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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

Legoland Windsor - Scottish Highland Dancers

Why that ‘fun’ project isn’t ‘fun’ at all

You’re likely all familiar with Google’s “20% time” policy, where employees can use up to 20% of their time to work on anything — outside of their regular projects — that will benefit Google. This policy has led to many awesome things we use today, like Gmail.

If you were at PressNomics 2015 you likely heard the presentation about a company that takes one month out of every year to work on something ‘fun’ inside the company. This is something entirely outside their normal work, possibly even with technologies they don’t use and don’t plan to use in the future.

Yeah, I know you’re excited about this. It sounds totally awesome to delve into something new. I love doing this with my side projects that may or may not turn into anything (like learning Laravel) but are just a good brain test.

Danger, Will Robinson

Let me tell you about a company that does this. They take one week every three months and come up with something ‘new’ and exciting. At least the boss thinks it’s new and exciting.

Really, what happens is that the boss chooses the ‘new’ thing and then tells the employees what they’re going to be doing in pursuit of the new thing. The employees aren’t invited to provide input up front to help narrow down the choices or provide ideas.

That just means that the employees are pretty much doing exactly what they always do — work they are told to do.

Yes, some of the projects end up being interesting, but the employees are less invested because they never had ownership in the ideas. In most cases, the employees don’t look forward to the new, ‘fun’ projects because they aren’t that different from their everyday work.

This approach totally defeats the purpose of the ‘fun’ days, and likely does more damage than just working all the time would. Employees are reminded every few months that the boss doesn’t listen to them.

If you run a company and want to implement fun weeks of work, then make sure that you’re working on projects your employees want to work on. Put together a brainstorming afternoon a few weeks before and come up with five ideas, then allow your employees to vote on them.

Do the one that your employees want to do.

That’s going to help build the innovative culture you want.

photo credit: rob-young cc

Fish soup

You want your employees to succeed right?

We’ve all had a job at some point. Maybe one of yours was at a fast food joint where your primary responsibility was to flip that burger without getting your hair on it, and the training plan likely reflected that one work goal.

While we’d love to think that on-the-job training would get better as we move into adult life, the sad fact is that the training for most jobs is pretty much non-existent. Managers hire for your design/development skills, put together a vague job description (which is what they hired against), then expect you to miraculously do an awesome job.

You’re expected to figure out the office politics, navigate the proper way to communicate with people on the teams, and figure out who can give you access to the company servers. Of course if you don’t figure all these things out on your own, then “you’re not quite living up to what we expected.”

One would think with the significantly higher wages you’re earning as an adult, employers would make better use of your time and training to turn you into a productive team member as fast as possible.

Here’s what I put together for any of the contractors I bring on who need training.

Define key results

As an employer, the first thing you need to do for any employee or contractor is define the key results for the job. You don’t need to define the exact path to get to these results (in fact you shouldn’t, since autonomy in the workplace builds happier employees) but you do need to tell them how to succeed at their job.

When I hired an assistant, we defined three goals for her first three months. If she was able to do these three things then I would consider her a total success.

  1. Deal with my receipts so I don’t have to.
  2. Put up my emails so I don’t have to.
  3. Book my meetings.

We quickly figured out that the third item was simply a bad fit for the time she had available, so we scrapped it and stuck with the first two. As long as she could do those two things by the end of three months I would consider her a great employee.

She knows exactly what she should accomplish and there is no ambiguity about it. If she couldn’t do those things then she knows that I wouldn’t consider it a success.

No floundering fishes

A second big issue I see is once the key performance indicators have been defined, many employers don’t provide any guidance at all on how to accomplish them. I know I said above that you shouldn’t prescribe a path, but you do need to point new people in the right direction.

For my assistant, I put together 10 training videos on the three areas that would be in her wheelhouse and told her that she should follow that procedure for the first three months. After that, she was free to make changes (with my consent) to improve the process. Now, when I give her a new set of tasks I put together a video showing how to do it and tell her that once she can do it without the video, she is free to make modifications to the process as long as it still accomplishes the defined goals.

