I’ve talked a decent bit about training this month so that you can get maximum benefit from your efforts. How much should you be spending on your training? Are there any rules for purchasing online courses?
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When you’re starting in any field basic literacy is a must. As a designer you need to learn to operate Photoshop, use grids, good typography rules, and many other things. Programmers need to learn the basics of their chosen language and the basics of version control.
Then it’s time to stop with the theory and the textbooks. Once you’ve established basic technical literacy in your field it’s time to move to a new form of learning.
Don’t try to swallow the dictionary. Don’t try to get word-rich quick by memorizing a fancy list of words whose meanings are unconnected with any actual experience. In short, do not forget that the dictionary is a book about words, not about things – How to Read a Book
Just like the dictionary is a book about words, textbooks are books about theoretical problems that you might maybe have to solve one day. They may be based on real problems the book’s author solved once, but you’re not solving them in any practical way as you read. You’re not immersed in the problem — just some text on a page.
The best way to learn once you get past basic technical literacy is to dive into real problems and solve them. Take on a small client project for a friend or family member and put your knowledge into real world use. Don’t use that knowledge to build something for yourself, because you’re going to let yourself off the hook a whole bunch when it comes to hard problems. Take on a paying client where the bar will be higher and you’re held accountable.
Being forced to build out a feature or solve a design problem in a way that you like and matches with the goals of the client is going to teach you much faster than reading another textbook.
Write about it
Once you’re starting to solve problems that get you stuck just a bit, it’s time to write about it. Little solidifies learning better than trying to teach what you’ve just learned. When you begin blogging about what you’ve learned, you’ll discover the parts you don’t understand, which you can then dig into and gain the understanding.
In addition to improving your understanding, writing and publishing is going to help your marketing. Others are going to have the same problems you’ve had and find answers through what you write. As they keep finding you, they’re going to start looking to you as a thought leader.
When I was starting in the WordPress space I had a few technical blogs and out of those I got to know many people that send me constant referrals. Without those relationships I wouldn’t have the business I have today. All I did was write about the problems I was solving, over and over.
If you’re just sticking with reading textbooks it’s time to be honest with yourself. You’re simply procrastinating. You’re hiding from the real world. Get out there and put your knowledge to the test and learn more. Then write about it so others can learn about it, and you can deepen your understanding.
If you do those things, you’re on a path to becoming an expert in your field.
You didn’t start your business to be a failure. That would be a silly reason to start a business, but at least it would be easy to achieve. No, you started your business for some great reason — like freedom. Maybe you told yourself you wanted more money but what you really wanted was the freedom that more money brought.
But you’re not there yet, are you? You’re still trying to find enough clients or trying to get your team to work well together. You’ve got one road block after another coming up and most of them stem from the same problem.
Do the work
When I first read Book Yourself Solid I got a bit of benefit out of it, but not much. I didn’t get much out of it the next three times I read it either. It was only on the fourth read that I really started to see why the book was recommended so often.
The thing I did the fourth time around was, I actually did the work recommended in the book. I stopped being lazy and I started filling out the answers to the questions in the book.
This is the same problem almost all business owners have. They want some awesome business just like they read about, but they don’t actually want to do the work to get there.
They hear a colleague talk about getting so many referrals that they can’t handle everything, or even a fraction of everything. Clearly that’s something you want, but do you want to build out a great email list to follow up with prospects?
Do you want to send prospects a personal email every quarter (on top of at least monthly emails to the list of prospects) to see how things are going?
Do you want to publish some great e-books or other resources for prospects to have for free to get them on your email list?
No, most of you don’t want to do that, or at least you think about it and wish you could just get back to writing code or moving pixels around in Photoshop or taking pictures with your camera.
But all that follow-up is what it takes to get referrals coming in constantly and yes, it took a bunch of work to get it set up. It took me a few weeks at least for each e-book I set up as giveaways.
Revisit your goals
When it comes to goals the picture doesn’t get much better. Most people set a goal at the beginning of the year and then never revisit it again. They don’t even look at it at the end of the year to see if they hit it. They just start a new set of goals for the next year.
