Understanding your Process

One of the most important things in your entire business are your working processes. And yet the majority of businesses we work with don’t seem to have them. They do of course; every single thing you do from the moment you get up in the morning is a process and whether or not you have something structured, you’re still following processes. But from the multi-hundred employee companies, to the small team businesses or entrepreneurs, a succinct set of steps that make sense – logical, effective processes – seem to be missing. This is often met with vigorous head nodding acknowledgement and a desire to have structure in place.

Your processes allow you to understand what’s currently happening, increase consistency & quality in your work, easily hand over responsibilities to staff, lower your new employee intangible training costs, align operations (that is, your day to day work) with your overall strategies, create better working cultures, outline where you can automate & use systems to improve those same processes, better deal with exceptions-to-the-rule, allow for easy visual communication of ideas & experiences, and quickly change & adapt when you need to to leverage, take an opportunity or address a new problem.

Processes can initially feel incredibly overwhelming but if you work through them in small steps you can quickly tackle one area at a time and then continue to refine.

So where do you start? Let’s walk through the areas of your business outside your client work (i.e B2B or B2C service projects) or customers (i.e users buying a product). We’ll tackle those lifecycles in a seperate post.

  1. Write down the different “departments” in your business that you run tasks in. These might include accounting & finances, administration, procurement, human resources, client inquiries etc. Keep these on a document, whiteboard or piece of paper somewhere.
  2. As you go about your day-to-day work, write down the processes you undertake in each of the departments. For example, that might be invoicing a client, reconciling accounts, starting a new team member, approving a course affiliate, providing services information, sending information on a speaking engagement, answering helpdesk or other customer queries, setting up meetings etc.
  3. Bonus points if you time your tasks with each of these items. Download Harvest or Toggl or Rescue Time and easily record your timekeeping against each activity
  4. At the end of the month you should now start to be forming a fairly accurate task listing of the work you do. Take one of the departments you’d like to focus on first and sketch out the different tasks you run through in a visual flow (you may find there are distinct processes within the department). Note down the approximate time each full process takes.
  5. Walk through where you (or the team) can do things better. What is the outcome of this process? Where are the friction points and bottle necks? Does the time of the task feel appropriate to the benefit of it? How often are you doing this? Can you automate something, move it to a system so it reduces your time, create a guide or website page to point to etc?
  6. Now do a quick cost-benefit analysis. I know we are all exceptionally busy – where’s the biggest benefit right now? Let’s just fix that one area by picking it, figuring out the solution and implementing it. Make sure it works for your customers, your staff, your company and then have a mini celebration.
  7. Once you’ve structured it, record that process formally. Either in a graphic in your well-foldered-and-labelled information system (i.e Dropbox), in your company wiki (i.e using SlimWiki), on your Intranet (i.e Igloo), in a process documentation solution (i.e Pipefy) or something that works well for you. Now you can refer back to it when you need to, easily explain it to somebody else, hand it over to somebody to work from, and go back and tweak it whenever you need to. This is a part of your business where you’re creating the best experience (internally or externally or both) as much as you can right now.

How do I decide on the system where I need one?

That’s a question I’ll attempt to cover in another post but for now I’ll assume you either know some good solutions, or can do some research, ask around and trial some solutions that best fit you, the functionalities and the requirements you have.

When we work on processes with clients, I like to create two visual graphics. One that is system/tech agnostic (i.e the task flow of the process only) and one that incorporates the systems/tech we are using as solutions in the appropriate steps (i.e the EDM provider, the project management system, the accounting solution, the API, document template etc). This allows us to also see at a glance in the future what that part of the technology is doing so if it’s causing problems or there is a more effective opportunity it can be replaced with a lot less confusion and/or disruption.

***

Here are a couple of small examples of process flows as the visuals can be more helpful in explaining the documentation process (there are many ways of visualizing processes – these are a small cross section of about 8 major ways we do it depending on the process, function and hierarchy)…

Process improvement small business corporate australia strategy corporate culture The Identity Division Entrepreneurs Business Blog Systems Technology Workflows Design brisbane Process improvement small business corporate australia strategy corporate culture The Identity Division Entrepreneurs Business Blog Systems Technology Workflows Design

Process improvement small business corporate australia strategy corporate culture The Identity Division Entrepreneurs Business Blog Systems Technology Workflows Design brisbane

The CEO Problem

Big business has a big problem. They require CEOs to make important and sometimes complex decisions. And the decisions are ultimately made to maximize shareholder wealth and the revenue of the business.

At nearly any cost. And then the CEO gets a bonus.

Long term thinking is thereby discarded in favor of short term rewards.

In the long run, the company is very likely to run into issues as CEOs make questionable choices to positively impact their immediate wealth. To change this behaviour you could instead offer some small short-term rewards and big long-term rewards. If the company achieves X in 10 years and that can be traced back to your tenure then here is Y. This of course is a lot harder to measure and requires significant more effort into structuring and accounting for variables, but policies like these would foster a company with more foresight and place responsibility on future outcomes.

In our businesses we too have the CEO problem. Easy examples are the make-money-fast, seven-figure-promise bloggers or click-bait-ad-sites. It’s quick, it’s dubious, and it can be full of brashness, ego and make believe authority. It makes relatively a lot of money in the short term and then you’re done, people stop falling for the game, or the system changes and you exit.

But it’s also the good businesses that need to make tough decisions. Do we select the more expensive material that will develop our brand reputation over the long run and swallow the cost now or choose the cheap and easy one right now? Hire staff in your area or pay equitable wages overseas or offshore to cheap labour, developing countries? Focus on people before profit first?

You can build an ethical, sustainable business with deep passion and integrity. This is of course much slower. The money doesn’t appear as quickly. It requires you to make mistakes, to fix them and to look forwards. You’re going to go through periods of challenges and wins because you’re around in the long run for them. You’re building a business through or toward a dream. It’s sometimes tough and sometimes amazing.

Two choices. Your pick?

The Inefficiency Effect

I once worked for a company that sold a gigantic amount of iron ore (please don’t hold that against me). They made billions. And then the price of iron ore started falling. Heavily. Suddenly hundreds of people were made redundant. Labor hours on site were more closely tracked. Big vendor contracts were renegotiated. Systems were merged. Procurement was managed rather than your standard friend-of-a-friend who used to magically appear. A few levels of managers were cut from the hierarchy. Processes were altered and refined to be better.

It didn’t take long but they were able to produce the same amount of iron ore if they wished. In a better way.

That’s the problem when business is doing well. When you’re making the money you’re comfortable living with, it hides all the inefficiencies. 

It’s very hard to peel the curtains past the illusion when everything appears to be working fine. You don’t need to self-correct because there isn’t a variable in the market that forces you to do so. Until there is.

That company also made some terrible decisions caused by sudden panic and instant reaction rather than thoughtful, proactive measures (including removing cookie jars and newspapers … and with it all staff morale).

And that’s why it’s even more important to assess your current status and processes and implement actions right now. In the long run, smarter decisions and operating processes will nearly always lead to better results.

Being comfortable, or finally coasting along, is an opportunity to do better without having the pressures of time and money. If you don’t make changes now, that monkey will be on your back again shortly. You just won’t see it coming.

(this also applies to our personal income and finances)

The Wrong Focus

The logo still isn’t quite-the-right-vibe but I can’t explain to you why. I don’t know what I like but these 32 don’t feel like it. It’s too small. It still doesn’t pop. Could we make another tweak to version 8 of Round 4?

If you’ve been presented with high quality logos after some customer development and research into your business, then generally this has nothing to do with the logo.

When you become so fixated on one thing, it’s nearly always procrastination. And it usually means two things.

  1. You don’t know what to do next or you’re overwhelmed with everything that needs to be done
  2. You’ve got a branding or culture problem (and these are arguably completely entwined)

The important thing is to acknowledge your logo-stination (or whatever other form it’s taken) and work out what you need to focus on.

If it’s overwhelm, get everything out of your head onto paper. Then organize the items into topics/departments. Then comb through and prioritize them. What’s truly important? If you’re completely stuck, what can you do quickest that has the biggest return? Start there.

If you’ve got a branding problem is it external (how you’re perceived by customers, readers, potential clients etc) or internal (staff churn, unhappiness, confusion over strategy or cohesive understanding of vision etc)? Or both? Talk to your team. Talk to your customers. Listen closely. Hire an expert.

It’s rarely the logo. Or the colors. Or the tagline. Or the advert.

They’re just easier resting places to stall.

Revenue isn’t the problem, you are

When I see people who appear to suddenly start running workshops or consulting sessions outside their direct business or niche/expertise, or when I notice that they’ve quite quickly launched a new service, micro business, or product not within their current framework I always cringe a little inside.

Most of us are guilty of the side business. The ‘just a couple’ of coaching or consulting sessions. The ‘one or two clients’ we take on outside our normal scope of work. The ‘some people have asked so here’s event X’.

The thing it makes me immediately think though is either;

  1. they want to make more money than they’re making right now
  2. they’re no longer satisfied with their current business and they’re not sure how to resolve that

Both of these are a problem but we’ll address the money issue here.

I spent a lot of my time in the corporate world in meeting rooms and occasionally piping up to say but guys, this is not our core business. Digging rocks out of the ground is (against my moral compass, but true to their golden handcuffs, I worked in the mining industry a lot!).

I meant; let’s focus on what we’re actually doing here and support & leverage that. Better processes, happier workers, more effective systems, finding new minerals and digging up more rocks were going to make the business better & more profitable. Not suddenly starting a service maintaining pipelines when that’s not what we did but feels like it could somehow be related.

Generally the most effective way to make more money in your established business is not to launch new products and services outside your current structure (in fact a whole heap of services even launched within your niche aren’t going to make you that much more money).

Despite what anyone says about ‘just quickly throwing up a landing page and offering X’ it’s not that easy. You still have to put in a lot of energy and time if you believe in quality and substantially more when it comes to that actual doing of it all. And that energy and time is most likely better spent in your current business.

The one you have been growing and working on. The one that probably isn’t highly leveraged and optimized.

But doesn’t the average multi-millionaire have numerous different income streams?

Yes. And often these include shares / the stock market (one stream), property (second stream) and other investments & assets (third stream) that a portfolio manager (or team of) is managing the daily grind of.

They likely didn’t start a coaching service on the side that they couldn’t dedicate too much time to because that would’ve taken them away from their core business that was already making an income.

It’s hard. This stuff is hard. You could easily write 15,000 words on it and in the end it’s your decision. But I think the decision should be accurately placed so we can all ensure we know exactly why we’re doing what we’re doing and we’re not making decisions based on distraction, frustration and shiny-objects. 

  1. Do you want to make more money?
  2. Do you want to transition into an entirely new business?
  3. Are you doing this for a clear learning purpose that has future outcome to implement the new knowledge and the ultimate goal for this project now is not to make money?
  4. Have you got your current business running really well so that you don’t have to spend too much time in it and you are willing to dedicate yourself to the new business in the aim that eventually you can run both?
  5. Are you doing this just for fun or for some other purpose I’ve not covered that doesn’t have an aim to make you much money and you absolutely adore it (in which case, can it be an awesome hobby? we all need those again!)

Knowing why exactly you’re taking this on means you can focus on it, set up the systems to do so, or discard it.

I wasted a lot of time on distractions in business. Yes I learned things in some of them but if I did it all again I would focus from the beginning (after the shenanigans of being a complete newbie with no business brain whatsoever). It takes dedicated effort to not do everything, all of the time.

There’s nothing wrong with starting new businesses, knowing the sacrifice and cost of doing so and understanding your ultimate aims and strategy.

But if you’re launching a new service outside of your current core business to make more money, there are likely many better ways to leverage what you’ve already built.

Brainstorm with some clever people and you could come up with a better business model, a more effective way of charging, automatic upsell opportunities, a change to your core service that doubles your money, optimization across your ecommerce site that brings back 3% of your abandoned carts and banks you thousands more dollars, a marketing campaign that has much better user engagement in your emails and in turn results in more sales, a CRM that actually means you stay in touch and you are valuable to your clients, a next level program, massaging your customer segment and so on.

You can think outside the box, but you should probably stay in your lane. 

Changing Companies

Ask a dedicated group of people in your company to come together to brainstorm (whether it’s 2 people or 20) and they will come up with 50 ideas on how to make the business better. Push them to dig deeper and by the time a few hours is up you’ll have upwards of 100.

Plenty of ideas worth talking about. Worth putting a priority on. Worth actioning.

Things that make staff happier, that increase productivity, that improve client relationships, craft better strategies and have a direct impact on your bottom line. Ideas that are innovative and make you a standout in your field. Ideas that make things so much easier or reveal new concepts that turn into an entirely new direction you pursue. Ideas that change the way you are internally and externally perceived.

And yet rarely does a company, or any business, ever do this. We get so wrapped up in the daily doings and the thinking that everything is on track whilst we keep adding to our to-do list, or desperately paddling to stay afloat, that we don’t do the simplest of things that could change everything.

Set your ego at the door, start jamming and filter through the immediately requiring action, the easy wins, the harder but worth-doing, the discarded and the on-the-cards.

Yes those 2 hours aren’t billable and you could be doing a million other things. But is that really more important than the company future and how you’re doing business right now? You can always get up earlier and to do the things you missed. If you still deem them important.

Your move.

Busy is not a burden

There are now thousands of articles about stopping busyness. Not being busy. Relieving yourself of the burden of busy. Telling us that busy is a disease. A bad thing you need to get rid of. Another thing you should not be.

But this is all a matter of perception.

If you’re busy with things you love, squeezing in hobbies you lose yourself in for hours, having a week full of friends & events, doing tasks that need to be done to get where you want to go, or tasks that you simply need to tick off the to-do list because life happens, isn’t that good?

Synonyms for busy include being involved in, engaged in, wrapped up, absorbed and occupied by. Gorgeous ideals.

If we were all happily immersed in the things we like doing each day (and taking rest when we need it, just like we know to go to sleep) then busy isn’t a curse.

We can talk about productivity if we want to discuss the efficiency of things we do. We can talk about the value we place on how we spend out time. We can talk about the downtrend of spending time on hobbies. We can chat about our priorities and energies. We can have deep discussions about stress and the causal factors. We can brainstorm passion and reshaping the work world. We can plan taking months worth of holidays filled with very little if your dream is to do that for a while (or forever). We can talk about all these things without entangling them into a disease of busyness.

You can have a full life living slow. You can have a full life you adore being busy. You can be busy because you spend hours in leisure time and then push out a few hours of work.

Remember how famous we made the line get busy living, or get busy dying?

Busy is just a word. The great thing is, you can choose to {re}define what it means for you.

Problems, not solutions

When I worked in the ‘big conglomerate of corporates world’, a common conversation took place that went something like this…

Project Manager/Department/Customer – “Install X” or “Negotiate a new contract with X so we can sign” or “Swap Y for X”

Us – “What do you require X for? Can you explain the problem you’re trying to solve?”

Them – “We need X”

Many meetings would take place. Frustration would eventually reach peak point. And X would happen. Not because some people wouldn’t think deeper or really attempt to pushback to find the most appropriate solution (sometimes at the cost of their future job prospects), but because the lack of boundaries between external clients, internal customers and managers with short-term (often bonus driven) vision, mostly made it a place good strategy and big picture, objective based thinking wasn’t executed (or rewarded).

In the world of our businesses a common example goes…

Client – “Please make X bold” 

Us – “Our understanding is that you’d like to emphasize X, or bring more attention to X and that’s not currently being reflected in what you’re seeing. We can achieve this in a number of different ways for the best outcome for you and your end users. We’ve created some solutions for that here. Do you feel this meets the objective?”

We’re lucky that in our own businesses we have a bit more control. Some freedom to educate, to expand ideas, to make the time to understand the core problem and devise solutions to that.

No matter what services field you’re in, you’ve likely come across a time where you’re provided with a solution rather than a problem.

But if you’re being hired as an expert (or if you’re hiring them) then you should hopefully be there for your knowledge and expertise. Which is to say we should understand the problems and present the solutions. Whether that’s your new architecture plan, technology process, interface design, new system, sales copy, marketing collateral etc – we should be creating in aim of solving/meeting an objective.

To foster this type of environment we’ve done the following ::

1. Added a why, objectives and problem statement area to our project proposals.

When we put together a project document that’s essentially our first document after we’ve had conversation to engage further that outlines the reason we’re working together (along with other items). This includes listing the objectives/goals of our work (generally 1 or 2 short/intermediate term and 1 long term) and the problem statements (i.e what problems currently exist that we’re looking to address through our work together).

This looks a little like this…

Present problem not solution - design proposal - startup corporate - objectives

2. Complete a business canvas for all clients we work with. 

We used to only use this for clients who were creating new products/services or in earlier stages to test a hypothesis first or work on customer development and now we do this for all clients. It helps us with the point above and it has a number of other purposes that make their business plan and our project really clear with something we can keep coming back to (or pivoting areas where needed). We start the canvas after chatting and send it back for review. Clients then add their additional thoughts or questions they have and we go through it. This is also a great way to make sure we’re on the same page for everything.

Using the lean canvas, we created a little one page PDF we use for this which looks something a la…
Process improvement small business corporate australia strategy corporate culture The Identity Division Entrepreneurs Business Blog Systems Technology Workflows Design brisbane

3. Added a point in our ‘providing feedback’ section of our Welcome Package to foster these types of questions.

In our section for this for design work we have a point that says…For your designs, please provide specific feedback. For example you may say ‘I/we would like to see more emphasis on X as this is important to convey due to Z’ as opposed to ‘make X bold’. There are many ways to place emphasis on an element through design – state the problem and let’s create a solution.
4. Ask more questions.

When we’re going through processes and workflows we ask a lot of questions. We need a very clear picture of what clients are doing during these phases (or their days). We also ask them to track certain things for a period of time. This often highlights problems which we can then discuss together and strategize solutions to.

During review processes (i.e for design) when we’re talking through certain elements we always try and come back to the why – why we’re doing this, what objective are we trying to meet, what do we want the user to understand or do? It doesn’t mean they’re wrong at all – they’re often totally legitimate concerns and they push the project to be better – but in reshaping the question we can understand and then solve the real problem which is the best outcome for everyone.

