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Vast worlds

There are some things that if considered too often, or too carefully, can quickly become overwhelming.

For instance:

Every person you cross paths with today is a complex human, full of thoughts, emotions, fears, hopes, desires, failures, and so on. Walking around a crowded city, you’re surrounded by entire worlds, inside the vast sea of people you wade through.

Drilling down even further, it gets all the more mind-blowing: every person you see walking around is carrying around some measure of fear.

Fear that they’ll get fired. Fear that they’ll lose an important relationship. Fear that they won’t be a good parent. Fear that they aren’t a good child. Fear that they won’t do what they’re meant to with their life. Fear that they’re wasting time in a relationship. Fear that people will see them for the fraud they think they are. Fear that people will see them for the fraud they actually are.

Of course, each of those people is also carrying around positive thoughts and feelings, too. At least, I hope they are. They are loved, respected, cared for, thought well of, missed, adored, and cherished.

Consider your world: all the physical spaces you inhabit, the friends and family you interact with, the people you touch in a myriad of various ways large and small. Your life is a vast expanse of depth, complexity, and nuance.

Now consider that all around you, there are thousands of worlds like that, inhabited by people who are both quite similar to, and vastly different than you.

But don’t consider that for too long. It can be a bit much.

Using Drip trigger links for fun and profit

In a recent email to my list (sign up if you run a membership site or if you like awesome gifs), I recommended that any membership site without a discussion forum should seriously consider setting one up (building community is one of the best ways to keep members sticking around for longer). My forum software of choice is Discourse, so I put together a very quick post on how to set up Discourse. Nothing fancy, just some basic instructions, and more importantly in the context of the email, it was something to link to.

Then, in my Drip broadcast, I set up the link to that post as a trigger link:

trigger link

I then set up a workflow to run when that link is clicked:

discourse workflow

Now, I’ve established that there’s interest in setting up Discourse, and I have an extremely targeted list of people to market to, offering to do that for them. I’ll likely promote that service more widely as well, but I can push it more heavily to that list. Repeat with multiple other products & services, and using trigger links in your emails becomes a pretty powerful tactic.

Watsi for my birthday

Today’s my birthday! I made it another year, and I am extremely blessed, most especially by my wonderful wife Amanda and our son Kyle.

I have one request for all of you today: please consider donating to, my favorite charity. Watsi funds healthcare for those in need around the world, and does so in a radically transparent way (all of their financials are publicly visible). 100% of your donation goes directly to fund medical care; operating expenses are covered by foundations, philanthropists, and donors who leave an optional tip.

If you don’t feel called to donate or can’t afford to right now, that’s totally fine! But please share this; perhaps someone else will. And have a great day!

And if you do donate, please comment here or let me know on twitter!

Mastermind groups are awesome

December 2015 update: I wrote a book on freelancing/consulting with my mastermind group. Learn more about that here.

Freelancing Consulting can get lonely

As a freelancer (don’t use that word!), more than likely you work alone a lot of the time. Whether that’s in a home office, from a coffee shop, or a shared office space, you’re the only one working on your business. Now, working alone can be great, of course; it means you’re the sole decision-maker, you have complete autonomy over how you run your business, you get to decide how to deal with difficult client situations, etc.

The problem is, sometimes outside input can be immensely valuable! Other people often have valuable perspectives to offer, based on their experience and their lack of emotional investment in a situation.

Having a business partner (which I do) helps with that, but even so, it can still be great to get input from another trusted source. That’s why I think being part of a mastermind group is one of the most valuable changes you can make in your business.

A little over four months ago, Michael and I joined a mastermind group with Nick, Jane, Philip, Zack, Kai, Kurt, Jeremy, and Jonathan. Joining this group has been the single most valuable change we’ve made to our business in… ever. That may sound extreme or flippant, but I believe it’s true. We continually push each other to be better at what we do, help each other communicate better with clients, deliver (and charge for!) more value, and encourage each other.

Convinced, but don’t know what to do next? Read on.

Talk to people

The only reason I’m in this mastermind group is because Nick somehow knew of me, and knew we were working on a productized consulting service (inspired by his, as a matter of fact). I think perhaps Philip also knew of me, and they colluded on starting the group, but I can’t remember the details. However, I do know that it only happened because I’d interacted with them on Twitter at various times. If not for that, none of this would have happened.

If you know a few people local to you who is also independent and at roughly the same point in their journey, great! Start talking to them and suggest you formalize things somewhat and form a mastermind group.

Don’t know anyone local? No problem. Hop on Twitter, make some connections, and ask a few folks once you’ve built a relationship with them. Don’t know anyone there? Follow me on Twitter, see who I follow, see who follows me, etc.

Once you do get a group going, if you’re not sure what to talk about (especially if you’re all fairly new), I’d suggest reading a book or two together to give you some structure. Brennan Dunn’s Double Your Freelancing Rate and Alan Weiss’ Value Based Fees are both great choices. That will give you something to talk about, and help you improve your consulting acumen and pricing fairly quickly.

Need help?

If you have any questions about starting a mastermind group, what to talk about, etc., leave a comment or shoot me an email, and I’ll help however I can.

Don’t call yourself a freelancer

December 2015 update: I wrote a book on freelancing/consulting with my mastermind group. Learn more about that here.

The other day, I tweeted some advice to freelancers, including “don’t call yourself a freelancer.” I got a few responses asking why, so here’s an explanation.

In your clients’ minds, freelancers are inherently less valuable than [professional whatever you are]. Their neighbor’s unemployed college dropout kid who has a nice camera calls himself a freelancer. Their stoner second cousin who makes a pittance on Fiverr calls herself a freelancer. Is that who you want to be associated with?

