5 Vital Skills For a Self-Managed Freelance World of Work

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Many people in charge of companies now still have a mindset of 9-5 factory style work where people are structured in a hierarchy and there is a chain of command.

You’re slotted into your role in the organisation like pegs in a giant pegboard.

But, work is changing. Roles aren’t fixed any more. Not in the sense that you can do one job your entire life and retire with a pension.

As people live older, they don’t particularly want to stop working. And younger folk are finding it hard to move up a career ladder based on roles and seniority when the older ones insist on staying on the rungs.

Which is why Morningstar is interesting.

Morningstar does things with tomatoes. They care about tomatoes. On their website you can learn about the history of tomatoes, watch a day in the life of a tomato and check out prices for tomato products from hot paste to diced tomatoes in juice.

That’s not the interesting bit.

The interesting bit is that they have no managers. The only role in the company is held by Chris Rufer, the President, because it needs to for legal reasons. And he’s got that because he started it.

Instead, they have a workforce of around 400 workers that manage themselves by creating a network of agreements with each other. A peer-to-peer management system, if you like.

You might think this approach is nonsense. Surely the company would collapse without a cadre of trained managers, all being paid four times what a worker earns, watching the workers work?

Somehow it doesn’t. A mini-market emerges instead, and out of the transactions and agreements made between the workers, a low margin business sustains and grows over time.

This self-management system has spawned its own training centre – The Morningstar Self-Management Institute – and Doug Kirkpatrick sets out five skills that you need to have to do this well.

Now, even if you don’t work for Morningstar but work in a regular company or as a freelancer, these skills are worth thinking about.

1. Always take the initiative

Talk is easy. It’s when you start doing something – taking the first step – that magic happens.

Thinking and strategy and plans are all important and need doing. But you have to get started – whatever that means for you.

For example, as a freelancer with no clients, you have to take the initiative and reach out to prospects. If you have prospects, you have to reach out to them with pitches and suggestions. If you have clients, you have to go back to them with new ideas and opportunities.

Stop talking and start doing.

2. Get comfortable with fuzziness and ambiguity

A world where you have a safe, well-paid job where you can’t be fired is unlikely. And, if you do have that, it’s probably pretty boring.

Safety usually is.

Really exciting things happen in places where people wear t-shirts saying “Safety third”.

Fuzzy and uncertain spaces are where you can find and add value. That’s the edge of new technology, new capability or wasted effort that you can sort out.

If you go where other people don’t – you’ll find projects and opportunities and money.

3. Learn how to be aware of yourself and your progress

If you want to get somewhere, you have to constantly check yourself, check whether you’re moving in the right direction.

Time goes by quickly. Before you know it your time is up and you’re behind where you wanted to be at this point.

If you have a mission – a goal – you’ve got to be aware of it every single day and move towards it. You’re not going to make it in one big leap. But a step every day will make it impossible for you not to reach it.

4. Always try to contribute

Don’t wait for stuff to come to you. Don’t hold back protecting ideas and thoughts and plans because you think they are really clever.

If you can help someone else do it.

It’s good practice. You can get whatever you want if you help enough other people get what they want.

Today, the more you share, the more people can see what you do and are willing to trust you.

It’s one thing saying you can do something – another showing your work.

If you contribute, if you’re visible – you’ll make yourself discoverable – and that is the key to getting more work and growing a business.

5. Select for low power distance

You’re going to have a choice of who to work with. There’s an entire world of people out there looking for your exact skills.

Some of them are not nice.

In the series Scrubs, the actors talk about a no asshole rule. It doesn’t matter how good you are, if you’re an asshole you’re not joining the team.

This is a good rule to use when working for someone.

It’s good practice to fire difficult customers and spend all the time you save being extra-helpful to the nice ones.

The ones who don’t lord themselves over you.

Your ideal customer is one that doesn’t see themselves as your boss but as a colleague – someone who can work with you to create something that benefits both of you.

Someone who just wants to take from you isn’t worth working with.

