The post-game systems ritual

by Jason on December 1, 2011 · 0 comments

Gears by Pete Birkinshaw

I’ve been thinking a lot about systems lately, and how I can create them in a way that takes the “me” out of the equation in my business. Part of this is because I’ve been meaning to re-read The E-Myth, and the other part is an increasing awareness that I have so few hours in any given day (24? Is that all?)

It’s a funny twist: the adjectives applied to you that make you a success in building a business are the exact opposite of the ones that you seek out in an employment situation: redundant, dispensable, replaceable.  If you have a job, and this is where you ended up, you’re due to get fired.  If you have a business, it’s time for an amazing vacation.

So systems.  The more reproducible processes you can create, and by that I mean reproducible by someone else, consistently, with the same outcome, the less you have to do.  At first, you’ll be the implementor, but these are the things you delegate and monitor over time (and as I think I mentioned earlier, the monitoring is systemizable and delegatable, spellcheck forgive me.)

I keep a log of everything I do in a day, so I’ve developed my new post-game ritual, which is a series of questions:

  • How much of the day’s activities are likely to happen again?
  • How much of the day’s activities required my personal unique skill set?
  • For the things that had to be done by me, could that be changed?
  • And more importantly, were they even necessary?

I end up with a grouping of the day’s schedule, but with a particular focus, and it’s one that, I hope, will identify trends over time.  I hired my first designer after a similar exercise earlier in the year when I realized I was spending 10 hours a week in Photoshop, which is an application I have no business using, frankly.  In that case, it was the replacement of a technical skill with a skilled person.

With this new ritual, I’m looking to replace processes with people.

Photo by BinaryApe

How to build immunity to criticism

by Jason on November 30, 2011 · 2 comments

Angry @ The Terrorists (detail) by Gregg O'Connell

“Is it possible we are defined by our enemies and out willingness and ability to create and annoy them?”

That’s a quote by Dan Kennedy from his latest newsletter, which came at a great time, that time being the day I was going to write this post.  It (and the article it’s from) perfectly complements my thinking on this matter.

If you’re going to be successful, you’re going to have critics (or enemies, as Dan says.)  Put another way, criticism can actually be a signal that you’re on the right path (or not; more on that later.)

But it royally sucks to get called out, especially online, where the cost for someone to call you names is basically free, minus their time, which would otherwise be spent looking for cat pictures.  And the key to all of this is remembering exactly that: it cost that person nothing to complain about you, and you should take the comment at exactly that value.

So here’s the vaccination.  You can do either of these or both, and there may be similar techniques you can use, but this is what I know from personal experience:

Post YouTube videos on a subject people don’t agree with.  This is almost too easy, once you remember that the average YouTube commenter is, well, read this.  I’ve got maybe 100 videos out there, 2-8 minutes in length (don’t bother looking if you don’t know me, they’re from earlier projects mostly and not tied to my name) and a few have attracted some… attention.

Best. Training. Ever.

I can’t tell you how hard it was to ignore the first few.  Actually, I can, it was impossible.  And I replied.  And then a reply to that came back in (of course) all of two minutes.  And I felt myself getting dragged into an argument that had no real point, no real outcome, but dammit if they weren’t wrong.

So I let it go.  And the world didn’t end.  And more comments came in (people smelled weakness, maybe, and felt like they could get a shot in without repercussion.)  And I let those go, reluctantly.  And it got easier.  And the comments became funnier, to me, even though they were getting nastier and nastier.

So that’s method #1.  It takes some work, unless you somehow knock it out of the park on your first or second video (I’d guess maybe 5% of mine got attacked.)

Method 2 is to run an email newsletter.  Doesn’t matter what the topic is.  But when you do, use something like Aweber (affiliate link) where you can set it so that when people unsubscribe, you get anotification.  Because that notification will also include the reason for the unsubscribe, as entered by the user. Which sometimes will be kind, like “no time right now,” but often will be most unkind.

