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Wandering vs Leading

When you start a new project, you can find yourself on any point on the following spectrum: on the far left, there is wondering, and on the far right, there is going straight at a target.

When you are wondering, you don’t know where you want to go. You don’t have a destination. You try this; you try that, your ideas keep shifting, the way you talk about the project keeps shifting, your questions change.

You have this niggling feeling that you want to do something, but you cannot easily articulate what it is. And so you open your senses up for exploration until you discover what you clearly like and you dislike. And a vision starts to emerge. 

On the other end of the spectrum, you know where you are going. You have a map, a plan, and a guide you can call in case of trouble. You are super focused at this stage, your thinking is crystal clear, and your ideas are very stable. You know what is a distraction and what will move you along the path. 

Where are you on this spectrum? 

The way I see it, artists tend to be on the far left side. And they are comfortable in that space of exploration, of the unknown, of continually shifting ideas. It is a place where you are focused on self-discovery, on looking inside to uncover what that niggling feeling is about. 

On the far right side, you find the manager who cares only about the mission, about getting there as effectively as possible. The focus is no longer inwards because the vision is clear. The focus is on the team, on the project, and on being of service. 

In the middle of this spectrum is a place where you have found your vision, so you know where you are going, but you haven’t mapped out the road yet. 

I feel extremely uncomfortable on the left side, the wandering side, where you need to face “not knowing,” making mistakes, and “wasting time.”

I am used to being an A student, which means always having the “right answers” and not making mistakes. 

Being on the extreme right, where you are the manager and just executing the plan, feels more comfortable, but it can also be a place to hide. There is little risk involved. There are little unknowns. And if you fail, you can blame the map or the plan. 

As you move towards the left, things become more and more uncertain and risky. It’s a place fit for adventures—those who are OK with going into dead-ends and having to backtrack and try again. 

No point on this spectrum is better than the others. You can subjectively feel differently about it, as I don’t enjoy the wandering around part, but a project goes through all the phases.

Getting stuck is the problem.

You could wander forever and look busy in your constat search, but how will you sustain that? How will you take care of your family? Or how will you bring positive contributions to your communities?

You can also get stuck in the middle, looking for the “perfect plan” and trying to avoid mistakes. 

The best way to make sure you are making progress is to base your “why” on the good of a larger community. To try to find out how your endeavors will help others, not just you. And then, maybe, you can seamlessly move from crystallizing your vision to efficient execution.

So I ask you again: where are you on the spectrum? And are you making progress, or are you hiding in your favorite place? 🙂 

(credit: ideas inspired by Jonathan Stark – The Business of Authority )

Is this the best way to accomplish our goals?

Have you ever tried to coach a team towards an end goal but failed? Either because you can’t get your point of view across or because the discussion gets sidetracked continuously into things that are not that important? 

I have tried to send documentation to be studied that points at the right solution. That did not work. 

I have tried to use my experience and authority to give them the best solution and move on to the implementation phase. That did not work either. 

I have tried allowing them to learn on their own and to figure it out eventually. That also did not work because of time constraints. 

And guess what the common denominator is to all the failed attempts? Me! 🙂

My thinking says: if they only had the right information, they would see things like I do. Unfortunately, that is not true. As I am discovering, each one of us sees the world through a different lens. Our views may be similar, but they will never be the same

Today I was studying Seth’s book “Stop Stealing Dreams.” And I was fascinated with how many ideas he can share, without giving any advice on what to do! And not only that, but almost every paragraph had me stop and ponder what was said. I could feel the cogs in my brain getting a good workout!

I had to digest the entire book to figure it out finally. And the answer is now simple and obvious. Seth asks a lot of questions, inviting the reader to think for herself!

And the most potent question was:

Is this the best way to accomplish (…insert goal here…)?

This question serves double duty:

1. It makes sure that we know and agree on what the goal is. If we don’t, we need to go way back in our discussion and check and decide on our goals again. 