In summary

Whether you’re just starting a new career or moving out of an old one into a new freelance way of working, you’re going to have to pick up new skills.

One of the most important is how to move from doing what you’re told to agreeing what needs to be done with people willing to pay you.

Or better yet, offering value that people are happy to buy from you.

And all that starts with a mindset shift.

Followed by massive action.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

August Update On Cryptocurrency Trading Performance

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Monday, 9.31pm

Sheffield, U.K

An August update… sounds like there was a July, June and May update, doesn’t it?

No, but here’s what’s happened so far… in case you weren’t around and don’t remember the back story.

Last year everyone got very excited about cryptocurrencies.

Bitcoin went up from around $1,000 to over $16,000 by December 2017.

I started looking at it a little more seriously then, pulled along by the euphoric tide that swept the market along.

It’s hard to understand something like that by just looking at it. To really get to grips with you need to engage with the market – make some real decisions with real money.

It’s easy to be an armchair commentator. It’s simple to predict how markets will move and how much money you would have made if you got in at the right time.

But, if you haven’t put your money in and watched it fluctuate, then you haven’t experienced the heart palpitations and emotional reactions that come along with such decisions.

Because, make no mistake, investment decisions are emotional decisions. When it’s your own money on the line, your lizard brain takes over and you either flee in fear or stand and fight with violence.

Back to the story so far… in February 2018 I decide to take a position – buy some Ethereum. That’s the Buy point on the chart.

The chart… well, the chart is called a Point and Figure chart, and it isn’t one that you’ll see often, if at all.

I had a book by Thomas J. Dorsey called “Point & Figure Charting” that explained how to do this. As the book says, this is “the oldest and most completely tested method for technical analysis of stock prices”.

In a world of get-rich-quick merchants, I knew this book was the right one for me when I read the line Tom, ain’t but one way to make money in the stock market. Slowly.

So, before I put a penny in, I built a trading system to manage my risk based on the Point and Figure method. That’s step one. Have a system

The beauty of this method was that I went into my trade knowing when I was going to get out.

As I wrote in my post back in early 2018, I bought in February at around $725, and set a stop-loss at $650.

I sat back as the price went to 875 and 950, cautiously optimistic that I had called the bottom of the market.

Then, in March 2018, the price started crashing off again.

When it went through my stop, I sold. That’s step 2. Follow your system.

And now, it’s several months later, and I’m cautiously optimistic that I got out at the right time.

Yes, the price went down and down and down, then up. In late April and May, I might have been worried that I had panicked early.

But… the chart helps again. There is a line called the bearish resistance line, strong as a stone wall, that the price didn’t breach.

The market was still bearish – and the selling pressure came back and the price has fallen further.

So, one might be excused some smugness at this point. I have no money in the market. But that’s because I made the decision to do that. Not because it’s something that I felt I would have done had I had some money.

The whole crypto space is still a fascinating and evolving space.

But, you would do well to approach it with your rational brain turned on and a system in place to help you make better decisions.

Here be dragons.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How To Get Your Business Ready To Compete In A Digital Economy

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Sunday, 7.40pm

Sheffield, U.K.

What does a digital transformation mean for your business?

Your business may have been born digital.

Perhaps you used to do personal training, decided to do some videos of your training routines and recipe ideas, got a following and now create fitness and nutrition content online and offline full time.

You don’t need to worry about a transformation. You’re already there.

But, what if you clean carpets?

In 2015 I needed some carpets cleaning. So, I picked up the yellow pages and rang the number of the company closest to me. It was a weekend – a Saturday.

A lady answered the phone and took a message. She said the owner would call back later.

Well, I wasn’t that keen on waiting. So, I did a search. Found a website for a carpet cleaner that listed all their services and prices.

I could have ordered online, but I thought I’d call them instead. Someone answered the phone. They asked if I had called because of the online discount. I’d missed that but of course I said yes. They gave me the discount and got the order.

The first guy never called me back. Or maybe he did and I missed the call.

