Entrepreneurship Journal, 1/31/2016

New Client

I realized today that a couple weeks ago I achieved a goal I had been trying to achieve since about four and a half years ago. I’ve grown and improved so much in that time that the achievement of the goal just seemed like such a natural event in the course of going about my life that it didn’t even register as something worth thinking about until weeks after it had happened.

My goal was to get a client that would give me a steady stream of work into the indefinite future and would also be okay with something less than 40 hours a week. Naively, I didn’t even set this as a goal when I first started freelancing. I knew so little that I just assumed that I could arrange such a thing for myself without any special work required to make it happen. Boy, was I wrong. Not only did it not happen effortlessly, it took four and a half years to do it!

The exact form that the fulfillment of my goal has taken is that I’m doing Ruby on Rails work for an agency in NYC that has an explicit 35ish-hour work week for its full-time employees, and is totally okay with 25 hours a week for its contractors. They share my opinion that it’s actually counterproductive for someone to work too many hours in a week, and that you reach the “too many hours” mark well before 40 hours. This is an opinion that’s presently not very widely held and even fairly controversial. I find this silly because to me it’s so obviously true. Anyway, I’m very grateful to have finally found a client who shares my belief and to have a relationship with them. For anyone wanting to duplicate my experience, I wish I had some secret to share, but I don’t. My best advice is to market yourself aggressively and have as many conversations with as many prospective clients as you can. This will increase your “luck surface area” and increase the chances that among the prospects you talk with lies a prospect who is good with a work week of fewer than 40 hours. (And of course, if the client is a guest client, your weekly workload is entirely up to you.)

I’m still contracting on the side with the client who I was working for as a W2 employer for a number of months. That’s going fine.

Destination vs. journey

I’ve been thinking more lately about the destination vs. journey. I’m realizing more and more that there’s no such thing as “arrival”. You never “make it” and then feel all set. Therefore it’s vitally important for me not to subordinate the quality of my day to day life to some expected future result. So I’m thinking about how I can be more present and alive right now rather than to have complete focus on the future. The future, of course, never gets here. It’s always the present, and if you’re always wishing you were in the future and not living in the present, you’re never really fully living. That’s a sad way for a person to live a life, although I think it’s probably the way a lot of people operate. I certainly spent years operating this way. To an extent I still do, although I’ve been dialing it down for some time now.

I’ve also been thinking lately that maybe there’s no meaning or purpose in anything except the meaning or purpose you give it. I used to evaluate every activity based on whether it was a means to a worthy end. For example, reading a book about how to retire at age 30 is a means to a worthy end, but washing the dishes isn’t, because washing the dishes doesn’t really “move you forward” at all. But now, as I think about how I might spend my time after I free myself of the need to work for money, I’m wondering if there’s much of a significant difference between painting a painting and doing the dishes. As long as I can learn to enjoy the activities I’m performing, does it really matter what the activity is? And if I can learn how to enjoy any activity, do I really have to wait to unlock some achievement before I feel like I can start enjoying life in general? These thoughts are synthesized from the ideas I took from two books I recently read, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. The former is full of voodoo but has some messages worth hearing, and the latter is just pure fucking gold and I can’t wait to read it again.

Boss Clients vs. Guest Clients

I spent most of 2014 working contracts that were 40 hours a week of billable client work, or some combination of hourly projects that added up to more than 40 hours a week. Most of 2015 was about the same.

I was technically freelancing but I often found myself asking: how is this really different from just having a job?

And I think the answer is that it’s not, at least not in a very meaningful way.

Boss Clients

The story of most of my client engagements goes like this: I scan a job board for someone who’s looking for a Ruby on Rails developer. I send them an email, probably with my resume included. The prospect emails me back and set up a time to talk. We talk over Skype and they ask about my skills and experience. If they like me, we work out the details of our arrangement and they give me access to their codebase and issue tracker, and I get started.

This type of client is evaluating me as an individual. They more or less know what they want. I’m signing the contract they have all their contractors sign. I use their technology stack, their way. They communicate their desires to me and I carry out the work. Compensation is based on time and effort.