I’m flabbergasted by people who think you can set ‘goals’ and then never put any plan in motion to accomplish them, and that the goals will magically get ‘accomplished’. If this is you, it’s sad that you keep repeating this from year to year and lament that working for yourself is way harder than you thought. It’s not surprising at all that you never get out to run your own business if this is how you set and ‘accomplish’ your goals.
The thing you need to do
Here is the only thing you need to do: Do the damn work. When you read a book to learn to run your business better, answer the questions that it asks you. Even better, write a short review of it so you can tease out three big takeaways.
When you set your goals for the year, break them down by quarters. Once you’ve done that, break them down by weeks and then each week have a list of what you need to do so that you can accomplish your goals for the year.
I’d love to hear in the comments what your goals for the year are and how you’re going to make sure you accomplish them.
If you’re having trouble breaking those goals down and staying on track, I’d love to help you.
Are conferences and networking events worth your time? How do you make them worth your time? Yes, but how do you make them so?
Clearly I’m an avid reader and I attribute some of my success to the books that I’ve read. If you look around here you’ll find book lists for running an awesome business, productivity, and a whole host of book reviews.
I believe that you’re going to be more successful in business faster if you take the time to read good books. To clarify, I don’t believe you’ll be more successful by just reading books, but by reading them and taking the next step.
I assume that when you finish a book you evaluate it for the good parts that apply to your business and then you implement them.
It’s not just a verbatim checklist
In other words, the reader himself must add something to the book to make it applicable in practice. He must add his knowledge of the particular situation and his judgement of how the rule applies to the case. – How to Read a Book
So often we purchase a $20 book, and since it was a whole $20 we expect it to revolutionize our business. We expect that by reading this one book and applying the advice offered, we will suddenly achieve the elusive goal that we’ve had on our list for a while.
Books can’t be some generic formula for success, though. The best business books were born out of the success of a single person, and maybe the people they’ve already coached to success. The authors achieved success at a specific time in the world market, and the books were written at a specific time in the world market. That world market may or may not be the same one that you operate in.
So expecting a book to provide you a generic 10-point checklist that you can implement without any thought is a sign that you’re super lazy. Don’t expect books to fix that, but your laziness is the reason that your business isn’t successful.
When you finish any book you should take some time to write out three big takeaways from it. Figure out how what the author recommends applies to the market you live in and the business you operate.
Move past the theory
The most important thing to remember about any practical book is that it can never solve the practical problems with which it is concerned. A theoretical book can solve it’s own problems. But a practical problem can only be solved by action itself – How to Read a Book
Once you’ve finished figuring out how the book applies to you and your business it’s time to put a plan into action. You can’t improve your business by osmosis, it takes action. If you’re reading a sales book you need to take the advice of the author and implement it in your business so that you can make more sales.
If you’re reading a marketing book you need to adjust your marketing plan (if it was a good book) so that you can see improved results in leads coming into your business.
A great example of this is the way most people read Book Yourself Solid. Most people just read it. They don’t do the exercises in the book. That’s exactly what I did the first three times I read it.
Then with none of the work done they don’t see their business improve. They blame the lack of results on a perceived “failure” of the book — figuring that despite the glowing recommendations from business people they admire, the book just wasn’t for them. The problem wasn’t with the book, the problem is again that you were lazy. If you had put real effort into the book then you would have some great actionable work to do and your business will improve.
Stop being lazy if you want success
If you want to win at work then it’s time to stop being lazy. As you read anything, write down the key takeaway for your work/life and then how you’re going to implement it.
Success is a life lived with getting 1% better every day. If you can get one good takeaway and make one small change a day then at the end of a year you’ve make 365 small changes to improve your life.
You’ll look back in a few years and realize that you’ve drastically changed your life and business, and that you’re much closer to the success you want. If you stay passive, then don’t expect success. Mediocre passive action gets mediocre passive results.
