All Posts by Christopher Johnson

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.

Omnibus And Brief Update

I’ve blogged since LiveJournal was a thing. Most of the content I created has been deleted (or maybe is on Archive.Org).  Facebook changed it. I used to write a few paragraphs about what I was feeling, what was on my mind.  Then it became easier to forward memes.

But my business – the money I earned at Simplifilm – was born because of a blog and some hustle.

Because I connected with people and built a place to organize my thoughts.

What Was Lost, Post LiveJournal

Something was lost, a place where I’d benefit from working out my thoughts and feelings in a semi-public place. The “thinking-out-loud” aspect of what was happening changed.  I got out of the creating content idea, and I got into fiddling with widgets. Optimizing CTRs and I lost a sense of humanity.

Also, short posts went to Facebook where they get lost (by design).  The Context of No Context.

I’ve stalled out on blogging here – there is a lot to talk about – because this feels like it’s “for the record.”  Like it’s my everlasting statement.  And it’s not, it’s what I’m thinking in this moment.

I’ve left Facebook for a while (I’ll be back, I needed a breather).  I have a lot to say about:

  • How great my wife is.
  • How to rebuild a family from zero (or worse)
  • The direction of my job/vocation
  • Lessons I learned
  • Stuff I’ve read recently

I also want to talk through:

  • Life Management
  • Schedule
  • WordPress Themes
  • Recipes
  • Family

This is largely for me. Not to “build an audience.”  Not at this space.  It’s practice. This blog is just me working out my thoughts. People are welcome to follow, comment or not.

I’ll be dead and gone in 55 years or so. And I can have this for my kids, for whoever wants in my family.

Q1 2017

Happy 2017 instigators. Last year was a blur. So was 2014. But, the odd years have always been good to me. So it will be for 2017.

I am not a huge believer in yearly goals. Don’t get me wrong, direction is good, but a year is such a vast expanse of time that you can fritter away half of it and the urgency goes away.

I’ve had more success when I plan quarters instead. So I am planning a quarter. To be more specific, I’m planning a 12 week period of time.

“Winners build systems.”

1. I’ll sell, collect & deliver 16 Simplifilm projects.

This is 1.25 per week. This is about what I can do at any given time.

-2 low priced, -2 premium and 12 “normal” price.

To support this, I will need to have 36 proposals out there from people that sorta kinda want them.

I’ll have to generate 108 leads to make that work.

This will require me to prospect for 90 minutes every day, connecting with folks. I’ll double down and schedule another 60 minutes each day of focus Linked In time (7.5 hours of prospecting per week).

To further support it I will define all of our products and build sales pages that work for it (the sales pages are nearly built.).

To (finally) further support it I will send weekly emails to our prospects, inviting them to do business with us.

Total Time Commitment: 2.5 hours per day x 5 days a week x 12 weeks = 150 hours total.

This will generate roughly: $160,000 in gross revenue. Likely more with overage. My annual goal is a lot different than in years past. I’m getting the business to a sane scale for a solo founder.

2. I’ll lose 24 pounds of body fat.

My system will include:

DIET
EXERCISE
MONITORING

Specifically, I will do the following on the diet:

Focus on the weekdays: M-F.

Weekends are a little less restrictive, but apart from Friday Nights, I’ll eat Clean. Friday I can sorta binge.

1-8 intermittent fast (17 hours a day, first meal at 1pm).
Eat Clean during the week. Cheat day from Friday/Saturday).

Exercise:
20-minute workout each morning (1-mile jog w/balance of time in an AMRAP of pushups air squats Burpees & situps).

3. I’ll pay $24,000 in debt.

This measure is about DEBT not my balance sheet. And my ego makes it hard to write this sentence. “But I have assets,” it limply states. Yes, like Trump does, all burdened with debt and risk.

The gist is that every dollar of debt represents risk to me, and I have to get rid of it all eventually. Why not start now? Burn it up. I want to keep the assets, lose the debt.

This debt is on the personal side. The business side has debt, too, but the focus of Q1 isn’t about that.

$24,000 is about how much consumer debt I have and it’s leftover from moving and being cash poor in 2016.

I’ll do this by:

  1. Setting up YNAB to get a true and accurate measure on the personal side.
  2. Using cash for “blow money,” and not transactions.
  3. Applying austerity to the first 6 weeks (now-Feb 15th).

The point is to be good stewards. I’ve made a decent salary most years, but I’ve never been respectful of my money.

12 Week Goals

I have other goals to keep and sustain. Being on a schedule during the week (4:30 wake up, 1pm gym time). I’m not focused on this – I’m not likely to falter at this point.

