Running a business from the road

We’re four weeks into our trip to Europe and having a fantastic time. Tomorrow we’ll head to Paris for 4 weeks after spending 3 weeks in Berlin. The first week of the trip was spent in London and I knew it was going to be a time spent packing in as many sights as possible time so I didn’t try to get into a work groove. The time in Berlin was going to be slower and less jam packed with tourist stuff so I would work here. Also, I’ll need to work in order for our goal of long term travel to be sustainable.

Over the past few weeks there are a few things that have stood out as very important for anyone trying to run a business from the road. One of these will come from a change of habit, two require pre-trip research and one is a good idea wherever you’re located.

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Lessons from being self employed again

The beginning my talk at WordCamp Grand Rapids was a story of me hitting the rock bottom of freelancing. I was over committed, broke, alone, and emotionally drained. That was the start of my transition to focusing on products instead of services. Looking back that transition was the best decision for me. I’ve really enjoyed building and supporting products.

Fast forward to today and it’s been a little over a month since going back to being fully self employed. I’ve been busy working on client projects and new businesses. Have total freedom of schedule again has been great as well as the people I’ve had a chance to meet.

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Picking the Right Idea

I’ve had several conversations this week with product people about new ideas.  It’s something that I love to talk about.  I’m an extrovert and talking to people gives me energy, but talking to product people takes that energy to another level.  There’s really no need for NDAs or pretense when talking about this because ideas are cheap – execution is what is valuable. Read More

3 Books To Read Before Leaving Your Job

I quit my last corporate job in 2008 where I was a programmer for a bank. It was In retrospect I didn’t do the best job of preparing myself, my family or our finances for the process we went through the next three years after quitting. The only books I had read about going solo described the joys of working for yourself and being your own master. They talked of a place where independence, business wisdom and revenue coincided to create a euphoric mountain top experience.

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Your First Digital Sale

We had a choice: sit uncomfortably close and talk over our shoulders to each other or sit the furthest distance away from each other that the semi-circle booth allowed. Seating was limited in the restaurant we chose so we took what we could get. We picked spots in between the two extremes and started chatting after we placed our lunch orders. Read More

The Best Place to Sell WordPress Plugins

I enjoy talking about building premium plugins and presented about it last year. I love talking to developers about their ideas and brainstorming with them. After building a product the next logical question is:

I’ve built a plugin, now where should I sell it?

Most developers are very good at charging forward to building code and making a quality product.  When it comes to sales and marketing we are much more hesitant. Read More

Your Bootstrapped Business Needs A Reserve

 Cash flow is the lifeblood of a business. It needs to be steady and constant and any restriction of it will cause panic and pain. When most businesses start out there are many variables that contribute to inconsistent cash flow. New ventures struggle with deciding what features to add to a product, who the target audience is, and what marketing strategy is an effective way to reach that market. Read More

Goals for 2014

This year I’m doing something different with my goals and keeping them very simple. I’m still going to use the same seven areas for goals, but unlike last year I’m going to only have one goal per section.  Then as I finish the goal I’ll replace it.

If by mid-year I haven’t made any progress on the goal, or have lost passion for it I’ll replace it. I’m interested to see if focusing on fewer things helps them get completed.  It’ll be an interesting experiment, and will at very least reduce the amount of tracking I need to do. Read More

Start With One

I recently added a newsletter signup to my blog for anyone who wants to get daily updates directly to their mailbox. (Hint, hint, it’s over to the right!) About a week later I got the first subscriber to that list.  I don’t normally get email from Mailchimp so seeing the email was new and different.  When I realized it was a new subscriber I let out an audible “Woot!”

This email reminded me: Any worthwhile goal starts with one of something.  Depending on your goal that ‘one’ may be one subscriber, one client, one chapter written, one mile ran, or one product shipped.

My goal is to be a digital tentmaker and my wife and I have been working very hard toward this goal for several years. We want to be location independent and work from across the globe serving with local ministries wherever we are. We are very close to taking our first international trip, but getting to this point we experienced the first ‘one’ several times.

One debt paid

We felt the first thing we needed to do before traveling with our family was to become debt free. Even if we didn’t intend to travel it was wise to first become debt free as it brings stability to your life. Any business that I’d want to start would need a runway of cash to get it off the ground. Because we followed Dave Ramsey’s Debt Snowball plan the first debt we paid off was a very small one, but it was still memorable.

The debts I remember were the big ones like sending my student loans $30,000 in one transaction! Being able to get to the point of paying off the last debts took the perseverance and resolve that was built from the beginning when we paid off the first debt.

