Crushing it in 2015 – Everything We Learnt From Our Most Successful Year Yet – IMP#39

Like last year, Paul McCarthy and myself took some time to reflect on the year past and extract the most important and transformative lessons we learnt.

2015 was a year of fast growth for our company (Thrive Themes) and today's podcast episode is chock-full of tips you can apply to grow your own business, become a more focused and productive entrepreneur and much more...​


Podcast Audio

To help you get the most out of this episode, I've put together a summary of the top 5 lessons:

Lesson 1: Systematize It!

Building a successful business is all about putting the right systems in place. That alone is probably no surprise to anyone. But in 2015, we went deeper into this topic than ever before and came away with some key lessons:

  • ​From the outset, either delegate work to someone or plan to replace yourself (eventually) in everything you do.
  • "I just do it" is not good enough. For everything you do in your business, find the most effective way to do it, then document or screencast it so that it's something that can be handed off to someone else.
  • Don't try to find "the right solution". There is never a right solution. There is only constant improvement and slowly building better and better systems.

There's a huge, possibly overlooked opportunity in being a business systematizer: building systems is front-end heavy work and so most people are reluctant to do it.

What I mean is that to systematize, you need to make a large effort up front and the payoff comes with a significant delay. Since this isn't an attractive proposition, many of your competitors aren't doing it (or aren't doing it well).

The way I see it, optimizing systems and processes in your business is similar to optimizing every detail of your landing pages and signup flow: it's hard work that is well worth doing because it gives you a competitive edge.

Lesson 2: Seek Out Mentors​

We couldn't have made as much progress in 2015 as we did without help from a mentor. Someone who is ahead of us in this game and was willing to help us get over some sticking points (for a considerable fee).

Good mentors are well worth investing in. There's just one problem: the best mentors generally don't advertise their services, because they're too busy getting shit done.

Take every opportunity you can find to put yourself in contact with people who are smarter and more experienced than you. Those connections are invaluable and as you progress, they become increasingly rare.

Lesson 3: Skill Hacking = Awesome Life​

As frequent readers know, I'm all about The Grind as a process for developing new skills.

​In 2015, I was more grateful than ever about the fact that I've built my life around skill acquisition. As a founder, one of the challenges you face is that your role will change frequently.

You may be a marketer one moment and a product strategist the next. The kind of high-priority work you need to be doing in your business will probably shift from boots-on-the-ground work to management and leadership as you scale.

If you don't have the ability to learn new things quickly, every role change will represent a huge roadblock and possibly even end your business entirely.

​But skill building is about more than that. The skill of building skills is possibly the single most useful asset you can have if you want to have an awesome life.

2016 is the year to get serious about developing and honing your skills. Make sure you live every day in such a way that you are significantly better in at least one area, by the end of the year.​

How do you do it? That's where the next two lessons come in:

Lesson 4: Be a 20 Mile Marcher​

Consistent, every day effort is the key to almost everything we accomplished with our business in 2016.

Unfortunately, this goes against human nature. We generally tend to pick up a new thing, ride a short wave of enthusiasm and then drop it again. We underestimate the effectiveness of small, consistent effort and vastly overestimate the effectiveness of a short burst of action.

My favorite example of this is personal fitness: a typical pattern is that you decide to get into better shape, get a gym membership, start a strict diet and start working out really hard... for a few weeks.

Then, life gets in the way, you get too busy, the workouts are too hard to keep up and you just go back to your old habits.

This is something you can do over and over again, year in and year out and it won't make a difference at all. No matter how hard you work or how strict your diet is during those short bursts.

This isn't only a waste of time, it's also incredibly frustrating. All the while, some small but meaningful changes to how you eat and a simple routine of light exercise will make a world of difference over the months and years.

The same applies to your business. Too many entrepreneurs keep changing strategies, keep chasing after the latest traffic generation secret, keep riding that wave of enthusiasm for some new thing... and end up getting nowhere.

If you haven't already, make 2016 the year in which you get out of this vicious cycle. Set your sights on your goal and pursue it consistently and relentlessly (even if in small steps).​

Lesson 5: Stop Falling for Your Own Bullshit​

You're a hard working entrepreneur, right? You're not like those wage slaves, working some dull job and complaining about the 8 hours they have to put in each day.

Hah! 8 hours is a short day to you!

Like anyone has a clue about hard work and sacrifice until they've tried to start a business...

Does any of that resonate with you? It sure does with me.

But I've got bad news for both of us: that kind of thinking is just bullshit that we make up to make ourselves feel better.

