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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

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Put Structure Around Your Team Interactions

I’ve written before about how I structure my weeks and given you tips for a productive day. My friend Chris grounded that by talking about how high performance is a choice.

If you’ve read my other posts, you know the first thing I put on my calendar is vacation.

That’s all great since I work mostly by myself, but what about if you have a team relying on you for things? Can you still follow my advice?

Some of you may be saying that none of this stuff really works for you because you have people working for you and you pride yourself on giving them the freedom to work when they want to.

If they want to work weekends that’s totally fine; however, it sucks that you need to be around for them when they’ve decided to work. You’re the boss and that’s a sacrifice you have to make.

Stop that and start blocking out your time

No, it’s not a sacrifice you have to make, at least not regularly. Before you can stop it though, you need to make some changes.

1. Put emergency only time on the calendar.

One habit that’s critical to actually getting work done is to plan your week. I only take calls for new projects on Tuesday mornings because taking them randomly during the week pretty much guarantees I won’t get stuff done.

Start by working with the calendar that’s shared with your staff. Block out emergency only times — these are the blocks of time when your staff can only contact you in the case of an emergency. Such as, they launched a client site and it’s all burning down. The servers are going on strike and the clients have already unleashed the hounds to kill.

If they contact you during this time it’s because there was no other option at all and they actually needed you.

I already do this with clients. I let them know if they call me after work hours or on the weekends the cost for me to pick up the phone starts at double my usual rate (which makes it $400) and only gets higher based on how annoyed I am.

2. Put freely available time on the calendar.

Next, block out the time when your staff is free to get in touch about anything, even if they just want to chat about stuff that has nothing to do with work.

3. Plan some prep time.

Plan time each week where you can make sure that people have what they need. Yes you want to let them work whenever they want, but you should also be getting that same privilege. Setting aside an hour a week to meet is not unreasonable in any fashion. It’s 1 out of 168 hours that you’re asking them to be in a certain place at a certain time.

I’d say that’s a minimum requirement to actually be an effective employee/contractor.

Set aside a once a week call time to talk about the projects and make sure that they have everything they need. If they don’t and they need stuff from you put it on your list to get to them before you’re done for the week.

Expect more from them

It’s also time to start treating members of your team like adults. If they are always calling you on weekends because they need stuff for a project, that’s actually their problem.

They didn’t plan ahead to make sure that they were prepared. They just figured that it didn’t matter because they could simply call you and you’d put aside the time again to cover for them.

Stop doing it. Yup, it’s going create some pain at first because you’ve trained them to not prepare, but trust me — the re-training will pay off. Train them to plan ahead, then hold them accountable if they don’t plan and let a project take too long.

If they can’t get on board, then maybe they were a bad hire in the first place and it’s time to find someone new.

Stop sacrificing for their poor planning

It’s time for you to get in control of your schedule. Teach your team to plan better. Teach them that you have blocks of time when they really can’t get in touch with you unless things are burning.

Give them the tools they need to be prepared to work and expect them to prepare for the times you aren’t around.

Your job as the business owner is not to sacrifice everything. It’s to help employees become the best they can be, and that takes training.

photo credit: dunechaser cc

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Close Shouldn’t be Good Enough

My favourite local bike shop has a problem, and that sucks for me because I’m the one that ends up paying for it. The problem is that every time I take my bike in for service I end up taking it back a second time to ‘fix’ something that’s not working quite right.

This week it was the new freewheel they put on my single speed. When I took the bike in the freewheel ran silently, but when I got the bike back the gear ratios were perfect, but as long as I’m peddling the freewheel makes a ticking sound. Under hard pedaling you can feel it right through the whole bike.

Before Christmas I had an issue with the bike shop not replacing both my housing and cables — they only did the cables. All the cable ends that stop the cables from fraying fell off on the first ride, they used the wrong bearing on my headset, and they lost the seals to a part of my bike that now bathes the bearings in rain and grit.

Every time I take the bike back I drop at least an hour of work time which means it costs me around $200.

For the last two repairs alone I figure I paid $400 in lost productivity time, and that’s totally unacceptable.

I’ll be changing to the other local shop and see how they do.