2. Once we agree on the goal, asking “is this the best way” opens everybody’s mind to contribute in a focused way towards the goal. 

The key difference for me is that I no longer dish out my solutions but instead invite everyone to contribute. The best way that the group finds may be way better than what I had initially thought the correct answer was. We all learn, and we move forward together.

I will definitely give implement this one in my communication.

“I need help! I have a problem!” Syndrome

“I need help! I have a problem!”: I see a lot of emails with those titles almost every day. And in some cases, these emails are sent to public figures who may have large audiences. 

What goes through my head is this: 

“Does this person seriously think that their email will be picked out of the thousands and get a reply?”

And the answer is that probably yes, or they would not have sent the message in the first place.

For me, that is selfish thinking and selfish expectations. Especially for someone who has a broader audience, the email situation is asymmetric. There is way more incoming email than one person could possibly read, let alone send a response. 

And this also applies to social media communications.

I am writing this post here because I have seen a similar trend in the business world where people send messages asking for a job or offering their services to anyone who has a contact form on their website. 

These messages boil down to: “Hey, I am intrigued by what you do, can you hire me?” or “Hey, some nice content here, do you need SEO on the website?”

How would you feel if a stranger came up to you on the street and said that to you? Would they seem trustworthy? Would you think that they genuinely have your best interest at heart? Would you be eager to work with them? 

I understand that sometimes crises happen. I know there are situations where you desperately need to put food on the table and keep the lights on. But the problem is that everyone else also has their own issues to think about; they have their own story running in their head. The fact that you have a big problem, does not give you permission to but in and ask to be hired or offer a service that is not needed. It just creates friction and noise and lowers your chance to be seen as trustworthy

This shotgun approach has a math justification. It is free to interrupt many people in the information age and demand that they focus on my problem. So, the logic says, I just have to interrupt a lot of them, and eventually, I will get a hit! 

If you are doing this, how is it working for you? I bet that it’s not working very well.

The Alternative is to be generous and respectful.

Imagine that you are indeed about to approach a stranger in real life, not online, and you will see how face-to-face interaction changes the dynamic. 

None of the short meaningless pick-up lines would work. You would need to show genuine empathy and generosity. 

Being generous does not have to be about money. You can be generous with your time, attention, and emotional labor. Before you contact a potential lead, do read their about page, their social media activity. Get out of your head and your problems, and do your best to comprehend their story and problems. Once you feel you have seen the world through their eyes, only then you can go to them and say:

“Hey, I’ve been following your activity for a while, and I know a big launch is coming. Do you need any help with that? I am especially effective at creating and distributing flyers!”

If you were honest with your investigation and were paying attention, your lead was thinking or worrying about this issue. By mentioning it directly and specifically, you show that you care and that you’ve spent the time and the effort of getting familiar with their business and their problem. 

Do you see how this would set you miles apart from some just bombing with generic “I don’t care about you, please hire me” messages? 

The key to solving your problems is to help other people solve their problems first. 

Keep that in mind, when you send your next email or post your next message on LinkedIn. Are you selfish? Or generous? 

Automation with Zapier

What do you value most? I hope that your answer is: “TIME.” 

Time is our most valuable resource because it is non-renewable. Wasted time is lost forever. And it could be argued that the reason we work so hard is to have enough resources. Resources that will allow us to spend more time doing the activities that we enjoy: activities like following your dreams, working on your business, spending more time with friends and family. 

I don’t know of any better time-saver in the online environment than automation.

Automation means to identify and formalize processes for the flows that make your business work and then use various tools to set them on “automatic.” This way, they can work even when you are not paying attention. It is like having an employee that is almost free and never sleeps or rests. 

In today’s world, the leading tool for automation online is Zapier

The idea behind Zapier is quite simple and yet profound because of the market they are speaking to. 

What happens is that in the online world of business, you have your website, your store, your payment gateway, customer engagement, webinar, emails, and so on. All these components need to talk to each other. What used to happen before, is that you, as the business owner would have to create and manually maintain this communication, usually based on email notifications you would get from various systems. 

