Minimum Viable Business

I’ve put my own company back on track. It took some doing, and some stubborn optimism. And I’ve started advising other startups, too. All of it is pretty great. I’ve had fun with it.

But, I’ve noticed something. A lot of companies create complexity in lieu of simplicity. They have some idea that the future may require that they have this giant workflow with a lot of tagging, a lot of automation and a lot of work.

But they don’t have the “bones” built to automate.

I was thinking about the things every business needs:

  1. Values: You have to know what you stand for and what you’ll never do.
  2. An Offer: I will do for $, by . It’s that simple.
  3. A Contract You’ll have to have an agreement to sign.
  4. A Payment Processor For both recurring payments and one offs. Make it stupid simple to do business.
  5. An Onboarding Process: What happens? What happens when something is confusing? How do we fix it?
  6. A Support System What do we do when people (inevitably) ask for and need help? Where do we go for that?
  7. A Delivery Process What do we do when our work Is “done.”

This should be done well manually, at first. Then it can be addressed with automation.

These are just a few. There are some obvious ones, too: people to run it, customers to buy, an email solution, etc. I tried to generalize. Even a hotdog stand (or lemonade stand) has these needs. The goal is to simplify the friction in every area.

If you don’t have this, the first order things done as frictionlessly as possible, you don’t have a lot of business doing other things.

April 2017 Commitments

Commitments, Course, Constraints, Challenges.

This is the first in a planned series of posts detailing what I’m after and what I can do. Feel free to follow along (or not).

Chandler Bolt inspires me. He and I haven’t met and we’ve only barely interacted. But he’s influenced and inspired me to think bigger for myself and to accelerate my timetable. And to be deliberate about what I want.

He’s posted about some big goals that he had in February, and posted his results even though they weren’t perfect:

This stuff moves me. How can it not move you? A life was changed in big ways in a month. In the open. How can you not love that?

Putting a target on yourself.

Because pressure is a privilege.

I’ve been inspired the recap posts that Nathan Barry, Pat Flynn have done over the years.  And, of course, Groove. Oh, for that level of transparency!

The reason I haven’t done this?

  1. Fear that it won’t go well.
  2. Not wanting to expose myself (A month is an erratic time).

Ramit Sethi tweeted this some time ago and it rang true:

https://twitter.com/ramit/status/822122081026347008

Yup. I’ve shied away from transparency because of this reason. Sometimes you fall off the wagon, sometimes your pursuit was half-hearted.

I made some mistakes in my business. The mistakes weren’t the problem, the mistakes set a path where I then made some excuses to follow the mistakes. The hangover, or the fact that the mistakes followed me around. Enough.

It’s time to think bigger…and to pursue really big goals that will change my life and the life of the people around me.

The two (large goals) I am after:

  1. To be debt free in my personal and business life. This includes my mortgage. This creates a revenue goal for Simplifilm of around $60,000 per month. That’s a doable level for a solo guy.
  2. To have a 32” waist. This will require I lose about 75#, and it will require that I’m in good shape.

These are the overall goals that I’m chasing right now. I want to hit both of these this year.

These are public commitments then.

Of course, winners make systems. I admire my wife’s dedication to her fitness goal. So for me, I have to develop the habits to support these goals.

I’ve identified 4 “C”s to help with this:

  1. Commitments: What you’re going to do.
  2. Constraints Values you won’t sacrifice to meet your commitments.
  3. Course: The path you’ll take to get there.
  4. Challenges:. The main obstacles that you’ll have to overcome.

April’s Commitments:

I want to stretch to see what’s actually possible. I want to be better and more this month than I’ve been in a long time. I want to focus on what I can do, and swing hard, swing big.

Because I’ve been playing small. Playing just to take care of bills. Playing just to hang out and stay in the game. None of that is particularly compelling.

