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See behind the mindset that helped make me a 6-Figure consultant with my manifesto

NO is NOT a Curse Word

The 18 Month Old Terror that Runs Your Business

Taking care of an active 18 month old is often an exercise in stopping them from executing their latest plan for self harm. This means many things get started. A few things get finished in a hurry and almost nothing gets finished well.

Don’t let that be your business.

Captain America #12 LEGO sketch variant (1_100 distribution) cover illustrated by Leonel Castellani-9602316929

Two Rules for Effective Meetings

I talked recently about how much a meeting costs. So you know, I don’t really love meetings.

At times they are needed though, and here are my two rules for scheduling a meeting.

1. A meeting must produce something.

If you must book a meeting, there should be something that comes out of it. I know that seems obvious, but if it is so obvious, why do so many meetings only serve as a chat session where no decisions are made, or nothing moves forward as a result of the group having come together?

Perhaps you want to schedule a meeting for your group to review a sketch of the new site you’re working on, or a database schema. How about a team decision to change the roadmap or launch a new project?

Whatever it is, go into a meeting knowing what result you want at the end.

Or don’t book it.

2. No large status meetings.

The purpose of a meeting is not to share status updates with one another. That can be accomplished through the use of project management systems, Google Docs, or company wikis. When you ask team members to sit through a status update meeting, you’re using up time that your employees could be spending on real work that brings in revenue.

That’s it. If a meeting meets these two criteria, then let’s book it and get it done.

photo credit: toomuchdew cc

_The Ultimate Sin of Any Performer is Contempt for the Audience._-5791624426

Choosing Clients Shouldn’t be a Popularity Contest

Do you remember back sometime — typically grade school — when you figured out that members of the opposite sex (or maybe same sex) were desirable? One day you woke up and those ‘cooties’ seemed like something you might want to have if it meant you got to spend time with that girl/boy.

For me, from grade 7 – 11 it was all about how far up the social ladder to the ‘cool’ kids I could reach with my advances. Could I get the hottest girl in drama? What about the hottest athlete?

I certainly wasn’t looking for someone that was a great fit, though I likely wasn’t equipped with the tools to properly evaluate that fit either.

Lucky for my wife, I got over that. Lucky for many of us, we get over that search for someone ‘cool’ that can bring our status up. At least I hope you’ve gotten over that.

I ended up finding someone I love to hang out with everyday, even when we’re not agreeing on something, or we get angry. I can’t envision being anywhere but with her.

Cool as…

Have you really gotten over that juvenile mentality, though? Maybe you have in your relationships, but what about as you look for clients?

Are you just looking for how cool a project can make you look without really digging into whether it’s really a good fit between the client and your business?

Is your project list really just a billboard for how popular you are?

Way more important for the long-term health of your business, and your own sanity, is getting that proper fit between your clients and your business.

You want people that work in similar methods to you. If they want a daily call and that drives you bonkers, it’s not a good fit. Doesn’t matter how cool you’d look by having them on your client roster. You won’t be doing your best work since you’ll be annoyed by the calls you don’t want.

If you’re not sure how to vet a client, check out my Effective Client Email book and see how I do it.

photo credit: instantvantage cc

Legoland Florida 8-6827620677

From Start to Finish: The Guide to Your Freelance Business

So you want to go freelance? That’s awesome — but it’s a lot of work. As you consider this shift in the way you do work, I’ve got some questions for you.

What should you be doing in the months prior to going freelance?

What about the first month you’re running your own business?

Do you know what annual tasks you should be reviewing monthly, then yearly?

Today we’re going to walk through the things I believe you should be thinking about as you prepare to set up your own freelance business — beginning 90 days (or more) prior to making the freelance leap, all the way out to the things you need to track on an annual basis.

We both want you to succeed with as little pain as possible.

30 – 90 days out

All the days/months before you start are about building a solid foundation for your business. Figure out your project management system. Doesn’t matter much what it is, as long as it works for you and your clients. I currently use Todoist for my personal tasks and Redbooth to manage projects with my clients.

