client’s wildest expectations in terms of schedule, and they’ll shower you with more work and referrals down the road.

I know for a fact that I’m not the only person who’s ever done this.  Stop laughing.

Of course, a job that’s being talked about is very different than a job that’s actually been paid for, and until things get signed and money gets advanced, it’s all talk.  To work on these projects in anticipation of an approval is procrastination, nothing more, and if things are that slow, there are 37 different marketing strategies that need developing that are probably outside of your current comfort zone, unlike the safe zone of heads down work, paid or not.

So that’s 2011 in a nutshell.  It wasn’t a disaster of a year, but the lessons were there and they left their mark.  It’s fine, as long as you’re still standing, and the same lessons aren’t being talked about in 2012.

Photo by  Jon Oakley, as a reminder that (one hopes) not all lessons are painful.

My three words for 2012 (preview)

by Jason on December 15, 2011 · 0 comments

Wordle of this site

I’ve been working with Chris Brogan‘s idea about three words that define what I want my upcoming year to be about (you can see his for 2011, 2010, and if you follow the links in those pages, back much further than that.)

Basically, you pick the three words that you’ll be building around for the year, and most of your work, ideally, will be congruent with one or more of them.  It’s an alternative to goals, as I see it, and instead can become something closer to a magic spell (hey, words, right?) – at least, that’s the theory; I haven’t made a word list before.

I don’t know that I’ll share my words publicly when I do come up with them, so don’t expect me to reveal them in this post, but I wanted to take the opportunity to mention the concept and process before the year’s out so you have some time to give it some serious thought before choosing to participate.  We’re talking about words that will shape an entire year here, so they’re not the kind of thing you should decide on New Year’s Eve while drinking.

I will discuss the process I’m using a little though.  I won’t sugar coat it; this year, my first as a full time business owner, hasn’t been easy.  One of the reasons I’m working on this now (besides the aforementioned part about it being important) is that I want to give time to for the words, and the initial plans that form from them, to sink in a bit, and so I can have a chance to decide if I’ve picked them to run towards something positive or away from some of the harder lessons from this year.

Because that’s the thing: we do pretty much everything to either get pleasure or eliminate pain, and there’s going to be pain in running a business.  The challenge, to me, is to endure the short term pain in pursuit of the pleasure that’ll make it worth it.  It’s vital to make sure my words are going to move me in the right direction at a good clip without involving fleeing in terror.