  1. I’ll lose 20# of fat this month. This supports the overall goal of earning a 32” waist
  2. I’ll contract $100,000 in new fee-based/service based work. This supports the goal of being debt free.

    A. I’ll deliver $60,000 in work. This is part of commitment #2

    B. I’ll collect $80,000 in revenue. Another part of commitment #2

  3. I’ll get 4 new clients for I Close Your Deals This creates income diversity for the 2nd time and first time in a while.

Some of this I’ve had to figure out. Naturally, right now we’re scheduled to deliver $55,000 in revenue without doing a lot, so adding $25,000 will be hard.

How I’m keeping score for deliveries (At Simplifilm). (The score matters once).

1/3 of the revenue is delivered on contract
1/3 is delivered on delivery of script
1/3 is delivered at Advance Version.

At ICYD, we’ll generate roughly $10,000 in fee income, and hopefully 10,000 in commission income.

April’s Course:

Commitment #1: 20# Fat Loss

For the first part, (20# fat), I’ll do the following:

  • Paleo (like) diet. I’ll afford myself a little more fruit and a little bit of dairy, but I will to stay on target with this. I’ll eat till I’m full and maybe a little bored.
    • 1LB of vegetables each day.
    • Beans, Greens & Proteins make 90% of my calories
  • Prep food every Saturday (mmm, love the Traeger) and Wednesday (when needed). Freezer = Friend.
  • Cheat day on Friday nights (let’s have some pizza!). But only Friday nights.
  • Cardio 3x weekly. (One HITT, one Tempo, one LISS)
  • Walking to and from Starbucks (if I go to Starbucks).
  • 10,000 steps a day.
  • Lifting 3x weekly on plan (all five muscle groups worked)
  • Racquetball 2x weekly (Oh, how I love Racquetball!)
  • Sleep 7 hours or more each day.

Load on my schedule: 90 minutes to meal prep, 60 minutes to shop, 3×90 minutes for cardio, 3×90 for lifting, 2 x 120 minutes for racquetball. = 930 minutes/week. This is 15 hours of my week (168 total hours) dedicated to fitness and diet. This is certainly doable.  I’m doing some of it anyway.

That’s the main plan, and I’ve got this week’s food prepped for launch.

I also have to write down my workouts. It’s only 12 weight workouts, as I know more or less what I’m supposed to do each day.

Commitment #2: 100k in new fee-based (not commission-based) work.

For the $100k in work, I’ll pursue the following path.

  • Prospect 3x weekly for 90 minutes via phone (2 Simplifilm, 1 ICYD)
  • Prospect 3x weekly via social media for 60 minutes.
  • Prospect 3x weekly via email & text: (2 Simplifilm, one ICYD)
  • Send at least 250,000 in proposals out, and get the next commitments.
  • Complete a basic funnel and email sequence for my list (write one good email/day)
  • Write & promote 2 blog posts per week at each site (Simplifilm and ICYD)
  • Re-do the front page of the site.

Email prospecting is different than MailChimp prospecting. Vastly different.

The schedule load here is:

  • Prospecting: 90 x 30 = 270 minutes
  • Social Prospecting: 60 x 3 = 180 minutes
  • Email/Text Prospecting: 60 x 3 = 180 minutes
  • Email writing: 5x 60 = 300 minutes
  • Blog Writing & Promotion: 3 hours x 2 = 540 minutes/week.

Total load here = 1470 = 24.5 hours a week in prospecting related activities.

Constraint:. This work must be done by 1pm to free up my afternoons for both Fitness and ICYD. I’ve got to get up at 5am so I have to do this.

Challenge: There is some definite plumbing work needed on Simplifilm to make this work right and get some value.

Another thing I’ll do is post my results here. Appointments, proposals, etc.

I also think that in broad strokes, I’m going to batch my activities. In the mornings, I’ll write. At 8am I’ll help the kids for an hour, and from 9-12 I’ll prospect.

