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.

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.

3 systems you can set up to grow your business in 2014

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

In my last post, I talked about the relative value of setting up systems versus setting goals. Basically, the argument is that if you set goals but don’t set up systems, you might not get anywhere. However, if you set up systems, but don’t have a concrete goal in mind, you can still make forward progress. (The idea behind this and the motivation for that post comes from James Clear, who goes into more detail on the concept)

With that in mind, I want to share some ideas for systems you could set up for yourself and your business, based on what I’m doing in 2014. This assume you’re some kind of freelancer/consultant doing design/development/marketing type work, but these same ideas could easily be applied to other types of businesses and people in other situations. Need help applying them to your situation? Email me and just ask – I read and reply to every email I get from readers.

On to the systems!

Set up a system for regular writing

It’s no secret that writing regularly can have a huge impact on your business. What might not be obvious is all the different ways it can benefit you.

1. More traffic to your site
Google loves fresh content, and the more fresh content you post, the more search traffic you’ll get to your site. This is definitely a long-term benefit; don’t expect stunning results overnight. However, if you stick with it, the results can be very impressive (and impactful).

2. Build an audience
What should you do with all that traffic you get? Build an audience, of course. Don’t just give people to read and no way to stay connected to you: ask them to sign up for your email list (while offering them something of value, of course), then **help them** by sending them useful information often. Later on (or now, if you’re ready), when you have something to sell, you’ll have a (hopefully large) group of people who care about what you have to say and trust you, and who will thus be hot leads for whatever you’re selling.

3. Become a better communicator (and look more professional)
Have you ever received an email from someone that was poorly written? Was your first reaction that this person must be a well organized person who has great attention to detail and who would be wonderful to work with? Probably not. Fair or not, you’re judged by your writing when it comes to the web and email. Better writers are able to communicate faster, more clearly, and come across as much more professional (and thus valuable). Want to get better? Just start writing. I hunted ducks a lot growing up, and we always joked that with a new shotgun you had to “get all the misses out” – it was our silly excuse for missing an easy shot. However, in writing, there’s an element of truth there – you won’t get the bad writing out of the way until you get it out on the page. The only way to improve is to practice.

Set up a system to ask for referrals

This is something I’ve done a terrible job of in the past, but no more. Our business is almost entirely built on referrals, and yet we’ve done nothing to maximize that stream of leads. Starting this year, we’ll be contacting a past client every week (until we’ve exhausted our past client list) to ask for a referral (and something else; see #3). We also recently added to our processes a calendar event that reminds us to follow up a few weeks after a project conclusion to make sure the client is happy with everything and to ask for referrals (after we make sure they’re happy!).

Please don’t be like us and wait until you haven’t talked to a client in months to ask for a referral. Instead, check in with them a few weeks after a project’s completion, make sure they’re happy with the results, and ask for the referral. The added benefit here is that sometimes, you’ll find out they were happy with your work, and have been thinking about asking you to do some more stuff they don’t have time for, and your call was just the nudge they needed to hire you again.

Set up a system to build up a new stream of revenue

Maybe you’re trucking along just fine with your current business model and are happy with your income level. If so, that’s great! But maybe you’re like us, and you want to both grow your revenue, and have more predictable & stable monthly revenue numbers as well. We’ve found that one-off web projects, while something we’re great at, can be frustrating. We pride ourselves on building great relationships with our clients, but then we just get the final check and call it a day. What a waste! To put a stop to this, we’ve started selling productized consulting services. Basically, a client pays us a fixed monthly fee (but it’s not a retainer – this isn’t buying a package of hours), and we help them grow their business via their website.

To jumpstart this revenue stream, in 2014, when we contact past clients to ask for a referral, we’ll also talk to them about this service and see if it would be a good fit for their business. It won’t be for all of them, but at the very least they’ll learn about it, and possibly be able to refer someone else to us who might be interested in it. Also, when we talk to new prospects, we now talk about this service from the very beginning, with an eye toward either starting them off with it before doing a full website project, or moving them to this service at the conclusion of a full web project.

Can you use any of these ideas for systems in 2014? If you don’t think you can, email me; I’d love to help you figure out a system you can use to grow your business and improve your life this year.

Can I ask you a favor? If you know someone who might benefit from this (and other content like this), could you share this with them? I’d love to help more people grow their businesses and improve their lives in 2014. Thanks!

Don’t set goals

Around the end of one year and the start of the next, a lot of people like to post year in review posts, and they often include goals and plans for the next year. Heck, I did that myself, earlier this year. I was even considering doing that recently, after reading my friend Carrie’s year in review post. However, after reading this article by James Clear, I’m convinced to focus instead on what kinds of systems I can put in place, instead of setting arbitrary goals to achieve. For instance, I’ve been tossing around the idea of writing a book on using Git with WordPress. Several people have even asked me to do so, so I feel confident that there’s a good chance of a market for it. However, instead of setting a goal of writing that book in 2014, I’m going to instead just write about using Git with WordPress once a week. It doesn’t matter how much I write – just something, at least once a week. That could be a tiny little tip, a problem I encountered that week and how to solve it, etc. I’m going to take the two-minute rule very literally.

So, that’s it. That’s the system I’m going to follow next year. Write about Git, once a week. Yes, that seems ridiculously simple, and doesn’t even scratch the surface as far as all that I really want to do and accomplish. However, it’s very specific, and very achievable.

What about you? What system are you going to put in place?

