Confessions, Cautionary Tales & Case Studies

The Personal Blog of the Undaunted Hustler

Opinions so new, they may not even be mine yet. 
I blog about business, family, & goals. 
When I'm out of willpower, I talk politics

Why Launch Energy Is Wasted Energy

I like starting things. And I like finishing them.

But, to me, there’s nothing more tedious than the early stages of building a platform. The “plumbing” I’ve done it about 5 times, and then I’ve “redone” existing platforms another 15 or so times. Each time I do it I’m better at it, but not faster.

Because it’s lonely work. And the details matter.

To set up my new brand, Atom City Labs, I had to:

  • Find a CRM (I used Agile CRM)
  • Build a content strategy (I used Meera Kothand’s)
  • Build a distribution strategy
  • Find a hosting provider (I used Very Fast Host)
  • Find some way to get design done (Canva, this round)
  • Find a theme engine (Thrive Themes over Beaver builder by a nose).
  • Set up a lead magnet.
  • Set up some auto responders
  • Set up analytics
  • Set up a facebook pixel.
  • Set up DKIM / SPF stuff on my domain.
  • Set up some bank accounts
  • Switch bank accounts (Hapo)
  • Set up an accounting system. (TBD: Thinking seriously about going with WAVE).
  • Set up a payment processor (Stripe)
  • Find a signature repository (I used Adobe Sign, FKA EchoSign)
  • Write proposals
  • Get insurance coverage (personal umb
  • Write an About Page, a privacy policy.
  • Some contact forms.
  • Landing pages.
  • Incorporate, get a TIN, get local permits.

The list goes on. Some of that stuff had to “validate” with my domain. Some stuff took a third party’s approval. Like the state of Washington. Other stuff costs money. All of it cost time. It’s a load that a solo entrepreneur pays disproportionately.

All of this work is backfill. It’s a precondition to really earning money. It’s an ante, and it’s a risked bit of time that…if my idea a fails I’ll never get back.

And I want to tell you: it’s agonizing. It’s horrifically tedious work to do because I know how to do it all. I’ve done it before. You can’t really save a lot of time or money by outsourcing it, you just have to slog on.

For me, it takes 3 times more energy to do this type of work than it does to run something. It’s the launch energy that must be done. It’s not serving a client, it’s simply building the systems that serve the business that serves clients.

I’d estimate that it takes 20-30 hours once you know what you’re doing to do this type of work. Half a week’s efforts.

Delegating to an attorney takes about the same time, it’ll be done wrong and cost $1k.

As I’m launching my new company I have had to do this twice. I launched under the auspices of a different entity and shuttered that because (after testing) I learned that my clients needed a product to be in place as a precondition to me being able to serve them. And I had to sell THAT first because without follow up or systems the whole thing would be likely to fail.

So I had to duplicate a fair bit of this work (and pay another $50 to the state of Washington to change my LLC’s name).

Then, in a few months, this same ‘ante’ can be paid if I decide to pivot.

A lot of it is unnecessary, a distraction. A way of seeming busy, and stuff that you can justify that isn’t one of the core activities of a business. (Prospecting, presenting, negotiating, closing and delivering).

Then, this sort of thing happens again.

At Simplifilm, I changed a perfectly “fine” logo. It was a logo built in 2012 and it had a little bit of that era’s “apple” look.

Well, the number of forms, places on our website, the video reveals and the rest made that work take a lot longer than I imagined. And we kept having “both” logos displayed for a long time. For what gain?

No gain.

For me, this type of work is agony. And yet I retreat to it because it’s a version of Bikeshedding.

Writing And Publishing

Writing And Publishing

I have written a lot over the last year. More than the prior 3 years combined.

But I haven’t published much. I can’t get into the speculative reasons as to why that would be, only to say that I’ve been sort of reconsidering my schtick. Who do I even want to be?

It makes no sense to go faster when you have fundamental ennui.

In the last couple of years – I have moved from Portland to the Tri-Cities.  I’ve become…disillusioned with my role as a founder of a video company. I’ve segued my company and “wound it down” and so a lot has changed.  I’ve changed my relationship with my wife, and I see a radically different future.  I had to process what – exactly – that meant.

Now that I have something of a direction, it’s past time to publish.

The timing – for a lot of reasons – couldn’t be better for me.

Business Lessons

Business Lessons

I’m starting a new business.

I’ve screwed up nearly everything about my old business and I want to build something that’s worth having for a long time.