I also will need to create a schedule and have a lunatic commitment to it. Like I’m punching a clock and if I am not exactly where I need to be when the bell rings, it’s just too damned bad.

This will allow for some good work.

Commitment 3: Get 4 new paid clients for ICYD

We’re going to focus ICYD on 4 areas:

  • Freelancers/Designers
  • Coaches
  • SaaS businesses
  • Agencies

For April, it’s all about the freelancer. We’ll sign 10 up and work out all the systems so they are all booked for months.

Paid clients are defined as freelancers that advance us $2500 in future commissions (engagement guarantee) we charge for working together. This doesn’t count anyone trading a case study for work or anything similar (we have some of that happening).

This will be challenging, but I will need to have about 10 appointments to do this. It’s what my afternoons, largely, are for.

Here I’ll have to spend 10 hours a week developing the agreements, service descriptions and doing client research. We’re ready to take verbal agreements now, but we’re not ready to do the rest. This will require 2 hours (total) of project planning to begin. I’ll spend $150 building a list and the plumbing at ICYD.CO to make this work. This puts my “load” at 34.5 hours a week.

I have 15 hours to run meetings, do creative work and pitch clients. I can live with that.

April’s Constraints

Constraints put limits on things. I’m not a believer in the Cult of Hustle (though I like to hustle.). Endurance has diminishing returns. Work has diminishing returns. So we can’t do too much.

So I’m going to put some major constraints on these commitments. Because that’s what I need to make them work.

  1. I won’t work more than 50 hours a week, all in. Trading time for $ is not where I want to be. Trading time for $$$$ is more palatable. I won’t have a load of more than 1/2 that time.
  2. I won’t miss any family activities. I’m working hard to reconnect with my family .
  3. No projects under $10,000. Sometimes it’s fine and possible to take lower dollar projects on. We’ve had success with them in the past, and God knows, most of our projects have been in the category. But. They have been unsatisfactory on all accounts, and generally not profitable.
  4. Only 1 Rush Delivery: Our work has been injured by doing too many rush deliveries. That creates a pace that’s unpleasant, unsustainable, and a job I don’t want. We’ll fix that.
  5. Done At 1pmThis is the big one.. I want all of my Simplifilm work to be done by 1pm so I can focus on ICYD. Without this constraint I’m lost.
  6. I’ll Read for at least 10 hours each week. I have slipped some in this area, and reading is the soul of my successes.
  7. I’ll finish both the LinkedIn course as well as the SPTC courses that I paid for.

April’s Challenges:

We want to address what we have got to overcome. These are the possible roadblocks.

  1. Fat Loss: I’m not in phenomenal shape at the moment. I can’t do 2-a-days like my wife does. I have to be consistent with the cardio AND racquetball and have a planned day of rest. I’ve also entered with a tender back from doing too much racquetball too soon (hence me cutting it to 2 days).
  2. Meal Planning is tedious. My back-up lunch plan (if I’m not eating what I’ve prepped) is to go to Fiesta and get a Fiesta salad (no chips). That’s a steak salad with avocado. I have to do the prep/planning every day if this is going to work.
  3. Prospecting is always hard. It requires mental fortitude to do it daily. It’s always easy to make up excuses not to.
  4. The Shiny: It’s easy to get lost in the plumbing when writing/thinking/doing new things.
  5. Focus: I’ll have to switch gears a few times a week so I’ll have to build a schedule that will support this with a high degree of focus.
  6. Batching: Early rising is a linchpin. I can’t do this if I don’t get up, so I have to go to bed. Getting to sleep early has been tough lately.
  7. Goal Fatigue.  It feels a little bit like “I’ve heard it all before/sounds nice dear,” and we have to do better when it comes to this stuff.

What Winning Means

This is a big step for me and knocks the rust off. It creates long-term stability. I’ve been adrift since sometime in Fall 2015, (when I was living separated from my family) and I need to shake that off and play big again. I find that I had something like a midlife crisis.

