Discomfort Credit Cards and BBQ

Blogger’s Note: I haven’t blogged in forever. Used to do it all the time, but am way out of the habit. In an attempt to keep this blog from becoming a ghost town, I’m going to post my longer thoughts that have been mostly going to Facebook. Here’s the first one.

Was listening to Tim Ferris’ podcast with Ramit Sethi and he was giving negotiation techniques and suggested to call your credit card company and ask for a new APR. I always pay off my CC so don’t really care much about the APR, but my uber-cool blue Sapphire Card is all scratched up and I wanted to new pretty one.

So I called them and first asked if they could tell me how much I’ve put through that card since I got it in April 2014. The number was 6 figures because I use the card for everything, including almost all our expenses in the UK, most of the repairs on the house and every travel expense we do.

Then I asked for a new card. Not surprisingly they merely asked if 3-5 days was OK for delivery.

Missed the annual fee renewal, but they’ll be getting a call next March.

And it was SO FUN, which I wasn’t expecting.

This was a follow-up to a discomfort exercise from the day before where you have to ask for a discount at any store. For some reason I decided to do it after lunch at Betty Roses BBQ.

I asked my waitress if I could have a discount because it was my first time there. I expected a no, or for her to ask how old I was to give me the senior discount :(. Instead she asked if I was in the military. I get that alot, I think for my hair cut rather than my command bearing.

“No”

“Do you have a CHL?”

“I do.”

“I can give you one for that.”

10% off.

Oh Abilene.

Why I Leased An Office

So I could look down at Abilene. 🙂
Northern Office View
For the past year I’ve been doing software consulting from my home office. This has a lot of advantages, but recently I decided I needed to get an office outside of my house. Now that I’m sitting in my new office I thought I’d write a blog post on why I did it.

Developing a Practice

I’ve been reading a couple of books in the last few weeks that influenced my decision. One was Manage Your Day-to-Day, edited by Jocelyn Glei one of the editors at Behance. It is a collection of essays from different “gurus” on how to be a freelancer better. One chapter is a Q&A with Seth Godin. His answer to the question, “What’s the hardest part about getting a daily routine right?” is what got me thinking office.

“The strategy is to have a practice, and what it means to have a practice is to regularly and reliably do the work in a habitual way.”

I’ve also been reading, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. One of the points of the book is that habits are how we live our lives. Even really complicated behaviors are often habits. Duhigg breaks down a habit into Cue-Routine-Reward. Something triggers the habit (Cue), our brains go into autopilot, and we just do the routine. This means if you want to consistently do something, you need a cue. One kind of cue is a change of environment. This is the beginning of what Godin calls a Practice for work.

My office is my new cue for working. When I get to the office it is to work. To create. Even now, during the first time I’ve been to the office when it was mine, I’m working. I’m writing a blog post. Even though I’ll have to go home to post it because my Internet isn’t hooked up yet, I’m working.

(This is related to my new found distinctions between obstacles and excuses, which I’ll write about another time.)

Isolation

When you work for yourself and have no employees or coworkers, you have very little face to face interaction with other people. Add to that I’m are new in town and it can get lonely. Actually it really isn’t lonely, it’s more stir crazy. There have been a number of days in the last couple of weeks where I’ve gotten up early in the morning and gone to bed late at night and never came in contact with another human being (my wife’s been out of town 11 of the last 14 days.) That’s just not good for you, even if you’re an introvert.

Getting an office at least forces me out of the house.

Division of Work and Home

Working from home means work can never start and it can never end.

It is easy to do just one more thing around the house before you start working, or to wash some dishes during a programming break. Those dishes turn into cleaning the whole house and you’ve spent a couple of productive hours doing the wrong thing.

The opposite happens too. If I’ve got a project due for a client and I sit still for a few minutes at the house doing nothing, I’ll feel the need to go work. Doesn’t matter if I worked all day on the project, because it’s just a walk down the hall to my computer. It is easy to keep working. I also have insomnia, and if I wake up at 3 AM one of the things that plagues me out of bed is work that needs to be done.

Having an office means work is in one place, and home is in another.

Other Reasons

There are a few other small things that make this office better than my house. Surprising to me, these are the kind of quantitative reasons most people would use to justify the expense.