I call these clients boss engagements because it’s just a few degrees away from having a regular job.

Guest Clients

There’s another type of engagement that goes like this: I attend a networking meeting, maybe a BNI group. I stand up when it’s my turn to talk and say that I convert tedious and time-consuming Excel-based systems into easy-to-use web applications. A prospect tells me that he uses a lot of Excel, and he’d be curious to hear my thoughts on his situation. We schedule a time to get together, at which point we dig into his situation and see if it matches up with what I do. If it looks like there will be an ROI there, we jointly identify a small initial project to tackle together. The client signs my agreement, gives me a deposit and I get started.

This type of client is evaluating the ROI of a project. They have a high-level business objective but the exact way we get there is not a big concern of theirs. They sign the agreement I have all my clients sign. I use my technology stack, my way. (Maybe I even have someone else do the programming work.) They share their pains with me and I alleviate their pains, my way. Compensation is based on results.

I call these clients guest engagements. I’m making the rules, I’m setting up the system. These clients are just visiting the world I created.

Having guest clients is the key to unlocking higher rates

I believe guest clients are the key, or at least a key, to charging really good rates. In 2014 I tried to raise my rate from $75/hr to $150/hr. I met so much resistance. Eventually I basically gave up on trying to charge $150/hr and did a number of (passenger) engagements at $100/hr. There seems to be some sort of hard psychological wall somewhere between $100/hr and $150/hr where $100/hr is acceptable but $150/hr is shockingly pricey. Frankly, I can understand this, and I don’t blame people for not wanting to pay $150/hr.

Table of differences

Boss Clients Guest Clients
Acquisition method Job boards, referrals Networking events, referrals
Methods used Dictated by client Vendor’s discretion
Work arrangement Usually 40 hours or close Vendor’s discretion
Subcontractable? Almost certainly not Almost always so
Perception of vendor’s role Technician, hired hand Expert and trusted partner
Pricing method Time and effort Results
Pricing anchor Client’s perception of market rates Value of project outcome

Driver vs. Passenger Client Engagements

Note: I’ve since decided that I’m not crazy about the terms I came up with in this post and I wrote a new, slightly modified version, which I think is better.

I spent most of 2014 working contracts that were 40 hours a week of billable client work, or some combination of hourly projects that added up to more than 40 hours a week. Most of 2015 was about the same.

I was technically freelancing but I often found myself asking: how is this really different from just having a job?

And I think the answer is that it’s not, at least not in a very meaningful way.

Passenger Engagements

The story of most of my client engagements goes like this: I scan a job board for someone who’s looking for a Ruby on Rails developer. I send them an email, probably with my resume included. The prospect emails me back and set up a time to talk. We talk over Skype and they ask about my skills and experience. If they like me, we work out the details of our arrangement and they give me access to their codebase and issue tracker, and I get started.

This type of client is evaluating me as an individual. They more or less know what they want. I’m signing the contract they have all their contractors sign. I use their technology stack, their way. They communicate their desires to me and I carry out the work. Compensation is based on time and effort.

I call these engagements passenger engagements because they’re driving and I’m coming along for the ride. There’s of course nothing so wrong with this kind of arrangement.

Driver Engagements

There’s another type of engagement that goes like this: I attend a networking meeting, maybe a BNI group. I stand up when it’s my turn to talk and say that I convert tedious and time-consuming Excel-based systems into easy-to-use web applications. A prospect tells me that he uses a lot of Excel, and he’d be curious to hear my thoughts on his situation. We schedule a time to get together, at which point we dig into his situation and see if it matches up with what I do. If it looks like there will be an ROI there, we jointly identify a small initial project to tackle together. The client signs my agreement, gives me a deposit and I get started.

This type of client is evaluating the ROI of a project. They have a high-level business objective but the exact way we get there is not a big concern of theirs. They sign the agreement I have all my clients sign. I use my technology stack, my way. (Maybe I even have someone else do the programming work.) They share their pains with me and I alleviate their pains, my way. Compensation is based on results.