I had a big win in Feb, and march looks good. I’m set for more wins.

Getting back to 2015 income levels – with dramatically less overhead – will be a godsend as well as I will be able to retire the very last of Simplifilm’s debts and pay myself $20k +/-. I don’t have the same “growth at any cost” mindset that I had then, so I’ll be grateful (I hope) for the revenue and journey.

Winning this will give me momentum that I’ll use to fuel everything else I do.

Looking forward to May’s goals (may change):

In May, I plan to hire an account manager so I can be at a remove from the deliverables. This will cut my hours worked by about 12 per week at Simplifilm. In June, then, I’d plan to hire a full-time sales guy.

Onward.  It’s opening day.

Creation and Consumption

My friend Jason Womack has influenced me a lot. He’s got two books: one is a snackable book called YOUR BEST JUST GOT BETTER. The other is more of a 5 course meal called Get Momentum. I recommend both.

I don’t recall if it was from a book or from one of our conversations. But he teaches a concept called the creation/consumption cycle. He advocates being in balance with both. Basically, you have to consume good material to create good material, and you have to know what you’re doing.

Since that conversation, I’ve read a little more deliberately, and I’ve had days (Fridays) where I don’t create anything but I read and take courses. I’ve also had weeks (one per month) where I don’t have to create. It’s worked for me, and I’ve had permission to consume.

Consumption Gone Awry

Even consuming smart, literate stuff that makes you think can be wrong.

Around election time, I was freaked out by the prospect of a Trump presidency. If not exactly freaked out, the spectacle was gobsmacking. Our presidential candidates were making dick jokes! Trump was vulgar! When will it end, can this really be happening? It was an astonishing experience for me. The whole thing made me nervous!

The blow-by-blow breathless coverage didn’t help much. Ryan Holiday talked about it a bit here. Still, I was reading “the good stuff.” Great stuff, the créme de la créme. Atlantic articles, New Yorker and FiveThirtyEight think pieces. I had to be well informed. The first to know. I had to have the nuanced rationale to be against Trump, and to dislike him for the right reasons.

But my own personal production slowed. I wasn’t right. I got anxious, twitchy and tense over the whole mess. I didn’t get done what needed to get done.

For me, productive consumption – trying to be informed – crossed a line to destructive consumption. A real thing. And some consumption for comfort, for nostalgia or for other reasons is probably beneficial in small doses.

But if it’s a retreat away from creation, a retreat away from duty, or an endless anxious loop. Being nervous about Trump, being obsessed with the Cubs (and going on sports betting sites – to learn their TRUE odds) was not a good use of my time.

My productivity – which had been increasing – ground to a halt over the election (which I was a spectator). And it was because of destructive consumption. I had to have the last word with the Internet. And I wasn’t playing video games, I was just seeking to resolve the unresolvable morass that was our election.

XKCD's most famous cartoon.

XKCD’s most famous cartoon.

The Solution

Sometimes – in life – you’ll fall off the wagon and get off the rails. Destructive consumption is a new issue. This happens. What’s important is that we recognize it more quickly.

The way I’m inoculating myself is:

  1. Habits. Single tasking and deep work.
  2. A curriculum: plan my consumption over a long period of time (and schedule it).
  3. Journal what you consumed & look at your browser history once a week. This will help identify crazy patterns.

onward.

10 Preventable Mistakes I Made This Week

There is never a shortage of mistakes that you can make when you’re running a business.

Here are a few things I did wrong (way wrong).