What checklists do you need for design deliverables or site launches? What are you going to send your clients after a successful project?

Take the time now to work out all those details so that you’re not scrambling around randomly trying to figure out how to get things done while simultaneously trying to manage the tasks associated with building your business.

A second big thing to deal with before you go on your own is your finances. Make sure you’ve saved at least 3 months’ worth of income. Better yet, have enough in savings that you can pay your bills for 6 months if you need to.

Sit down and work out your budget. If you’re not sure how, read the series my wife wrote on budgeting and start the process. Work with your budget in the months leading up to going out on your own.

Yes, you need to market yourself. Yes, referrals are going to be an awesome source of work, but you won’t be getting referrals until you build up a client base.

Even with a fairly steady referral stream like I have, doing interviews like this one with WP Engine can bring in clients. That one interview with WP Engine has actually brought in $40K in revenue because prospects read it and then felt I was the right person to work with.

Was the 40 minutes of my time worth the interview? Obviously it was.

More than that, start blogging. Write at least one post a week about the problems you’re dealing with in your business. My site at WP Theme Tutorial yielded around $20K in client revenue per year from people that watched me solve a problem similar to one they had, then they hired me to solve their problem.

This site brings in about $8K a year in revenue from product and affiliate sales, and client work. I regularly get contacts from prospects who read here about how I run my business, and are interested in working with a business that’s run like mine. I’d estimate about 40% of my annual revenue is a result of people becoming familiar with me from this site.

Blogging is totally worth your time, so do it. You don’t have to write a long post like this every time, and the more you write the easier it gets. If you’re not sure how to start, read my series on blogging.

What other supports do you have in place? Are you part of a mastermind group that can help keep you accountable for your goals, as well as telling you when your ideas are good, or bad? Can’t find one? Then go start a mastermind group.

Having people around you that care about your business will help you go so much further than you would on your own.

I know these tips are under the heading of 30 – 90 days out, but really, this foundation-building phase can be as long as you need it to be. By the time you go out on your own, you should have so much side work — while still doing your full-time job — that you simply can’t get it all done without working every evening and all weekend. You should also have that savings in place.

If that takes you 12 months to get done, then it takes you 12 months and that’s fine. Work through this list for as long as it takes so that when you finally can go out on your own, you’ve got a solid foundation.

First 30 days

WooHoo!!!! You made it. You’ve got a solid foundation set (hopefully) and you’re now basking in the glory of being your own boss. Don’t enjoy it too much.

I’m going to tell you a story of my first month on my own. Here is what my day looked like:

  • 8 a.m. – Out of bed
  • 9 a.m. – Sit down and check Twitter
  • 10 a.m. – Open email
  • 10:30 a.m. – Walk the dog (hey, it’s a nice day and I’m my own boss)
  • 12 p.m. – Man, I’m hungry
  • 1 p.m. – Back to work (Twitter is work right?)
  • 1:30 p.m. – Man, I need to write some code today — like, NOW
  • 2 p.m. – OOOO….Crap! I really need to write code now!
  • 3 p.m. – Wow, that was a good coding session; it must be…wait, it’s only 3 p.m.
  • 4 p.m. – Can I be done yet? I mean I was in the office most of the day
  • 5 p.m. – Whew, I’m done…wait, that’s only an hour of billlable work :(

Yup, that’s how I started. It took me a month — the first time I had to pay myself — to realize that I really hadn’t added anywhere near enough to the bank account if I intended for this business to keep paying my bills for the next few months, let alone years.

Just because you can spend the day lounging around doesn’t mean that you should be doing it. At least not if you want to keep paying your bills.

Each week, remember to set up your ideal week and do a weekly review every week. If you’re not really sure how to be productive, I’ve got 7 tips for you.

Plan your marketing time each week so that after you get through your first batch of clients you still have work.

Take up reading so you can keep learning how to run an awesome business. I mean read actual books, not just blog posts. If you’re not sure where to start here’s my list. Also watch my monthly reading posts to see what I’m reading and grab the books that interest you there.