The one percent rule (how to improve your business)

One percent at a time

Yesterday morning I saw Tyler Young’s post Marketing Your Small Business in 2 Hours a Day. It’s a great post, and you should go read it. Towards the beginning, he introduces an idea that has really stuck with me as a simple, yet powerful, framework for improving your business. That idea is Alan Weiss’ “One Percent Solution”. Simply put, if you improve your business by one percent each day, in 70 days you will have improved it by 100%. Granted, you could start picking that concept apart and arguing that it’s not possible/sustainable, but that would be missing the point entirely. The whole idea is to shift your thinking from “I need to make my business way better”, which for many people induces panic and fear, to “I just need to do one thing better today”, which is completely and totally achievable, each and every day.

Not sure where to start? Read on.

Charge more

This is true: you probably don’t charge enough money. Some of you reading this might charge enough, but chances are you don’t. To rectify that, go buy my friend Brennan’s Double Your Freelancing Rate and read it. It’s $49 and worth every penny, and if you use the promo code “TNORTH” you’ll get 20% off. I don’t get any affiliate commission on that, by the way – I just asked Brennan for a promo code to share with you. This book is great if you’re still charging a fairly low hourly rate for design, development, copywriting, consulting, etc. I’d classify anything under $50 per hour as “go buy this book and implement its advice tomorrow” low, but of course as with everything, it depends on the circumstances. However, do not use that as an excuse to convince yourself that your situation is a special case and you can’t justify charging more for the value you provide! Even if you’re charging more than that now, you can still probably benefit from the book. My partner Michael and I raised our rates from $75 per hour to $100-150 per hour (depending on the client and type of work) after implementing Brennan’s advice.

Charge for your value, not for your time

I just said we raised our rates to $100-150 per hour, right? Well, the truth is, we only charge by the hour for small, one off tasks. For our typical projects, we (try to) charge for the value we provide, not for the time we work. Why? The better we get at what we do, the faster we do it (for most things). If we charged an hourly rate, we’d be penalizing ourselves for getting faster! Sure, we’d have more time to churn through more projects, but we’d still be artificially limiting ourselves – there are only so many hours in a day. Instead, we try to charge our clients based on the value we provide to them. We’d rather work on fewer high-value (and high-dollar) projects and do work that is more interesting and more fulfilling than churn out a river of projects as fast as we can. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with that model, it’s just not what we want to do. Of course, this means that we’re not interested in taking on every project. Some prospects just don’t emotionally or institutionally value what we do enough to pay what we would charge them.

Even though the title of Brennan’s book suggests it’s only for time-based pricing models, the content is actually extremely relevant if you want to learn how to charge for the value you provide. I’d also recommend Breaking the Time Barrier, by Mike McDerment (CEO of Freshbooks). It’s a very quick read, and free/name your own price to boot! One more book to check out is Value-Based Fees, by Alan Weiss. I can’t give that one my full endorsement yet, as I haven’t read the whole thing. However, at the very least there is some good advice in it.

Blog Write more

Nathan Barry is a far greater authority on this topic than I am, so I’ll let his post extoll the benefits of writing more:

Looking at my business revenue from the last 365 days, I decided to filter it down to just revenue I could trace back in some way to my writing habit (which is almost all of it): $249,602 (before expenses). That’s insane.

Most of that is from book sales, and the rest is from two small contract writing projects I did. Divide that number by 365,000 words and you get $0.68 per word written or $683 per day. That’s an incredible return on investment.

In 2012, Nathan started a habit of writing a thousand words for every day. Some days he wrote nothing, and other days he wrote more than a thousand words to make up for the nothing days. Sometimes he didn’t write, but made videos or recorded audio, which he counted at roughly one hour of work = one thousand words. The point is, he established a solid habit of creating nearly every single day. Sometimes it was blog posts, other times writing for various books he sold, etc. I’m obviously nowhere near that level (yet!), but I’m working on it. Michael and I are doing a challenge for the month of November to write 500 words every weekday, whether that’s on our personal sites, our business blog, or email newsletters and courses for our business. That doesn’t sound like much, but even a little bit adds up over time; by the end of the month we’ll have written over 20,000 words combined, and that’s just in one month.

Set up lifecycle/sales funnel emails

I mentioned above that we’re working on some email courses for our business. Well, I think you should be doing that too. The idea here is that when potential clients arrive on your site, you should offer them something of value right away. What if they’re not quite ready to contact you? Maybe they’re just thinking about redesigning their site, but don’t want to deal with a high-pressure sales process. Why not offer them some helpful information, in exchange for their email address? On our site, we offer “5 things you need to know before starting on a new website”. 5 Things to Know optin They enter their email address, and we send it off to them, and can then follow up after a few days to see what questions they have. This is a pretty basic example, since we only have one automated email that goes out. We also have another course focused on improvements they can make to their website right now. That one is five emails sent out over eleven days, with a follow up after a couple of weeks to see how implementation is going. That follow up is the perfect time to start making a sale, because if it’s been two weeks and they haven’t implemented any of the small suggestions we’ve made, chances are they won’t ever get around to it, and they know that. At that point, we can talk more about doing this (and more complex stuff, too) for them.

Resources for setting this up:

Teach

I wrote a post last week about the power of teaching as a way to win more (and better) business. Besides just writing more blog posts and email courses, you could also do in-person training/teaching. This isn’t something I’ve done yet, although it is something we’re planning on doing in the near future. However, Tyler Young has an excellent post on his experience with this on the Plancsope blog. I highly recommend reading that.

What are you going to do?

I’ve presented five different things you can do to improve your business, and of course there are countless others. However, the best way to start is to choose just one thing and make it your priority for tomorrow. What one thing are you going to improve in your business? Post a comment and share, and feel free to ask questions if you have any. I’d love to help you get 1% better.