Now, if you called him as part of a survey and asked him if he had a website, there’s a good chance he doesn’t. And, of the people who don’t have websites, nearly 80% think they’re not necessary – perhaps what this guy would have said.

The problem is… he doesn’t know. He doesn’t know he’s losing business because he doesn’t have that website. It’s happening – but it’s invisible to him – he’s simply not even in the running for many people who’ve ordered online straight away.

At the other end of the scale you have large businesses that still operate using legacy digital and paper systems. It’s possible they’re changing things, but it’s also possible that they’re too terrified of breaking stuff to make a difference.

So, if this whole transformation thing is something you’re vaguely aware is something you should be doing, how do you get started?

There are three areas where you can make a difference

The main thing to get clear is not technology. There are lots of offerings – and you might have a choice of free/open source software, cloud infrastructure, software as a service options and endless other combinations.

The first thing to get clear is what are the benefits to you. A digital technology must help you do any of these things to be in the running:

  1. Does it help you make more sales?
  2. Does it help you reduce operating costs?
  3. Does it help you give customers a better experience?

The business case for the first two is pretty simple. If you get more business than the cost of the technology, then you might consider it.

The last one is the hard one to quantify. Do your customers get a better experience if you give them a self-service portal or if you give them more individual attention?

Do the videos and pictures you put up make your company more human and approachable – more authentic – and so lead to a better experience than corporate blandness?

If anything comes to you that doesn’t clearly improve things in one of these three areas, then it’s not a priority. It’s a nice to have and you can think about it later.

How to think through your situation and come up with a strategy

Once you’re clear on the areas when you can make a difference, it’s time to ask yourself some more questions.

Once again – there are three to work through.

Let’s take sales, for example.

First you ask – why do you need to transform it?

Perhaps you’re an author and want to reach readers around the world but don’t have a publisher. If you’re going to try self-publishing, then understanding e-book platforms, personal branding and content creation is an absolute must.

If, on the other hand, you sell very specific business services to a possible market of a few thousand people, you’re not going to need a fancy CRM to manage that. A spreadsheet will probably work just fine.

Perhaps use Google docs so you can share information.

The second question is to ask, what if I do a particular thing.

Let’s look at costs this time.

What if you bought an expensive system to evaluate the impact of commodity prices on your business?

Such a system might cost you a few $100k. If your commodity spend isn’t in the hundreds of millions, it will be hard to justify the saving.

Perhaps you’re better off outsourcing that – having someone else buy the system and effectively rent the results from them.

The second question then leads to a decision on how to go ahead.

How do I implement this improvement?

The how is about getting the benefit – not about implementing a system. The system exists to provide you with a benefit.

So, let’s take the third focus area to look at this one – customer experience.

Quite often, companies think that they should install a self-service portal.

This does make the experience better in some industries – internet banking, for instance.

In other industries, it’s a pain in the rear. Customers might prefer to simply get the information they need by email rather than spending hours working with your painfully slow portal.

iCloud – for example – is my current example of a completely and utterly useless online portal.

And the how should also consider what happens when things go wrong.

If you go completely SAAS and the company folds, what happens? If it’s a crucial part of your business, perhaps you should consider open source so that you can keep going even if the developers fold up one day.

In summary… if you’re digitally native already, thank your lucky stars.

If you’re not, before you buy a system – you’ve got some important strategic thinking to work through.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Why Sometimes You Need To Wake Up And Face Reality Head On

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Saturday, 6.33pm.

Sheffield, U.K.

I saw a drawing on Charles Robinson’s post about books for entrepreneurs and it spoke very directly to me – and not in a nice fluffy way.

More in a kick up the ass kind of way.

It’s a very simple truth – and there’s no way to avoid what it’s telling you.

Do you know the kinds of people that succeed in business?

They tend to be the kind of people, in my experience, that you’d want on your side in a fight. People that stand their ground. That don’t give up. That move forward.

A surprising number seem to be born under the sign Taurus. Something about being bull-headed perhaps.

And the thing they do is get on with it.