Sure, building a business is no cake walk and unless you're willing to work hard, you won't get anywhere. But that's no reason to make a martyr of oneself.

Your job isn't to suffer for your business, it's to run your business effectively. And no one cares how many hours you work because all that matters is your output.

What you need is focus.

Make focus a priority in 2016. Make sure that when you work, you do focused, distraction-free work. Because doing 4 hours of that can be far more effective than doing 10 hours of some work-email-chat-reddit hybrid.

To help you get into a focused state, here's the 5-question morning exercise Paul mentions on the podcast:

  1. What kind of a person are you?
  2. Why are you doing what you do?
  3. How do you feel today?
  4. What's the emotionally easy option?
  5. What's the emotionally hard option?

Spend a few minutes writing answers to each of those 5 questions. It will help you focus on what's truly important in your life and it will make distractions look a lot less attractive.

​Make Your 2016 Amazing

I hope this podcast episode and post have given you some inspiration and some good ideas for how to shape your business and life in 2016.​

What's your main goal for the year? How do you plan to accomplish it? Let me know by leaving a comment below!​

Shane's Signature

About the Author Shane Melaugh

I'm the founder of ActiveGrowth and Thrive Themes and over the last years, I've created and marketed a dozen different software, information and SaaS products. Apart from running my business, I spend most of my time reading, learning, developing skills and helping other people develop theirs. On ActiveGrowth, I want to help you become a better entrepreneur and product creator. Read more about my story here.

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  • Peter says:

    Hi Shane,

    May I please ask you if this episode is in iTunes or Stitcher? The last episode seems to be from 5/9/2015.


    • Shane says:

      Hi Peter,

      Seems to be something wrong with the podcast feed. I’ll try to fix it.

  • Thanks for this. I really need to apply these more and more. 2016 has to be a great year.

    • Shane says:

      Thanks for your comment, Stephen! Glad you found this useful.

  • As usual awesome advice Shane. Congrats on your massive success in 2015. I look forward to what you have in store for this year.

    Just had one quick question: Learning how to Systematize online business processes is definitely a must have skill to hone.

    Do you recommend any resources, courses, maybe even a consultant on the topic?

    I know eMyth is a good start and I’ve read it. But I’m wondering if you know of anything laser targeted for online businesses. Thanks!

    • Shane says:

      I don’t know of any really top notch resource, unfortunately. “Work the System” is a good book on the topic, though.

  • Glenn says:

    Shane, I noticed that your podcasts are NOT showing up in iTunes. IMP#35 was the last to show up automagically. I’ve tried several times to get them to list for my player and there is something wrong with the feed.

    • Shane says:

      Hi Glenn,

      Yeah, something seems out of sync. I’ll try to get it fixed.

  • Davide says:

    Hi guys,

    It’s always a pleasure listening to you, you have a way to explain and share things that I love, just being yourselves without hiding the problems and the weaknesses, really amazing!
    I loved this podcast even more because I’m at a similar stage of my entrepreneurial journey so I could really relate to you.

    I recently read a quote that made me laugh from Lory Greneir which goes like this: “”Entrepreneurs: The only people who work 80 hour weeks to avoid working 40 hour weeks.”

    That says it all :)

    • Shane says:

      Hahaha, love the quote! It does ring very true for me as well. :)

      Thanks for your comment, Davide!

  • Kevin Cheng says:

    Hey Shane – Awesome, useful points you and Paul brought up (as usual). I especially like the ideas of the 20-mile march, be good at learning skills, and being super focused. I have a question about hiring. I like your apprenticeship approach. But when all is said and done, the limitation (for someone like me who is just starting out on their business) is what level of compensation I can give my new hires. So the question is: At what point can I afford to hire?

    Now, I imagine some inputs into the answer here would be: revenue of my business, level of the help I’m hiring for, do I need to pay for health insurance for this person (as businesses in the US need to do above a certain size), etc. But I’ve never seen a system, a method that systematically helps to calculate or figure out, in general (whatever country you’re in), the point in your business’s growth when you can afford to start to hire. I know that there can probably not be such a thing because businesses are all unique, are in different industries, and each business is different, etc. But can you point me to a resource to help figure this out? Or any suggestions on this? Thanks in advance!


    • Shane says:

      Hi Kevin,

      I wish there was such a calculator myself, really. I’ve found that in general, it’s very difficult to find information about these kinds of things for non-local businesses. If you want these answers for your corner shop, there are many accountants who can help you. But as soon as your business is virtual and your hiring options are global, no one has straight-forward answers.