Distraction I love my wife and have missed her dearly when she’s been gone these last couple of weeks, but she’d been home one day when her legitimate interruptions of my work started to bug me. When I get in the zone programming, any little thing can pull me out. Then it can take 15 minutes to an hour to get back in the groove. Having my own office will lower that.

The internet should be blazing fast. One of Abilene’s business Internet providers is in the building and they have a special deal for tenants. They’ll hook you into there fiber network and you get 20-30 megabits down and 10 or so upload.

Office rent in Abilene is dirt cheap. I’m renting a 500+ square ft office for under $400/month. It includes utilities and office cleaning.

Ego. It adds a little cache to be in the tallest building in Abilene. (Twenty floors if you were wondering) Also adds some legitimacy to some clients to have a “real” office in a high rise.

And, being on the 8th floor, I can look down on Abilene.

View from window near elevators.

View from window near elevators.

Have I’ve Become A Metrics Ass?

(Found this in my drafts folder it was written a year ago. In the middle of writing a post about The Four Hour Body, I thought it needed to be published.)

I don’t know when it happen, but I noticed the other day I’ve become a metrics asshole. And no I’m not saying I measure everything in liters and kilograms. Rather I doubt almost everything people tell me unless it can and has been measured.

A friend said he wanted to produce a certain kind of book because “everyone would like it.” Really? How do you know.

I guess I’m not really an ass yet because I didn’t actually say that out loud.

Another person told me I should change some copy on my website because it was too long and wordy. He based this on lots of experience with web design. My first thought was, have you tested that? I’m in the middle of split testing two complete sets of copy to see which is actually the best. I happen to like one and think it is the better, but I don’t know it is until Google Web Optimizer tells me so.

Lots of stuff is counter intuitive and you won’t know it until you test.

Reminds me an experiment in the great book Made To Stick. One author made his class give a 1 minute speech on violent crime vs white collar crime in America. Then right after the speech he had every student who had heard the speech rate which was best. So he had which ones everyone thought were best.

Then he showed them a clip from Monty Python and then told them to get out a piece of paper and write down what they remembered from each person’s speech. Very few of them could remember anything from the speeches. And the ones they could remember from were not the ones they voted the best speaker.

So everyone thought they knew which ones were best, but in reality they were wrong.

Now I think about that kind of thing all the time.

The Photography Instructor Mastermind

Just today I saw on twitter a discussion of how every photographer hurt by the current economic woes was starting to teach workshops. In a sense the market is getting flooded with new photography instructors, which is causing a flood of supply. So I started thinking, how can we give ourselves an edge in a market flooded with competition?

It made me think of another market I’m part of as a consumer. The “internet marketing” niche. Everyone who has ever read a biz-opt book wants to start selling their own how to make money on the internet product. How do the people who lead that market – the guys making huge money – succeed when others don’t? And how can we apply that to our market?

All of them say they are selling the secret. Cooler launches, better sales copy, wizbang video products. But I think I’ve figured out what their real secret is and now want to do that same thing in our photography instruction market.

Who Am I?

I’m Ron Davis, the guy behind the Photographer and Model blog, podcast and academy. I teach in the specific photography niche of photographing models. I’ve also got an online course teaching Pinup Photography.

This is my personal blog, where I talk about all kinds of things, including my business and trying to make a living teaching photography online. If you got invited to read this, it is on my personal blog because I don’t talk about the business of Photographer And Model on photographerandmodel.com, my model photography instruction site.

What is a Mastermind Group?

The most successful people are part of a Mastermind group. The term was coined by Napoleon Hill in the classic “Think and Grow Rich”. He studied industry leaders like Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, John D. Rockefeller, Sr., Charles M. Schwab and found one of the things they had in common was they were part of a mastermind.

A mastermind group is a group of people dedicated to accomplishing one purpose. There are two kinds, one where you are trying to do one particular thing – like corner the steel market. The other is a group of like minded people all working toward a similar goal – like making a living teaching photography online.

I’m trying to form a group of like minded photography instructors to work together to help all of us accomplish our goals to make money teaching online.

Advantages

There are lots of advantages to being part of a mastermind.

Encouragement. It is tough trying to do this on your own. You need friends and colleagues who understand what you are going through.

Accountability. They can also hold you accountable to your own goals. Giving you that kick in the seat of the pants that helps you get things done. And they can tell you when you are producing crap and need to step it up.

Learning from each other. We all know different things. Some people are excellent bloggers, some great with video, others understand email marketing. By getting together we can all bring our strengths together and increase each other’s success. Also it is sometimes good to just get another perspective on what we are doing.

