All posts in Stage 4: Business

Two Templates for Contacting Important People and Learning from Them

perhaps you want an interview with the head of a company or a celebrity, or someone likely too busy to acknowledge you. maybe you’d like to learn how someone did something, or get feedback on a project/business idea with someone seemingly higher up the “chain”.

PERHAPS your e-mailing an owner of a website to ask their feedback on something. (I’m looking at you random e-mailers to check out your info graphic or link to your site)

here are two tactics taken from tim ferris during a Mixergy interview a while back i’ve found useful that enable you to get that information quickly.

the interview, actually quite hilarious as andrew (interviewer) completely and accidentally ends up insulting tim, and having to apologize, recovers expertly and pulls out some awesome business tactics for us to learn from.

small excerpt to peak your interest:

“Tim: I think saying lying and cheating as an introduction is actually extremely unfair of you.

Andrew: Oh, I’m so sorry.

Tim: I don’t know how much alcohol you’ve had.”

ha! anyway, you can listen to that interview through Mixergy Premium here: http://mixergy.com/tim-ferriss-live-interview/

i’ve used these tactics successfully to network, enroll important clients, and reach out to busy individuals. they are useful when you see someone’s success you want to emulate. i’m recording them to this project as i progress and this has now almost becomes natural. Continue reading →

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A Trick to Find and Start a Profitable Idea

fun fact, the life design project was almost called “no shift key” because i didn’t like using capitals

whether you’re thinking of selling a product or service, or have an idea for a business, i have a trick for testing if it’s profitable that i’ve been using in my business.

the idea can be anything at first to open your mind to this, it could be selling baked goods, doing technical support, telling people how to rack up frequent flyer miles, it’s not important to start.

the biggest hurdle when in this space is usually a mental one…

you’re head messes with you when you have ideas…

  • might be scared and so you think “i could never make money from this”
  • might be practical and worry about graphics, and the website, and marketing, and how you’re going to charge people equaling overload
  • could be adding features by the minute to your great idea, increasing development time, and people involved
  • get lost on where to start
  • complain you’re already too busy but have big dreams

most businesses don’t fail for lack of trying, they fail because the idea wasn’t very good to start with and no one bothered to figure that out.

so how can you figure all this out quickly and get the real question answered…is this idea going to work?

your first move is to ask that question, which not everyone does before they throw all their money into a pizza place or quit their job

…then boil everything down to basics and set one really specific goal…that will get you started, everything after that I’m still learning.

start small, test, and tweak

IT Arsenal didn’t grow until I got really specific about what was offered and measurable goals like, 10 sales this month.

i tricked myself into action by telling myself i would offer one of my product ideas for a couple months and then change to another one of my ideas instead of trying to get my head around how to offer everything and get everything done.

this “cycle idea” tricked me into getting really really specific instead of trying to pitch “how awesome everything I do is” (pour on the sarcasm)….or think of all the problems or reasons i can’t do it. i was able to just start, really start.

after you make the mental shift, it’s much easier to make progress. it’s something bite sized you can take on.

i ended up not actually moving to another idea in a few months, sometimes it was longer, sometimes shorter, but it forced me to get obsessed about a specific product idea in cycles and find what worked, in other words, iterate more and quicker. i’m still doing this now.

examples of getting really specific for my ideas looked like this…Monthly WordPress Backup and Customized Advice, Website Setup for Online Entrepreneurs, Website Setup Training with Video’s for the Non-Technical.

instead of worrying about delivery, i asked people if they wanted this, got feedback and if yes, just sent them a PayPal link and the more feedback I got validated putting more effort into setting up a system for people to buy it, or a better graphic, or a graphic at all.

bad execution is also why business ideas fail, but without a profitable idea, execution doesn’t matter.

you could post your idea on craigslist first to boil things down to their basics. look to only make 3 sales or some very specific measure.

i was surprised…just getting a little specific in the offer and the goals made all the difference and had immediate results (IE questions, interest, and sales). i now have several products selling, with several landing pages, while i slowly keep testing.

the fact that I’m too busy with users to make changes means I’m making money, which was the point. my original ideas have changed, but what’s important is i know what is wanted, what people will pay for, and can act on it.

when you have something to grow, instead of looking quizically at an empty pot you can test just how profitable your idea can be or change it and keep testing.

how to start

  • boil your idea down to a specific small offering
  • ask people if they would buy it, ask them to do so. use friends or craigslist to find people. use launch rock to gather e-mails (http://launchrock.com/)
  • do it for them, gather feedback
  • test and tweak

…after you do this, you have something, which was the point. this is encouragement to take a step on a project you’ve been thinking about.

