“Why” Post – Advice to Myself

Hey All – this is more of a “why” post than a “how” post.

As I navigate the waters of mastermind groups and fellow entrepreneurs, and notice parallels and contrasts with the music world and the salaryman world from my Day Job, I’ve also been listening to several interviews with Ryan Holiday, who wrote The Obstacle is The Way, the title paraphrasing a Marcus Aurelius quote that’s a tenet of stoicism.

I’ve posted this on social media, but this is really advice to myself. If it were more succinct I’d find a way to tattoo it somewhere –

1) If something seems easy, or you get a “hookup” offer from someone to whom you’re not manifestly providing value, be suspicious. Real success doesn’t smell like that. (i.e. the one job offer you get when your resume’s crappy. The person who wants to date you when they don’t know you yet.)

2) I hate the word “networking”, but making friends with people with common interests is inarguably important. I think the hack is Give Value without an expectation of reciprocity. Reach out to people both “ahead” and “behind” you, always with a pure desire to give value. (Not with the expectation of a “hookup” from those “above” or appreciation from those “below.”) This works even better in scarcity contexts where everyone wants a hookup, because you’ll distinguish yourself in a hurry.

Also, have value to give. As Seth Godin said, and as I’ve parroted here, “pick yourself”. Somebody will spot you for the last rep of a challenging weight lifting set you’ve worked up to. They won’t lift the weight for you from the beginning.

3) It’s not about you. Taking either success or rejection too personally is narcissistic. Get gigs? Product sold? It’s not because you’re awesome as a person, even though you are. It’s because you met a need. Get turned down for something, or no one wants your product? Yes, there are lessons to take and apply, but again, it has nothing to do with your value as a person. It’s not about You.

That’s it! See you soon!

Belated New Year’s Post – Goals, Perspective

20140109-085708.jpg

Now that my sleep calendar is beginning to return to normal, and I’m starting to take stock of the life that I’ve returned to, thought I’d jot a quick post. This is mainly new goals, but it will probably take a stream-of-consciousness vibe.

Here goes:

1) Stop mentally over-committing at my job. It’s counter intuitive, but I think I can actually get more done by simply not giving a toss, and just doing my work. It’s tempting to want to do every project to the max, but that’s mental energy better spent elsewhere, and I realized over the break I was wasting a lot of energy feeling bad for not following through on “mental commitments” I’d made. Be early for meetings, finish stuff on time, yes, but give a @#$%? DEFinitely not.

2) Now an interesting one. Figure out, in the hypothetical, how I could be bi-coastal starting tomorrow if I needed to. Challenge the assumptions holding me back. Do I really need more money? No – not if I negotiated remote work for two months-a-year from NYU. It wouldn’t even have to be that, because the holidays knock out about 2.5 weeks already. Just the beginning of December and the month of January. As with other things, I could start from the premise of negotiating a raise (which, I believe, I deserve – I wouldn’t broach it if I didn’t), and know I was willing to settle for more location freedom. Housing would be the problem. But would I really need to own two houses? Definitely not. Ferriss-style, if I had a terminal illness, and a doctor told me “you need to get more sun or you’ll die“, what steps could I take to make that happen?

My wife and I discussed this this morning as a fun mental exercise. Not that it has to happen right away, but it’s fun for both of us to think about how we would make wintering in SF happen, and challenge the assumptions holding us back.

3) More mundane: break tasks into whole days. E.g. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday I’m only required to do stuff for my job. Wednesday and Friday, I’m only required to do things for my business. If I decide to do more any day for “extra credit”, great, but certainly not required. Is it about intensity, and sprints, when it comes to business? Yes, of course, but it’s also about patience and sustainability. Nothing focuses the mind like coming back from vacation with jet lag. Your brain is only useful for “smart person stuff” an expanding window of a few hours every morning, and the rest of the day it’s “don’t trouble me with trouble, man – I’m gone.” Well the upside is it forces me to structure my life so I only need to make one or two important decisions every day.