One plugin sold

Getting that newsletter subscriber email reminded me of the first time I sold a digital product and got the sales notification email. The sale was different from client payments because I didn’t have any direct contact with the buyer before they purchased the plugin. This person found my site, viewed the product page, and decided to give me money. Plugins are a great business model for a digital tentmaker because they can sell even when you’re in transit between countries, or in a place of limited connectivity.

The sale wasn’t “passive” because I had spent many hours developing the plugin, testing the code and making the  marketing site. That one purchase alone didn’t reimburse me for the time and effort invested, but it was the start of something. It was proof that what I was doing was valuable to someone.

Since then I’ve sold a few thousand products so now sales emails are a bit of a non-event so they get archived quickly to clean up my Inbox. But, it all started with that first one.

One house sold

After getting out of debt and building an online income our last step before traveling is to sell our house. It’s not a necessity to sell our house to be able to travel, but it gets us to where we want to be financially much faster.  We also figured out that our house took more time and energy to maintain than we wanted to spend. We put in the time and money to get the house ready to sell.  This was our first house we had owned so we’ve never gone through the sale process.  Keeping a house show ready with three small children was exhausting, but we knew that it would be worth it.

Then we received the call from our realtor that we had an offer. And we’re now two weeks away from closing the deal.  I’m not sure how many times in my life that I’ll buy or sell a home, but this one house sold is monumental for us because it’s the start of a whole new journey.

What goal are you working on? What ‘one’ thing will mark the beginning of your journey?

Current Podcasts In My Queue

Like many people I love listening to podcasts while I do yard work, exercise, or do tasks that don’t require a high amount of mental focus. Here’s a list of the current podcasts I listen to and getting a high amount of value from.

1. Tropical MBA Dan and Ian are the hosts of the Tropical MBA podcast which is a weekly (every Thursday) podcast that focuses on location independent entrepreneurism. They recently combined two podcast brands under one name. They provide great advice for people starting and running lifestyle businesses from anywhere in the world. They have great personalities that work well together in their audio format. I aspire to work and run businesses from the road as an expat so I enjoy the first hand knowledge they share about this.

2. Startups for the Rest of US Rob Walling and Mike Taber host Startups for the Rest of Us (which makes me think of “A Festivus for the rest of us” each time I hear it :)) which is a weekly (every Tuesday) podcast focusing on teaching software designers and developers how to launch software products. Both hosts have launched software products so their advice and opinion is grounded in actual experiences. They discuss topics like SaaS Pricing, Email marketing, curn rate and hiring VA’s which may sound boring, but for it’s target audience (me!) it is highly valuable content.

3. Smart Passive Income The Smart Passive Income Podcast is hosted by Pat Flynn. I listen to this one less frequently just because I like to focus all of my attention on it and I don’t have a lot of unattached time. Each episode is full of so much quality content you will want to have a notepad at the ready.

4. Foolish Adventure Foolish Adventure is hosted by Tim Conley and shares information for entrepreneurs that want to grow their business and gain financial freedom. Tim has a spectacular back catalog of guests who have a wide range of experience in the online realm. Tim’s got a great vocal presence and the podcast is fun and enjoyable to listen to.

5. Bootstrapped Web Brian Casel hosts Boostrapped Web is a show for bootstrapped entrepreneurs who want to learn by doing. I’ve known Brian for a few years and have enjoyed watching his evolution from freelancer to SaaS owner to podcaster. Brian is 10 episodes in but has some high quality content already. I really enjoyed the episode talking with Brennan Dunn where they talk email lists and tactics for building a list.

6. Foundation I was a Diggnation fan from Episode 1 (actually there were some episodes before E1) and even met Kevin Rose while in the studio audience of the show The Screen Savers so I’ve watched his content going way back.  Foundation is a semi-frequent video where Kevin interviews startup founders, entrepreneuers and other people doing interesting stuff in technology. I don’t learn technical things like marketing techniques from the interviews, but they are great if you enjoy hearing someone tell their story and talk about the hurdles they overcame to reach success.

7. This is Your Life This is Your Life is a podcast by Michael Hyatt that focuses on intentional leadership. Michael is another solo host and does a fantastic job of keeping the listener engaged no matter the topic. His vocal presentation and composure is world class. I first found Michael from reading his book “Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World” and have taken many of his teachings to heart. I also recommend that book to anyone looking to make a name for themselves online.

8. Product People Product People is hosted by Justin Jackson and the format is explained well by the podcast title. Justin is a builder and interviews other builders about how they built their products. The focus is software and web based products, but they also cover other products like e-books. That’s what I’m currently listening to.  If you have any suggestions please let me know!