  1. Switched my site to WP Multisite: This was made because I had some vague notion of having a Wikipedia section up, and I was gung ho.  1/3 of my plugins (and I don’t use too many) worked differently and authentication busted.

    https://www.facebook.com/genuinechris/posts/10154978679404747?match=bXVsdGlzaXRl

  2. Didn’t buy groceries the day after I returned home: This led to fast food too much, and “justifiable” purchases.  Not all of it’s bad, but I wound up eating poorly, especially on Thursday.
  3. Let ShutterStock automatically renew.  For some reason we needed some stock on Shutterstock.  I let it auto renew instead of canceling it after a month.  There’s some good stuff on there, but it’s not worth the $200.
  4. Let PayPal debit from an old business account: At the start of the year, I switched accounts, and PayPal debited out of a closed account. It wound up causing the account to reopen and I could either pay $78 in fees or spend forever arguing about it.
  5. Underpriced a change order: We had a change order requested by a good client. I underpriced it because I figured they’d all be simple, and it wound up being something I paid for.
  6. Spent hours configuring WordPress: Instead of working with a stock theme, I tried to configure WordPress behind a set of standards that I never gave a shit about.
  7. Spent a day procrastinating the building of a new schedule: I needed to update my schedule so I could perform like a champion, but instead, I screwed around with it.  The work would have taken 1.5 hours, +/- but I never got to it, and that was the tough part.
  8. I drank a gallon of Coffee on Wednesday.  Couldn’t sleep, hit snooze on Thursday. This meant I was out of sorts on my whole schedule.  All of it would have been prevented by a 30 minute nap.
  9. Didn’t schedule any time to read: I’m at my best when I’m reading 1-2 hours a day. This week that got away from me, and the rest of my week suffered.
  10. Rolled out a cheap version of my product: I sell videos between $8,000 and $15,000.  I have a reliable offshore vendor that can do this for cheaper, and we decided to reduce some fees, and this meant that we undercut ourself like idiots.

All of this is on the business side (or largely so). I also picked did other dumb stuff, like picking a severe fight with my parents, and overreacted to a routine thing that my kids did. And I made this post that will make me look like a dope.

But, if we’re trying to cultivate transparency, why not.

When Sales Does Not Cure All

Right now, what my business needs is sales.

Sweet sales. This wasn’t the case last year.

Here’s where we were:

Last year (fall 2015 to fall 2016), due to a number of crazy things (hint: mismanagement) we were behind on all of our projects. We entered the year with a glut of defensibly late deliveries. Over $100,000 worth in a fairly small business. This was unearned revenue.

Our process was broken, and overhead (and dumb stuff) had soaked up most of the money. We had to lay people off (or let them resign without protest), and a new sale? That would have made our problem worse because we’d have to staff it.

New customers were not having the impeccable experience I wanted them to have. We were reactive, not proactive. We didn’t deliver the experience I wanted, though the final product was good, the customers got a white-knuckled confusing ride that was beneath our standards.

A couple of key people – Vas and Steve were key in helping me get clear on the problems that our service level was causing. One got a nicely done video (a little late- because you can always find an excuse to blame the client). The other got a (deserved) refund.

But had we made more sales, we would have kicked an even bigger problem down the road. Simply put, our business had to get our process straight before we introduced new customers to us. We had to stop and build something that was good enough for our customers.

It was hard to do. My creative director and I spent the summer and fall perfecting scripts, getting clear on what our job was and what our values are. We did this while triaging deals that were hard to finish up, and retooling our creative department.

It sucked – for my ego – to deliberately turn down the volume of sales and turn away customers. I stopped engaging in daily sales activities for the time. But, we were able to deliver what customers started to rave about starting in about October.

And now, we have to do two things:

  1. More customers.
  2. Better work.

Sales will fuel this, again. We got by on talent in the old days. We had some supremely talented artists, but a lot of that work was wasted because we didn’t support them with an exemplary process.

Now? It’s time for sales.

Simplification

I’ve taken my company, Simplifilm, and made it its most pure form.

We don’t have overhead.

We don’t have layers of management.

We don’t have employees on staff anymore.

We have me, a creative director, and a cadre of awesome, long term, freelancers. This is what we should have been ages ago.  That we weren’t was normal, entropy introduces complexity.

