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See behind the mindset that helped make me a 6-Figure consultant with my manifesto

NO is NOT a Curse Word

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How I Structure my Estimates

When I was on the WP Elevation podcast in late February, host Troy asked about how I structure estimates, and I said that they are basically a long-form sales page.

What on earth does that mean though?

Today I’m going to share my basic estimate structure with you.

Before you write

One of the most crucial things for me when writing an estimate is knowing that my services will improve the life of my prospect.

When preparing an estimate, you also need to ask yourself these 3 questions:

  1. What do you want them to know?
  2. What do you want them to feel?
  3. What do you want them to do?

If you’re struggling with answers to those questions, I wrote out some answers you can use to prompt yourself.

Section 1

The whole goal of Section One is to describe the problem your client has. When they’re done reading your estimate they should be just a bit squirmy because they feel their problem as they read.

It’s all about getting them to buy into the problem again and it shows that you understand how crucial the problem is to their business.

Section 2

This is where you describe your solution to their problem. You’ve spent a bunch of time talking about how painful it is so tell them what it will look like after you’ve solved the problem.

This is where you get all daisies and roses. Make them envision experiencing the solution and how awesome it will be. How their business will change.

Here is where you talk about their return on investment as well, so you can anchor them on pricing since your price is going to be something much less than their ROI.

Section 3

Now that you’ve got them invested in the problem, you’ve told them how you’re going to solve it, and anchored them on the ROI they’ll get, it’s time to talk about your price.

Don’t forget to put in pricing options here. By giving them pricing options for your service, instead of choosing between you and someone else, the prospect’s decision is now which one of your options they want to go with.

You should know their budget already and that’s about where your middle option should fall. It should include everything they really need but maybe not the few things that fell in to their ‘dreams’ when you talked.

Put the ‘dreams’ in the top pricing tier which will be above their budget. Even add a few things here that they didn’t think of but you think would be a good add-on to the project.

Section 4

Finally, once they’ve read all the fun stuff above, you can hit them with the legal stuff. In 17Hats the prospect doesn’t actually see the contract until after they’ve accepted the estimate. My contract is actually super fun anyway, so it’s not hard to read. Seriously, I’ve had clients actually choose me because the contract made them laugh and they figured that someone with that type of contract is the type of person they want to meet with.

Go forth

Now that you’ve got the estimate structure down, it’s time to start using it. If you’re looking for great information on how to write long-form sales pages look no further than Copy Hackers.

Let me know how the structure works for you.

photo credit: tijger-san cc

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5 Truths You Should Tell Your Clients

I know that most of you want to tell clients that everything is all daisies and roses, and every client who’s ever worked with you gushes about how beautiful the interactions with you were.

Unfortunately that’s a total lie

It’s a lie for me too. I totally screwed up 2 projects at the end of last year. I resolved things with one client though they won’t be using me again, but the other one was left hanging and there really isn’t anyone to blame but me.

Here are the 5 things that you should be saying to your clients because they’re true.

1. I’ve failed at projects and here’s why…

Like I said above, I’ve failed at projects. And I’ll fail again at some point. That’s how things work. In fact, about 68% of software/IT projects fail in that they either end up with a crappy product with no real return on investment, or they take 2 to 3 times the expected delivery time.

The important thing to figure out is WHY you failed at a project and that you have a clear plan for solving that issue.

Have a process, enforce its use and tell your clients why you use it. Because you’ve failed at projects before and this system is going to help make sure that we don’t fail.

2. You’ve got a bunch of work to do as well.

The leading cause of project delays is clients not submitting content or feedback on time. You need to tell them that.

I still have issues with delays due to feedback cycles. However, when I added a discussion about how it can impact a project to my client on-boarding process I was able to significantly reduce those delays.

Talking about it up front also sets the stage for bringing it up effectively later. You can talk to your client about them missing their due dates and how that impacts their project timeline. If they hear this for the first time mid-project, when the project is slowing and stress is growing, you’ll simply anger your client because you’re bringing up a problem they probably didn’t anticipate.

3. I don’t know.

You should be telling your client that you simply don’t know the answer to some questions, but of course you can figure it out.

Nobody knows everything and spouting off an answer to your client that’s just a random guess, without qualifying it as a guess, is only going to make you look like an idiot.

Back when I started selling canoes I had some fishermen come in looking for a boat that you could put a motor on. I knew which models could accept a motor so I showed them the boats. Then they asked me how big a motor you could put on the boats — and that’s when I opened my mouth and looked like an idiot.

