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The Shipping Machine: Putting it All Together

In the preceding lessons, you've discovered many tools and strategies you can use to turn yourself into a rapid shipping machine. Not every action step mentioned needs to be followed and I believe that even if you only implement a small number of them, it will make a huge difference to your productivity and success.

In this lesson, let's look at an example of what it could look like to apply many of these strategies to your progress. For this, let's imagine Beth, who's an entrepreneur starting an information product business.

Define Your Focus, Avoid Shiny Objects

​Beth has a lot of experience in public speaking, has done some coaching and teaching on the topic as part of her work and now wants to create an online course on the topic. Her first step is to clearly define her goals, so that she can focus on an outcome and avoid bright-shiny-object syndrome.

​Beth knows that she wants to create an online course, so she doesn't have to exchange her time for money anymore. To do this, she needs:

  • Her own website.
  • One or more landing pages to generate leads.
  • An email marketing tools to collect leads and send messages from.
  • A sales page and some basic copywriting skills.
  • A way to create and deliver course content online.

With this, she knows that she can safely unsubscribe from most marketing newsletters she gets and she can ignore all the noise about the latest marketing fads, "business opportunities" and so on. Anything that isn't related to building a website and delivering an online course is no longer of any interest to her.

SMART Goals & Traction

To get better initial traction, Beth formulates a SMART goal for the longer term:

"I will launch an online course containing 15 video lessons or more, on September 17th."​

Note that this goal is simple and consists only of things Beth has complete control over.

She also formulates a separate income goal:

"My goal is to earn at least $3,000/month, so that I can quit my job.​ At a sales price of $99, that means I need to sell 30 courses per month or 1 course per day, on average. If my sales page converts at 1%, that means I need 100 visitors to my sales page, per day."

This is not a SMART goal, but it's a "know your numbers" goal.​ It turns the big, intimidating goal of having your own business into something tangible and more approachable.

Mental Contrasting

Beth​ has often struggled with procrastination. Clearly formulated goals like the above help, but she knows it's not enough to overcome her procrastination.

Because of this, Beth practices mental contrasting once a day. She opens her notes and answers these questions in writing:

  • What is my goal with this business?
  • Why is it important to me, to achieve this goal?
  • What are some positive changes that succeeding at this goal will bring into my life?
  • What are some obstacles that could get in the way and how could I deal with them?
  • What are some negative consequences of not taking action on this and abandoning this goal?​

Beth spends 5-10 minutes every morning writing our her answers. Sometimes, her answers are exactly the same, but writing them again is a good reminder. Sometimes, her answers are different and she sees new aspects to why she's doing this and why she wants to keep going.

Learn & Grow

​Eventually, Beth will need to learn more about one or several ways to get traffic to her website, but to get started, she decides to follow our Customer First method, so she doesn't have to worry about traffic yet. This also helps avoid the bright-shiny-object problem.

Beth reaches out to people with a free coaching offer, so she can start learning more about her future customers and earn some money while she builds out her platform.​

She has to spend some time learning website and marketing stuff, such as how to create landing pages and how to create online courses.​ But thanks to the 1:1 coaching she's doing, those things never distract her from what really matters: learning who needs her offer, how to teach them and how to reach them.

Through the coaching, she realizes that women respond more positively - she learns that most public speaking coaches are male and that most women would rather learn from a woman than from a man, given the choice. She also realizes that female business consultants have to give presentations to small groups often and have some problems that Beth can help with, very effectively.

As a result, she refines her offering and decides to make her product about presentation training for female business consultants.​

Personal KPI

Based on her goals, Beth decides to measure a few things that are important for her to make progress and that she has complete control over:

  • Recording videos in which she teaches her public speaking principles.
  • Creating landing pages consisting mainly of text (to practice copywriting and get used to the process of creating and publishing landing pages).
  • Spending time sorting out the "tech stuff" associated with building an online business.
  • Reaching out to potential coaching clients, who also become potential future customers.​

Here are KPI goals Beth sets for herself:

  1. Record, edit and publish 2 videos per week.
  2. Turn those videos into free mini-courses, to practice the whole course creation thing.
  3. For the free courses, create 1 landing page per week, consisting mainly of copy.
  4. Reach out to 4 potential coachees every day.
  5. Spend 60 minutes per week sorting out the tech stuff or hiring someone to sort it out for her.

30 Day Challenge

After getting used to video creation, Beth decides to give her progress an extra boost. She starts a 30-day challenge in which her goal is to create and publish at least 1 video per day.