I call these engagements driver engagements because I’m driving and the client is coming along for the ride. Passenger engagements are okay. Driver engagements are awesome.

Driver engagements unlock higher rates

I believe driver engagements are the key, or at least a key, to charging really good rates. In 2014 I tried to raise my rate from $75/hr to $150/hr. I met so much resistance. Eventually I basically gave up on trying to charge $150/hr and did a number of (passenger) engagements at $100/hr. There seems to be some sort of hard psychological wall somewhere between $100/hr and $150/hr where $100/hr is acceptable but $150/hr is shockingly pricey. Frankly, I can understand this, and I don’t blame people for not wanting to pay $150/hr.

Table of differences

Passenger Engagements Driver Engagements
Acquisition method Job boards, referrals Networking events, referrals
Methods used Dictated by client Vendor’s discretion
Work arrangement Usually 40 hours or close Vendor’s discretion
Subcontractable? Almost certainly not Almost always so
Perception of vendor’s role Technician, hired hand Expert and trusted partner
Pricing method Time and effort Results
Pricing anchor Client’s perception of market rates Value of project outcome

Entrepreneurship Journal, 1/19/2016

BNI

In December 2014 or January 2015 I visited a BNI group which I intended to join at the time but never got around to doing. I finally got around to visiting again last Wednesday. They gave me an application which I filled out. I’m going to the next weekly BNI meeting tomorrow where I expect to pay my dues and become a full-fledged member.

When I had visited this BNI about a year ago I was doing so as a guest of a friend. I believe I only visited twice. It’s a pretty well-understood fact in business networking that it’s a process of farming, not hunting. You have to plant seeds over time and then reap the harvest months or years later. I’ve understood this fact for a while which is why I found it surprising that I landed a new client, and a very high-quality client at that, on my very first meeting to that BNI group, if I recall correctly. (If not the first, it was the second.)

It was surprising enough that this happened once. When I re-visited the group last Wednesday, another member of the group approached me after the meeting about the possibility of enlisting my services. I’m scheduled to meet with one of his people tomorrow afternoon. This kind of thing isn’t supposed to happen. I attribute this good fortune partially to luck, but also to having developed a marketing message that people can easily understand. My message is that I help businesses that use Excel reduce or eliminate the manual work they perform that’s associated with Excel. There’s something about this message that I find unwieldy, and I intend to smooth it out somehow, but it does appear to work in its current form.

Changing client relationships

Around July 2015 I started working for an agency that an old boss and friend of mine was working for. By a process I won’t discuss here, I ended up as a W2 employee in September. Over time it became less and less of a fitting relationship, and so last Friday I went back to being a contractor. I’m leaving out a lot here that wouldn’t be in good taste to discuss publicly.

I’m scheduled to start working with another client in mid-February. This leaves an interesting three-and-a-half-week gap which is too small to fill with new client work, but too big not to. Luckily I think there’s probably some work I can do for my “old” client during that time. And if not, oh well. I won’t die. (This is the lens through which I view most risks, much to my wife’s consternation.)

Grand Rapids Excel Meetup

My original goal for the Grand Rapids Excel Meetup was to get 15 people at the first meeting. Right now I have 14 people RSVP’d on meetup.com as well as a few who have said they plan to come but haven’t RSVP’d on the site. I don’t know what kind of actual attendance that will translate to.

I was also planning to send out a mailing to advertise the meetup. Turns out I don’t have enough money right now to both join BNI and advertise the meetup. I decided it was more important to me to join BNI that to send out the mailing.

Product endeavors

I’ve made a conscious decision not to try to brainstorm up a product business idea. My strategy instead is to put myself in situations where I’ll naturally stumble upon a business idea. Not long after I made this decision, an old friend approached me with a certain product business idea that put through my filters and judged to be an idea worth pursuing. I don’t like to “cackle before I lay the egg” so I won’t talk about it much or get my hopes up too much until more develops. What I will say is that the other guy would sell the product and I would build it, so like a CEO/CTO relationship. My original goal was to be the CEO of something, the #1 guy, but I also recognize that that’s a secondary matter. The important part of my goal to become a millionaire by age 35 is the million dollars, not the mechanics of how I earn the money. Anyway, the ball is in the other guy’s court right now and there’s not a lot I can do I this point but wait. I don’t mind waiting, though. I have a whole three years and three weeks until I turn 35. You can earn a million bucks in three years, right?

