Long Overdue Update 2 – Hacking My Life to Bits (in a good way)

First things first: I owe you an update. When last I wrote I had followed the niche site thread to its actionable conclusion, and was investigating products to sell. Evolution up to this point as follows: read four hour work week, jumped in to try several quixotic and ill-advised ideas, settled on niche sites because of low barrier to entry and opportunity to write about things, fleshed out one site to practical “authority site” proportions, implemented some new-school search engine optimization tactics that proved pretty effective, settled at a decent rank, and discovered monetization was going to be more difficult than I thought. With that in mind, I employed a new strategy for niche sites (which I’ll describe), back-burnered them, and turned my attention once again to products, this time with the benefit of the expertise I learned from the websites.

It may be hard to believe, but I already feel a tremendous responsibility to the few folks who read this blog, many of whom are friends and family, and I’m not sure either of those is a bad thing. The temptation to “front”, or act like I know something, is constant, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing either. Pressure to succeed, forcing myself to be honest in the process – these are the two components that will give me the best chance. Just like stick.com will donate money, on my behalf, to the Karl Rove School for Boys, should I fail to fulfill a goal, the readers of this blog are looking to me to see whether all this crazy Tim Ferriss shit works.

As in other posts, I’ll address this on two fronts, first business, then – and maybe more importantly – life.


I’m back to using Mr. Ferriss’ (and, I suppose, Homer’s, Virgil’s, and Dante’s) term, muse, to distinguish a coldly efficient moneymaking vehicle from a “for-the-love” business. I sincerely believe the ideas that flow from my creativity and twisted sense of humor, such as my blogs and web show, will eventually give me the best return – both monetary and otherwise – but I need to distinguish them from the no-moves-wasted, minimal-investment, market-tested monetization vehicle I’m trying to create.
So the travel blog is, in a sense, liberated. It no longer carries the weight of speedy monetization. Instead, it’s like a “stick” pushing me to travel and write, both of which I find pleasurable. It’s a craft the honing of which takes me out of the day-to-day concerns of the “rat race”. It’s not my startup, it’s my fly-fishing hobby.

The niche site thing, I’m discovering, is difficult. At least with a first site. I’ve learned some lessons, and here’s what I’m doing now:

-Setting up small sites for three keywords – two well-researched, with good metrics, one a wild card. The two “well-researched” keywords include one niche supplying information vital to charting a course through an education-based career-improvement – a lucrative type of niche based on my analysis of what’s succeeded for others, and one intended for monetization on Amazon Affiliates, where a reader is googling reviews of a product he/she would then plausibly buy on amazon.

-Outsourcing everything I don’t want to write personally. More on this below.

-“Waiting and seeing” – since google’s algorithms are changing so frequently, it doesn’t make sense pouring time and money into a site I’m not sure will rank. I’ll “set and forget” these three sites for a few months, see which if any are ranking well naturally, then flesh those out.

This whole process is complete. Just like a roast that needs six hours, it’s gone in the oven while I tend to the cranberry sauce.

Inspired by App Sumo’s Noah Kagan’s concept of “velocity to dollar one”, and in the same spirit of experimentation-for-my-readers I found with the travel site, I’m redeploying my drum instructional series, with a couple of tweaks. It’s true that when I initially tested this idea, I used google Adwords, which proved way too expensive to turn a profit. Facebook ads, my discovery of the summer, however, are not. As I write this I’m into stage two of market testing the 8020 Drummer 2.0. Here are the stages-

1) Confirm I can advertise profitably. I do this is two stages, the first of which is complete. First, I set up the most basic of landing pages on squarespace, took the most successful Adwords ad and repurposed it as a Facebook ad. I chose a group of about 14,000 people to advertise to, based on their interests (drum-related, in this case). Signs were positive – around a 6% click through rate and around 5 “sign ups” to a contact form on the landing page. If each of those signups were a sale, at even $25, I would be well in the black considering I spent a total of about $6 on advertising.

This alone isn’t sufficient to invest lots of time and/or money in a product, however. I need to test conversion rates. I need to see how many people actually click “buy now”, and for what price. In order to do that, there needs to be something tangible on my landing page, which is why I’m creating a video preview in final cut.

2) Outsource, and crowd fund, production. I’ll discuss below how embracing the quintessentially Ferrissian practice of outsourcing is saving my ass, but there’s another reason to do it with a video series I’m going to charge money for – it will look awesome, people should spend their money on something “worth it,” and it will save me a ton of time and hassle.