Besides being asked why, I also got replies asking if not freelancer, then what? If you’re a writer, call yourself a writer. If you’re a designer, then say so. If there’s not a succinct term that encompasses what you do, then use “consultant” as your title.

Call yourself a professional, conduct yourself like a professional, deliver professional results, and set professional prices. You’ll enjoy your work a lot more, and earn more in the process.

Web Agency Podcast

I recently appeared on the Web Agency Podcast with Mat Newton, and had a great time. Mat and I talked about our (mine and my partner Michael’s) journey building our agency. We cover having a partnership, raising our prices, changing your mindset, conversion optimization, and much more. Give it a listen, and if you have any questions, I’d be happy to help.

Advice to a new freelancer

December 2015 update: I wrote a book on freelancing/consulting with my mastermind group. Learn more about that here.

I’ve been exchanging emails with a friend about his career, which includes considering whether to make a stronger move toward freelancing over employment. Yesterday he asked me this:

I guess I’m more of at of a loss of where to get clients. I honestly have no idea. I was thinking there was two routes to go down. 1) work with agencies or 2) work with small businesses. I figured the agency route would be much easier from a developer point-of-view, but since I haven’t done either, I’m just guessing. Which do you work with? Have a preference? Advice?

Here’s what I said, which should be useful to others not in his specific situation as well:

We (The Bright Agency) pretty much exclusively work directly with the end client. We’ve been happy with that, but if I were starting from a blank slate, I’d be going after whatever I could find, and building some agency relationships would almost certainly be part of that. I wouldn’t advise making that a long-term strategy as I believe your profit would be very limited, but it would get some projects under your belt and pay the bills. At the same time, I’d be trying to find end-client work as well. I think I’d give Robert Williams’ Workshop a try – I haven’t paid for the service as we get enough work without it, but his content is great, and I think it’s a compelling sales pitch for someone in your position.

I’d also strongly suggest reading Double Your Freelancing Rate if you haven’t already – it has a pretty solid foundation on pricing, how you position yourself and communicate that to leads/clients, etc. I’m a big believer in moving beyond the “$xx/hour for ____ development/design service” model, and toward the “$xxx/hour or $xx,xxx/week for making your business big money” model. I’d also suggest calling yourself a “consultant”, instead of a “freelancer”. Again, it’s all about the positioning.

Setting up scheduled posts with Member Mouse

On a recent membership site we built, we had a few specific criteria for how members would be able to access content:

  1. New content is published every week on the same day of the week
  2. Each week, all members get access to the same new piece of content (as opposed to a drip schedule)
  3. Members should only be able to access content that has been published since they signed up (as opposed to all old content)

Member Mouse has support built in for protecting content on a drip schedule. With that setup, what content a member sees each week (or day, or month, etc.) depends on how long they’ve been a member. For instance, they might immediately get access to post 1 when they join, then post 2 a week later, post 3 a week after that, etc.

One benefit of a drip setup is that if you only have a set amount of content that you’ll ever publish, once you prepare it all, you’re done. The downside to that approach is that once a someone has been a member long enough to access all of the content, there’s no reason for them to continue paying. As a result, the lifetime value of a member is capped. Another drawback is that because each member isn’t seeing the same new content each week, you can’t discuss that specific piece of content when promoting the site (for instance “this week, members get XYZ – join now!”).

With all that in mind, this site needed some customizations to make the content protection work as desired. We can use Member Mouse’s built in content protection settings and grant access on day 0, but that’s not enough.

Member Mouse content protection


With that in place, when a new member joins, they’d be able to access all previously published content, which isn’t what was needed for this site. To prevent that, I simply ran a quick check to compare a member’s “days as member” value in Member Mouse to the number of days a piece of content had been published, and if it had published more than seven days prior to a member joining (well, not really – more on that in a minute), the member is redirected to an error page. Here’s the code to do that:

Remember how I mentioned that I’m not really comparing to a member’s join date above? Take a look at the “days as member” calculation. I’m not actually checking the member’s join date. Instead, I’m referencing the Member Mouse “days as member” number. The important difference there is that once a member joins, that join date can never be changed (at least not from within the Member Mouse UI). By contrast, the “days as member” number can be manually changed later on:

Member Mouse days as memberWhy does that matter? Well, the truth is, it probably doesn’t. However, I believe it’s always good to design a solution with edge cases in mind. Perhaps someone will join the site at some point, then want to pay extra to be given access to all old content. It doesn’t take any extra work to write the code in such a way that that kind of scenario is easily accommodated, and it’s one less issue that might crop up in the future.

Actually, all of the above is really just extra protection. The way we set up the site, a member shouldn’t ever actually see a link to a piece of content they aren’t allowed to access. To ensure that this is the case, we alter the query on the meal plan (the custom post type we’re protecting) archive page with the following code:

Here, we again check for the “days as member” value, then add seven days, and get only content published after that date. Why the seven days in both of these functions? Because content is published weekly (on Fridays, in this case), and we want to avoid a situation where someone signs up and has nothing available to them. This way, as long as content is published every week, a new member will immediately have access to a piece of content.

Additionally, on that meal plan archive view, we filter the message that’s displayed if no posts are found and replace it with our own message. If the user is logged in, then we apologize (because they should be able to see something), and request that they contact us. If they’re not logged in, we tell them, and provide a login form (helpfully provided by Member Mouse) in case they’re already members but just happen to not be logged in.

We also encourage them to view the plans available if they’re not a member yet, and link to the relevant page on the site. Non-members shouldn’t ever get to that page, but again, we’re trying to anticipate the edge cases and design for them, rather than ignore them. I’m sure our client would rather a visitor be encouraged to browse membership options if they happen to land on that page, rather than being rudely turned away!

Got any questions about Member Mouse customization? I’d love to help out if I can. Also, if you see any issues with the code I shared, please let me know!

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