  1. Always have enough money on hand to close the business. Don’t risk inadvertent Ponzi schemes.
  2. Always know your YTD, MTD, QTD collected, contracted & completed numbers.
  3. Growth follows ability to deliver, not ability to sell. You can outback your coverage and kill your business easily, especially under 5mm in annual revenue.
  4. Having impeccable standards makes things vastly easier in the long run.
  5. Pricing is everything. It determines how the business can grow.
  6. Automation is everything else. Having systems in place means that you can use them – or not – depending on what you want your business to actually do.
  7. Profits are a condition of doing business. You have to have them, know what they are. This means that you know your time and money debt created by each sale.
  8. A service business must deliver efficiently. You have to offer optimized delivery in order to grow and to create a business worth having.
  9. Pay your vendors early. Only troubled companies fund with float. Profitable companies can effortlessly pay. Plus, when you set the example that you require you’re in compliance with Natural Law.
  10. Tempo and pace matter. You have to deliver the best work in the time available, not the best work with unlimited time. When you do reps you get better at being faster.
  11. Templates matter. Checklists matter. You can go through a pre-flight check for anything – a sales call, whatever.
  12. Pre and postmortems matter. Creating a learning loop makes you better faster.
  13. Belief in your delivery is a key to selling effectively and doing it for a long time.
  14. Don’t forget to ask for help. Have a +/-/= in key areas of your business.
  15. Writing is the road to everything that a business needs. Copy, code, policy all has to be written, so get better at writing.
Thoughts I Used To Think

Thoughts I Used To Think

I’m watching a lot of people fall. I’m not really surprised by any of it. I’ve seen aggressive behavior before. I’ve also (personally) said things that I’d never consider doing these days. Usually flirting or jokes gone wrong, that could make people feel uncomfortable and in hindsight were in poor taste.

I don’t know what the “final” answer is. Is Garrison Keillor’s fall too much? Maybe. Maybe not. I wasn’t there. It’s pretty bizarre to me, his fall.

Is one lousy action, one time, with one person enough to ruin a career?

Does an apology entitle you to anything?

Are there equivalencies?

And, what’s really going on? We see Roy Moore moving the line, conning Christians into supporting Pedophilia (because Mary, the mother of Jesus may have been as young as 12). What will the upshot be?

And, what of people that reform? I don’t have massive skeletons. But I have things I regret saying to others. Times when I surely came off as a creep. I’m not owed the comfort of forgiveness, but what about people who reform, repair relationships and regret the past?

I don’t know the answers. But I’m glad that this is happening because it’s making a better world.

Radical Accountability & Transparency

Radical Accountability & Transparency

As I’m rebooting myself, I am embracing transparency. Have no real choice. I feel like it’s a pillar of my life, a building block I need in order to make my life the way I want it. Where I’m calling from.

Selective transparency is just bragging. The worst businesses and lives have areas of success.

Sure, to get a boost of confidence, we can highlight those areas. Yes, there is a point in making us feel better. Most of the time when we talk transparency, we talk about financial numbers. I’m set to make $xx per year, our results were $yy per year.

That stuff really doesn’t matter to me. What matters to me is doing what I have committed to doing on a daily basis. Building a business. Publishing. Living on a calendar. Reading. Resting. Increasing my grip on reality.

Being accountable to a result. Being radically accountable to a plan and process. These things will earn me money.

So the first challenge is to publish on this blog 3 days a week through the end of the year.

Personal Operating System

Personal Operating System

This year has been a year of reflecting. I’ve filled journals, written tens of thousands of words. Gone through the five stages of grief from moving to Portland (and losing my zeal for my business).

I’ve read more this year than I have in past years. And I’ve licked my wounds (all self-inflicted) to come out on the other side feeling strong and good.

What follows is the need to rewrite my personal operating system.

Why I Need The Rewrite?

There are goals I have that I’m not making progress on. I’ve been coasting. I’ve bought into a delusion. I’ve pursued comforting amusement and ‘stature’ over achievement. I’ve told myself a story that I could do whatever I want.

And, my grasp of objective reality isn’t where I want it to be.

This means that at the end, there is a wide gap between what I mean to achieve in my life and what I’m likely to achieve in my life- unless things quickly are reversed.

I’m 41. And I’ve not really begun to serve in the way I mean to.

I think I’m operating at less than 1% of my capacity. I think I can more than 200x my impact because I have some multiplication by zero effects happening.

What My Operating System Is Now:

I’ve got a mix of things that are working with me.