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Tame Your Business Expenses

When a New Year starts the sporting goods stores stock up on running shoes and athletic clothing. They do this because they know that many people have just made a resolution to get healthy and one of the first things they will do is to go buy new clothes and shoes. Nevermind that they probably have a pair of still-good shoes that are a few months old. These purpose driven resolutionists are willing to spend top dollar for the newest gear that will have a direct impact on their success! Unfortunately the resolution will fade before February is on the calendar and the money spent on gear will still be gone.

Just like resolutionist athletes people starting businesses, and even some that have several years under their belt, fall into focusing more on the gear than the work. After starting a business we start thinking of the ‘gear’ that will make it successful. Gear translates to SaaS apps and other services.

The best way to ensure the success of your microbusiness is to adopt an attitude of extreme frugality.

Having expenses doesn’t mean you are in business. Don’t pay undue attention to your accountant if they say you need to have more expenses to avoid taxes. If you don’t focus on your product and customers there won’t be any income to pay expenses.

When I switched from freelance client work to products there was a dip in revenue because I made the switch too quickly. Since keeping the lights on in my own home was more important than keeping a Basecamp account I went through my business expenses and slashed everything. I had fallen into the trap of keeping things that cost me monthly that I really didn’t need.

At one point my P&L expenses section looked like this:

  • Project management and CRM (Basecamp and Highrise)  $100
  • Time Tracking and Invoicing (Harvest) $49
  • Book keeping app (QuickBooks Online or Xero)  $49
  • Hosting (Dedicated server) $250
  • Office space $200
  • Office internet connection $60
  • Office insurance $50
  • Phone (Vonage) $25
  • Coworking space $50
  • Merchant Account (Authorize.net ) $50

That totaled $893 / month or $10,716 / year in recurring expenses.

The gross revenue of the business was between $65K and $85K per year so $10K was a huge percentage of that. I’d much rather keep that money to pay myself or put into retained earnings.

Guidelines for Microbusiness Expenses

Once I made the decision to slash and burn I used the following four criteria to decide if I needed to keep a service:

1. Do I really need this?

The first question to ask is if the service is needed at all. Is it a want or is it a need. Is it vital to your business or a vanity expense.
I keep very low minutes on my mobile phone because I don’t make voice calls, but when I was sub contracting for an agency they wanted me to be on daily scrum calls. When I got an inflated mobile bill I opened a Vonage account to be my ‘business phone’. Later I realized that I didn’t need a phone to be in business so the Vonage account was the first item to go.

Another app that I no longer needed was Basecamp. Since I no longer do client work there’s no need to keep an project app. I also got rid of my office and moved back to working from coffee shops and my house.

2. Is there a free level available?

Most SaaS applications will offer a free account for a reduced number of users or features. I’ve been a Harvest user for 5 years and I like their service. I have years of time tracking data and invoices in their app. I was using their $49 / month plan, but no longer needed multiple users, time tracking for multiple projects nor branding for the invoices. So I switched to the free plan which I can still use to invoice and receive payments and track my projects.

Along with free, see if you can get by with a less-cost alternative. For example I didn’t need to be paying $250/month for a dedicated server. I moved to a $50 / month VPS and haven’t looked back.

3. Is there a one time charge or self-hosted option?

Despite the move to the monthly subscription model or software there are still ways to pay once. For my accounting software I was using QuickBooks Online ($49/month) and then later Xero ($39/month). I never liked QuickBooks, and loved Xero. I do need a way to keep my business books, but when I looked at the volume and complexity of my books it didn’t make sense to pay monthly for a service. I switched to using Google Docs spreadsheets. “But what about your valuable time???” you may ask. It takes me about an hour to do my monthly P&L. I don’t mind doing this and I like the cost savings.

4. Go per-transaction instead of per-month

Credit card processing was a sore spot for me. I loathed getting my merchant account statement with the cryptic fees and always different monthly recurring charges. Then Stripe came along. With my old Authorize.net account I was charged about $50 / month not related to transactions and $70 per year. With Stripe I only get charged if I have sales. Simply brilliant.

5. Pay monthly as a last resort

If there is an application or service that is vital to your business and is not offered as a one-time cost or per transaction cost then pay per month. Be sure to keep scrutinizing the cost and strive to keep overall expenses low. The only thing I currently pay monthly for is hosting.

One time expenses

There are still some one-time fees like domain names, SSL certificates, and travel. Those can be kept low or delayed until a future month.

It’s possible to run a profitable micro business with just a hosting account!

Slashing my expenses didn’t have any affect on my gross revenues. I still have the same revenue, but only spend $70 per month on recurring expenses. So in effect I gave myself a raise by reducing how much I was spending!  So skip signing up for the fancy new SaaS, and focus on the things that serve your customers and build your revenue.

Have you tamed your business expenses?  What things do you find vital to your business? 