Oh, and be sure to set it up so people can hit reply to the mailing to reach you.  I swear, this arrived last week after I wished the people on my list from the USA a happy Thanksgiving: “Thanksgiving is evil and so are you.”

Oddly, that person stayed a subscriber.  I fixed that for him.  Cheerfully.  Because really, who cares about guys like that?

Criticism is going to happen to you in your life, and the more of a profile you have, the more you’re going to get.  As Dan Kennedy suggested at the beginning of this post, it might actually be a key ingredient to success.  So get used to it, get immune to it, and go forth.

Now, the other side of the trick is figuring out what criticism should be ignored and what’s actually valid.  Are you, in fact, being an ass?  I rely on friends and most especially family for that feedback.  Looking myself in the mirror isn’t so hard, but if looking them in the eyes is a challenge then I know all I need to know.

Photo by greggoconnell

Failure by goal achievement

by Jason on November 29, 2011 · 0 comments

Dwarf hamster winter white by cdrussorusso

I think I’ve tapped into another one of those obvious things that need to be spoken aloud before they become obvious.

In business, and in life, we know what to do, on at least a basic level, to get the results we’re looking for.  I’m going to use diet for my example on this one because it’s something most readers can relate to.  And with diet, if you want to lose weight, it comes down to eating less than you need.

BUT, there’s a clever trick.  It doesn’t matter what, because it’s different for everyone.  Maybe you drink a big glass of water or eat an apple before each meal.  Or maybe you have a magic number of calories that you burn at the gym every day to hit your quota.  Or maybe every meal needs 75% of your plate to be salad.

Whatever.  If losing weight is the outcome, then the clever trick is the mechanism you use to get to the outcome.  And it’s not miraculous, but it’s soooo much easier.  You’ve got your magic bullet.  And one fantastic day, you achieve your goal.

And you stop using your trick.  Gradually, over time, it stops becoming a ritual.  You got what you needed, you decide to use that mental space to tackle another goal, or you just get bored with it.

And results start to decay.  Things start to backslide.  Maybe you notice it early on, which might be even more dangerous: “oh, I know how to fix that, no problem, I’ll start tomorrow.”  And that becomes “oh, I’m almost back where I started, but it’s still not as bad as it was, and I know the clever trick, so I’ll get to it in a bit, no problem.”  And then you’re at that spot where you’re in worse shape than you were, and the urgency just isn’t there, because obviously it’s not important to you or you wouldn’t be in this mess (these are the tricks our minds play so we can stay sane.)

Through goal achievement, we’ve inadvertently set ourselves on the path to greater failure.

Three possible ways to avoid this:

Set unachievable goals. OK, maybe not, or you’ll never feel like you’re getting traction, but continually moving targets can work.  Keep your eye on the next goal achievement mountain, or if there’s no more progress to be had, like in weight loss when you get down to an ideal weight, shift the goal to maintaining a streak of using your clever trick.

Make it someone else’s problem.  Lots of things can be systemized and delegated. Not everything, but lots.  Once you’ve gotten your mind wrapped around a process, see if there’s a way that you can get someone else to do it for you, an be accountable for it.  Now you can’t get to failure, unless you forget to make sure things get done (and that can be delegated too.)

Get ongoing coaching.  External accountability can not only take you to the next level; it can help keep you there.  Think about it at all phases in the goal achievement process, and remember that it might need different resources in the beginning, middle, and ongoing stages.

I’m convinced it’s not just me; many of us seem to have trouble holding on to gains in various areas of our lives that would be so easy to maintain if we’d just keep doing what worked.  Awareness and planning for this are key to ensure your efforts aren’t a total waste of time.