The cheapest form of education is reading. For just a few dollars and a few hours, you can get access to the thoughts of leaders in our world on any subject that interests you. The single book I think everyone must read is How to Read a Book.
Reading is so much more than just letting your eyes absorb the words on the page. Reading is learning and writing is thinking. Unfortunately, for most of us, school removes all the joy of reading because it merely trains us to memorize and repeat back information. By reading How to Read a Book you’re going to learn how to read effectively for comprehension.
I read it in 2016 and it improved what I get out of a book by the time I was 50 pages in. The more I read it the more information I get out of each book I read.
I think that learning to learn is so important if you want to have an awesome business that I’m going to spend the whole month of August showing you how to get the most out of the books you read and the courses you take.
Today, here are the top books I recommend to make your business better.
If you only read three books on marketing your business this year then these are the three you need to read. Consider them a crash course in effective marketing.
Book Yourself Solid is one of the best books out there to help you find your niche and then build a great marketing funnel so you always have clients. Be warned though — you need to commit to doing the work. If you skip it (like I did the first 4 times) then you’ll get a bit out of it, but not what you could.
One good reading of this book, along with the exercises, can transform your business.
There are lots of marketing books out there for sure, but this one is so awesome because it just gives you a solid, proven approach to marketing that you can use in your business. It tries to cover your ‘ideal client’ but Book Yourself Solid does this much better.
Do sales feel icky? I mean, who wants to do sales? You just want to do your craft and people should come to you, right? The fault in that, though, is that people won’t come and we’re all in sales already.
Read To Sell is Human and start to understand that when we get people to use our services or purchase our products we’re helping them. We’re providing value to them. Without the awesomeness we provide they’d be worse off.
In that light sales is a service you provide to help people, and it’s nothing to feel ‘icky’ about.
Want to have all the mechanics of your business running well? Here is your three-book guide to making that happen.
Author Dave Ramsey isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Even though I love his material, he’s more than a bit over the top for me often. Despite that, EntreLeadership is a great book to learn how to run a business.
Wondering about how to move your team from simply hourly/salary wages and to pay them on performance? Dave talks about how he does that, among many other things, that will help your business kick ass.
This is an ‘older’ book which doesn’t even come in a digital format. I actually didn’t realize this and ordered it in a spree of book-buying, only to forget about it and then get a paperback book from Amazon.
Contrary to our current tech bubble, author Paul Hawken advises that simple money doesn’t solve problems, but only allows non-profitable companies to continue to lose money and become a bigger problem. He’s not opposed to taking investment, but it’s not the magic pill it’s often made out to be. Execution of a good idea by the right team is really what’s key.
Simon Sinek calls it your WHY. Jeff Goins calls it your purpose (or your story). What they both mean is the reason you do what you do. My WHY is:
I help people run the business they want so they can live the life they want to live.
Running everything I do through that filter helps me decide what I do each day and which new business endeavours I choose to take on.
If you want to start finding your WHY read Start with WHY. Next up (yup, sneaking a fourth book in though it’s mentioned later as well) is The Art of Work by Jeff Goins.
1. Deep Work
Deep Work is probably the best book I read in 2016 (maybe ever) for my productivity. Almost all of us need large swaths of time without interruptions to get our work done well. This in a world of devices and jobs that are designed to interrupt us.
Deep Work shows you why you need these large chunks of time without distraction and how to get them in your job.
Getting Things Done (or GTD) is a book that’s been around for a while and it’s still great. I read this book every couple years to brush up my productivity habits. GTD isn’t quite for everyone, but take the principles in the book and tweak them as needed to suit what works for you.
Do you have ‘enough’ in your life? How would you even know if you have enough since every metric we have to measure against is one of extreme excess?
This book by Patrick Rhone is a great series of essays to reset what’s enough. I say it’s a productivity book because it goes hand in hand with Deep Work. The stuff around us creates so much distraction and by cutting down what we own we cut down that distraction and can get more done.
If you’re looking for a list of top 10 books on productivity then check out my previous post listing the 10 books I think you should read in the productivity space.