The alternative was to hire someone to do it for you or hire a developer to write a custom program that would automate these processes. Both options could get pretty expensive.

There has been a shift in the past few years. Each of these services exposes an API. This API allows them to talk to each other in a clear and standardized way. With this option available, you would need somebody to integrate these APIs. To connect them in ways that make sense for your business. 

Here in comes Zapier! The beauty of it is that they have put together a platform that allows non-developers to visually express their processes and to connect all these components in a way that makes sense. This flow is testable (which is very important, you want to make sure that your automation works as intended), and you have analytics and an overview of what is happening.

There is a free tier for Zapier, but I want to get into the paid one because I think that is where the power is. You may shy away from paying them the monthly fee. So let’s explore that a bit. 

The way to think about choosing a paid plan is to make a business decision. Would paying Zapier a monthly free enough time and generate enough sales to cover for the costs and then some?

If you get their $20/mo plan, you need to only generate an extra $20/mo in sales for this option to make sense to you. But not only that. Also, consider the free time you now have to do something else, and how much you value that. Consider the money you would spend on a developer to set this up for you and then have it maintained. (By the way, I am not an affiliate for Zapier, I am just using them as an example to talk about automation)

In conclusion, we live in exciting times, where with a bit of patience and thinking through your processes, you can build your website and connect the required components with no need for a developer if you use a tool like Zapier. And this excites me because it enables even more people to express their creativity cost-effectively!

If you are reading this and you are a developer, then seriously consider exposing and API for your services and products and have them seamlessly integrate with Zapier. 

The Power of Using APIs

Many years ago, I had set up my very first website. It was a Sudoku generator based on a selected difficulty level.

To promote the website, I wanted to have a newsletter so I could email my subscribers a daily puzzle to print out.

At the time, I was using AWeber as my newsletter service.

I was very annoyed with the fact that to capture the email of my visitors I would have to send them to a new AWeber page where they would fill out a form, and then instruct them to go to their email to click the confirmation link, and that would get then to a confirmation page on AWeber, and then finally back to my website.

Those were way too many clicks to get yourself a printable sudoku puzzle!

What I wanted, was a way to plug into the AWeber service, and communicate with them, on my visitors’ behalf, while the visitors were staying on my website. What I wanted was an API, which is short for Application Programming Interface.

They did not offer that at the time, so I decided to simulate one by using a “fake browser” to make it “as if” the user has opened their page instead of my mine.

I was very proud of my solution, and it worked very well for about ten days until my account was banned for violation of terms of service.

Today they do offer an API, so I don’t have to resort to “shady tactics” to keep the users on my page.

I use this little story to make it evident why APIs are so powerful. I am all about automation and integration and the APIs make all this possible in a way that is reliable and makes sense and does not violate any agreements 🙂

I don’t think it makes sense to create an online service in today’s world and not to develop an API for it. Interconnectivity and interoperability increase the rate of adoption of your service. And you open it up to be used in ways that you may not even have imagined before and if you connect it, for example, to a platform like Zappier.

In conclusion, I feel that all software development is moving towards building APIs that will talk to each other. Even the front-end of websites will be a templating API making requests to a back end API.

This change will bring about dramatic shifts it what software developers do and will open the doors for non-developers to be even more expressive and sophisticated in their creations. Add AI to this mix, and we can only guess at the limits 🙂

Conversions versus Beauty

As a designer, or even as a client, you are thinking of starting a new project, and you need to begin your UI design. 

And you’re thinking: it has to be modern, it has to be beautiful, it has to be exciting, it has to evoke these feelings and then from the infinite number of possibilities you need to choose something that will be your design. 

This can be daunting, and it may not actually serve you. And I confess I had made this mistake in the past a lot! I would learn new fancy ways to do something, and then I would use it everywhere because, drum rolls, I knew how! That is an excellent way to learn and practice your craft, but it is a terrible way to think about design. 