All of this video content doesn't only refine her own presentation and video creation skills, it also creates a lot of content that she posts on her YouTube channel and uses for her courses. This way, even though her main focus is working towards releasing her premium course and building her skills, she is also slowly growing a small audience and some traffic to her site.​

The Audience Focus

At this point in the process, Beth is frequently having free trial coaching calls and she's signed up several coaching clients that she works with 1:1. This constant contact with her potential customers helps her shift her focus away from her perfectionism. She meets all these people who sorely need to improve their presentation skills in order to further their careers (not to mention being less anxious and feeling better about themselves) and she clearly sees that she can help them.

While she does have a nagging desire to make the "perfect" online course, she also feels the urgency of getting a "good enough" solution into the hands of all these people, as soon as possible.​

Productive Habits

Beth is getting into a working rhythm that she designed deliberately. She gets up early in the morning, does her writing exercise and then spends 90 minutes working on her KPI goals.

Then, she goes about her regular work day.

Lunch break is a useful trigger for her and she uses her time after she finishes lunch to review her goals and reach out to her 4 potential coachees per day.

In the evening, she takes a break after work and she schedules all of her coaching calls for a bit later. This way, her days are framed with regularly scheduled, productive working hours. Beth is very busy, but she can see how she's rapidly making progress towards her goals.​

When working on her business, Beth makes sure to work at a clear desk, with no distractions. She turns off her phone during the times she works on her business and she disables all notifications from her computer.​

Approaching the Finish Line(s)

​To make use of the power of deadlines, Beth creates milestone goals for herself and she thinks of her deadlines in small units of time.

For example, for her goal of creating 2 videos per week (outside of the 30 day challenge mentioned above), she formulates her deadlines as follows:

"I have 90 minutes, 4 days a week, that I can focus on video work. My milestone goals are to publish one video on Tuesday and one on Thursday. That means I have a total of 180 minutes to complete each video. My goal is to spend 60 minutes planning and scripting a video and 30 minutes recording it. That leaves me with 90 minutes to edit and publish each video. I can realistically do the editing and publishing in about 45 minutes, which gives me a buffer for longer videos or obstacles."

​For her larger goal of finishing her online course, Beth set several milestones:

  1. Record the first 5 video lessons.
  2. Set up the online course delivery​ system.
  3. Record the next 5 video lessons.
  4. Finish the first draft of the sales page.
  5. Record the next 5 video lessons.
  6. Complete the final draft of the sales page.
  7. Announce the product launch.
  8. Finish the last 5 video lessons.

For each of the milestones, she sets a deadline date. The milestones are structured in such a way that she's not always working on the same thing and so that she never has an excuse to get stuck or give up. Any point at which she can encounter obstacles is one where she's already "almost done" with a lot of the relevant work for creating the course.

Pre-Sell & Launch

Through her practice work and her coaching clients, Beth has built up a small audience of people she can reach. A few weeks before her final deadline, Beth announces her product launch to all of her contacts, with a date.

She also invites people to sign up to an early bird list to get a special offer.

As a result, she gets many excited replies and several people signing up to the early bird list, eagerly waiting for her product. This creates accountability. She even opens to sales before she completes all the video lessons. This brings in some revenue and puts even more pressure on her to finish the product in time.

​Needless to say, by the time the final deadline approaches, Beth's product is finished and in better shape than she originally imagined.

The product launch is not an instant ticket to financial freedom, but Beth can clearly see that applying the same approach that led to this launch, she can learn whatever skills she needs and create and ship whatever she wants, to help her business take off.​

How to Use Deadlines to Supercharge Your Productivity

When you face an externally enforced deadline, you usually put things off until the last moment and then get everything done in time. When you set deadlines for yourself, you can easily just change the deadline.

Here are the steps you can take to A) be as productive as you are in the last moments before a deadline approaches, more often and B) set your own deadlines and still manage to get that productivity boost.​

Step 1: Set Deadlines & Write Them Down

Okay, this might seem too obvious, but it needs to be said: make setting deadlines for your projects part of your work habits. To get the productivity benefits from deadlines, it's not enough to just think "I'll get this done by X" to yourself. Write down your deadline and commit to it.

Details on how to do this are covered in the SMART goal section in this lesson.​

Step 2: Short Deadlines & Milestones

As we know, we tend to get a productivity boost as the end of a deadline approaches. Fortunately, there's a simple hack you can apply, to get this productivity boost more frequently and also make yourself more likely to stick to the deadline you've set for yourself.

Milestones - Action Steps

  • Generally, work with short deadlines. It's good to have longer term goals, but large projects should always be broken down into smaller milestones. Example: long goal = finish the book, milestones = finish one chapter at a time.
  • Whenever you set a deadline for more than 2 days in the future, set yourself intermediate milestones with their own deadlines. Example: I want to finish a new video post in 3 days. I set a deadline to record by the end of today, edit tomorrow and finish the written part on day 3.
  • Think of your deadlines (and write them down) in smaller units of time. Think "30 days" instead of "1 month". Think "16 working hours" instead of "2 days".