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Starts and Finishes

Yesterday a few guys that I know and admire reported news of their businesses.  One was a start and one was a finish, but they both resonated with me.

PublicBeta

Adii Pienaar launched his new business PublicBeta. It looks like a fantastic recource for entrepreneuers so I immediately signed up. I’m currently in the waiting queue, but can’t wait until it is live so I can dig into the content. The library of courses looks fantastic. I really like that Adii chose the bootstrapper model and self-funded. I’m very excited for this start.

8bit

The 8bit guys announced that they are closing down shop. I enjoyed hanging out with these guys in their beautiful office while attending WordCamp Atlanta earlier this year. The vibe around their place was so positive and you could tell they genuinely enjoyed being around each other and working together. I know each of them is going to continue to do great things and I look forward to what is in store for them. I’m very excited about this finish because I anticipate what will come next.

Passions and Seasons

As the guys processed on their blogs about the emotions of these starts and finishes they mentioned following your passion and that there is a season for everything. I agree totally with both of these. Some people are afraid of change and will stay in the predictability of the status quo, but without change you are going to miss opportunities. Adii mentioned leaving his “cushy CEO job” because he is a starter and enjoys creating new things. Some may thing that’s crazy, while others nod their head in agreement. It’s true that for some nothing can beat the thirll of building something new.

There’s a season for building, and a season for tearing down and starting something new. Overcoming the fear of starting and finishing is something that is needed in order to be able to do great things.

I love change and often think about ‘What’s next’ and ‘What do I want to be when I grow up?‘ so it’s exciting to see people acting out change in their lives. I’m very excited for all of these guys and for what’s next.

 

 

Selling plugins to get out of debt

Last week my wife and I achieved a huge milestone for our family. We finished paying off all of our non-mortgage debt and are now debt free except for our house! We paid off $67,000 in 8 months. We now are moving on to Baby Step #3 which is a fully funded Emergency Fund that is equal to 6 months of expenses in the bank.

Selling Plugins

How did we do this? In short, I sold my babies.

Before you call CPS and report me – I’m not talking about my kids, don’t be silly! We were making great progress on cleaning up our debt mess from the revenue of plugin sales combined with my job’s salary. Then last month we got an inquiry for the rights to two of my plugins. These two plugins were our cash cows and were bringing in between $4,000 and $5,000 combined recurring revenue per month. The plugins were the first two plugins I had ever built so that’s why it felt like a member of the family was leaving.

So how did we come to the decision of selling these plugins now? Why not wait 12 months to be out of debt and keep the assets? This is how we came to the decision to sell now.

We stuck to our one goal

At the beginning of the year my wife Amanda and I chose ‘Hustle’ as our word for the year. Specifically we decided to hustle to get out of debt as soon as possible. In past years we had tried to do multiple things at once which produced lackluster results. We decided that only laser focus on one goal would lead to success.

We were sick and tired of our debt hindering us from being able to follow our passion of slow travel with our family as digital tentmakers. Our one goal became cleaning up our financial mess and removing that hurdle. So when we received the offer to sell we asked “Does this get us to our goal?” and the answer was “Yes.”

We wanted to be in the sunshine

Using the classic metaphor of being ‘in the hole’ with money we had lived our entire married life as subterranean dwellers. We had tried climbing out of the hole, but it was a long and difficult climb. We could have made ourselves comfortable in the hole, but it’s not a very hospitable place. There isn’t much light, you can’t move laterally without tons of effort, and it’s prone to cave-ins.

With the sale we had the opportunity to be on the surface for the first time in decades. If we got up there and didn’t like the view then it wouldn’t be very hard to dig ourselves another hole. Something tells me we’re going to like the sunshine.

I can build more products

Change happens every day. There are changes in WordPress, there are changes in the internet, and there are changes in the world. With so much change happening I’m very confident that I can find a new niche to serve customers. The WooCommerce ecosystem is still growing every month as is the overall WordPress ecosystem. Opportunity abounds.

Additionally now that I don’t have any creditors demanding my attention I can build at my own pace. I can take a risk on a project that may take longer to pan out. I don’t have to work on things that translate to money quickly in order to make a monthly payment.

There is a next chapter yet to be written

We don’t know what the future holds. Our desire is to start traveling and connecting with ministries around the world. We want to experience first hand what it is like to live in other countries. We want to see how Christians are serving their communities and tell their stories. Now with the debt gone we can see the horizon and start moving toward it.

Put Away The Sharpener

When we started homeschooling our kids last fall my wife bought an electric pencil sharpener.  We had one around the house early in our marriage that was eventually sold at a garage sale or given away.  Now the kids are learning how to write so it’s a very useful tool to have around.

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