The mission, then, is to do $100,000 in gross revenue by the end of Q1. This will mean that we do about 8-10 projects.  The benefit, now, is that this won’t take a long time to do.

The benefit of simplification is freedom.  I have more freedom than I’ve had since I moved out west.

Used Car Fantasy

My father sold used cars.

He did this for a short while in the 1960s, before being a composition and literature professor at a community college.

He tells the tales of his days on the lot. My Mom gets nervous.  Like a wife does. You can see her remembering those days. The worst part about a bad day as a salesperson is to come home to your wife. The inherent suspense of today’s story:

“Got a good one today,”
“Didn’t sell anything today, lick ’em tomorrow.”.
Or “Boss screwed me today, they took half my commission out of that deal that was supposed to pay us good.”

It seems ridiculous if you’re not in the fight. It seems unstable, strange, and impossibly risky.

The struggles of a salesperson happen in front of friends and family and that erodes beliefs. “You’ve made big promises for a long time.” That’s what the wife knows.  But “A salesman is got to dream, boy. It comes with the territory.”

A salesman, though, has a different memory of these events. He’s out there, making things happen. He’s got a chance, by god, and he’s gonna do it. He’ll close that deal and he’ll become so necessary he’ll make sales manager.

I’ve entertained a used car fantasy for years now. I love to sell. Scratch that, I love to _close_. I’ve never done it, but I want to put my lot in with the divorcées and hustlers and slime-bags. Snaking deals and stalking your prey. The squalor and splendor and hope and failure. The 90% turnover rate, and the machismo.

Selling cars feels like the purest form of sales there is. People wander on the lot hostile, expecting you to lie to them. You have to disarm their baggage and get them to choose a car and a payment and to feel like their car better than money. To keep their cool. To win the sales manager over as well, and to keep your colleagues out of your deals.

The problem right now is the hours. They don’t want dabblers, they want lifers. I could do it if all they wanted was a normal commitment, but they want 60, 70 hours. And they want to control you, not to get winners, they want utility team players.

But – what sane person harbors a used car fantasy?

Choosing Sanity

I’ve been to the depths of insanity. Gone all the way down a dark and insane path.

The stuff of movies, the stuff of books. I was thinking those thoughts, saying those words. It was ugliness to my friends and family. I wore them out. I spent my time tilting at windmills and battling delusions. Joining insane causes. Because that is all easy stuff.

It’s easy to shake your fists at the government and battle cosmic forces. It’s easy to die on a trivial hill. It’s easy to “be right” about something even though you are wrong and you are crazy. It’s easy to give in to whatever demons you have, and to let them take over.

Admitting it here – copping to mental illness – is part of a journey.  Carrie Fisher did it, out loud, she said she was nuts. And Wil Wheaton does it daily. Brad Feld does it. Chris Brogan does it. Amber Naslund does it.  I don’t exactly get depressed (though that’s part of it), I get anxious and I lash out.  I give into paranoia and let the darker angels influence me. I chase people away because I am a rock. I am an island.

Enough. All of the insanity is optional.

I choose sanity. I choose it daily by having good habits and maintaining a good routine.

I choose sanity by working hard and developing experiences that matter.I choose sanity by loving my wife and my kids and forgiving the people that wronged me. Not holding onto nonsense. It’s all nonsense.

I choose sanity by loving my wife and my kids and forgiving the people that wronged me. Not holding onto nonsense. It’s all nonsense.

I choose sanity by changing my mind about things and not

I choose sanity by maintaining a routine that fills me up and creating projects that matter.

I’ve been insane before. And I’ve told lies.

I’ve indulged delusions and I have wrecked friendships, business relationships, and I’ve strained my family. I’ve given in to the devil-on-your-shoulder and lashed out for no good reason. I’ve put off work I need to do. Work that matters, and work that serves others.

Enough.

Enough.

It’s time to chose sanity.

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