It’s close but…

I must admit I’ve been guilty of doing a similar thing with my clients. They ask for Feature A to match a given design and I say okay.

Then I come pretty close but don’t completely hit the mark, and I send it to them for feedback. The feedback I get typically amounts to (though they are specific): “But it doesn’t match the design.”

In theory I should buckle down now and spend the time it takes to get it perfect across all devices (as much as you can do that, anyway) but this is my fault. I end up taking a few steps to make it closer but don’t pay enough attention to their feedback and thus I get more feedback saying, “Well it’s closer but…”

What will I be doing about it?

For my bike, I’m heading back to the shop today (cutting work an hour early) and getting that freewheel fixed. I’m also going to talk to the owner and tell him why I can’t come back for service again. It simply costs me too much.

For my clients I’m going to slow down and do it right the first time. Yes, I’m the type that feels 95% is close enough, but that’s not what my clients want and they shouldn’t have to keep hounding me to get it right.

If I expect that level of service from my providers how can I not expect the same from myself? How can I expect clients to continue to give me money when I would piss myself off?

What about you? Are you guilty of the same thing? Would you stand for ‘close’ in your dealings with your mechanic or the person doing your landscaping?

Why do you give ‘close’ service now?

photo credit: clement127 cc

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Components of a Good Project Plan

Planning is so important, but often the first thing abandoned, and that’s sad. I’m really good at maintaining my weekly planning sessions but I’m not always great at doing a project plan.

By ‘not always great’ I mean that until recently, I haven’t really had any specific method to build out proper project plans. A scope is a reasonable substitute, but a project plan should really be something your scoping document is built off of, or in tandem with.

A project plan should be built in partnership with your client. When they buy into the project plan you then start a scope and build a proposal/scope off of it.

Components of a project plan

Let’s walk through the main headings of a project plan to get an idea of what it is. At the end I’ll show you the project plan for my email product.

1. Purpose

What is the purpose of the project? Is it to get more sales, save time? Is it to bring a new resource online to customers — one that didn’t exist before?

If you don’t have a purpose for the project then why on earth are you doing it in the first place? That’s why this is first, because without a purpose a project is more likely to fail.

2. Principles

These are the standards on which you’re going to run the project. Yes, many of you are going to put excellence on here, but ‘excellence’ can be an vague term. Write down what excellence looks like in the context of the project.

3. Actions

This is where most of us start, with what actually needs to get done to ship a project. It’s easy and more tangible than the above items so it’s a more comfortable place to start.

Without defining our purpose and principles, though, this task list has no solid foundation.

When I do this, it’s a high-level view of the project. So you might say ‘Set up WooCommerce store’ as a task, knowing that there are about 55 sub-tasks that will need to get accomplished to complete the store.

4. Information

This is for any information pertinent to the project, like who’s the Project Champion (if you’ve never heard of that before then go listen to Art of Value 33), or the contact information for the person you use for book design.

If you’re doing a live event, put in the name of the venue here.

Effective Client Email Plan

Now let’s look at the project plan for my Effective Client Email Product with a planned release at the end of March 2015.

Purpose

To give freelancers awesome emails which will help them get the right answers from prospects in the vetting process and ultimately identify their ideal clients.

Freelancers should save time using these templates because they don’t have to dig deep and create a new email for every new prospect.

Principles

Excellence – the email templates and the guide will help freelancers have excellent responses to prospects.

Value – there will be high value for freelancers in the emails because they’re going to get better clients and train them out of the gate to be awesome.

Help – I want to give freelancers the tools they need and a plan to follow so they will have awesome client interactions.

Actions

Guide

  • Write the guide
  • Get it proofed
  • Get a cover designed

Emails

  • Compile the emails from my text expander list
  • Review them and make necessary revisions

Contactually

  • Write my Contactually guide
  • Get involved in the affiliate program?

Email Course (this is the lead funnel and initial course)

  • Write the email course based on guide material
  • Set up the course in MailChimp
  • Add an extra email to my current email sequence to let subscribers know about the course
  • Add the email course as a custom lead option for existing posts on email/client stuff

Sales

  • Set up product with variations
  • Write sales page
  • Get sales page proofed
  • Set up funnel for sales page

Info

  • Editor – Diane
  • Cover – same as the manifesto

Now you

Please feel free to steal use this project plan and I’d love to know how it works with your clients and projects.