I told them you could put a 20-horsepower motor (huge for a canoe) on the boat. They laughed and asked if they could talk to someone who actually knew what they were talking about.

Over the remaining years I sold canoes I got similar questions a number of times. Instead of trying to sound smart I’d just reply, “Hey I’m not sure, but XXXXX will know, so let me write it down and when we go inside I can get an answer for you.”

Not once did I have a customer tell me they wanted to talk to someone that ‘knew what they were talking about’ because I didn’t make myself look like an idiot. They just accepted the answer I had and we got the answer from the proper staff member.

Clients are okay with you not knowing things. Just don’t say you know something when you don’t and make yourself look like an idiot.

4. There will be bugs and/or problems.

Bugs happen in software (which is what a website is) so you should set your clients up for that expectation. You’re not perfect and at some point you’re going to miss a comma in some code. It will show up on the page and you’re going to have it reported by the client or one of their customers.

If clients want bug-free software then they should not get involved in software because it all has bugs. If clients don’t want to pay for bug fixing then they shouldn’t be involved in getting custom software built.

You need to tell them that up front. It’s entirely possible that you’ll spend 2 weeks tracking down one silly bug and catching all the edge cases you didn’t think of, so they need to be ready for that.

5. My biggest struggle in a project is ____.

What part of a project is hardest for you? For me it’s that final 2% of a project where things are working awesome but a few tweaks are required to make it 100% awesome.

I’m happy with 98% and have to work to notice that last 2% that takes the project to 100% awesome. I have to work to not get frustrated when a client brings up that missing 2%, which is totally what they should be doing.

Yes, I tell my clients that because if that 2% is the part of the project that’s super important to them, then we may not be suited to work together. Or at least they need to know it and be ready for that part of the project.

It’s about honesty

We all want to have successful projects, right? We want to launch awesome sites for clients that net them an awesome ROI. It’s important, then, that we prepare them for the rough parts of projects.

Starting to tell your clients about the things that may not go as planned or that you don’t know the answer to a question is the sign of a mature business owner that’s comfortable with themselves.

photo credit: clement127 cc

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Put Structure Around Your Team Interactions

I’ve written before about how I structure my weeks and given you tips for a productive day. My friend Chris grounded that by talking about how high performance is a choice.

If you’ve read my other posts, you know the first thing I put on my calendar is vacation.

That’s all great since I work mostly by myself, but what about if you have a team relying on you for things? Can you still follow my advice?

Some of you may be saying that none of this stuff really works for you because you have people working for you and you pride yourself on giving them the freedom to work when they want to.

If they want to work weekends that’s totally fine; however, it sucks that you need to be around for them when they’ve decided to work. You’re the boss and that’s a sacrifice you have to make.

Stop that and start blocking out your time

No, it’s not a sacrifice you have to make, at least not regularly. Before you can stop it though, you need to make some changes.

1. Put emergency only time on the calendar.

One habit that’s critical to actually getting work done is to plan your week. I only take calls for new projects on Tuesday mornings because taking them randomly during the week pretty much guarantees I won’t get stuff done.

Start by working with the calendar that’s shared with your staff. Block out emergency only times — these are the blocks of time when your staff can only contact you in the case of an emergency. Such as, they launched a client site and it’s all burning down. The servers are going on strike and the clients have already unleashed the hounds to kill.

If they contact you during this time it’s because there was no other option at all and they actually needed you.

I already do this with clients. I let them know if they call me after work hours or on the weekends the cost for me to pick up the phone starts at double my usual rate (which makes it $400) and only gets higher based on how annoyed I am.

2. Put freely available time on the calendar.

Next, block out the time when your staff is free to get in touch about anything, even if they just want to chat about stuff that has nothing to do with work.

3. Plan some prep time.

Plan time each week where you can make sure that people have what they need. Yes you want to let them work whenever they want, but you should also be getting that same privilege. Setting aside an hour a week to meet is not unreasonable in any fashion. It’s 1 out of 168 hours that you’re asking them to be in a certain place at a certain time.

I’d say that’s a minimum requirement to actually be an effective employee/contractor.

Set aside a once a week call time to talk about the projects and make sure that they have everything they need. If they don’t and they need stuff from you put it on your list to get to them before you’re done for the week.

Expect more from them

It’s also time to start treating members of your team like adults. If they are always calling you on weekends because they need stuff for a project, that’s actually their problem.

They didn’t plan ahead to make sure that they were prepared. They just figured that it didn’t matter because they could simply call you and you’d put aside the time again to cover for them.