This is of course by no means perfect and there are many different ways to approach this, but it’s a start. After being in process for a few years it has had a significant positive impact on our clients, on their clients/customers/readers/users and on our internal team, job satisfaction & happiness levels.

This is one of the rare times where we can all happily say, let’s talk about our problems deeper. And once we understand and agree on the requirements, let’s create solutions.

You choose how deep you go

Although I’m yet to cover another half of the world’s countries, I’ve travelled fairly substantially. I’ve also moved endless times in my life and one thing has recently really struck me. No matter, where I am, I – and I alone – choose the depth I want in a community.

You can literally live in the busiest place in the world and not be engaged with that city. You take the bus to the office, you work in your building, you occasionally pop out for lunch (nearly always to the same places), you bid your colleagues a good night and transport back home to do dinner, and whatever else your evenings might entail (time with your partner, kids, work, study etc).

Or you choose to be involved. You go to meetup groups to purposefully interact with new people and establish new connections. You keep a Twitter list, Slack channel or RSS feed of a few significant sites & blogs in your town to catch the latest happenings. You find the things that interest you and you go out and discover your places and people. You hold together all of your nerves (and that anxiety of making friends as an adult), turn up at a random event and leave feeling inspired (still counts even if you curl up on the couch at home to recover from a bout of an introvert-going-out).

You look at local magazines. You trail your theatre sites. You’re on top of the new openings around the place. You stay in touch with startup spaces and one day you refer one of the launched businesses onto someone. You venture into other people’s worlds who happen to work with so-and-so who works in marketing and invites you to that thing you’re interested in. You go to a dance class. French class. Gin-making class. You join a gym that requires you to get fit in groups or partners. You attend the after work function that bring departments together and you go to that SUP yoga session your friends have been raving about. On Saturdays you head to the local markets and the stall holders eventually know you by name and invite you over for dinner one night.

And if absolutely nothing takes your fancy you start your own group, your own dinner parties, your own walking club. And you don’t give up after the first few.

You choose how deep you go.

The same applies to your business, your expertise, your studies, your hobbies, your friends, your lover, your everything. You always choose how deep you go.

(And if you’re still not entirely convinced, this guy has been studying broccoli for 20 years and writes papers titled Inflorescence identity gene alleles are poor predictors of inflorescence type in broccoli. I’ve also no idea how that’s a job, but deep it is.)

Motivation won’t get you there

A special person once said to me that when it comes to diet and exercise, vanity will only get you so far.

So too I think of what we choose to do with our lives and our businesses. Motivation will only get you so far, and often, not through the hard bits. 

Good habits coupled with constant consistency – that’s what really stretches your road.

We often get this wrong by confusing doing (the stuff that executes results) with being busy. Busyness feels like action – except generally it doesn’t produce outcomes. The ones you really want that is.

Steve Blank once had this story of his staff ::

One of Jim’s favorite phrases was, “I got the ball rolling with account x.” He thought that the activities he was doing – making calls, setting up meetings, etc. – was his job. In reality they had nothing to do with his job. His real job – the action – was to get the software moved onto our machine. Everything he had done to date was just the motion to get the process rolling. And so far the motion hadn’t accomplished anything. He was confusing “the accounting” of the effort with achieving the goal. But Jim felt that since he was doing lots of motion, “lots of stuff was happening.” In reality we hadn’t gotten any closer to our goal than the day we hired him. We had accomplished nothing – zero, zilch, nada. 

When I explained this to him, the conversation got heated. “I’ve been working my tail off for the last two months…” When he calmed down, I asked him how much had gotten accomplished. He started listing his activities again. I stopped him and reminded him that I could have hired anyone to set up meetings, but I had brought him in to get the software onto our machine. “How much progress have we made to that goal?”  “Not much,” he admitted.

At home this shows up in actually running the loads of washing, drying them and folding them away vs putting all the washing into piles in the laundry.

For looking and feeling good, that’s waking up at the alarm three days a week to go for the run not just buying the joggers, hiring the trainer and moving your schedule around to fit it all in.

In business that means going to the meeting, pitching your idea and landing the project rather than emailing 10 prospects.

For client work that’s ticking off those 5 annoying things on your to-do list that finish the project rather than replying to your emails all day.

That’s action vs the busyness of inaction. 

And no matter how much motivation you have, eventually that will cave. For a day. For a week. For a Summer or Winter or the year. Which is where your habits take over. They’re automated routine you’ve practised. Your fallback when all the other tricks don’t work.

Things that get me into the routine of result-producing-action (and I’m prone to falling off the rails!)…

  1. Scheduling in items to my calendar such as replying to communications 1x per day (i.e emails, project management etc) so the rest of the day is free for the true actions that create outcomes
  2. Holding myself to accountable routines (i.e blog post, email letter, stockist campaign on Thursday each week)
  3. Setting up practises to get me moving into the right action (i.e I boil some water, set a pot of chai, curl up in my corner and write for at least 30 minutes)

Make all of that non-negotiable. You create the habits. You set the routines. You get the outcomes and celebrate with little warm showers, dinners with friends…and eventually those big dreams.

How I eliminated 90% of my email

I know – one of those kind of titles. Except it’s true… and it’s pretty great. I used to be terrified of opening my inbox. It gave me anxiety and Sunday night blues. I’d get up and delay it as long as possible and then tentatively hope there was nothing terrible in there, nothing urgent, nothing too important, nothing that required my reply… nothing to spend the day replying to tens of emails.

And here’s the part I tell you I used to receive between 100 – 150 emails per day. Depending on who you are that’s either a lot or very little. Either way it was too much for me and took up far too much time and brain space.

If you want to be a great designer, you design all day.

If you want to be known for being an academic, you go and get degrees and do research papers.

If you want to have a birds eye view of your business, develop your company, step up culture, take new directions, expand your creativity into new zones…you don’t spend your days writing emails.

You don’t do a lot of things, so you can do those things exceptionally. 

So how do I get to that neat little inbox zero (that the OCD part in me feels like patting me joyously on the back for) most days?


Step 1. Archive

I was one of those people whose emails always stayed in their inbox. Between multiple work email accounts and personal. Read or unread. I always thought that was kind of normal. I tried email folder systems. Sometimes it worked. Often it didn’t because I just ended up searching my inbox for things. Until it started to drive me mental – the mental clutter of knowing I should clean it up, the unread email number always staring at me glaring in it’s red. So I switched over mail client to Airmail and promptly archived 12,000+ emails older than 3 weeks. Literally that means shift, highlight all, drag into archive folder. They’re all still searchable whenever I need to find something but I started at a clean slate. I went through the most recent emails, archived everything I’d actioned, and sorted everything else left.

Inbox Zero. Start again.

I promise you, it really is that simple and managing emails in folders is early always a waste of time with how we use technology now.

 

Step 2. Your Phone

Remove all email applications from your phone. You’ll stop getting distracted by them and you’ll learn to stop replying so fast and using email as your default communication method. Unless your job truly requires you as an absolute priority for you to stop what you’re doing and answer within 10 minutes.

 

Step 3. Project Management 

This and Slack have made the biggest impact on my emails. I analyzed the emails I was receiving on a daily basis and they largely fell into these categories (in order of relevance) ::

  • Client emails
  • Internal / team emails
  • Contractor & vendor emails
  • Newsletters from products bought through the company card
  • Interview & event requests, workshops, collaborations etc
  • Other

A good 70% was coming from the top 3.

After researching, working with and playing around with many of the tools, I landed on Trello for clients (and we use it for a lot of things internally too). It’s visual, it’s easy and there isn’t really a learning curve so it suits the people we work with who are already overburdened.

Creating a template board we use for each project we are then able to track all project milestones and specific items in there with checklists, comments, attachments etc. At any time we know where everyone is at and we can eliminate a huge number of emails through comments on the relevant Trello cards. It’s much quicker than email (no formalities, just jump in and say your thing), you can quickly tag anybody else, somebody else on your team can comment to answer and everything is tracked in very logical sections so each card has it’s purpose unlike emails which end up a jumble of varying items. Asana and Wrike are more robust and a brilliant options for bigger teams.

 

Step 4. Slack

I jumped on the Slack bandwagon back when it was in Beta. I didn’t quite know what I was looking for but it turned out to be a bunch of guys with a gaming start-up that didn’t work (how many love stories start that way?). I wasn’t that into it originally. I remember trying to work out how it would benefit me or anyone else and wasn’t all that convinced. Until, probably in a moment of pure frustration, I decided to really try it just for internal communications and stick with it. And it worked. A channel for the team and amongst team members – those emails were just immediately gone.

And so I decided to use it with clients – a channel per client. Anything outside of the project specific items in Trello could then be inside our Slack channel. Quick questions, a strategy jam, clarifying what the UX flow was, setting dates and checking in. All there. Now even our partners & vendors use it – our accountants are on Slack, it’s glorious.

People often ask me if that isn’t just a replacement for email, that it’s just the same? It’s not. Slack works in real time so you can just pop in, ask or reply and leave. You don’t need the formalities. You don’t need the structuring. It’s a real conversation in one logical place with everyone who needs to be involved. Somebody can reply immediately and you can converse or somebody can jump in an hour later and then somebody again 2 hours later and the conversation just keeps going and flowing. You can drop in files, work & save files in there (such as google or Slacks native notes), integrate applications (and emails even), and intelligently search. Also, brevity is sexy (this coming from the woman who was known for long emails). It’s helped to totally curb that. By being focussed and efficient, it’s cut out a huge amount of time – and all those emails. 

Slack also has an amazing phone app so if you do feel lost without your email client – here is your fix.

I use Slack for a lot more these days thanks to their bots, open community & hundreds of integrations & recipes (I’ll run through it in another post) and it’s now become an ecosystem from wherein a-lot-of-work instead becomes a-lot-easier.

Sidenote :: if you’re in a corporate, you’re in good company – teams at Samsung, Deloitte & NASA use Slack.

 

Step 5. Notify Me

All good things are still subject to our human tendencies. So schedule in your email checking times and set up your notifications properly. Unless you’re in a role where it is your sole focus to be answering emails all day (i.e that is what you’re competing on or the most important step to getting to where you want to go), then shut down your email inbox and open it at predetermined times (i.e block 1 hour of emailing in the morning and 30 minutes in the afternoon). It’ll help you to move communications into better areas where you can, keep your replies brief, necessary, kind and simple and not disturb your flow the rest of the day.

Same goes for notifications. You can set it up so you only get alerted when you specifically are tagged, by way of example. Or turn them off altogether and access when you purposefully make the time to.

 

Step 6. Unsubscribe

I have a seperate ‘junky’ email for things I’ve signed up to in the past (which gets a scan about once a quarter). My work emails are not the place for this but I often found once I’d purchased something for the business I’d land on newsletters. So hit that little unsubscribe on every email like that you receive (rather than simply deleting it like I did…because just like Aunt Mildred*, they keep coming back week after week) or use Unroll.me.

 

Step 7. Water your plants

These 7 thinking patterns or habits have helped me tremendously.

  • Am I getting anxious because I don’t like so many emails or because I’m not happy in that project/job/client situation? How can I change that?
  • If I stay on top of communications – often that’s just letting people know I’ll get to it at X date – then managing those expectations removes a lot of anxiety inducing communication.
  • The faster you reply, the more people expect fast replies. Set your boundaries – if it’s not changing the world, it probably doesn’t need for you to interrupt the work that actually needs to get done, right this minute.
  • In the corporate world if you leave an email for a little while you tend to get another one saying they solved the problem. Turns out it often works out the same in business.
  • Is it important or is it urgent?
  • There is war in Syria. And lots of other horrible things happening around the world. Is that email really that big a deal?
  • Plants take you outside. Away from your computer. You breathe real, oxygen filled air. It’s peaceful. And it’s not email. It’s good to step away and shut all communications for the night (plus lovers, music, food… and probably kids, require attention).

***

I could write entire posts about the benefits of each of these areas. There’s improved internal communication, no more lost files, actually effective meetings, beautiful integrations (i.e every time there is a comment on a Trello card in that specific board it can update you in the Slack channel or starring an item in Slack adds it to your Todoist list), better communications with clients, longer term relationships with clients because you’re always at hand for them right there, no more email angst, better team involvement for remote teams & initiatives for the group…and little bots that do things like process expenses, get everyone up from the desks, congratulate & check in with people, give you analytics at your whim and a ridiculous amount more. For the few emails you have left, you can even have them land in Slack and reply to them.

I now receive about 7-12 emails per day.

Occasionally email still has it’s place.

It’s just not a time consuming space.

*I don’t have an Aunt Mildred and I haven’t read Harry Potter or an old English novel lately. But it felt right to say it.

Update: as many people have asked, I do receive more emails in total in the form of unsolicited sales, media outlets or newsletters – I unsubscribe where I can and delete straightaway. 

What would you pay?

I stared at my wardrobe. All the clothes in there I never wore but kept for some reason as if to point out, hey, if you look into my closet, you’ll find a variety of options in here. I’m an equal opportunist for clothes I’d say.

Maybe I’d wear it to a fancy event one day. Maybe, in an act of fashion science, it would look good on me next time even though the last seven times I’d pulled it on, I stared in the mirror exasperated and tugged it right back off again. Maybe because I need to justify that silly impulse buy, by wearing it at least once. I know my economics I’d rationalize (happy to ignore the sunk-cost fallacy for the moment).

And so it went.

Until I lingered long enough looking at the high waisted black skirt and asked, how much would I pay for this right now to keep it?

And so it found its way crumpled into my determined hand and tossed behind me onto the bed to be gone. Onto it’s next journey. Done and out.

That’s how I decluttered my clothes all those years ago (and still continue to because golly I wonder how I bought that thing sometimes).

But recently in reading Essentialism I was posed a different question. One of those sought after, but rarely ever discovered questions that changes how you do business.

What would you pay to acquire that project or opportunity?

That payment is in time and money. That project you’re currently already working on or that opportunity that’s just been flung your way…say you already had it…what would you pay for it? To be a part of it? To commit your time, energy and money to?

Because a whole lot is flung our way constantly. That new start-up idea. That ‘quick’ consulting session for the guy you met at the event last week. The friend that wants lunch with you to discuss a business plan. The project inquiry you just received that seems like a helluva lot of work on a small budget. The meeting your client wants you to jump into tomorrow. The workshop you were just asked to run or the event to go speak at.

There is so, so much pulling us in every direction. Asking for our attention. Demanding it.

And then there’s our own work. The projects we love and the projects we start to resent.

Are any of these things part of your core focus areas? Do they get you to where you want to be going? Are they a distraction? A deflection? Are they keeping your business where it’s comfortable but where you can’t grow?

So what would you pay to acquire any of these opportunities, any of these current projects?

And with that answer you can start to direct your whole business…and probably your life. 

The science of persistence

“It is more likely that there are numerous universes…”

“Unless God put a wall behind ours”, one Brian stated.

“Or Donald Trump does”, the other Brian quickly quipped in return and the audience began laughing.

This was part of a discussion that elegantly skimmed across a whole range of ideas through string theory, quantum mechanics, relativity and the recently observed gravitational waves.

And those gravitational waves, predicted by Einstein 100 years ago – they’ve rolled themselves into our world. The world you and I orbit where certain bits of science become illuminating, fascinating and popular. If you’ve no idea what I’m talking about, watch this piece on the Stephen Colbert show explaining the discovery (incidentally this is one of the same Brian’s from the discussion above).

These scientists at LIGO, who understand complex theories and formulas of the fabric of space, far beyond the basic math most of us can master, discovered these waves that stretch and bend space-time…distortions of less than an atomic diameter (in human words, teeny tiny tiny).

So how did they detect them (and why do we care)?

Through lasers. Via a pair of merging black holes. And then through 40 years of persistence.

40 years of having to get funding from something they weren’t sure was going to happen.

40 years of persevering through frustration and doubt.

40 years of wondering whether the technology could actually detect something so teeny we can’t comprehend it’s smallness.

A result created from 50 times the power of all the stars in our universe (the power released by the colliding black holes) in just 20 milliseconds. Less than the time it’s taken you to read just one of these words.

And the scientists of the talk I had the privilege to sit in on, said three things about this discovery and of being a scientist, that I think apply to just about everything.

You need to persist. You need to have some luck. And you need to have the right constitution to keep with it. 

What we do in business is exactly the same. And that goes for life too. 

Across disciplines, the most knowledgeable scientists on Earth need to adhere to these principles and unlike their formulas, these things are easy for us to understand. They’re human.

And they’re something we can apply every day.

Selling what you do

“We create dashboards for managers”

“We’re solving traffic congestion for parents”

“We teach people how to sell authentically”

“I coach women through relationships”

The pitch. The elevator line. The value proposition. The ‘this is what we do’. The summary. Whatever you want to call it, these are just a few lines amongst hundreds I’ve heard over the years.

And they’re all missing a crucial element (or more).

The benefit. Actual, tangible, results. 

What’s the outcome?

It’s great that you do any one of those things but to what end? How is that benefitting the end user/economic buyer? That’s the end of the sentence you’re looking for.

We create dashboards for managers... so that they can assess cost savings and determine revenue opportunities for their clients.

It’s nearly always missing – and it’s crucial. Whether you’re putting words up on your website, presenting pitch decks to investors, trying to explain what you do so people buy from you or talking about your business internally – what’s the benefit? What do we actually get out of this? Why do we need it?

I recently listened to an absolutely eloquently presented pitch – and by the end of it I understood exactly who it was for, the problem, the partner channels, how they were going to market and sell it – but I had no idea what it actually was. None. The entire time my head was screaming to ask but what are you actually creating? How are you actually solving this problem? As technologists they’d built their product and completely forgotten to actually explain what they were making. To them of course, it was obvious.

It’s a trap we all fall into because we’re really in what we’re doing. It often takes an outsider or stepping back from your business and looking at it from a public point of view to determine if you’re bringing a clear – and sellable – offering to the table.

YOUR TURN

Think about what you do and assess if you’re able to state what your service or product is, who your customer segment is, what problem you’re solving and what benefit it’s providing.

Here’s a little script to get you started…

Our/my (product/service) _______________, helps (customer segment) _______________, that/who (problem/need) _______________, by (benefit)_______________.

or

We help (customer segment)  _______________  do (benefit)  _______________ by (product/service/solution) _______________.