4) Increase my earning power so as to pass the “minimum happiness threshold” – where money is not a concern – beyond which more money has diminishing effects on happiness. Yes, I’m hoping 8020 Drummer, and whatever’s next, eventually are earning enough to take a chunk out of my monthly living/travel expenses. But that’s not the only way. I have a game plan to wipe out a lot of my monthly expenses by March. As Ramit Seithi (sp?) says, “don’t give up the latte – focus on the lowest hanging fruit to increase your spending power. A lot of people who never once picked up the phone to negotiate a lower rate on their power bill or long distance, or a lower credit card interest rate are going without lattes.” I’m paraphrasing, but you get the gist.

It’s unlikely I’ll get a raise at my current job, though the patently obvious fact that I’m underpaid gives me a lot of negotiating leverage in other areas. Once you’re beyond the threshold of not needing to worry about money, time is just as important as money.

4) Get seriously better at Mandarin. I don’t want to go through another Taiwan trip where I’m speaking pidgin. I don’t have to master it, but the next trip I want to see some serious improvement in my vocab and ability to read. It will make me feel better.

Notice any music ones? Me neither. I feel I’ve got the music thing dialed in pretty well, and feel like I continue to improve extremely quickly thanks to the methodologies outlined in the 8020 Drummer. I do have the continued goal to play music with my heroes and to write music, and in creative music these days, for people like me who value their time and their lifestyle, you can’t really ordain the future more than that. True, I could have a goal to go on tour with a band or something, but I can do that any time I want. In truth, if I’ve got two weeks in Japan (stay tuned;) I’d far rather not have to worry about rehearsing, negotiating pay, equipment, etc.

Ok – done and out to the world! Enjoy and happy 2014!

My Evolving List of Lessons from the Asia Trip

Hey guys as this is the only place I can write in 100% my own voice thought I’d jot a few of these down as they came to me.

1) There’s a language barrier membrane on the internet between the English-speaking world and non-English speaking world. (Related, we tend to think all educated people speak English, and that’s sooooo false.) We think information flows freely, but if you speak and write Chinese, Japanese, or Korean, you consume media from an almost entirely separate silo. That’s why things that are obvious in Asia (like that that hot pot restaurant you though was so special is actually a chain) are “revelations” in the west , and vice versa (no one in Taiwan has heard of CrossFit and everyone in Taiwan and Hong Kong fears fat, so there’s no half-and-half to be found).

2) Immersion in strange environments, particularly non-english-speaking environments is good stress, but it’s stress. Just like stretching in exercise you want to extend your ability to stay in a yoga pose/run distance/lift weight/etc, but there’s also such a thing as overtraining, and you need rest and recovery.

3) Every reason you think you’re a badass at home turns out to be worthless in a foreign country – and that’s beneficial for your ego. You learn to be suspicious of thinking you’re the reason things – social interactions, business, etc – go well back home and to give luck and context their proper credit.

4) International travel is harsh. Not even first class passengers escape extra security screenings, hour-long waits on the tarmac in a snow storm while the clock ticks down to midnight, when they close the roads, customs, long waits at baggage claim, etc. (At least in coach we’re a hearty stock.) For people who do it as a profession, it’s great – they get to see the world and everything – but it’s a JOB. Only walking into your own apartment, finding it clean, and feeling your blood pressure return to normal for the first time in 48 hours do you realize the hardness of the road.

80/20 Drummer Launched, First Sales

Whew it’s been a whirlwind.

I crossed a milestone last night though. 80/20 Drummer went live, and woke up to discover $40 and change in my account, mostly from buyers who redeemed pre-order codes. I’m fighting anxiety that no more sales will come, that these were a fluke, etc. I’m tweaking pages like crazy for conversion. Hey – this blog is supposed to let you guys into my world. I’m the guinea pig.