Build in time to recharge. You’ve been going really hard working all night/weekends to get this business going. You can probably scale back just a bit now and spend time with those friends you have, as well as your spouse/partner.

Just don’t take it so easy that the fledgling business you’re running goes off the rails and dies in a fiery crash.

First 30 days – 6 months

Now that you’ve made it through the first 30 days and you actually were productive and kept up your marketing, it’s time to start taking a look back at what you’re doing.

Is that project management system you loved really something to be in love with? Do your clients like it? Are they using it? Did you provide them instructions on how to use it? Should you have a project success page?

What about goals? At first it was to survive for 30 days but it’s time to look further ahead now. Are you building the business you really want to be in? Do you really want to work late every day and miss time with your friends or family?

So what type of business do you want to run then? Which of your current clients are going to fit in that type of business? How are you going to keep taking steps to get to that business you want?

What’s your goal for revenue for the next 6 months? How many books do you plan on reading?

What steps do you need to take each month to get to those goals?

Take the time now and review the business budget you created. Is it working and is it reasonable? What can be cut? Really, you should be reviewing your budget every month.

Some other great budgeting resources are Total Money Makeover (Amazon.ca) and You Need a Budget.

Budgeting is no fun for me either, but it’s a crucial thing for your successful business. If you want to run a business in which you’re actually living paycheque to paycheque then by all means, don’t budget.

Of course also keep up all the stuff from the first 30 days like blogging, marketing, reading and generally staying productive.

First 6 – 12 months

Now that it’s been 6 months, it’s time to look back, as well as forward at the next 6 months.

What goals were you not able to accomplish? Why didn’t they happen? If the first thing that springs to mind is a bunch of external reasons you didn’t meet your goals, you likely need to check your mindset.

Sure some of you had your spouse get sick, or maybe even die. Those ARE good reasons that things didn’t turn out as planned. But most of you are just citing minimal things that are actually excuses.

You didn’t choose to spend your time properly and your goals remain unfulfilled because of that.

Review that budget again — not just the monthly budgeting session but really dig deep and cut the things you don’t need. You should always be ruthless with your expenses.

Have you attended a conference in the last 6 months? Not something you speak at but one that just feeds you and can help make your business better? If not, sit down and find one that you can attend. Budget for it and go make connections and get better at your business.

Coaching is good at any time in your business. I only recommend looking into it now and not earlier because I’m assuming that after 6 months of running a good budget, and staying productive and shipping things for clients, you’re in a better position to spend money on coaching.

Many of you are in the WordPress world so I want to note that I don’t mean ‘WordPress World’ money where everything costs around 5% of what it really should and people complain that it’s not 2% of what it should cost. I mean be up for putting aside a few thousand dollars in the next 6 months for coaching.

Hopefully you’re already involved in a good mastermind group. Even then, 1-on-1 coaching is going to help you go further faster. A coach will give you focused attention on a regular basis to help you break through the barriers to your success that you can’t see.

If you can invest in coaching before the 6 month point DO IT!

12 months and beyond

It’s been 12 months and you’re still running your business. Good job.

Now it’s time to review your year. Take a couple weeks off work and decide what was really important last year. What made you feel like a champion? What didn’t work? What are you goals for the next 12 months? How are those goals going to fit into each quarter?

Evaluate those clients again (every 6 months at least) and cut the ones that really don’t fit into your business as it’s grown. Make room for those clients that are going to come that are a better fit for you.

That’s it — you’re on a path that can lead to success. Keep being productive. Keep learning to run a better business. Keep refining your process and evaluating your business tools.

Keep being awesome, and keep running that amazing business.

photo credit: nathanf cc

Emmet Reading - big book

June 2015 Reading

Making Ideas Happen

We all have ideas, right? Some of them are good, and others merely part of a dream that’s forgotten with the first coffee of the day.