 

For example ::

Our custom dashboards help managers at retail firms to stop wasting time in excel, and generate more income and clients, by analyzing for them how they can provide revenue opportunities to their clients. 

Start reading it aloud to people and remove any vagueness. 

A reasonable public person should be able to understand what you do and why, by hearing your value proposition. And they should be able to summarize it back to you (if you’re struggling, expand on what you do and ask them what you think you do – they’ll often give you language you can utilize).

What we’re creating here is actually a value proposition (and that’s something that we’ll continue to dig into) but for now remember problem, customer, solution, benefit.

Once you recognize these elements, you’ll start seeing them everywhere.

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 10.51.17 AM

Everything is Possible in New York

“We can’t be part of the tradeshow.”

Why not I asked?

“Because it’s in a few months and there’s no way we can cart over all the set-up across the world and make it cost effective.”

It’s New York, I said. You can just hire it. I bet they have a solution for that already. Anything is possible in New York. 

A few minutes of googling later and there were a whole lot of options.

It’s possible in New York because it’s filled with people who are creating, and crucially, actually providing, that very thing you’re after.

Create it. Make it. Ship it.
And have your New York moment. 

I’ve been falling for my own excuses

The Identity Lis Dingjan Excuses Creative entrepeneurs

That’s a fairly bitter pill to swallow.

I’m the ‘no-exuse’ woman. I hear them all the time and I find them painful to listen to. I can’t do this because of that. I can’t do Y because of Z. It’s too difficult because I can list 10 other things involved. 99% of the time it’s an excuse created in your own mind so you don’t have to try. So you can’t fail. So you don’t have to put the effort in. So you’re not losing because really you just can’t. So it’s not your fault. So it doesn’t sound simple. So it’s easy to blame every other thing first.

I really cannot stand excuses. They are choices and by making an excuse you’re making a choice. It’s a conscious – and sometimes difficult – thing to say that’s not my priority. That’s not what I’m going to do. I’m choosing to not do that, and do this instead. I’m aware of the consequence and choose to do this.

Try it for a month. Every time you make an excuse, or make a choice, consciously state the decision you’re making, aloud.

I also believe in clarity through action. Just start doing whatever it is. One little step in front of the other and you’ll figure it out along the way.

So to know that I’ve been falling for a couple of my own “very well reasoned excuses” lately is tough.

In the past week I’ve written 12,627 words of the course I’ve been creating. That’s a hell of a lot of words for me. I’ve put this off for more than 6 months even though the idea has been there the whole time.

I’ve been busy. I’ve got more client projects than ever before. I’m scheduling well into April next year. I need down time. I’m working too much. I’m doing multiple launches. My charity stuff is lagging behind. I need to do client work non stop all the time to get it done. I’m managing people. I’m starting other businesses with business partners. I’m helping friends with their businesses. I’m travelling to cities and across the world for meetings, conferences and meet ups.

All wonderful excuses.

But you know what? None of that has magically stopped in the past week. In fact, it’s only gotten busier.

The tiny change?

I went out on the deck for 2 hours every single morning immediately when I got to the studios and I wrote. No email. No work. No anything else except 2 hours of writing.

I plonked down and started typing on a fresh Word document because I’d been agonizing over the ‘structure’ of the course for so long that I wasn’t writing until I had that completely done.

I’d been coding up the course in the background because it was easier than actually writing the content (and eek I was “stuck”).

I’d written more than 20 pages in various notebooks of page titles & templates & subjects and scenarios I wanted to include. Sometimes I doubled over on what I’d written down just a week earlier. Much easier to get lost in the ‘must work this all out’ than actually writing.

I’d been doubting myself over writing it because what if nobody wanted it? Would it be the biggest waste of time ever? I’ve spent the last few years deliberately not creating a course because I don’t want to put anything out there that’s been done or said a thousand times. That’s actually given me enormous space to purely create – client work, business creations, side projects, new skills, systems and learn a thousand lessons about those processes. It’s also allowed me to be asked the same questions over and over and help colleagues and other creatives and business owners with tackling similar things. It’s given me a great many lessons but what if I spend 6 months finally creating this baby and it’s just one big flop whilst I could have started another business or expanded this one? All valid questions, but not a valid reason to not write.

They’re all just excuses. For something I actually really want to create. That I believe is useful and important. All that energy could be just directed to doing it. And it takes plenty of energy to make excuses – because you then work to validate them for yourself (whether you’re aware you’re doing it or not) so you’re always ready with an explanation.

Which led me to stare straight into the other excuses I’ve been carefully carving out.

Running. I struggle with it but I know it’s one of the best things I can do for my body at the moment. The excuses? I go to power yoga and already sweat it out 3 to 4 times a week. I’ve got a heap of work. There’s no time to fit it in – there’s only so much I can do. I bought a dumbbell. That will do at night. I will always get stitches. It hurts. I go bright red for an hour after which kind of ruins trying to look half ‘put together’ that day.

Taking a little time for myself. Too busy. Not productive. Selfish. Guilt. Oh the man made feeling of guilt.

And the quick fix to those? Saturday I put on my joggers and went for a 20 minute run in the evening before walking up to enjoy the festivities around the corner. I’ve been recognizing I get a major screen/coding headache at 3.30 most days after a solid 7 – 9 hours of work so I sometimes go home and have a bath before beginning the nights work, enjoy the cafe buzz with friends or flames, or start painting and learning new skills. This morning, just before writing this, I laid in bed thinking about running. Instantly coming up with a thousand reasons to settle in the snugness of the sheets. 5 minutes later I was dressed and a 30 minute run (with plenty of walk breaks) was addressed. Before jumping in a cool shower with a cold blast at the end and laying down in the gentle breeze for 10 minutes. Breakfast and I’m back at the studio working. That’s all it took.

Nothing has gone crazy because of it. My world hasn’t collapsed. Nothing bad happened. Client work is still being constantly focused on. I’ve just gotten more productive & see the need for continuously tweaking systems to improve efficiency. And you know, my body has worked out, I feel more peaceful and half the course is done.

You have exactly the same amount of time in the day as those you admire.

That’s it. That’s how truly simple it is. And so it goes with every area of your life.

It might not be easy, but it is simple.

Everything is easier said then done. So don’t give yourself that excuse.

We’re all making choices. Somewhere & everywhere.

So which ones are you going to change?

Why don’t we just make it easier? (with a few hacks)

The Identity Lis Dingjan Systems for Business & Creatives

Every single month when I get my period it surprises me. That means I get surprised by that 12 times a year. Why? Because my months are so freaking jam packed and there’s so much going on in my head at any given point in time I literally never, ever remember when I last had it. Even if it was 3 days ago. Sometimes when I get a few stomach pangs I think ta-da I must be getting it! Clever me just intuitively knowing! Days later it still hasn’t arrived.

Do you know what that is other than too much information? It’s crazy. It’s crazy that I never know. It’s crazy that I’m guessing. It’s crazy that some days I don’t wear the white jeans because hey ho, today might be the day but it could also be in two weeks because who the hell knows.

You know what I could do? Write it in my freaking calendar. So I never have to give it head space again. Done.

And if you’re still with me (and I apologize, kind of), a lot of things in life and business are like that. It takes a couple of minutes of extra effort (or sometimes a few hours, days or weeks) and then like magic it’s on auto and you’re not spending extra time worrying, stressing, working more or using up vital head space.

I’ve been on a bit of an automating roll lately because it’s awesome to be busy (and I know we’re going through a phase of ‘busy isn’t an answer nor is it cool and busy business means successful so stuff you but I also want my business to be busy’) but busy also comes with it’s many hours, growth management (that can come as a sudden surprise) and a distant dream of holidays. And yeah, I have the same excuse as all of us – I don’t have the time. But at midnight some days it happens. It has to happen. It saves me hours and days of time over the course of a year for each task not to mention all that extra ‘stuff’ I just don’t have to think about it. Plus it gives me back mental room for creativity, helps my clients & makes life for everyone a lot better.

It’s about making it a priority.
It’s a little pain, and a lot of gain.

The best advice I could ever give anyone starting a business or growing one ever other than ‘start’ and ‘keep going’ is set your systems up now (and yesterday would’ve been better).

Inquiries to answer to? I’ve got a handy little zap set up that moves all my contact form inquiries through this site and creates it it’s own little card on my inquiry list on the project management board in Trello so I never miss one again (automatically with a colored label so I know where it came from).  Try Zapier or IFTTT to set up zaps!

Services inquiry to work with you? I’ve got a beautiful, easy little 18 page booklet that covers nearly everything you’d want to know before we chat further that will be sent out with a little personal email. It works in so many ways but it ensures I’m not answering similar emails constantly, it leaves a good impression, it makes me really comfortable in what we’re offering and it essentially ‘filters’ clients if we’re not a good fit (if the website hasn’t already) so it wastes nobody’s time.

Sorting out a time to schedule a call? A quick link to the booking system on this site and we’re set. In your own time zone, with reminders, appointments in everyones calendar and all that jazz. Try Acuity or Appointlet if you’re looking.

Payments to manage for projects ahead of time? Again I’ve got a zap set up for this one. For BrandBurst (a small project I run with 2 other awesome ladies) we have a payment system and we share a Google file that we consistently update to manage all our wonderful clients. But I’ve also got it set up so when we receive a payment that creates a card automatically in my ‘burst booked’ list in Trello (on a separate BrandBurst board). When the questionnaire that Lyndz & I need is completed after the session with Bec, the card gets added to the ‘questionnaire completed’ list and I know I’ll be starting on it shortly.

Questionnaires & Client Intake? The above leads me very easily into this. Either have questionnaires embedded in your site for easy submit or (especially if they’re longer) create branded PDFs (that are filleroutable) send them to your client and they can type, save and voila you’re done.

Always forgetting calls, groceries or things to do? Put it in your calendar. Now. Put it in your tasklist. Now. Try Wunderlist. It’s gorgeous and syncs across all your devices. No more attempting to remember and getting frustrated you don’t!

Creating an invoice? Use a system where you can reuse line items and don’t just guess your prices each time. Come up with a pricing system so you’re not left calculating costs (and so you know you’re actually going to make money, not work for a few dollars an hour and start to resent what you do). Try Pancake, Harvest or Solo.

Forgetting how many hours to charge or even knowing how many hours you spent doing that? Use an automatic timer! Try Toggl, Rescue Time or many of the invoicing systems (like the ones mentioned above) have it inbuilt.

Losing files or digging around for them? Set up a file structure that works for you. For example all my client projects start with an abbreviation of the client business or name and are ordered in specific folders (like invoicing, legal, website which has subfolders like graphics etc). This is all then backed up in Dropbox and once a week I do a Time Machine back up (a hard lesson after having to reconstruct an entire operating system no less than 3 times in one week).

Type the same email over and over? Create a frequently asked questions page on your site that you can point people to and/or create blog posts about it. Then copy the last email you wrote, make a bit of a template out of it and save it in your drafts folder with the subject & template. If you’re using gmail you’ve got a few other tricks up your sleeve like canned responses. Or outline it on your site on a page somewhere (like the process image we now have!). Or you can have an auto responder if you’re into that.

Always flicking back to a tab? Pin that baby! Depending on your browser, right click and hit pin. For me Gists (where I store code I’ve written) and Trello are always and forever pinned because I access them multiple times per day. Anything to save scrolling through 37 open tabs!

Developer always in FTP? Using something like Filezilla and add the sites you regularly have to access to your Site Manager. No searching around your forever inbox for usernames and passwords anymore.

Do something on your website or blog posts frequently? Ask a developer to come up with an easier solution for you! For example, if you spend 45 minutes formatting a blog post or a page in similar ways each time, get a template custom coded up so this can reduce down to 5 minutes. Or perhaps it needs a shortcode (something we build into all custom clients sites now) that you can regularly use. It costs money but if you save 5 hours a week, which is 20 a month you could either spend a helluva lot more time with friends or family, be in the bath every week day for an hour or you know…do 20 hours extra work to bring more money in!

Frequently accessing numerous apps? Create a dashboard to see it all in the once place! Try Leftronic, Geckoboard, Ducksboard or if you’re a developer and happy with the Sinatra framework create your own gorgeous dashboards with Dashing.

There are so many insanely, amazing things you can use these days to make technology actually work for you (not ensure it takes up more time than ever before).

Make it a goal to automate or streamline one or two process every week and in a few months you’ll find life is a hell of a lot smoother.

It’s an ongoing process. Things change. New stuff happens. Growth can be wonderful and wonderfully painful. But business (and life) doesn’t have to be so hard. It’s smart to set these things up. You shouldn’t be slogging through. You don’t become a more qualified entrepreneur by doing a whole heap of crap that makes you busier than you should be. 

My next on the hit list? A better team management tool so we can all be comfortable and on the same page, a custom client dashboard tool, and further down the track a whole different way of reading this blog and templates for me to make it a better experience.

It’s never going to be perfect and it’s never going to be the ‘one solution that will solve everything for life now and ever amen’. But it will help. It will streamline. It will free your time up. You will get time to exercise. And make love. It will help your clients and help you get more clients. It is worth it.

Have a system you love that’s your secret little hack or does one of the above strike your fancy?

The thing about money

I was at a food start-ups & products event the other night and money was consistently the talk of the town. Usually those types of businesses come with much higher start up costs than service based businesses so it’s not a taboo topic at all (unlike most service based business events/conferences). Seed funding, angel investors, bank loans, accelerators, remortgages and huge savings are all just part and parcel (& necessary) of going for the dream. It’s a normal part of the conversation.

And although we might not all need the capital that the fast expanding (& awesome!) Uber needs, all businesses DO have costs. Including yours.

And one of the fastest ways to take your business seriously is to count those pennies.

I never set out to start a business, it wasn’t a ‘thing’ to consider when I grew up. It’s not something you did. And although – and possibly perhaps – I’ve worked with some of the biggest companies in the world, I don’t like the word profit. I don’t like thinking about it. I don’t like ‘aiming’ for it. I don’t like to talk about.

I was the girl in the clichèd 6 figure corporate job.

It’s probably thinking tangled up in a lot of things. We had little money growing up and the focus was always on creativity, whilst money provided the crying, hurt, arguments and pain. We were instilled with a sense of ‘do good’ not ‘make money’. In the corporate world profit was just another way of stating a few big ego CEOs had dished themselves up a few million whilst ensuring they were ruining the world, slashing jobs and keeping morale as low as possible. And in the “better” years it was people living life miserably in order to make some kind of bonus…that could go towards debt.

Profit in my life, was a dirty word.

I read all the quotes of pursuing your dreams with no regard to money. I did – and often do – exactly that. I don’t give a crap about having money when I die unless I happened upon it and I can give it away for good. I live by grounding myself in knowing I’m exchanging my time for life at every minute. I know you can’t buy love, friends, good memories, joy, creative effort & truly intimate moments with money. That no amount of money replaces listening to old records with a lover in a loft or wriggling your toes in the sand and jumping in the ocean. I don’t mind spending money to travel to far flung places on last minute trips to be with friends and laugh, hug and be inspired. And I absolutely don’t believe in big mortgages, new (and multiple) cars and most materialist goods.

You can make money back but you can never arrest time.

I know that looking at where you spend your time and money is a very fast way to determine what your priorities truly are (even if they contradict everything you say).

But all of that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be making good money.

It never really occurred to me that you could do good and be above zero.

I was always a good saver (thank you parentals!) but for a variety of reasons, and predominantly whilst I’ve been running a business, I feel like I should always be at zero.

That if I, and as a collective business, were above zero, we were ripping off our clients. That if they ever found out we were making a profit, they’d go somewhere else or look down at us. Or that we were suddenly ‘in it for the money’.

Of course, the majority of clients we work with are running businesses and are often already making a profit! It would in many ways be a poor decision for our clients to work with a business intent on not making a profit for the services we provide for a myriad of reasons.

In the last year I’ve fortunately finally done away with a few things – working with clients trying to bargain us down, attempting to convince clients to see the value in our work when they just don’t want to/can’t/aren’t ready to see it and working with service based businesses in their first year (I don’t want to waste their money).

I’ve also taken on other things with confidence – we will never be the cheapest. Not the most expensive but definitely not the cheapest. Calls, emails and meetings about costs are now super relaxed and easy. And in order to deliver the level of work I want, the back end functionality for easy management and the creativity, these costs are now in built into every project – it’s not optional.

But profit…I’ve tried not to think about it. That’s easier sometimes isn’t it? I’ve been insanely, crazy busy and stashed the accounts to one side. The place to not look at. The money comes in, the money goes out.

Ta-da!

But there’s three things…

1. If you’re struggling to take your business seriously, or if you feel like a fraud, you feel anxiety creeping in, you feel stupid telling people what you do or anything along those lines…count your money – you’ll instantly take things a helluva lot seriously.

2. A business makes profit. A not for profit (or mostly charities) doesn’t make a profit. Money in minus money out = profit. Don’t make a profit and you’ll be out of business. And you know what you can do with profit? Really, really good things.

3. There’s only so long you can live on the edge of zero. In a corporate job, I was ok with spending little and saving a lot – that was how I did things like travel, give to organizations I cared about, pay off uni bills, find little presents for friends & family and do general life things that cost money! We want our clients to make good money & live the lives they dream of – it’s ok to want the same for us. Stay on zero long enough and you’ll no longer have a business.

You’ve probably already got some recurring costs starting no matter how small, big, new or old your business is. Here are some of mine ::

  • Adobe Creative Cloud – $50
  • Buffer App -$10
  • Wufoo – $29
  • Browser Stack – $19
  • Shopify – $79
  • MailChimp – $25
  • Dropbox – $20
  • Zapier – $15
  • Acuity Scheduling -$19
  • Hosting – $15
  • Studio – $550

Or otherwise about $800 per month.

(I’m pretty lucky I get to use some awesome free tools like gist, grunt, filezilla and the likes)

Throw staff costs (a few thousand a month), adhoc monthly expenses such as stock images & other creative bits + pieces, along with plenty of stationery (lettering & calligraphy can be an expensive art!), business insurance, domains (with about 50 that’s not cheap every year!) and then static assets onto that (printers, scanners, laptops, computers, photography gear etc), along with up front, once off costs (like the accounting software I use or development licenses of products), the dreaded tax bills and you’ve got quite some money to cover…without paying myself (or yourself!).

