“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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
Resources/Tools that are Working (use these)
i’ve mentioned several above, here they are listed again with a few others
- Quora – asking questions you can’t seem to get answered anywhere else
- Gravity Forms (with addons) – excellent wordpress forms with addons for newsletter and payment gateway integration. has a learning curve.
- Asana – task management web application
- Hype – html5 drag and drop builder. i’ve used this to create mini web applications for decision tree like visuals. click here to see what i made.
- H&R Block Deluxe taxes
- 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
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.
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