In early November I decided metrics for the site were good enough to justify launch. I had a great deal of fun shooting and editing the first two chapters, and am lucky I gave myself an early deadline, because Final Cut Pro crashed my computer repeatedly, and I had to learn on-the-fly how to free up space on my ancient Mac.

Yes, next year I’ll get a new computer. But part of the fun of this blog is trying to create duplicatable success. And it’s not much fun if I’m like, “yea so you can get a video up on the web for minimal investment. Just $3000 for a new Power Mac and Final Cut.” Nope, so I did it bootstrap.

Got a timely leg-up from a hero, Noah Kagan, who turned me onto gumroad.com for file hosting just when I needed it. Anyway, delays aside, the videos are up now.

And I can finally invite Breaking Ferriss readers to my landing page – http:// … wait – I better give myself some anchor text, for my first link. Learn Drums Online. There. I’ll ask just one thing – please don’t click any of the “buy” buttons. I’m still watching analytics on the Gum Road side to see the disparity between the numbers of people who click “buy” and those that actually do.

So I have two chapters up, and I’m experimenting with pricing for conversion. I’m thinking eventually I may give Chapter One away for free, or sell it very cheaply, to build some rapport and trust with viewers, and to entice them to purchase further chapters.

Wait – you need context.

80/20 Drummer is my first “muse”, a passive income business market-tested for as little money as possible before investing (in my case mostly time) in product development. It’s – well I guess you’ll see what it is when if you check out the site, but suffice-it-to-say I researched the competition very carefully and tried to position it in a space nobody else was really covering. Noah Kagan (of Appsumo, a startup ninja), Dan Maxwell (another “entrepreneur whsiperer”), and of course the titular Mr. Ferriss, all preach the gospel of bootstrapping, and when it comes to product development that means releasing the bare minimum to start earning, as quickly as possible.

IN my case that meant chapters 1 & 2 of an eventual five – offering them both as individual downloads or, for a savings, as a package.

Quickly, here’s what I’ve done so far to help conversion – “conversion” just means the rate of visitors to your site who actually buy.

Redid the design of the page to draw the eye to key components, including using buttons instead of simple links. (Kind of alchemical – we’ll see how well it works.)

Introduced a tiered pricing system, whereby the first chapter is cheaper than following chapters, for good reason. Chapter one is mostly expository, and I want to lower the barrier to entry.

Offered a 3 month money-back guarantee, linking to a description whose analytics I can check to see how important it is to potential buyers.

So What’s Next

Now that the product is launched, I’ll check sales every day for the first week-or-so to see if any additional tweaks in pricing or webpage design (for instance moving the price page to the “third layer” page) will affect conversion.

I’m leaving for Asia next week to realize another lifestyle dream – seeing Hong Kong and revisiting Taiwan. (And in the process doing a scouting/buying trip for Shoe Gogo, Chih-Yu’s fledgling shoe importation vehicle.) Before I take two weeks off playing the drums, I want to at least shoot all the footage I’ll need for Chapter Three. If I weren’t leaving, I would spend the next month flooding Youtube with free drum videos redirecting to my site, since I believe that’s the best single source of traffic. (Music colleagues who asked me for advice on SEO, that’s a big piece of my advice…)

I will do that when I get back. But it’s good that I’m going. It’s pretty optimal the way this fall worked out. My life is starting to resemble a college student’s again. Start a product development experiment at the beginning of the semester, big push before launch, then (hopefully) well-deserved couple of weeks off. Foreign travel is great, too, because there’s nothing quite as immersive. No email on the phone. No daily routine. Little English. Can’t wait.

Anyway, the hour grows late. Would I recommend anyone follow in my footsteps at this point? Not yet. But I feel good with where I am at the close of the year. Much healthier relationship with my day job. Much healthier relationship with music. Much healthier relationship with my family and friends. And having crossed my first product-development finish-line. IN the end, I know 80/20 Drummer won’t make me rich. But the money in my account underscores that entrepreneurship is real – that it’s possible, even for an average joe like me.

Anyway, look forward to writing in the new year. I’ll post a link to my Asia articles when they’re up.