When I began working in projects that had a real business behind them, it became evident that once the design was done, other questions would come to the fore:

– how many visitors do we have

– out of those, how many became leads (subscribers)?

– out of those, how many purchased a product? 

– and out of those, how many become huge fans or joined the mastermind groups? 

These questions have something in common. They are not about esthetics, they are about numbers, and specifically about conversion rates: how much of X turned into Y? 

Now I start all the projects with these questions before even considering the design!

Who is supposed to use this website, and what for? And once I have an answer, what kind of action do I want my audience to take when they interact with my site? How will I measure that? And how do I maximize that? 

The answers to these questions will limit my design choices. And that is a good thing because fewer choices increase the chance of making the “right choice!”. If you go too crazy with your design, users will not be able to relate to it. If you are the same, then why should a client choose you? You need to find the sweet spot! Something that the potential customers can relate to, but that is also customized to serve their needs. 

This means you will need to choose specific fonts, certain colors, and image themes that will be dictated by your target audience and not by what you think “is beautiful.” 

If you are a designer and you need to make a choice, ask yourself: will this bring me closer to my conversion goals or not (pretty comes second).

And if you are a client, be very careful when you ask for a change because your brother does not like the colors, or you don’t like green. If you build something to serve an audience, then their preferences matter over yours. 

Of course, every decision you make can be wrong. You can make informed assumptions about your audience, read the studies about how color influences people and how the font face can make you look serious or playful, but you can still be wrong and not meet the conversion rates you were aiming for. This does not mean you have failed, it means you need to adapt.

An excellent way to adapt is to use A/B testing. I am still studying this concept myself, and it looks like a powerful way to reach “DDD” which is Data-Driven Design, versus “Beauty Driven Design” (which is a polite way to say “Guess Driven Design”). 

My challenge with A/B testing so far is that you need to have a broad test audience to be able to safely conclude that one variant of the test is definitely better than the other and by how much. If you’re into statistics, you’ll love this, and you can do the math yourself! If you are not, choose your testing tool wisely to avoid running meaningless tests with results that are not actually relevant. 

A case study is the website PenguinMagic. When I first looked at it, my design eye judged it as ugly and imaged someone lost their money paying for that. But I have learned that this “ugly design” converts for the people it is addressed to. Believe it or not, this is a multi-million dollar business. They made the clear choice of conversions over beauty!

How about your web project? Do you have goals for it? Are they conversion goals or “being pretty” goals? 

And finally, if you can recommend a useful A/B testing resource, I’d love to read more about it. 

The Importance of the Value Conversation

All too often, when a person contacts you for a job, you’re eager to say yes and get started! 

I now know that this is backward. 

Instead of being eager to get started, the first step should be to determine if you and the potential new client are a good fit. 

They have money to spend, and you need the work, so you are a perfect match, right? Well, not so fast! 

Here is what is going to happen if you and your client are not a good fit:

– communication will not be clear

– because of communication issues, the scope of the project will not be clear

– because the scope will not be clear what you will deliver will be all over the place

– customer will not be happy, will ask for endless changes

– you realize that what you get paid does not even cover the costs to have this project delivered

– you will be resentful and being to doubt your career choice

Sounds familiar?

At the beginning of a transaction, the only power you have is to say “NO,” so don’t give that up with a quick “YES.” 

Instead, try to dissuade this person from working with you. This way, you get out all of the objections from the start. 

Why did they call you specifically? Why didn’t they go to our competitors? Do they realize that you are likely the most expensive option they have? 

These questions will uncover some fascinating information that you wish you knew before you started the project. 

If they are still talking to you, they clearly value your expertise over your competitors, and they understand that you will not do cheap work. If they are not talking to you anymore, realize you were not a good fit, and you were able to determine this in minutes instead of months.

Now it is time to determine what kind of value you can create for your customer. 

The vital thing to notice here that I said “determine value,” and not “solution.” We are not thinking of solutions yet. And for me, this was a big aha moment. 

