Getting your goals ready for the next year – go for 10x

It’s that time of year when you should be drafting your goals for the next year.

If you’re serious about growing your business, I want to challenge you to aim high. Don’t just think what you need to do to grow your business by 20% — or even double your business. As you work on your goals for next year, my challenge to you is to consider thinking big. Can you imagine growing your business by 10X?

As you set your goals, I urge you to ask yourself some hard questions, and be brave enough to answer them honestly.

How much do you want to grow your business? Don’t be shy. Admit how much you want to grow it, no matter how high the number.

What client do you want to fire because they no longer fit the model of your ideal client? Who is that person who’s tempting you to compromise? Name names.

How many hours do you want to work? Better yet how much time do you want to take off?

What are your goals with your family for the year?

Is it big enough?

In 2013 I doubled my income, moving from $50K to $100K.

My goal for 2014 was to move to $175K, and I didn’t hit it. I ended up right around $100K again.

I did work less this year, taking about 13 weeks of vacation this year. True I do take every Friday off client work and come in ‘late’ 2 days a week and leave ‘early’ two days a week, but even with that schedule, my goal was to reach $175K.

As I set my goals for next year, it’s time for me to assess why I missed my target this year.

Which leads me to think that my $175K target wasn’t a big enough jump. I’m now asking myself if a $75K increase in income was enough to really force me to start to change processes, or was I just doing more of the same and expecting my income to go up?

Honest answer? I think I spent most of the year thinking about doing more of what I did in 2013. I looked for ‘similar but better’ clients without redefining the specifics of what those clients would look like.

I really didn’t change any of my marketing to look for those clients that are just a bit ‘aspirational’ for me.

I let myself range around on cool personal and business projects that didn’t really push me deeper in to my niche or do more to establish myself as a category leader in eCommerce and Membership sites.

So doing all the same things in 2014 as I did in 2013 got me right about the same outcome in my income.

Take a second and watch this video:

This week I actually shut down MY client work to focus on my plan for 2015.

My big goal is to turn my $100K business into a $1M business. Obviously, that’s a much bigger leap than $75K, and a target that’s going to force me to make much harder decisions about what I produce and where I spend my time.

I’m going to have to get much more strategic about the type of clients and projects I take.

Is it going to happen in 2015? Part of me would love to say yes and my heart races because it feels like a huge scary thing.

Even if it doesn’t happen in 2015 I’m telling you today that SFNdesign will be a $1M/year company and that’s how I’m going to continue to think of it to force myself to make those hard decisions.

Are your goals for 2015 big enough to force you to make hard decisions or are you just going to do more of the same and expect better results?

photo credit: cross_stitch_ninja cc

Present and Practice

I was recently at an event put on by Atlassian. The main topic for the event was Git, with 2 talks given by 2 different developer evangelists.

Outside of the talks being very salesy for Atlassian products (way more than I anticipated), the big thing that stood out to me was that both of these people were 100% developers and not speakers.

For some it’s easy, for some…

Now, I can appreciate that challenge of organizing an event like this. Attendees want to learn from the best, so 99% of the time, developer evangelists are booked because they’re some of the best in their field and people like me look up to them for their knowledge, skill, and the awesome code they write.

But sadly, little consideration seems to be given to their ability to convey ideas in a public speaking setting. These people may be the best of the best when it comes to coding, but if you’re in the audience expect lots of start…and stops…and ‘um’…and no stories.

Basically expect to be bored by a poor presenter.

Not acceptable

This is unacceptable. If this is you and you’re running a business that requires you to interact with clients then it’s going to hurt your business lots.

Talking to prospects well and selling them on your services requires all the same skills as public speaking. Have you thought about that? If not, take a minute and let that sink in. Your clients want to be ‘wowed’ just as much as the audience members at a keynote address.

You need to be confident.

You need to be able to tell them a story about how their lives will change once they start working with you.

You need to draw them in and be engaging.

If you’re an employee, you need to bring the same skills to a job interview. Sell your potential employer on the benefit that you will bring to their business. Tell them a story about how awesome their future will be with you around.

Okay so how do I?

So how do you learn to teach and influence well?

You could join Toastmasters to experience a variety of opportunities to speak to a group. Practice and honest, caring critique will make you better.