Entrepreneurship Journal, 12/23/2015

In my last update I mentioned having started something called Grand Rapids Excel Meetup as a lead generation method. My plan was and is:

  1. Establish a venue for the meetup and an initial meeting date
  2. Promote the first meeting on social media, and by reaching out directly to people who I think might be interested
  3. Write a sales letter and mail it to local accountants, banks, and maybe other types of businesses likely to use Excel
  4. Call those same businesses to invite their owners/employees to come to the first meeting

I’ve done step 1 and I’ve done step 2 to about the extent that I’m going to. My target was to have at least 15 people at the first meeting. Right now I have 15 members in the group with 10 RSVPs. I’m pleasantly surprised that the numbers are so high with what little promotion I’ve done so far. There are also a few other people who have told me they’re planning to attend and haven’t RSVP’d on meetup.com.

I wrote a sales letter a week or two ago. I came back to the sales letter, re-read it, thought, “What the hell was I thinking?!” and completely re-wrote it. I checked the re-written version today and only found one small part I didn’t like. I’ll probably go with the version I have now after I make that small modification. I’ll probably send the first round of mailings on the week of January 4th, and then do a round of mailings every week until the first meeting on January 27th.

2016 goals

Here, in no particular order, are my 2016 goals. I might change the list later but most of these I’m pretty sure about.

  • Visit Nigeria again
  • Take family on at least one out-of-state vacation
  • Get at least 5 Excel automation clients
  • Earn at least 175k
  • Give away at least 10% of income
  • Visit Chicago at least 4 times (for networking)
  • Start a new product business
  • Read at least 50 books
  • Be able to do 10 pull ups and 15 chin ups
  • Get down to 165 pounds
  • Teach Elliott how to read
  • Record at least 5 complete songs
  • Play at least one show

I’m at kind of a “brainstorming” phase with 2016 goals. Some of these, like “start a new product business” could benefit from some quantification and dates.

My favorite books of 2015

I’d like to share my favorite books from 2015. I don’t mean my favorite books out of the ones that came out in 2015, just the ones I personally read in 2015. I have four favorites.

4. Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins

This book will probably only interest my business owner friends…luckily, that’s probably most of the people reading this blog.

As I understand it, Claude Hopkins was like the O.G. of split testing, among other practices. Scientific Advertising was written in 1923 but it reads like it might as well have been written yesterday. To me, understanding advertising is mostly about understanding psychology, and human nature doesn’t really change over time.

Let me see if I can recall some of my key takeaways from this book:

  • Long copy has been shown to outperform short copy, pretty much always. The longer the better, it seems.
  • Any attempt to sell is met with an equal resistance.
  • Exclamations are counterproductive.
  • Vague claims like “best food in town!” don’t work very well. Better to make very specific and precise claims.
  • Traced ads are better than untraced ads, although I didn’t need to read this book to know that.

On the cover of the book there’s a quote from David Olgilvy that says, “Nobody should be allowed to have anything to do with advertising until he has read this book seven times. It changed the course of my life.” I do plan to read the book at least one additional time. I’m sure my list above leaves off at least half the important lessons from the book.

By the way, notice how most of the ads you see are short and contain vague claims with exclamation points at the end. I’m almost sorry I read this book because now I’m annoyed with how obviously terrible most advertising is and how ignorant most ad writers must be of the most basic principles.

By the way, around the same time I read Scientific Advertising I also read Olgilvy on Advertising. That was a great one as well. Scientific Advertising is available as a two-pack with another Claude Hopkins book called My Life in Advertising, and the two-pack is the version I read. If I remember correctly, Claude Hopkins was born in Michigan. He certainly spent some portion of his life here, and he talks about various places in West Michigan in My Life in Advertising.