The Schedule:

My schedule will look like this:

04:3: Wake up, complete Miracle Morning routine. Of course, this includes coffee. This will include a 20-minute workout, coffee, journaling, writing current goals down.

05:30 Write for at least 1 hour, focused on current writing project (not blogging/marketing/scripts).

6:45: wake kids. Do some email administration & look at schedule. Light work here as we get the kids going. Kids will workout just like me.

(1st opportunity to read is here.)

8:30 take kids to school. (20 minute round trip, when snowing. Generally, they walk, but not in 9-degree weather).

9:00 AM – M/Th staff meeting till 10:00 am.
T-W-F: Prospecting till 11:30 am. | Available for meetings 11:30-12:30
10-11 M-Th: Prospect till 12:30 pm. | Available for meetings 12:30..when no meetings work on list work.

1-2:30 gym. Strength, Cardio, LISS depending on what day we’re in and what our goals are. Religion. Available for meetings from 2:30-5pm.

2:30-4pm marketing writing (emails, etc).

4 pm: done with official work, read for 1 hour most days.

That’s it. That’s where I’m at, and I’ll stick to it

16 Things I Learned In 2016

2016 for me, will always be the year I restored my family.

At the end of 2015, I was certain to be the patriarch of a broken family. I was pretty much ready to throw it in.Heather and I had done all sorts of things to one another. Our bleak moments, failures had seemed insurmountable. That story isn’t mine alone to tell, so I can’t tell it here. But with fear and trembling and help from friends and others.

Heather and I had done all sorts of things to one another. Our bleak moments, failures had seemed insurmountable. That story isn’t mine alone to tell, so I can’t tell it here. But with fear and trembling and help from friends and others.

Somehow, something changed. I had time to think things through. I had time to think about what kind of life I wanted, what meant something. My delusions of becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg waned enough (but just enough) for me to let joy back in. And now? I would say that with wide swaths of areas that we need to claim, my marriage has never been stronger.

With that as a foundation, I want to go into 2017 with vigor and strength.

But first, a few things I learned this year (16 to be exact).

1. Self-Sabotage is a real thing. 

This is hard to write. But it’s true. There are a million different ways to self-sabotage. I have done them all.

I’ve been drawn into moronic conversations. I’ve flushed sales conversations down the drain because of one offhand remark someone makes. I’ve been drawn into political fights. It’s always tempting to take the toothpaste out of the tube.

It’s very easy to just give in to the lesser angels of our nature and screw things up. I self-sabotaged more than my share of sales calls after I proved I had the deal.

Most of the adversity is because of self-sabotage.  (And thanks to Kent Littlejohn for articulating that on a coaching call).

 

2. I’m Addicted To Risk

This is a problem for me – and absolutely a real one.  The thrill of “saving the day” or “nearly collapsing” drives me. It’s fun. The rush you get from making the amount of money that you can make, that can save the day, is better than any drug.  That addiction has to be cured for me to level up to where I want to be.

I’ll work on all of it this year, I’m putting it down here as a way of drawing a line in the sand and fixing it.

#2, the risk addiction, drives #1 for sure.  Being aware of it is the first step.

3. I’m addicted to squalor.

“Laying Low, Seeking out the places where the ragged people go/looking for the places only they will know.”
-Paul Simon

That quote could be my mantra. I have done it all my life. And I have to cure my curiosity about Bukowski type nights. In High School, I wanted to know what it would be like to push all the limits. To get beat up or kicked out of class. Because I had to experience it. None of those experiences mattered much, and they didn’t build any character.

Tom Wolfe said:  “Believe me, there is no insight to be gathered from the life of the working-class milieu…” and he wasn’t wrong.

I have a good life, but there was something romantic about Portland and its squalor. I’ve left Portland (more on that later) but the things you could do there, the seedy people and scumbags and transients that you could interact with gave me a thrill. I always felt like they were calling to me.  I tried to recreate it a little bit in the Tri-Cities (a wholesome haven), and yet…

4. We Are Not Our Darkest Moments

In my life, a litany of mistakes plays in my head way more often than it ought to. There are lies I’ve told, things I’ve done and words I’d love to take back. All told, these moments make up a small portion of my life, say about 40 minutes over 40 years. But it’s where my mind goes all the time.

The benefit of moments like this is that we’re reminded that things could, in fact, be worse.