The normal gen-X stuff: A lazy smirk and a wink. A dash of snark. A little bit of aspirational thinking that doesn’t get translated into results. A burst of creative energy that’s not sustainable, and a cycle of zeal and burnout.

The slacker ethos: I don’t care that much, so I can’t be hurt. Leave before you get left. (The fact is: we’re prevented from doing the real and necessary work, the vulnerable good stuff when we drape ourselves in this bit of delusion).

Too Many Shortcuts The search for hacks and tricks and tactics and shortcuts. Enough hustle to clean up most of the messes I make. Enough good things to keep me from totally crashing. Occasional good years where everything works. A few key relationships that keep me afloat.

Popeye Syndrome: I get my ass kicked for a long time, but I know that in ACT 3, I’ll find some spinach. I get dialed in just in time to “save the day.” Usually. I’ll carry a smug satisfaction through the whole cartoon, a shit-eating grin even when I’m getting knocked around, since I’m denying that this is truly happening to me.

The Need For Affirmation Too often I’ve looked for an ‘attaboy’ without digging in and doing the real work. I wanna be loved! Am I not a blogger? And yet, getting those simple likes/whatever eats into me. So I put out a Bon Mot in a Facebook group and people like it. And I feel good. But that’s so dumb.

Bad Habits It’s been said that the will to win is nothing without the will to prepare to win. 1 I’ve defaulted to a lot of things that don’t support where I wanna go.

Selective Transparency: Which is to say that it’s not true transparency. We crow about where we win, we cover up when we lose. And time goes by and we don’t just do this.

A Run From Reality I have a business that earned some money this year. I’ve gone to great lengths to avoid knowing just how much. There are other areas where I avoid reality. I’ve not embraced reality so I can’t change it. Moving through time randomly.

Focus & Completion Issues I have to be willing to see things all the way through to the end and to find a few hours a week to truly focus. I have to develop that for itself as its own skill, and stick to a system that supports it. Schedule or otherwise, it’s gotta get done.

Relationship Issues Too often, I’ve chased people away that can do me good. Too proud to accept help, but not committed or capable of doing things on my own.

This isn’t a complete list, and I’m concerned more about what I need to do better than what’s working right, right now. I’m unconcerned about what’s working well; in broad strokes:

  • I’m reading
  • I’m doing a good job with my kids
  • I’m seeing what I need to do and creating in my head the life and business I want.

Where I Want To Go:

I’ve clung to an obsolete style that I don’t care about. The old saying: we spend our times working in jobs we hate to buy things we don’t want to impress people we don’t like.

I’ve got this belief that I can 100x myself by changing my way of thinking and interacting with the world.

The end starts with the goals.

  1. A Mission (Or A Couple of Missions) I love entrepreneurs. The independent spark that says “I don’t need to friggin’ work some job. I want to fan that spark till it’s an inferno. I always have seen myself as independent, ever since I was little. My mission Is to serve them.Missions are different than goals. I have two right now:
    • To help 25 Entrepreneurs close a total of $10,000,000 in business.
    • To Bring in $2,000,000 in new business to the Tri Cities Area.

    These should be sane and fun to do.

  2. Orderly Finances: I’m building a new company.. The opportunity to have truly orderly finances is mesmerizing to me. I made a mistake and I never took the time to recover. Now with my wife earning enough (and expenses cut) I have opportunity that didn’t exist a year ago. I have underestimated the power of this. I always went with my gut and was delusional about how much unnecessary risk I was carrying (as well as the returns possible).
  3. Fitness, Man, Fitness I love the feeling when I’m working out (and I’m working out reliably again). I want my body to be fit. And my business, and my life (home etc).
  4. Process Man, Process How we do things is important. What makes our work great?. What goes into that sort of thing.

What I Have To Do:

  1. Figure out some specific goals. I’ve got a mission above, and I’ve gotta

I have to build an operating system that supports that. I have to change my way of thinking, embrace deep work and remake myself into a person that can get this done. This will likely take 18 months. It could take longer.

I have to relearn the way I sell, the way I connect with people, maintain relationships. I have to define what I mean by “integrity,” “focus” and such. I have to drive to my mission and not anything else.

  1. Learn about my strengths. Will do Strengthsfinder, Meyers-Briggs and maybe DiSC again. Will work hard not to game the system. (This will be hard).
  2. Embrace radical transparency. There is a long way to go in my business, and so I have to be open and earnest about everything.
  3. Embrace radical accountability. I have to make and keep my word first to myself, then to my family. I’ve gotta create a scoreboard.