3. The Positioning Manual for Technical Firms by Philip Morgan

For a long time I’ve been trying to raise my freelancing rate to $150/hr without much success. There seems to be some invisible barrier between $100/hr and $150. After reading The Positioning Manual (and after learning some things from some other sources) I believe that the secret to escaping the $100/hr range is to stop charging by time and start charging by the project.

Raising your hourly rate is easier said than done. Going from hourly billing to daily or weekly billing is also easier said than done, since so many clients have such a strong expectation that their vendors are going to charge hourly. Going from hourly billing to project-based billing is also easier said than done. What about scope creep? What about the fact that software is notoriously hard to estimate?

I’ve found that if I find clients on job boards, they’re going to want hourly billing, but if I find clients at, e.g., business networking events, those clients usually want a business problem solved as opposed to wanting a programmer, and those are the kinds of projects that are decoupled from typical vendor expectations and market rates.

My plan is to find businesses that use Excel in an at least partially manual way, and automate away their inefficiencies. I plan to do relatively small projects, and I plan to do similar projects over and over if I can. If the projects are small and repetitive, that helps mitigate the scope creep and estimation problems. The fact that the client wants a business problem solved means I can charge based on value rather than based on time.

I’m not very far along in my positioning journey. I’ll keep you posted on how that goes.

2. The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem by Nathaniel Branden

Historically I’ve had pretty low self-esteem. I bought this book as a way to try to fix that problem, and somewhat surprisingly, it seems to have worked to a large extent. I need to read the book again in order to be able to describe it very well. Its lessons helped me but I don’t actually remember very clearly now what those lessons were.

I guess one of the strongest lessons was the idea of accepting your actions and your personal attributes (which doesn’t mean you necessarily have to like those things). If I did something bad, I should admit that I did that thing and accept the fact that I did it. By acknowledging these things I can drive them into the open where they dissolve.

One thing I found interesting about this book was that the author himself seems to have led kind of a fucked up life that seems incongruent with what he teaches. I don’t mind, though, because his material seems self-consistent and has definitely worked for me.

1. Eat to Live by Joel Fuhrman

This is another book I need to re-read. I first developed an interest in learning about nutrition in 2009 when I decided I had had too many days of feeling like shit most of the day. I read a really good book around that time called Eat, Drink and Be Healthy by Walter Willett. The book was eye-opening because I discovered that the USDA food pyramid is total bullshit. Grains/rice/bread/pasta shouldn’t make up the base of your diet. Animal products are pretty bad for you. The food pyramid was created to benefit agribusiness, not our bodies.

Eat to Live was similarly eye-opening. Its content was not quite as surprising to me as that of Eat, Drink and Be Healthy when I first read it, but I was struck by the author’s apparently depth of knowledge. So much nutrition “information” out there is just such absolute bullshit. It’s hard to know what to believe. I could tell Walter Willett’s information was based on sound science. My impression was that Joel Fuhrman has gone even deeper.

Eat to Live basically recommends a vegan diet, although the word “vegan” appears maybe twice in the whole book. I was pretty surprised by all the adverse health effects described of pretty much anything that’s not an unprocessed plant food. I wish I could whip out some specifics but I don’t remember. This is another book I’ll have to re-read. But basically, the lesson is if you eat the Standard American Diet, which is heavily based on animal products, you can pretty much count on developing cancer, heart disease, and/or some other pretty bad stuff. The author claims that a plant-based diet can prevent or even reverse some of those things.

Others

Those were my favorite books from 2015. Here are the other ones I read, some of which I’ve already read at least once before.

  • Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl
  • Matilda by Roald Dahl
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
  • The BFL by Roald Dahl
  • James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
  • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
  • The Call of the Wild by Jack London
  • Winning Through Intimidation by Robert Ringer
  • Napoleon: A Life by Andrew Roberts
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
  • The Charisma Myth by Olivia Fox Cabane
  • Double Your Freelancing Rate by Brennan Dunn
  • Olgolvy on Advertising by Claude Hopkins
  • How to Get Rich by Felix Dennis
  • The Power of Ambition by Jim Rohn
  • Essentialism by Greg McKeown
  • The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber (this should actually maybe be on the favorites list)
  • Traction by Gabriel Weinberg
  • The Go-Giver by Bob Burg
  • The 80/20 Principle by Richard Koch
  • The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra
  • SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham
  • The Psychology of Selling by Brian Tracy
  • A History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russel
  • Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

What I thought of 2015

Around this time of year for the last few years I remember thinking, “Good riddance to this shitty year.” I don’t feel that way about 2015. It was probably the best year out of the last several years.

Last year I wrote about 2014’s accomplishments. Here are some 2015’s accomplishments:

New car for myself

I finally had enough money to buy what I consider to be a pretty good car. I was driving a 15 year-old Saturn my dad had bought me a few years ago, which was very nice of him, but I felt embarrassed pulling up in it to meetings with clients and prospects. I always imagined the other person might think, “How successful could this guy be if that’s what he’s driving?” I know that the popular view is that people shouldn’t judge each other based on appearances but they definitely do. Even if the other person wasn’t judging me based on my car, I certainly felt less legit showing up in it.

What I bought myself is a 2002 BMW 325xi wagon. (It looks like this.) Somewhat funnily, it only cost $3650, just $650 more than the Saturn I had been driving had cost, but zero embarrassment factor. I didn’t realize before that I could get such a good car for such little money. I probably could have bought a similar car way earlier but I couldn’t justify spending that money just because I felt like buying a different car. What prompted this purchase was that Niki’s car died. This was sometime in late spring, I believe.

New van for Niki

Jim Rohn often talks about his early days when he had “pennies in his pocket” and was “behind on his promises”. I feel like I’ve been somewhat behind on my promises for a while. I don’t know that I ever specifically promised my wife a new van, but I did buy her one this October. For a long time I had been against the idea of car loans but for some reason I finally decided to say fuck it, who cares. I bought her a 2011 Honda Odyssey, by far the newest and nicest car either of us have ever owned.

House

The years of 2014 and 2015 are when I finally started making some pretty good money. In addition to buying two new (used) cars, I was able to put away enough money for a down payment on a house as well as some of the other expenses related to buying a house. It took us a long time to find what we wanted but we finally found it: a place with some acreage, not too close to the road and not too close to neighbors, and not too far outside the city. The house itself is nothing to write home about but that’s quite alright.

First international travel experience

In 2015 I left the US for the first time in my life at age 30. I visited Nigeria from mid-January to early February to teach programming with Andela. I have to say that it was very perspective-shifting and one of the transformative experiences of my life. I made a lot of friends there, and even visited someone I met via this blog. (Hi Uzo.) I intend to go back as soon as I practically can.

Better clients

The clients I worked with in 2015 were better than the clients I worked with in 2014. That could easily be taken the wrong way. I of course don’t mean that the people were necessarily better (although sometimes they were!), I mean the businesses were a better match for the kind of work I do.

In my mind, a good client is someone who a) has a problem I can solve, b) has deep enough pockets, c) has their head screwed on right, and d) is sophisticated and educated in the same way as me. By that last point I mean, are you familiar with most of the following people? Stephen Covey, David Heinemeier Hansson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Perry Marshall, Claude Hopkins, Rob Walling, Dale Carnegie. The degree to which you’re familiar with those people tells me the extent to which you educate yourself as a business owner. If you aren’t familiar with the work of any of those people, you probably don’t live in the same world as me, and it’s not going to be as easy for us to work together. Willfully ignorant business owners don’t make good clients.

When I worked for Andela I was perpetually impressed by how well-educated my colleagues were. I felt like the dumbest guy in the room. I almost certainly was the dumbest guy in the room. That’s of course a sign that you’re in a good environment that will help you grow. I hope I can have many more client engagements like that.

Double Your Freelancing Conference

I don’t know if this is an accomplishment. It might just be an experience. Perhaps it’s an accomplishment that I had enough time and money to get myself to this conference.