Social proof networking. Image you are in a new city looking for somewhere to eat. You see two restaurants, one has a bunch of cars in front of it and one’s parking lot is empty. More than likely you are going to pick the one with lots of cars because it indicates that one is good. This is social proof. If everyone is talking about something then it must be good. Our mastermind members can coordinate talking about each other products to create social proof as well.

How It Would Work

So how does an online mastermind work? Details will have to be worked out and tested, but here’s my plan to start.

A monthly conference call.
We need a deadline and a monthly call is a good place to start. A call also is a higher bandwidth exercise than just email. On this call each member would be asked three questions:

What have you done since last month?
What is you biggest struggle we can help you with?
What are you going to do before next month?

This would accomplish all the benefits of the mastermind as succinctly as possible.

A email discussion list. Between meetings we’d still be able to toss around questions, problems and new things we’ve learned via email.

There is no cost to be part of this mastermind. Some masterminds have a charge to make more advanced people be willing to be part of it. We’re all in this together with no one getting paid to be there. Other groups have a monthly charge to make the members take it seriously. Hopefully we won’t need that.

Call to Action

To qualify for the group you need to have the following:

A website dedicated to your photography teaching.
A willingness to do and not just talk.

and at least one of the following.

An email list with over 100 people on it.
A twitter account with over 1000 followers.
A facebook page with over 100 followers.
100 subscribers to your RSS feed for your blog.

If you are qualified and interested in being part of the mastermind group send me an email (mastermind at photographerandmodel.com) telling me about what you are trying to do with your online teaching business.

I’m thinking we’d have our first call in early January.

Feel free to leave questions in the comments as well.

There is No Such Thing As “Your Customer”

If you think you are the only person your customers buy from you are mistaken.

You would have to not only sell something totally unique, the customer would also have to only need one. In the vast majority of cases you make something that is one of a group of things your customer buys multiples of.

If your business like mine is based on selling information about a subject, your customer is buying from lots of people. (I teach model photography online). I don’t have any illusion that people who buy my online pinup workshop don’t ever buy another photography course.

Heck, I assume they buy other courses and attend other workshops.

I hope they do, then I can make more courses to sell them, and I can promote other people’s course as well.

Do You Really Have Competitors?

If I know my customers are going to buy other people’s stuff, are those people really competitors?

Do you know what the biggest indicator that someone is willing to buy your product? That they’ve actually bought before.

The biggest reason someone doesn’t buy your product is they aren’t going to buy any product.

If you want to find good potential buyers for your product, look for people who have already bought a different product. There are two places to find these people: buyers of your other products, and buyers of your “competitors” products.

Puts your competitors in a different light, doesn’t it? Now they are a source of high quality customers. All you need to do is give them an incentive to send those customers your way.

The easiest incentive is to just pay them. Give them a cut of what you make when one of their customers buys your product.

Second is to offer to sell their product for them. Promoting their product first is an act of good faith and shows you aren’t worried about losing something by sending prospects to someone else.

You may have to convince them this is a good idea. You can send them to this post, where I try to convince you don’t really own your customers.

Might be easier if you aren’t directly competing with them. For instance if you are wedding photographer, it might be hard to get another wedding photographer to send you prospects. But if you don’t do weddings, but do do seniors, you could find someone who does weddings and doesn’t do seniors. Then you could each send the prospects you don’t serve to the other. (This was one of the few instances I could think of where someone bought a one unique product.)

Obviously this is something you need to think about. It may in fact not be true for you, but hopefully it opens your eyes to the possibility. And if your business doesn’t lend itself to competitors as partners, maybe you need to find a different way to do business.

My New Daily Ritual

All the credit for this new habit must go to Eben Pagan. I recently bought into one of his products and in the end it turned out not to be right for me, but the bonus teaching he gave with it is really working.

Its why you are seeing this post right now.

Eben says we are all creatures of habit and if we want to succeed in life, or at a particular task, we need to create positive habits that get us there. As sort of a general principle for entrepreneurs he has three daily rituals you need to have.

1. Daily exercise and revitalization. You need a time where you are using your body and letting your mind not focus on the task at hand. The exercise has all the long term health benefits, but it also has short term mental and emotional benefits. I like to think of exercise as clearing out all the emotions in your body. So much of what we feel isn’t in our heads, but in our body. When you exercise that kinds of gets pushed out. In general the emotion of working out is positive, or at least becomes positive as you make it a habit.

