Eat Your Vegetables, Read Your Books

I don’t know about you, but I go through cycles of growth via various method.

One quarter I dive deep into a certain programming language, the next I’m focused on health and tracking my exercise and diet, and then I’m consuming all sorts of podcasts.

These cycles are healthy as it allows for new growth as long as your new habits are ones that compliment each other.

One thing I’m trying to make regular and not have just be a cycle is the regular consumption of books.  I do love audiobooks, but in this case I actually mean reading them.

I’ve found one thing that is helpful if I’m turned off by the costs associated is remembering that there are libraries all over the place.  I might get a section into a book and realize it’s just not worth it and with the library I don’t even have to be concerned.

The next set of books I’m excited about getting my hands on is The Art of Computer Programming volumes.  I haven’t read many books on the fundamentals of computer science and I’m thinking this will allow for some mindset shifts.

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What Would You Say You Do Here?

We’ve all worked with others who we secretly (or not so secretly) wonder what in the world they do all day.

I wouldn’t even say it’s with a spiteful tone, it can come from legit curiosity when analyzing a functional business.

I think of two things in regards to this question:

  1. If a business can’t answer this question, that’s a problem
  2. If you can’t define what you do, that’s a problem

I actually have that problem from time to time.  I only realized it when people would ask me and I’d have some sort of horrible nothing answer.

I’d leave the conversation and later ponder “What? Why did I say that? Did I just make something up on the fly?  Do I do nothing? Ahhhhhhhhh!”

So I’m turning this from a finger pointing exercise into one of some introspection.  As a business owner it’s important to know the answer for each of your employees and deal with the situation accordingly.  It’s also important as a business owner or employee that you know the answer to what you do here.

What Would You Say You Do Here – Exercises

  1. For an extended period of time (ie: 1 month) write down everything you do throughout the day
  2. Ask yourself, what is the most valuable task I perform here?
  3. Ask your co-workers what they think is the most valuable thing you provide
  4. Swap tasks with a co-worker so you can both gain perspective about each others’ tasks
  5. Write down how much you’d pay a new hire to take on all of you responsibilities
  6. If you went ahead with the new hire, would you be out of things to do? Or are there higher-level tasks you could be adding more value with?

As someone who believes greatly in the bootstrapping method, not knowing what your employees do, or what you do, is inexcusable.  It’s an expense that can overshadow all of the little things you do to try to save money while building your business.

Remember how you don’t go to Starbucks, use both sides of the printer paper, never go out to lunch anymore and borrow your neighbors wifi?  All of those minor expenses you’re giving up mean nothing when compared to the cost of being lost.

So, I guess I’ll end this post by asking all of my subscribers, I’m genuinely interested…

what would you say you do?

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Giving Your Customers The Floor

When you’re in sales mode it’s very easy to tune your customers out and try to turn the conversation to your concern, closing the deal.

One thing I see time and time again is sales people who talk so much that they talk the customer out of the deal.  It’s painful to watch, and I’m quite sure if the sales people had an out-of-body experience and were able to witness they’d be cringing themselves.

Today my team took 2 hours of our time to listen.  There was some silence here and there as the customer was pushing some buttons.  They were trying to recall some of the questions they had on our product and we gave them the floor.

Altogether about 10 questions were brought up about our products and services.  8 we were able to explain on the spot, and 2 we had follow-up action items to perform after the meeting.

Being honest, I don’t look forward to many 2 hour meetings.  However, this ended up being an incredible learning experience for our team.

What we were able to experience first hand was watching a customer both explain and show their frustration when using our product.  This particular customer is both a user of our products, as well as a reseller, so the questions pertained to both scenarios.

We found out that after 2 years, our customer still had questions on how to use some of the core features that we boast about being able to offer.

They had us show them 4 features right then and there because they were sick of selling these features and not actually knowing how to use them.

When their clients were asking for product demos this reseller was hitting us up to do it for them.  All this time we were happy to do it and take the responsibility, but the main reason they weren’t doing it themselves was because they didn’t know how.

My team was full of energy the entire time because we were pumped to watch them learn.  We realized quickly that if they had been successful so far selling our products without understanding them, imagine how much more they could do after our training session.

All individuals came out of this meeting refreshed and excited.  On their end, they were talking about all the clients they were going to go speak to.  On our end, we had a new respect for our resellers and fresh eyes on what we need to improve on.