A lot of us don’t. We have ideas. We talk about them, to our other halves, at the pub. It’s conversation and chat and wouldn’t this be brilliant.

Here’s the thing.

An idea is ephemeral, a thought in your mind. You might think it is valuable – but it’s worth nothing until it’s made real.

Now, one could argue over this – but what’s the point. Some people will say that ideas are valuable and you should protect them and sign NDAs before you talk about them.

Others will say that there is no point – no one is going to take the effort to steal and implement this idea of yours. If it’s that easy to steal, then you can’t protect it anyway.

So, putting those things aside, if you are – right now – in a position where you have an idea and want to be an entrepreneur, what should you do?

What’s the single most important thing you should do?

You should talk to someone with the power to make the decision to buy what you have to offer.

That’s the end game. So, you need to start there.

All this talk of ideas and businesses ends at this place. With you handing over something that the person who takes it wants more than the money in their wallet.

In economic terms, it has utility – worth or value.

What’s going to get them to make that decision to buy?

That’s a function of demand – and this gives you a hint of how to get from the idea you have to a viable business.

There are seven parts to this function – and it goes back to the first chapter of an economics textbook…

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What is the price of your product?
  2. How much of it will the buyer want?
  3. What are their tastes and preferences?
  4. What else will they need that is related to your product to get full benefit from it?
  5. How much money or income do they have?
  6. What are their expectations about future prices?
  7. How many such buyers exist out there?

Let’s do a quick exercise and work through these questions for a possible business. Lets say you’re setting up a marketing agency. It’s just you in the business.

  1. What’s your price? Say your hourly rate is $100.
  2. How many hours will the buyer want? Perhaps to get the job done they’ll need 10 hours a month.
  3. Tastes and preferences? They like writing but haven’t got the time to manage social media and PR.
  4. What else do they need? An advertising budget – perhaps $500 a month to get started.
  5. How much money do they have? They’re okay with a budget of $2,500 a month.
  6. What do they think about future prices? They’re expecting charge rates to stay broadly flat.
  7. How many buyers are out there? You specialise in B2B consultancy firms – and there are perhaps 30-40 within 20 miles of you.

Does that seem reasonable? Say you need to get in $4,000 a month to maintain a decent standard of living. So you need 4 clients that have a budget of $2,500 – around 10% of your potential market.

If you think you can make that work – then you now have a plan for your business.

Now you need to pick the phone, send an email, send a letter, get a referral – use some way to talk to the kinds of people that can make the decision to hire you.

The one thing to notice is that an economics model doesn’t care what product you actually have.

There’s nothing in there that talks about quality or sweat and tears or your feelings.

It looks at your product from the customer’s point of view.

The only view that matters.

That’s reality.

And the sooner you face that, the sooner you will stop having ideas and start creating businesses.

How To Search For Product-Market Fit

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Friday, 6:46pm

Sheffield, U.K.

You must have seen an Emma Bridgewater mug at some point. They stand out – ceramic with sponge dotted bits of colour. Instantly recognisable.

And the market goes crazy about them. I’m looking at one on my desk right now. There’s something very calming about them.

This outcome – product-market fit, is what all of us are searching for. We’re searching for this in almost every aspect of our lives, if you take a moment to think about it.

What are kids doing when they try and decide what to study or specialise in? They’re trying to match their talents with the courses on offer.

Sometimes we think we should do something because there is a market for those skills. We might study engineering or law because our parents think it will get us a good job.

They’re suggesting we change ourselves – the product – to fit what the market wants.

This is such a crucial aspect of succeeding at anything that it’s worth examining in some detail.

Let’s say you have a brilliant new invention. You think it’s brilliant anyway. How do you know for sure?

You know when someone hands over money for it. Willingly.

But that just tries to simply a hugely important thing into a few words – missing the point along the way.

Let’s think of a model that we can apply. What is the most successful product-market fitting algorithm ever devised?

I’ll give you a hint. It resulted in you.

Evolution.

The world is full of environments – jungles, marshes, volcanoes, deep ocean trenches.