      The problem you’re facing is also one of the reasons I recommend that entrepreneurs start with simple service or information based businesses. These are the kinds of businesses where you can do everything yourself and you can use the income generated from them to fund your more complex businesses that require staff.

  • Vic Dorfman says:

    Hey Shane, what an excellent and timely post.

    My best friend (and co-founder) and I recently launched an end-to-end podcast production company after my last business (setting up WordPress membership sites) turned out to be lucrative but utterly UN-scalable!

    So I want to share a specific example for your readers illustrating each of your points.

    Lesson 1: Systematize It!

    Without systems, documentation (SOPs) and automation (Zapier, GravityForms, etc.) our business, quite frankly, could not exist!

    We’ve got SOPs in Google Drive, customer intake with GravityForms + Zapier, and a bunch of automations with Zapier + Trello + Slack.

    Without Zapier our business model would be untenable.

    Lesson 2: Seek Out Mentors​

    One of my mentors is Dan Norris from

    I don’t think he even knows how much he’s done for me just by doing his thing.

    He gives so much value to myself and others in his paid 7 Day Startup community, and he’s informed my strategy on more than one occasion (like, for example, not doing cold emails but focusing instead on building a brand with content marketing).

    Lesson 3: Skill Hacking = Awesome Life​

    It’s crazy how much sh*t an entrepreneur needs to constantly learn to stay ahead of the curve.

    Just this year alone I’ve had to get a handle on apps like Slack, Trello, Zapier, InfusionSoft, Drip, Thrive Leads, Optimizely, Google Analytics, etc.

    And I’ve had to learn about audio editing, transcription, hiring processes (Topgrading, A method, etc), documentation (Work The System, Checklist Manifesto), email segmentation, A/B testing and more.

    Sometimes I wish I had an extra day each week just to devote to continuing education!

    Lesson 4: Be a 20 Mile Marcher​

    Your gym analogy is apt.

    I started learning powerlifting about a year ago and I didn’t experience any of the so called beginner gains.

    Part of that has to do with a lack of good education and informed powerlifters in this sphere where I live (a good parallel to not having a business mentor).

    And part of it had to do with a wealth of conflicting information (low bar squat or high bar squat, position of the knees, this grip, that grip, it’s endless!)

    A year later and I’m a good 5kgs heavier, have much better technique and lift heavier, but the progress was so incremental that if I hadn’t tracked it I wouldn’t have even noticed that I’d made any.

    Likewise, when I came to Thailand 3 years ago with $22k in credit card debt and a dream I knew I would be successful one day (whatever that means).

    I just didn’t know it would be such a long, hard, arduous journey.

    By every objective criterion, I’ve made huge progress (out of debt, have my own business, starting another business, living a nice lifestyle, many skills acquired and connections made) but I still somehow feel like it’s only just the beginning.

    Lesson 5: Stop Falling for Your Own Bullshit​

    Well, if I’m honest, I probably don’t put in enough hours.

    A lot of that had to do with the fact that my previous (and to a small degree, current) business of setting up membership sites was uninspiring work.

    So like Peter form Office Space, I basically did just enough to pay the bills and keep my life hassle free.

    But how is that any better than working in a shitty 9-5.

    Hence why my friend and I, after an inspired conversation, decided that we would start something that’s both extremely rewarding, would allow us to work with interesting customers, and that has the potential to scale and grow into a multi-million dollar company that we could one day PROUDLY sell.

    And that’s how was born.

    2016…we’re coming for you!

    Vic Dorfman

    • Shane says:

      Epic comment, Vic! Good to see that you’re finding the same truths applying to your own business and life. :)

  • Have been following you Shane and Paul for some time, and clearly have observed how you’ve been walking your talk, a very fine example for the rest of us.

    In 2016 I will relaunch my site under a new name, and finish my book.



    • Shane says:

      Thank you for your comment, Joe! All the best with your goals for this year!

      • Joe Garma (@joegarma) says:

        First step, Shane, using Thrive Content Builder + Landing Pages:

        Eventually, all the content at http://www.GarmaOnHealth (Focus theme) will be on the new site.

        Keep leading the way for me, ole chap! :-)

  • Turan says:

    Shane, Paul
    Thank you for sharing your experiences. I wanted to say that I disagree with your marketing/product split, you are too hard on yourselves. For example, do you consider the time/effort you put into the podcast marketing or product? You guys are really good at communicating and listening to your client base, all the effort you put into support (tutorials, real life examples, etc.) are marketing. I would be surprised that all of this adds up to only 5% (or 20% after the hires).

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