Stop doing it. Yup, it’s going create some pain at first because you’ve trained them to not prepare, but trust me — the re-training will pay off. Train them to plan ahead, then hold them accountable if they don’t plan and let a project take too long.

If they can’t get on board, then maybe they were a bad hire in the first place and it’s time to find someone new.

Stop sacrificing for their poor planning

It’s time for you to get in control of your schedule. Teach your team to plan better. Teach them that you have blocks of time when they really can’t get in touch with you unless things are burning.

Give them the tools they need to be prepared to work and expect them to prepare for the times you aren’t around.

Your job as the business owner is not to sacrifice everything. It’s to help employees become the best they can be, and that takes training.

photo credit: dunechaser cc

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Close Shouldn’t be Good Enough

My favourite local bike shop has a problem, and that sucks for me because I’m the one that ends up paying for it. The problem is that every time I take my bike in for service I end up taking it back a second time to ‘fix’ something that’s not working quite right.

This week it was the new freewheel they put on my single speed. When I took the bike in the freewheel ran silently, but when I got the bike back the gear ratios were perfect, but as long as I’m peddling the freewheel makes a ticking sound. Under hard pedaling you can feel it right through the whole bike.

Before Christmas I had an issue with the bike shop not replacing both my housing and cables — they only did the cables. All the cable ends that stop the cables from fraying fell off on the first ride, they used the wrong bearing on my headset, and they lost the seals to a part of my bike that now bathes the bearings in rain and grit.

Every time I take the bike back I drop at least an hour of work time which means it costs me around $200.

For the last two repairs alone I figure I paid $400 in lost productivity time, and that’s totally unacceptable.

I’ll be changing to the other local shop and see how they do.

It’s close but…

I must admit I’ve been guilty of doing a similar thing with my clients. They ask for Feature A to match a given design and I say okay.

Then I come pretty close but don’t completely hit the mark, and I send it to them for feedback. The feedback I get typically amounts to (though they are specific): “But it doesn’t match the design.”

In theory I should buckle down now and spend the time it takes to get it perfect across all devices (as much as you can do that, anyway) but this is my fault. I end up taking a few steps to make it closer but don’t pay enough attention to their feedback and thus I get more feedback saying, “Well it’s closer but…”

What will I be doing about it?

For my bike, I’m heading back to the shop today (cutting work an hour early) and getting that freewheel fixed. I’m also going to talk to the owner and tell him why I can’t come back for service again. It simply costs me too much.

For my clients I’m going to slow down and do it right the first time. Yes, I’m the type that feels 95% is close enough, but that’s not what my clients want and they shouldn’t have to keep hounding me to get it right.

If I expect that level of service from my providers how can I not expect the same from myself? How can I expect clients to continue to give me money when I would piss myself off?

What about you? Are you guilty of the same thing? Would you stand for ‘close’ in your dealings with your mechanic or the person doing your landscaping?

Why do you give ‘close’ service now?

photo credit: clement127 cc

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Components of a Good Project Plan

Planning is so important, but often the first thing abandoned, and that’s sad. I’m really good at maintaining my weekly planning sessions but I’m not always great at doing a project plan.

By ‘not always great’ I mean that until recently, I haven’t really had any specific method to build out proper project plans. A scope is a reasonable substitute, but a project plan should really be something your scoping document is built off of, or in tandem with.

A project plan should be built in partnership with your client. When they buy into the project plan you then start a scope and build a proposal/scope off of it.

Components of a project plan

Let’s walk through the main headings of a project plan to get an idea of what it is. At the end I’ll show you the project plan for my email product.

1. Purpose

What is the purpose of the project? Is it to get more sales, save time? Is it to bring a new resource online to customers — one that didn’t exist before?

If you don’t have a purpose for the project then why on earth are you doing it in the first place? That’s why this is first, because without a purpose a project is more likely to fail.

2. Principles

These are the standards on which you’re going to run the project. Yes, many of you are going to put excellence on here, but ‘excellence’ can be an vague term. Write down what excellence looks like in the context of the project.

3. Actions

This is where most of us start, with what actually needs to get done to ship a project. It’s easy and more tangible than the above items so it’s a more comfortable place to start.

Without defining our purpose and principles, though, this task list has no solid foundation.

When I do this, it’s a high-level view of the project. So you might say ‘Set up WooCommerce store’ as a task, knowing that there are about 55 sub-tasks that will need to get accomplished to complete the store.

4. Information

This is for any information pertinent to the project, like who’s the Project Champion (if you’ve never heard of that before then go listen to Art of Value 33), or the contact information for the person you use for book design.