And every one of those environments has creatures. Creatures that have specialised and adapted and evolved to fit those environments.

Just like markets. Markets are simply a manifestation of people’s desires. We want stuff, and products emerge in the market to fill our need.

We want to get from one place to another. So we get cars – fast cars, big cars, slow cars, expensive cars, off-road cars – and bikes and planes and everything else.

All these products help us with one main thing – mobility. And they also make us happy on the way – with music and comfort and buttons and flashing lights.

What happens if you don’t get product-market fit? Or the market changes?

It’s kind of obvious really. That’s why you don’t see many mammoths around. Or many companies that have been going for over a hundred years.

Everything changes. And the products that survive change and adapt along the way.

So, here’s my approach to product-market fit.

You get to it when your product can survive. It’s when you get to be profitable. You’re making more money selling it than it costs you to make it.

It’s not about growth and rocketships. The crucial point, the tipping point, is being able to survive.

Whether you’re a fruit fly or a Siberian tiger, if you’re alive, you’ve found a fit.

A creature survives when it gets enough energy from food from the outside to sustain it on the inside.

Your product will survive when it makes enough money to get into profit and sustain itself.

Now you’ve got a fit. You’ve survived. Everything from there is upside.

And you can grow just as big as your market lets you.

Or stay as small as you want to.

Why So Many Things That Seem A Good Idea Are Really Not

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Thursday, 6.28pm

Sheffield, U.K.

I am not a fan of Apple.

Yes, I have an iPhone, a Mac and an IPad – so they have got me in their clutches – but I’m trying to get away.

Because they’re turning evil. Perhaps they don’t realize it, but they are – and it’s making their stuff too hard to use.

It probably goes back to Steve Jobs. Most things with Apple do.

As far as Apple is concerned, all you need to do to live happily is use Apple products.

The iPhone is everything you need – a phone, a computer, a camera.

With iTunes and iCloud and the Apple Store – pay up and be happy.

Now, you may love Apple – and that’s just fine.

The point I’m making is that anything that tries to do too many things starts to become problematic.

Take pictures, for example.

If you have a camera and use a normal SD card, getting pictures off it is pretty simple. Stick it in a slot and copy the pictures across.

When you have a phone that holds 16, 32 or 128 GB, it starts to become more complicated.

Yes, iCloud will copy stuff off your phone – but it’s still going to fill up. If you add videos and podcasts into the mix, your new phone with more space gets stuffed quickly again.

Have you tried getting photos off the phone?

Once upon a time you could plug it in, take off the photos and clear the phone. Then you couldn’t clear the phone because iCloud got in the way and you had to…

Well, this isn’t meant to be a technical rant on how to use an iPhone and your photo management workflow.

It’s a warning.

Richard Stallman, the prophet of Free Software, says this “Digital technology can give you freedom; it can also take your freedom away.”

It might seem a brilliant idea to use Google docs and mail. To use a host of other online services to carry out everything from invoicing to data analysis.

But, when you have no internet access, you’re completely cut off. What would that do to you if your business relied entirely on such platforms?

You’re also better off sticking to a tool that does one thing well than a number of things badly.

However snazzy your todo list application – it’s hard to beat the power of a yellow pad and a pencil for making lists and ticking them off.

Stuff you write in plain text will still be accessible in half a century – while bloated Word and Excel documents will be hard to get into in a couple of years.

The advantage of a tool that does lots of things is that sometimes, when you need a quick task doing, it’s convenient.

The Swiss army knife is a rubbish knife – but it’s good for opening a bottle of beer. Just about.

If you really need to do some cutting – you need a good knife.

And the same thing goes for the rest of your life.

If you need to get something done – get the right tool. Choose a good one.

And watch out for the things that look good but really take your freedom when you aren’t looking.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How To Think Big

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Wednesday, 7.33pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Let’s look at the power of thinking today.

Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.”

You hold a model of reality in your mind. Your brain lives in a dark, windowless cave. Everything you see and sense is re-created in your head.