It’s proven to be an awesome strategy for me to keep projects centered.

photo credit: legozilla cc

Emmet Reading - rock

February 2015 Reading

If you’re new to this blog, I do a monthly post with a recap of books I’ve read in the previous month. Today’s post covers the books I read in February 2015. Along with the recap, I also give away a copy of my favorite business book each month, so get on my email list for a chance to win.

1. What’s Best Next

Get What’s Best Next on Amazon.

What’s Best Next, by authors Matthew Aaron Perman and John Piper, takes standard Getting Things Done philosophy and applies Christian faith principles. My biggest complaint about the book is that it’s very repetitious.

The first 55% of the book consists of the authors basically trying to convince you that Christians should be concerned with productivity. I’m a Christian and I don’t disagree with the overall premise, but it shouldn’t require more than half of a book to make that argument. Nor does it need to be restated it in 9,200 ways (yes, I made up that number) to convince a reader the argument is valid.

Then you get to the approximately 25% of the book that’s really great.

Starting in Chapter 13, Perman finally starts breaking some ground new to me as he talks about identifying your roles in life. Your role list would be something like:

  • Individual (encompasses all the things pertaining to you)
  • Family (wife, kids, parents…)
  • Church (church, small group…)
  • Social (friends, neighbours…)
  • Professional (programming, design, blogging…)

Those cover the primary areas of responsibility in your life, so as new things come along you see which role they fit into.

The main reason you should be looking at your roles is to keep them in balance. Now of course sometimes you’ll be working more and spending less time with your family. But by identifying your ‘Family’ role as the most important, you can keep your life in check over the longer term.

Perman suggests keeping your list of roles and their priority in the same place you keep your review tools for your weekly review. That way you are continually reminded of your roles and what you really value.

After discussing roles, the book addresses setting up your week (which I think is super important) and creating routines. Routines are important to reduce your cognitive load and make planning easy.

Overall there are some great tips in this book for anyone looking to be more productive. If you’re not a Christian and tend to be put off by scripture citations, skip to Chapter 13 where the book covers roles.

If you’re a Christian then start from the beginning, but expect the same message to be repeated over and over and over from slightly different angles.

2. 20 Things I Learned as an Entrepreneur

Get 20 Things I Learned as an Entrepreneur on Amazon.

This is a super short book of 20 chapters in about 20 pages (plus front and back matter of course). Each chapter is a short thought on what it means to be an entrepreneur.

There are lots of great takeaways in this short book and it starts right out of the gate with what could be the foundational thought for your whole life:

…did you do what you said you would do? And if you didn’t, were you accountable?

Yup it starts off by talking about being a person of your word. Do what you say you will do, and don’t let the little things, like sending an email a day late, make working with you something negative.

There are a number of other great points in this book so yes, I think you should read it. Now if I had paid full price for the print version, I probably wouldn’t have been happy, but it was free via Kindle. However, even at $5-$10, I would still consider it a good value.

3. Taliesin

Get Taliesin on Amazon.

I first read this book in my early teens and it’s always had a place in my library. This is probably the 10th time I’ve read it.

Taliesin is the father of the famed Merlin so this is the beginning of Stephen R. Lawhead’s Arthur cycle.

The story begins with Atlantis and Charis (Merlin’s mother), and walk through the fall of Atlantis where Charis and a few thousand people escape the destruction.

The Atlantis timeline is interspersed with stories of Britain and Elphin (Taliesin’s father) as he prepares for the ‘dark time’.

The book ends with the birth of Merlin and a surprise death, which I’ll leave as a surprise so I don’t spoil the book.

I obviously love it since I’ve read it 10 times, so yes I recommend it if you like the genre.

4. Master the Essentials of Conversion Optimization

Get Master the Essentials of Conversion Optimization on Amazon.

If you’re looking to get into conversion optimization this is a great initial read. When you’re done you’ll have a list of the next resources you should be reading along with a specific process to begin your conversion optimization.

