Who You WIll Be Five Years From Now Part 2

This is the second part of my reflecting on the following quote:

“You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.”

In part 1 I talked about five people I’ve met in the past five years that have impacted me.  Here are five books I’ve read in the past five years that have impacted me.

1. CSS Mastery: Advanced Web Standards Solutions by Andy Budd, Cameron Moll, Simon Collison

In my last job I worked for a bank and integrated systems for the different departments I supported (Human Resources, Wire transfer, Recovery). The software I supported was a hodgepodge of random home-grown systems and purchased software. The languages used ranged from MS FoxPro, C#, shell programming, and perl. I knew I didn’t want to continue working in IT departments forever since they are not usually profit centers for companies and are treated like overhead. This book was my first step toward learning how to build things for the web.

2. The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss

Like many people I was challenged and inspired by Tim Ferriss’s book. He introduced concepts that have reshaped my thinking. Nobody I knew was taking about things like geo-arbitrage, location independence, nouveau-riche (being time rich), and life automation. Before I read the book my target and life path was something totally different than it is today. I used to want a normal job, annual raises, and vacation time. Now I want to own businesses that produce revenue, have the ability to live anywhere in the world, and be with my family all the time.

3. The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau

This book continued to alter my thinking away from the “live someone else’s life plan” to “make your own life recipe and go for it.” Chris talks about things like “Setting The Terms of Your Unconventional Life” and redefining security. His book changed my thinking from finding security in a job to finding security in my own skills and abilities (there is a faith element to security too). The book encourages a contrarian view of doing anything that is imposed on you by someone else. Take a step back and evaluate why you are doing something, then figure out what you really want to be doing and go do that.

4. Quitter by Jon Acuff

When I read “Quitter” I felt like I was reading the anti-story of my past five years. In the book Jon Acuff tells a story of his own path from “day job” to “dream job”. He encourages people to keep a job they can “fall into like” with while they hustle on nights and weekends building their dream job. That way when they leave their job they are able to quit well. Looking back on my story I quit my bank job way too early. If I had it to do over again I would have waited at least another year doing my day job and working my web business on the side. I also wouldn’t have quit my day job until we were debt free with a sizeable emergency fund. Quitting too early we invited stress, risk, and instability into our lives.  Jon’s book is a very good resource for anyone who wants to build a dream job and needs a vision of how to go about doing it.

5. EntreLeadership by Dave Ramsey

EntreLeadership is a book based on a week-long in-person training seminar that Dave Ramsey offers. The course is cost prohibitive for me so I was glad that the book was published so I could learn some of the information offered in the course. The book is a fantastic read for anyone that owns a small business. It covers several aspects of business from hiring/firing, getting office space, building a team culture, marketing and selling. The most impactful part of the book for me was a section called “Product Lifecycle” where he talked about the different phases of selling a product. His example was with books he authored, but the concepts were applicable to software. The section helped me think of the software I build as products that will go through different cycles of Introduction, Growth, Strenght, and Decline. This mindest helped me to transition from offering client services that don’t scale to products that scale very well.

How about you?  Looking back over the past 5 years of your life who are the 5 people or books that have changed you?

Who You Will Be Five Years From Now Part 1

Several of the leaders I listen to and read quote Charlie “Tremendous” Jones. The line they quote is:

“You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.”

I didn’t have the chance to hear Mr. Jones speak while he was alive, but this quote is very interesting. I believe the quote because of the people who quote it.  Also because it sounds true. So I decided to look back 5 years and think about who I have met and what I have read in that time that changed who I am. Five years ago was March 2008. I was two months past quitting my job as an IT guy for a bank and was working from home building Magento ecommerce sites.

Part 1 – People I’ve Met

1. Ryan

I actually met Ryan a few years prior, but he was one of the first people I had met that worked from home and built websites. He was kind enough to have lunch with me one day and answer my questions on how to do this “start a business” thing. Although Amanda and I had taken some S.C.O.R.E. classes they all focused on getting an SBA loan and opening a storefront. This wasn’t something we were interested in.  Ryan showed how simple it was to open a simple Sole Proprietorship and do business on the internet. I’ll never forget when he said that “Most people want you to grow up and get a ‘real’ job. I’ll take a ‘dream’ job any day over a real job.”

Impact: He encouraged me to start my own business

2. Galen

I met Galen about four years ago right after the birth of his youngest son. Actually my wife Amanda met him first when she took some food to their house. She came back and said “You’ll like him. He’s a talker.” Over the years we’ve gotten to be good friends and regularly go out to catch a movie after the kids are asleep. Galen has four kids and three are older than my oldest.