That’s easily between $4,000 and $10,000 per month in costs. And I’m a small studio that needs to cover that plus more to make a wage, to grow, invest in other businesses & to make a profit. Believe me, when I started this thing I had no idea I’d be spending that much money a month (and I absolutely didn’t the first couple of years) – and that’s only the start now. If you’re a bigger business or have full time employees you’d hit 25k very quickly – and before you know it that would be your weekly expenses (and it’s totally cool if that is!).

It’s really nice to say you’re not interested in money. I generally am not either – except that I need it to eat well, get to places and give back. So I do have an interest in it as much as my body is screaming no typing that. And if you’ve got expenses, you need the moolah. Cold hard facts! If you want to live money-less I bow to you. I love you. I love what you’re doing. You live a beautiful life. But you’re most likely not reading this because computers and internet cost money.

Businesses have expenses. You’re a business baby. And to cover those expenses you need to make money just to break even. And you need more money to pay yourself (so you can pay your rent & food – fun!). And then more money to actually make a profit so you can go on that trip, donate to that organization, buy that house or pay your studies, start that new business, hire more staff, put money in savings to have a child or whatever else it might be.

And you know, money for spells when you’re not as busy. Or you’re focusing on another area of your business – doing a bit of a pivot. Or you’ve got to cover new computer costs suddenly. Or you’ve had that baby!

And that is more than ok. It is good. Very good.

As long as you’re not using the profit to destroy the environment, pay for slave labor in India or do some other crazy things – it’s a beautiful thing. You don’t need to focus on the money (definitely not my thing either) and in the long run it’s much better to concentrate on the love, joy, creativity & quality. Do that well, exceptionally well and after long enough, the money will come. But that doesn’t mean you should feel crappy about making it, about wanting it or about not having it.

It’s just money.

You’re doing good already in doing what you do.

You don’t have to be ‘about the money’ to think about money. You’re not a bad person for wanting to make it. You’re definitely not a bad person for creating a profit. Just because you make a profit doesn’t mean you want to be a millionaire. And if you make money doing what you love, it shouldn’t diminish how much you love doing it.

And just because money is in your head doesn’t mean it fills your heart.

You’re ok – you’re more than ok – you’re brilliant. Running a business is already one of the most difficult, anxiety threading, mind tearing and self doubting things you will ever do – don’t make it any harder on yourself.

To doing good, however you do it :)

Losing it

I haven’t blogged for a while.

Partly because I’ve never been so busy in my life. This little business has been growing and I’ve been trying to stay on top of it all whilst being heavily involved in some amazing client projects.

It’s been – and continues to be – quite a juggle. And I’m not doing it perfectly. There are definitely a few growing pains. But it’s coming along.

So I took to the priorities and pushed everything else aside. No blogging but also no other businesses, no other projects (other than BrandBurst), no course development and even dropped significantly on the charity admin.

But that’s also a bit of an excuse. The others things – absolutely – not currently priorities. But blogging? I’ve gone to write plenty of times at night. I’ve got more than 50+ posts in draft. Half done. Just today I started writing another post. And stopped half way.

And I’m not even entirely sure why. Does anybody want to read this? Am I boring myself? Am I bored of writing? Is anything I say useful in a world where everyone has everything to say? Does it even matter when there are so many bigger things in the world? Am I repeating a bunch of crap that already exists on the internet? Do I feel comfortable being the face of this blog even though I’m not the only face on the team anymore? Do I know what the point of a blog post is every time I write it? Shouldn’t I be 100% non stop on client work than doing anything on my own business? Are any of my thoughts fully formed enough to blog on them? Am I scared of a negative reaction or people arguing with me when I already fight a battle in the charity/law side of my life?

I decided to never put out another shitty ecourse or guide that a thousand other voices have already jerked over to – I don’t want to do the same for blogging (and absolutely have in the past because I felt I had to write about something). If my business is going so well why don’t I want to blog? Why does every blog seem to feel like one negative party for people to doo-da in? How can I make sure I’m not like these ‘famous bloggers’ who seem to think it’s ok to dish out advice left, right and center as if that way is the best and/or only way you should do business, laced with colorful language to disguise the negativity and their own anxiety lurking just underneath? Do I just want to create a pretty blog with pretty photos?

Perhaps I like that I’ve drowned in a sea of amazing, positive client work. It’s all consuming and distracting. I’m working with the most amazing people & businesses across a huge variety of projects, I have local & international clients and I’ve never dabbled in so many industries. It’s been truly beyond wonderful.

So I stop. Hit Save Draft and get on with my day (or more often, go to sleep). To be honest all those questions above probably hit some truth.

I want to stop right now and not publish this thing. To get straight back into the coding for a project and cross more things off the to-do list. To ‘achieve’ things today.

But it’s probably important to push through right now. Sometimes letting go is good. Sometimes pushing through is needed. Sometimes the questions don’t need answers.

Some people say they’re often waiting for creative inspiration. Well when you’re running a design studio, or you’re an author with a book to publish, or a creative with a shop to fill – often you just can’t wait around for it. You need to go through the work and the creativity will come. And you need to seek activities that will expand your mind, tick it over in a different way and get the juices flowing. That might be travel, exercise, a massage, scrapbooking, laughing with friends, playing games – whatever it might be. Creativity is a muscle. Sure sometimes it needs a rest and recharge but you also need to keep using it to gain more and if you stop using it altogether it atrophies.

Perhaps blogging – when you feel like you’ve lost your mojo – is the same. You’ve just got to push through until you get to the end of it. The end of that post. How do you know what it’s going to turn it out like? Maybe you do the ole ‘scrunch it up and throw it in the bin’ (other known as hover & hit delete) or maybe you polish it up a little. Or just hit publish because screw it, it’s raw and good the first time round.

Leonard Cohen – the only man who will never leave my life (he has no choice!) – cleverly said:

“Before I can discard the verse, I have to write it… I can’t discard a verse before it is written because it is the writing of the verse that produces whatever delights or interests or facets that are going to catch the light. The cutting of the gem has to be finished before you can see whether it shines.”

Often you just need to do the work. I’ve talked about loving the grind and loving the work because you’ll be doing a hell of a lot of it to get where you want to do. I’m a huge believer in Clarity through Action.

I’m a pretty decisive person and take a pretty loose view on the world. By that I mean I try, as much as possible, to step outside my own life and in a way look out at the world. In the scheme of things, most things are trivial and don’t matter. There are far, far bigger things to worry about. Asylum seekers being help captive, detained and punished in Australia on the very clear basis of racism, war in Israel, whaling & gorillas, poverty and malnutrition around the world – the list is endless. I’m very aware of my own mortality and that anytime from now in the next 60 years I’ll die. And that’s it. Life’s over and let’s hope it was a damn good one.

This little blog post means absolutely nothing in the world.

Perhaps I’ve forgotten that. For whatever reason when it comes to sitting down and writing I’ve gotten too caught up in it. Too worried about some kind of outcome – when I have no idea what that outcome should even be or what I even want it to be. And really, I don’t expect an outcome of sorts.

Maybe it’s the same for something you’re working on or stuck with? Maybe you’re putting it off, procrastinating on it, it’s weighing you down, you’re feeling the bubbles of doubt and too many thoughts creep up, you’ve half assed your way through it and haven’t gotten it out there?

I’m still forming my thoughts around this whole thing. I know pretty clearly what I do want to do in the coming few months. I also know the intricate relationship between doing what you love in exchange for money and am pondering where blogging fits into this when it’s not a core component of your business, but part of your business nonetheless.

Or perhaps it’s time to just get everything out there and stop getting caught up in the questions. Because they will always be there. Even the best question themselves and often require a community of comments to find approval with themselves and what they’re doing.

The point of this? To let you know it’s ok to be screwing around with something. That you’ll never have it figured out and to stop trying to figure it all out first. That’s not how business or life works. We just leap in and see how it goes.

And it’s also to remind me – and us all of this…

That I hope, whilst you’re madly paddling beneath the surface, and catching breaths above the waves, that you don’t forget that you love swimming. That swimming was your breath & your light.

Sometimes it’s just about pushing through. For all the life & business coaches who tell you just to breathe or lean into it or go meditate for 100 days of gratitude or whatever else it might be…sometimes you just have to do it.

And breathe anyway.

See you soon (I promise!)

Lis x

Welcome to the Grind

This is an open letter to my friends, old and new (that’s you right?) because I love you.

And because this shit is meant to be hard.

I see, hear, dance, play and otherwise delight with so many people who want to change their life. They don’t want to be chained to a desk. They want to make their own hours. They want their own freedom. They want the ability to enjoy life without having to write in a gratitude journal every day to convince themselves that their lives are amazing.

They long, ache and desire for more.

And yet they don’t move. Like trees they stay stagnate in the wind. Planted roots amongst a world that sweepingly changes on the breeze, occasionally touching them. A facade of masks they layer and swap throughout the day. Even the most self assured sometimes wondering who the hell they are even are anymore.

And then I hear the reasons.

I have responsibilities. I have a mortgage. I have kids. I don’t have time. By the time I get home my brain is fried. I don’t know what my passion is. I have too many passions. I’ve no idea where to start. I didn’t study that. I don’t know enough about so. There’s already hundreds of other people doing that. It seems overwhelming. It’s too big an idea. I’d need investors.

So it’s hard?

So freaking what.

Of course it’s hard! It should be hard. If it wasn’t, everybody would be doing it.

Stop marrying mediocrity.

One of my all time favorite quotes comes from the irreverent, perceptive and nearly always on cue Nicholas Nassim Taleb.


Missing a train is only painful if you run after it. Likewise, not matching the idea of success others expect from you is only painful if that’s what you are seeking.


I don’t pretend I’m a perfect person (I absolutely never will be nor will I ever aim to be). I don’t pretend I know everything. In fact, the things I don’t know – and the books I haven’t read – are the most important to me. I don’t pretend to be particularly talented – I’m not. I don’t pretend I’m not lucky – I absolutely freaking am by just the place I was born and the family I grew up with. And I sure as hell don’t pretend I’ve never ‘failed’. If I’m not failing (though I don’t believe in that word) at things – I’m sure as hell not pushing myself hard enough.

But I do work my ass off. I will get up at 5am and get to it. I will stay up til 1am to get it done. I will look into the future so that I can live – and take action – in the present. I do know what its like for your head to feel exhausted and all you want to do is watch the Kardashians. For years I worked full time in the corporate world, I travelled 2+ hours every day for work, worked out 5+ times a week, lived in a house in a relationship, cleaned, washed, cooked, saw friends and did all the other duties of life. And I studied full time. I went to night classes. I did 40+ hour work weeks in 4 days to go to a 13 hour back to back day of Uni. I did distance classes. And I sat exam after exam. And I know that’s little comparatively to what other people have and do.

But it’s what I wanted for myself and it’s what I believe will make the world a happier place if we all did it. I don’t give a crap what you think about me or the way I live life. I want to live a life that feels pure to me. Where I can just be, make spontaneous moves, help along the way and live happy. That seems like enough motivation to get it the hell done.

I’ve also never watched Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad or Hunger Games or or or. I have no idea what they’re even about and I couldn’t care less. There’s no time to sit down and watch crap loads of series when you’ve got shit to do. Does that mean I never watch TV? No, I’ll watch a show or two (like Suits) without the adverts (which kill your brain) whilst I’m editing photos late at night or practicing calligraphy or headstands but I won’t plonk down for session after session.

And whilst some people like to tell me it’s much more important I just learn to sit down for an hour without doing anything and watch a TV show I vehemently disagree. I’d rather be doing something and all my attention doesn’t need to be directed to a TV. It needs to be directed to my friends, family and lover when I’m with them – not to any mobile phones or other thoughts. But during a TV show? I’d rather get better at something or get something done that gets me where I want to go.

And there’s one solution to one of the excuses – get busy already. Because the only way you get better is through doing. Get off the couch. Forget the fear. We all start from zero. Stop apologizing. Screw humiliation – you’re out there doing it. What are you doing to get where you want to go?

I don’t have kids. I can only imagine how exhausting it is and your experience is unique to you. But how much do you want your own freedom? Your own ability to live life the way that feels natural and raw and pure to you? How much do you want that for your children? Forget the ridiculous mortgage and the overpriced private schools – what about the cost to your life?

I know it’s hard. I also know an incredible amount of people doing this shindig who do have kids. So I know it can be done. Whether it’s cycling the world for years on end with your young children or running a business. It’s possible.

As for the rest, we all have responsibilities. Most of us have the majority of those excuses. Some choose not to use them. Be one of those. Look life in the eyes and live the begeebees out of it.

Along your way find people who get it. They’ll lift you higher.

Do you know who I know? I know my best friend Becca hustles her absolute butt off. She creates course after program after course that people adore because she genuinely wants people to change their life. And I know she waitressed like crazy to make it through and is reaping the rewards of years of hard work. I know MCJS travel the world with their kids. On $25 a day. I know my yoga instructor works about 6 businesses, gets up before 4am and hits the hay at midnight. With non stop days and is still one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. I know Natasha runs a successful business and online course that she built herself from the ground up. With a son. In a country that does not speak her languages. I know Kevin works his ass off in Nairobi to live a better life, whilst also contributing to the Kenyan community. I know Simon quit everything he knew and found a frustration in rostering staff when franchising restaurants, hustled investors together, created, developed and just launched a brand new app. Whilst getting married, building a house and supporting kids in Cambodia. I’m blessed to know Alan who has a wife and kids and works ridiculous hours, often totally exhausted to establish what is now one of the most loved – and almost cult like – restaurants in Brisbane.

They’re all real people – creating their very own lives. And they’re not afraid of hard work. Because they know hard work is what gets you there.

Develop an addiction to the work. Love the work. Create a life you want and you’ll be doing a lot of it.

Many of my friends have lived half their life. They have 40 years to go. Most of us have 30 to 60. And in the scheme of everything, that is the most ridiculous tiny speck of time ever. And that’s it. Then you’re dead. Game over.

Are your excuses worth more than the time you have left? Will you look back at the couple of hard years you did and smile because gosh look at what you achieved, what you learned and experienced and the life you’ve now created? Or will you look back and wish – just wish – you’d put the effort in for a bit?

So if you want this badly enough – more than I want it for you – welcome to the grind.

Welcome to early mornings when you have head space and silence. Welcome to late nights when you get busy creating and practicing. Welcome to studying harder and to feeling more exhausted than you ever have before. Welcome to not knowing what the hell you’re doing most of the time. Welcome to the start line. Welcome to the place there is no finish because there’s always more.

But also…welcome to the exhilaration.

Welcome to the first time in a long time you’ll know what it means to actually breathe. Welcome to excitement, spontaneity and more fulfillment than you knew could exist. Welcome to the day you bounce out of bed, drink a fresh juice at 7am and realize your days are yours.

I want this more than anything for you. But you have to want it even more than I want it for you. You have to want it as badly as you need to breathe.

I dare you to chase your dreams.

So if you’re in. Don’t give up. Remember why you want this.

And welcome to the grind.

What does it take to like yourself?

We place our self worth on a hell of a lot of external factors.

The Facebook likes and comments. The tweet replies. The Instagram loves. The stats on our daily website visitors. Blog comments. Emails from strangers. Compliments from friends. Praise from clients.

The fact that we cannot possibly go on a 2 week holiday without checking our email or phone because what the hell if someone needs us? Or what if you opened your email, facebook or text messages after that time and not one person had reached out? Not one.

In some form they all tell us how much we’re liked and in turn they affect how much we like ourselves. Our mood of the day.

The Identity Brisbane Website Design Development Lis Dingjan Self Worth Away From Facebook

But far beyond these numbers our self worth plays a game of ping pong faster than a gymnast turns off the beam in our daily lives.

  • The clients and customers you have. What are they emailing you? Do they like your work? Are you getting negative or positive feedback? Are they leaving reviews? Can you not seem to please them?
  • The boss you have. Is he down your throat a bit lately? Pushing you for more and more? Did you just lose your job?
  • When you provide a workshop or give a speech – how many people attended? How many thanked you later?
  • The person you secretly are a little bit in love with. Have you told them? And if not, which most of us hold off on, what if you told them and they didn’t say it back? What does that say about you?
  • What place you finished at that competition.
  • People admiring you for your charity works?
  • Are your friends texting, emailing, whatsapping and tagging you? Are you in their status, their orbit, their thoughts? Are they validating you with their words or have you fallen off their planet for a while?
  • Does your partner call you beautiful/handsome? Do you feel a teensy, weensy bit crappier when that passes for a few days. Do you feel fully loved and without that how do you feel about yourself?
  • The new yoga (insert any other activity) class you’re taking. Why aren’t you as good as everyone else? Who else is noticing?
  • Are you getting recognition in your industry? Awards? Do people want to partner up with you? Interviews? Requests?
  • How booked in advance are you? Clients and friends for coffee. What the hell does a day look like without commitments? Idealistically you’d like it but really truly, shouldn’t you be working (don’t people need your work) or why are you not with friends?
  • Written a blog post or facebook update and then not posted it because of how it might be received? What people might judge you on for those words.
  • Failed your last exam? What does that say about your intelligence and ability to learn?
  • Cannot for the life of you figure out how to put that damn IKEA thing together? Well thousands of others obviously can, what’s wrong with you?
  • Do people compliment you often? Can you see a few cheeky eyes-over-your-body silently letting you know you’ve got a figure worth ogling at? Does somebody want to get you naked? Are you being kissed? How long do you spend in front of the mirror? Or conversely, do you avoid it as much as possible?
  • How many degrees do you hold? When people ask about your past experience & your education how enamored are they by your answer?
  • Have you questioned your entire business or project on the back of a few words from a potential client, current client, friend, mentor or family member?
  • What about the people who judge you without evening knowing you? On your religion or atheism, on how you look, on who you’re dating/seeing and the incorrect preconceived notion of why?
  • The amount of money you make. Do some people look shocked at your rates or salary? How much does what you charge say about yourself? What if people are simply not willing to pay more for what you make/do/provide?
  • How do you feel when you take people to your house? Your car? What do you feel you’re saying about yourself with the clothes you wear? What do you think others are saying?
  • The event you turn up to alone. The date you go on. The evening with a new friend. What if it was a flop? What if you feel humiliated? Do they find you interesting? Are you boring? Do people want to talk to you? Will you ever see them again?
  • How much do you say no to yourself in order to say yes to others? In other words, how often are you people pleasing? Do you feel like you have to make others happy or try to twist yourself up to meet their needs or requests (there’s a difference between being nice and in line with your own wants/needs)?

