Productivity hacks – Asana and speeding up podcasts

Here’s a quick couple of productivity hacks.

What to do if you’re nowhere near a PC and you have a rad idea or remember something that you are supposed to do? If you’re like me, you’d shoot off an email to yourself and deal with it later.

This is really awful practice for zero inbox.

Enter Asana. I’ve tried a lot of task management apps in the past and haven’t liked any as much as this. One of the best parts is being able to flick of an email to a special email address that just adds it straight into your “new tasks” so you can handle it when you actually want to, rather than have it stare at you from your inbox.

The second is all about podcasts. Podcasts rock when you’re on the move, driving, waiting for public transport or whatever. The problem is it can take a 45 minute episode to get a couple of good points.

After going through a few podcast apps on Android I discovered Pocket Casts. This is easily the best I’ve used, with the bonus (and important) feature of being able to speed up playback out of the box. Listening on 1.8x is surprisingly easy, and it means you tear through podcasts and still process all of the information.

And here’s a few great podcasts to check out:


Ploughing over roadbloacks

Things have been way too quiet around here.

Shit kind of hit the figurative fan a few weeks back, so I’ve been busy getting my ducks in a row.

On a lazy hungover Sunday, a whole lot of stuff blew up.

  • a server failed
  • someone used our company credit card for some dodgy purchases
  • ran the the company finances, which looked grim once my wage was taken out
  • ran my own finances, which looked grim given the measly amount I pay myself
  • my laptop failed
  • uncovered some big issues in the Chimp Rewriter thesaurus algorithms (fixed now)

Literally all in one damn day. While hungover. Needless to say I wasn’t a happy chappy.

As they say, the life an entrepreneur can be a bit nuts, with a lot of road blocks to plough through. This was easily the worst day I’d had in years, but something I’ve never had to rely on kicked in and decided to get shit sorted.

A day later the thesaurus and server were fixed. Two days later I’d chased up two potential contract engineering jobs which I can fall back on if I need an out.

Three weeks later I’ve got a new laptop, have launched the web marketing arm of AkturaTech complete with new website and have a couple of clients on board. Take that shitty Sunday.

Building a SaaS is going to take a while to see any real profit. That means the current situation basically wouldn’t have changed for months. By itself this is a good enough reason to explore some other avenues, but after meeting a whole lot of ‘web marketers,’ it became pretty obvious that many of them have no clue what they are talking about. Talking to a lot of business owners, many of them were being ripped off or being fed rubbish information.

It turns out it actually excites me a lot to work on other people’s business, come up with ideas and help them make more money. There’s also the part where it is a pretty quick cashflow into the business.


Lessons from a guy who has built three software products

Last night a group of web marketers met up at a local bar for a catch up. One guy who I had heard a lot about but never met came along. His name is John Logar, and he runs Make Every Day a Pay Day, among other things. My previous assumption was that he ran a local business consultancy and that was his core business. Turns out he has about a hundred other things going on and is absolutely crushing it.

The thing that stood out to me is the fact that he’s built 3 software products using the same idea extraction and pre selling model I am using. Here I am struggling to make $500 in pre sales (my goal) and he’s done over $25k THREE TIMES. Clearly, I’m doing something wrong.

John put me on to this video which talks about the types of questions to ask a potential customer. There’s some pretty good points in here, and it’s a good refresher on what you should and shouldn’t be asking.

Here’s a few of the things I took away from talking to John, who obviously has this shit down pat:

  • Being confident in what you are saying (even if you don’t know the answer) has got to be one of the most important things. Watching John captivate the whole table of people just by talking made this pretty obvious
  • Pulling emotion out of the customer is really important (watch video below for more)
  • If the customer isn’t saying stuff like “oh wow yeah we want something that does that like NOW”, it’s probably not the right product
  • Go after bigger guys. A lot of the companies I’ve been talking to are too small. Everything John does, even in business consulting, is big fish

I’ll follow up later with some of his ideas on where to find people which I hadn’t thought of.


The power of actually listening

You always hear how you should be listening to people, but it’s not often you really try to apply it and get real world feedback from it.

Recently I read How To Win Friends and Influence People again. Seems like I’d forgotten about 90% of the principles in there. If you suck at networking, read this immediately.

With all the meetings and networking going on in this business, it seemed like the perfect time to really put some of it into practice.

The big things (IMO):

  • Asking questions that get the other person talking about themselves
  • Let the other person do most of the talking
  • Be genuinely interested in them and what they have to say
  • Give sincere compliments
  • Don’t freaking interrupt

This last one is a real sore spot. If someone is talking about problems they are having, the brain starts going 100 miles an hour with ways to solve it and before you know it, it’s materialised itself into some words spewing out of your mouth in the middle of someone’s sentence.

That’s REALLY shit. Just let them talk about their problems first. Write your ideas down if you have to.

Lately I’ve been squashing the hell out of this, and really paying attention to the points above. Today I had a 3 hour meeting with a crazy busy woman who runs a company with over 50 employees. On my balcony. No way did I think I’d get 3 hours. To be honest I thought she’d want to be out of here ASAP.