Pax

Update – 80/20 Campaign, Day 2

At the risk of besieging my readers with updates, got another one.

These days, the readership of this blog consists of exactly the people who will eventually ask me about my business when they see me in person, so think of blog entries these few days as extended “status updates”, tailored to a small audience.

Some tweaks in my advertising have helped me zero in on where my traffic is coming from, and where my highest converting traffic is coming from, and it’s definitively from Youtube, and from the older videos on youtube. (I discovered this by archiving some older, lower-resolution videos in favor or newer ones and seeing the numbers drop.)

With that in mind, an interesting alternative strategy presents itself – “slow build” crowd-source. The answer to the question, “can I drive enough paid traffic to the site to pre-fund production of the videos within 60 days?” seems to be “no”. But I was getting almost enough free traffic to do it. Since free traffic is less predictable/scalable, limiting myself to the 60-day campaign Indiegogo and Fund Anything offer is problematic – if I don’t meet the funding goal they both take a 9% fee (though I’d still get 91% of whatever money I’d raised), and I’d have to promise to deliver the videos by a date certain. The rigidity of that timeline doesn’t allow for the flexibility of a “slow-build” SEO-based campaign. (SEO-based, in this case, referring to optimizing Youtube videos for popular search terms, like “how to play jazz drums”, and letting traffic build from there.)

What I can do, however, is revert to the Four Hour Work Week textbook method. Get pre-orders to fill out a contact form, build a mailing list, invest up-front to produce the video (fully tax-deductible), then email the people on the list that it’s complete, telling them they have two weeks to buy for their “pre order” price, before the price resets to the $80 price. It’s reasonable to assume only a percentage of those “orders” will actually send the money once the product is complete, but I can build that into the math, either after testing or by making an assumption. If 30% of people who “pre-ordered” at $29.99 actually buy, I can calculate the number I need to “sell” to cover my production.

Anyway, covering production costs 1:1 is the least important part of the equation, because it’s all about the traffic. If I’ve gotten enough “pre orders” to fund, theoretically, production, I’ve confirmed many times over sufficient web traffic of new customers to ensure an income stream. (I’ve also given consideration to things like market saturation – when everybody who needs a copy of The 80/20 Drummer already has one, and as the purveyors of Kaplan products will tell you, the beauty of a product geared toward assisting an application is there’s a constantly self-renewing stream of new customers.)

So that’s the plan for the forseeable future. Play Youtube like $4 ukelele (all “white hat”, of course – you know who you’re talking to), let the traffic build as it builds, and go into production whenever I have sufficient number of pre-orders to reassure me I’ll reach profitability. The other elegant thing is I can always transition to a third-party crowd-funding site if the traffic reaches a sufficient level.

More on youtube SEO strategies like “meta tag cloning” – which is way less sexy than it sounds – in future posts.

OOH – also, I heard what may be a great “pain point” for a Dane Maxwell-style customized software. Here at NYU I may well be sitting on a goldmine. First things first. Get the 80/20 Drummer to profitibility, then onward. Baby steps.

Feeling Good – Inflection Points – Staying Grounded

That’s what everybody wants, right? Abstraction? What can I say? I’m reading a lot of Murakami these days.

Well I’m again at the end of a “phase”. When last I wrote, I was market testing the 80/20 Drummer (please don’t google it or visit my site, because I need my analytics to reflect “real” traffic), and had generated good traffic to my site, but no “sales”. Reasoning that I just needed a better landing page, I went into serious production mode, generating demo videos. Below are four of my favorites, and you’ll see what I mean about this taking time-

Each required me to rough out a script, quickly “teach” myself the demo beats (not always easy), film the whole thing, then upload the whole jones to Final Cut and do my thing. I’m happy to say they’re all on the landing page – four previews like those above for four of the five chapters, and the conversion testing has begun again. This time I’m advertising both on Facebook and Google Adwords.

Adwords you say?!?

