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.

Sheepdogs concert announcement

By all accounts, competing solely on price is a horrible strategy, but it’s also the easiest.  Still, even if you aspire to being a luxury brand with higher than average margins, there seems to be a puzzle there, especially if you seem to be doing all the same things that your competitor is doing.

Here’s an example from the retail world: I shot the above photo on Dec 13 outside The Source in the Toronto Eaton Centre after I attended the free Sheepdogs concert.  Well… I didn’t really attend the concert, though I was at the site at the appointed time, “today” as the sign advertised.

The concert was a week ago.  The sign’s been up for a week now, telling countless people to go to an event that’s over.  Someone at that location had to take that sign and set it up outside the store’s doors every morning, apparently either oblivious or apathetic to the fact that it refers to a specific event on a specific day (then again, it’s always “today” so who knows…)

I asked a staffer about it (it wouldn’t be fair to mention his name, since this had to have been a solid team effort) and he said they had the sign up “for advertising” (the bottom of the banner advertised the launch of the new Nexus phone, also “today”.)

He may have seen my point, and the sign may have been removed after I left; I don’t know and I don’t care, really.  At that moment, The Source lost its status in my mind as trusted advisor, and I’m not silly enough to say I’ll never shop there, but the only circumstance where I see it happening is if they have the lowest price.  They’ve lost any ability to command  premium pricing from me, because they lack the most basic of attention to detail.

I’d venture to say that you wouldn’t see this kind of thing in, say, an Apple store.  If you did, it’d be a blip, and it’d feel really weird, like it clearly shouldn’t have happened.  I had no trouble believing that it happened (even for a week) at The Source.  It’s nothing that they did; it’s all about what they didn’t do.

Oh, and since Bell owns The Source, and I want to be an equal opportunity pointer-outer, here’s a shot from a nearby Black’s, which is owned by rival telecom company Telus:

camera incongruence

The green camera isn’t blue, and neither is the (what is that? rust?) coloured one, though the product tags say they are.  It’s a little thing, and people are willing to compromise and overlook it on a conscious level, but I believe that the incongruence hits the subconscious just the same, and again, there’s no reason to shop for anything other than price in these cases either.

Close up of The Thinker by Brian Hillegas

My latest weapon in overcoming obstacles and taking action is the Have To/Get To distinction.  Here’s the breakdown:

It started with a no brainer: I spend my Fridays with my son, and I don’t do this because I have to (though someone definitely does or Children’s Aid is going to come a’knocking) but because I get to.  I get to hang out with him, and it’s a huge gift to myself that I always feel incredibly lucky to take part in, putting aside work and other issues for a full day of hanging out, watching the little guy grow up.

To be honest, this whole concept came out of those Fridays, plus the days his grandmas come down to watch him – at first I felt a little guilty taking up their time for “our” family’s needs, but I realized they weren’t doing it because they had to either.  Physical force probably wouldn’t have kept them away.

Photo by Brian Hillegas

On the flip side, I go to the gym because I have to.  I pretend it’s doctor’s orders.  I used to think I got to exercise, and it became an indulgence that I felt guilty about, taking time out for me. Now it’s a mandatory activity.

The distinction is subtle in some cases, but I’m finding it powerful.  I have something like eight million mental blocks and hangups that I need to work around to even function as a contributing member of society.  That’s not abnormal, we all do.  My thing is identifying them and formalizing the processes that let me achieve my goals.

For this one, if I’m stuck on something, I try to figure out if it’s framed in my mind as a “have to” or a “get to,” and then see what it would mean if that was flipped over.  It’s gotten me to the gym for 5 of the last 8 days (OK, I went a bit overboard and needed a few extra recovery days…) and I’m hoping it’ll get me overcoming obstacles in other areas too, like, say, a few of the todo items that have been recurring on my daily lists as of late. 🙂

 

Marketing-driven design

by Jason on December 12, 2011 · 0 comments

based on Generic Pie Chart by Sean MacEntee

I hate when I have to admit that someone else was right, especially when I held such a strong position for so long.