Step 3: Add Accountability

There are several things you can do to make self-imposed deadlines more "real" and they are all related to accountability.​

Accountability - Action Steps

  • Find an accountability partner. Announce your projects and deadlines to each other and hold each other accountable to stick to them. An accountability partner can also be a mentor or someone you look up to, so that there is added pressure of not wanting to let this person down.
  • Publicly announce your deadline: if you have an audience already, announce your deadlines to them. Tell them when your new product will be for sale, when your epic blog post will be published etc.
  • Pre-sell your product: provide an early bird special and give people the opportunity to purchase your product before it's finished. Once you have customers waiting, the pressure to get the product done in time becomes very real.
  • Use an accountability system: apps like Stickk and BeeMinder let you put some money on the line. Miss your deadline and your credit card is charged.

Step 4: Reward Yourself for Meeting the Deadline

​In the lesson about habits we already saw how important it is to have some kind of reward at the end of your desired behavior. This works well in combination with deadlines. A deadline is a clear end point at which you can assess whether you've achieved your goal or not. If you have, you can reward yourself to reinforce the habit of sticking to your own deadlines.

How to Turn Shipping Frequently Into a Habit

Now we're getting into some really interesting stuff: the idea for this lesson is to give you the tools you need to turn high productivity and shipping into a habit. That means you'll do it more often, better and more easily.

Recap: The Rider & The Elephant

The first thing we need to understand about making this work is the model of the rider and the elephant.

The rider is the part of your brain that you identify as yourself. It's your inner voice, the part of you that plans ahead, thinks rationally and makes decisions.

The elephant is the other part of your brain. And it's the much bigger, much stronger part. The elephant acts on instinct. It's main focus is survival and reproduction and it's where the fight-or-flight response comes from.

If the rider has one idea and the elephant another, the elephant always wins. This is why willpower and "just do it!" don't work.

Recap: 3 Part Habits​

The second thing we need to understand is that any real habit - a habit that's truly ingrained and happens "automatically" has 3 parts to it:

  1. The Trigger
  2. The Action
  3. The Reward

Why is this important?

Because we mistakenly always focus on just the action. But unless you become aware of your triggers and rewards as well, you can neither change your current habits nor form new ones.

The trigger can be anything internal ("I'm bored") or external (your phone vibrates). The action is whatever you do in response to the trigger (reach for your phone) and the reward is what happens as a result of the action (you see your notification and relieve the tension of not knowing what's going on).​

Create a Productive Work Habit

At least once every working day, create one hour of distraction free work during which you focus entirely on one important, high leverage task for your business. Even if you do this only for one hour a day, if you pick the most important task and do it consistently, this will lead you to make more productive progress than most people do all day.

Productive Work Habit - Action Steps

  • Before you end your day, write down the most important task you want to work on, the following day.
  • Formulate a SMART goal for this most important task.
  • Decide when during the following day you will dedicate at least one hour to this task. Schedule this time in your calendar and set a notification or alarm for when it starts.
  • When your productive work time starts, put your phone into airplane mode, shut down all computer programs except the one you need to do the work and turn off all notifications of any kind. Make sure your 1 hour is 100% distraction free.
  • When you've completed the 1 hour of work, mark it in your calendar as a successful completion.

Lower the Diving Board

Big tasks can be difficult to start on and this leads to procrastination. To overcome this problem, apply the "lower the diving board" method.​

Lower the Diving Board - Action Steps

  • Choose a task, goal or type of work that you typically procrastinate on or find intimidating to start on.
  • Decide on a tiny minimum amount to do. This could be: spend 3 minutes writing content or write only 50 words of copy.
  • Set yourself a Personal KPI to do this minimum dosage of the work each day.

Design a Productive Environment

One of the biggest insights from the last decades of social sciences is that our environment is hugely important for our behavior. We may like to think that we are always the same person and will therefore always make the same choices. But the truth is: we think differently and act differently, depending on our environment.

For your productivity, you can use this to your advantage, by creating a highly productive environment for yourself.​

Productive Environment - Action Steps

  • Create a clear separation between your work space and non-work spaces. Don't work with your laptop on your bed. Don't watch movies on your computer at your desk.
  • Remove distractions and temptations from your work environment.
  • Work in a quiet environment or use good headphones.
  • Let others know when you don't want to be distracted. A simple rule like "when I'm wearing my headphones, I'm in focus mode" can help those around you respect your working time.
  • Work with deep focus in your work environment and then step away from it and do something else.