Towards the end she said:

The thing that is different about you is that you actually listen. And I appreciate that.

Boom, nailed it.


I think the key is the genuine part. It’s a bit weird, because saying “be genuinely interested” is kind of a contradiction. How the hell do you just ‘be’ genuinely interested in someone?

The thing is, everyone has something interesting going on. If you can get that out of them by asking questions and getting them to talk about themselves, you BECOME interested in what they are saying.

By no means am I an expert in people yet, but this seems like a pretty big leap.


Statistics on action taken so far

Time for a bit of an update with actual numbers of the action taken so far.

Cold Emails Sent: ~50
Replies to emails: 1 (2%)

Cold Phone Calls: 19
Warm Calls: 1
Positive responses: 7 (people who may be interested but didn’t set up or ask for a meeting)
Meetings from the above: 0, but 3 scheduled (15%)

Networking events attended: 8
Meetings from the above: 3 (37%)

As far as conversion rate goes, it’s pretty clear that networking is the winner. But if you look at the effort involved, there are a hell of a lot more hours in networking than there is in sending an email to somebody.

That said, a lot more can come from networking compared with cold calling from the comfort of your lounge room.

  1. You develop a network (duh). People you can ask questions, or services, or whatever
  2. You become known as someone that people can trust, and refer others to you
  3. Ideas are often thrown at you, and you have to try really hard not to chase everything

On top of this, as a result of one of the networking events, I’ve had multiple meetings with a new potential business partner. We’re looking at building an entirely separate product in an entirely different niche, of course following the same validation process and exploring the underlying pain a bit more.


You’re probably thinking that’s nowhere near enough emails. According to Yesware, only about 10 emails of the 50 I’ve sent have even been opened. I really thought this would be higher, which has turned me off it a bit. On top of this, two different business owners specifically call the email “spam”. This makes me think that sending the email in the first place may do more harm than good, and it could be better to simply just call outright.

More testing is probably required here. But it sounds like I could already be onto a winner. Tomorrow is the first meeting I’m having with a product interface sketched up to get some feedback.


A software entrepreneur community by a guy who’s been there done that

Listening to James Schramko’s podcast the other day, he had the best interview I’ve heard yet. At least from the point of view of a software guy.

The interviewee was Paul Clifford. Paul’s a guy who has built multiple SaaS businesses, one which was sold for $38 million. Can’t complain about that, right? It also means he’s been there done that, which is a big plus.

He’s about to launch a community and mastermind for people in the software development/SaaS industry. If you sign up at his site, you’ll get access to the first 5 modules. They are fairly short, but there’s a pretty solid chunk on info in there including picking a market, choosing a business model, designing the initial concept, hiring developers (he prefers offshore outsourcing) and handling the things that can go wrong.

While I don’t know a whole lot about it yet, it looks like it could be pretty promising and it’s worth keeping an eye on. It launches on March 12 2014.


Uh oh, it’s going mainstream

Something pretty funny happened today.

A great guy I’ve been talking to about a potential product called me up and told me about this “spam” email he received. It was almost a word for word rendition of the “strange question” email popularised by Dane Maxwell’s Foundation stuff (of which my journey is based).


In his words, he didn’t bother replying because “he’s some stranger, why would I spend my time for free so he can make something to make money.”

A couple of interesting things came of this.

First, it explains why my email response rate has been awful. This definitely seems like an industry where people are getting emails like this all the time. One business owner previously told me she gets “spam” emails like this all the time. All in all,

The strange question email has got to go.

Second, I had a quick look into the sender on LinkedIn. Apparently, this guy who worked at a fast food chain had a whole lot of endorsements in software development, SaaS, online marketing and more. Props to him for giving this a go, even though the endorsements are a little misleading.

From the endorsers themselves, you could probably build a list of everyone who is doing the Foundation this year. Lots and lots of people endorsing each other for the same “skills”. Most of them also have changed their professional headline to “Software entrepreneur” or something similar.

I’d be curious to see how this effects their results.

It may just be a matter of time before the “strange question” email becomes a running joke to business owners, comparable to the “who lies more” line in the pickup industry…


What’s your why?

Something that has come up a few times now is knowing WHY you are doing what you are doing. In other words, what is the reason you want to run your own business.

This always seemed a bit like fluffy boring mindset stuff. But when a business coach actually got us to write down a massive list of things we do and don’t want in life, it seemed to trigger something that I hadn’t felt in a while. To do this and refer back to it every so often seems like an effective way to reinforce what you’re doing, and give you a bit of purpose. It’s pretty similar to some of the exercises you’ll find in The On Purpose Person, a good book on the topic, and a pretty quick read.

The lists we wrote were massive. Not just like 3 or 4 things you want from life, you just keep going for 5 or so minutes until you have a big list. Among mine were being location independent, not caring if I blow $60 on a round of drinks for everyone, not having to answer to people, no alarms in the morning, and being able to take naps on the bean bag behind my desk in the middle of the day. The combination of what you want and what you don’t want is powerful.

Vision boards fit into this category as well. In my opinion, creating a board of stuff you’ve already achieved, or places you have already been is equally important. It makes you appreciate where you are right now instead of always wanting more.