It’s amazing how blind we can be as long as everything is going well.  Sales continued to come in so we didn’t even see a need for improvement.  We now see holes everywhere and are excited to plug them.

We’re thankful we decide to give our customer 2 hours of our undivided attention to let us know there were a few holes in our ship.  Holes that weren’t sinking the ship, but that could have in the long run, and at the very least were working against us.

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Anybody Have A Nickel? I Need To Make A Call!

I spoke to a client named Jack the other day who was having trouble connecting with potential clients.

Jack: “Nobody is returning my calls, what gives?”

Me: “I think people just don’t answer the phone if they don’t know who’s calling”

Jack: “We need a Toll Free 800 #, then calls would be rolling in”

Me: “Why would getting an 800 # get the phone ringing?”

Jack: “People don’t want to pay to call us long distance.”

Me: “People don’t have to pay to call us.”

Jack: “If they’re outside of our main line’s area code it’s long distance and they won’t call us”

I’m not young enough to not remember when long distance phone calls outside of your area code did cost money.  I’m not old enough to have it be something that ever pertained to me.

I couldn’t believe that Jack assumed this was the reason people weren’t returning his phone calls.  I hadn’t even taken something like that into consideration.

To me it was like worrying that due to the weather that there would be no milk on our porch in the morning from the Milkman.

I didn’t fully discount Jack’s perspective.  It actually made me think that if there are more people out there who think like Jack, there must be groups of people who aren’t returning calls outside of their area code for this exact reason.

That being said, I don’t think our business caters to those who still have this concern, so I threw the 800 # idea into the garbage.

What I didn’t throw into the garbage was that my view on something could be so entirely different than someone else’s and I need to be thinking outside of the box.

I need to be able to learn how to market tech products and services to those who have nothing in common with me.

My concerns are spec sheets, details and costs.  What their concerns are, I may not even be able to predict, but I need to do my best to put myself in their shoes.

It can certainly feel like the other person’s perspective is crazy, while at the same time they aren’t listening to any tech jargon you’re putting out there.  The simple truth is that if everybody refuses to find a way to connect, nobody wins.

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I Want A Case Of The Mondays

I can’t say I favor any day of the week over another, but I do know I don’t dread Mondays anymore.

I don’t get depressed because Monday is here and it means the work week officially starts.

This is because over the years I’ve started to enjoy Mondays as I’ve learned how to deal with them.

One of the best things I’ve started doing is putting in a little prep work on Fridays and maybe a slow Saturday or Sunday.  This means I start Monday already ahead of the game a bit and not playing catch-up.

I also tend to go to bed earlier on a Sunday so just in-case the day starts out with some unexpected excitement that I’m well rested and able to deal with it.

I’m hoping my next transition becomes that Monday truly is no different than any other day of the week.

I think it is important to sacrifice in order to put yourself in the best position possible to have satisfying work to do.  This includes not necessarily taking the job with the best pay, and maybe taking a different position in order to work remote full time.  Stress can be helpful in some situations, but there’s unhealthy stress that is simply never worth your unhappiness.

When you hit that point where a majority of the work you do becomes enjoyable, that’s when you’ve won.  That is what I’m shooting for in 2018.

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Striving To Understand Myself

When you’re attempting to conquer some big goals often the main person in your way is yourself.

I’ve been working on making sure I understand myself better so I can go on defense any time I’m trying to destroy my productivity.

One thing I’ve done recently is take the Understand Myself personality assessment for individuals.

It was fairly inexpensive and some solid minds are behind it so I thought why not.  I’m always experimenting with various tools and I think anything that can help you understand yourself better is a plus.

Anyways, here are my results:

  • Agreeableness (Compassion and Politeness): Moderately Low
    • Compassion: Low
    • Politeness: Typical or Average
  • Conscientiousness (Industriousness and Orderliness): Typical or Average
    • Industriousness: Moderately Low
    • Orderliness: Moderately High
  • Extraversion (Enthusiasm and Assertiveness): Low
    • Enthusiasm: Very Low
    • Assertiveness: Low
  • Neuroticism (Withdrawal and Volatility): Low
    • Withdrawal: Low
    • Volatility: Moderately Low
  • Openness to Experience (Openness and Intellect): Low
    • Intellect: Low
    • Openness: Moderately Low

None of the results were a complete shock.  Note that after you take the test there are multiple paragraphs going into more detail for each section.

I think what I enjoy most about working towards knowing yourself better via various methods is that nothing is set in stone.