You may not say I’m a terrible person. I suck. I’m crap. Or sometimes you may. But what do your feelings tell you? A bit of disappointment? Frustration?  Sadness? Embarrassment? Feel bad about yourself? Rejected?


What if we took absolutely everything away. What if it was just you – naked – standing at the ocean. You have nothing but yourself. No external validation. No facebook, instagram, twitter, pinterest or tumbler. No material property. No business or job. You have a couple of days of total stillness. Nobody wants you or demands your time. You don’t have one email or one like. Picture that for a moment.


How do you know how to value yourself?

We all know people who have enormous douchey egos. Often they need the absolute most external validation and are the unhappiest with themselves (but will defend this like crazy if confronted). But even if we try not to let our ego get in the way, we all have one, playing hide and seek within our hearts and minds.

In no way do I have a secret, magical answer to valuing yourself simply by being you. By removing yourself from all external factors. We all like to receive validation. Even without external sources, our efforts show us our improvements and we get addicted to the feeling of what’s next.

If I fancy a man, I could just ask them out or kiss them…couldn’t I? I could do it right now, if I attached absolutely no self worth to it or trusted that the feeling of humiliation, rejection and disappointment would quickly pass if I let it.  I don’t think I’ve ever told someone I was in love with them without hearing it from them first, or being exceptionally clear they loved me too. I talk about getting vulnerable and uncomfortable, but I’ve never let myself in that moment.

Intrinsically, buried deep, deep down and with all the facades and layers covering it I place some kind of worth on the reciprocation. That’s a bitter pill to swallow.

If I knew, I was oh so sure, that I could help business ABC and I just knew deep down I could generate way more revenue for them in turn why haven’t I approached them? Is it the fear of rejection and how that makes me feel about myself in turn? Would it make me question my business?

Maybe you’re doing that too? Or perhaps you don’t tell anyone about your great ideas (or even your business) in fear of similar things?

It feels good when clients love my work or potential clients reach out with an email because of my portfolio. I like presenting an awesome workshop or having people adore the photos I take of them. I secretly like when my dad tells me he’s proud of me (despite not ever doing anything with that in mind). And I like all that for a host of reasons – work appreciation – but also as a recognition of the effort I dedicate towards those things.

But how much I value myself, my self esteem, my worth, how I feel about myself deep down, shouldn’t depend on those things and it shouldn’t change because of those things. It should be as minimally affected as possible. If I receive absolutely none of that (which was definitely the case when I started business), and zero social media interaction, I should still value and like myself. When I receive negative feedback on designs, or people don’t agree with my business decisions – that shouldn’t change how I feel about myself. So when I’m humiliated and embarrassed – which are just feelings – do I still like myself?

When all I’ve received is crappy feedback from my work do I still believe in myself?

When I go to an event by myself and I’m all awkward, feel stripped bare and lack the confidence I’d normally exude in being comfortable in my own skin, what am I feeling about myself?

When I can’t place my problems, hopes, desires, dreams, nightmares, fears and anxiety in the hands of any omnipotent being (such as one of the gods) or any crystals or other external forces, how do I feel with my struggles, my responsibility, my actions & the choices I’ve made? In that pure vulnerability, how strong am I really?

When I can’t get into any of the yoga poses, whilst everyone is holding handstands around me, do I feel embarrassed about myself? Do I think it’s worthwhile continuing on? Do I still like myself despite the frustration? Does it affect my mood the rest of the day?

Do I feel I should post this even though if I read it one more time I’ll want to delete it because people might disagree or argue? Or because I have 1,000 other conflicting thoughts on this but there’s not enough space to get them out logically. Or because in 6 months my thoughts might evolve?

When I’m not sure if he likes me, when he hasn’t kissed me, when I’m confused by how he feels – do I still think I’m worthy of that love and like myself even if he never makes a move? Would I tell him I was falling for him and be absolutely OK with how I feel about myself if he didn’t say anything back?

Do you dare to say you love yourself? Do you dare to say it aloud or to anyone else?

It’s very easy for me to sit here from my little perch. Sure I’ve lived with nothing and I purposely expose myself to those situations, but they’re never permanent. I live in this crazy world where I was born in an exceptionally lucky country who will pick me up if I truly find the deepest depths of the barrel.

If I suddenly had no work and no emails tomorrow for months, how would that affect my self esteem?

There’s also the internal battle in my mind that we are humans. We crave connections. And it’s a beautiful thing to love someone and shower them in love. And that in turn means we’re even happier in those times. But uncoupling yourself from those things and determining the distinction between that as feelings rather than validation, and that as love from others rather than love you have for yourself; therein lies how you like yourself. 

And that’s a difficult thing to do.

Feelings come and feelings go. You can feel them and just like you needn’t act on them, they needn’t determine how you feel about yourself.

It’s a constant practice.

How to Build an eCourse or Membership Site

Have something a little wicked brewing in your mind for an online course or membership site? Wahoo!

How to Build an eCourse or Membership Site

A lot of people come to me with a course idea they’ve got (which is awesome!). Although it’s never passive income (it’s not a set and forget and hope for the best), most people hope that once they’ve got all the content it can just be managed with a little time each month and there’s a flow of income. Which it definitely can to a point if you have the audience and marketing skills to do this, and this is also very dependent on your level of engagement. Given all of that, ecourses aren’t something you just slap up and they can be quite difficult (especially if you’re not very well versed in all the tech jargon and resources). There’s quite a bit of complexity to them that’s often overlooked at the start, and because I work with them a lot I thought I’d give you a list to run through. It also needs to be said that if you’re going to do this right, with integrity and quality, you’re going to be putting months worth of work into this (I’m impressed by your hustle already!) so you need to make sure there’s actually a need for it. Do all your market testing first. Then create.

Once you’ve done that (yay for people wanting this baby!), then go through this checklist…

(note I’m not covering pre-launch and launch stuff here nor the actual custom design and development of the course or sales page – that’s a whole other ball game).

 

Uh, what kind?

Ongoing membership or once off cost? Ah big decision! The rest of this post rings true for either option but you need to ask the question for yourself. Will this be a monthly membership fee to access the course – and therefore there is an expectation there will be updated content added or such things as an active, engaged forum where you are available for access – or will the course be complete and more of a course to walk through and a once off fee?

Decide on community interaction. Are you going to have facebook group, a forum on the site, seminars, ‘office hours’? What will the access to you be? This will help you determine what kind of course you want (once off or ongoing membership) and how to schedule time. You need to be comfortable with what you’re giving. If you’re giving 2 x 1 hour, one on one sessions with you, and you have 50 people enroll in your course that’s 100 hours you need to find in a month or two. Will you be doing that for everyone that signs up? What happens when you take vacations? What price makes that worthwhile for you? Or does that make you want to cry?

Extra tip :

If you are offering time with you one on one automate the way you schedule this. Use a system like Acuity and create a special session specifically for the course. Block off the times and dates that you’re enabling for these sessions for the course. With the email registration of the correct level for this, include a link to your calendar and customers can automatically book their time with you on their time zone at a slot you’ve provided. Saves a huge amount of emailing and confusion!

What makes your course good?

You might have been part of a few courses before. And you hopefully definitely know your industry. What do you like? What can you not stand? What would you change? What have you struggled with? How can it be easier? Get it out of your head so you can keep referring back to it during the course creation (and potentially the collaboration with a designer/developer).

 

Content

With that in mind…

  • Write an outline of the content you want to present. Use module headings and put a few bullet points under each for what you’ll be covering. Break it down into digestible chunks. Use a mindmap if that helps you.
  • Think about how you want to introduce the content – do you need a welcome page or a how to use this course page?
  • How will you wrap up the content or are you happy to just leave it at the last module and tie it off there?
  • Do you need any special pages like a resources page for easy access of file downloads or apps and services you recommend?
  • How is it best to present the content? Videos, audio, transcripts, worksheets, checklists, text on the site, guides, recipes to download? How will your clients best absorb what you’re presenting? Will you be doing a monthly Q&A call? Coaching? It’s likely a mix of a few elements.
  • Do you find that group challenges create better engagement with your course? Some people like just going it alone. Others want motivation and accountability – are you including that?

Extra Tip :

Your course is not more valuable if you could include $800 worth of bonuses if this is just more and more work you’re giving your client. Imagine your customer is at the bottom of a mountain and they want to reach the summit. Especially if these are just filler CDs, audio recording and a crap load of eBooks. Do you load them up with every single tool and instrument they may need on their way, weighing them down enormously and overwhelming them so much that they barely start? Or do you give them the essential tools, a lot of positivity and get them to the first platform. Then you give some more tools and get them to the half way and so on until they reach the summit?

Don’t load up your course with an overwhelming amount of extra tools. It devalues your course (if I’m getting $800 free value on top why is this course only $497?) and debilitates your clients who you want to see get results (there’s too much, I don’t have time, where the hell am I meant to start?).

 

Getting it together

So you’ve figured out all your content structure and now it’s time to get it together. Write it all down in a way that makes sense. I’ve heard good things about Scrivener to help out. Type out each module in a separate word/pages document. Label them appropriately. Write out your worksheets or checklists on an individual document. Record your videos and save them as individual videos relevant to the module or tutorial. Keep everything in one file (with folders to separate out modules or types of content). Review everything – is is all there? Back it up!

Think about all of the content you’ve included. Is there a base line and another level? Can you deliver it in a package that people will get a lot of value out of and then a second or third level that deliver more for those who want and are ready for more? If you’re doing one on one is this better to include in a higher priced package but you can still offer a lot of the content to the audience who isn’t at the stage to invest that much yet but can get a lot of out of going through the course without extra consulting from you?

 

Sales Page

You want to sell your course so you need an effective, super well written and designed sales page (if you’re serious about making this thing work). Get a domain for your course and decision time. Are you good at writing words that sell? Are you good at creating effective design around this incredible copy? Do you know what kind of sales page you need? It doesn’t have to be miles and miles long and in different industries there’s way better ways to structure these things succinctly.

I strongly believe in a dedicated, amazing sales page. Not just a few words or a video you’ve thrown up on your site the night before you launch. Something where actual effort, strategy, thought and business objectives have gone into.

Check out these few sales pages I’ve created recently to get an idea of how a sales page can work :

The Course or Membership Site

Ok, are you going to create and design this yourself or are you going to hire someone who can get you where you want to go and provide the best design for your audience? If you’re DIY’ing set up your domain on WordPress. Will you be using a theme? How are you going to lay it out?

If you’re hiring an expert who does this from scratch they’ll design and develop this for you specific to your course and the way you’re presenting information along with the best way to navigate through your course. We can also help you with strategy, the structure and integrations.

Restricting your content

In either case you’ll need to settle upon a membership plugin so you can restrict your content to logged in users. Wishlist and Paid Membership Pro remain my favorites but there are numerous options out there. None of them are dead easy (sorry!) if you don’t have a bit of tech know-how; there are a lot of options to configure.

If you’re working with a designer/developer they may get everything going with your content. If not, you need to get all your content on your site now in a logical structure.

Go through and make sure all your pages are restricted to to the membership level they belong to. You might have a bonuses page that is only for the elite tier. Make sure it restricted to the other levels and available to this one.

Extra tip :

Think about videos and audio. How are you going to host them? On a Pro Vimeo account restricting the access to your domain (of which the pages can only be accessed by members of course!). Will you use Wistia? Amazon s3 to host?

You can restrict file uploads (like worksheets) in a plugin like Wishlist too. You upload via the media uploader and there will be options to restrict it to certain levels. Or you can use Amazon s3 again.

 

Payment Integration

You want people to pay from your sales page (home of the domain) and be able to get into your course (again, irrelevant if it’s ongoing or once off fee – you want people in!). Most of the membership plugins come with specific payment integrations like Paypal, Stripe etc. You need to decide which you want to use and now things get a little trickier.

You’ll likely have levels to your course. In Wishlist for example you’d set up 3 levels for the 3 different pricing options and then follow the instructions (a 6 step process) to hook these up with Paypal.

Remember to add these to the sales page so people can choose the level they wish to purchase.

Payments plans?

If you’re going to be offering payment plans you’ll need to set these up as levels too (depending on what membership plugin you’ve used). Perhaps your course is $800 and you’re offering that stand alone or two payments of $450. Don’t forget these need to be on your sales page too and you’ll need to hook all these up with your payment gateway.

 

Accessing the Course

Payment has gone through and you want your members to automatically be able to access what they’ve just paid for. You don’t want to sit behind your computer 24/7 to manually register people. In Wishlist you can set this up to direct your payment gateway (i.e paypal) to a registration page appropriate to your level (this changes for different membership levels).

Once they’ve registered you want them to automatically receive an email with their login information. This needs to include how they login to the site (i.e. a special url, a subdomain the login exists on etc) and their username and password.

Emails

A lot of the plugins will generate system emails for you and provide a section where you can update what these templates say. Go take a look at them and try to rewrite them in your own brand voice so they are in line with everything. Do they include the information they need to? A link to your private facebook group? How to access the forums?

What does the login look like?

On some sites or if you have a developer you may decide to code a login on the home page of your site (perhaps you have a subdomain your course sits on with a welcome page or a login link from your sales page that directs to the course welcome page to login).

If you’re using something like WishList then you’ll likely be hooking into the wordpress login feature. Think about what you want your users to see when they’re accessing the site. You want a full brand experience not just the standard wordpress login (which is totally confusing to people who do not use wordpress on a regular basis, or think they are logging into the actual admin area of the site). Get this coded up. On a course I did recently by way of example, this is what the login to the course looks like :

How to set up a membership ecourse online

Check you have all the account pages

Some plugins will do this for you but check you have at least the following :

  • Registration/Account Page
  • Lost/Forgotten Password Page
  • Restricted Content Page (i.e this is not available to your membership level)
  • Restricted Page (i.e this is available to members only, not the public)

Extra tip :

A lot of these kinds of pages come native to the plugin (like wishlist or amember) but are obviously not branded in line with your site. Will you be keeping them as they look out of the box? Will you ask your designer/developer to include this in the project to fully brand them so it was totally seamless througout your site? Not ready for that (or your budget) but want to request them to be styled so they look like they’re part of your brand?

 

Can members upgrade?

If members can jump from one level to the next (i.e to access bonuses or time with you) then will you be manually upgrading them or if they land on a page they’re restricted to will you set up the option to upgrade them? This means the difference needs to be paid in the payment gateway you use and their membership level needs to be upgraded within the system (automatically is desirable so you don’t have to touch anything) so they can access the content once they’ve paid. Not crazy fun to set up, but it can be done.

 

Will you have an affiliate program?

Dum, dum, dah – welcome to the land of confusion! There are a LOT of affiliate programs out there. If you’ve already got one that you’re happy with, try and use that but this is where things get tricky again. If you’ve got payment plans, are you able to set this up through your affiliate program (i.e you can’t do this in ejunkie so if you’ve used ejunkie as your gateway, which doesn’t have an automatic integration with wishlist, this screws it up for plans).

You may have Clickbank or Infusionsoft which may have an integration with a membership plugin like wishlist.

If you’re using a stand alone affiliate program you may just be required to load a script in your header file (usually header.php) which will track leads in that program. Or you might have an affiliate center you’re integrating into your site. This may be a plugin (like WP Affiliate) or a custom solution. Read through how you need to integrate this with your sales page or membership to register payouts from people who buy when clicked through on the affiliate link.

If the affiliate center is housed on your site how does it look? Most of them look pretty awful out of the box – do you need your designer (or are you comfortable) to either fully design or to style it so it fits in with your branding and course?

 

Test & Launch!

Phew – are you exhausted? Although the process can be stressful at times, you’ve gotten all the way to the end! If you’re DIYing you’ll need to do some thorough testing.

  • Check all of your payments work and have the correct amount & subscription plans (if you’re doing membership or payment plans)
  • Ensure you’re being redirected to an account page to access the course (or however the login is set up)
  • Test all of your membership levels and ensure all the content is restricted where it should be and available where it needs to be
  • Are you receiving emails with your login details and any other steps? Do they look correct, text is fine, happy with them or do they need changing to be in line with your course?
  • Do your emails for the higher registration member level include a link to your scheduler for automatic time booking with you if you’re providing one on one calls?
  • When you arrive on a page restricted to higher level members, have you provided the option to upgrade to capture these leads?
  • Test your upgrade option. Is the payment difference correct? Does it upgrade your membership level? Can you access the content?
  • Do all your worksheets & guides download? Are they correct?
  • Can you play your video and audio? Have you ensured they are not public?
  • Register a test affiliate and check your email and affiliate set up center (on or off site). Do they look good? Make sense?
  • Clear your cache or open a new browser, use your affiliate link and then check it’s recording clicks and payout amounts correctly in the affiliate center
  • Have you got a forum integrated on your site? Does it work?
  • When you’re happy with everything it’s time to launch!

Extra tip :

Provide contact details somewhere on your site for any users having technical issues etc. If a frustrated user can’t get a hold of you, that only makes the problem worse rather than being able to quickly help them out.

Review & Update

It’s not all over yet! You’ve done an absolutely amazing job to get this far and if you’ve gone through all the quality work you’ll want to improve on it over time. There’s a lot to be said for Minimum Viable Products (buzz word!) but if you’re serious and you actually want to sell a quality course that gets people going than I highly recommend investing in your course the way you expect others to invest in it. Quality is the best form of advertising.

There are a number of reasons for updating your course but most of them boil down to :

  • Initial budget didn’t cover extra things that over time (and sales profit!) you can afford to put in place. This is both front end design & back end development work
  • You receive feedback! It’s up to you (or with your consultant, developer, designer, strategist etc) to go through the feedback and determine what’s priority, what’s nice but not right now, what has the biggest cost benefit (i.e does it cost a small amount but make a big improvement?), what are the majority of members saying, what’s unrealistic or not something needed by the whole etc.