Yup. I’m revisiting Adwords after almost six months, because some of the lessons I’ve learned on Facebook are applicable. Geographic and demographic targetting. Longtail keywords. (I’ve been chided for not explaining things fully enough, so let me say that “drum lessons jazz school grad NYC” is a Longtail Keyword, whereas “drum lessons” is not. The former is lightly searched but cheap to advertise to, the latter is the opposite.

Another thing I’m going to be doing in this and future posts, on the advice of friends, is providing context. I started this blog after reading Four Hour Workweek, to catalog my experiments applying the author’s advice in real life. The premise is creating a low-risk, low-initial-investment side business to provide financial flexibility (freeing up money), using efficiency and focus tricks to minimize time wasted on unproductive things (freeing up time), then living life with a focus on what fulfills me instead of how many more years of this s@#$ can I take before retirement or how come Bob got the corner office? Efforts I’ve made toward financial freedom – the 80/20 Drummer, a concept drum DVD I want to create and sell as a video download with accompanying e-book and musical tracks, Smart Getaways for Couples (feel free to visit that one – the traffic is high enough that Breaking Ferriss readers won’t upset the metrics much), and the forthcoming Smart Asia Getaways.

So, 80/20 drummer is back to testing mode, and I’ll continue to apply minor tweaks to the marketing until I’ve either validated it or ruled it out as a quick route and “back-burnered” it to build an audience slowly.

Smart Getaways is a niche site, although it’s principally just a comprehensive travel diary/tip farm. The idea there is you decide what people are searching for on the web and throw up attractive content, generate traffic that’s valuable to advertisers, then charge them for access to your audience. It’s waaaaaay more art than science, and I can now say with confidence that choosing a topic you’d write about for free, writing the hell out of it (SGFC is at 79 posts now), marketing it person-to-person by guest posting on related blogs, and letting the chips fall where-they-may is the way this works in reality. The sites I created solely based on keywords have so far failed to garner any attention.

Oh – and 80/20 Creative LLC earned its first dollar last month. From Adsense. And it was almost exactly a dollar. A dollar-forty-three to be precise. Somehow my “first dollar” isn’t exactly as I pictured it;) But the good news is since I “back burnered” it to deal with 80/20 Drummer, Smart Getaways has continued to climb in the rankings, and is now ranking for a portfolio of long tail keywords, resulting in up to a thousand impressions-a-day, and a modest 20-30 clicks. I hope that continues to climb, and I certainly plan to continue traveling and writing about it. Also, Adsense isn’t my “be-all-end-all” monetization strategy. Affiliate deals probably will be, if I ever have enough traffic to make it worth an advertiser’s while.

I’m also reaping fringe benefits of the websites and 80/20 Drummer videos. When I needed to attract some drum students to fund some travel ventures, I already had the architecture in place.

Finally, I’d like to use this platform to shout out my buddy Alex, who’s using SEO and web commerce in exactly the right way to promote his own product – jazz for weddings. A link for you, sir, with anchor-text.

And the more I dig, the more musician buddies I discover already killing it in various ways with e-commerce. A friend building his own drum studio answered my query about the best places to find students with two sentences: Adwords, and Google Groups. Done and Done.

Ok – time to read some Murakami before bed.

It’s Done! – Video Trailer for 8020 Drummer

Guys quick update. Finished the roughs in Final Cut last night for the 8020 Drummer video preview. Here’s what will sit on the landing page as I do my initial conversion testing-

Of course the real video will be professionally produced. Still, I’m pretty happy with the way this turned out. I had worried that my lack of professional mics and cameras might render the whole thing really amateurish looking, but hopefully the quality of the composition, playing, and editing makes up for that.

With a few minor tweaks, this will go on the landing page Friday for phase 2 of market testing.

Thanks for reading, and back at you soon!

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.