Need an intermediate step? Check out Sticky Teaching by Chris Lema, who is an awesome speaker on all sorts of topics. For some validation on his awesomeness check out all the talks he’s done a WordCamps. (update December 11, 2014 2:43 PM So Chris took the course down due to VATMOSS and I can’t really blame him at all. I mean why would I want to suddenly pay taxes in the EU?)

Start diving in now and learn to be a better presenter. Hone your pitch so you can tell your prospects the awesome story about how you will change their lives.

photo credit: hazzat cc

You’re not there yet so you better keep learning

It feels odd to say, but I know that a bunch of you awesome people who read my site appreciate the advice I give, and I’ve earned some credibility with you. Acquiring this level of trust feels odd because I’m just some dude building sites for clients in a small town in British Columbia. The ‘tech scene’ here in my part of the world is me and maybe 2 other people.

But I know from talking to some of you that I’ve really helped you improve the way you run your business.

I know that I’ve helped some of you increase your income after just one coaching call.

But in spite of having great clients, a growing business, and getting a positive response to the advice I’ve been offering, I’m still not as great as I want to be. I want to continue getting better at what I do and increasing my value to my clients.

Defining your value is a process

I stated above that it feels odd to realize my credibility is growing and that I do indeed have something to offer my clients and readers. That I’m providing value. Like I said, I’m just some dude in a small town.

Defining your value is hard. You may be struggling with this part of your business, and if so, rest assured I’ve struggled with it too.

But I know that defining my value is a process, not a light-bulb moment. Not only a process to define my value, but also a process because I’m increasing my value to my clients as I learn more, develop new skills, acquire more experience, and generally get better at what I do.

One tool that’s helped me in this process is courses. This is a commitment to learning that helps me get better at what I do and increase my value to clients. Let me be clear here: I’m careful about investing in, and committing to, courses. I choose one, complete it, then choose another that will provide value. Don’t be like that guy who buys every damn course he sees, but never completes any of them.

I just finished Day 5 of Brennan Dunn’s Charge What You’re Worth email course.

As I got into the course, I was a little disappointed to discover I’ve already done most of the work Brennan outlines in the first 4 days of his course. I don’t struggle with many of the issues he covers in the first 4 days. (That’s not to say the material in the first 4 days wouldn’t be awesome for you, though.)

Because of this, I was tempted to discount the course as irrelevant to me — and I suspect others who have taken this course may have done so. But I was glad I stuck with the course until the end, because I found some awesome content in Day 5. In the final lesson of this course, I discovered some rich material that helped me improve my client vetting process.

Email templates

A while back I wrote about my email templates when vetting prospects for my business. Brennan’s course inspired me to add 2 new questions to my email templates. They are:

1.  What would happen if we didn’t do (your feature)? What opportunities would be lost?
2.  After we build it (client project) what is your dream for its success?

I love these, because the first one makes the prospective client think about a lost opportunity and engages in a bit of loss aversion since they don’t want to have it not happen.

The second question is aspirational and gets them to dream about the success of their product or idea. The other powerful thing about this second question is that it moves us away from the negative of dwelling on a lost opportunity and pushes them toward engaging with you to make their dream a reality.

Even if you have a client process and know your value, I highly recommend you go through Brennan’s course. I believe it can help you refine your process and gain a more solid understanding of your value, and it might just lead you to make some significant improvements to your own business.

Are you as good as you want to be? Are you giving your own clients as much value as you’d like? Will a commitment to learning make you better?

photo credit: ltdemartinet cc

Figuring Out What You Really Value

Today we’re going to wrap up our short series on what you value by looking at creating a weekly schedule that actually reflects what you say you value.

On Tuesday I told you to design your ‘ideal’ week but I didn’t really give you any framework to decide what is the most important thing for you to do in your business.

My default is that the most important thing for you to do each week is be a good husband/wife/father/mother/community member/person and that inside that you need to pay bills so business is part of that. Running a business is not done at the expense of those other things. You should live your eulogy.

Today I’m going to give you a series of questions to answer.  I want you to answer these — not just give them a casual read — because you’re going to change nothing if you don’t do the work.

Let’s work together

  1. What is the single thing that your clients say they appreciate most about you? If you don’t know, email 3 – 5 clients and ask them (then make that question part of your project exit process).
  2. What part of your work do you enjoy the most?
  3. What’s the single thing you need to accomplish each week to say that the week was a success? If it’s “Get ‘X’ client project done,” then your answer would be “Work on client stuff.”
  4. Where do you feel you provide the most value? Does that match up with your answer from question 1?
  5. Write down the most exciting client/project experience you’ve had lately. What was the value to you and the client in that experience?
  6. What is the one thing that you want people to say about you when you’re dead? (it’s likely not that you were a great WordPress developer or designer right) Is that ‘thing’ evident from how you decided to spend your time in the week?
  7. What is the single thing that your family/friends love about you and say that you do well?