That’s it. This is a 2.0 time for me, or 3.0. It’s a time for a massive reinvention. I’ve had the year to heal and to make forward progress, so now it’s time to make it all happen the way I want.

I’m less certain about what I’m meant to be but I think more dedicated and capable of being that thing. It falls to me to go do it.

On Form and Practice

On Form and Practice

One of the quests I’ve had lately is to get better at playing Racquetball. I’ve rediscovered it and enjoyed playing the game. It’s mostly a game of skill, and my acute lack of footspeed isn’t a disqualifier like it is in basketball.

I bought a book as an add on from Racquetball Warehouse.It showed that I had a bad swing, and a bad grip. The combination of a bad swing and a bad grip meant that I was torquing my shoulder. The shoulder was hurt a lot.

I had good timing so I was winning some matches.

But I couldn’t play two days in a row. And I was using a TON of energy. So I had to change my grip. It was painful. I had a grip that was ‘not great’ but I was used to it. So I switched to the recommended shake hands grip. I had grabbed the thing.

This far in, I decided to keep going. And so I changed my whole swing. This from the “random” swing that I had to something that was the way it was supposed to work.

A few hundred “drop and hits” later, I had a working swing.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Sk-k7rWUjbE

The biggest difference: with much less effort I’m generating the same power. I don’t yet have the timing dialed in like I did on my “bad” swing, but I can effortlessly hit a good, accurate shot about 85% of what I could hit it at when I was locked in. With good form the margin for error is wider. I’ve occasionally had everything come together and hit serves and shots with really impressive power, harder than I’d ever done it before.

The more astonishing thing was that this didn’t take long. About 3 hours – total – of practice spread out over about 2 weeks. Drop and hit drills from 9 positions on the court, hitting 3 shots (down the line, cross court and pinch).

The current drawback is that I’ll go for stretches of a match and be very “lost” having had old habits show up, and I haven’t dialed in a method to slow down and correct things. This results in stretches of comically poor shots. It’s sometimes hard to diagnose in a match. Going forward I’ll try “early prep, trigger finger, follow through”.

THE PROGRESS

I was much worse for about a week. About the same a week later. Now I’m certainly better than before. Everything is coming together better than it had been. I don’t have shoulder pain and I can play 3 days in row at nearly 42 years of age.

And I’ve only worked on my forehand. With one drill.

The next step will be to do the same thing for my backhand, and then to add the rest of the drills to a practice session.

On Selling Out

On Selling Out

I was having a conversation the other day with a friend. Her premise was that artists all eventually got corrupted and sold  out. There was a hint of contempt—or even pity—on those words. That this was just what happened in a lifecycle.

There was the egg stage, larval stage, starving artist stage and finally, pretentious Dbag stage. We all secretly liked our indie band before they hit it big, right?

But what is the point of art, then? Why do we do this? Because we want to inflict misery on ourselves? Because we want to be “pure”? Artists make art to share their point of view with the world. And yeah, hopefully to transfer the emotion, wonder, hope that they can feel to a new audience.

We don’t all want to be John Kennedy Toole, an author who’s work was shared only posthumously. We want to contribute, release our art to the world and let it shape us. We want to find and grow an audience. We want what we make to support us. That’s selling,not selling out. Instead of cultivating contempt for commerce, why not admit what we want?

Work Vs. “Work”

Work Vs. “Work”

We all want to work hard. Or do we just want to seem to work hard?

So many times I find myself not productivelyspending office time. I listlessly look at Reddit. Or I look at my burn rate and try to figure how many sales I need to make. Or I’ll scroll through LinkedIn and make some connections. Or I check my analytics for no discernible reason (because I’m not trying to solve a problem).

This is true #hustle, right?

I’m #grinding while you’re sleeping, right?

Hastag winning.

Nope. I’m mostly just deluding myself. I’m here, doing little of value. Little to advance my interest. It feels like work, and to an outsider it looks like work, but it’s the 80% of the stuff that doesn’t matter. It’s unfocused, unstructured, and constant.

It has all of the bad qualities of work and none of the healthy, productive qualities. It drains me. It makes me think. It induces decision fatigue. But it makes nothing. It resolves nothing.

There are so many thins like this that I’ve done. Make-work projects that feel like work but don’t add value to my business or to my customers. Redoing my logo is one. Agonizing on the move between Quickbooks and Xero is another. And I shudder at how much money that I’ve lost on this stuff. On not being able to summon the intensity needed to resolve the real problems.