For millennia (internet millennia, anyway, or at least since the dawn of software made for sale) there’s been a strong divide in many companies between sales/marketing and engineering. Marketing would seemingly promise things that they thought would be “cool” without knowing what it would take to make it, and engineering would stubbornly resist these whimsical changes to the precious algorithms.

See Dilbert for a zillion examples.

Having been on both sides of that battle now (often with the arguments being with myself as both packager and implementor) I see it a bit differently now.

There isn’t a single product or service that I’ve designed this year that wouldn’t have been better if I’d started with the marketing documentation first.  Think of it as marketing-driven design  Thankfully, most of my work for hire projects start this way via some kind of proposal, so I’ve managed to deliver value and excellence to my clients, but my internally developed projects, that people seem curiously resistant to purchasing?  Not so good.

Here’s the crux of it: describing what is simply isn’t going to be as compelling as describing what could be.  If a project has been completely built before the description is even started (via a gross misapplication of some extreme programming doctrine,) the marketing is going to be limited by what’s there.  The best you can manage is to talk about the promise of the next version, to which people will generally respond by waiting.  Marketing-driven design has not such constraint.

If you can describe what will be, and not commit any development effort beyond “is this even possible” prototyping, until you’ve got something that actually gets people excited, your chances are much better.

I’d write more on the topic, but I’ve got to go refactor a system to meet the “what I should have written in the first place” requirements that are based on solid marketing-driven design principles.

Image based on one by Sean McEntee

Getting over the fear of duplicate posts

by Jason on December 9, 2011 · 0 comments

copy copy copy copy copy copy copy copy copy copy copy copy copy copy by betty x1138

Have I talked about this one before?

Actually, it’s not this post, but another one that I haven’t read yet.  I kinda think I wrote about it once before, but a quick Google didn’t find anything.  So I’ve got 3 choices:

  1. Read through a few hundred posts looking for it.
  2. Drop the idea in favour of a topic that I can start writing now.
  3. Screw it, who cares if it’s a repeat?

Maybe it’s my training from my 10 years as an on-again off-again news blogger where I’d write stories based on links, and a dupe was a nightmare scenario then for my credibility, but no, I think it’s deeper: that increasingly annoying (to me) little voice that wants everything to be correct.

The fact is, a duplicate topic, probably even if it happens on the same week, isn’t that big a deal.  With the way internet traffic and attention work, maybe 5% of my audience is ever going to see both in close enough of a timeframe for it to get noticed, and really, I’m likely to have a different insight on the topic anyway.

I mean, come on – does anyone go to lunch and insist on only new topics?

And let’s be honest, if you want to be cynical, you can sum up this whole blog in a paragraph, which wouldn’t be a bad thing if you were a writer for the Encyclopedia Britannica (though dude, consider job searching from time to time, yeah?)

So that’s the new deal.  Yes, you might see a duplicate of a topic.  No, it doesn’t mean I’m getting lazy.  Yes, it does mean that I’m growing, stretching a bit more out of my comfort zone, and maybe if something does repeat a little, it’s kind of important.

Look for that next post on Monday.

And hey, it’s web 2.5 or whatever. Consider it a retweet with commentary. 🙂

Photo by bettyx1138

MythBusters

Well, by virtue of the fact that you’re reading this, if you didn’t get here from the home page or the RSS feed, I think the easy part of the question has been answered.

But this isn’t just a headline test to see where I can rank on a subject making the news right now.  I’m thinking about MythBusters, and shows like it, where the viewer has a choice of either watching an hour-long production that works its way to a conclusion or simply Googling the outcome.

Both choices have their role, and I’d argue both can be equally rewarding depending on your mindset and circumstances at any given time (quick: can you bulletproof a car by covering it with phone books? Wouldn’t it be great to know that instantly? Wouldn’t it be great to see the full story? Oh man, maybe there’ll be a cannonball…)

Sports are the same way.  We have NHL game highlights on Apple TV, where I can, in theory, watch a full game in just 5 minutes.  Other than checking out the feature, I never have.  I rarely have time to watch a full game, but I’d rather enjoy the full battle or just grab the box scores.