How to Beat Procrastination by Perfectionism

Sometimes, the problem with shipping is that you can't get started. But sometimes, the problem is that you do a lot of work, but you can't get finished. You never feel like your product is good enough, so you keep working, tinkering, tweaking etc.

This is a big problem and a very common form of entrepreneurial procrastination. Here are the steps you can take to prevent it:​

Personal KPI: Change What You Measure

A KPI is a "key performance indicator" - it's what you choose to measure your progress by. The problem is, if you don't carefully pick your KPI, if you just measure your progress by the obviously available indicators, you're setting yourself up for failure.

Personal KPI Action Steps

  • Make a list of goals that matter the most for your business' progress and success. Typically, those are things like: revenue generated, number of sales, leads generated, customer happiness measured by NPS or other score.
  • Pick only one or two top priority goals to focus on.
  • For each of the goals, trace back the steps that cause the outcome, until you reach something you have 100% control over. For example: you can't control how much revenue your business generates. But you can examine what marketing channels contribute the most to revenue and then examine which actions you can take to increase results from those channels (e.g. creating and A/B testing more ads, publishing more content around a certain topic,...).
  • For these actions you can take, set clearly measurable goals (e.g. number of sales calls made, number of posts published, number of hours spent writing, number of A/B tests started). That's your personal KPI. This is what you need to measure and track over time.

We change what we measure, whether we try to or not. By focusing on and measuring the right things, you make it much easier for yourself to make real progress towards your goals. And as you make more efficient progress, you'll find it easier to actually ship what you're working on.

Focus on Output & Quantity

The problem with procrastination by perfectionism is that you're focused on the wrong thing. You're placing your focus on the immediate, short term outcome. Instead, you should reframe and focus on the longer term goal of getting really good at what you do.​

I can't overstate how important it is to start producing at quantity.

Focus on Quantity - Action Steps

  • Review your main goal from the first lesson.
  • Ask yourself: what do you need to get good at, to reach this goal? An example could be: I want to create and sell an online course. I need to get good at creating training material (like online videos) that explain something clearly and help my audience take action.
  • Do the thing you want to get good at regularly and at volume. For the example above: create a video tutorial on some subject you know stuff about, every day.
  • A great tool to use for this is the 30 day challenge: challenge yourself to deliver something that is related to the skill you want to build, every day for 30 days.

Shift Your Focus from You to Your Audience

It's easy to get stuck in procrastination by perfectionism when you're worried about yourself. Worried about how people will judge you, worried that you're not good enough to teach something or create a product, worried that your product won't succeed if it's not perfect etc.

It can be transformative to shift your focus to ​your audience - to other people - instead.

Shift Your Focus - Action Steps

  • Write down what problem you want to solve for people, with your product.
  • Write down how your customer's life will be better, once they use your product.
  • Now, ask yourself: who are you depriving, by not shipping your product? Who are you serving, as long as you keep your product to yourself because it's not quite perfect enough? Could you create something right now that would help some people with something? And wouldn't that be better than letting all those people wait for who-knows-how-long, so that they can eventually get a better product?
  • Finally, ask yourself: couldn't you ship something useful now and still ship a better version of it later? Would shipping an imperfect version of your product now really take away from shipping a better version in the future?

Get Someone Else to Launch for You

Do you enjoy creating your product and making it better and tinkering away at every possible detail? Would you much rather keep tinkering than launch your product and do all the marketing and sales stuff?

In that case, teaming up with someone, so you can be the creative and they can be the marketer could be the perfect solution for you.

There's no action step here, because if you don't already have a person to work with, summarizing how to find a good partner for your business would take up more space and time than we have, here (may be a topic for future courses and podcast series, though). If you already do have someone you can work with, it's simply a matter of delegating. Even if neither of you are experienced marketers, simply splitting the responsibilities will help make this happen. If it's one person's job to launch and market the product, it makes shipping a lot easier.​

Goal Setting Hacks (Scientifically Proven to Make You More Likely to Succeed)

As an entrepreneur, you have to get serious about setting goals and planning how you'll build and grow your business. Unfortunately, "snackable" media content and a shortcoming in the way the human brain works are not on your side. Most advice on goal setting is dead wrong, but you'll like it, even though it's making you worse off...

Don't Visualize Gold Medals (a.k.a. Why 'The Secret' is Bullshit)

The worst possible advice for planning and goal-setting is basically everything the book 'The Secret' teaches. That book and dozens of other books, articles and self-help gurus, to be more exact. The worst thing you can do is spend time visualizing the end goal. Imagining how great your life will be when you're a rich, successful entrepreneur. Imagining all the nice things you'll have and how much better you'll feel, etc.

This kind of daydreaming about end goals makes you less likely to actually get to work and see things through to the end. Research by Gabriele Oettingen has shown this in many studies.