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“What’s Working” Online Business Report April

 

“Some people succeed because they are destined to, some because they are determined to…”

the time is since long overdue for me to report on progress made at IT Arsenal, an online business built to slowly create financial freedom and enable more and more freedoms in life, be it learning new things, following passions, or simply taking much longer vacations and living the life i want to live. the status at this point is: generating excess income and creating openings for an easier life yet still tied to a busy work schedule. life’s good, and so is business.

i’ll go over major points of interest in the last 4 months or so, what’s working, what isn’t, and what you can take away and use for yourself.

Major Developments

new offerings (continuity programs are where it’s at)

wordpress maintenance, disaster recovery, and ongoing “everything” technical help are three new fully functional programs listed now on IT Arsenal. besides getting more and more familiar with building landing pages rapidly for these services, the continuity of an ongoing service is working out very well. using a paypal subscription, i’ve offered an “all you can eat” solution with some boundaries for technical help. those who have an established online business, meaning, it’s bringing in money, are finding it very valuable to offload their technical needs. it’s not a full on membership site where i add content, rather an all access pass for a monthly cost. more on how it’s implemented below.

although i like landing pages services like Unbounce, i’ve used my WordPress theme, Pagelines Platform Pro and stripped out everything but the top navigation and bottom logo, and used the regular WordPress page editor to create sales type pages.

service based offerings but streamlined with gravity forms

although the new offerings lean heavily toward a service orientation, meaning a person is required to deliver, with the help of gravity forms, and actually having a landing page for many more needs on my business website, a majority of interaction is now streamlined or automated.

i can’t tell you what a joy it is to field a question of interest with a link to a beautiful page, and a form that leads directly to checkout and captures all pertinent details, that not only stores the information in a database and e-mails me, but e-mails the user a custom checkout e-mail, and adds them to my newsletter. gravity forms is able to do that for my particular setup.

it’s always been a hurdle for me to make specific offerings for the multitude of requests and various names that “IT stuff” get’s called and categorized with, but gravity forms has helped me combat that greatly. i can more easily create a capture or salespage and put an already made form/buy button at the bottom of it. although i shouldn’t be stalled by this, and instead sell to the need, i feel more equipped to create the first funnel and just go now. the faster you can try things out the better. i continue learning over and over that to drive your business idea you should use as simple and quick means as possible to test if people will pay for it. go from there.

Gravity Forms

new graphics

the services page now greatly simplifies what’s offered via a snazzy iPad looking graphic with links that move the user down the page. i can actually use the page as a reference now, and i’ve received out the blue comments on how “easy” the site was to understand. user interface = so important. my online business colleague mars dorian helped with the graphic, i put together elements of it with Omnigraffle.

new referrals

likely my main source of business is referrals. i’m not exactly positive how, but i’m pretty sure i was a poster boy at a recent “Martha Beck” (women coaches) conference because i make sure to give nothing less but superb service to all clients. treat all users like your only users, always. make it easy for those you do business with to share who you are and you’ll see a natural outpouring of referrals, then it’s only a matter of turning that into sales.

i’m now a go to technical resource for adam baker and jonathan mead, high profile bloggers and online entrepreneurs.

new partnerships, co-launch or branding opportunities

previous clients that i’ve helped have noticed packages i offer as useful to their audiences and have asked to collaborate on something custom. nothing live yet, but these are open conversations. i’m finding it tricky to collaborate and be the driving force, but i want to be.

  • ashley – the middle finger project – customized WordPress Trainer
  • stella – crafting a message that makes your cash register sing – custom packages for boosting response or setting up a website
  • stephen – my pocket band – “shortcuts for web entrepreneurs” mostly around what to do after you have an initial “ugly” site up

…and if i can figure out this i might be able enlist a lot more via an affiliate system not tied to a payment checkout system. WordPress Affiliate Platform Plugin – Simple Affiliate Program for WordPress Blog/Site

new 2012 business goals

  • earn 32k
  • $2000 in “passive” or front loaded income
  • co-launch a product or service
  • go to 6 events
  • review 5 business books
  • launch 2 services
  • launch 2 products
  • hit 1000 on my mailing list

…while holding a 9-5

volunteering

a meetup group called “tech volunteers” puts IT workers skills to good use, so far i’ve helped an organization called Depaul USA. i wish i wasn’t so busy when they end up having their live meetups!