I don’t assign new tasks to my assistant and just expect her to figure them out because that would be setting her up for failure.

What about you?

Have you defined three key performance indicators for every employee or contractor?

Have you told them what success in their job looks like in 6 months or 12 months?

Have you provided them with actual training resources?

Are you checking in with them regularly to see how they’re tracking with those key performance indicators? Not just at the end, but a few times as they progress through them?

Hiring is not done when you sign an employment contract — it’s done when the employee proves to be a productive member of your team. Good employee training is your responsibility, and something you owe to everyone who works for you.

photo credit: stavos52093 cc

You wish to join the Dark Side_

Attitude is a Choice

When exchanging greetings and someone asks, “How are you?” my typical response is something like, “Fantastic, how are you?”

This same exchange occurred one particular morning at my workout, and after I had given my typical response, my workout classmate came back with, “Do you ever have a bad day?”

Of course

Yup, of course I have bad days. In fact, on that particular day when this guy asked how things were going, I actually had crazy itchy feet from camping at the lake two days before.

Seriously, wearing shoes was like putting fire on my feet.

But just because my situation isn’t optimal doesn’t mean I need to complain about it. I can have itchy feet and still be fantastic.

Your choice

It’s my choice to complain or not. I could have said my morning was terrible and my feet hurt and I could use more sleep, but how on Earth would those statements improve the course of my day? And how would my complaints affect those around me?

They wouldn’t improve the course of the day. If anything, statements like that are more likely to make my mood worse.

So why would you want to guarantee that a less than optimal day stays that way?

I wouldn’t, so I choose not to complain.

Do you make that choice too?

photo credit: isherwoodchris cc

_Not too close, or you'll burn them._

We don’t understand our customers

Are you a patient person? Can you take your time and do a job right? In conversation, can you sit and listen without just waiting for your turn to speak?

I hope you can, because those traits are hallmarks of a great business owner — someone who can take time in the sales process to really listen to the client’s needs.

Of Billing and Getting Shafted

Last week I was talking to a prospect who has been through three developers over three years, trying to get this prospect’s product to market. This person has had everything from a custom CMS built (well, started to be built but…) to a Joomla site started (again, only started). They paid for some work 100% up front,  and other work in installments.

After these three years they have a log-in to a site that doesn’t work, and that’s about it.

During our conversation, this prospect asked how I usually get paid and you could see the discomfort on their face when I said 100% up front is my normal terms.

At this point, I had a choice — I could stick to my guns or listen to the client. See, I had already heard the above story about all the developers that had screwed this prospect over, and I figured that while I usually get paid 100% up front, this client was going to have strong reservations about that.

Really, can you blame them? They’ve heard the same thing from three other developers:

Yup, I can totally do that, we are the right people for the job!

Only to find out that they were clearly not the right people for the job, but the client had to spend money to figure that out.

Ask

So after I said 100% up front, and they were very obviously uncomfortable, I asked what payment terms they would be comfortable with.

Guess what? It only took about 30 seconds of talking to come up with the weekly model of billing I’ve used as my alternate. We both feel safe that the risks we’re taking are low.

We’re both happy.

Now, if I had just put my foot down, or not spent the first 20 minutes of the conversation listening to their needs I likely wouldn’t be converting this prospect into a client.

Your first call with any client should only be to understand your client. Figure out who they are, and what their experience has been with other developers. What are their goals outside of the project? Where do they see their business?

Once you really understand someone it’s generally easy to figure out how to work with them.

Sadly, so many business owners just don’t take the time and they rush the sale.

Don’t be that person.

photo credit: brianneudorff cc

Alien vs Stormtrooper

Clients Aren’t Aliens

The way you hear some business owners speak you’d think they hated their clients.

It’s all complaints about how clients don’t value the work the business does. They return products and ask for changes late in the game.