That's why our first action step is simple: don't do this kind of visualization. It also doesn't matter how you do it (daydreaming, writing, image boards,...). It's all bad.

With that out of the way, let's get to the action steps for what to do instead.

Step 1: Set S.M.A.R.T. Goals

SMART goals stands for:

  • Specific
    Goals that are clearly defined, not vague.
  • Measurable
    Based on something you can clearly measure. You can measure whether you've accomplished your goal or not and you can measure your progress towards it.
  • Action-oriented
    Goals based around actions you can take yourself, not stuff outside of your own control.
  • Realistic
    Goals you can realistically accomplish with the resources you have.
  • Time-based
    Someone really needed that "T" for the acronym to work... what 'time-based' really means is that you need to have clear deadlines.

The concept of SMART goals is quite wide spread, so I'm not surprised if this isn't the first time you hear about it. But ask yourself: are you really putting it into practice? Because as common and mainstream as this might seem, it really can make a huge difference to your outcomes.

Examples

An example of a very un-SMART goal is:

"I will have a super successful business that creates passive income and I'll be chilling on a beach instead of sitting in this damn cubicle."

This goal is vague, distant, doesn't make any mention of actions you can take, might be unrealistic and doesn't have a deadline. Result: it's never going to happen.

Of course, you don't set goals like that. Maybe your goals look more like this:

"I will use guest posting to get more traffic, so I can generate enough revenue to quit my job."

That's a lot more specific and on a more realistic and actionable scope, but it's still far from being a good SMART goal. Here's how we could turn this into a SMART goal:

"I will reach out to 3 bloggers per day and write one content piece per week, for my guest posting strategy. The goal is to get enough guest posts published so that my traffic doubles in the next 6 months. At current conversion rates, that would mean my business generates $2,800 per month, at which point I could quit my job."

This is a SMART goal because it focuses on what you can do and have control over and it lets you measure your progress towards the goal. There are also deadlines in smaller steps (1 post a week) and an overall deadline (6 months). These deadlines create pressure and also give you points in time at which to reevaluate your strategy.

​If you want to learn more about SMART goals and how to use them, a good resource is the book Smarter, Faster, Better by Charles Duhigg.

SMART Goals - Action Steps

  • Refer back to your main goal, as defined in the previous lesson.
  • Ask yourself: "How can I make this more specific?" - add numbers and details to the description of your goal.
  • Think about what actions you can take to move towards this goal and what things you can do and measure/keep track of as you progress towards this goal.
  • Set a deadline for your goal. The deadline should be within 6 months or less.
  • If your overall goal is a distant and challenging one, break it down into milestones. Decide which milestone is the highest priority one to start with and create a SMART goal for that.
  • Use a spreadsheet or habit tracking app (like Loop or Way of Life) to measure your progress towards your goal.

Important note: if you aren't in the habit of setting SMART goals and measuring your progress towards them, take it slow. Don't go overboard, setting dozens on SMART goals for all kinds of things. That will just lead to overwhelm and make you likely to give up on the concept altogether. Start with one goal, make it a priority and use this system to see it through.

Step 2: Practice Mental Rehearsal

While daydreaming about reaching your goals makes you less likely to succeed, mental rehearsal can boost your performance. What's the difference? Mental rehearsal is about imagining the process, not the end goal. It's about thinking through the actions (A, in SMART goals) before performing them.

Here are some ways in which mental rehearsal can be applied to business and marketing:

  • To become a better teacher, coach and information product creator, mentally rehearse how to pass on your knowledge. How would you explain what you know to someone in a conversation? How could you get them invested, so they will really take action on your advice?
  • To become a better content marketer, think about how you would structure a piece of content when you come up with a new idea. Imagine how you could turn the idea into a well structured, well presented piece of content.
  • Design better marketing strategies by thinking through scenarios. How could you implement a new strategy and how would it fit into the context of what you already do? How will you lay out your pages, funnels, ads etc.?
  • Mentally rehearse sales pitches. Imagine how you would present your product to a single potential customer, to a crowd, in the form of a sales video, etc.

The greatest advantage this gives you is that of rapid implementation and iteration. It's much faster to think through something than to actually create it, so you can "rewind" and try again many times over, in your mind. This is a matter of practice, so don't worry if it doesn't come easily right away.

Mental Rehearsal - Action Steps

  • Pick something relevant to your business and practice mental rehearsal right now. This is just to make sure you've done it at least once.
  • Now, your task is to catch yourself if you ever start daydreaming about the end goal. When you catch yourself doing this, start thinking through the process instead. Soon, it will become second nature.