Unless you know what is valuable for your potential client, you will end up creating stuff that is mediocre in their eyes, or “OK” at best.

Another distinction to be made here is to understand that sometimes you will be talking with someone who will spend not their money, but their bosses money. And in that case, the question if their mind is: “will my boss approve of this and like me more or not?

Ask a lot of questions, take notes, and reflect back to them what you understood they value about what they want to achieve. 

Example: creating a website is not a “value goal.” Asking more profound questions, you may learn they have a product they want to promote and eventually sell. And today, there are ways to get into that without having to have a website. The solution you will end up offering will be very different than what they asked before. And you only know this because you asked about value first and only then you thought of solutions. 

But there is another less obvious benefit for having the value conversation. You will take notes, and you will agree to deliver on the value points discussed. So when you ship your project, they will be delighted with the result, or you will have to show them how the solution meets all the agreed-upon value points. And even if they “don’t like it” for whatever reason, if it delivers the value you agreed on, then you kept your promise, and now it’s time for them to keep theirs.

And a trustworthy business or one that delights gets referrals. Everybody wins! 

Credit where credit is due: These ideas are a shameless steal from Blair Enns – Win With Pitching. I sincerely believe that the more businesses adopt the value discussion midset, we will all be better off. We will charge more for our services, but the client will be happy to pay because they get the value they were looking for, and now that is crystal clear to them. 

I am ending with a quote from Seth Godin: 

“Yes, you will pay more, but you’ll get more than you paid for.”

How much cheaper is an expensive freelancer?

There are two types of readers that this article is for.

1) you are already considering hiring a freelancer, but you are still on the fence about it, and you hope this information will help you decide.

2) you are a freelancer looking for a way to position yourself in front of potential clients.

The short answer to the question in the title is that if you had the time and the skill, you would do it yourself. It would save you money, and you would not have to deal with communication issues. 

But here you are. And this means that either you lack the skill, or more likely, you lack the time. If you had enough time, you could acquire the skill and deliver before the deadline. 

The right freelancer will save you both time and money. 

You will save time in two ways: you don’t have to wait until you build the skills, and you can do other work while the freelancer does theirs. 

Saving money is not always that obvious. I can best illustrate it with a story. 

A couple of years ago, someone reached to me to help them with their site. After the initial discussion, I estimated that the project would cost them around $3k. 

They respectfully told me that it was too much for what they wanted to do, and we parted ways friends.

Fast forward four or so years, and I hear again from this person. They were desperate now. They had spent over $15k hiring help, and their site was still not working. 

Paying $3k to someone you trust looked like a bargain right now. 

Part of it was my mistake for not knowing at the time how to explain the value they were getting. 

And this brings me to another point: the price of hiring a freelancer is not the same as the cost of hiring them. A lousy experience means you need to hire someone new. That means more money spent and more time lost having your work redone. A good experience means you get it right from the start, and you recoup the money quickly from your working website. So which experience ends up costing you more? And what if you consider the cost that is not financial. Like a stressful relationship vs. smooth sales. 

And of course, this begs the question: how do I know if this freelancer is the right one for me? Is expensive, necessarily better or cheap, necessarily bad? 

Let’s deal with cheap/expensive first. Indeed there is no guarantee that expensive means better or even the right choice. But let’s look from the viewpoint of risk. Why would a freelancer charge you less money than another? It could be for a variety of reasons:

  • they desperately need the job;
  • they are new on the market, so they need to earn trust and build experience;
  • they self-evaluate their own ability to deliver as lower than other freelancers;
  • they have turn-key solution ready for you, so their cost is nearly zero;

It is a gamble. They could be outstanding but out of work and needing a job right now. (But this would beg the question, if they are so good why do they have trouble finding work). Or they have a turn-key solution ready to deliver. The catch here is to make sure that this “ready-made” solution actually fits your custom needs, or you would be left trying to fit a round peg into a high-quality and cheap square hole. Can you afford to take this risk?