The thing that differentiates successful people from the unsuccessful is not that successful people have ideas, but that they actually do something with their ideas. When you act on your ideas you actually have a chance to succeed — and the more you ship, the more you increase the likelihood of finding that success.

It’s possibly more valuable to have a good framework to prioritize and execute your ideas than it is to come up with truly awesome ideas. Mediocre ideas executed well will trump ideas never executed, or great ideas executed poorly.

Making Ideas Happen is all about executing ideas, and bears many similarities to Getting Things Done.

even if you were to adopt all of the best ideas in this book, making ideas happen will never be easy

If you’re struggling with executing your ideas and GTD didn’t speak to you, then you should read Making Ideas Happen and see if the methods described mesh better with your creative brain.

All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Business

I’m the dad of two lovely little girls and I take care of them regularly. I do hair, paint nails, fix pretty dresses and change diapers. While my wife currently does more of this since she’s now home full-time while I work, there were years when I was the primary caregiver because her work schedule was longer than mine and less flexible.

I still remember a day at church when a lady heard that I’d be home alone on Saturday with my oldest daughter, who was then a toddler. The lady made some comment along the lines of, “Well, let’s just hope she survives the day with daddy.”

Sure the comment was made in jest, but it speaks to the cultural expectation that dad is a bumbling idiot who just hopes to make sure that the children survive while he’s on duty.

All In explores this cultural assumption of the ‘bad dad’ along with the topic of parental leave, and does it from all sides, not just the dad side. While reading the book, which is focused on US laws, I’m super lucky to live in Canada which allows 12 months of parental leave (8 weeks for mom, the remainder split however) to pretty much anyone that would qualify for any employment assistance.

Not only is having awesome parents good for business — as shown in this book — but it’s good for families to have dad and mom in place for the first 6 weeks. This early bonding time increases the chances that families will stay together and that dad will stay involved with his children, even if a marriage breaks up.

While the title of the book indicates the emphasis will be on dad, that’s not quite the case. Much of the book talks about mom, and also covers non-traditional families and how they should be treated by the workplace.

If you’re thinking of becoming a parent or are one, this is a good book to read to challenge your assumptions about how parents should act.

Abaddon’s Gate

This is the 3rd book in the Expanse Series by author James S. A. Corey, featuring James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante as they freelance their way around the galaxy in their salvaged Martian ship of war.

When we left them in Book 2 the alien molecule had sprung to near Uranus and formed a gate. This book is all about what happens as humanity deals with the ring and what’s inside.

Overall, I very much enjoyed the book, finishing it off in about 4 days.

Cibola Burn

This is Book 4 in the Expanse Series, following Abaddon’s Gate.

In Book 3, we figured out the rings — learning they won’t immediately kill humans as they go through them — and now it’s time to start seeing what’s on the other side.

This book joins a group of Belters that have set up on a planet and are essentially squatters. The company that holds the mining rights to the planet comes along, and of course conflict ensues. James Holden is brought in as a mediator, and they figure out that the whole planet is really alien technology.

Ships get trapped, things blow up (like half a planet), we encounter killer slugs and microbes that grow in your eyes and then we watch Holden work to shut down the alien tech that’s making everyone’s life difficult.

Again, I finished this book in a few days and very much enjoyed the time.

The Paradox of Choice

More choices means you’re going to be happier, right? You’re able to choose any of the 100 options that most suits your circumstances and needs.

What could be wrong with that?

The Paradox of Choice explores how the above thoughts really aren’t true. The more choices you have, the less likely you are to actually be happy with the choice you made. In fact, if you have 20 jam options instead of 5, you’d be less likely to even buy jam because you’re overwhelmed.

The biggest takeaway for me is that we can all benefit from standard operating procedures (ones we establish for ourselves) which just take decisions out of our hands in advance. A few of mine are:

  1. I don’t give information out over the phone to people that call me.
  2. I choose the top shirt on the pile.
  3. Every prospect must answer my initial client questions.