I actually made a video on my old video podcast about emotion and the body.

I have to confess this one isn’t a daily ritual for me yet. I’m still running in training for the Houston Half Marathon, but not on a daily basis. Not even on a 5 day a week basis, but I am going to pick that up.

2. Business Dashboard. Peter Drucker said “Measure what matters”. And what you measure is what changes for the better. I’ve found this idea very relevant in all walks of life. Eben says you need a business dashboard that you – or someone on your team – updates on a daily basis with the most important stats in your business. And he gives you a very easy way to do it.

Just make a spreadsheet. Dates down the side, stats as colums across. Mine basically has traffic to my websites, sales of my products, subscribers to my email list and podcast. I now update it every morning for the day before.

3. Create a piece of content every day. Just create something. For me that has mostly been blog posts, but it could be video scripts, or emails, or info products. It’s the reason I’m writing this post today.

That’s it. Really simple and can make a big impact on your life and your business.

Now I’m off to update my dashboard.

How I Turbo Charged My To Do List

Improving my To-Do list and getting things done has been a priority for me lately. I’ve been launching a business and specifically a new product and things were getting done, but it was often very hard to get them done.

I kept working and working and feeling I hadn’t done much of anything. Every time I removed something from my To-Do list, I felt like there was just as much left. Its kind of like the laundry. You do it and by the time you get the basket back there is already new dirty laundry.

Evernote to the rescue

I use Evernote for everything. I do this for a number of reasons, the biggest being I work in a lot of different places, home computer, work computer, iPhone. Evernote lets me keep all the stuff I need on all of these machines without having to think about it. I started using it when I stopped bringing a laptop to work and needed to keep things in sync. Now I put about everything in it.

Including my To-Do list.

I started out with a single note with my To-Do list in it as text. Then I’d change the format to strike through when I finished it. This didn’t work for a couple of reasons.

First, Evernote doesn’t let you edit notes with mixed formatting on the iPhone. So I couldn’t mark things done from my iPhone. I could add things, but only to the end of the note, which wasn’t super useful.

Second, all that crossed out text started hiding the stuff that still needed to be done. I tried moving it around, but that didn’t help much either.

So I started just deleting it.

Which is where my mental problem came in.

My Mental Problem With To Do Lists

Often we think of a To-Do list as a time management tool. That we don’t have enough time to do everything we need to. But, for me at least, I have enough time to do stuff. What I don’t have is enough motivation. If I feel like I’m not accomplishing anything, it gets harder and harder to keep doing the next thing.

The opposite is also true. If I’m on a roll and getting stuff done, then I want to do more. That feeling of accomplishment is fire the engine.

My Solution: The Finished To Do List

About a month and a half ago, I started a new note in Evernote called Finished To Dos. Whenever I finished something in my To-Do list, I’d cut it out of the To-Do note and paste it into the Finished To Do note. I’d group these by date.

This got the done To-Dos out of the list and keep it clean.

It also showed me every day how much I’d done and let me review what I’d done so I never had to think “Did I really do X?”

It can also answer the questions “When did I do X?”. So if someone comes back to me and says “You didn’t finish report X” I can look at my finished list and say, “Yes, I finished it on the 4th and uploaded it on the 5th.”

Filling up the finished list gives you a little energy boost every time you paste something in it. Plus you get to where you want to beat your personal best for number of items added in a day to the finished list.

Peter Drucker says, “Measure what matters.” If I want to get stuff done, then I need to measure what I get done. This method gives me detailed data on what I’ve done for later analysis.

Sometimes something comes up that isn’t on your todo list but needs to be done right now. When that happens I still enter it in my Finished To Do list.

This has made a dramatic improvement in my getting things done. It has also made positive mental impacts. I feel like I’m getting stuff done. I feel a surety that things will get done. I don’t have a worry that I missed something.

A surprise is it gives me more free time. Actually really it gives me more non-guilty free time. Say I want to watch a couple of episodes of my Farscape DVDs. In the past I’d have done it but I’d have felt I should be doing something else. Now I can look at my Finished To Do list and know I’ve accomplished plenty today and can take some time off.

Have any of you done anything like this? If so leave a comment below.

Try it out and give me your feedback in the comments below as well.