It’s good to know someone who is a little further down the path of fatherhood to let you know that things will get easier. Galen also has a very mature faith. I feel comfortable asking his advice because I know that he listens to God and has a lot of wisdom. I remember interrupting his lunch one day when I was wrestling with the decision to quit leading mission trips at my church. His counsel that day helped me start down the path that would lead to Amanda and I beginning our Life With A Mission. It’s great having friends like this in your life.

Impact: He models how to be a good dad and a spiritual leader

3. Mike and James

I wish I could retrieve my tweets from around August 2011 because if I could I would be able to find a series of tweets between me and James. He and Mike were heading up the project that eventually would become WooCommerce and they needed someone to build an Authorize.net payment gateway plugin. I said I could do that, and then Jay asked me if I wanted to be paid hourly, or split the sales revenue. “Split revenue?” I thought. I had never had the opportunity to split revenue, and although a paycheck sounded very nice and I had no assurance of sales I chose the split revenue.

At the time I was still doing hourly freelance work, but this opportunity was my first product. It sold a few hundred bucks the first month. And then again the second month. By early 2012 that one product was selling over $1,000 per month. Not bad for a few hours of work. I’ve since expanded my product portfolio and love the recurring revenue and stability it has brought. Now I get to work with Mike and Jay on a daily basis at WooThemes and am so glad we met.

Impact: They introduced me to selling products and to WooThemes

4. Scott & Sara

Both Amanda and I grew up public school kids. Early in our marriage we scoffed at the thought of homeschooling our kids. But when we started planning slow travel with our family the public school calendar was very limiting. I saw public school as a tunnel you enter and then don’t emerge from for 12 years. We met Scott and Sara when they attended our church and we knew they homeschool their kids. When we were researching homeschool as a possibility to give us the freedom to travel the entire year they invited us over to their house and they answered all of our questions. When we asked about our kids getting ‘socialization’ with homeschool Sara said “There are socially awkward kids in public schools, what’s their excuse?” Sara also shared what a typical day looks like and explained how curriculum works.

We left that dinner feeling very comfortable and excited about homeschooling. Now that we have been homeschooling Kindergarten for our 5 year old and pre-kinder for our 3 (now 4) year old for the past seven months we absolutely love it. We love the time we have with our family and the freedom we have to direct the focus and pace of our kids’ learning.

Impact: They showed Amanda and I the truth and freedom of homeschool

5. My Kids

The people I’ve met in the past five years who have changed me the most are my three kids. Fatherhood has had its challenging parts, but it’s been so rewarding. I’m truly honored to be able to be dad to Annabelle, Roman and Zander. I can’t wait to watch them grow and share adventures with them.

Impact: They taught me humility, love, and selflessness

I’ve changed a lot in the past five years, and I’m excited to meet more people who will help shape who I am in the next five years!

This post got a little long so I’m going to continue in another post with “The Books I’ve Read.”

Photo Credit: Ben K Adams via Compfight licensed under Creative Commons.

I’m A Wantrepreneur

I listen to several web business podcasts and I hear the term “Wantrepreneur” used often.  From what I can gather the term is a portmanteau of “Want” and “Entrepreneur”. I’m not sure if it is always meant to be derogatory as in a fanboy or a poser that doesn’t do any real work, but the context is usually not positive. I laughed when I first heard the word as I feel it actually applies to me.

I will say that I’m not fond of the term Enterpreneuer at all. The 37Signals guys don’t like that term either as they outlined in the book Rework. The term they use is Starter – someone that starts or creates something from scratch that didn’t exist before. Unfortunately I find that if I use the term Starter in everyday language that I end up having to explain to people what I mean then I end up using the “E” word again.

Here are some of the reasons I feel I still fall into the Wantrepreneur camp:

I Haven’t Taken Something From Zero To Hero

I’m currently on the 3rd iteration of my business. The first iteration was me working for one designer. That sucked for multiple reasons so I quit doing that. The second iteration involved me trying to be a dev shop/web agency by having several clients, a few contractors and do full website projects. I was able to find work and engage clients, but I am an abysmal failure as a project manager, so I ended up hiding from the ringing phone and the email waterfall in my inbox. This also sucked for multiple reasons so I quit that.