Most things we’ll be doing five years from now don’t exist today. The things you’re doing today are going to undergo massive changes in the next two years. Your ability to learn all these new things is what will keep you working and help you stand out from the crowd.
How to Read a Book is one tool that’s going to help you learn to learn. I think that almost everyone has lost that ability to really dig in and learn. They jump from list article (ironic that this is one) to list article and barely touch the surface of any topic.
We need to stop this and dig deep into the world around us. You can start that by sitting down with How to Read a Book and learn to read a book effectively.
The Art of Work by Jeff Goins is all about finding your purpose. Your purpose should inform everything you do all the time. It’s the reason you exist but it’s a hard thing to find for so many.
I love how Jeff approaches your ‘story’ as the path to your WHY/purpose. Read this book to get a better handle on what you should be doing with your life.
You want to be happy right? Well of course you do — it would be ludicrous to assume that you want to be unhappy. Now the question is, how do you get there? How do you build resilience?
That’s what The Happiness Advantage tackles. Most people assume that happiness comes as a by-product of success, but the opposite is true. You’re happy and then you’re successful. Read this book to learn how to turn your mood around and become more successful in your business.
There’s my list of books you need to read to become a great business owner and a great person. If I could only get you to read two books I’d suggest How to Read a Book and Deep Work. Just reading those two will help you learn everything faster and get more done as you cut distraction.
How often do you talk with friends about money? I don’t mean dreaming about earning $1 million and what you’d do with it. I don’t mean winning the lottery either. Everyone has those discussions, because they’re opportunities to dream, and dreaming with friends is a great pastime.
But those dreamy discussions about money rarely include what’s real in our life at the moment. I mean, when was the last time you talked with your friends about the use of credit cards, or how much they earn each year? When was the last time you talked about the debt you’re carrying?
When I ask that question, the common answer is somewhere between never and almost never. They even feel uncomfortable talking about not talking about money because it gets too close to real, honest discussions about money.
Of shaming and highlights
Most of us are familiar with the concept on social media of seeing the ‘highlights’ of other people’s lives while we sit in the middle of the mud of our day. We see sandy vacation pics while we look at winter after having a long fight with our kid over getting dressed. We don’t see that our friend is actually really sick and had to fight with their own kids for hours. The only smile of the day is the one they posed for and sent off to the world.
Money is so much like that. We can sort of maybe guess how someone is doing financially by seeing what they purchase. Yet it’s a mistake to gauge how much someone makes by their spending. The truth is that for most people you can best gauge their financial health by what they don’t spend.
My one friend has been driving an ’82 Tercel since he got his driver’s license 18 years ago. He pulls it up beside the fancy trucks others drive, and has even endured mocking comments about his old car. But my friend gets to ski 5 days a week during ski season and mountain bike 4 or 5 times a week during the biking season. He kayaks and runs and yes, he spends some time working as well — working as a guide and doing some manual labour jobs. He makes considerably less than many of his friends who join him on the weekends in the mountains, yet having talked to him, he’s got no debt and has a huge sum of money saved for retirement.
Outwardly, you might gauge his financial success as lacking, but when you get down to the numbers he’s young, and on his way to becoming a millionaire while still living the life he wants. Many of our other friends work 10-12 hour days, get out in the mountains maybe once on a weekend, and have high six figures in debt between houses boats and trucks.
Can you tell which one of those people could quit their job and go on a 3-month surfing trip with their whole family, without making any real dent in their finances? Yep, that would be my “less successful” friend who drives an ’82 Tercel.
But to be financially successful you don’t need to drive cars that are almost as old as you.
One of the best ways to get healthier financially is to simply get comfortable talking about money. I went out to the movies last night with a friend and during the course of our conversations we talked about what he earns and if those funds are really needed. The long and short of it is he doesn’t earn much and really doesn’t like his job. His job really isn’t needed, so quitting wouldn’t be a big deal.
He went in the next day and told his boss that he was only working 3 days a week, which was his original agreement. When the boss said that he needed to work as much as he was told, my friend gave his two weeks’ notice. Then found another job, working 3 days a week, paying just a bit more, that’s closer to home. Now my friend can get back to what he really loves.