Search engine people already know all of this, and they watch the news stories just like I just did.  But the definition of “search engine people” is expanding to everyone who has a story to tell or a product to put in front of you, and Google’s going to have an interesting time, I think, figuring out who’s being opportunistic and who’s giving real value while still riding the wave.

And from the consumer perspective, it’s key to recognize that some people are looking for the Mythbusters summaries, and other people want to sit down and watch people build crazy stuff involving cannonballs.  It’s probably very easy to serve both if you watch for it.

Reusable email for greater leverage

by Jason on December 7, 2011 · 0 comments

Leverage by flattop341

I send a lot of emails every day.  Like I once mentioned, that’s the realization that cured me of writer’s block. But emails are super-temporary objects, at least the ones that don’t come back to haunt you, anyway.  They take an hour or so out of every day to write, and then they’re gone.  The next day, the process starts anew.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

If I write an email that’s longer than a paragraph, my new system is to stop and think if there’s ever going to be a chance I’ll write something like it again.  Then I try to think if I can invent a situation that would require a mail like that.  If the answer is close to yes, I take five extra minutes for some magic.

Basically, I take those emails, genericize them, and throw them into either a FAQ library that I can cut and paste, or into an autoresponder marketing chain.  Today’s reply to a prospect is going to be the basis for a seven step email sequence, for example.

The best part of a system like that is that it all forms the foundation for Operation: Replace Myself.  If my business is consistent enough in the kinds of clients I attract and the products and services I offer, the breadth of the emails I write to build and sustain that business is going to get covered over the course of a quarter or so and I’ll have a reusable email library.

Sure, I’ll evolve and enhance some of the messaging over time, but I’m looking forward to a week, not that far off, where 80% of the external mails I send out are either sent automatically or via a cut and paste swipe file that I could teach someone to use.

For now though, the idea that the work I put into an email (and make no mistake, I feel like I “craft” the majority of them, so if you get one, be sure to appreciate it, ha) will pay off more than once is pretty cool, and a new idea for me as I get out of the “well, I’m typing so I must be busy so I must be doing it right” mindset.

Photo by flattop341

Innovation is the enemy of systems

by Jason on December 6, 2011 · 0 comments

Oops! - Part II by Kyle May

I’ve been thinking more about systems, but this time it’s other people’s systems – why are they so hard to implement?  Is entrepreneurship really a thinly veiled desire to do things your own way as much as possible?  It seems like it sometimes.

I’ve tested countless techniques, courses and systems, and I can’t really tell you if they’ll work for you, because I can’t leave well enough alone.  I need to embellish, expand, and often over-complicate, because after all, I deserve to be in the advance class, right?

Enough.

Here are two (very) simple systems I’m working on adopting, as verbatim as possible, from other people.  They’re pretty much no-brainers, but I’m hoping it’ll give me reason to pause the next time I think about expanding on something new before I’ve even given the core principles a thought.

Recipes.  Yep, the things that make ingredients into meals.  I know enough about how to cook that I can usually make something tasty, and sure enough, I tend to use recipe books as starting guides for the meal instead of actual instructions.

My new rule is that I do the recipe as word-for-word as possible at least once, ideally twice, before I start making it my own.  And amazingly, I’m starting to learn new tastes and not just put chopped tomatoes on everything, because I like chopped tomatoes.

My new gym bag.  This is more symbolic, but all of these steps are symbols to help me when I think about adopting proven systems (proven without my help, I point out!)  I joined a new gym this week, and the new member package included a red branded gym bag.

It’s obviously intended to give branding to the club, but I’ve chosen to interpret it as a system in itself. I’ve used the same shoulder bag for years, whether it’s for my laptop, my gym clothes, or basic luggage, but I’m adopting this gym bag as a key part of my “going to the gym” system.  It’s by my office door, and in the morning I fill it with fresh clothes, and suddenly it’s my bug-out bag that I can grab and go, no friction, and get my workout on.