So, take a few minutes to build a list of everything you do and don’t want. With a bit of purpose comes a lot of motivation.

The video below if my biggest “why”. It’s also why I went off the grid for a while.


A cheap stand up desk so that I live longer

Stand up desks have been making waves pretty much everywhere. Even more so since infographics such as this and articles like this started doing the rounds.

There’s no doubt sitting for 8+ hours a day is bad for you, in a whole lot of ways. For me, the clincher was that after sitting hunched over a computer for years, my shoulders natural position was the wrong one (read: bad posture). This caused some muscles to over compensate for other muscles during heavy lifting. One day at the gym, one shoulder decided it had had enough. It’s bad enough that the physio has banned me from workouts until further notice. I mentioned to him that I was interested in stand up desks. His instant reaction evidence enough that this was something that should happen sooner rather than later.

The problem is, people have noticed that there is a market for these things now. With little competition, they can charge whatever the hell the like. Paying $2000 (Aussie) to stand up while you work seems a little insane. This is what held me back for a long time. You could go for a DIY job using bricks or wood from the hardware store, but who can be bothered right?

Turns out there are really cheap options now, at a store that services a whole lot of the developed world…. Ikea.

Stand Up Desk

The Desk James Built

The build-your-own-desk section at Ikea now has adjustable legs up to 107cm. Perfect for all but the longest of human beings.

It’s pretty simple. Buy four legs, buy a desk top and screw them together.

The legs you’re looking for are called “Gerton”. They’re the only ones that go that high, and they’re $25. Tops range from $20 to $100+. Mine was $40, and easily fits a 27″ and 22″ monitor side by side, plus a microphone, speakers etc.

My Stand Up Desk Cable Management

You can also get come cable management trays to screw in to the bottom. This example isn’t so tidy yet, but you get the point. Including this, my whole desk came to a massive $170. I also picked up a matching TV cabinet for $50. How awesome is Ikea?

There’s also a ton of desk top options. The picture below was about half of them.

Desk top options

What a stand up desk is like

You’ll probably have to check back once I’ve been doing this a bit longer. So far, it’s been a bit of a pain but definitely manageable. A sensible person probably would have bought a stool to sit on when they get tired. Unfortunately I don’t fall into that category.

Standing all day gets tiring pretty quickly. However if you mix it up by going to get a drink here and there, sit down for a minute if you’re taking a phone call etc, it’s easily manageable. There’s also those gel anti-fatigue mats people claim makes a difference, which may be an option if you just can’t stand it.

So far, I’ve already noticed my posture in general improving (not only while I’m at the desk). That in itself is awesome. Another win is that I’m completely stuffed when it comes to the end of the day, which means getting to sleep without trying to battle 7,000 thoughts per minute. Oh, and don’t forget that sitting is apparently killing you, so there’s another positive for standing.


Researching and hanging out with your audience

One of the common themes among any good resource on learning about your audience will tell you to find where they hang out, read their problems and even get into the discussion.

In my experience there are two goldmines when it comes to finding your audience. Forums and Facebook.


Facebook is great for the validation phase because you can target specific groups of people with ads based on a whole lot of criteria. These include their interests, what pages they like and what groups they are a part of. There are some tricky methods for the later stuff. You might be thinking “but my target audience doesn’t live on Facebook”. There are a lot of “interests” that Facebook discovers about people that aren’t very helpful for targeting, but you may be surprised at the number of groups and pages out there that have a ton of followers in your target audience.

For finding your audience on Facebook, graph search is awesome. It allows you to search for some pretty exact things in plain English. Things like

“people who are members of GROUPNAME”

and you can extend to

“people who are members of GROUPNAME and like the page PAGENAME and are female from CITY”
“women over the age of XY who like PAGENAME and ….”
You get the point.

You can pretty quickly build a big list of people that fit very specific criteria, and see what stuff they like. You can also get involved in their groups and ask questions. Just make sure you offer value before being a pest.


target audience_sm

Forums are arguably the best way to get involved in communities of your target audience. Finding these forums is as easy as going to Google and searching for your niche and the word “forum”.

For example, if you wanted to find some dog owners, Google “dog owners forum”. You could find some plumbing professionals by searching “plumber business forum” or “professional plumber forum”.

A lot of searches will also turn up sub-forums which fit your niche. For example, you might find a small business owners forum with a tradesman section where there are some plumbers that hang out.

Tracking it all

In one session, you can easily find a whole lot of resources on Facebook and Google. As you go along you’ll discover some extra keywords to search for and may end up finding more options than you know what to do with. It’s a good idea to keep track of everything you find for future reference.

Depending on how many pages you are trying to find, simply using a text file in Notepad can keep track of all the Facebook pages and forums you want to follow up with. Alternatively you can put them in Excel with some notes like “5,000 members, very active etc”.

One awesome tool I’ve found for this is the Diigo Chrome extension. With a couple of clicks you can save the current page you are on, and break them into lists. I name my lists something like “Plumbing – Facebook – Australia”, “Plumbing – Forum”. You can add notes and tags so they are easy to find later, and Diigo lets you export them all to CSV later if you need.


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