The third iteration involves me developing and selling products. Although the products didn’t exist before, the platforms they are built on and the marketplaces they sell in existed before I arrived and were built by other people. I didn’t have a hand in building the brand following that I benefit from. Someone else had the idea, did the work to bring it to reality and then nurtured it until it prospered. The nurturing part in the web world more than likely involves marketing which leads me to my second point.

I Haven’t Tamed The Marketing Monster

The same web business podcasts kicking around the Wantrepreneur term all say that marketing is vital and much more important than the product. They almost hyperventilate when talking about “the list.”  You gotta have an email list, gotta have a list, gotta have a list. Do you have a list? You can’t launch without a list!

I see where they are coming from, but the one email list I’ve tried to build consists of three AOL.com email addresses and a handfull of emails that are probably bots. Not necessarily a stellar list of potential customers.

To say I’m a little green when it comes to online marketing is an understatement. I’ve got theory, but no practical experience. A list of to do’s, but no metrics. And I’m a guy that likes metrics. This is one thing that I know will come with practice and study.  There are tons of guides and how-to’s on this subject and I’m looking forward to digging in and experimenting.

Hiring Costs Money

There are a few examples of web guys that have built successful profitable product businesses as a one-man-band. But, these seem to be quite rare. Most of the people that have had success had help in the form of employees or contractors. It’s not that I wouldn’t enjoy doing every part of my business, but I’m beginning to be a believer of the cost benefit of paying others to do certain tasks that either a) are grunt work, or b) involve special skills I don’t have.

Another hurdle is that because my company is bootstrapped I need to cashflow hiring from profits. I’ve only recently been making enough money to put toward hiring help. For me it is more difficult to pull profit away from paying myself to paying to hire people to do tasks that are not directly tied to more profit. It has been a transition, but I will get better at this.

I may be a Wantrepreneur, but that’s alright with me. Every successful business owner has a starting point.  The common thing for all of them is that they didn’t stay there.  I’m having the most fun I have had in a long time in my work and I really enjoy the freedom that comes with building things from scratch.

Why I Don’t Tweet About Politics

I recently read “Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World” by Michael Hyatt and noticed this statement when he was talking about sharing on social networks.  On page 175 Hyatt says:

The problem with all written communication especially Twitter is that it is difficult to communicate context or nuance in your messages. Negative emotions are better expressed in person if they must be expressed at all. If you tweet these messages , you risk offending the person it was intended for and turning off a large percentage of your followers. Is this really the brand impression you want to create?

When I read this I immediately thought about politics on social networks.  Having gone through a few election cycles that involved Facebook, Twitter and close friends with differing political opinions I’ve decided to abstain from any online discussion or reposting of articles.  In the past I used to enjoy a debate.  But with my experience I realized that these conversations quickly digressed into ad hominem attacks or people throwing links to news stories or “statistics” back and forth at each other.  A total wast of time.

Nothing piques people’s emotions like politics (well perhaps faith, but I’m not holding back on discussing that).  And this phrase has been joked about, but still holds true:  No one’s opinions about politics will be swayed via social networks.

So in the end unless you are a pundit it’s probably best to pass on stirring the political social network pot.

And even if the only “brand” you’re building is your own name it’s probably good to keep the communication positive and clear.


Source: someecards.com via Stacy on Pinterest

My 2012 Recap

Even though it’s already half way through January I feel like it is still okay to do a “year in review”, or “lessons learned” post.  2012 was my fourth year of being self-employed and what I identify as the third iteration of my business.  It was also the eighth year of being married, and the fifth year of being a father. I believe I grew in each of these areas in significant ways.  I write about the family stuff elsewhere so here I’m going to focus on my professional life.

Starts and Stops

There were a few things that I started last year that I either didn’t finish, or decided to shut down.

At the beginning of the year I started two groups that didn’t gain traction – a men’s book club, and a local web developers meetup.  Even though I met some great people through both groups I ran out of extra capacity to do them well and was disheartened by dips in participation. I may try to startup some more local meetups in the future because I crave connections with other local web folk, but I’ll take a different approach in doing so.

I also started the year thinking I would make Grow Development to be a Magento extension shop.  This too didn’t turn out as planned.  Although I was able to create 17 WordPress extensions, I was only able to create one Magento extension which ended up taking 80+ hours to develop and has to date sold only twice.  If you average that out it’s about $2.18 per hour!  Although I still feel like products are the future I may reconsider my involvement in Magento and what the future holds for me with that platform.