Products continually improve – that’s more than a good thing!


Phew!

I hope you got through all of this alive and aren’t too overwhelmed by it. Your specific course will also have different requirements depending on what you’re including and how you’re presenting content. If you’ve covered all these bases for your core course set up though you’ll be able to rock your membership or ecourse from the get go (and if you’d like a developer/designer/strategist to work with you on this – hit me up, I love them!).

The Great Intern Debate

I’ve noticed quite a bit of talk on interns in the last year. I’ve even received some messages about people wanting to intern with me (truly flattered and I love the passion and hustle) and I’ve spoken in the somewhat secret ‘entrepreneur’ hallways about internships.

I’m for paying people. Even when it’s legal to have unpaid work, if they’re helping my business, bottom line, profits etc, I believe that at the least, time should be compensated! And quite simply, that’s the law. I won’t get into ethics, opinions or morals. It’s just the way the law is. If you’re genuinely giving someone training during their studies for a short period of time, a few hours a week – then bring on a special gift!

But these conversations still go on. I see plenty of posts about hiring interns, about utilizing interns for administration, bringing on board an intern instead of an assistant or about whether or not to pay interns a student wage. About accept people who ask to intern for you (tricky I know!). But to clear up most of the debates in our creative fields and online world here’s the take on interns as it stands.

I could sum up anything I’m about to say on the laws in one simple sentence.

An intern must be a burden to your business.

or in other words

If you are deriving benefit from the work, you must pay.

 

The US Law

 

From: Department of Labor

The following six criteria must be applied when making this determination:

  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

If all of the factors listed above are met, an employment relationship does not exist under the FLSA, and the Act’s minimum wage and overtime provisions do not apply to the intern. 

A quote from the DoL goes as follows :

“If you’re a for-profit employer or you want to pursue an internship with a for-profit employer, there aren’t going to be many circumstances where you can have an internship and not be paid and still be in compliance with the law.”
Nancy J. Leppink, acting director of the department’s wage and hour division

 

The UK Law

 

The UK & EU have strict standards on internships and most people would not qualify as an intern.

An intern’s rights depend on their employment status. If an intern is classed as a worker, then they’re normally due the National Minimum Wage. Internships are sometimes called work placements or work experience. These terms have no legal status on their own.

An intern is entitled to the National Minimum Wage if they count as a worker. Employers can’t avoid paying the National Minimum Wage if it’s due by saying or stating that it doesn’t apply or making a written agreement saying someone isn’t a worker or that they’re a volunteer.

From the UK Government employee rights…

When interns aren’t due the National Minimum Wage:

Student internships

Students required to do an internship for less than 1 year as part of a UK-based further or higher education course aren’t entitled to the National Minimum Wage.

School work experience placements

Work experience students of compulsory school age, ie under 16, aren’t entitled to the minimum wage.

Voluntary workers

Workers aren’t entitled to the minimum wage if both of the following apply:

  • they’re working for a charity, voluntary organisation, associated fund raising body or a statutory body
  • they don’t get paid, except for limited benefits (eg reasonable travel or lunch expenses)

Work shadowing

The employer doesn’t have to pay the minimum wage if an internship only involves shadowing an employee, i.e. no work is carried out by the intern and they are only observing.

 

The Australian Law

 

Australia’s laws are a bit vaguer. It’s a question of determining if there is an employee relationship but nevertheless there are some good outlines.

Just as student placements in the other countries, Australia calls these vocational placements and they do not need to be paid if they are a mandatory part of the course.

Vocational placements

The Fair Work Act recognizes formal work experience arrangements that are a mandatory part of an education or training course. You can check out the site (use the references below this post) to see what qualifies as a vocational placement arrangement.

Work experience & internships

Unpaid work experience placements and internships that don’t meet the definition of a vocational placement can be lawful in some instances. To be lawful, businesses need to ensure that the intern or work experience participant is not an employee.

One key issue in determining whether an employment contract has been formed is whether the parties intended to create a legally binding employment relationship.

When assessing whether the parties intended to form a legally binding employment relationship some key indicators would be:

  • Purpose of the arrangement. Was it to provide work experience to the person or was it to get the person to do work to assist with the business outputs and productivity?
  • Length of time. Generally, the longer the period of placement, the more likely the person is an employee
  • The person’s obligations in the workplace. Although the person may do some productive activities during a placement, they are less likely to be considered an employee if there is no expectation or requirement of productivity in the workplace
  • Who benefits from the arrangement? The main benefit of a genuine work placement or internship should flow to the person doing the placement. If a business is gaining a significant benefit as a result of engaging the person, this may indicate an employment relationship has been formed. Unpaid work experience programs are less likely to involve employment if they are primarily observational
  • Was the placement entered into through a university or vocational training organisation program? If so, then it is unlikely that an employment relationship exists.

If that seems somewhat vague the fair work website has a good example that applies to a lot of entrepreneurs, small businesses, online workers etc that wish to hire these kinds of ‘interns’:

Stuart recently completed a Bachelor of Journalism and is looking for work as a journalist. Stuart responds to an advertisement to write for his local paper on a full-time basis for 3 months as an ‘unpaid intern’ to try and gain experience and increase his chances of employment. Since Stuart had completed his degree and the placement was not a requirement of his course, it cannot be considered a vocational placement under the FW Act. The paper advises Stuart that he will be given specific tasks and deadlines to complete that will assist in the production of the paper and that this productive activity will take up the majority of his time. This suggests Stuart may have been engaged as an employee and entitled to remuneration.

Volunteering

A great deal of volunteer work is performed in the not-for-profit sector, which includes charity and community service organizations. People can offer their services voluntarily to assist in the not-for-profit organization goals. However, a business and person can’t simply characterize what is actually an employment relationship as volunteer work. All the relevant factors outlined above need to be considered.

Unpaid trials

Trial work involves a person performing work (or ‘trialling’) at a place of business. If this is at the request of the employer or it is expected that the person will be performing productive activities, the person would normally be an employee in these circumstances and entitled to be paid as such.

If a work experience placement or internship is used to determine a prospective employee’s suitability for a job, the person would be considered an employee for the trial period and should be paid as such. Similarly, probationary employees are paid for all hours worked.


I hope that clears things up!

Fact. You Just Can’t Please Everyone.

Even Kirsty and Phil can’t. And they are location, location, location specialists. A good 18 seasons in.

I’m addicted to that (and Grand Designs) and sometimes I’ll watch an episode where people desperate to buy their home just don’t like anything they’re shown. And consequently don’t buy. Even when it’s the absolute best they can get right then.

Despite the specific criteria, the one on one cafe chats, the ability to read their faces and reactions in person, in the house. Despite the fact that Kirsty and Phil have a team, are experts in their field with a lifetime of experience, know the market intimately, have worked with thousands of people, are constantly on the hunt and ahead of the eight ball. Despite all of that, sometimes they still can’t get it on the mark.

And most often? It’s not their fault.

Sometimes you just cannot please people. And more specifically, sometimes you just can’t please your clients.

You can do absolutely everything possible, way beyond scope & budget, you can drive yourself mental and they’re still not happy.

It’s just part of this shindig.

You’ve got to get to a point in your business where you’re able to ‘filter’ out the majority of these people. The ones you can never please. The ones where you’re unable to reset expectations to a realistic level. The ones that are unclear and vague. The ones that are adamant they have clarity but really? Um no.

Location, location, location makes me feel sane.

There are two rather big camps splitting the creative world. Do everything the client says (no matter how crappy or bad, or what they ask), or take the creative lead, compromise, come up with better ideas and also push back when needed and strive for their business objective and integrity of the project.

I love that Kirsty often gets to a point where she sits down with her clients and lays it out.

This is your budget. This is what you want. Not everything is possible. Where are we going to focus, what are we going to trim. Even with a million pound budgets, rarely is absolutely everything ever perfect.

I also love that they go after what their clients need, rather than what their clients think they want.

I watched the latest episode today where Phil was working with a couple who had a ‘definitely do not want’ list. On that list? New house builds.

3rd option Phil gave them? A new house build.

What did they buy? The new house build.

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.
–Henry Ford

Sometimes people have no idea what they truly want. You’ve got to try and see beyond the words and figure it out.

Some people know very clearly. You’ll hit the mark dead on, every time.

But others?

Don’t just ask what they want. Ask why they like certain things. Why that inspires them. What they want to feel. What their requirements are. What they understood. What they don’t understand. What they’re struggling with. What’s their pain point. Why do they want this? Who their customers are.

Listen closely. Strike a balance. Don’t let it strangle your skill to innovate and create.

And then position it in such a way your clients can understand why it’s what they wanted all along (or more).

In the majority of cases you’ll be able to give your clients exactly what they need so they’re over the moon with you. In a small fraction of cases it doesn’t matter what you do.

Learning to recognize the latter is just part of your business. Improve your processes. Tighten your client intake. And take away what you can from the experience.

But don’t beat yourself up.

Let it go.

Even Kirsty & Phil don’t always have it on the mark.

10 Businesses Just Lost My Money Tonight – Did Yours?

Whenever I say design is important there are inevitably people who come back and say

but what about Steve Pavlina?

and Craiglist?

And although I get it, is has an easy answer! Those sites were born when the internet – let’s face it – was crap. When we were all really just cottoning onto it and jumping on the bandwagon. They built loyal and strong audiences through their content and usefulness.  I’m willing to bet with a redesign that those sites would be do much, much, much better.

And that’s where good design comes in. The 20th century form follows function has evolved. Design, functionality and copy are all important -> they all affect each other either positively or negatively.

A site with amazing design but crap content will die.

A site with incredible copy but shit design will lose readers. And starting in a sea of 345 million websites, with 7 seconds to impress a first time visitor (who are judging on visual not reading) there best be something good.

A site that doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do for the user will create frustrated clients and turn readers away.

A site that doesn’t do what it could do for the administrator/s will make it frustrating to manage and consume too much time – which is money.

Website Design Cupcakes Bakery

So on a cold night in the Netherlands, I wanted to buy people cupcakes. Specifically in Toronto (Canada) and Brisbane (Australia).

So off to Google this little lass went. And what she found beyond the search box was a world of horror unrivaled by Voldemort himself.

Transported back in time she rediscovered MS Paint, the use of microsoft word in web design, altogether far too many pink stripes and a surprising amount of heavy, metallica inspired colors for cupcake stores.

99% of the websites did not have online ordering. The one or two that did looked frighteningly like someone might receive the credit card numbers and either draw the thing blank for a Prince in Nigeria or wonder what those 16 digits were for.

I’m not a fan of calling people and businesses out but I’d like to show you a small taste of some of the websites I stumbled across. These are from page 1 or 2 from my Google results. Arguably what should be the best sites for what I’m requesting. I’ve no idea of the status of these businesses, but I know that for $50 you can have a nice polished template up. And there’s rarely any exceptions to not needing a good online presence (unless you don’t want to do amazing business).

Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 10.26.09 PM Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 10.24.27 PM Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 10.23.58 PM Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 10.22.51 PM Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 10.22.39 PM

So what’s a girl to do but cry?

The story ended both happily and sadly. It was sadly not a fairytale for the crew in Brisbane did not receive their super well deserved cupcakes. There was not a website to be found that had online ordering to get some cupcakes delivered to some hard workers. The one or two websites that looked half decent had no option. She gave up after page 7.

In Canada, her friend had a happy ending. Desmond and Beatrice did not show up in the first five pages of her Google search but in a frustrated tizz she saw an article for the best cupcake stores in Toronto and one of them was D&B. In a fabulous stroke of luck they had just implemented online ordering and had a simple but beautiful website to boot.

Cupcakes Bakery Website Design Cupcakes Bakery Website Design

It’s clean, simple, easy to navigate and most of all it does what you need it to do. Securely. Prettily and did I mention easily?

And whilst it’s not the most amazing website you’ll ever see, in a sea of absolute rubbish they stand out like…pink frosting with sprinkles.

When it comes to your business you’ve got to be good. And if you want to make more money, be talked about, do well, find opportunity, grow and create – then you’ve got to do much better.

And if you think a functionality isn’t important, like selling online – think twice. I would send cupcakes to people once a month if I had a go to list. I’ll always use D&B in Toronto now and Becca ordered from there once we chatted about it. She’ll probably tell some of her friends and that’s how the cycle goes…

Evolve and upgrade. It makes life and business that much easier.

Time for your business to head up?

There’s a world of opportunity out there (or hit me up if you want to start a cupcake store).

(photo source cupcakes)

Are you really an entrepreneur?

I’m not.

I really dislike that word in the way it’s bandied around so much but haven’t quite found a better one yet. I’m utterly uncomfortable with being called that.

For me an entrepreneur is someone who has ideas that solve a pain point for people, or fill a gap in the market (even if you didn’t know it existed) and then executes them. They may start the business but after it’s growth they do not manage it. That’s what a high level manager does. The entrepreneur is onto the next idea.

Richard Branson is the ultimate entrepreneur. I am not. I am in my business. I work heavily in it. Directly with clients. Yes I take on risk and profit but I am not executing a multitude of businesses that can work without my deep involvement. My businesses would not currently run beyond my death. Nor have I made quite an impressive amount of income from them enough to dedicate millions social good.

Yup I’m from the field of people that believe business is – and should be – more than making money. It should also be about making an impact and not just in consumers lives. Whether that’s developing local communities through your actual business, employing underprivileged people in the business, giving profits to grassroots organizations or establishing an arm to your business that is a social enterprise – businesses should do good.

“Entrepreneurs need to change their way of thinking and make their businesses ‘a force for good’ , not just a force to make money, if they think like that and empowered all their staff to think like that, they can make a massive difference” – Richard Branson

Entrepreneurs employ people with more skills and smarts then them. They see beyond the operational – they see the vision. Entrepreneurs make it happen, without the resources to make it happen.

“Every time you want to make any important decision, there are two possible courses of action. You can look at the array of choices that present themselves, pick the best available option and try to make it fit. Or, you can do what the true entrepreneur does: Figure out the best conceivable option and then make it available.” – Jon Burgstone

You’re probably not an entrepreneur.

Until you are.

Everyone online needs to take a big fat break and remember there’s wars in Syria and shit

Seriously.

I know your business is your life. Believe me I know.

I’m all up in my business ALL THE TIME. It never ends.

You’re doing client work. Creating products. Wrangling with your never ending inbox. Tearing your hair out because no idea hasn’t already been done. Unless you just patented finger holes in dutch biscuits and became a millionaire (yes this has happened – he’s a genius).

Re-branding. Launching. Comparing, comparing, comparing. Getting passive aggressive. Taking on too much. Hustling. Wanting more clients. Trying to find more clients. Wanting more time to enjoy life. To actually kiss your partner because hell they probably barely see you and you’ve forgotten to show them how much you care because you just have to tick off one more item on your to-do list. Or date. Remember that?

So you’re hustling even more. And sometimes wondering if going to back to a steady pay check is a good thing, a relieving thing, or blasphemy. And you’re exhausted. Getting proper angry. At yourself, at your customers, at other people rocking it online.

You’re pissed and you’re tired. And you want the negative shit to go away. Because you’re generally a pretty freaking happy, positive person. And you have dreams of alps, and balconies and cafes laughing with friends. Or ocean swims at 2pm (with more cocktails, less sharks). Or fireplaces and a hot other half. That wants to rip your clothes off (because we could probably all do with a bit more of that and a bit less business).

So step the hell away from the computer. Don’t write that email. Catch your breath for a second. Don’t be snarky. Don’t be a bitch. Don’t get sucked in.

Eat some fruit. Punch a boxing bag. Drink some tea. Laugh with friends. The person that gives you the tingles? That you create electricity with whenever you’re an inch within their skin? Take their shirt off. Screw it, tear it off. FORGET the online world.

Because often it’s incredible. It’s amazing. It’s oh so wonderful and let’s you live the life you’re living. You’ve met beautiful people in this world. And despite what you’re thinking you’ve achieved a hell of a lot. You’re also doing something that’s oh so brave. You’re putting yourself out there. Your image, your feelings, your creativity, your genius, your opinions and everything about you. That’s crazy courageous.

But some other times?

It’s incestuous. It’s filled with egos. It’s a kill joy. It zaps creativity. It turns nice people into meanies. Other nice people become doormats. It makes you want to punch things. You stop liking your work. Every negative comment you hear or you receive is like someone just took a door…to your face. You feel wounded. You feel stressed. And you feel anxious.

So let’s all take one big breath, altogether now, and then exhale. Deep and slow. Then put the laptop down and back slowly away. Fast.

Because while we’re so buried in these lives – and while it is of course brilliant to do what you love and be your amazing self – there’s also proper real stuff happening out there.

That bitch that has the same color text as you? Not as important as the 100,000 people that have just died in Syria.

The guy who has a service just like yours? Not really a priority when major provinces in Cambodia are flooding, shutting down (because of an actual disaster, not US health care) and people are dying.

The idea you’ve just had that somebody else has already done? Screw it and do it anyway. Do it better. Put a twist on it. Make it prettier. I don’t care but there’s more demand for it. And it’s damn important that you do it. Because you have the opportunity to. There’s an entire world that will never have this opportunity. So just do it already will you.

Whatever you’ve just been pettily accused of? Think about all the people sitting in jail who haven’t done a thing. Nothing. They’re totally innocent and sitting in foreign hell holes. There’s no one to help them. No support. No one to rely on. So just let it go, that’s all about them and not you. Then go check out a group like The Innocence Project.

The client that’s killing you? Make a note not to take those people on again. It’s not worth it. But for the moment, finish the job or end the project and move on. And for right now leave the house and jump into the kitchen in your local homeless shelter. Because a billion people are wondering how to get food on the table tonight.

Let’s all keep it a little in check yeah?

Step away from the stuff bringing you down. Being on an info diet for the year (apart from 3 treasured blogs) has been the best thing in the world. Totally cleansing and freeing. Write down what else drags you down. Now leave that shit alone. I’m about to. Client work deserves my full attention. As does some exploring of my own country. And the family and friends I rarely see but so adore when I do.

Because I’m way not perfect. And I love you, I do.

With Love,
Lis.