Theoretically I could simply confirm a hypothetical sales volume through dry testing, then invest in video production with relative confidence. But since I’m tweaking this process so other musicians can follow it I decided to experiment with another ingredient that could eliminate some first-time-business butterflies: crowd funding. It’s simple. (As long as you have the necessary legal disclaimers.) Market-test to a certain price point, then offer a steep discount to anyone who pre-orders within a certain “open enrollment” period. I’ll probably outsource fund-collection to a third-party escrow like Indeigogo, and the legal language can specify conditions under which I’ve fulfilled my obligations (say, provision of the videos within a certain period of time) – otherwise, people get their money back. Say my production budget is $1500. If 69 people pre-order the series for $25, that’s my funding right there.

3) Produce and “go live”.

I don’t want to paint this like it’s foolproof – every “contract for services” agreement carries a little risk. Will I be able to finish the videos in time? Will the subscription download service work, or will there be hitches? Will everybody simply torrent the video once it’s in enough people’s hands. (I think the conversion-rate testing mitigates the possibility of the third.)
Anyway, it’s “bombs away”, and I hope to have more details to report soon.

Dreamlines, and Life

Somewhere along the way, I kinda lost track of why I’m doing this, and made the dangerous mistake of establishing routines, filling time with “business-ish” activities to feel productive, and generally “playing business.” That’s contrary to the spirit of Four Hour Work Week, though. The point, I needed to be reminded, is to free myself from unproductive time and energy-wasting things in order to focus on what makes me happy. The temptation, once you’ve eliminated a lot of waste, is to fill it with new work. A couple of weeks ago I woke up and realized I haven’t been enjoying the present. Two things helped me.

1) Deciding what was important to do. I’m not talking about neurotic monuments to creativity. Any hair brained idea that has me shut up in the study playing with finale of final cut while my wife is occupying herself, and I’m not hanging out with friends is “work.” Sure, there are different levels of work – it’s better to spend my time composing and learning music and exercising my creativity than hunched over a desk looking over profit-loss spreadsheets – but I needed to reacquaint myself with things I love to do in the spaces between work. Many entrepreneurs describe the birth of their first child as an event that focused their priorities and forced them to whittle away unproductive behaviors.
As a stand-in, I’ll substitute “going deep” – any activity immersive enough to forget the compulsive need to check my email. Reading a good book. Deep hangs. Fly fishing. (Yes, dad – I get it now.) Travel.

2) Putting systems in place that won’t leave me wholly reliant on discipline. I’ll tell you a secret – I’m the biggest hypocrite when it comes to checking email outside the office. Well, yesterday I did something simple – I disabled push notifications on my iPhone and switched all my email accounts to manual. They’ll only retrieve email from the servers when I open the application. It’s only been a day, but the twofold deterrent of not seeing a number challenging me to take it down to zero, and knowing if I open my email app I’m affirmatively violating my pledge, has so far been pretty effective at staunching the temptation to check.

Second, I installed a new app called Lift. It’s a social network, but it’s like Facebook would be if everyone was on Ritalin – instead of status updates, you make resolutions, and every time you “check in” with one of them, you get “kudos” from other users. Sure it’s silly, but it redirects that very human desire to accomplish things into…things you’ve deemed important. Mine, so far, are-

-Read a book 30 minutes-a-day.

-See live music.

-Hang with friends.

-Make music with my heroes.

-Walk my dogs.

-Study Mandarin

-Avoid checking email before breakfast.

3) Finally, I’m trying to outsource everything that I was previously spending time on to feel productive, but that doesn’t require my personal touch. I finally broke the outsource barrier with a site called Odesk, where I posted a job to find a writer for a niche site whose content I don’t particularly care about, and to find a website expert willing to resolve a pesky plugin issue on Smart Getaways for Couples, which, I hope, he’ll accomplish later tonight.

Of course that’s just the beginning, but I’ve gotta start somewhere.

Anyway, there it is. State of The Life Hack, if you will. Apologies to all rooting for me that I haven’t yet reached profitability, but thanks for reading, and understand that it’s your readership that keeps me motivated.

Until next time…


2 thoughts on “Long Overdue Update 2 – Hacking My Life to Bits (in a good way)

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