Like I said, it’s silly, and later (after I’ve broken various parts of me by overdoing exercises and gotten that out of my – ahem – system,) I’ll be taking personal training sessions (already paid for) to let someone else give me the proven steps to better results than I’d be able to do on my own through supposed innovation.

Photo by Kyle May

The dangers of problem solving

by Jason on December 5, 2011 · 0 comments

38/365 Puzzled by Mykl Roventine

If you’re good at puzzles, you probably picked up the problem solving skill before you learned about marketing.

Too bad.

Here’s the deal: lots of marketing, particularly direct response stuff, is full of clever positioning, open loops, and reframing products and services to raise the curiousity level of the reader. Sometimes, it’s a little cheesy, but even then, it’s often really effective.

If you’re into problem solving though, you won’t accept the concept that the way to reveal the riddle is to buy the product.  And if you do go that route, you’re very likely to feel let down when you find out the answer.

If you were just a consumer, this wouldn’t be so bad.  You could invoke your refund rights and go about your business.  If, however, you’re also in the business of writing clever copy that’s not unlike the kind you just rejected, it can be a death sentence.

Think about it: by rejecting the core principles at work in a campaign that might have just been poorly executed, you’re subliminally rejecting a whole arsenal of tools that you might have been able to use very effectively. I’m not talking about manipulating people here; this can be marketing 101, and if you buy into the old saying (which you should) that if your product or service can help people you have a moral obligation to do everything in your power to sell it, well, you’re suddenly not even living up to your obligations now, all thanks to a silly idea that everyone tries to solve riddles like you do.

Pro tip: here’s how I know something’s not normal online behaviour: if I’ve spent more than 1/2 an hour doing it in the past 6 months.  That’s right, I did in fact Google around your direct response piece’s headline looking for answers so I wouldn’t have to send you $500 for a product on options trading, which I wouldn’t use, but simply so I could find the answer.  Normal people don’t do that.  (I don’t have to ask around.)

And it occurred to me this weekend that my latest headline, that positions an upcoming product perfectly, if I might humbly say so, could have come to me months ago if I wasn’t so busy poo-pooing the clever positioning of others.

Now to see if it works. As long as I don’t target the advertising at people like me, I think I’ll do fine.

Photo by Mykl Roventine

Five figure thinking

by Jason on December 2, 2011 · 0 comments

We hit 100000! by Michael Arnold

I’ve reached an age where the reflection starts on how I got to be the way I am; what early experiences led to certain personality traits and so on.  And I think it’s the same with my approach to business.

Unfortunately.

See, the longer you have a job, I think, the harder it is to let go of that mindset.  There are tons of great educational opportunities when you’re employed, to say nothing of the networking, but through it all you’re likely to be immersed in five figure thinking.

Or six figure thinking, if that’s where you’re at, but I went with five because most people start out in that bracket, and I’m a sucker for alliteration.

Five figure thinking isn’t going to get you to six, seven, or eight figures.  I’ve had coaches who’ve suggested it takes a different attitude and plan for each of those stages, and I believe it.

Five figure thinking is being given tasks to do instead of choosing tasks to stop doing.

Five figure thinking is measuring your contribution in a day by how many hours of sheer effort you personally put in.

Five figure thinking involves small, safe numbers.

The trouble with five figure thinking is that it’s paired with, and masked by, seven figure dreams.  But dreams without an execution path are just that, and you can keep them, nice and safe, for decades without any real progress.

So how to get out?  How does one graduate, as it were?  I’m looking at coaching and training from people a figure or two ahead of me, combined with studying others through articles and biographies.  The catch to all those is that there’s always an agenda, and it can be hard to get the right answer that isn’t self-serving, however well-intentioned it might be.

Or maybe that’s just five figure skepticism.  We’ll see.

Photo by Michael Arnold