Photo by cdrussorusso

A Data Hoarder vaccination against TED Talks

by Jason on November 28, 2011 · 0 comments

University of Michigan Card Catalog by David Fulmer

TED Talks have been around a while.  The current intro video says there’s something like 900 available online.  I can’t say for certain which one I watched first, but I was an early adopter, subscribing to the podcast feed, and so on.  In recent years, I fell away from them, mostly because (and I realize how much I let others drive my decisions here, but it was expedient) I kept hearing people at work talk about them, but their lives never seemed to change as a result.

Lately we’ve been tuning back into them, having cut cable and needing something to fill some gaps in the day (and the Apple TV makes it easy) and I’ve noticed something interesting about TED talks.  Two things, really.

The first is that some of them contain Really Interesting Information that I can use to shape my future actions.

The second is that the bastards put dates at the beginning of them.

As an admitted data hoarder who also, by his own admission, had a chance to watch all of these much earlier than, say, right now, this is crushing at first.  To watch a video that’s been online for 2, 3, or even 5 years now, and see a nugget of wisdom that could change the next day, week, or even lifetime of my business, well, that hurts a little.

Like I should have stopped goofing off training and implementing to watch one more thing.

And the key, well, one of them, is that the information might not have meant as much as it did right now if I hadn’t watched it with the set of experience and problems that I have facing me right now.

The other key is to remember that the entire extent of human knowledge has been available long before the advent of the modern internet.  If you’re a data hoarder, there’s a good chance you’ve visited a library in the past (insert large number) years, so let me remind you that the sheer physicality of it all reminded you pretty quickly that there’s a ton of knowledge out there that you’ll never ever get to, ready or not, and any pretense of simply trying to keep up with the “new stuff” is a pipe dream and, keeping with key #1, a distraction.

Hey, data hoarder: you’re going to find information that you need that was available well before you found it. That’s OK. You found it, and the real test is what you do with it now.

Photo by dfulmer

Why I love copywriting

by Jason on November 25, 2011 · 0 comments

Written in Slumber by matryosha

I spent half the day today writing proposals to program computers instead of actually programming computers, and damn, I felt good.

I grew up loving books, but the way things were presented to me, the only way to get a job writing was to either be an author or write for a newspaper.  Yep, that was pretty much it.  Somehow I ended up writing computer code instead, though it took years to recognize that this was a kind of writing too.

Years later, I learned about direct response copywriting, and somehow I just “got it.”  I don’t mean that I became an expert overnight, but I immediately grasped the power behind the task.  And I think the reason for that was this: copywriting, done right (and ethically,) is just like computer programming, but the computer in question is the human brain.

Granted, it’s a little fuzzier, and nobody’s been able to express it in a way that would work in a programming manual: “if you write X, then Y will happen.”  But the probabilities are higher if you follow what works, and what’s interesting, to me, in the writing/marketing market is that the “correctness” of your work is more about how it ranks against the other noise in the prospect’s environment.

In programming, you have a one on one audience with the CPU.  If you make a mistake, things just don’t work.  In copywriting, you’re one voice among tens, hundreds, or thousands, and so you’ve got to get noticed, and sometimes, amazingly, making a mistake is actually the way to get attention and win the game. (Though it’s a rookie mistake to not be careful – mistakes in professional copy are seldom accidents.)

I spent the other half of the day programming computers, which is my first love and continues to reside in the deepest regions of my comfort zone.  But I was able to do that work, for profit, because of the kind of work I did in the other half of the day, and that’s the stuff we need to teach more.

Photo by matryosha

Defining entrepreneurship

by Jason on November 24, 2011 · 0 comments

Dictionary by greeblie

Here’s one thing I’ve learned: it’s hard to define an entrepreneur objectively and meaningfully.

Want to be 100% objective?  Use the dictionary and give the words no further thought.  “A person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.” Wow, that was useful.

Want to be 100% meaningful?  Usually that means talking to an expert in entrepreneurship, who usually has something to sell you to help you on your way.  Not that I’m being cynical.  In fact, I took great pains to avoid putting “help” in quotation marks there – there’s value in training from experts if you choose to find it, and so one.