Muse

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…

Meta Post 2 – Testing Things in Parallel

Today marks a benchmark. I finally installed adsense on Smart Getaways for Couples. I’m waiting for final approval, which can take up to a week. There’s still a lot to do in terms of SEO – I want to see the impact a couple of juice links I’ve got pending have when they’re published and crawled – but it allows me to “back burner” SGFC for a bit while I work on some other things.

Which brings me to my new, carefully-searched, niche site that I would have used had I participated in Pat Flynn’s Niche Site Duel 2.0. It’s call You Can Be A Trainer, and the keyword is how to become a personal trainer. (And now it has its first link with anchor text.) Unlike Pat Flynn or Spencer Haws, I don’t need to worry that a link from Breaking Ferriss will warp my metrics, since it has nowhere near the readership of those blogs. Instead, I’m trying to implement, in small-scale, the methodology of a niche-siter I spoke about earlier in the week: Hayden Miyamoto.

Hayden, you’ll recall, launches literally hundreds of niche sites in parallel, monetizing only those that pop up naturally to the top 20 in google. By launching the sites with some basic content, Hayden can “real-world-test” how good his keyword research was. I can’t do this for hundreds of sites, but I can do it with two-or-three. And it occurs to me this might be the best way to spend the next several weeks. If you look at You Can Be A Trainer, it’s extremely basic – one article (though I’m going to give it four-or-five before leaving it), a free WordPress theme, and not many bells-and-whistles. That’s by design. It’s true, I shot for the stars from day-one with Smart Getaways, but that was hardly necessary to test my keyword.

The metrics for “how to become a personal trainer” looked great: astounding monthly exact-match search volume, and great theoretical adwords cost-per-click (which will mean more money for adsense, and will compensate for lower conversion rates, even though I want my conversion rates to be great), relative to competitiveness. I wrote a few months ago about the basic algorithm I used to tease out “how to become”.

Anyway, I’ve sort of “gone the distance” with Smart Getaways – launching the site, creating the content, doing the on-site and off-site SEO, and it’s ranking well, but it may have a difficult time busting the “top ten” bubble. I’ll do my best, but I’m fully content that SGFC be a “long term project” – a labor of love that I spend years researching and writing, that eventually ranks well for a spate of keywords I never intended. But by Spencer Haws standards “weekend getaways from NYC” is a poor keyword choice. Max of 3600 monthly exact-match searches, and hella competitive. I want to see if the more meticulously-researched “how to become a personal trainer” performs better on its own.

It only takes a couple of days to launch a site, throw up some really decent basic content, toss a couple of backlinks with anchor text its way, and wait-and-see. So I’m going to be doing this for a few other sites as well. One niche site ranking well is great. Several is even better. Developing a battle-tested method for seeing which ones are worth it to try to rank, then extrapolating a flow-chart for the fastest route to monetization, is a hack, and we know how I love those.

I’m still brainstorming products, and I’ll keep you posted about those. And the race to “dollar one” continues.

Stay tuned.

Update, Townies, and White Hat SEO

So it turns out there are a lot of people trying to make money online off of other people trying to make money online, which we knew. I wrote about this pyramid-y phenomenon in the post Black Hat.

As usual, a step back for context. Two weeks ago I wrote about the Google Dance. My niche site, which I started three months ago as a way to travel and write about it, had suddenly started showing up on page 4 of google, without my doing any more than writing articles. I wondered if Fraser Cain, founder of Universe Today, who said offsite SEO was obsolete, was onto something. I continued writing articles for the section pertaining to the keyword that was ranking well, creating a pretty deep resource for anyone looking to read more about any of 5-6 topics. This wasn’t the standard “500 words on a topic popular on market samurai” niche site. This was ultimate resource shit. The google rank bobbed into the mid-20s, fueling excitement I might be able to skip the “learning curve” most of my idols experienced, and monetize right away.

Well, it’s not that easy. Which is good, from the standpoint of giving advice to others. I would hate for a reader of Breaking Ferriss to attempt to implement my advice and fail simply because I got lucky.