Okay… so what?

The point is that your head is a place where you hold models. Models of how things are, how people treat you, how the politics of your office work and how your relationships develop.

And, if it’s just a model, you can change things by deciding what to put in the model – and make a real impact on your life.

Let’s take a simple example. You have a task to do – any task. There will be three things you need to figure out:

  1. Your attitude to the task
  2. What you need to do
  3. How you’re going to get it done

These three things can be pushed together to form a model. How will you play with the model if you want to do well – if you want to become big? How will this Think Big model work?

1. When in doubt, be confident

Imagine you’re at work in a team meeting. The boss called it because a problem has come up with a customer’s account – your contractor missed completing one of the items on a snag list.

How will the boss view you as you sit with the others in the room?

Are you a problem solver – the one that can be trusted to take this problem and manage what needs to be done until the customer is happy?

Or are you the person that finds all the problems – the detail oriented person that can find all the things that could go wrong?

Here’s what you shouldn’t be – the person with all the problems and no solutions.

That person is a drag. They might be right – but they suck all the air out of a room and leave everyone feeling despondent.

And what they’re not right about is that there is no way out.

There is always a way out.

You need to be confident that you’ll find a way.

It’s really just a simple strategy. If you’re confident, you’ll get a chance. If you’re not, you’ll get listened to, and then put on a team led by the confident person.

2. Write down what you are going to do

Your confidence comes because you have a plan.

Perhaps, taking one step back, you need a plan to be confident in the first place.

Your mind is going to follow the instructions you give it. Not always. Your emotions get in the way often. But, a good starting point is to decide what you’re going to do and write it out, step by step.

Then, follow the instructions. Run them like you would a computer program.

For example, if you want to be more confident the next time you’re in a meeting, try this:

  1. Walk in and take a chair facing the door, ideally one where you can watch the most important person in the room.
  2. Decide you’re not going to put any pressure on yourself to participate or speak up. It’s okay to be quiet and listen.
  3. When you make a point, build on someone else’s first. Follow a strong argument with reasons why it will work.
  4. When you’re asked whether you can make something happen, say yes.

Treat this sequence of instructions like a program. Programs are never completely right, they always have bugs – but its one you can run and see what happens.

If you do all the things on the list – you will have achieved the following:

  • You’ll feel more powerful just being in a powerful position in the room
  • By watching the most important person you’ll see early what will fly and what will be shot down
  • By listening carefully, you’ll see the bigger picture rather than panicking about what you’re going to say
  • By building on someone else’s point, you’ll make friends
  • By saying yes, you’ll be seen as someone willing to bat for your team

3. Fix the bugs. Remove, or avoid obstacles in your way

There will always be people who believe what you want to do can’t be done. Problems that crop up. Events that change things.

If you let any of these things stop you, the only person that loses out is you.

You have no choice. You need to get rid of these obstacles.

If you can’t get them out of your life, then you need to get around them somehow.

And the way you do this is with rules – back to the program again.

Tweak the program. Change a routine. Write a new line.

Run it again, see what happens. Make a change. Repeat the process.

You are what you think you are

At the end of the day, reality doesn’t control you.

You create your reality in your mind.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Will The 3 Lists To Freedom Method Help You Free Up Time?

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Tuesday, 10.39pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Do you have too much to do?

Probably – if you’re like most people. Life seems to have a way of piling on stuff.

Whether its paperwork, gadgets or pounds around the middle, we pass the time attracting things that hang around and build up and get in our way.

The answer, some would say, is to work harder, get more organised and get things done.

It’s a long way from how people thought our working lives would pan out a century ago…

In 1930 John Maynard Keynes, one the most eminent economists of the last century, believed that in a hundred years we would all only need to work 15 hour weeks to have a good living standard.

Which goes to tell you that you shouldn’t listen to economists – financial crisis anyone?

The point is that we all work – some of us are in low wage jobs that mean we have to put the hours in to pay the bills. Others because we are in high wage jobs, but we are desperate for the new house or car which means we need to put in the time at the office.