If you’re doing a live event, put in the name of the venue here.

Effective Client Email Plan

Now let’s look at the project plan for my Effective Client Email Product with a planned release at the end of March 2015.

Purpose

To give freelancers awesome emails which will help them get the right answers from prospects in the vetting process and ultimately identify their ideal clients.

Freelancers should save time using these templates because they don’t have to dig deep and create a new email for every new prospect.

Principles

Excellence – the email templates and the guide will help freelancers have excellent responses to prospects.

Value – there will be high value for freelancers in the emails because they’re going to get better clients and train them out of the gate to be awesome.

Help – I want to give freelancers the tools they need and a plan to follow so they will have awesome client interactions.

Actions

Guide

  • Write the guide
  • Get it proofed
  • Get a cover designed

Emails

  • Compile the emails from my text expander list
  • Review them and make necessary revisions

Contactually

  • Write my Contactually guide
  • Get involved in the affiliate program?

Email Course (this is the lead funnel and initial course)

  • Write the email course based on guide material
  • Set up the course in MailChimp
  • Add an extra email to my current email sequence to let subscribers know about the course
  • Add the email course as a custom lead option for existing posts on email/client stuff

Sales

  • Set up product with variations
  • Write sales page
  • Get sales page proofed
  • Set up funnel for sales page

Info

  • Editor – Diane
  • Cover – same as the manifesto

Now you

Please feel free to steal use this project plan and I’d love to know how it works with your clients and projects.

It’s proven to be an awesome strategy for me to keep projects centered.

photo credit: legozilla cc

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February 2015 Reading

If you’re new to this blog, I do a monthly post with a recap of books I’ve read in the previous month. Today’s post covers the books I read in February 2015. Along with the recap, I also give away a copy of my favorite business book each month, so get on my email list for a chance to win.

1. What’s Best Next

Get What’s Best Next on Amazon.

What’s Best Next, by authors Matthew Aaron Perman and John Piper, takes standard Getting Things Done philosophy and applies Christian faith principles. My biggest complaint about the book is that it’s very repetitious.

The first 55% of the book consists of the authors basically trying to convince you that Christians should be concerned with productivity. I’m a Christian and I don’t disagree with the overall premise, but it shouldn’t require more than half of a book to make that argument. Nor does it need to be restated it in 9,200 ways (yes, I made up that number) to convince a reader the argument is valid.

Then you get to the approximately 25% of the book that’s really great.

Starting in Chapter 13, Perman finally starts breaking some ground new to me as he talks about identifying your roles in life. Your role list would be something like:

  • Individual (encompasses all the things pertaining to you)
  • Family (wife, kids, parents…)
  • Church (church, small group…)
  • Social (friends, neighbours…)
  • Professional (programming, design, blogging…)

Those cover the primary areas of responsibility in your life, so as new things come along you see which role they fit into.

The main reason you should be looking at your roles is to keep them in balance. Now of course sometimes you’ll be working more and spending less time with your family. But by identifying your ‘Family’ role as the most important, you can keep your life in check over the longer term.

Perman suggests keeping your list of roles and their priority in the same place you keep your review tools for your weekly review. That way you are continually reminded of your roles and what you really value.

After discussing roles, the book addresses setting up your week (which I think is super important) and creating routines. Routines are important to reduce your cognitive load and make planning easy.

Overall there are some great tips in this book for anyone looking to be more productive. If you’re not a Christian and tend to be put off by scripture citations, skip to Chapter 13 where the book covers roles.

If you’re a Christian then start from the beginning, but expect the same message to be repeated over and over and over from slightly different angles.

2. 20 Things I Learned as an Entrepreneur

Get 20 Things I Learned as an Entrepreneur on Amazon.

This is a super short book of 20 chapters in about 20 pages (plus front and back matter of course). Each chapter is a short thought on what it means to be an entrepreneur.

There are lots of great takeaways in this short book and it starts right out of the gate with what could be the foundational thought for your whole life:

…did you do what you said you would do? And if you didn’t, were you accountable?

Yup it starts off by talking about being a person of your word. Do what you say you will do, and don’t let the little things, like sending an email a day late, make working with you something negative.

There are a number of other great points in this book so yes, I think you should read it. Now if I had paid full price for the print version, I probably wouldn’t have been happy, but it was free via Kindle. However, even at $5-$10, I would still consider it a good value.

3. Taliesin

Get Taliesin on Amazon.

I first read this book in my early teens and it’s always had a place in my library. This is probably the 10th time I’ve read it.

Taliesin is the father of the famed Merlin so this is the beginning of Stephen R. Lawhead’s Arthur cycle.