Having a simple conversation about money turned my friend’s thoughts about his job completely around. He believed he wasn’t doing great and was stuck in a dead-end job he hated that was bad for his health. Now he’s doing so much better than he was and didn’t need the job anyway.
A house of cards
The fact is, most of the people you see driving fancy cars can’t actually afford to purchase them. They simply decided that they could afford $300 or $400 a month in loan payments. If they lost their job and missed a paycheque they would lose that fancy car because it’s one big house of cards ready to come crashing down.
Most people purchasing the latest motor home can’t actually afford it, nor can they afford the 60% of the value of that motor home that will be lost in the first year. A bank simply decided that person was a low risk for a loan and loaned them money to purchase something they couldn’t afford. Just like our friend with the truck, if they miss a few paycheques due to health reasons or job loss, everything they ‘own’ suddenly shows as really being owned by the bank.
Most of the people you see with a lot of expensive possessions own nothing but a piece of paper that says they owe the bank money. That car isn’t really theirs. That boat will have the bank on the paperwork and that house will have the credit union on the title.
If you want to start getting comfortable talking about money then check out the Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. Stop equating things (things the bank has loaned your friends to use) with financial health. Having a bunch of new fancy toys is only an indication that someone knows how to spend money, not manage it and create wealth.
It’s been five years since I first joined a mastermind group and in that time I’ve been part of three mastermind groups. In two of those, I was the member who organized them, and the third I run to help people run better businesses.
In each of the masterminds I’ve been involved in I’ve formed great trusting relationships with amazing business people who have helped me grow my business.
But it’s not easy to know what a mastermind should look like or how it should be run when you’re first trying to find one. Here is what I look for as I try to find mastermind groups or run them for others.
Why is a mastermind a good thing?
Masterminds can take up a fair bit of time in your week depending on the meeting schedule. I’ve had some that take 90 minutes every week or others that take five hours once a month. If you’re going to be involved in something that takes up that much time you need to make sure you’re going to get a great return on investment.
To help you determine the value of a mastermind you might be considering, here are the top 3 things you should be getting out of a group:
1. Group Sourcing Ideas
Which email marketing provider is the best option? Which CRM is easiest to use? What marketing tactics work well?
Until you’ve been in business for 10 years you won’t be able to answer many of these questions. Even with 10 years under your belt new CRMs are going to come out and unless you spend all your time trying out new tools, you’ll never know if one works better than the current option.
In a mastermind group you get the benefit of the experience of many people. Someone has used a great CRM so when you’re looking for one, you can get recommendations from people you trust. It’s likely that a few of the people have used CRMs so you’ll have two or three recommendations. That means you can take the time to look into only those three options instead of the 3,000 options out there for CRM software.
Being in a mastermind group means that you don’t only have your experience to rely on. It means that you have the experience of many other business owners to rely on so you can run your business better.
Getting your work done week in, week out is hard for pretty much everyone. Even those people who seem super productive have times when motivation is low and not much gets done.
Having a group of people to be accountable for every week to push your business forward will help you do just that. It’s much harder to look back at a week when almost nothing really happened when you’ve got to tell a bunch of other people that not much happened. At the very least you’re going to work double hard to make sure that the next meeting you have some progress to show towards your main goals for the week.
This accountability for relentlessly moving forward is going to mean that you just get more done and have a better business that…keeps moving forward.
Referrals are the lifeblood of so many businesses and they only come when people know you and know what you do. Sitting down talking with the same group of people over and over as you win and struggle at your business will bring about both of these things.
In the first year I was in a mastermind I got referrals for at least $30k of work. I still get referrals from that same mastermind group and from the current groups I’m in. One of the big reasons I run a six-figure solo consultancy is that I get referrals from people I’ve built relationships with.
By putting time into a mastermind group you’re going to get referrals from other members. It may be clients they choose not to serve because they’re not the ideal client but fit you well. If you have a wide diversity of businesses in the mastermind group then there will be little overlap. The dry cleaner who finds a fellow dry cleaner looking for a new site won’t think about doing it themselves, they’ll refer it to the person in their mastermind group that builds websites.