Step 3: Hack Your Brain With Mental Contrasting

Mental contrasting is like a cheat code for your brain. It's not entirely clear why it works, but it's clear that it works extremely well in getting you to become better at shipping. Mental contrasting is a writing exercise that takes only a few minutes.

Mental Contrasting - Action Steps

  • Think of your main goal. Take some time to write down all the positive outcomes of reaching this goal. To help, you can ask yourself: "how will my life be better if I achieve this goal?" and "why does reaching this goal matter to me?"
  • Now, look for the one thing you wrote down that resonates the most with you. The most important reason that makes you want to accomplish your goal. Spend a minute contemplating this reason or positive outcome.
  • Now, create 2 columns. Column 1: "What could go wrong", column 2: "What I'll do about it". Spend a few minutes thinking about things that could go wrong - obstacles you might encounter on the way to achieving your goal. In the second column, write what you could do if these problems occur.

That's it. It will take just a few minutes and it may seem too good to be true, but there's a lot of evidence that shows this simple exercise makes you significantly more likely to take action and see your goals through to the end.

Here's an example document, to show you what the outcome of a mental contrasting writing exercise could look like.
You can create a copy of this to your own Google Drive, if you want to use it as a template.

How to Beat Bright-Shiny-Object Syndrome

Bright-shiny-object syndrome is the downfall of many online entrepreneurs. If you keep chasing after the latest business opportunity, buy too many launch special offers and generally jump back and forth between too many different things, your business will never make progress.

The good news is: you're not alone with this problem and it absolutely can be fixed.

Step 1: Remove Email Noise

The more marketing newsletters you're subscribed to, the more likely you'll get sucked into bright-shiny-object pursuit mode. The reason is simple: marketers are good at marketing (at least some of them are, anyway). They will write emails that demand your attention and convince you that you must drop everything you're doing now, to buy their latest thing.

Actions

  • Hit that "unsubscribe" link: check your inbox for senders who are constantly promoting offers and never providing real value. Look for senders who link to JVzoo products all the time. And then unsubscribe from those mailing lists. It's not enough to tell yourself "I'll just ignore them". Do yourself the favor and unsubscribe.
  • Create a separate "Guru Inbox": completely avoiding marketing emails is almost impossible. And sometimes, you can learn a lot from how good marketers use email marketing. BUT you should not get marketing emails in your main inbox. Set up a "guru inbox" you can use to receive marketing newsletters and make sure you don't get any notifications of new emails from that inbox.

Step 2: Know Your Numbers

It's easy to buy new ebooks, tools and other stuff you may or may not need for your business, especially when everything's seemingly cheap and discounted. But all those low priced purchases add up over time. The sobering reality of what you're spending on stuff you don't need helps you keep bright-shiny-object syndrome under control. And by using our accountability spreadsheet you can force yourself to take action on everything you learn.

Get our spreadsheet template here
(you can download it or create a copy to your own Google Drive).

Actions

  • Keep a spreadsheet of all your business-related purchases: that includes information products, memberships, software, tools, bits and bobs. Always write down what you bought and what you paid for it.
  • Calculate annual expenses: for anything that has a recurring cost, write down how much you're paying per year. A few seemingly cheap subscriptions can quickly mean paying $1,000+ per year (on stuff you rarely use). The annual price number puts the real expense into perspective.
  • Track your implementation and ROI: for each thing you buy, write down why you bought it (what your goal with this product is) and hold yourself accountable. Have you used the information or tool you purchased? Did you get the result you bought it for?
  • Make your business pay for the bright shiny objects: want to buy a shiny new tool for $200? You can, as soon as you've made at least $200 using everything you already have. A simple rule, but super effective for getting your business into gear.

Step 3: Get Laser Focused with Goal Filters and Just-in-Time Learning

As an entrepreneur, you like to be creative and try new things. And you want to be informed of what's going on in the marketing world. This is only natural, but it makes shiny new objects difficult to resist. These steps will help you combat the endless distractions:

Actions

  • Decide on your main goal: what's the number one thing you want to do, for your business? This could be "I want to write and sell my ebook" or "I want to launch a new online course".
  • Apply the "goal filter" to all incoming information: for any email, product launch, special offer, blog post or whatever that you come across, ask yourself "does this help me move towards my main goal?" For example: "Does this help me write and sell my ebook?" If the answer is "no" ignore the thing and get back to work.
  • Take it up a notch with just-in-time learning: seek out and use only information that is immediately useful. While you're writing your ebook, only seek out information that helps you write better or faster. And only seek out more information when you've implemented what you already learnt. Only once the book is finished and you start selling it, start seeking out information about how to do that.