My site has settled in the mid-30s for my keyword, and that’s where it will probably sit until I can increase my site authority a bit. The fact that it’s ranking so well with just content is a sign I chose a good keyword. Now it’s up to me.

Which brings us back to the 500-pound gorilla in every webmaster’s closet: SEO.

I’ve written in previous posts that I believe every type of link building except natural link building will soon be obsolete. That includes expired domains, currently the rage. Let’s get this out of the way up front: I may be wrong. If you’ve read this far you know I’m no expert, but neither, necessarily, is a guy whose whole livelihood depends on expired domains. What I see is steady improvement of the search engines in distinguishing genuine buzz from manufactured buzz, and if you think expired domains don’t differ from genuine high PR (page rank) sites in some fundamental ways that algorithms will eventually be able to sniff out, I’ve got a bridge to sell you. (Sure, John Smith for state senate 2006 may have a high page authority, but I’d rather get a link from a real, live webmaster, thank you very much.)

But there’s good news. There is a way to make even the old-school relationship-building it always comes back to easier, and I love it. Perry Rosenbloom, proprietor of fine business such as SEO Sherpa, discovered a way to “scrape” google results for groups and foundations related to your niche. Do the google search for your keyword, do the meta-search to trawl your results for organizations and foundations. A little leg (eye, index finger) work to discover the name and contact info of the president of each organization, a little mail merging after writing a personal message, and presto! Potentially hundreds of opinion makers in your niche just got a personalized email offering your content to their members.

Key word is “offering.” Not hard-selling. It’s astonishing now many people get this wrong.

Luckily, I’ve received a few such emails myself this week, and the reactions they elicited from meis a useful guide for how potential colleagues are likely to relate to your emails.

Which brings us back to the opening sentence of this post. The overwhelming majority go something like “I’ve noticed your site could be getting a lot more traffic.” Somewhere in somebody’s mom’s basement, the inventor of the SEO Spam Robot is chuckling heartily, because he’s the only person making any money from these messages.

A little further up the totem pole are messages that were probably written by a human being, but that seep with arrogance and totally misunderstand the basic value-adding proposition of a business deal. “I read your site and used to have the same problem. Now my site’s ranked on the first page.” Well, how did you solve my problem? The question is never answered in the email or comment. Because, of course, this is somebody doing link building for a site specializing in making money online. Beyond the unsettling questions the fact that these so-called experts are spending their time making no-follow comments on low page-authority sites- about the lowest leverage SEO there is, raises, it’s not very sporting not to offer advice, and real “gurus” like Pat Flynn and Spencer Haws rarely withhold information like that.

So you want to avoid looking like a spam bot or used car salesman. There actually is a Ferrissian best-practice for this, and it’s to make a genuinely helpful comment or open an email with a disarming overture, then suggest content you believe might be helpful – instead of just linking to your home page – and leave it there.

I got just such an email last week, and I have little doubt it was mail merged. I didn’t care. Whoever penned it – or her assistant in her stead – had done her research, and offered some thoughtful comments on how she and I may be on the same “train” (my analogy, not hers). She didn’t ask for a link and she didn’t need to. Her site is definitive. Page authority 66, and brimming with useful, user-reviewed, affiliate-monetized content. She’ll get a link from me because her site’s a great resource, and she deserves it.

Of course I played the same game in the reply, offering a couple of my articles I believed would be useful to her readers, and saying I would appreciate any thoughts. I didn’t ask for a link either – she knows the dance we’re doing and she’ll link to me if she feel its useful and or appropriate. I wouldn’t want it any other way. The rarely discussed truth about junk links is their terrible conversion rate.

I don’t want people on my site unless they want to be there – it’s a waste of their time and its worthless to me because they won’t click on my ads or affiliate links.

So there we are. Stage Two for the SEO Sherpa method is deploying it large-scale. In my research for my articles I’ve been running across many other bloggers in my niche, and I’m excited to hit the ground running with full on White Hat (only hat?) SEO.

More on the particulars, plus another discussion of music, in my next post.