Category Archives: Goals

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.

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.

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.

How to be a good mentee

  • Make the mentorship convenient for the mentor. As the mentee, you should handle scheduling any meetings. A good way to schedule meetings is not to ask “What time works for you?” but to ask “Would any of the following times work?” and then list the times. When you meet, come prepared with specific things to talk about.
  • Show the mentor you’re taking his or her advice. Busy, successful people are especially sensitive to wasting time. Nobody wants to invest time in giving advice to a loser who’s not actually going to put the advice to use. So when a mentor gives you advice, take the advice, and let the mentor know you did, and what happened as a result.
  • Have clear goals and a clear agenda which you share with your mentor. The purpose of a mentor, in my mind, is to help you achieve some particular thing. It will help the mentor help you if he or she knows what you’re trying to accomplish. So decide what your goals are and share those goals with your mentor.

Side note: when seeking out a mentor, don’t limit yourself. I’ve been surprised by some of the famous/wealthy/busy people who have agreed to mentor me.

Accomplishments of 2014

I spend a lot of time, probably too much time, thinking about the things I don’t have yet or are missing from the picture. I’d like to take a little time to list some things I did accomplish in the last 12 months.

Personal/family

  • Took my wife on a vacation to Arizona and Vegas
  • Took my oldest son (age 4) on a father-son visit to a dinosaur museum and car museum
  • Got up to being able to do 50 push-ups at a time
  • Went from not being able to do a pull-up to being able to do 7

Career

  • Raised Snip’s revenue to about $430/mo
  • Got Snip back to the first page of search results for “hair salon software”
  • Got 3 out-of-state Snip customers (the first 3 out-of-staters)
  • Got Snip’s online sales funnel to work for the first time ever
  • Improved engagement on the Snip site by adding Olark chat and “view demo” opt-in (thanks to a mentor’s suggestion)
  • Reached the milestone of 10 Snip customers
  • Straightened out Ben Franklin Labs’ positioning and USP, which as of January was wildly off course and ineffective
  • Earned 5 figures in a month for the first time ever (the source was consulting)
  • Raised my consulting rate from $X to $2X
  • Hired a design subcontractor for the first time ever
  • Hired programming subcontractors for the first time ever
  • Hired personal/admin assistants for the first time ever
  • Launched the somewhat popular educational site AngularOnRails.com
  • Landed a gig working with one of the most well-known people in the Rails world
  • Moved into my own office, not a co-working space

I have a long list of goals for 2015 but I want to focus here on accomplishments. For the 3 or 4 people who read my blog, please feel free to share any accomplishments of yours in the comments.

How October 2014 is different than October 2013

  • I’m working at a rate that’s 2X what I had worked for most of 2013, sometimes 3X
  • I have 9 Snip customers instead of the 3 or 4 I had in October 2013
  • Snip is profitable
  • I have the satisfaction of knowing I can earn a whole year’s “real” income while self-employed
  • The Snip website has a couple opt-in forms and Olark chat, which are collecting leads, which didn’t exist in 2013
  • I have a dedicated co-working space that’s a lot better than my previous co-working membership
  • I have a bunch of business relationships that I didn’t have before

How I’d like October 2015 to be different from October 2014

  • Working a max of 20 hours per week on non-Snip stuff
  • At least 50 Snip customers

Career goals as of August 2014

My career goals have changed a little bit over the years but not much. Presently they are:

  • Be a millionaire by age 35 (I set this goal when I was 26. I’m 30 now.)
  • Be a decamillionaire ($10 million) by age 40

The reason for these goals is more about freedom than it is about the accumulation of possessions. I want to unburden myself from the need to earn an income so I can free up my time to do more worthwhile things.

Snip in 2014

I’m changing the way I work on Snip

I’ve come to realize over the last couple months that my work on Snip has been kind of sporadic and disorganized ever since the beginning (January 2011), and that I should really be getting more systematic. Sporadic was fine when I was just building the product, but I think activities like lead generation and following up need to be systematic in order to really be effective.

Another thing I want to change is how I balance working on Snip with doing client work, since I still need an income. (By the way, I have plenty of work as of this writing but I’m always open to talking about new projects. I mainly do Ruby on Rails programming. Email me.) I pretended for a long time that I could work one day a week on Snip and spend the other four days of the week doing client work, but that turned out not to be workable in reality. I would always spend five days a week on client work, and then maybe I would work on Snip for a few minutes here and there throughout the week, which was stupid.