Now go back and look at the ideal week you planned. Do the things you put on each day match up with anything above?

If not, why not? How can you modify your ideal week to better match up with your answers?

photo credit: pedrovezini cc

You’re not too busy you lie

This week we’re looking at what you really value. Not what you say you value, but what you show you value.

What you say you value doesn’t matter. What you do to accomplish what you value matters.

Yesterday we talked about paying lip service to learning and today we’re going to talk about all those ideas for awesome projects that are rattling around inside your head.

Some of them are so awesome that they have the potential to revolutionize your business. A few are so awesome that they’re going to revolutionize my business.

Of course there are some unicorn tears somewhere here as well.

Here’s the problem though:  You may be putting off action on those great ideas until you’re “in a better position” to tackle that project. That could be next week, next month, or maybe next year.

What does a better position look like for you, and how do you plan to get there?

You’re not too busy

A common excuse many people use for not taking action is “I’m too busy.”

You may think you’re too busy — but you’re lying to yourself.

Yeah, you’ve got clients expecting deliverables and maybe even a project that’s behind already.

Yup, your family is important and you want to be a good wife/husband and father/mother.

The truth is, if you were truly, deeply passionate about your idea, you’d be willing to sacrifice other stuff to make it happen.

Let’s take a moment to get honest. Maybe, just maybe, all you really want is to talk about your idea. Because if you only talk about it — and never take the risk of acting on it — then it’s easy to say with confidence that your idea would have succeeded. Merely talking about an idea prevents any light from being shed on potential flaws in your idea, so it’s safe.

But maybe you should be

I just finished saying that you’re not really too busy to do the work — you’re choosing not to do the work. While you never want to let fear or procrastination keep you from acting on a great idea, there are times that choosing not to do the work can be a good thing. Because while you may have a great idea, that idea may not be the way you really provide the most value.

I’ve got this awesome idea to build out a CRM and project management system. I even started something on Github which I haven’t touched in a year or more.

I’m still using Redbooth and keeping things in Evernote and using Bidsketch and FreeAgent.

Every time I bring up the CRM/PM tool in my mastermind group, I get a chorus of NO!!!

No Curtis, that’s not where you provide the most value to people.

No Curtis, that’s not the best thing to focus on to really kick your business in to the next level.

No Curtis, you love your family too much and your Fridays off to spend time on that.

While I itch to write the code for this, I don’t because I’m unwilling to trade other time for time spent building it. I provide more value asking people hard questions about how they run their businesses and get energized when I get opportunity to provide that value.

Let’s fix this

Okay, so your idea is awesome and you’re willing to sacrifice things to see it through. Now it’s time to start making time in your schedule.

Wait — I’ve said before that all-nighters are your own stupid fault and of course you can’t manufacture more time in your day so, what do I mean when I say to make more time in your schedule? I mean you get deliberate and strategic about budgeting your time.

You begin by defining your ‘ideal week’. Start with a blank calendar and fill in the most important things for the week.

Write in the soccer games for the kids or your beer/wings night.

Block out the time you’ll spend marketing your business.

Add some time to develop your new awesome idea.

Schedule time for all your client work (not by name but what times in the week will you do client work).

Now add a bit of time for new client calls (I only block out 2 hours a week to talk to new clients).

You’ve got an ideal week. You’ve now blocked out time for that awesome idea and for client work and for learning and for spending time on the things that matter to you.

If your first try proves to be unrealistic, then revise the calendar after a week. The point is that you decide before the week starts where your precious time will be spent.

If other things keep crowding out time to develop your awesome idea — and those other things aren’t optional for you — then it may be time to be honest with yourself and admit it’s not time to pursue that idea.

Put it aside for later when you do have time. Keep a running notebook with thoughts on the idea, but don’t sink time into something that you can’t commit to finishing.

The most important thing you can do for your business each week is to focus on the areas that you provide the most value.

Everything else is a waste of your time.

photo credit: @N08 cc

Help Them Find Their Best Selves

What’s your job as a manager?

It’s about vision.