With those in place I don’t have to weigh things like the benefits of shirt A over shirt B, I just grab the top one and get dressed. If a prospect refuses to answer my questions, I don’t spend time on them and I let them go. It’s entirely possible I’m passing on a great client, but my SOP is that you must answer my questions, so I’m saved from weighing the individual merits of tracking a client down for answer to my questions.

I really enjoyed this book and enjoyed the research presented about how the myriad of choices we face today are likely making us less happy than people who have gone before us.

Nemesis Games

Here we are at the last (well, currently last) book in the Expanse Series. In this one the regular team of the Rocinante is split up, and during all the space battles they realize how much they rely on each other. Amos relies on Holden for his conscience. Holden needs them all to feel complete….

This one is told from the point of view of each of the main characters as they solve their own piece of the related puzzle. Really the only one not involved in the bigger picture is Amos, who is stuck in the aftermath of a large attack, trying to survive and realizing how much he doesn’t have a conscience.

Again, a great installment that I devoured. Can’t wait for the next one.

The Gunslinger

The Gunslinger is Book 1 of the Dark Tower Series by author Stephen King.

This is actually my second read-through of The Gunslinger and the first thing that struck me — in addition to nostalgia — was how well the overall universe was put together. So many things/creatures/themes we encounter in later books are talked about in the first book.

I totally missed this on my first read, mainly because I wasn’t yet familiar with the world King had built.

The man in black fled across the desert and the Gunslinger followed.

That’s the line that we open with, meeting our man in black and our Gunslinger. We figure out it’s something like a western, but there are machines around that are clearly not ‘old’ — well they are, but that’s because we learn that much of the technology to build the things we have today has been lost as the world ‘moves on’.

The biggest striking feature of the book is the clarity with which Stephen King describes all the items we see. You end up getting so drawn into the world it takes you most of the book to realize you don’t even know the Gunslinger’s name.

Much mystery surrounds all the characters we encounter. You probably don’t realize that at first, but as you progress in the series and see many of the people continuing to come back in this world or another, more weight is given to the actions taken when you first meet them.

Overall, this is one of my favourite series to read.

The Drawing of the Three

This is the second book in the Dark Tower Series, and here is where we start the ‘dimension’ hopping. It’s actually a bit weirder than that, since when we jump, we actually jump into the heads of people, through an actual door standing there in a beach.

The part I most enjoy is watching our main character, Roland, deal with being sick after losing two fingers, as a heroin junky (Eddie) goes through withdrawal and thinks about killing Roland.

Second up is the reckoning of Dedda Walker and Odedda Holmes as they become one whole person.

The Waste Lands

You knew I’d go straight to Book 3 of the Dark Tower Series, right?

In The Waste Lands we get to see Roland start to go mad as he battles two sets of competing memories. In one memory, he meets a boy named Jake (in the first book) and then lets him die.

In the second memory, Jake never appeared.

This paradox is a direct result of Roland’s actions in The Drawing of the Three and makes for plenty of tension on both Roland’s world and Jake’s as they deal with the split memories.

We also get a better handle on how the whole world is made up here, and see yet more things that are similar between our world and Roland’s. There does seem to be a bigger hand at the tiller behind everything, but what exactly does it want to do?

That’s it for my June reading list. Stay tuned next month for more.

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How does your manager affect performance?

Is it good to have a manager that is generally positive or generally negative? Do you really think your manager’s outlook can affect your performance? What about the ‘tough’ manager versus a manager who gives more positive ratings?

Is it possible that an ‘awesome’ employee from company A could become a mediocre or poor employee at company B because of the number of positive/negative comments made by their manager?

An article from the Harvard Business Review explores this and it turns out that yes, managers who give more positive ratings end up having employees who perform better.

Anyone who joined us in the discussions with the subordinates of these two sets of managers would have instantly seen the impact. The people who’d received more positive ratings felt lifted up and supported. And that vote of confidence made them more optimistic about future improvement. Conversely, subordinates rated by the consistently tougher managers were confused or discouraged—often both. They felt they were not valued or trusted, and that it was impossible to succeed. – HBR

So as you write evaluations for your employees, be honest but also remember to put in plenty of positive comments for your direct reports.