Or, maybe you’re building a business and have a thousand things to attend to – from producing and delivering a service to the rest of the jobs that go into keeping a business afloat.

One way to free up time is to employ other people to do things for you. But what should you outsource and why?

Chris Tucker says you should make three lists. Make some columns on a piece of paper and get started.

In the first column think about the things you need to get done but don’t like – even hate – doing.

Do you get too much email? Does it take too long to carry out research? Are you sick and tired of doing background research before you try and reach a new prospect?

Or do you hate gardening or cleaning the house?

In the second column list the things you can’t do (or that you could do – but others could do better).

There is a tricky one.

Perhaps you can do copywriting, website design, photo editing, and vehicle repair.

But which ones can you do really well? To a professional standard?

This list is really the list of things that you can get a professional to do better than you.

Finally – there is the list of things you shouldn’t do.

One simple way of working this out is to look at your income and working hours. Let’s say you work 2,000 hours a year and you make $50,000. That means you make $25 an hour.

If you spend four hours cleaning your house that’s cost you $100. You might not be paid that by anyone – but that’s still the value of your time.

If you can get someone to do it at half the cost – you’ve effectively bought back time – which you can now use more effectively somewhere else.

The secret is to spend your time on the most valuable thing you could be doing.

The point of these three lists is to pull out everything you can outsource – and then you can go and find virtual assistants or local employees and get them to do these things.

Will this save you time?

Some. You will replace work time with management time – so you’ll need to get good at management.

Adding people is not an easy fix. So really, before you outsource, you should do everything you can possibly do to automate.

But before you automate – you should really see what happens if you just stop doing it.

In a nutshell – if something you could do is both strategically important to you and will have a big impact – then you should do it.

The things that are core to your business and life come first.

Everything else can be dumped, automated or outsourced.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How To Engage Prospects Without Having To Sell To Them

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Monday, 10.36pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Github, recently bought by Microsoft, is turning into the world’s largest software graveyard.

But, you don’t just find software there.

Take this cool collection of marketing resources for engineers, curated by Lisa Dziuba of Flawless App.

Flicking through these got me to the concept of Engineering as Marketing, popularised by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares in Traction: How any startup can achieve explosive customer growth.

What does this mean?

You can’t just tell people what you do and show them a brochure and expect them to buy any more.

First of all, it’s hard to get to speak with anyone. They’re all busy. And, unless what you do is exactly what they are looking for right now, they’ll cut you off.

That’s if you get through the receptionist and the email only policy.

And that’s because telling isn’t selling.

Increasingly, what we’re trying to sell in product and service companies is technology. Brains aren’t enough.

You need tech as well – and with tech you have to show what you can do. Demo or die.

But what if you have a large, complex and expensive product?

Or what you have something like a book to sell? Something that doesn’t have a technology element to it.

Take the energy business, for example. It can take from tens of thousands to many millions to develop a new solar project.

I’ve just typed “solar irradiance calculator” into Google.

The first website that comes up is for a Solar Electricity Handbook.

The handbook is the best selling solar energy book today, the website says.

But on the website, they also have a calculator, which lets you see how much a solar installation will perform in the city of Masis, in Armenia – should you wish to do something like that.

And here’s the interesting thing.

The second link on Google is for a company that is using this calculator – and gives the first site a linkback.

That’s a perfect example of engineering as marketing.

The company has created a free tool.

That is focused, no pun intended, on calculating a specific thing – how much sun energy do you get in a particular place.

It’s complementary – which means that it doesn’t steal sales from its main product. You can use the calculator without losing any sales of the book.

The book is the main product and the calculator is a useful additional bit that might get you to the website and even buy the book.

And its building useful links from other sites that use the tool.

Most examples of engineering as marketing focus on the big examples – Hubspot and the like.

But – small companies with small budgets can also use this strategy very effectively.

You might struggle to get time with decision makers to talk to them about what you do.

If your product is relatively expensive – it’s going to take time to develop a relationship with them at a number of levels.