With Love - Lis/Liz Dingjan - The Brand Identity Creator
P.S. Have you joined us on Facebook? I'd love to have you there!

(source)

The be all isn’t Marie Forleo

As a designer, one of the most common requests I receive from women is ‘I’d like a site like Marie Forleo’.

Which these days tends to illicit this response in me..urrrrgggghhh. Marie’s site is clean and simple, absolutely. It’s a great design and it’s been well thought out. It can be a style inspiration. But everybody’s business is different and you do not want to end up with a site just like hers.

If your sole focus isn’t being a blogger, you’re better off having a few other interesting things on your home page. You might have a different call to action. You could be way more creative. Your target niche could be into a way different style. And your business is YOURS. Not Marie’s. It should be your beautiful brand.

Plus we want the internet to be super high quality, clean, creative and full of goodness and unique you-ness!

Full disclosure:: I think a number of Marie’s videos are great with some solid advice but often she also doesn’t resonate with me. I’m not her perfect client – and that’s totally fine (and doesn’t make me a bad online, female business person!). I respect her for what she’s done and where she’s risen from. It’s an incredible journey and it’s one we should all keep in mind…it didn’t just happen and it took a helluva lot of hard work, persistence and truck loads of what I’m sure were ‘I just want to cry and hide from the world’ moments and then pushing on beyond that.

But because a lot of people are comparing their beginnings or middles to Marie’s current business structure I thought I’d go back into the web archives and see where she started.

Right back to 2001 and for quite a few years after. With a website that looked like this…

Marie Forleo - How she got started

Marie Forleo - How she got started

A number of years later she changed the business to ‘The Good Life’ and had a website revamp to this (2005)…

Marie Forleo - How she got started

In 2010 we shifted gears again and went back to the Forleo brand…

Marie Forleo - How she got started

Followed by more tweaks a few months later (there are always tweaks to websites I promise!)…

Marie Forleo - How she got started

And then in early 2012 it changed to the style and big booming brand we know it to be now…

Marie Forleo - How she got started

 

So if you’ve just discovered Marie in the last 2 years you’d be thinking WOWEE this woman is on fire. And indeed she is. With a team to boot. Except she’s been going online since 2001. That’s like 12 years ago…around the time the internet started (or rather, the time Australians started cottoning onto it).

Of course website building 10 years ago was far crappier than it is today. And it looks like she had someone else do it from the start, but the point is you’ve got to start somewhere right? Building a brand takes time. A lot of it. Coupled with determination, persistence, belief in yourself and a helluva lot of hustling.

Want another example? I was recently discussing a new project with a client (I hate this word by the way, we always become brilliant friends that I can’t wait to hang out with more!) and we looked back through the history of Rough Guides. They’ve been going along since 1982 and had their first site up in the late 90’s.

1999… Rough Guides Business Development Websites

2000…

Rough Guides Business Development Websites

2001…

Rough Guides Business Development Websites

2007…

Rough Guides Business Development Websites

2010…

Rough Guides Business Development Websites

2013…

Rough Guides Business Development Websites

 

There will be millions of these examples. Your brand, your website and your business are living, breathing things. They will change and evolve. You will step it up. You will invest. You may pivot directions or hone in further. Shops don’t splash a color of paint on and leave it for the next 10 years. Logos are constantly changing, branding is re imagined, style is revamping and websites – along with keeping up with technology changes – are revamped every few years in line with the business. It makes money. It makes you keep loving your business. And it makes your customers care.

If you’re easing your way into the online world and you haven’t figured out what you’re doing or where you’re going I would never recommend investing 5-20k on a website. By all means get a theme, pay someone a few hundred dollars to tweak it for your business (you don’t need to waste your time doing this) and get started. Figure it out.

Only when you’re truly clear on what the hell you’re doing and who you’re doing it for should you go custom and pro. If that’s on your first online launch – that’s great! But I highly recommend being absolutely clear on what you’re doing, the big vision that you’re determined to achieve and keeping focused.

Do I think you should custom brand and invest in your business? Abso-freaking-lutely. If your website is your primary source of income and marketing, you need to do this (there’s good reason all the ‘big players’ online are all upgrading their websites right now). You wouldn’t set up a shabby, stock standard, bland looking store in the city (that 25% of all people can’t get through the door in…yup I’m talking mobile) and expect to do demanding-my-god-we-love-you-and-keep-wanting-to-come-back business right? Oh and online you’re competing with over 345million other websites. Bet your city doesn’t have that many stores down town!

But you could set up a lemonade stand, build your foundation and move on up to that awesome store.

You get clear, get the vision and plan in place, test or have worked in the market, and invest in your idea and go pro. Or you dabble, you play, you figure out what it is you’re doing and who you’re doing it for, you make your beginning steps and you grow from there. Then one day you relaunch and turn the volume up on your brand and amplify your business. Can you do it quicker than Marie? Of course, particularly if you’re working with a business coach (like Becca at The Uncaged Life), you’ve dabbled in the online world before or worked in your market or you’re relaunching and are crystal clear on that next level (you should be able to explain it in words).

I had no idea I would start a business when I first got into the online world. On the suggestion of a friend I set up a blog rather than sending 6 page emails (ok, maybe more) of my journeys around the world. So I did. This is what it looked like.

Journeys in the Cloud - How Businesses Evolve

Not terribly great at all. Pretty crappy actually. Weeks before this I didn’t even have a photo of me because I didn’t want anyone to know. Nor an about page. Something I would convince you to have! I knew no one online. I had no idea what I was doing with a blog. I had no idea I’d suddenly see that other people had businesses outside the corporate world and I was determined to do that as well. I’d always been a creative soul and had regularly escaped the office to live my other life. I had the biggest learning curve EVER. I’ve never learned so much as I did in that first year (and I’ve studied a couple of degrees). Seriously, it went something like this.

New Business Learning Curve + Tears

These days I learn something new every day. Every new project is the opportunity to learn new things. To get better and better. Whether that be about coding, design, resources, new integrations, technology, Photoshop, illustrator, after effects, business or people I learn every single day. And I learn so much about other people’s businesses, dreams and desires and then I learn about mine more too.

I still have crazy, tear your hair out days but they’re much calmer now. I know I’ll figure it out and I know that I’m pushing myself every single project. To grow you have to keep learning and experimenting.

There’s only one way to bridge the gap between your vision and your current skill and that’s do the work and learn. And the best way to learn? Through doing. Through volume. Once you bridge that gap and grow beyond your original vision it comes down to refinement and focus.

Businesses evolve over time. Over the years. They hone, perfect, develop and grow. My own biz right here? You may have noticed it’s had a few random tweaks. Many services have disappeared. The portfolio has barely been updated all year. A few things aren’t quite right. I’ve been so, so busy with amazing projects that my site has taken a big hit. And so I can’t wait to revamp in December. To invest back into my business. So it’s way better for you, it’s better for me and so we have a kick ass 2014. But that’s just it…

You’ve just got to start and keep on going.

Wherever it is that you are, that’s an excellent place to start from.

Just start your business

When you’re not sure what the hell you’re supposed to be doing when you have a million (estimated) passions

So if you’re anything like me, you may be feeling one of these right now…

…you feel a bit unhappy with your business. You’re not sure why but something just doesn’t feel quite right.

…you’ve lost the motivation, inspiration, persistence and determination to keep on going. Out of all the words ending in ‘tion’ you’re mostly feeling frustration and desperation.

…you’re not really getting clients you love working with. You fear you’ve made a terrible mistake. Is it always going to be this hard?

…you’re thinking crazy hard about this business thing but you just can’t seem to get started. Which idea are you supposed to pursue? Is it worth it?

…you’re worried you’re going to end up hating what you love doing if you turn it into a real tangible job.

Yeah I feel you. I’ve been there. I still go there. We’re all human and my god are we trying hard. And running a business – and even thinking about the mountain you’re facing to start one or change one – is damn difficult work. Yes you may love it (I hope, or you’re setting your heart on the wrong thing) but there’s going to be parts you hate. And things you think you’re missing out on. And other things you love doing that you’re not getting to. And you’re going to get tired. And one day you’ll get up, throw your hands in the air and wonder if this is all worth it.

Because you may be making plenty of money but your insides are broken. Your head hurts. Or you’re broke and just want some money to make life easier but you don’t want to sell out. And your heart needs a bit of feeding. A bit more soul. And that’s coming from someone who isn’t into the chakra, crystal healing woo-ness.

Oh those feelings can really get to you can’t they?

When I first started this thing I tried to do a million things at once. Literally. I also tried to please every single person on the planet. Which is odd, because in reality I don’t sit on the fence on many topics but online? I didn’t voice my opinion, I was creative but I wasn’t feeling it…I was becoming bland. I lost my voice. And then I didn’t know what the hell I was supposed to be doing.

Finance and Law degrees, a so-called career spanning across both, volunteering, consulting, spending years studying behavioral economics, nutrition and international development, exams, researching, analyzing, sometimes exhilarating, sometimes scary and often eye opening travelling, breaking free, camping, craving massages and day spas, relationships, singledom, having beautiful friends, feeling utterly alone in foreign lands, savings and relative poorness…and then throwing an online world, a business and a thousand blogs in the mix and I was suffering an identity crisis of sorts.

What was I supposed to be doing? Who the hell was I?

The last year has been a huge refinement for me in business life. I now know what it is I’m doing and although it will change and evolve in the future or a million different things may happen I know where my path is right now.

My branding + design business – this very site – is my biggie. I have been focusing a lot on it this year. This is currently my main income and although it isn’t sustainable in it’s current model forever it’s got a lot happening in the background and I’m really excited about it. I cleared all the other blogs, the other design sites and writing sites (remember how I said I was trying to please all different kinds of people? yep, that doesn’t work and is exhausting). It was relieving.

I narrowed down my niche. I focused my packages and services (which will be getting another trim and makeover in the coming months). I upped my prices to better reflect the value. And now they’re all on a pretty page nicely laid out. Crystal clear. Delicious. And it makes me much happier. And it also makes it much easier for all the beautiful people that come to this site (just like you).

But like I said I’m what they call a multi-passionate person. There’s not just one thing I want to do in life. In my perfect life with no 24 hour daily time limits I would be doing this ::

  • Studying behavioral economics, conducting studies and applying it to politics, business and personal development
  • Consulting and creating with small businesses on branding, social media, website design and development and product design
  • Scrap booking, crafting, sewing pretty patterned skirts and lots of graphic design
  • Becoming a typography master
  • Helping people insane amounts with their diets and nutrition to get back to natural products of the earth and give them the joy, shine, health, radiant skin and life they want
  • Set up a small charity and help with a number of ideas close to my heart
  • Help other non profit organizations get started, learn the ropes, structure and prioritize
  • Speak at conferences and events on international development, the soul strangling corporate world (and how we can fix it), entrepreneurship, business, health and languages
  • Listen to far more intelligent people for solutions and balance on capitalism and industrialization
  • Hold workshops on materialism and consumerism and how you can always live life amazingly by living just one step below your means (and making your money stretch insanely far with a few tips up my sleeve)
  • Dig archaeological sites and use my years of studying Ancient History
  • Help businesses set up all their finance systems and show everyone that admin doesn’t have to be hard with all these amazing tools around us
  • Work with businesses churning over anywhere from 50k to 250 million per year with their legalities…like their contracts, benchmarking and renegotiations
  • Somehow help the thousands of incredible not for profits working for the environment. Every little bit of it.
  • Create superbly creative and much more interesting resumes for everyone because how the hell else will we know you’re that good from the thousands of others?
  • Work at a law firm (preferably with the guys from Suits) and get excited on some world changing cases
  • Play a part in debates about our current political landscape in Australia and America
  • Complete a post grad in EU Law because it’s fascinating and such a changing landscape. And then work in the EU.
  • Explore every single corner of this globe & show people exactly how they can do it too
  • Do all the adventurous things that scare me
  • Write a book. Well dictate a book. I’m not enthused about holing myself up in a room for a year!
  • Start a recycling, up cycling, rustic furniture filled cafe with delectable, delicious and nutritious goods I’ve spent the morning baking whilst listing to LPs of Leonard Cohen and Sting

And I’ll stop now because there are 500 million other things I want to be doing.  Clearly I can’t do that all at once amongst living life, maintaining relationships and friendships, running businesses and you know…doing the grocery runs and other crap (although I’m trying my best!).

So for the first time in my life I had to really learn how to focus on a couple of things and how to be patient so I wouldn’t end up in the asylum. Something which has alluded me most of my life (the patience bit…hopefully I won’t find myself in a strait jacket bouncing off pillowed walls…yet). So I focused in on just one business. This one. And it’s helped me more than imaginable. I have wonderful people to speak to (what they call a market). I’ve met incredible friends online. I have focused messages. I know who it is I’m talking to. I’m not writing 100 blogs. I’ve picked a few platforms to dance on.

Once I’d culled my own things, I had to do something that’s really hard for me and start saying no to others. To certain little odds and ends. To projects that weren’t a good fit. Even to some of the volunteering work I was doing that was stressing me and wasn’t making efficient use of my time or skills. I set limits. I could better affect the world in a shorter amount of time and not be stressed out doing things I didn’t like and worrying as it was detracting a lot of time away from paying clients which is what we need to live life. It’s a juggling act…a balance that’s never equal. And that’s totally ok.

And now I’m in a place where I can also focus on other things. Where I can begin outsourcing items off my agenda or for other projects. Where I can begin experimenting. Where in December (as I have a beautifully hectic client schedule currently) I’ve blocked time to create. Create a workshop. And a few small products that I’m finally happy with (not just another thing that’s out there). Super helpful, supportive things. Calmly. Purposefully.

And that’s it for now in the business field. That’s a lot. My calendar is packed and I need to breathe. The rest will slowly come. Pole pole (pronounced polay polay) as they say in Swahili.

Things will change. Businesses will grow, evolve or stop. Doors will open and others will close. You’ve got to go with the flow but when you’re not sure what the hell you’re doing with all the things you love you’ve got to take stock.

Don't know what business or passion to pick up? via http://theidentity.me

So how do you know what the hell to do?

Accept that you are an amazing, wonderful person with so much passion, enthusiasm and love to give. How lucky are we that we want to do so much? How fortunate that we can never be bored if we don’t wish to be. How beautiful that we have all these wonderful things to share with a world that’s desperately in need of light?

Write a list of all the things you want to do right at this moment.

Decide what fills your heart the most and what you most want to do right now (i.e I’m ok with not sitting in the stifling Egyptian heat digging up tombs right at this minute).

Prioritize what’s likely going to bring in the money you desire.

Can you combine a few passions into one unique offering that you’ll love doing and that other people will love doing with you?

Pick one thing to do right now. The one business you will focus on and give all your love and attention. Schedule 10-20% of your time to other projects.

Hone into one niche. Find your perfect client. Solve their problems with what you love doing. You want to be talking to one specific group of people not attempting to capture the attention of everyone. This will take a lot off your plate.

Outsource. Even if you feel broke right now try and set aside a teeny bit of money each week to outsource even the smallest of processes. Figure out what your time is worth and get to a point where you’re outsourcing everything except what is most worth your time and what you most love doing. Get that website designed, leave your social media marketing to the experts, find an awesome virtual assistant to do all your blog post editing, styling, video chopping etc and hand over your finances and admin. You most likely just have 1 head and 2 arms. You can’t do it all without getting in a terrible tangle.

Understand that there are only 24 hours in the day. That you can only do so much. That in time you can build a team of people to help you do everything you wish but that right at this very moment you’ve got to take it one step at a time (even if your steps are baby sized or giant leaps). You’re doing incredible.

Start. If you can’t pick between anything you love but you need to make money then pick one and start. You won’t know if it’s your sweet spot or not without trying it. And when you start and throw yourself into it, hundreds of of other doors will open up. And you’ll realize you’re on the right path or wrong path and you’ll pivot to a new direction or something else entirely.

Make quick decisions. 98% of all decisions can be reversed. It’s not permanent. You don’t need 6 months to launch a new product (and really put it off for fear of failure). If you choose one passion it doesn’t mean you can’t do the others later or in the free time you allow yourself. Decisions should be simple, so deconstruct them from their complexity and just make ’em sweet and fast.

Learn. If you discover this isn’t what you wanted or it’s not going to go well or whatever it might be just be ridiculously grateful all the same. You will have learned a hundred things you’d never have known by not doing it. And now you can apply those lessons to your next venture. And the one after that.

Tweak & Play. So you’re doing something you like but it’s not quite what you love. Or you’ve lost that spark a little. Play with your offerings. Create a stop doing list. Change it up. Don’t be afraid to do so. Can you help your clients better? Can you let them evolve with you? Have you found your passion lies in the management of a team rather than the design? You don’t have to leave your field entirely just switch it up.

Schedule. I’m still trying to master this baby. In between life, businesses, charities, travel, study/exams and the likes life can get pretty full on. But if you schedule it out you can see where you can spend time. 24 hours a day. Minus 7 for sleep leaves you with 17. Get up at 6.30, exercise, drink green juice, shower, get dressed it’s 8. Ok now you have about 10 hours until you need to do dinner. And then you’ve got about 4 after dinner. So what’chya going to do with your time? Write it down and block it out. 1 hour every second day on emails. 30 mins on social media stuff. 2 hours on blog posts today. 5 hours client work etc etc etc. It doesn’t always have to be this way, and it can change every week but if you need to focus, set a schedule and stick to it. Then notice how much you get done.

Down time. Take it. Sleep. And then do the other things you’re passionate about even if it earns you no money whatsoever. Ancient History and Behavioral Economics earn me zilch. So does scrap-booking. Nutrition. Or eating pancakes (can this be a passion…and should this be said after nutrition?). But I love it. I can’t get enough of it and I understand how they entwine in my daily life, in businesses and in the world as a whole. It’s brilliant to still have hobbies. Yes this word still exists!

Breathe. Take a big deep breath. It’s ok not to do everything at once. You don’t have to live up to the illusion of expectations you’ve created in your head. It is ok. I promise. You’re doing brilliantly. Just keep on going and slowly you can add things to the table. Just remember to keep taking things off.

And remember. Doing just one thing you’re passionate about is a helluva lot better than doing nothing you’re passionate about because you can’t choose. So start, breathe, re-frame and keep going. You’ve got this.