It’s about being a generalist in those technical things you used to spend all your time in and becoming a specialist in running a business.

But ultimately your job is to develop people. They are the real assets in your business. Without the awesome people surrounding you the computers wouldn’t be of much use.

It’s the minds that drive the fingers that you need to invest in.

You need to help them find their best selves.

How good could they be?

Begin with something basic: Do your team members have the tools they need to do their best work?

Do you have a junior developer who’s stuck with a 6-year-old laptop, having to prove himself before he gets the good stuff?

It’s going to be hard for developers to prove themselves as ‘productive’ and ‘efficient’ on some old beast of a machine isn’t it?

Are you handicapping your employees by withholding the right tools they need to do their jobs?

Years ago I worked as a web developer at a retailer. Management was consistently making me justify every second that it took to ‘run the site’.

I was stuck using Windows ’95 on some old beast of a machine that took 20 minutes to turn on.

Oh, and it rebooted twice a day.

That means I spent an hour a day simply starting the computer so I could…spend another 10 minutes starting a pirated copy of Photoshop.

Of course editing a photo (out of a dSLR that was new because the owner liked photography) meant a 10-minute endeavor per photo. This same work took a mere 2 minutes on my home computer which was less than 12 months old.

How on earth was I ever expected to increase my productivity or efficiency when all my tools set me up for failure?

What are their ‘issues’ outside of the office?

In helping your employees become their best selves, remember they aren’t one-dimensional. Your team members’ lives are made up of a lot more than what happens at your office each day.

Are you keeping track of the family stuff going on with your staff?

Do you have an employee whose spouse is battling a long-term health issue?

Do you have an employee who is a single parent?

Do you have an employee experiencing financial struggles?

If you have employees struggling outside the office, are you stepping in to make sure that they can perform and be their best self at home and at work?

Some of you may think that ‘home stays at home’ but that’s totally a lie. We are each one person and stress at home will affect our job performance.

What can you do to make sure that your team is healthy at home?

The Dave Ramsey organization gives workers going through divorce a 6-month ‘grace period’ where lackluster job performance is acceptable. It’s not approved of, but divorce is one of the most traumatic experiences in life so they acknowledge that and extend grace.

Are you extending grace?

Go talk with them

The first step in really helping your team is to spend time with them.

Go out with them when they hit the pub sometimes.

Take a few of them out for lunch (but make sure it’s not always the same 2 people or you’re likely to deal with resentment from the rest of the team), and just talk about whatever.

Take your team away for the weekend and go on a hike. Do some team building exercises to create shared experience.

My friend Shawn, owner of Forge and Smith, does team lunch at the office daily. They all hang out and eat together to build shared experience. You can’t do that with a remote team, but you can have regular in person get-togethers to share some experience.

Remember as you transition from a freelancer to having a small team, you’re going to need to shift your focus. Your job is to help your team members become the best selves they can be.

Helping them achieve that will help you achieve business success.

photo credit: boedker cc

Evolving in to a business owner

I’ve worked as a web developer for around 7 years now. A decent chunk of each day is spent looking at a coding application like Vim or PHPStorm.

But that’s changing.

I’m spending more time on-boarding clients and writing for this site.

I’m delegating more.

I’m finding great team members to bring on and write code for the projects at SFNdesign. Heck I’m even getting them to work on this site.

I’m changing because I want to 10x my business (check back December 16th for more on that or join my email list so you don’t miss it).

I want to turn SFNdesign in to a $1M/year business and sitting down writing code as my sole focus is not what’s going to get me there. To do that I need to be a business owner not a developer.

It’s going to be hard to keep up

The fact is, as I spend more time leading others I can’t spend as much time ‘in the weeds’ of code. It’s going to be harder to keep up with all the latest trends and technologies — necessary if I’m going to stay on top of my developer game.

I simply can’t live and breathe code or design while working to effectively lead an organization at the same time. Something has to change.

I now need to breathe leadership and business development so that my business grows, and those who work for me get to keep their jobs and can feed their families.

That’s okay

Changing roles is okay for you too.

Perhaps you used to be “the best” designer and it’s that talent that made you popular, grew your business and allowed you to bring on other people to help build your company.

That’s not your job now, though. Your primary role is no longer that of designer.

Your job is to be a leader — to learn about how to lead.

You now need to design less, but learn about how to price and win projects so you can keep your team eating.

You’ve got ears

Remember those people you’re leading?