Step 4: Become Resourceful to Achieve More With Less

Resourcefulness is like an entrepreneurial super power. It helps you achieve your goals with less time, money and resources. It makes you more creative in solving problems and helps you overcome obstacles more easily. And it's the very opposite of chasing after bright, shiny objects all the time.

Actions

  • Create a daily reminder for yourself: research shows that even just thinking about resourcefulness can make you more resourceful. In a few short sentences, write down your goal of being more focused and resourceful and write down why this is important for you and your business. Then, take a minute every day to read this note to yourself.
  • 30 day challenge, part 1: for the next 30 days, don't buy any new tools, courses, books, ebooks etc. Instead, focus on accomplishing more using everything you already have.
  • 30 day challenge, part 2: deliberately limit your resources to boost creativity and grow your skills. For example: build a mailing list of 100 people without using opt-in forms, email marketing tools or any technology. Create a video every day, using just your phone (no cameras, no editing software,...). Become a better writer by creating content using only words, no images, video, gifs, media etc.

Install WordPress (easy, fast, no bloatware)

Quick Summary

  • If you've used a quick-install service for WordPress and had a lot of stuff pre-installed (and possibly a very slow site), you need to read this.
  • If you routinely install clean WordPress sites yourself, you can skip this lesson.
  • Unless you want to install more WordPress sites in the future and want to see the simple way I do it.

WPX Hosting has a one-click WordPress installation feature.

By itself, this is nothing special. Most hosting services offer something like this, these days. There's an important thing you need to know about, though: bloatware.

Many hosting services have advertising deals with vendors and get paid to pre-install plugins, themes and marketplaces in their WordPress installation service.

This means that instead of getting a pristine, fresh WordPress website, you get one that's already loaded down with bloatware. The purpose here is always to get your money, so bloatware will often include things like marketplaces that pose as the "official" way get new features for WordPress or pre-installed themes that are limited unless you "unlock" them for a fee.

Basically, they want to prevent you from finding out that you actually don't need all that crap and you can often get better stuff for free.

When you install WordPress and log in to the admin area, here's what you should see:

TK: screenshot of newly installed WP

If you see any other stuff in the sidebar or the main dashboard area, you've been affected by bloatware. If you're lucky, you can go to the Plugins list and remove it.

Step by Step WordPress Installation

Here, we'll walk through the WordPress installation with WPX Hosting. If you use a different service, I recommend the manual 5-minute WordPress installation process.

TK: step by step

Get fast hosting

Quick Summary

  • Are you using a cheap, shared hosting account?
  • Do you wish you had a faster loading website?

If either of those are true for you, keep reading.

The three most important factors when choosing a hosting service are speed, reliability and security.

I recommend that you use WPX Hosting, even if you're building your very first website.

A WPX Hosting account costs $25/month. At first glance, that might look more expensive than hosting offers that are typically advertised. However, saving on a hosting account is false economy.

For example, let's look at the offers of one of the biggest hosting providers - Hostgator:

Starting at just $4.95 a month! Great deal, right?

Well, let's look at it in a bit more detail. The smallest package is very weak and limited to only one domain, so you'll probably want to go for the middle package. That bumps the price up to $7.95/month. Still really cheap. Or is it?

Here's the truth of it:

To get this price, you actually have to pay $286.20 - an upfront payment for 3 years.

If you're on a tight budget, this is obviously not a great choice. So, in practice, you will be paying around $14/month. This makes the price difference to WPX Hosting much smaller.

And here's the kicker: the level of performance, security and service you get at WPX Hosting are leagues ahead of what Hostgator offers.

Add the fact that SSL is included for free with your WPX Hosting plan and it should become clear why I recommend steering away from such apparently cheap offers.

In summary, here's why I recommend WPX Hosting, whether you are just starting out or looking for a better service to move to:

  • Ridiculously fast server performance.
  • Great performance under load.
  • Competent, very fast support team.
  • SSL included for free.
  • Free site migrations and free WordPress installation without bloatware (more on that in the next lesson).

Step by Step Hosting Setup

TK: step by step

Get your domain name (from the right place)

Quick Summary

  • Got your domain name from GoDaddy or your hosting provider? Then you need to read this.
  • Got only one domain name for your site? Keep reading.

To get your domain name, we're going to use Namecheap.

Two things are important:

  1. Don't get your domain name from GoDaddy. GoDaddy is upsell hell, their service is bad, their user interface is terrible and the only thing they're good at is buying tons of TV ads.
  2. Don't buy your domain name from your hosting provider. Most of them offer a "free domain" with your plan, but that's just a way to tie you in and make you more dependent on them. Because of this, it's much better to get your domain and your hosting from two different providers.

So, the important point here is that you get your domains registered with an independent, reliable provider, different from where you get your hosting. The service I recommend is Namecheap.