In 2013 I read Brennan Dunn‘s Double Your Freelancing Rate. This book exposed me to a community of freelancers/consultants who kind of vibrate at the same frequency as myself. It’s a world that overlaps with the micro-ISV/micropreneur/bootstrapper world I had been exposed to some time earlier.

In 2015 Brennan held the first-ever Double Your Freelancing Conference in Norfolk, Virginia. The conference was, no exaggeration, one of the best experiences of my entire life. Every once in a while I have an experience that kind of whispers in my ear, “Hey, life can be way different than what you’ve experienced so far.” At this conference was exposed to people who bill $250K+ per year as solo consultants. I had a chance to ask a table full of people what their most life-changing book was, and not only did they not think I was a crazy weirdo for asking the question, but they had some really good responses including books I had never heard of. (One guy’s response exactly matched mine: How to Win Friends and Influence People and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.)

It’s hard to put into words exactly why the conference was such a good experience. Part of it was just the feeling that all these people were living life “right”. Most of them had healthy minds and healthy bodies and a large degree of freedom over their own lives. They had set their own course in life and then followed it. There’s a quote I like which reads, “A man is educated to the extent he can understand and influence the world around him.” These people seemed to me very educated. They were people I wanted to be around and be like.

Miscellaneous others

These aren’t necessarily accomplishments, just positive things that happened.

  • I took a trip to Northern Michigan in March and stayed at a cabin with some friends. I had more fun than I had had in some years. I had found myself growing concerned that as you grow older you simply stop having as much fun, and life’s highs and lows get less extreme. This trip showed me that it’s still possible to have a fuckload of fun, I had just been living life in a shitty way for a long time and denying myself fun experiences.
  • I took a trip to Beaver Island in October which involved taking a ferry to the island and then taking a long bike ride around the periphery of the island. This was another “mega fun” experience, and was a nice reminder that life doesn’t have to be dull. Life is dull most of the time right now, and full of too much work, but that’s just because I’m doing a shitty job of it, not because it’s some law of the universe or something.
  • I took a trip with my family up to Onaway, Michigan, the place where my dad’s side of the family is all from. The reason we went there was for my grandpa’s funeral but despite the sad occasion it was a positive overall experience.
  • I took Niki on a mini-vacation to Chicago where we went to Pitchfork Music Festival. We were able to stay in a nice hotel and not worry about how much we were spending on food, drinks, etc. We hung out with an old friend of ours from high school. This was another glimpse of what life could potentially be like after I’m able to throw off the shackles of 40 hours a week of work. 2015 had kind of a lot of glimpses of that.
  • I killed Snip. It’s of course not really a good thing that Snip won’t ever be a success like I hoped, but having killed Snip clears the way for the next attempt at a product business.
  • I read a bunch more books, listened to a lot more podcasts, and generally got way less clueless about how to be successful in businesses.
  • I completed my first real “results-based” project where I charged for the project as opposed to by the hour. I intend to do more of these in 2016.
  • I recorded some new music, some of which I consider to be some of the best stuff I’ve ever written. Not very much but some.

I’m looking back at 2015 with satisfaction and good feelings. I’m very glad to be able to feel this way since, as I mentioned before, the last few Decembers have been accompanied by kind of a “good riddance to this year” feeling. I have reason to believe that 2016 will be even better than 2015 in terms of both money and relationships. I intend to post again soon with some 2016 goals.

Why I read four or more books at once

This is the list of books I’m reading right now:

  • Endless Referrals by Bob Burg
  • The Lost Art of Finding Our Way by John Edward Huth
  • The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
  • Alexander the Great by Philip Freeman
  • The History of the Ancient World by Susan Wise Bauer
  • Abundance by Peter Diamandis
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

It might seem silly that I’m reading so many books at once. It probably is in fact silly that I’m reading quite so many books, but I do have kind of a system which I think makes sense.