It’s now their job to stay abreast of the new stuff in their field, and you’ve got ears.

These extensions of you can now be responsible for keeping up with the newest stuff and latest technology. They bring you examples of the latest and greatest so you can incorporate it into your pitches.

You can send your team members to training that allows them to learn more about that new stuff so they can stay abreast of it. This keeps your company at the top of its game.

As their leader, it’s now your job to make sure your team members do their jobs well. Coders stay up-to-date on code and technology. Designers continue to hone their skills. And you’re responsible for knowing enough about your entire organization that you can have good conversations with your clients without sounding like an idiot. This is how you earn trust and credibility.

Don’t bemoan the ‘better times’ when you designed all day or coded all day.

Embrace your new job and excel at that, knowing your new role will allow your employees, and your company, to excel as well.

If you want to code all day, then go back to being a solo freelancer and don’t bother trying to lead.

photo credit: brianneudorff cc

Leading is More Than Vision

We’re business owners.

That means we create the path for our company, even if we’re lone travelers.

We work hard to get our team to invest in our vision.

That’s our job right? Vision, and getting buy-in from everyone!

It is a well-accepted role of leaders to focus on the future and pursue the possibility it holds. In other words, leading entails being a visionary—confidently looking ahead and ascertaining how best to transform your current reality into your desired future. One of the most significant errors I see leaders make is developing their vision in isolation and then expecting people to accept it at face value. HBR

Even though you’re in charge

As a leader, yes, you’re in charge and it’s your job to set your company’s direction, but if you don’t have buy-in from your team then your ‘vision’ is nothing more than a nice tagline on an idea that won’t work.

Sadly, most business ‘visions’ are just that:

nice sounding, but totally useless


Back in high school I ran a live performance theater. We sat about 800 people and many of our shows sold out. A number of the people I worked went on to get jobs in the film, theater, or live music businesses as crew or performers.

In grade 10 I got my first real taste of leadership when I was named the stage manager. In our little theater, the stage manager was God.

So, at 15 years old I got my first chance to show off my great organizational skills. I’d like to think that for a 15-year-old I did pretty awesome, considering all the older people had moved on and I had little benefit of mentor-ship.

One of the big mistakes I made was letting that leadership position go to my head. It showed itself mainly during the clean-up each day.

I’d walk around pointing out things that needed to be picked up and telling people to pick things up.

I’d basically walk around telling people what to do, unless the task at hand was considered “cool,” then of course I’d do it myself.

My fall from grace came one day when one of the other crew members (my assistant at the time) started a full-fledged yelling match with me in front of everyone.

I distinctly remember at the time I felt he was 100% in the wrong for yelling at me.

His approach may have been wrong, but his message was right on.

When I look back now, I see that I was a bad leader. Sure, things ran well and I did a good job overall, but I didn’t inspire people to work with me.

I abused my authority, ordering people around. My team members offered me little respect because I did little to earn it.


In your business, who are your ‘heads’?

If you have a small development shop, do you toss all the ‘crappy’ projects — you know, the ones you do to pay the bills — with the junior developers while your senior people get the pick of the best stuff?

Worse, do you hoard the best stuff for yourself?

How about we step back and look at some bigger things.

Do you have a vision for your company?

Can your team actually repeat what the vision is?

Are they free to act out that vision with clients without needing your input?

When was the last time you celebrated the employees that took the vision to heart and acted it out with clients?

20 years later

With almost 20 years more life experience, if I had a do-over, I’d deal with my high school leadership role differently.

I’d be down in the weeds doing the menial tasks that others didn’t love and be sharing the ‘cool’ jobs with those that could do them.

I’d be training others so that in the future they could do the cool jobs.

I’d be putting our focus firmly on the vision (putting on an awesome play) and not forcing those around me to focus on the trees in front of them.

I’d be asking the other leaders in the group for their opinions and giving the praise for the accomplishments they achieved in the course of the work.

I’d be asking everyone present to help us figure out how to achieve the vision together.

I’d be encouraging input and ideas that challenge mine on the way to our vision.

No Ego

Today, I’m not driven by my ego like I was in high school.

Now I want to achieve the goal and build others up in the process.

That’s how I build a team around me that will outpace teams twice our size.

That’s how I build a team that stays with me when offered better jobs (and more money).

Have you built a team like that?

What’s your plan to build a team like that?

photo credit: enigmabadger cc