If you have trouble communicating you can start doing something about it.  If you see that you’re not very aggressive you can do things to build confidence and work on it.

Learning about yourself and then doing nothing about it is pretty much worthless.  However, learning about yourself and then taking action can help you see new things and change your mindset completely.

If you’re you’re also interested in learning more about yourself and gain a new perspective, I encourage you give the test a shot at understandmyself.com.

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The Best Tool For The Job

Choice can become quite burdensome.

When you only have one option to choose from there becomes a demand in the market for an alternative.

Even when something is quite amazing, there will still be a percentage of people who will pay whatever it is to not use the tool everybody is using.

We see it with phones all the time.  iPhone and Android alternatives will continue to exist.

Some will thrive and become competition, others will struggle to exist but they have enough users propping them up.

We should never take for granted that almost everything you have to make a decision on, you have more than one choice.

 

What happens when there is an abundance of choice?

 

We’re certainly living in times of abundance of choice right now. Choice is good, but is an abundance of choice good?  Is there such a thing as too much choice?

As I stated earlier, I would never want to get rid of choice.  However, there is a point where choice becomes overwhelming and it stalls the market.

When tablets were all the rage I simply couldn’t choose between the 100+ manufacturers.  The price differences were negligible, so then I had to look at features.  The features are overwhelming so that’s when I throw my hands up and decide on nothing.

 

Choosing your tools

 

There’s no lack of choice for tools either.

People cling to their favorites and defend them til death or until they get curious enough and switch tools.

It’s this tool switching that can be such a gift and a curse.

We already have vim.  We already have notepad.  We already have notepad++.  We already have sublime.  We already have brackets.  Oh but I love VS Code!  I’m so glad they create VS Code because I’m unsure what I’d do without it.  Oh, except for use the other hundreds of choices.

So the curse is if you have tool ADHD you’re bound to get curious and get distracted.  This is taking you away from learning your current tool better, yet you choose to start over at day 1 because someone tweeted about it and people piled on the love.

The gift is some of these tools really make incredible leaps and allow us to do our jobs better.  At some point a tool came out and it had this nifty new thing called intellisense and oh my gosh…

At some point git came out and you finally had a version control system that you found manageable.

The cloud came along and now we can switch from computer to computer and access whatever we need.  How’s that remote work lifestyle?

When it comes to tools for software development I’m only just beginning to understand what is out there.  I’ve seen these words and recognize them, but I never knew what they were for.  Slowly I’ll get a grip on everything and be able to fill my toolbox with quality stuff.

As far as tool-ADHD, I’m going to be very careful with that.  I’m working towards mastering the tools I’m currently using.  This means libraries, frameworks, IDEs, languages…I’m going for mastery.

That being said, when something truly incredible comes along I’ll want that edge.  If something can allow me to be more efficient with any of my day-to-day, I will absolutely switch.  What I’m not going to be is an early adopter of any new tools.  I’ll let others who have the time available play that role while I try to keep my head down and build with what I know works.

A bit ironic though since I’ll absolutely be needing early adopters for what I’m building.  You see, there’s room for all sort of different personalities.

If you are one of those early adopter types I’d love to keep you posted on my SaaS product.  I’d love to have a pool of people to give early access to everything in exchange for being willing to push all the buttons and provide some feedback.  If this is you, I’m happy you’re here, and you know what to do below.

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Putting My Goals Ahead Of The Customer

It sounds a bit selfish, but I’m going to put my own goals ahead of the customer for now.

There are things I’m trying to learn such as marketing, design, UX, UI, etc.

These are things which I’m currently in the 101 class and I want to get to a sophomore 201 level minimum.

Anybody reading this right now is getting my blogging 101 work.  I’m confident that if I hit the “publish” button enough eventually my work will get better.

So I’m going to start by doing some 101-quality marketing so I can educate myself on a few things:

  • How difficult it is to get traction
  • See how much time it takes out of my day
  • Determine how much I’d pay someone to do it for me
  • Know the basics when I’m hiring out the work

I can be naive at times when I meet people, and no matter how much I get burned, I typically take people for their word.

This means if someone charges me for their creative work I’m going to roll with it and assume it’s worth what they are charging me.

What’s going to happen is eventually I’m going to start picking up on all of this.  Like when I get an oil change, I finally stopped saying “yes” to every filter that they said needed to be changed.

As soon as I learned enough about cars and said little car-101 things like “No thanks, that doesn’t need to be changed until I hit 60,000 miles” everything fell in line and I was no longer concerned I was paying for unnecessary work.  It doesn’t even take that much to convince others you’re hiring that they can’t pull a fast one on you.