If you ask enough people who’ve both studied the concept and spent time in the trenches, you’ll probably find some commonalities in their answers.  But until you’ve spent your own time in those trenches, the information won’t pack the same punch.

(Case in point: I read one of Michael Gerber’s E-Myth books a few years ago when I was steadily employed.  I think I boiled it down at the time to “make an org chart for your business even if your name goes in every box.”  This week I listened to a Gerber interview where he didn’t define entrepreneur exactly, but he did define most people who think they’re entrepreneurs: most in this category are in fact technicians on an adventure.  They’re really good at one thing, but it ain’t building a business. And yes, it’s time to re-read that book with fresh eyes.

So I don’t look for definitions anymore.  I find it’s a low-level validation strategy instead of a transformational education plan.  Definitions vary with every person based on their current focus.

What I’m looking for now are defining moments.  What was the moment that flipped someone’s switch from, say, struggling technician to full-on business builder?  What event, thought, insight, or crisis catalyzed that?  Those are the stories that drive me right now.

Photo by greeblie

Copying what works

by Jason on November 23, 2011 · 0 comments

Clones by adactio

There’s an old adage in business that if you see something being done long enough, it’s probably because it’s profitable, even if you can’t understand it right away.

And that’s probably true, in a lot of markets.  Infomercials, for example, contain dozens (if not hundreds) of tactics that have been individually tested, so even if “but wait there’s more” seems like a cliche, it’s likely a profitable one.

Search engine marketers know that if someone’s running an ad for, say, $2 a click, and it’s been running for weeks, there’s something going on at the front or back end that makes at least $2.01.

But then there are the fools who hold on for longer than they should, and even worse, the dreamers: things like the restaurant on the corner that seems to change hands every 6 months as a new owner comes in to follow their imagined destiny, somehow failing to notice that even though people run successful restaurants all over the place, nobody’s ever managed to make it at this spot (the landlord, however, probably makes out OK, which is another topic altogether.)

I believe that the bar is being raised in business all the time, and while the fundamentals still work, more people know about them.  This can create a competitive environment, but alongside that there’s noise in the system of What’s Working Now.  People are learning, a little, and taking notice of what they think is working, and trying to copy it, probably now more than ever.

And the result, increasingly, is a system full of copycats with partial implementations based on flawed assumptions.  And these businesses last a little longer than before, fuelled by happy accidents along the way and the hope and faith based on the simple fact that dammit, someone else did this and it worked, didn’t it?

It’s going to get harder to model other systems, to find the ones that are generating real results and not just getting a brief flash of attention before burning out.  It’s still hugely important to look for these clues, but even more so to come up with tests to validate the ideas you bring into your existing systems.

Photo by adactio

On the sustainability of personal effort

by Jason on November 22, 2011 · 0 comments

Redwoods by Jared

Newsflash: nothing you do yourself is sustainable.

At least not forever.  Even allowing for some pretty cool medical breakthroughs, whatever you’re doing now isn’t going to be possible for you to do in 150 years.  For other efforts, a time scale is a big help.

Because just about everything is sustainable, at least for a short enough period of time.  And sometimes a short period is all you need: late night deadline crunches, big pushes in the week before a launch, and so on.  As long as you factor in some downtime for when it’s over, sprints like that are just part of the game.

It’s the never-ending sprints that are a problem, in business as well as most other things in life.  The most common area I see them in, and yes, feel them in, is the case where you haven’t yet built an organization to scale, and you’re doing everything yourself.  And usually that means everything.  Hell, even when you start to get a bit of leverage, those initial steps of delegation can take more work than just keeping on by your lonesome, which is why lots of people fall back to plan A and never make it further.

So: massive effort.  I’m a fan, as long as there’s an exit in mind.  Either the project has an end date or there’s a sequence that’s clearly laid out to pass the work on to other people (and/or automated systems) before the question of sustainability comes up.  Have that date, and that plan, firmly in mind before you start, and you might come out the other side relatively unscathed.