They’re going to be better at their job because of it.

photo credit: starstreak007 cc

[180_365] Zen Moment

Did you stop learning or get focused?

My friend John Locke wrote a great post about people stagnating in their learning. I’ve found this to be true with people learning development. Some keep digging and others stop because programming was just a fad for them.

John’s main premise is that people stop learning as they get older.

But one thing I’ve noticed as I get older is many people begin to limit what they expose themselves to as they mature. They cut off their opportunities to learn from others, perhaps for fear it will change what they believe their core essence to be.

I had a birthday

Hey, I had a birthday this year, which means I’m older. And I also pushed harder on specializing in my business.

Just today I cut 50% of my RSS feeds. Sure, some were dead so I really just got more speed out of my RSS refresh, but a good portion of the ones I cut were publishing content on a regular basis.

Some of it was technical, just not in the specialty I dig into.

You could look at this and say I’ve started to stagnate since I’m narrowing the swath of information I take in.

Is that really the case though? Does narrowing my focus really mean I’ve begun to stagnate?

I believe there will always be a tension between those items that really challenge us and provide value versus those that just fill up our lives. My goal is to get my ‘inputs’ down to the very few I actually need.

Don’t go stagnant because you fear something new, like John says.

Do refine your sources of information to those that are high value, and only pursue those. Only get into a new tool when it solves a problem.

It’s a hard tension to hold.

photo credit: pasukaru76 cc

Corsair

Would I want to…

Yesterday I talked about making a quick buck and how it’s not the way to be a good long-term business owner.

Unfortunately, many businesses allow deceptive practices to creep into their interactions with clients. For example, what may start as a monthly support package for clients may turn into a minimal amount of service charged at hugely inflated rates — with no mention to your clients about competing services like WP Site Care.

The best way to test any new business practices as you develop them is to ask yourself:

How would I feel if a company treated me this way?

Be honest with yourself. Think about it: Ninety-nine percent of us wouldn’t want our business equated with an airline because so much about the flying experience is terrible.

Nor would we ever want to be accused of having service contracts and lock-in policies like cell phone companies (and to my mainly US readers, know that it’s worse in Canada).

So ask yourself that question when you develop any new business practice. Ask your spouse/partner. Ask your mastermind group.

Run an awesome business that values your clients.

photo credit: pmiaki cc

Battle on the bridge

Is that quick buck worth it?

No, my bank account is not full. There’s plenty of room in there, and really I could add an infinite amount of bits which equal money.

But I won’t lie or deceive people just to get those extra bits into my account. It’s not worth it.

If you use those tactics just to get more money, at some point you’re going to be found out. You’ll burn bridges and clients won’t be referring others to you. Everyone will figure out you’re not trustworthy.

Being untrustworthy means you’ll eventually run out of friends who are willing to help you, as you end up burning through new ones faster than you can replace the old ones.

That quick buck you thought you could earn is going to mean that each ‘next buck’ is harder to earn. You’ll have to dig deeper into the lies and deception to make that quick buck.

Your goal should always be honesty. If you can’t handle a job, don’t let greed cause you to lie. Tell the prospect when you can’t handle the job and send them on to someone who can. If you’re stuck, tell your client you’re stuck, then go and hire the right person to help with that portion of the project, so you’re still delivering what you promised your client.

Yup, this method may mean it takes you longer to earn that initial buck, but it will pay off in the end. You’ll get referrals and your business will start growing. Your peers will respect you and send prospects that don’t fit with them to you.

In the long term you’ll have a healthy business that people want to work with — because you’re honest and trustworthy. That’s going to translate to more earnings later and a better lifestyle.

Sure it’s harder to start that way, but honesty and integrity will build a sustainable business, not a flash in the pan.

photo credit: liwnik cc

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Curtis McHale

Helping you answer the hard questions about your business