With a more expensive freelancer, they could be bluffing, but they could also invest in themselves and have better training and a better experience. They could deliver the work with higher quality, faster, and with a lower risk for having to redo it again with someone else. 

Now back to: “how do I know if this freelancer is the right one for me?” 

It comes down to trust. What have they done that they can show you to prove their experience? What have they created and put out? Who is talking about them? How did you find them? Has anyone you know recommended them? 

My argument is that if you trust them, if they come with recommendations, and if you can see past work from them that is in line with what you want to build, then it makes sense to pay a premium now and have the peace of mind that comes with lower risk.

Choose wisely. 🙂

Staying on top of your social media presence

The best that I know to stay in the mind of your audience is to share something of value with them consistently. You could share your creations every day, every week or every month.

Have you ever tried to be consistent every week? Or every day? It is pretty challenging.

Some days you feel inspired, other days not so much. On some days there is plenty of time for creations, and on other days you would like to take some time off.

I struggled with this for a few months, and I knew there has to be a better way!

And that better way is batching and scheduling.

Batching is merely creating more pieces to be shared when you feel more creative, or when you have more time on your hands. If you share one post a day, but you have time to create 5 of them, that is batching.

When you have five pieces done in advance scheduling can help you publish them just at the right time, even if you take the day off.

For me, batching and scheduling are time-savers that also keep me in front of the audience even when I take time off.

In the last few years, the tools available have evolved so you can do this easily.

For Facebook – on your business page – you can schedule posts ahead of time. That feature is sometimes not working. In those cases, I go to “Publishing Tools” and use that interface to schedule my work.

For Twitter – they have the Twitter Deck app. This one has worked pretty much every time.

For Instagram, you don’t have a built-in scheduler. I am sure there is a good reason for that, but I don’t know it. If scheduling on Instagram is essential for you to there is a paid service you can use called: TailWind. Since I’ve been using it for one of my clients, they almost doubled their audience from 2k to 4k. Of course, you still need to create high quality, engaging posts, but being able to schedule them allows you to be active on the platform even in the days where you have something else planned.

Give batching and scheduling a try! You will find it much easier to be creative when you take the time pressure off of you.

Are you an explorer? Or do you prefer roadmaps?

The importance of having a strategy

This is the story of how it took me way too long to be where I am today. And the reason for that is because I refused to understand the power of having a strategy.

I don’t even have the excuse of not knowing this information. Book after book, coach after coach would bring this up I would not get it.

I was stuck in the mindset of “I will do it my way!

As you read this, you may do as I did and ignore the power of a strategy or maybe you will be different and make better choices :).

The reason I finally see the benefits of having a strategy is because now I value time more than anything else. If you don’t value time, a strategy will seem to just get in your way!

A good strategy saves you time

A useful analogy is to think of a strategy like a roadmap. Say you want to get from point A to B. You have multiple options on how to do it, and two of those are to use a map or to explore your way towards the destination.

The exploration part still feels enticing to me. It is fluid, it is playful, it is unpredictable, and who knows what you may learn or discover along the way.

But when time is of the essence, all these positives turn into negatives, especially being unpredictable and possibly never reaching point B.

These days I am much more consciously strategic, and I am choosing more carefully where I go exploring!

How is all this related to your online business

If you value time, a good strategy will get you to where you want to go much faster. Something as simple as being told on what are the best tools for the job can save you enormously in the long run.

Things like choosing your hosting provider, your website builder framework, how you send emails, how to deal with eCommerce, how to do tracking, and how to create a growth plan. You can learn all these by yourself, or you can hop on a strategy call, and in one or two hours you can have them. Then you are free to develop your business.

Strategy can compress time by a factor of 10, 100 and sometimes even more.

So, do you still want to spend time exploring and figuring things out? Or are you ready to buy a map? Either choice is a good one, as long as it is a conscious choice and you understand what you gain and what you lose :).