You’d think that the clients are purposely trying to make the life of the business owner miserable.

And that’s how some business owners treat their clients — as if they are out to bring misery to the business owner.

Where do you go?

Step back from your business for a second and think about where you go for your goods or services. Is it a place where you’re treated like an adversary? Like you’re there to be a thorn in their side just because they want to be compensated for their products/services?

Or do you go to the place that makes you feel like you’re a valuable asset to their business? Do you go to the place that processes returns quickly and keeps you advised of the status of returns? The place that treats you like a human being?

I’m betting you go to the second place.

Which kind of business do you run?

That’s the question today: Do you run a business where your customers feel like aliens, or do you run a business where they feel like they’ve been taken care of by someone who cares about them?

photo credit: clement127 cc

Emmet Reading - rock

May Reading

May was another month with only one book read, which is more typical for the summer, when I go riding at night or take the kids to the lake. That means all the house cleanup has to happen after we get the kids to bed, which means less time devoted to reading.

Growing a Business

Get Growing a Business on Amazon.

This is an ‘older’ book which isn’t even available in a digital format. At the time I ordered this book, I was on a book-ordering spree, and didn’t actually even notice I hadn’t purchased an ebook until the paperback arrived from Amazon.

Unfortunately, physical books often end up sitting on my shelf, unread, due to the fact I can’t carry them everywhere with me as easily as I can a Kindle book. I already carry lots of stuff while bike commuting to my office, so physical books typically get left behind.

However, this book was one of the ones that made it off the bookshelf. I started reading it every morning before I started my work for the day, and I am so happy I did. The insights I found within are awesome.

Author Paul Hawken has started a number of businesses in his life. Everything from whole/organic food stores to mail order garden tools and supplies. He’s also invested in a number of other successful companies and served as an advisor to them. He has a very unique, down-to-earth perspective on running and growing a business.

But rarely do we really hear what happens inside business. The whopping success stories are glorified, the failures are dissected or shunned. The rest is silence. Our demand for heroes and goats obscures the truth.

One of my key takeaways from this book was this: Contrary to our current tech bubble, Hawken advises that simple money doesn’t solve problems — it only allows unprofitable companies to continue to lose money and become a bigger problem. He’s not opposed to taking investment, but it’s not the magic pill many people think it is. Execution of a good idea by the right team is really what’s key.

Growing a Business is on my list of books to read again because I’ll be ready for new bits of Hawken’s awesome advice.

Do You Remember … The Future_

Clients don’t actually want your hourly rate

Hey I’ve got this site to build and I’m trying to figure out what it’s going to cost. What’s your hourly rate? – Every Client Ever

Yup, we’ve all received that email, or one like it. You may have received one just this week, and if you’re like ‘the old me’ then you sighed loudly and fired off an hourly rate, even when you knew you shouldn’t.

The prospect then randomly guessed how long the job would take and multiplied that many hours by your hourly rate, compared it to the hourly rates of other contractors who responded, then chose a developer based on the total price the prospect calculated.

It was a bad choice.

The real question

What this prospect really wants to know is the total cost of their new site. We all totally understand that, right? Very few of us would purchase something without knowing what the cost of that something is.

If we’re purchasing services, we look at the estimates we’ve been given and figure out how much we’re going to pay for the services.

Here’s the problem though: Do you know how long it takes to build a house? I mean, I have experience in framing, electrical work, and the operation of large machinery. However, I still have no idea how many hours it actually takes to build a house. So asking for an hourly rate of a contractor and then multiplying that by an uneducated guess on the number of hours to complete a job sets the client up for poor expectations (and typically, disappointing results).

It’s simple

Back when I built fancy decks in Toronto, we had a saying that if the customer said ‘round’ then it cost them $1,000.

Hey, I want a round deck with a round railing and a round patio.

See that sentence? That’s a $3,000 sentence — because there are three round components. The thing is, to make a round (curved) railing, you have to laminate a bunch of wood together and then cut out the shape you want.