Short term I know my SaaS product isn’t going to look the best or get marketed properly.  It’s going to be useful though and I’ll depend on that to get a bit of traction via word of mouth.  That traction will get me a little bit of spending money for improvements, and I’ll let the snowball effect do its job as well.

It’s also handy to have a network of others to help spread the word about your product when it’s finished.  People who were with you when you started and want to see your vision become a success.  People like you.

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Brick by Brick

When you’re building something important you want there to be a solid foundation.

Yet nobody is out there bragging about the foundation they just built, there is little to see.

Everybody agrees the foundation is important

 

You won’t get push back when people ask about your success and you point to it.  It’s an absolute.  Nobody disputes the importance of the foundation.

So if the foundation is so important, why be in a rush?  Why put pressure on those building it to go faster?

We put pressure on ourselves, pressure on others, because most of us are blind during the process.

When the foundation is being built, few people will recognize it as such

When the structure it’s built upon is complete, everybody will sing its praises

If you keep this in mind when you’re building your foundation, it will afford you fewer distractions.

If you learn to build solid foundations, the gift of vision develops and becomes your biggest asset.

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When Being Exceptional Is Your Only Option

Those of us who enjoy the feeling of being in control are often caught off-guard when mother nature interrupts our plans.

Sometimes it doesn’t even need to be the weather that throws our plans off, it can be the…

  • DJ who forgot to show up to your wedding
  • Customer who forgot about your important meeting
  • Car that decided it doesn’t want to start today

Whatever it is that reminds us we’re never in full control is certainly humbling.

It’s even more humbling if there’s a domino affect that carries throughout the day and you find yourself having to apologize for things you can’t control.

In business this often happens to me due to something related to logistics.

A package is lost, which triggers an order to be late, which triggers an order to be cancelled, which triggers a bonus to be lost, which triggers no special date night this month…it’s a bummer, but it’s also life and important these situations are dealt with reasonably.

A Snowstorm + A Package

Since last Friday I’ve been trying to get a shipment going to Canada to be picked up and on its way via FedEx.

FedEx doesn’t offer same-day pickup so the Friday shipment turns into a Monday pickup.

Customer inquires about why it wasn’t picked up on Friday, I let them know FedEx only does next business day pickup – all is good.

I get a call on Monday at 1:20pm from FedEx stating that due to the snowstorm that there will be no pickup at my location, it’s too dangerous out.

There’s no way I’m going to have another delay so I swiftly get into my vehicle and bring the shipment myself to a FedEx dropoff location.

Tuesday morning the customer inquires about the shipment and why it hasn’t left.

I’m baffled because I have gone the extra mile (without telling my poor-me story) and had a receipt from FedEx confirming my dropoff.

Well, what do you know…I call FedEx and they apologize – they thought it would be picked up when I asked yesterday but the storm got worse and it was not.

I inform the customer of the situation and this time include the weather issues and they are fairly understanding.

A few hours later FedEx arrives for the pickup.  I’m confused because I spent 10 minutes on the phone cancelling it with customer service yesterday.

I inform the FedEx driver that FedEx Office has my package and I’m good to go.

I get a call from FedEx Office – they wanted to confirm my shipment was going international and they confirmed once again it was in their possession.  I quickly answer their questions and then they end by stating “By the way, no vehicle has been able to get in or out of our facility, so your package probably won’t leave today”

What? Seriously? So I would have been better off *not* going the extra mile and (dramatic) risking my life in the snowstorm yesterday for my customer?

If I would have done absolutely nothing then the FedEx driver who showed up today would have got everything going?

Control is gone, but your Options on how to respond are not

It’s temping to have the lesson learned be to not go the extra mile for your customer.

It’s very easy next time to recall this ridiculous experience next time you’re pondering if you should provide exceptional service.

I decided the challenge for myself is to fight that instinct, always.

When someone or something is trying to convince you not to be exceptional and you give in, you lose every time.

The next time you have the opportunity to be exceptional and you exercise your option to do nothing, understand…

you took a 85% chance of exceptional & turned it into 0% – you did that

Who rationally would do that?  The answer unfortunately is a majority of us.  We apply one bad situation to all situations and let it not only affect ourselves, but everybody around us.

I also challenge you to be exceptional in whatever you do.  Be an outlier, do what others aren’t willing to do, develop your own journey.

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