This is a no-nonsense guide that tosses aside your ‘hunches’ in favour of testing and proving your theories. When your tests turn out ‘bad’ as many will just revisit the hypothesis and run another test.

Highly recommended for anyone interested in working on conversions for their site.

5. Leviathan Wakes (Expanse Book 1)

Get Leviathan Wakes on Amazon.

This book is billed as a space opera. I’ll trust that is true, although I didn’t hear any singing and I don’t know exactly what a ‘space opera’ is supposed to be.

Whatever it is, it’s a good book. Another one I just didn’t want to put down — at all, at any point.

Humans have colonized Mars, as well as a bunch of asteroids in the solar system. Now there is division between the inner planets (Mars and Earth) and the ‘belt’ (the asteroids and such). Someone finds an alien molecule, thaws it, then unleashes it on humans on one of the bigger asteroids, simply to see what it does.

Mayhem ensues as ships explode and huge rocks narrowly miss being pushed into the sun.

Overall, if you like science fiction, this is a great read. I’ll be getting the next book in the series.

That’s it for February. Stay tuned for the March reading list, and if you have your own recommendations, by all means post them in the comments.

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This should be your only goal in hard client conversations

Do you ever have to talk to a client about budget or the features they want to ‘throw in’ to a project?

How about talking to a client that’s clearly not happy with your work and has requested a call?

It sucks and it’s stressful usually, until you make one crucial change in your goal for that call.

The old goal

For a long time my goal in hard calls was to bring the client around to my position. I’d be explaining to them why something cost so much or why I was saying no or why something wasn’t in scope.

I’d be fighting them the whole time and the conversation would suck. The next time we had to talk it still sucked because we would associate each other with that other sucky conversation.

Nothing really changed, either. We just kept sucking at a project together because we were now adversaries.

My whole goal was really winning the argument but the fact is, nobody won.

The new goal

When it’s time for that hard call with a customer your only goal should be to understand their position. Don’t talk about why you’re right and justify your opinion, but ask them questions. Repeat their answers back, as you understand them, and ask if you’ve understood them correctly.

Only once they stop talking and confirm you understand everything properly can you even start to talk. And now you actually understand what they’re thinking.

Now you can take a few deep breaths (really just to pause and think) and start to figure out a path forward. One that takes your point of view into consideration, but now that you’ve listened to your customer, they’re going to be ready to listen to you.

The only way to win in a hard conversation with a client is to both agree that the outcome is acceptable to all parties. If that’s not where you end the conversation then you likely failed at your first goal — understanding what your client is saying.

photo credit: legofenris cc

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I don’t want to be satisfied

There are a few things I don’t want to be in life. I don’t want to be satisfied and I don’t want to be average or normal.

Normal is broken. Normal is having credit card debt and student loans.

A ’normal’ freelancer is constantly searching for the next client. Actually, scratch that. They’re not searching — they’re frantically running around and wondering where on earth the very next person who will give them money is.

None of that sounds fun.

Neither does satisfied

Being satisfied sucks too. Being satisfied always feels like showing up, putting in time and checking out.

It feels like being okay with the status quo.

It feels like you stopped striving for that ‘next level’.

You’re just satisfied with where things are.

I don’t want to be satisfied, I want to make an impact.

Impact

I want to teach people to run awesome businesses and help them transform their ‘normal’ life into something abnormal and truly awesome.

I want to be the friend that’s telling you your dreams are possible, and you believe me because you see me achieving my dreams as well.

I don’t want to be the friend that’s telling you it can’t be done because no one does it yet or because it’s going to take a bunch of work. You don’t want that friend around you.

Stop being satisfied with average. Average is broken and I don’t want broken for you.

photo credit: billward cc

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Even if you’re busy, don’t skip planning

There was a time 2 years ago when I said I did GTD, but that wasn’t entirely true at the time. While I used OmniFocus as a task manager, I wasn’t fully committed to GTD because I skipped the most crucial part.

The weekly review.

But I’m busy

The thing is, I was busy and a review takes at least an hour, maybe 2, if I’ve let things slip. Those are 2 hours I could spend getting things done, so in the earlier days, I found myself habitually skipping over the review to actually accomplish tasks.