4 Keys To A Successful Website

If you read my twitter posts you know that I was very impressed with the Revolve Dance Company’s performance that I went to recently. I was so impressed I started thinking about what I could do for them.

Tech Guys Not Pretty

For most of my adult life I’ve built websites. I know HTML, CSS etc. When I see a crappy website for an organization I like that is the first thing that pops into my head to do. Build them a website that doesn’t suck.

Now I have learned over the years I’m a tech guys, not a designer. While I technically know how to create webpages, I don’t necessarily know how to make them look good. I’ve learned a few tricks along the way, like using a theme designed by someone else with a platform like WordPress.

But basically when I want it to look really cool, I hire a designer to design it. Photographer and Model is an example. Interestingly designers normally draw the page in Photoshop and then cut it up to make their HTML.

It is More Than Some HTML

Over the last 18 months I’ve been building an online business, PhotographerAndModel.com. In that process I’ve learned a thing or three about what it takes to really use the internet to succeed in spreading whatever it is you want to spread.

In my case it is teaching photography. In the case of something like Revolve, it would be promoting dance.

So now when I think about helping them with their website it is about more than just a web page, or even a blog it is about community building via a complete online presence.

What does that mean?

In the past it was good enough to just have a website with a little information about your organization. Now that would just get lost in the flotsam and jetsom of the internet. You need to be able to rank well in the search engine and create multiple means for people to join your community.

Here’s a quick overview of things I’d suggest for any organization wanting to use the internet to expand their audience/market/community/following.

#1 Build an Email Mailing List

You need a way to push information to your followers and the best way to that is still email. So start building an email list from day one. Some people think twitter could replace your email list, but that is a fantasy. Twitter isn’t there yet, and email is still better because people read all their email, but not all the tweets that go by.

Do it right. Require a double opt-in and use a quality emailing list provider like Aweber.

#2 Have a Blog

Even if you don’t plan on daily updates, blogging software makes organization and creating new content so much easier. This is especially true for organizations without a lot of tech knowledge. Your average person can figure out how to write an article with WordPress and respond to comments.

I also believe your blog should have its own domain. That domain is where you send all your traffic from other sites and if you need to change things in the future you can use that url to do it.

#2 Use Multiple Social Media Sites

People connect on the internet via a bunch of different sites. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Myspace, etc. You need to have a presence there. And you need to update it regularly.

“Wait, I have to not only update my blog, but all the these other sites as well? I don’t have time for this.”

No, you need to make them update each other. This is a bit of technical alchemy, but a tech guy can set it up and then you only have to keep it going.

Mostly you do this by having one site’s info drawn from another. When you post to your blog, a tweet is created and sent to Twitter. Twitter updates your status on Facebook and Myspace. When you create a video on YouTube, you post it to your blog.

#4 Put the Most Important Thing On the Front Page Above The Fold.

What do you want people to do when they come to your website? Buy something? Signup for your mailing list? Learn more about you?

I remember a long time ago reading one of Seth Godin’s books where he put forth this idea. At the time I had a site for my shareware business. I did a redesign and put buy and download buttons on the front page of the site. Before they had been on each product’s page. Afterwards I sent Seth this email:

I just wanted to drop you a line and say thanks for your online book
“Fixing Micah’s Website”. I read it and it inspired me to redesign my
company web site. After doing so I quadrupled my sales, which is pretty
good.

I went out and bought “The Big Red Fez” as a thank you.

Put your email opt-in on your main page above the fold. If you sell something, put that there too. It works.

Do these four things and your internet presence will be a quantum leap better for what ever purpose you are working toward.

Back to Revolve

For instance, Revolve’s website isn’t even on the first page of search results for their name. That should be a no brainer, given their domain is revolvedanceco.com, a few dozen backlinks and they should be ranked #1.

Ticket sales are buried. There should be a buy tickets now button on the front page. A list of upcoming events would be nice as well. A blog post allowing visitors to connect with the members of the company would be good to. Obviously they need a email opt-in and some incentive to get people to opt-in.

Revolve is so talented, it is a shame their website isn’t as talented. I don’t like to be critical, even for a good cause, with out offering a solution. So if anyone from Revolve reads this, I’m willing to do all the suggestions for you and talk to you about other things you could do to make your site not just good, but incredible.

This message is getting long so I’m going to stop. Hopefully readers you get something out of this to make your website better.