 

Money

taxes

first year doing taxes married and with a sole proprietorship. we used HR block’s deluxe online package, and chose not to itemize everything to save time. i keep my usernames and passwords in a spreadsheet so the frustration was limited to a few hours and i felt confident everything went well.

credit card

legitimate business credit card uses abound, as tax laws on what can be a business expense are lenient. i opened a card to net 50k miles toward a planned trip to italy, and to more easily track business expenses throughout the year. the perks of a business card allow for some fun. the business opened up an aadvantage citicard visa and nabbed 50k miles using this trick (actually 150k with my wife’s cards) for free flights.

month average income right now – $2073

 

Side Projects

justanswer.com – i just can’t give it up!

buying old computers, cleaning them up and selling them

 

What’s Not Working

still preparing and not selling

i feel like my good friend regie, who seems to always be studying for a certification every time we talk about business, when i’m saying just go do it! … and yet here i do the same thing in my own way, always preparing an idea to sell, but never actually selling it, much less promoting it. i need to get in my head as soon as i’ve readied something to the point it sale, i need to have avenues to actually tell people about it, but that leads to my next problem.

overload
part of me is worried i’ll get too much business and not be able to handle it, but that’s super lame. i’m glad i’m writing it so i can see how lame that is.

still preparing, not writing (reports/reflection or newsletter)

i’ve come to learn reflection and reporting are so important. they don’t have to be public, but i just have been in survival mode and ignoring this.

too much service, not enough product

i’ve battled back and forth in the past 2 years to build solutions that are more autonomous, meaning self governed and run by themselves. IE. post up a self contained product and no other interaction is needed for purchase and delivery. some online entrepreneurs would argue this is the only way, but i am doing both, and as mentioned making sure if i build something that doesn’t scale, is streamlined as much as possible with systems. despite that, this year needs to show more results in stand alone solutions for a more passive income.

there’s so much more i could be doing

i’m holding fast to superior customer service and referrals, basically whoever walks “through my door” or my inbox is more like it and doing very little “seeker” work…blog posts, marketing campaigns to announce new things, constant social media posts now. although i should state i do post regularly but infrequently to facebook, twitter, linkedin, and i do make sure those that i work with, i write linkedin recommendations for or e-mail personal suggestions for their advancement.

a note I made to myself at the end of Feb

consistency, quality of work, referrals, and “being there” are working, interacting with media, pushing out content or asking for the sale, having/refreshing items on the shelf (instead of customized everything e-mail drudgery), are not working.

i’m relying on my past and need to dig in, stop taking new clients and focus on product dev, and then publishing about those new things in a way that increases my throughput and scalability.

the “does it work, will it sell” period is over, now iterate to be bigger. stop getting stuck in the cycle of  catching up instead of innovating.

 

Tactics that are Working (take these)

scheduled relationship/referral enhancers

i have a weekly calendar occasion to promote someone who has bought from me, touch base with someone in my niche, and answer questions on LinkedIn. this works wonders.

always go above and beyond, it’s your strength when you’re small

icon graphics for landing pages and visuals

a problem i’m always hearing about when actually putting together a website landing page, or a home or about page with some visuals is what to use for images without going to a graphic designer to craft something custom. i find it increasingly easy to search specifically for “icons” or “vectors” in a topic that i need to display, and arrange these in some logical order to my topic. designers give away icons packs much more readily than “stock” images. see the below example i use in my disaster recovery package.


landing page for everything, don’t give them 100 solutions per page, give them 1 on 100 pages

okay maybe not literally 100 pages but there are many ways to sell your product or offering. add “for entrepreneurs” or “for stay at home moms” and you are selling to two different crowds even though the offer is exactly the same. create many different “nets” to catch your audiences and explore them. i’ve been building more and more super specific pages with the same checkout options instead of a more general tech support blanket. it just plain sells better.

thinking about choice while making an offer

sheena lyengar does a TED talk about “choice” that will help you immensely if you’re overwhelmed with options or don’t know where to start when offering something to an audience.

Sheena Iyengar on the art of choosing 

 

Resources/Tools that are Working (use these)

i’ve mentioned several above, here they are listed again with a few others

 

Realizations

  • the speed of business when it comes to service is much slower than products, waiting for responses drags everything out
  • business i just part my life now, and i get out what i put in
  • it’s not just me who struggles with doing work for current project vs. putting something on a website, selling and innovating

 

“Freedoms”

i’m not “financially free” yet, but excess income and plenty of perks are the result so far in combining lifestyle design and online business, and it get’s better and better if the last few years are indicators, here are recent freedoms.

  • services and software paid for by business income
  • a trip to italy later this year, paid for by business income
  • paying off wife’s law school loans that much faster
  • negotiating power in my career
  • access to various training programs and groups for free

i end up saving most of the additional income for later, but it’s fun to think i could lease a sports car or get a massage every week or simply go to chipotle everyday if i wanted to. since i’d like the monthly income to eliminate all my expenses eventually, i keep working on that, and i also generally enjoy being cheap.

although, now that i think about it, i might start getting a massage every week, that sounds pretty good.