My guilt keeps me in the chair, but a better use of my life would be to do what? To go for a run. To play with my kids. To read a book. To finally order a bookcase. All of these things .

So I know that I’ll get private messages giving me advice. I’m gonna resolve this this way:

Each day I’m gonna start with my core four activities.

  1. Writing – that is the gateway to my own sanity. The thing that makes me better, and the thing that I take pleasure from. I’ve had varying degrees of practice and skill in my life.
  2. Reading- Again, having long conversations with mentors, escaping yourself and getting into someone else’s problems is a key/core part of my sanity.
  3. Fitness- At a mentor’s suggestion I’m going all in on the Get Serious program. I was playing Racquetball, counting it as exercise. Since I was eating pretty well I’ve lost 20# this summer. I want to take it to the next level.
  4. Prospecting- I have a few funnels to fill and a few products to sell. I am a good closer so I eschew prospecting and can get away with it. But right now, I know how critical an hour a day is.

This is the next component of where I’m going. I’ll have days that I do more of each of these things, but the core four activities will be what I knock out each day.

This will be done first, and the schedule will be:

5a- write or read (alt days)

  • 6a – read/write
  • 9-10 prospect
  • 10-11:30 fitness
  • 11:30-x hit my list.

That’s it. That’s the core four.

Minimum Viable Business

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.

Anatomy of a Death Spiral: the Inside Story of the Firesale of a 7 Figure Business

By Christopher Johnson | February 1, 2019

I recently sold my business – a business that I had for 7 years and concluded my involvement in it. I sold out a longtime friend/client/ally for a fee that represents some of the value in the leads, contacts, processes that were working well, but we didn’t get the multiple that one would hope for […]

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Unfinished Business

By Christopher Johnson | October 14, 2018

I left Real Estate in 2008. In something of a huff, with the confident contempt that I’d never be back. Good riddance, we said to one another at the time. I had done all the jobs in the industry, pretty much. The last one had me as a mortgage lender, and I was waiting out […]

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Practitioner

By Christopher Johnson | October 12, 2018

One of the things I love about the current economy is its opportunity. People can be anything, do anything. The thing I hate? There are so many people that achieve a tiny modicum of success, they are one chapter ahead in the book, and they then stop practicing. They start teaching. A couple exceptions would […]

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Slash

By Christopher Johnson | October 10, 2018

Not too long ago, my friend Tim Paige was musing on Facebook about people with dual careers. Dual Careers by choice, and not because they were beginners. Tim comes from over in Voice Over, and there are a lot of people that do that gig part time. Or they do it while also pursuing something […]

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Hustle as Performance Art.

By Christopher Johnson | September 20, 2018

(Really cool poster by Joey Roth) Most people don’t hustle. Sturgeon’s Law and all that. The big blue ocean is too big and scary for them, and they seek the familiar. I’ve been that guy way way more than I’d like to admit. Like me, most people think they hustle. It’s comforting to think that […]

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Notes On Hamilton

By Christopher Johnson | August 28, 2018

While Heather and I were driving around the PNW for a really great little 5-day vacation, we listened to Hamilton a few times. I have been listening to the choruses for a long time, but I never had the chance to REALLY listen. But man, oh man! This work was genius. The density of the […]

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To Be In Practice

By Christopher Johnson | August 15, 2018

One of the things about opening up a business is that you need to find your way to what you want to do. In my case, I’ve missed out on being a practitioner of sales for a few years. Thinking back, it’s been over three years since I’ve really sold with the idea that maximizing […]

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Dear Microsoft:

By Christopher Johnson | July 24, 2018

Dear Microsoft: Listen, I am rooting for you. I love me a good comeback story, and it seems that you are dialed in right now. And I’m glad. But, look, you’ve got to respect me a little bit more. I have two of your products: Office 360 and Xbox One. And they both annoy me […]

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The Muse Vs. The Practice

By Christopher Johnson | July 19, 2018

We’ve all had those moments where we can work effortlessly. Where it “comes.” Our creative output is remarkable. The Muse visits. They happen. It’s a thing. We’re right to embrace those days. We’re right to feel proud and good of being in the flow and producing something great. Emrace anything that helps. The beginner, though, believes these […]

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That Old Familiar Fear

By Christopher Johnson | July 7, 2018

For the last year, I’ve been winding down Simplifilm. I’ve got this idea about what I did right, which was getting clients for agencies. I love to sell, I love to hunt and I love to help. So I put a little site together with the intentions of launching something on Monday. At Simplifilm I […]

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