Neglect that plan, or ignore the fact that you’re missing the deadline, and you’re putting yourself in a position of increasing desperation as you try to keep things afloat with rapidly decreasing stamina.

Photo by jared

Extreme more than words

OK, a fun story since I wrote about the need to vaccinate yourself as an entrepreneur: it’s not a complete study, but from one man’s experience, simply knowing that certain events may happen on the path to success is enough to turn them from potentially crippling events to solid goalposts of validation.

Let me explain: in the past, a negative comment would simply validate every negative thing I’ve thought to myself about an idea, no matter how silly that thought might be. Despite all the opportunities our modern age offers, I’m often jealous of previous generations who communicated at the speed of fax and telegram, where someone had to make an effort to complain. In the modern age, an anonymous comment is super-simple to do, and oh, how those silly people used to sting me!

Now that I’m aware of the vaccination philosophy; that the path to success will in fact bring notice to your efforts and this notice will attract cheaply-dispensed criticism, it’s gone from something that I’d cringe at to something that says, hey, you’re on the right track, because this is what happens to people who’ve been on your path.

(Oh, and if you want some good practice in this area, put a few videos on YouTube. Commenters there are simply amazing.)

The trick now is to differentiate between objections that validate the business model and objections that are real and legitimate and risk getting swept under the rug as they seem to validate your actions. I don’t have a good metric for this, and just as I’m sure some real innovators throughout history were ridiculed by everyone they met before they proved their genius, I’m equally sure that some people are indeed crazy and should really listen to some of those objections and not treat everything that comes in as validation, regardless of if it’s negative or positive.

For me, right now, I’m inclined to turn negativity into validation from “haters,” as it were. If it continues for too long without some additional positive feedback I might have to reconsider, but I don’t have a timeframe. At the moment I’m simply enjoying the liberation of not only not caring what other people think but also letting it empower my next set of actions, because history tells me these facts are normal.

Oh, and normally I have a photo starting the post but nothing fits this new mindset, which I’ve taken as further validation. I was going to go with something like this, but the key New Idea is that no matter how much you point it out, your criticizers won’t get the distinction with your worldview. More on that later. Today you get a picture from an Extreme video that might fit, but I had bad prom flashbacks halfway through so I don’t know.

Ritual by Crystl

Regular practice is a powerful thing. Whether it’s daily exercise, meditation, journaling or blogging, or whatever else you might do on a recurring basis, these habits provide framing for the rest of your day and allow you to exercise discipline in small doses.  They are transformational.

And they hurt like hell to implement.

I’m talking pain like frustration, mostly, though if you start an exercise program the pain can be quite real at first (today’s post was inspired by my new running practice. I may not be able to walk tomorrow!)

I’m convinced that the reason most people don’t have more practices in their lives – positive ones, anyway – is that they disrupt far too much of your current routine when you start them.

Take the running one, for example. I went out first thing this morning, and it felt fantastic.  I was pumped.  The endorphins were racing for hours after.  And around noon, I crashed.  Hard.  Trying to nap on the office floor hard.  My body simply wasn’t used to the exertion.  And it cost me a few checkmarks on the day’s todo list.

Even the non-physical routines can cause uncomfortable disruption.  For example, you might not budget your time properly for the rest of the day, so this new commitment you’ve made to, say, meditating causes you to miss making three important sales calls.

Really, it’s no different than any other change in your life or business.  When I hire someone new, I always (always!) forget how much extra work I have to do to train them for the first week or so (leverage notwithstanding.)  A new practice is no different, and for it to survive the first three sessions (let alone the 21 days they say it takes to become a habit,) it’s critical that you recognize and schedule room for the disruption when you get going.

But the rewards of having multiple practices in place, if only the sheer leadership points they confer, oh, that makes it very worth the effort. Just plan accordingly.

Photo by Crystl