5. Mental Health Is Fragile & Needs Maintenance

This is true. Before I read Charlie Hoehn’s “play it away” I thought I was in good shape, mentally, and that everything was fine. No, no, no.  I have to make sure that I treat my body right, treat my mind right, and work hard to stay sane.

When you’re a little off, it’s harder on everyone. You turn inward and become entitled, and you become a strange dude. This happened at various times as I was dealing with stressful stuff. Reading biographies, exercise, and other things help. But doing things to keep your sanity is the most important thing you can do for your productivity.

There are diminishing returns from working more, even in crisis.  So stay sane.

6. You Gotta Focus on What You Can Control

I put a lot of energy into the 2016 election. I didn’t like either of the candidates. And yet, I’m compulsively checking polls and sites like 538.  I’m checking prop betting sites. Why? I have no earthly idea. But the month of November was lost to me, lost to prospecting and growing my business.

7. Practice Matters

I did a lot of practice sales calls with a variety of people and I got better at them. More of them were in my control than ever.

And, having a practice partner works perfectly.  It’s tedious often, but on the other side of tedium lie vast riches.  James Altucher and Jeff Goins have different takes on this and they have influenced me quite a bit this year.

8. Relationships Matter

“But these days he don’t talk to me and he won’t tell me why. I miss him every time I say his name.”
-Greg Brown

I lost a number of relationships this year. Some my choice, some not. When you’re not totally sane, it’s hard to build anything. I’ve never been saner (though I think that Dunning-Krueger certainly applies).

The people I’ve met and the people I’ve helped me have always been underrated. In our mind, we delusionally think that we are the hero, the principle and the only person in the story.

There are a few skills involved in relationships:

  • Initiating
  • Sustaining
  • Renewing
  • Repairing

We’ll be talking about this as we go through our year.

9. Integrity In Small Things Matters

I let a mentor go because of a fairly minor billing issue, but I don’t have any regrets.

That billing issue led me to question their lives, their conduct and everything else about their business and teaching. I saw a shit-show type facebook fight that was unattractive and unseemly, so I moved on.

I was overbilled, I think 65, bucks on a bill of a couple hundred a month. Yet, it was never corrected. I couldn’t let it go. It was never refunded to me, and so I ended the relationship. Because it was a small thing, there was no motivation to track it down.I had to ask, I think 7-8 times and I don’t think it’s resolved yet, but it really soured me.

10. Sales Does NOT Cure All

In late 2015, I had some of the best quarters I ever had. It meant I had to hire fast to get the work done. I didn’t have the capacity, and it created a shitstorm that hurt my reputation, my company and my mental health. I’m still “digging out” from overselling my capacity.  I was optimistic to think I could grow all at once, but the company wasn’t ready to grow.

Operations matter.

Deliveries matter.

People matter.

None of those are improved by selling more.

11: Routines Matter

My best days this year were when I got up early, read, wrote, connected and exercised.  When I really started to move the needle and build something I was totally into my routine. In the days where it wandered, I was apart from my routine. Doing the hard work that it takes matters a great deal.

12. The Stories We Tell Ourselves Matter Most

How we frame things that happened, the things we say to ourselves matters quite a bit. In our own stories lies either excuses or inspiration. If we have a gap between our current and ideal self, and we focus on the reason we’re here (stressful year) we’re going to stay in the same place. If we tell ourselves a different story we have a shot at a different outcome.

13. Family Is Underrated

Family is hard. Because they remember every mistake you’ve made. They see you a certain way and pull you back to your familiar or present self all the time. That makes family difficult to relate to because if you’re in your head and aspiring for more, they are something to overcome.

But at its best, Family creates a support that makes everything work. You can sit on a foundation and take risks in business because you know you’ll always be loved. To do that, you have to cherish everything.

14. Delusion Stalks Everyone

Cultivating self-awareness is hard for all of us. Dunning-Kruger speaks to that. And our brains change the facts into a story that suits us, much to our dismay and much to our detriment. Fixing that is the stuff of life itself.  Fighting the tendency to spin a story into something else is the most important thing we can do.

15.  Systems Beat Goal Setting

If you’re doing the wrong thing it doesn’t matter how hard you work. However, if you create a working system, whatever you seek to accomplish becomes much easier. Focusing on building the system and measuring our days is the most important part of what we’re after.

16. Tidying Up Changes Your Life

I’ve spent most of the year with a fairly neat office, cleaning it more days than not. It takes a few moments but it’s made a big difference to me. I’ve got some distance to cover, but it’s done me good things.

Conclusion:

Whenever I go dark, I get “concern trolls” coming out of the woodwork. Don’t do that. You have the same thoughts and feelings.

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