My plan now is to instead allocate a small slice of each workday to Snip, like about an hour. That hour itself will be divided two ways: 1) make 10 phone calls, either cold calls or calls to warm leads if I have them and 2) stuff that can be done on the computer, including working on the online part of the selling system (my website, external links, etc.) or product work, depending on what the priority is (usually the selling system). So far this has worked out better than the one-day-a-week plan, since it’s a lot easier to carve out an hour of each day than a day out of each week.

I’m getting more systematic with marketing

In addition to getting more systematic overall, I’m planning specifically to get more systematic with marketing. In the past my Snip work would go like this: work on the product for a while, go out and canvass (canvassing ≈ door-to-door sales) for a while and then quit, do cold calls for a while and then quit, work on link building for a while and then quit, go back to canvassing and then quit, etc. I think what I need to do is consistently do a little bit of all these things in parallel. I read a Jay Conrad Levinson quote recently that said something like, “Mediocre marketing with commitment works a lot better than really good marketing without commitment.” I can’t claim to be anything more than a mediocre (at best) marketer but I can apply some commitment to what I’m doing. Here are the tactics I plan to use somewhat in parallel:

  • PPC. I haven’t done this much before. I started a Google Adwords campaign on January 1st.
  • SEO. I’ve been working on this for a while and I’m apparently better at it that most of my competitors because I’m ranking above most of them.
  • Phone calls. This includes both cold calls and calls to warm leads. Haven’t seriously tried this as a marketing tactic much until now.
  • Canvassing. This is how I’ve gotten most of my customers so far. It’s effective but slow, time-consuming and maybe kind of expensive.
  • Offline, direct response marketing. I’m talking about sales letters and trade magazine ads. I haven’t done this at all before.
  • Email marketing. I haven’t done this at all before, either!

As you can see, there’s a LOT I haven’t done yet marketing-wise. So far it’s been almost 100% canvassing.

So rather than switching sporadically from marketing tactic to marketing tactic like before, my plan is to move each one of these things forward a little bit every week. I’m not sure exactly how I’ll accomplish that. So far I’ve just been doing phone calls and Google AdWords and I haven’t been able to manage doing anything more than that. I think I might want to start by getting the AdWords and phone calls totally on lock, and then once I’ve done those consistently for a while, add another marketing tactic, get that one totally down, etc. If I try to change my habits too much at once, I bet it would be like a crazy diet where I stick with it for a few weeks and then totally flake because my self-discipline isn’t there yet.

Goals for 2014

My main Snip goal for 2014 is to get one new customer a month every month of the year. I chose this goal rather than just “12 new customers in 2014” because the latter would let me get away with getting all 12 customers in December, leaving me off the hook for the first 11 months of the year. I want a goal I can measure myself against at relatively short intervals.

(Side note: since Snip has a 30-day trial, there’s a one-month delay between the time a salon gets on board and the time they submit their first payment. So the goal will technically be for me to get one new salon fully onboarded each month, since so far no one has gotten fully onboarded and then bailed – once they go in, they’re in for good. I’ll define “fully onboarded” as, let’s say, having 50 appointments in the system.)

By the way, you might be thinking my goal is wimpy, and I wouldn’t argue with you. But I think my goal for 2013 was “100 new customers” or something like that, which I fell short of by at least 96 customers. If I add 12 new customers to the 4 I have now, and the customers on average choose the $50/mo plan, that would be 16 * 50 = $800 in monthly recurring revenue, which for me would be fuuuucking awesome. I really hope to do better than one new customer per month, but I want to be at least halfway realistic. I can always adjust the goal later if I start killing it mid-year.

Also, this isn’t really a goal, but I plan to make a weekly “accountability” post for Snip where I report on how I did that week in terms of both effort and results. To my great surprise people apparently give a shit about my little business and for some reason enjoy reading what I write here. So if for some fucked up reason you find my writing interesting, there’s more of that to come!

Tell me your goals

If you have goals for 2014, I want to hear them. Share a link to your product or blog or Twitter or whatever. I wish you the best of luck.