 

Reflection

ironically, although immersed with technology to fuel the business, my interactions are more traditional, based off existing relationships, referrals, and those who stumble on me. this is likely because i’m committed to spending limited time slowly building IT Arsenal when i can. this isn’t to say i shouldn’t be efficiently and quickly launching a marketing campaign, or regularly writing updates and posts for search traffic or shareable/sticky funnel content, or paying for advertising…because i should…i’m just not right now.

despite familiarity with the tech; webinars, daily blogging, and the slow drip launch to a limited space/limited time offer haven’t been appealing to me at this point. small series of test and sell, refer and sell, and e-mailing links are just fine, but i don’t think they will continue to be for much longer.

i suspect my aversion has something to do with not wanting to create hype, the multiple time sensitive communication blasts and coordinated actions that need to happen (and my limited time with a job), and the constant sense i need to get over that my core offerings aren’t ready. they are so close, closest they have ever been.

i curse myself for not being able to pick one problem, like “Hosting Migrations” and just do that and only that. painfully, and it serves me right, i’m learning to do that backwards, by creating a business with multiple services (then fighting to display them) and then working backwards until i end up with a big salespage that offers only one thing and marketing material or pitches for only that. as i learned from Jason Cohen http://blog.asmartbear.com/ , one way to get over this hump is to create multiple landing pages until what people actually want or what you should be focusing on is apparent. i seem to be on that path, and that’s working for me.

i’m in a space where i know exactly what i offer, and what i don’t, and where it all belongs or should belong in the shop. now completing and tweaking the items on the shelves will start to come into more focus, and not live in the outskirts of day to day work.

i’m right in the middle of those two places, and it’s fun. i have to balance giving my all to current and new users who are buying from me or being referred to me…and the internal building and testing…which can only happen after i finish with those awesome clients, break free from the 9-5 drudge, make an effort toward my fitness goals, and make sure i’m being an awesome husband!…but that’s life, and so far, those are all still deemed very worthwhile!

keep on keeping on

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Mechanics of Making More and Working Less – Work the System 3

Work the system

I just finished reading Work the System for the second time, it’s in it’s 3rd edition printing and I can’t recommend it enough for grasping a concrete sense of how to elevate yourself out of the chaos in business and life, pinpoint the systems that make things work, and set them up to do your bidding.

The book is freeing, but also down to earth with real applicable methodologies. It’s awesome and has been a powerful book for me the last couple years, both in automating life, and my online business income, and just identifying how things work and then working them to my advantage.

It gives you a confidence in almost predicting how things will happen, a la Robert Downy Jr. version of Sherlock Holmes…seeing what’s there, taking it in from an objective angle, and then executing to push things in your favor. Continue reading →

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Grow Like This – The Hacker Way Action Excerpt

Hacker Way

I grabbed the excerpt as I found it applicable and similar to Chris Brogans “gate jumping” thoughts. Use this as fuel to forge ahead if you’re stuck.

Find what works, iterate, make it better if the idea proves itself worthy.

Pulled originally from Facebook’s IPO filing, then from my reading of Eric Ries “Startup Lessons Learned” post on it.

http://www.startuplessonslearned.com/2012/02/hacker-way.html

Build your online business like this, there’s too much distraction, too much to get caught up in that without this mindset you just won’t get a chance to make your ideas fly, create income, and see if your business can be a freedom giving enjoyable endeavor. It’s something you can hear over and over as you develop. It’s awesome to see this methodology can be used no matter how small or big you are.

 

The Hacker Way (letter from Zuckerberg)

As part of building a strong company, we work hard at making Facebook the best place for great people to have a big impact on the world and learn from other great people. We have cultivated a unique culture and management approach that we call the Hacker Way.

The word “hacker” has an unfairly negative connotation from being portrayed in the media as people who break into computers. In reality, hacking just means building something quickly or testing the boundaries of what can be done. Like most things, it can be used for good or bad, but the vast majority of hackers I’ve met tend to be idealistic people who want to have a positive impact on the world.

The Hacker Way is an approach to building that involves continuous improvement and iteration. Hackers believe that something can always be better, and that nothing is ever complete. They just have to go fix it — often in the face of people who say it’s impossible or are content with the status quo.

Hackers try to build the best services over the long term by quickly releasing and learning from smaller iterations rather than trying to get everything right all at once. To support this, we have built a testing framework that at any given time can try out thousands of versions of Facebook. We have the words “Done is better than perfect” painted on our walls to remind ourselves to always keep shipping.

Hacking is also an inherently hands-on and active discipline. Instead of debating for days whether a new idea is possible or what the best way to build something is, hackers would rather just prototype something and see what works. There’s a hacker mantra that you’ll hear a lot around Facebook offices: “Code wins arguments.”

 

PS. IT Arsenal’s progress has been slow and steady. I’m the bottleneck, not packaging things up as deliverable digital products, and streamlining work delivery often or well enough. Still, revenue is climbing, hourly investment only slightly higher or fluxuating. A real progress report is due next on what’s working, what’s not working, and some reading inspiration. I really love the projects I’m working on it.

 

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