The round deck takes all sorts of cuts that need to be just right.

The round patio means you have to cut every brick in the proper shape, not merely trim the end off a rectangle to make it smaller.

So while the finished product may look ‘easy’ it’s a lot of work to get it to look right, and many customers would assume that you ‘just made it round instead of square’. (Easy to say, hard to do.)

Your clients are making similar assumptions. They hear about the famous WordPress 5-minute install and think that everything about creating a website is that easy, therefore it shouldn’t cost that much to get their site up and running. These assumptions extend to eCommerce sites, membership sites, and anything else that is built on top of WordPress.

Yes, we can lament these client assumptions, but really, they’re understandable. Most prospects don’t even have the framework to evaluate the decisions or the difficulty of their requirements.

Heck, we do this work for a living and we still estimate wrong sometimes when it comes to the complexity of what a client wants, and what it’s going to take to accomplish their goals.

Time

Another faulty assumption prospects sometimes make is that everyone is going to take the same time to finish the work. So when I say my hourly rate is $250/hour and another person says they charge $50/hour, the client may assume it will take each of us 10 hours to do the job.

I’m obviously way more expensive, but I’ve been doing this for 7 years, and maybe that site the client wants done is the exact type of site I do all the time. If that’s the case, I may be able to complete the job in 2 hours.

That means the other guy and I are actually the same price because what will take him 10 hours to do at $50/hour, I can do in 2 hours at $250 because I’ve been doing the work longer and am faster. However, I may lose the job because the client assumes I’ll cost more.

All because of a bad assumption.

How I answer

Okay, so we don’t think the prospect is a big idiot — we recognize they may be making some poor/broad assumptions and really just need some education.

But how do we answer that email? Here’s what I do.

Hey $client, thanks for reaching out. Asking what my hourly rate is really isn’t the right question. What you want to know is how much will this cost. If I give you an hourly rate then you’re going to guess how long it should take and multiply that number by my hourly rate and then decide how expensive I’ll be.

That doesn’t take into account the fact I’ve been at my job for more years than many of the other people you’ve asked about their hourly rate. I’m likely faster than most of them.

You’re also assuming you know how long something will take, which unfortunately is likely a guess and without years experience building sites.

Below you’ll find my standard questions for new prospects. Please take the time to answer those and then we can get on the phone and talk more about your project. Once we’re through that step I can put together a proper estimate for you and you can know what it’s going to cost without all the guessing.

Most of the time the prospects answer my questions (which you can get in my Effective Client Email book) and we get on the phone and talk about the project. After those two steps are complete, I give them an estimate that’s actually accurate.

We still accomplished their goals and I’m not working hourly.

photo credit: jdhancock cc

IMG_0034

My list of books I think you should all read

It’s no secret I read a lot. If you didn’t know that then you’ve clearly missed my monthly book lists.

Now, I’m lucky in that my wife and I both love to read, so I’m able to put in 1 – 2 hours a day of reading after the kids go to bed, and that’s in addition to 25 minutes of reading at the start of my day. I can maintain a long reading list and still have time to read other things.

I realize not everyone reads like me, nor do they have to. I don’t expect you to read every book I recommend — it’s not a matter of keeping up with the ‘Joneses’ (well, in this case THE McHale), but I do urge you to read some of the key ones.

So what’s on that key list? Following is my list, which I’ve divided up into a few categories to make it easy for you to select the ones you’d like to start with to help you really dig into your business.

Getting Started

If you want to start running a business and need guidance on some key concepts, here is where to start.

Found the Road

You’ve been running a business for a few years and it’s going decent, but you’d like to dig into some deeper strategy? Well, once you’ve finished the books above here are the next steps.

The Challenge

My challenge to you is to read one of these books a month and track how your business changes as you start really feeding your business brain. Institute the things you learn and refine them to suit your business.

If you do, I predict that in 12 months you will have a more successful business.

Another Great List

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Curtis McHale

Helping you answer the hard questions about your business