I eventually learned that when I didn’t have a plan for the following week I would expend all the mental energy I would have applied to the review on planning from day to day.

Trust me on this: If you skip the review and planning, your ideal week is totally out the window.

While you may save 2 hours by skipping a review, it’s likely you’ll lose at least twice that in productive time in the week. When I audit my schedule, I find that I actually get in about 5 hours less work in the weeks when I don’t do my weekly review.

By ‘reclaiming’ those 2 hours and investing them in planning, that’s 3 hours I gain back rather than spending those 3 hours on unproductive work.

Components of a weekly review

A full weekly review consists of the following steps for me:

  1. Empty all my inboxes (email, Todoist, Evernote) and actually decide what to do with each item.
  2. Review every project and every task in each project.
  3. Put the important actions for projects into the days they should get done (usually no more than 3 per day).

When I do my review, I use the 7-day view in Todoist. Since I review on Friday I can see all the way through Thursday of the next week and can plan all my tasks for Monday through Thursday.

My Fridays are run differently from Monday through Thursday. The morning is typically full of meetings, I do my weekly review in the afternoon, then work on a personal project (or go bike riding in nice weather). NO client tasks are scheduled on Fridays.

A quick weekly review

Yes, life happens and some weeks don’t go as planned. For example, last Friday my wife was really sick, and my kids were sick too, so I did my morning meetings and aborted everything else. I did a few things at home while my kids played and watched TV but I simply didn’t have time for a full review.

That meant I did my ‘quick review’ which addresses only 2 things.

  • What do I have to do?
  • What do I want to do?

By focusing on those 2 things, I was still set up for Monday and Tuesday, which meant I could then spend 15 minutes on Tuesday planning for the rest of the week.

No skipping

If you’re a busy person with a busy team, the best thing you can do to control productivity is make a plan. Plan out the times that team members can get in touch with you, and likewise, plan when you’re on ‘heads down’ work and shouldn’t be bothered.

If you utilize a remote team and value allowing them to work when they want, identify a range of times throughout the week where you can be interrupted and also let them know the times you definitely are not available (unless something’s on fire, of course).

Putting time into your weekly planning session is one of the most important things you can do to stay on track with your schedule and actually get things done each week.

photo credit: 1uplego cc

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You failed if the client asks for an update

I’ve got a bold statement for you:

If you get an email from a client asking for a status update you already failed at the project.

Yes, you read that right: If your client asks for a status update you failed on the project. Asking for a status update means your client didn’t have any idea what was going on with the project.

You left them hanging.

My update schedule

Throughout a project I send an update to the client on Monday and Thursday/Friday of every week of the project, at a minimum. Some clients get more frequent updates.

On Monday I send:

Hey $client_name this is what’s on tap for the week.

  • goal one
  • goal two
  • goal three

If there is anything that you think I’ve missed please feel free to hop into Redbooth and let’s make sure it’s dealt with.

If you haven’t already, please take the time to book our project status call this week here: $calendly_link.

Hope the weekend was awesome.

Then on Thursday/Friday I send them this:

Hey $client_name this is our end-of-week check-in email.

  • finished goal one
  • finished goal two
  • finished goal three
  • issue one
  • issue two
  • next week goal one
  • next week goal two
  • next week goal three

If there is anything that you think I’ve missed please feel free to hop into Redbooth and let’s make sure it’s dealt with.

Please take the time to book our project status call next week here: $calendly_link.

Have a great weekend.

Notice I’ve also prompted them twice to book a call during the week? The call is on top of the minimum of 2 emails to bookend our week working together.

This communication is all in addition to the communication that occurs within our project management system throughout the week.

I don’t get clients asking for project updates, because that would mean the client is asking what I’ve done in the past 8 hours, and I don’t take clients that need updates every 2 hours or so.

Don’t let them ask

When you’re working on a project, remember that in addition to being a designer/developer/yak shaver you’re a project manager and communicator. Having a good process for keeping clients up to date is just as important to project success and referrals as is writing good code or designing a kick ass website.

Step up and start communicating properly.

photo credit: 54459164@N00 cc

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Curtis McHale

Helping you answer the hard questions about your business