The Most Books In One Year

In 2012 I read a total of 17 books.  The books were a mix of fiction and non-fiction. I had planned on reading two per month, but even though I didn’t hit that goal I’m still excited about how many I completed.  This is the most books that I’ve read in any year of my life including college.  I firmly believe that leaders are readers and felt like I needed to follow through on that mantra or stop saying it!

This year I’ll be continuing the momentum from last year and have made a list of 24 books to read for 2013.

Saying Goodbye To Client Work

2012 was the year I said goodbye to client work.  I made the decision in late 2011 to stop doing client work since I never got the hang of managing client’s expectations well and that caused my stress level to shoot to astronomical proportions.  The move away from client work started with no longer looking for work, progressed to turning down any referrals and requests that I received, and then finished with completing all open projects.  From May to October I didn’t have any client work and only worked on products.

Client work still leaves me with an apprehensive feeling; like a burrito that looks delicious on the menu, but you know will just give you with heartburn.  Even though I may choose to take on a project in the future I will no longer base my entire income on client projects alone.

Saying Hello To Products

At the beginning of 2012 I had one product selling in two marketplaces.  At the end of 2012 I had 17 products selling in five marketplaces. Starting in July the monthly product revenue was enough to pay all of my business expenses and household bills.  This was a huge milestone.

I no longer needed to hustle to get the next project, bid on new work, or chase elusive invoices.  If I didn’t feel like working on a particular day then I didn’t.  No angry clients were emailing.  No deadline was being missed.  Nobody was threatening to sue me for “ruining their business”.  It was the end of a tumultuous season of being a good coder, but a lousy manager.

In the coming years I will be working toward creating more software products, developing a SaaS idea, or doing an iOS app.  I’m excited to learn more about building and marketing products to new customers!

Saying Yes to A Job

In October although our bills were paid, and the revenue from products was increasing month over month, I realized two things:  1. Not every product I make will sell any significant number, and 2. I needed to find more income if we were going to achieve our goal of being debt free as quickly as possible.  I asked myself what was more important – my desire to stay self employed, or my goal to be debt free?

In October I had the opportunity to interview for a support desk position with WooThemes. I had already been working with some of the team for about a year as a development partner for WooCommerce.  While  talking with the team about my qualifications and their expectations we both felt it would be a great fit.  My wife Amanda greed that it was a good decision. Woo met every one of my 8 Core Work Values and they are a fantastic group to work with and a brand I’m excited to help build and support.  Plus, now all of the salary I earn can be put toward cleaning up the remainder of our debt.

Excited About 2013!

Overall I am very, very excited about 2013.  I’m excited to keep reading great books and meeting new people. I’m excited to keep doing what I love in developing software and helping customers.  I’m also excited to be working with Amanda on our Life With A Mission project and watching that vision grow this year.

My 8 Core Work Values

I recently had the opportunity to visit the IT department I worked at for my last “real” job. It was nice to catch up with old friends, see the new building they had moved into and see people’s quizzical expressions as they tried to place a name to my face as I passed them in the hallway.

I answered the “What are you doing now?” question about a dozen times. And as I redirected with the “What about you?” auto response I was surprised that the answer nine times out of ten was a variation of “The same damn thing I was doing when you left four years ago.”

This is a company that has several people employed comfortably into their second decade of service and many into their third. The modern notions of “you change jobs every few years” seem to be lost here. It was as if this place was the technology equivalent of Groundhog Day where no one is allowed to do anything different than the day (or years) before. My former high-school-guidance-counselor-informed-self would have seen this as a positive, as a place that I would be foolish for leaving, but as I drove away I had an unsettled feeling that took me some time to identify the cause of.

A Collision of Values

It wasn’t until later when I was listening to a sermon that I understood the reason for my unsettledness. The pastor was giving a point about core values and that when you come into contact with something that contradicts those values there is a dissonance. This immediately reminded me of my drive home and I realized that since leaving that job I have a new set of core values when it comes to work.

I told my wife that my old job was vacant but there was no way I would entertain the idea of going back.  Mostly because I am entirely happy not having to wear khaki’s and a collared shirt every day, but also for several other reasons. I know now that the majority of the “work” I did at my old job was absolutely pointless and as a result I was a pretty lazy worker.

I wasn’t motivated in the least by “the company” so I would do the absolute minimum to get by and not get noticed. I remember when I left one former coworker told me “But, you’re one of our superstars!” and that may have been true for the first year or two of my employment when I thought my income and responsibility would increase linearly with my continued effort, but as the annual reviews came and went with no deviation to them no matter how much effort I showed, and the raises stayed consistently low, I became disenchanted with the entire scene.

Towards the end of my employment I would show up to work a little before 9:00, check my email, then take a coffee break and sometimes a second breakfast taco break to chat with coworkers. I’d get back to my desk to check email again, and maybe do an hour of work until it was time to go to lunch. I’d take it easy coming back from lunch, work a little maybe go to a meeting where I would sit in the back not paying attention, then take an afternoon break. Then I would put off starting anything new until the next day and watch the clock until a sufficient number of superiors had left as to not be noticed leaving a little after 5:00. Looking back now I’m astonished I wasn’t fired. But, that’s what the culture allowed, and there was little to no accountability.

The Reality of Being a Self Employed Freelancer

Contrast my lackluster slacker attitude with the reality of being a self employed freelancer daily confronted with the “You don’t work – you don’t eat” cycle of feast and famine. In my new reality I don’t have time to take breaks, or if I take a break then why even be “at work”? If I need a break I just stop working.  I don’t have time for pointless meetings, and I certainly don’t have time for doing paperwork only to justify someone else’s pitiful job title (read: Business Analyst). It’s just not worth it.

So I came up with a list of my core work values to use to size up with any work opportunity in the future. I don’t say “job” here because I consider myself blissfully unemployable.

My Core Work Values

1.  Location Independent  

My wife and I are currently designing our life around the ability to live anywhere so having to keep hours at an office doesn’t match my values.  At my former job I had to sit at my desk until 6:00 p.m. “In case something went wrong” and it would grate on me every time I heard that explanation.  Any fix I would apply in person could have been done remotely.  The management mentality was an outdated approach. I don’t think this is being elitist either – more and more jobs are becoming telecommute or location independent.

2.  Time Independent 

Related to #1, I don’t like having a time box to work in.  Life happens and not every day looks the same.  I want work to fit around my life, not the other way around.  If one day I need to spend the morning caring for my kids, or driving my grandfather around town taking care of banking stuff (both happened recently) then I want the flexibility to do that without having to ask permission or get clearance.

3. Compensation Based on Performance (Or Equity)

Having traded time for money for too long I know that approach doesn’t scale.  I want to spend my time and energy working on things that I have an ownership stake in.  It raises the risk a bit (what if no one buys?), but that’s an acceptable risk and it compels me to make a better product.  Also, when I worked in an IT department I was often reminded that my job was overhead and wasn’t related to what the company produced.  I’m not interested in being overhead.  Plus, there are just too many opportunities out on the web to build something new that you have ownership of.  Once you see this in action trading time for money isn’t enough anymore.

4. Doesn’t Take Me Away From My Family

No consistent solo travel. I knew IBM consultants that would fly in town on a Sunday night, and fly back home on a Friday afternoon.  All of them had families.  They made $100,000 per year, but no salary would be worth being away from my family for the bulk of my week.

5.  Something I’m Excited About  (Make it fun!)

When I was doing client work it was a cycle of: make proposal, win proposal, do work, get approval for work, deliver work.  The clients would change, but I started seeing a common thread: My clients had excitement for their projects because they were their own.  I found it harder and harder to feign a similar level of excitement.  This made me slip back into a ‘punching the clock’ mentality and my motivation went away.  Alternatively when I work on my own extensions or sites I can work for hours on end with no lack of motivation or energy.

7. Makes money while I sleep (or am sick)

Recently I took a few days off of work for a holiday weekend.  I didn’t think about work or even check email for three days.  When I checked back in on Tuesday I was elated to see several new sales over the weekend.  Compare this to what felt like pulling teeth to get clients to pay invoices anywhere near Net 30 and there’s no contest.  I’m not interested in cajoling for a deposit or final payment to be made.  With products they either sell or they don’t.

8.  Unlimited vacation

This may sound unrealistic, but I don’t think it is.  We plan on having all of our debt paid off as soon as possible, and after that will work on paying off our house.  With no debt, and what amounts to 6 months to a year of household expenses in the bank, there is no monetary rush for a paycheck.  I will be able to work when I want and take off when I want.

I really enjoy working and get antsy if I haven’t coded for over two days so it’s not like I will be doing nothing.  But, I also don’t want to be tied into some corporate policy of vacation time or sick time.  The other day I overheard some people talking about time off and one lady said “This year I get one week off, but next year I’ll get two!  I’ve been working here for four years.”  That statement just made my heart sink.  I know that’s the reality for a lot of people, but I wanted to interject and scream “There’s another way!!!”  I didn’t, and went along my way, but it solidified in my mind that time off is something that is very important to me.

Figure Out What Is Important To You 

Obviously this list isn’t exhaustive and probably applies only to me (hence the “My” in the title), but it is important for everyone to figure out what their core values are when it comes to work.  This will make it easier to qualify a work opportunity and know if it is a good fit for you.



Doing What You Love Doesn’t Feel Like Work

These past few weeks my wife and I have been working on a new project that we launched today – Life With A Mission.

We got the vision for the site last month, but the concept had been materializing for some time.  We spent a lot of time working through the content and technical aspects – most of which was after the kids were asleep.

Last Saturday night instead of having a date night we sat at the same desk, each of us on our own computers working on getting enough content together to launch.  My wife said “Wow, it’s midnight, we’ve been working for over three hours.”  Her observation was funny to me because 1.  We were having a lot of fun and 2. It felt like half an hour had passed, not three.

These two things are important to remember when choosing what you spend your time on and how you make your living.  Doing what you love just doesn’t feel like work.  When you are doing something for the paycheck or because someone else assigned you a task, you aren’t working with the same momentum as if you are driven by an inner love for what you are doing.

What Kind of Business Are You Building?

I originally read The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau back in 2010 and the ideas in it formed several of the decisions I’ve made since then.  My wife Amanda started reading it last week and I’ve enjoyed quizzing her about where she is in the book and what she thought about what she has read.

While reading over her shoulder I saw a chart on Page 92 of the book titled Characteristics of Good and Bad Businesses. In this chapter Chris is talking about building an unconventional career around building a business that allows freedom of schedule and focus.

The first line of the table really stood out to me:

Good: Creates assets that sell on their own

Bad: Trades time for money

What I Had Been Doing

Earlier this year I came to a realization: I don’t scale.  Meaning that there is a limit to the number of hours I am capable of working and thus a limit to the income I can generate if I stick to a billable hours, or trading time for money business model. Plus, I learned last year that as my billable hours go up, my quality of life goes down.  Working long hours makes Daniel a grumpy dude.

There are a few solutions to this problem.  One is to increase my hourly rate.  Another is to hire contractors or employees to increase the total number of billable hours per week.

After considering both of these solutions I decided neither fit the direction I want to take in the future.  My rate as a freelancer is $75/hr, and I could go up near the $100/hr range, but was finding I was encountering the “Why Are You Worth This Rate?” discussion more and more.  That’s an exhausting discussion so I stopped having it.  Plus, keeping the pipeline full of work is tiresome.

After reading Dave Ramsey’s EntreLeadership earlier this year I got a glimpse into the process of hiring and managing a team by someone who is doing it at the highest level.  Although I enjoy collaborating with others and mentoring, being a team leader isn’t something I want to do at the moment.  Plus, forming an agency would force me into hiring or becoming a project manager.  I’d rather tweeze every hair on my body than be a project manager.

Realizing It Was Time For A Change

Taking a cue from several sources of inspiration I refocused my efforts on building products.  These sources of inspiration included:

  • The aforementioned AofC book – some businesses lend themselves to the type of freedom I seek more than others
  • EntreLeadership – Dave talks about products ‘life cycles’ in one of the chapters
  • Built to Sell by John Warrillow – the book centers around an allegory of an agency owner transitioning from being an overwhelmed and mediocre “one stop shop” to being a niche service provider and finally selling the company outright
  • All the Mixergy podcasts
  • The Startups for the Rest of Us podcast – This podcast is specifically geared towards developers looking to create products to sell
  • Freelance Jam’s talk with Pippin Williamson on Building & Selling WordPress modules
  • Matt Henderson’s recent post “Watch out for no-man’s land on the road to bootstrapping a start-up” – Being stuck in ‘no-man’s land’ of client work defined my recent history

As part of this shift I finished all open projects and stopped taking on new web development clients.  I also recently stopped working with an agency I had been doing work for.  This has been a huge step of faith,  but it is one that fits with my family’s goals and vision for the future.

What I Am Now Doing

Last September I connected with two guys on Twitter that were looking for someone to build a plugin.  The plugin would be a paid-for extension to a shopping cart plugin available at no cost.  The revenue for the plugin would be split 50/50 ongoing.

Since I had been doing ecommerce development for a few years the plugin took me 10 hours to develop.  If I were trading time for hours I would have collected $750 for my time and moved on to the next project.  Instead, a funny thing happened.  The module made a few hundred bucks the first month.  Then that total grew the next month.  Then it grew again.  Last month alone that one module generated $5,000 in total revenue.  Based on the developer agreement my portion was around $2,500.  A much better return on that 10 hours of work back in September!

One caveat to this is that products don’t sell on their own.  They require marketing and support to be successful.  Thankfully the module I built was for a very popular ecommerce plugin and has benefited from that popularity.  But my eyes were opened to the world of selling and marketing digital products!

I am now taking the table above very seriously:

“Creates assets that sell on their own”.

My main question for anything that I do from now on will be “Does it make me money while I sleep?”  …Or while I’m taking a sick day, or while I’m helping a friend move, or while I’m climbing Machu Piccu with my family?  That is a sustainable business.  That’s a path to freedom.

Your turn.  What type of business are you building?  What are characteristics of a ‘Good’ business for you?


The Math of Freedom

If you received a check in the mail every day, how much would it have to be so that you would not have to work?

No, I’m not talking about government welfare, or winning the lottery, but realized income from something you produce. This is the type of question I’ve been asking myself lately.

How do you define freedom?

Our family goals revolve around freedom; which happens to be our word for 2012. Freedom to slow travel, freedom to be debt free, freedom to have total control of our schedule, freedom from unwanted obligations, freedom to be healthy, and freedom to educate our children as we like.

For us freedom includes being able to do what we want, when and how we want it. That may look like spending six months exploring the Pacific Northwest in an RV, living in Tuscany to work on language and take cooking lessons, or working with a homeless ministry in the Philippines. Being able to follow our passions and where we feel God leading us is how we define freedom. This doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t work, but that we work when and how we choose.

How much does freedom cost?

How do you keep the lights on and pay for this freedom lifestyle? In Luke 14:28 Jesus said:

But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it?

Asking how you are going to pay the mortgage, keep food on the table and keep the lights on is a valid question.

How can you make enough money so that all of your bills are paid, but you don’t have to go to a “job” or do work unless you want to?

First we need work backwards from a target goal into a target number for daily income. Here’s where the math comes in.

For the sake of simplicity I’ll use the median household income for the United States in 2010 – $49,445. For round numbers I’ll say that’s $50,000. And also for simplicity sake I’ll say that $50,000 per year covers all household expenses and taxes for a family living frugally in a modest home.  I know this may seem low to some, but we’re talking about removing the need to go to a job, then you have all of your time to do whatever you want – even if that means going to a job!  Also, some families, couples, or singles can live off of less than this.

Running this number down to the day we get:

$50,000 / 12 = $4,166.67 per month

$4,166.67 / 30 = $138.89 per day

So if you received a check of $140 per day you could gain control over 100% of your schedule. If you wanted to work you could. If you wanted to do nothing you could. The choice is yours. What you do with that time is up to you.

So how do you make $140 per day and fulfill the ‘freedom’ requirement?

Products Not Services

A normal job of selling your time and expertise (service) for money wouldn’t fulfill the freedom requirement since bosses usually expect you to show up for work in order to get paid. Consulting doesn’t work since clients normally want to hear from you very often and if you don’t work, then you don’t get paid. The answer lies in products that you can develop and then market to sell multiple times with low overhead.

It is dead simple these days to open an ecommerce website. Without going into much detail a website can be operated for less than $50/month. The transaction fees associated with bringing in around $4,166 at 3% would be $124.98, so for one extra ‘day’ of income your business overhead would be covered.

So what would you sell? Here’s the fun part! Brainstorm about something that you are passionate about or already have expertise with.

What if you wrote an e-course teaching people about your love of urban gardening? Or sold tickets to a webinar showing moms how to do better meal planning. Or sold detailed step-by-step guides on how to do the latest Pinterest craft? What if you sold access to a daily email of motivational/devotional readings that included an original poem or worship song? These are random suggestions, but you see where I’m going here. Something of value that you can produce and sell.

If one product was priced at your per-day requirement of $140 then you would only need to sell one item per day. If one product cost $70 then you would need to sell two per day, and so on.

The Math of Freedom Isn’t Difficult

It is entirely possible for a digital product priced at $140 to sell once per day. One sale per day seems small, but the payoff of gaining control of your schedule and thus the time to be able to make and create more and increase the number of products you can offer is immeasurable. Attaining that initial freedom is the beginning to then be able to double down and start watching daily sales rise to the $200, $500, $1,000 per day range; and it’s very exciting!

The Fine Print

Of course this math isn’t as easy as producing a product and having it sell. Ecommerce marketing after all is its own discipline and science. But, all successful marketers have one thing in common – they have something to sell. Getting that “widget” you will sell into existence is vital. But, the first step is to switch your thinking over to the math of freedom instead of staying in the billable-by-the-hour or salary-per-year mindset.

So what does freedom mean to you?
What would you do with your time if you didn’t have to show up for a job every day?

Dump Your Resume

Few people are interested in your resume any more. Plenty are interested in what you’ve done.

~ Seth Godin

Words vs. Actions

Along with the truth that a collection of academic degrees won’t guarantee you employment, the use of a resume won’t guarantee that you get a job or are even considered.  I agree with Seth’s statement that more people are interested in what you’ve done, but even more so, potential employers are interested in what you’ve done that will benefit them.  Career goals and puffed up language wither when put to task, but a track record of accomplishments, and even near misses or failures, tempered in the fire will stand.

When I look for a programmer to outsource work to it is one thing to read that they have “15 years programming experience” and another to see their contributions to an open source project or application that is in production, or better yet that I’ve used on a project.  Words on a resume force me to dig deeper and are easily dismissed.  Real world projects show initiative, ability to complete a vision and can be scrutinized for quality of code and other incidentals.

Do you really want to be hired by a company that relies on resumes?

In his biography, Steve Jobs is described as making the statement that “‘A’ players only want to work with other ‘A’ players”.  He would berate and dismiss employees as being “B players” or not good enough.  Although it is a terrible leadership example and not something that I would personally do or tolerate, I do see the draw to wanting to be good enough to be on the A squad.  When my guys book club discussed the book we unanimously agreed that we would all love to work for a boss as demanding and meticulous as Jobs.

The same sentiment is shown in Stephen Ambrose’s book (and celebrated mini-series) Band of Brothers.  Some of the paratroopers of the 101st volunteered in order to be surrounded by ‘the best’ as opposed to being drafted and surrounded by, and have their lives in the hands of, a varying degree of soldier in the regular Army.  In the same vein: do you want to spend your heartfelt effort, precious creativity and limited time surrounded by people that are just looking for a J.O.B.?  Or would you rather be surrounded by others in your chosen field with a proven record of top quality work that is not just turned in to a boss, but is crafted for sharing with the world to make it better?

You can tell a lot by the process that a company identifies and recruits talent.  Cattle call job fairs are great… if you are livestock, or want to be a human resource.

How To Stand Out Above the Stack

You may say “But, using a resume is how it’s done.  How else am I going to get in the door?”

With the Internet and traditional media there are many ways to get noticed and gain valuable experience.  Here are some job types and example techniques:

  • Programmers – Start an open source project, or go to a collaborative work space like Geekdom to recruit like-minded people to collaborate with to produce a web or iOS app.  Get on a site like Stack Overflow and answer questions in your area of expertise while simultaneously building up your reputation score.
  • Designers – Do design.  A lot.  Showcase your work and even sell some of it like my friend Sean McCabe.  Design and sell your own font, icon library, CMS theme, or print posters.
  • Youth Pastors – Develop a curriculum for studying a book of the bible targeted for 9th graders.  Video your messages and put them on your own YouTube channel.  Coordinate a conference for youth and create a movement larger than your circle of influence that will have global impact.

No matter your industry there is a way to be creative in showcasing your talents and value to potential employers.  The inertia of action will draw people, the right kind of people to you.  You may find opportunities through the attention you receive or you may find a client that turns into an employer or collaborator.

Whatever you do, do not leave yourself or your talents open to someone questioning you by saying “Prove it.”


Photo by CharlotWest.

Genesis of a New Blog

With an upcoming re-branding of my main business and (hopefully) launch of a second, I decided to utilize my name TLD for a place to share thoughts on disparate topics that didn’t necessarily fit into our family blog and are too technical/dev-ish to go on the Grow Development blog.

Although I originally bought the .me out of a sense of obligation (after narrowly missing out buying my name’s .com, damn you squatters!), this domain has grown on me and I’m at peace with it being my main platform of sharing.

Note: The gallery image has nothing to do with the blog, other than it’s a picture I took in Paris that I liked.