 

Still don’t know which path to start on? Leave a comment or email me. Let’s get this fixed right now.

The #1 Way to Make Money (or how to find revenue streams & business ideas)

There’s one thing I constantly tell myself and it’s this…

Where there is frustration, there is business via http://theidentity.me

Where there’s frustration, there’s a business.

Do you struggle coming up with a business that doesn’t feel ergh over done? Or a product that people would love that’s not just another general eBook about making money online?

I’m fortunate, on any given day I’ll have at least one business idea that I’d love to pursue (ohh to have all the time, money and help in the world!). In a brainstorming session with a friend we may have 10 by the time we’re finished. The other day I was absolutely aching for a bath. When was the last time you had one? It’s been yeeeeears for me! A 20 minute soak in peace, in a dim lit room, in a big, long, deep bath I can stretch out in. In private. With a tea. A little music and maybe a book. An escape from the city buzz and staring at my laptop. Business idea? Oh yes. I should probably patent this shizz (I absolutely cannot get away with saying that).

I think you can make nearly everything profit if you just find your little piece of the market, your people, and fulfill their desires.

Like a hot, delicious chocolate fondue fountain, I pour out ideas every day. I have lists of hundreds lying around the place and of course it’s most likely that I’ll never get to the majority of them. There is skill in picking the ones you want to run with that will help you lead the life you want to design for yourself and do something valuable for the world.

So how do I have a lot of ideas or how can you find a brilliant idea without struggling, when it feels like all the good ideas have been taken, or when you don’t know what the hell you’re supposed to sell in your business?

To do ::

Write a list of everything that frustrates you during the week. Keep a running tally every day. It may seem like the smallest, most irrelevant thing (and the silliest first world problem) but write it down. If it’s revenue streams you’re struggling with, put yourself in your perfect clients shoes and then spend a day navigating whatever it is they would be doing in context of your business. What’s frustrating?

This does 2 things. Firstly, it gets you to start churning out ideas and using that creative and innovative muscle. A muscle unused is one that atrophies, so you’ve got to keep flexing it. The more you use it, the better you get at it. Secondly, by the time the weeks up you should have a plethora of ideas.

Bonus? You no longer get annoyed by frustrations. You have the opportunity to fix them no matter how big or small the mission. Make it something you love doing, dig deep and learn and every frustration will be a blessing.

Now it’s up to you to pick the best one (something we’ll explore in a follow up post)!

Think about your week – what do you wish you could have had or what’s frustrated you?

How to write copy that makes you a millionaire (and awesome examples of nailing it)

Full disclosure, you may not become a millionaire straight away, but get onto this pronto and you’ll be well on your way there. Because copy counts. The words you’re writing on your website, on your Facebook and on your Twitter matter. You’re helping people but you’re also a business. You’re trying to sell shit after all (and of course it’s not shit. It’s amazing). You need words that sell. That dance. That glitter. That get people excited. Or make people laugh. That make your products and services irresistible. So we just have to have it.

And the best way to show you how it’s done? Is to give you some awesome examples. Indulge. And eat some marshmallows on me. Well not on me. We’re not here.

J Petermans

How to write copy that makes you a millionaire via http://theidentity.me The Best Product Descriptions
Yes they use drawings. To sell clothes. And descriptions that draw you in. Like this.

She knows it happened.

If she’d been born a half century earlier, in an era of ocean voyages, letter writing, and well-to-do families from Charleston summering in Tuscany.

She’s 18 years old, not yet aware of the effect she has on men.

Not entirely.

He sketches her, in this dress, drifting on the pond. They exchange secrets. So incredibly serious. A lifetime in a month.

She would never be able to explain any of it to her friends back in Charleston. The sketch he gave her would have to do.

The sketch, in fact, froze the moment, and her very nicely. Later, in fact, he became quite a famous painter. Of course, by then, nobody would be able to understand his paintings at all.

1911 Dress (No. 3681). Made with the same pure linen with soft cotton lining. Sleeveless with that squared neckline. Seven horizontal panels create the drop waist bodice. Low-calf length.

Timeless elegance.


Lush Cosmetics

How to write copy that makes you a millionaire via http://theidentity.me The Best Product Descriptions

I’ve got this shower gel and I bought it because I just couldn’t resist. It’s so much fun. For when you feel like an alien. Read on.

Inside this wobbly life form we’ve trapped fresh organic lemon and lime juice, freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, grapefruit essential oil, rosemary oil and geranium oil.  This is a fruity citrus blaster that will propel you out of the shower and into a new space and time.

If you haven’t felt the effect of seaweed gel on your skin – then you really should buy this and try it.

Whoosh was named after the sound of deadlines whizzing by. Useful for renewed focus when tired, jet lagged or revising for exams.

Our shower jellies are a wobbly good time and you might have to chase them round the shower a bit, because they tend to make a jump for freedom.  But keep a firm grip and get it all over you because you are going to love how soft and supple your skin feels from the softening seaweed.

Our jellies are also wobbly versatile, because that seaweed gel is not just really softening on your skin, it’s also great for hair and scalp – so don’t be afraid to use it all over.

Chill it, freeze it or use it straight from the pot – whichever temperature you choose, just stroke our wobbly bit over your wobbly bits under a running shower.


Woot

How to write copy that makes you a millionaire via http://theidentity.me The Best Product Descriptions

So, knives are boring right? Not anymore. You know you want one.

‘T’was Zwilling! And ‘t’was also J.A Henckels. And a paring knife, for that matter. ‘T’was a lot of things, really.

Look, maybe there’s some world where you can keep order with a paramilitary force made up of playing cards, but around here? Around here, we’ve got some physical laws to keep on the right side of. No talking caterpillars, no cookies that make you change size, absolutely NO rabbits that can tell time, and most certainly, not a single foodstuff that a 3″ Paring Knife from Zwilling J.A. Henckels can’t help your carve up all stylish like.

Is there a place where people use vorpal swords to peel their potatoes with a snicker-snack!? A place where JubJub birds don’t actually have seeds that need to be removed? In THAT world, there would be no need for a nice piece of cutlery.

But in this world, if you think you can maintain a useful kitchen without being prepared to have an nice little all purpose knife… well. You’d just better hope you never run into a Bandersnatch desperate for a peeled JubJub fruit.


Think Geek

How to write copy that makes you a millionaire via http://theidentity.me The Best Product Descriptions

Think geek stuff is sad? Not when you read product descriptions like this. Your very own Bellagio.

 

As geeks, we find Las Vegas to be a fascinating city. For starters, we get to indulge our picky eating habits at giant buffets. Then we can observe legions of people at the slot machines, blissfully and willfully ignorant of the laws of probability. We can collect trading cards from those nice guys in neon t-shirts. (We’re sure it’s a TCG.) Outside of Treasure Island, we can watch a show about pirates that involves fire and explosions. Then it’s off to our favorite casino for some Texas Hold ‘Em.

If your trip to Vegas isn’t complete without the fountain show at the Bellagio, our Light Show Fountain Speakers are relevant to your interests. Plug them into your iPod, mp3 player, or computer via the included USB cable and start up your tunes: the water inside will dance to the beat and the 4 multi-colored LEDs will light up. Take your tunes to a new level with the Light Show Fountain Speakers and your wallet to a whole new high since you won’t need to go to Vegas for a fun fountain show.


Urban Daddy

How to write copy that makes you a millionaire via http://theidentity.me The Best Product Descriptions

Masters of the game. And if you live in the US you need to sign up to the uber cool site. Yes I said uber. I’m uncool. Unlike Urban Daddy.

You’ve got a lot of wishes. And today, one shall be fulfilled.

No, not the one where someone makes a pizza-bagel-flavored cereal.

The other one.

Open the door and say hello to Drizly, a Boston-based app for getting honest-to-goodness alcohol delivered to your place in the city proper, available now for iPhone.

Yes, this is legal (we checked). The developers partnered with an ID-investigation company so that, upon arrival, the delivery driver will run a forensic check on your license involving UV light and barcode scanning, age confirmation and, you know, looking at your picture (if they question you, just explain you’ve been working out).

So let’s say you have a dinner party, and you want to ensure you don’t run out of hooch. You’ll start by downloading the app. Enter your address to confirm you’re in their delivery area and your credit card info. Then, begin shopping. With the exception of kegs, you can get delivered within 30 to 60 minutes anything you would normally pick up at, say, Gordon’s in Watertown (whom they work with).

About that delivery: your inaugural one comes in a special wood crate, along with your mishmash of libations and a key chain. Oh, and a mason jar.

In case you’re drinking with Grandma.


Betabrand

How to write copy that makes you a millionaire via http://theidentity.me The Best Product Descriptions

So Soft, We Couldn’t Name It Anything Else. That’s what they start with. Just below the softness of the womb of a marshmallow mermaid. Um, yes.

Why is this blanket so soft? Because it’s made with 100% Vagisoft. And just how soft is Vagisoft? Let us explain:

Once upon a time, the world of tactile technology was satisfied with “soft as a baby’s bottom” as the measure of absolute softness. Anyone who dared name something “softer than” the aforementioned infant’s posterior was suggesting a theoretical world of soft that existed beyond anything man could conceive.

Then Betabrand researchers invented the Tactile Soft-O-Meter®, a device that can detect and compare the density of softrons, the subatomic units of softness. Using this newfound knowledge, they were able to create a blanket so ineffably comfy, test subjects had to be unwrapped from it with the Jaws of Life!

But to the chagrin of our marketing department, the Soft-O-Meter indicated that the fabric they used measured “Vagisoft” within a standard deviation of one softron. Vagisoft? Well, we decided that if the Soft-O-meter says it, so be it.


The Pearl Girls

How to write copy that makes you a millionaire via http://theidentity.me The Best Product Descriptions

From the Pearl Girls comes this delightful gem pearl that you simply cannot help getting excited over. You want to be that woman. I know I do.

The allure of pearls.

Is it the prestige?

The innocence?

The elegance?

The simplicity?

The unspoken sense of confidence?

…Or perhaps the soft spoken hint of seduction.

Whatever it is, one thing’s for certain: You’ll never be overlooked–but very much looked over. Covetingly. With envy. And evoking a magnetic irresistibility that’ll leave mouths agape, martinis unsipped and even the most composed woman in the room second guessing herself.

They’ll whisper: Who is she?

Yet, she won’t have to say a word.

Because her pearls?

Already said everything.

Genuine Cultured Pearls from The Pearl Girls.

Because while diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, pearls are her best kept secret.

To my women.
Who would you rather be?

The woman with the pearls…or the woman watching her?


 

See what’s happening here? It’s compelling. It draws you in. And you can do it with absolutely anything you sell.

So, hows your copy looking? Got any more awesome examples? Got one of your own? 

You have permission to do what you love (even if it’s not perfect)

What’s stopping you from starting that blog or business or jumping ship from the world you’re in to pursue the things you love? Are you afraid of failing or that you haven’t got everything perfectly in place to launch?

I totally get that feeling. I’m with you. Except I promise you it will never be perfect before you start. And you will always be tweaking. And that’s a perfectly good thing!

If you’re thinking about getting that business up and running are you letting any of the following stop you?

  • You’re not sure how the hell you’re supposed to make ‘authentic’ connections with ‘online’ people
  • You haven’t got a clue where you’d get clients or customers from
  • You haven’t got any products ready to sell as a form of passive income
  • You’re not sure what to price your services at
  • Hell you don’t even know what services to provide and what to include
  • You don’t have a business plan
  • You haven’t outlined your 12 month strategy
  • You’re not sure how to post on social media every day
  • You haven’t got 48 blog posts scheduled for posting
  • You don’t have an office or any professional space to work in
  • You really want a business loan but you haven’t got one
  • You haven’t got 6 months worth of saved cash
  • You’re damn afraid you’re going to fail

You are not alone.

You can give permission to yourself to start or let me give it to you.

You hereby have permission to start your business without being perfect.

You’ll figure out what you’re going to sell later.

You’ll have a way better idea of what products your audience wants once you’ve gotten to know them and then you’ll find the time to create solutions for them.

All your business plan needs to say right now is start. That’s it. Just begin.

You don’t need to know where you’re going to get clients from right now, you just need to start getting yourself into the world. Jump on social media and take a look at what you can do to bring your values (like inspiration and fun) into the conversation.

You don’t need to believe in anything other than yourself.

Keep your job and hustle on the side. Build it up and when you’re comfortable take the leap. Just because you’ve got a blog or website up doesn’t mean you need to quit straight away and be filled with stress and anxiety (I’ve been there!). If you’re comfortable enough to continue on for a while, or can find a part time job, or consult or do whatever you can do to keep earning enough to cover the bills then build up organically and switch over when it feels right.

You don’t need to have an accountant, administrator and assistant right now. That can all come. You can hire a designer now to go big or you can do it later when you go pro. You can do your own admin whilst you’re starting out. When you’re growing and making money you can outsource. You can redesign. But to do all that, you need to have a launching pad. You need to begin.

Find a little space where you can work. A quiet corner of the house, a cute little cafe, bed, the library or a co-working space. Wherever you work best take some time out to go there and be insanely productive for a few hours.

Write a blog post. Then another a week later. Then the next day. Then another week. Write randomly or consistently when inspiration strikes. You’ll find your groove. You’ll get into the swing.

Have a sign up list on your website but don’t fret, you don’t need to start emailing those people every single week now with the dreaded anxiety of ‘oh my god I have to write an email that’s original and that’s not going on the blog for a whole 5 people eeerrgh’. Collect the emails and let it build up to when it feels right for you. Got a list happening? Start mailing. Want to get into practice? Get onto it. Too busy for all of that? I know plenty of bloggers who have thousands of subscribers but haven’t written an email to their subscribers yet. Don’t stress, you’ll get there.

 

You have the permission. You just need to start.

Just put one foot in front of the other and take a step. Experiment. Try.

You’ll tweak. You’ll improve. You’ll overhaul. You’ll relaunch. Redesign. Go through multiple iterations and evolutions. Start a new business. Collaborate. Kill an idea. Make money from the most surprising source. It will all come.

But you need to start.

You can’t fail if you start. You’ve just done something 95% of other people don’t dare to do. You’re brave. You’re courageous. You’ll learn more than ever before. You’ll generate new perspectives, thoughts and ideas. You can do this. You’ve got it. You can figure it out.

You’ve got the permission to do what you love. To try. To be selfish. To be helpful. To be bold and dream big. To believe in yourself. To do something different.

So what are you going to start today?

What Fruity Tea Told Me About Why You’ll Win the Game of Business & Why You Won’t

What Fruity Tea Told Me About Why You'll Win the Game of Business & Why You Won't - Bean Brisbane

I have recently spent many morning of my week at Cafe Bean and whilst luxuriously working on my laptop and studying for my international law exams (the joys) I have observed the bustling of activities around me in this cute, underground cafe. I can also tell you why your business will succeed (and how easy it can be) or why it will fail simply by people watching.

The owner of this lovely place is a twenty something South African who after travelling the world and living in London, has settled in Australia and launched his dream of opening a cafe.

There are 2 things you should know about him.

1 – he is likely the friendliest and most accommodating barrister and owner you will ever meet. In your entire life.

2 – in the past 9 weeks he has had 2 days off.

What Fruity Tea Told Me About Why You'll Win the Game of Business & Why You Won't - Bean Brisbane

Why is this important?

Well he cares. Like actually cares about his customers. He asks how their day is going. He remembers what they mentioned they were busy with the last time they came in for a coffee. You can walk in and say ‘the usual’ after your first order. He chats about everything and anything you’d like to talk about. He gets smiles out of the grumpiest office worker at 7 in the morning and he brightens the day with a carefully crafted cup of coffee and a glistening smiling sunshine.

He also regularly checks that your coffee tasted great, that it was consistent with all your previous experiences there and that the temperature was perfect for you.

And he’ll go even further. I’m a tea drinker myself and one day mentioned that I’d love a fruity tea (my favorite). To my utter delight and surprise he ordered in a delicious fruity tea that I now sip at least 2 pots of on a near daily basis. In our crazy world where cheap prices and fast consumerism have fueled our lives, it doesn’t take much to please and surprise your customers. Do it at every opportunity you have infused with quality and kindness.

On top of this he hustles like a mad man. When he first opened his cafe he worked numerous other gigs in bars at night to keep the income flowing in. These days he works about 12-14 hours a day on his cafe business and then spends his weekends bringing his coffee stall up to the markets for the enjoyment of day dreaming wanderers. I don’t know how he gets up every morning not only awake but with the biggest smile on his face. It’s an utter feat of persistence and determination. He has big dreams. He will make this business work.

So this is why you’ll fail. If you’re not exciting your customers, or you’re not willing to give them quality, to delight them and in turn to get them talking about your business, your business isn’t going to do so well. It won’t be valuable to people, it won’t make anywhere near the money you desire and it will be just another mediocre taking out there that doesn’t infuse your own life with joy and profitability. Secondly, you’re competing against a guy who will do everything in his power to work his butt off and make it come together. That’s who you’re up against. You’ve got to be putting in the same hustle.

So why will you win? Because 95% of people out there won’t do this. We’re inherently lazy and staying in our cushy lives (however miserable we are) is easier than making changes, jumping far outside our comfort zone and leaping into a world where our dreams exist but a journey of hard work lies before them. Getting a successful, happy, quality business up requires determination, persistence and hard work. But if you love what you’re doing, and you’re creating a life based around what you want, it is oh so worth it.

And if ever you happen to stumble upon Gavin at Bean, ask him how he can do all this and he’ll tell you something like this…

I’m working for myself every day. It’s harder than I ever imagined but it’s not for anyone else. People energize me. I can feel this buzz and I’m doing this for me. It’s my dream.

So don’t give up. Dream hard. For most of us it’s a long tough road to get there but you can get there. Put the hours in (effectively), focus, zone in on your core business, spend your time where it’s most needed (where your skills lie and you’re enjoying your work), outsource the rest and get busy.

Because one day you’ll look back and realize you made it. And although the story is in the journey that lies behind and before us, it’s a pretty good day to realize you’ve achieved something you didn’t think was possible. That vision you have in your mind right now. You can have it.

Top photo – Courtesy of Bean on Facebook