How should a mastermind get run?
Masterminds (or mentoring groups) walk a fine line between taking up your time and being useful. You need to watch for the tension between some friendly banter to build relationship and digging into your business so it can get better.
There are two main formats I’ve been a part of in mastermind groups and either can work, depending on how the group prefers to operate.
The first method that I’ve seen work is often called the ‘hot seat’ method. In this method, one person gets the focus for a meeting. They talk deep about their business and everyone is focused on them.
You generally leave a bit of time at the end of the meeting to address any really pressing concerns from other members in the group. Usually there is one person who has a question which needs to be addressed right away. Address it with the time left and then the meeting is over.
The biggest drawback to this method is that you may have 3-5 weeks before it’s your turn in the hot seat. That doesn’t mean you don’t learn things for your business, since others will be having similar problems and you’ll learn from the solutions offered to them. But, it does mean that you don’t get the focused attention of the group every week.
This is the method that my groups use. Here everyone gets 15-20 minutes to recap their week. The format is centered around these questions:
- What went well this week?
- What didn’t go well this week?
- What can you do to avoid these setbacks next time?
- What are your goals for next week?
- Anything else?
Every week you get together and, as a group, address these questions. The key questions are 3 through 5. Question 3 is you setting up a plan each week to run your business better as you work to avoid the next issue.
Question 4 is making sure you have some goals and thus accountability for the next week.
Question 5 is where we cover everything else. Maybe you’re thinking of moving email providers and you want to solicit feedback on some choices from the group. This is where you get a huge benefit from the experience different group members have.
One big key to any mastermind group is that you need to have one person in charge of each meeting. The job of this ‘moderator’ is to move the conversation along when it’s lagging. It’s to pull everyone back to the topic at hand when the banter derails the conversation.
If you simply leave it up to ‘the group’ to moderate, it won’t happen. You’ll end up wasting a bunch of time waffling around or always talk mostly about a single person to the exclusion of the rest of the participants.
Either of those options is a recipe for a mastermind group that isn’t worth your time.
Who is in a good Mastermind?
In the first mastermind I ran I was less picky about who I let join, which led to some issues. Primarily I had people join who wanted to talk about running their own business mostly because it sounded neat. They did not want to do the hard work to actually get out on their own and have that business they said they wanted to run. This dragged the whole group down, as two people consumed most of the time in the group every week and sucked the motivation out of the group with their excuses about why things didn’t get done.
The most crucial starting point for everyone in your mastermind groups is that they are actually motivated to get to a similar goal. They don’t have to be in the same industry or in the same physical location. They don’t have to all work online or all offline. They do all need to be motivated to get things done and push their business forward.
Outside of that one requirement a mastermind can be made up of many different people across many industries. You don’t need just online entrepreneurs or dentists. A good mix of industries is ideal, though not required.
How do you choose a mastermind group?
The final question when looking for a mastermind/mentoring group is which one is right for you. Not everyone will fit with every group — sometimes the personalities will not mesh and sometimes the topics you focus on won’t fit. If you’re much further ‘ahead’ in business than the rest of the group it’s likely to not be a good fit since you’ll spend more time helping others and get little help in return.
What you’re looking for is a group with a leader that you feel can keep things under control. You’re looking for a set of businesses in the group that are at a stage similar to yours. Some may be a bit bigger and some a bit smaller, or maybe they’re all a bit smaller. The key here is that they’re working on the same type of problems you are.
When you’re looking to join a group ask the person that leads it for a rundown of the businesses in the group. Even better, ask for contact information for some of the group members so you can talk about the group and get a feel for the problems they’re dealing with in their business.
If you’re looking for a mastermind currently, then you should get in touch. I’ve got a few spots left.
Most people want big results with the projects they work on. They want to be sought after in their industry with a long line of prospects waiting to become clients. The question is, what are they doing to make that happen?