If you provide free and useful tools that don’t cannibalise your core business – they could end up coming to you.

For example, if you use a calculator on someone’s website for long enough, you might be interested enough to talk more about the rest of your products.

Take the solar PV project business – if you can provide tools that make it easier to find locations with good sunlight – you might find people coming to you to ask about your design and installation services.

Like many of the best solutions, engineering as marketing doesn’t try and tackle a problem head on, you go around it instead.

And it doesn’t need to be expensive. Creating microsites, calculators and other small tools don’t need to cost a lot or take much time.

But you do want to make then free, focused and useful.

And, importantly, not make you lose sales.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

What Is The Secret Behind A Creative Leap?

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Saturday, 10.03pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Brian Tracy, the motivational speaker, starts one of his talks by saying something like “Before I came in today, I read every one of your resumes and I know all your job titles.”

He points to someone in the first row. “You sir, your title is Chief Problem Solver.” To another, “You’re VP of Problem Solving.” And to another, “Executive Problem Solver.”

This gets to the heart of where the interesting stuff happens in business today.

Either you’re in a job where you’re told by your boss exactly what to do, and you do it that way or you get fired.

Or, your boss doesn’t know what the right answer is and needs you to figure it out, in which case you have a client, not a boss.

The first kind of job is manual labour. And, when you think about it, many jobs need that kind of approach – from working at a fast food chain to carrying out heart surgery.

You wouldn’t want your meal cooked in whatever way the chef fancies – perhaps they’ll try it a little under cooked this time to test out if the flavour is better?

You’d want your surgeon to do exactly what is needed – and not go off on a diversionary expedition inside you to follow up something more interesting?

But, there was a time before those jobs and tasks existed in the way they do now. Someone figured out how to make fast food work.

The McDonald brothers worked it out. They created a restaurant where every move was orchestrated. Every step and action had a purpose.

At a recent visit to a McDonalds, I counted around 15 people behind the counter, and no one was getting in each other’s way.

In the film “The Founder”, you hear the story of how they did it – how they noticed that people wanted burgers and fries and not much else off the menu – how they tore down their restaurant and rebuilt it from scratch and created a whole new concept in dining as a result.

We see the end result, but we rarely see the process. Often, people who do creative things can’t explain how they do it – it’s almost magical.

But… it’s something many people are interested in and study. In this paper, Kees Dorst and Nigel Cross look at creativity in the design process.

There are two states we can be in – a problem state and a solution state.

Imagine them like mountainous islands separated by a forbidding stretch of water.

The challenge is to get from one side to the other.

People who do this well start by exploring their mountain in detail.

They look at the problem, what the client feels, how it impacts them. They try and look at it from different angles and viewpoints. They ask themselves questions that try to prod creative thinking, lateral thinking.

They look at possible solutions – explore the solution space. What are the approaches that have already been tried? What could we do differently? What’s the opposite of what is being asked for.

Then, they start to frame the problem – settle on a way to view it.

This means focusing on the things inside the frame and discounting the things outside it. Focusing on the things that matter.

Trying to match up the problem space and the solution space.

All this work is trying to build a bridge – a bridge between the problem space and solution space.

This bridge is the thing that links the two in a way that works. Some bridges won’t. Some will – and they will work well enough to be selected to go ahead.

So, the creative leap is like building a bridge. But what it takes – what it needs is immersing ourselves in the problem and solution space, going past the simple and default and first solutions that come to mind and forcing ourselves to look longer and further and harder.

When we see a finished product – whether it’s a book, an idea, a business model – we might think it sprang to life fully formed. This way of doing things is the only way.

And that way lie jobs that are filled with boredom.

The interesting jobs are the ones where you solve problems – where you make clients happy.

A warning, however. This doesn’t mean you’ll make money.

The McDonald brothers had to eventually sell their business to Ray Kroc, who went on to create the business we know today.

They solved the operations problem – to create fast food.

He solved the business problem.

Either way, they’re all creative problem solvers.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh