Blogging for Benjamin

Even though I talk about being a Solopreneur on this blog very often I haven’t been solo for about 13 months. I’ve been employed a support ninja for WooThemes. I consider myself unemployable, but WooThemes is just about the only company I’d consider working for. I enjoy the products they produce and everyone on the team is super talented.  There are 33 in the company and the entire team is remote We’ve got 3 (sometimes 4) continents and numerous time zones covered. I love working remotely and having a flexible schedule.

Setting goals together

As a step to increase communication and camaraderie the support sub teams started having weekly meetings. Our CHO Mike Krapf would set an agenda of relevant topics and we would meet over Skype or Google Hangout. Mike recently challenged us on setting goals and some of the ninjas set goals to blog more often.

Later we started rotating the meeting leadership responsibilities and I volunteered to lead. I shared the concept of a ‘home base’ and ‘outposts’ that Chris Brogan had shared years ago. I encouraged the ninjas to build their home blogs as a way to share ideas with the WordPress community, build their reputation, be ambassadors for Woo, and flex the writing muscle. Since our support is via a help desk it’s important for us to have big league writing skills.

Leaders are more than just readers

After I led the ninja meeting I started thinking about why I’m so excited about writing. I’ve often said that “Leaders are readers” meaning that if you want to be an effective leader then you need to be constantly learning new things and exposing yourself to new ideas and knowledge.

Reading is a good thing, but left alone it yields a full mind that benefits only one person. The ideas and knowledge gained by reading need to be digested, debated and shared. There needs to be an outflow and expression of everything we learn. That’s where writing comes in! Leaders aren’t just readers; leaders are communicators. And the best form of communication we have is writing.

A friendly blogging competition

After this epiphany I had an idea for a way to encourage my fellow ninjas so I created a blogging competition called “Blogging for Benjamin”. The competition is simple:

  • Everyone can blog daily on their home blog a maximum of once per day (31 blog posts)
  • Posts can be scheduled for the future, but not back-dated
  • The post can be about any topic
  • The post needs to be a minimum of 300 words

At the end of the month I’ll tally up the ninjas blog posts and the top three will win a monetary prize. I wanted to make it interesting so first place is $100 (a Benjamin).

Why are you doing this?

I’m trying to improve my blogging and communication skills and recently tried to embark on a month of daily blogging. I have a high level of respect for daily bloggers and aspire to get there one day. My initial daily blogging effort didn’t last long as it was like trying to get up from the couch to run a marathon. Plus, there were some life events that happened that took away all of my extra time. I didn’t have the writing conditioning to be able to overcome this and needed to take a different approach.

You might ask: If blogging daily didn’t work for you why would I be encouraging others to do it? My goal isn’t to turn all of the ninjas into daily bloggers. My goal is to enliven the spirit of blogging in our company with a friendly competition and monetary motivation. I hope that on the other side of this month that the guys who blogged a few times per month will start blogging even more and the guys who blogged once per year (or never blogged) will start blogging a few times per month. If that happens then we will all be winners!

What do you do for a living?

People who had job titles and business cards could say easily where they worked and what they did for a living, but those who worked for themselves, doing things of a complicated nature, learned over time that it was not worth the trouble of supplying an explanation if its only purpose was to make small talk. Better to just go directly to airline travel.

~ Neal Stephenson in Reamde

Neal Stephenson is my favorite author. I love the way he blends technology, historic events and deeply descriptive prose to tell compelling stories. Check out his books if you enjoy post cyberpunk sci-fi. The quote above made me laugh because I often find it difficult to describe what I do to people I meet.

When first meeting someone the first question normally asked is “So, what do you do?”
It is terribly cliche, and possibly bordering on bad manners, but what the person answers gives a context for where that person is coming from and what their interests are.

Some of my usual answers when someone asks me what I do are:

  • Web developer*
  • Software developer
  • Plugin Builder
  • Digital tentmaker

*I am trying to get away from “web developer” because then I’ll get the response “Oh! You design websites? I need a website…”  To which I uncomfortably respond, “Well, no I don’t design websites. And I don’t do client work. And most of the people I know won’t build you a site for your small budget.” I find those conversations very difficult to get out of so I try to avoid mentioning the web.

What do you say when someone asks you what you do? How do you explain your work?

Don’t Count Other People’s Money

I don’t remember when I first heard the phrase “Don’t count other people’s money,” but it’s a phrase I tell myself often and something my wife and I keep in mind when trying to figure out people’s motivation for making a large purchase, making a business decision, or choosing a career move.

When it comes to the state of other people’s finances or of the finances of a business that’s not ours we don’t have the whole picture. It’s rude to make assumptions and offer unsolicited advice.

Don’t count your friend’s money

If a friend comes up and says “Look at this new computer I bought!” they aren’t asking you to remind them that they are unemployed and living in their mother’s basement. They are looking for approval and admiration of their purchase. It would be a different situation if the friend asked “Hey, I’m thinking of buying this computer, do you think this makes sense for me?” That represents an open door to discussion. I’d then dig deeper and try to get more details about their situation to help them make a wise decision.

We have a very unique position as Financial Peace University leaders where people have paid money to attend and give up their free time to attend. They will often ask questions and through the course of the discussion time we are able to give guidance on their financial decisions. The advice we give is prefaced with the phrase “If I were in your shoes…” At the end of the day the person asking will need to live with the consequences of their decision.

Don’t count a company’s money

Recently the company I work for changed the pricing of their products. The reasoning behind the change was explained to customers in a blog post and further clarified in the comment section. (Note: I’m not interested in debating that decision here I’m just using it as an example.)

Several customers were vocal in their disapproval of the change and several showed their support of the move. Most of the complaints were civil and legitimate, but there were a few people who took the opportunity to (poorly) estimate the financials of the company and offer advice on a direction to take.

The comments went something like: “You probably make $X per year, so you should spend $Y amount on salaries and on keeping things exactly the same to make me happy. See how simple it was for me to solve this problem in a blog comment for you? I deserve something free.”

These misguided individuals had me shaking my head in disbelief. They have no grasp on the intricacies of running a very large software company and yet they were trying to impose their will. The advice wasn’t asked for so it was a ridiculous exchange.

It was just another example you shouldn’t count other people’s money.  People and businesses are going to do what they want.  If they ask you for advice then take that golden opportunity to try to be useful.

Photo Credit: Bill Ruhsam via Compfight cc

Mid-year Project Cleanup

It’s the middle of the year and a great time to evaluate the goals that were set at the beginning of the year.  Enough things have changed in the past six months that some goals aren’t relevant anymore, and others have grown in relevance. I’m taking a few days of vacation this week I’ll be spending time cleaning up my project and task list. I use a Trello board to organize my projects and it has become a little unkept over the past few months. I’m going to go through each board and card to remove or refine the next steps.

What am I working on

I’m going to be redesigning (yes, I’m designing *gasp*) my Grow Development site into a WordPress theme running WooCommerce.  I’m still going to sell Magento plugins, but I spend the majority of my time in WordPress these days so I’m normalizing all of my site platforms to WordPress.

Each site I maintain will get some attention and freshening up. I’m going to setup auto backups and other monitoring that I’ve been meaning to do for a while.

I will also be retiring a few ideas that I’ve worked on over the past six months. When it comes to side projects I’m going to start working on one project at a time. I’ve wasted too much time by splitting up my attention in several places.

Plugin maintenance and new features

I will also be cleaning up the code in my  premium plugins and adding new planned features. I’ve gotten great feedback from customers on things they would like to see in a few of the plugins so I have a clear direction on that.

Blog drafts cleanup

In an effort to streamline content creating I am going to clear out all drafts from WP installs and move them to Google docs so I can have them in one place that can be shared with other people. In the past I’ve started drafts in the WP dashboard, in a Google doc, in my notebook, or in a text file on my computer. I’m going to put everything into one place so that when it is time to write I will know where I am with all my different drafts.

Here’s to a restful and productive Fourth of July week!

Have you ever taken vacation time and spent it on side projects instead of relaxation and recreation?

Photo Credit: Johnson Cameraface via Compfight cc