The story begins with Atlantis and Charis (Merlin’s mother), and walk through the fall of Atlantis where Charis and a few thousand people escape the destruction.

The Atlantis timeline is interspersed with stories of Britain and Elphin (Taliesin’s father) as he prepares for the ‘dark time’.

The book ends with the birth of Merlin and a surprise death, which I’ll leave as a surprise so I don’t spoil the book.

I obviously love it since I’ve read it 10 times, so yes I recommend it if you like the genre.

4. Master the Essentials of Conversion Optimization

Get Master the Essentials of Conversion Optimization on Amazon.

If you’re looking to get into conversion optimization this is a great initial read. When you’re done you’ll have a list of the next resources you should be reading along with a specific process to begin your conversion optimization.

This is a no-nonsense guide that tosses aside your ‘hunches’ in favour of testing and proving your theories. When your tests turn out ‘bad’ as many will just revisit the hypothesis and run another test.

Highly recommended for anyone interested in working on conversions for their site.

5. Leviathan Wakes (Expanse Book 1)

Get Leviathan Wakes on Amazon.

This book is billed as a space opera. I’ll trust that is true, although I didn’t hear any singing and I don’t know exactly what a ‘space opera’ is supposed to be.

Whatever it is, it’s a good book. Another one I just didn’t want to put down — at all, at any point.

Humans have colonized Mars, as well as a bunch of asteroids in the solar system. Now there is division between the inner planets (Mars and Earth) and the ‘belt’ (the asteroids and such). Someone finds an alien molecule, thaws it, then unleashes it on humans on one of the bigger asteroids, simply to see what it does.

Mayhem ensues as ships explode and huge rocks narrowly miss being pushed into the sun.

Overall, if you like science fiction, this is a great read. I’ll be getting the next book in the series.

That’s it for February. Stay tuned for the March reading list, and if you have your own recommendations, by all means post them in the comments.

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This should be your only goal in hard client conversations

Do you ever have to talk to a client about budget or the features they want to ‘throw in’ to a project?

How about talking to a client that’s clearly not happy with your work and has requested a call?

It sucks and it’s stressful usually, until you make one crucial change in your goal for that call.

The old goal

For a long time my goal in hard calls was to bring the client around to my position. I’d be explaining to them why something cost so much or why I was saying no or why something wasn’t in scope.

I’d be fighting them the whole time and the conversation would suck. The next time we had to talk it still sucked because we would associate each other with that other sucky conversation.

Nothing really changed, either. We just kept sucking at a project together because we were now adversaries.

My whole goal was really winning the argument but the fact is, nobody won.

The new goal

When it’s time for that hard call with a customer your only goal should be to understand their position. Don’t talk about why you’re right and justify your opinion, but ask them questions. Repeat their answers back, as you understand them, and ask if you’ve understood them correctly.

Only once they stop talking and confirm you understand everything properly can you even start to talk. And now you actually understand what they’re thinking.

Now you can take a few deep breaths (really just to pause and think) and start to figure out a path forward. One that takes your point of view into consideration, but now that you’ve listened to your customer, they’re going to be ready to listen to you.

The only way to win in a hard conversation with a client is to both agree that the outcome is acceptable to all parties. If that’s not where you end the conversation then you likely failed at your first goal — understanding what your client is saying.

photo credit: legofenris cc

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I don’t want to be satisfied

There are a few things I don’t want to be in life. I don’t want to be satisfied and I don’t want to be average or normal.

Normal is broken. Normal is having credit card debt and student loans.

A ’normal’ freelancer is constantly searching for the next client. Actually, scratch that. They’re not searching — they’re frantically running around and wondering where on earth the very next person who will give them money is.

None of that sounds fun.

Neither does satisfied

Being satisfied sucks too. Being satisfied always feels like showing up, putting in time and checking out.

It feels like being okay with the status quo.

It feels like you stopped striving for that ‘next level’.

You’re just satisfied with where things are.

I don’t want to be satisfied, I want to make an impact.

Impact

I want to teach people to run awesome businesses and help them transform their ‘normal’ life into something abnormal and truly awesome.

I want to be the friend that’s telling you your dreams are possible, and you believe me because you see me achieving my dreams as well.

I don’t want to be the friend that’s telling you it can’t be done because no one does it yet or because it’s going to take a bunch of work. You don’t want that friend around you.

Stop being satisfied with average. Average is broken and I don’t want broken for you.

photo credit: billward cc

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Curtis McHale

Helping you answer the hard questions about your business