My system is something I guess I’ll call my Reading Station System. My “stations” include:

  • Next to my bed
  • Living room
  • The kids’ room
  • The car
  • “On the go”, meaning I keep a book with me at all times

I’ll explain the last first. Lately I’ve been keeping my stuff in a backpack in which I keep my laptop, a folder with a notepad and pen, headphones, and a book. Whenever I meet someone for lunch I bring my book into the restaurant and read it while I wait for the other person. At doctors’ appointments, at the post office, and other places where I expect to wait, I bring a book so rather than being bored I can use that time to educate myself. Most people just sit there and let that time be wasted. There’s no good reason for that.

The car is a pretty simple one. I listen to books on Audible. I usually alternate between books and podcasts. When I run out of podcast episodes that really speak to what I’m thinking about at the time, I’ll switch over to my audiobooks. I sometimes alternate between two audiobooks if I’m trudging through something long and dry (like the 45-hour A History of Western Philosophy) but I’m working on breaking that habit by selecting audiobooks that are short and interesting, and saving the dry stuff for print.

Putting the kids to bed at night is my job. We usually read one or two short picture books and then turn out the lights switch to a children’s novel on the Kindle which can be lit up. Right now we’re reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. We just finished The Call of the Wild and before that we read Where the Red Fern Grows. After the kids fall asleep I switch to a book of my own. Right now the Kindle book I’m reading is the monstrous The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (920 pages on paperback).

The book I keep next to my bed is The Lost Art of Finding Our Way, which is a book about primitive navigation techniques. (I’m bad with directions and I’m trying to fix that.) I try not to read anything too technical or work-oriented before bed because I don’t want to get the wheels spinning before I try to fall asleep.

The book I keep in the living room right now is Endless Referrals. I usually have a higher ratio of business books to non-business books but for a couple reasons I have it flipped right now. Fiction is always a small slice of the pie.

I’m a slow reader but by “filling in the cracks” of my life with reading I’ve found that I can read up to about four books a month.

Entrepreneurship Journal, 12/13/2015

Last time I wrote, I was thinking of going further down the Microsoft Excel positioning path. The idea is that I find businesses that use Excel in a somewhat wasteful way, and transform their clunky old Excel-based system into an elegant web application.

I have in fact gone further down this path. My friend Adam and I started something we’re calling Grand Rapids Excel Meetup. The idea is that we’ll bring together people who use Excel and work and let them talk shop with each other and exchange tips and tricks. And if they feel like maybe they’ve outgrown Excel, we’ll let them know that they can talk to us about that.

I’ve been thinking that the positioning could be narrowed even further by specifically targeting accountants. I shared this idea with a friend of mine and he referred to me an accountant he knows. I talked with this accountant on the phone, and not only was he interested in the Excel meetup, but he mentioned that he had some automation work he’d like to talk to me about. Another friend of mine told me the CFO where he works was excited about the meetup, although that CFO lives in Chicago and can’t come. But it’s good to know that an Excel meetup seems to be an idea people are into.

I’ve also been putting out the feelers pretty hard for regular old web development projects of any kind. That’s going pretty well and I have 14 leads right now of varying degrees of size and quality. I even got to the point in one of those conversations where the prospect agreed to send a deposit, although it hasn’t been sent yet. The nice thing is that right now I don’t need any extra work, I just want it. This of course allows me to be more selective in what client engagements I accept and under what terms.

I guess I’ll close with some books I’m reading right now:

  • Endless Referrals by Bob Burg
  • The Lost Art of Finding Our Way by John Edward Huth
  • The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
  • Alexander the Great by Philip Freeman
  • The History of the Ancient World by Susan Wise Bauer (on audio)
  • Abundance by Peter Diamandis (on audio)
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

As you can see I’m on kind of an ancient history kick right now. I had read a Napoleon biography some time ago and Napoleon was a big Alexander the Great fan, so that made me curious about old A-dawg. I find it interesting that Alexander was taught by Aristotle who was taught by Plato who was taught by Socrates. I don’t really know anything about any of those guys. Maybe next I’ll study Socrates, then Plato, then Aristotle, so I can learn about the earliest guys first.

It might seem silly that I read so many books at once. There’s a good reason which I’ll explain in a separate post.