The Domains You Should Get

So we're on the same page, here's the terminology for domain names:

TK: illustration of domain name and top level domain (TLD).

Domains are cheap, so if you plan to build a real brand and you aren't on a tight budget, you should get more than one of them. Here's what you need to consider:

The .com Brand Name

Ideally, you have a catchy brand name and you get the .com domain for it. The .com TLD is still the most recognizable and most desirable. And that's why it's also hard to find.

Getting the .com is great if you can, but don't mangle your brand name for the sake of it. In other words, don't change your brand name to mycatchybrandnameomghowisthisstillnotavailable.com just because catchybrand.com was taken.

It's become common practice to get a variation domain name and buy the (usually very expensive) .com version once your business has made enough money. To find an available domain name variation, try the following.

Try these TLDs:

  • .net
  • .co
  • .org (associated with non-profit, good causes, open source)
  • .io (associated with software)

Avoid these:

  • .info
  • .biz
  • .site, .kitten, .rocks and all other novelty TLDs

These are just tacky and less trustworthy. They're also more difficult to memorize.

You can also try pre-pending a word like:

  • get (as in: getcatchybrand.com)
  • try (as in: trycatchybrand.com - only if you have a free trial of something)
  • my (as in: mycatchybrand.com)

Also check out Domai.nr to see if you can get a clever version of your brand name using a different TLD. Be cautious of some of the recommendations it makes, though.

  • catchybra.nd = okay
  • ca.tc/hybrand = bad

The Country TLD Brand Name

If you operate in a specific country outside the US and want to reach people from that country in their native language, you should get the countrie's TLD.

As in: catchybrand.de - for Germany.

And of course, the brand name should be in the native language or, if English, one that native speakers can pronounce and understand.

Whatever your brand name and country, if you can get the .com of it, you still should.

Your Full Name

Check if your full name is available as a .com and in your country's TLD. Even if you don't have plans for using it right now, it never hurts to own yourname.com.

The Anti-Spam Alternatives

For brand names, I also like to buy up all of the good TLDs that are available. For example, I own activegrowth.net and activegrowth.co, as well as activegrowth.com.

Why does it matter? Because if my brand takes off - and especially if I sell something with an affiliate program - I don't want anyone buying up these domains and scraping/cloning my site. Unfortunately, some people will do this and create a site that "poses" as yours, while linking to you with affiliate links.

A Short URL Domain?

You can try to get a short version of your site's URL such as cabr.co, but it's not something I recommend. Short domains used to be popular because of the character limit on Twitter, but that no longer applies. All URLs are now automatically shortened on Twitter, so the number of characters in your URL no longer makes a difference.

The other possible uses for a short URL are:

  1. For verbal backlinks, such as when you announce a link on a podcast.
  2. For visual backlinks, such as when you display a URL on a poster, flyer or in a presentation.

Keep in mind that in both cases, memorable trumps short.

If my URL is cabr.co/3N9dk, that's very short, but it will be much easier for you to remember catchybrand.com/special.

The Redirect Domain

More useful than a domain for short URLs is a domain for redirects. This serves the same purpose - for visual and audio backlinks - but the focus is on memorability.

Example: to get to a landing page about the ActiveGrowth podcast, you can go to activecast.co

Step by Step Instructions

If you already know Namecheap or you can generally find your way around a user interface, you can skip this section. All the principles were discussed above. What follows is the step by step and screen by screen process for registering a domain and setting up a redirect.

TK step by step

Intro: why you need this course (even if you think you don’t)

Alright, what do I mean when I say this is for setting up a badass website?

Well, here's what I don't mean: this is not a "get your domain here, set up this rubbish cheap hosting and install WordPress" course. This is not, in other words, what you get in pretty much every other "how to create your WordPress site" course.

When you follow the lessons in this course, you'll have a WordPress website that:

  • Loads super fast.
  • Is fully HTTPS encrypted.
  • Has meta data, sitemaps and all the other SEO goodies set up.
  • Is integrated with useful, practical analytics and conversion tracking.
  • Is armed to the teeth with lead generation features.
  • Builds retargeting lists for your (current or future) advertising efforts.
  • Is set to go with landing pages, sales pages and any other conversion page you can think of.

And I haven't even told you the best thing about it yet. What you'll be building here is future proof.

Why You Need a Future Proof Setup

You know what happens way too often? Entrepreneurs wasting their time with shit they should have sorted out months or years ago.

Setting up your website is foundational work. Too many people build a crappy foundation because they either don't know better or go for the quick and dirty setup, telling themselves they'll catch up later. Well, guess what: if you build a big house on top of a crappy foundation, fixing that later will cost you way more time and money than if you had just done it right from the start.

This course = doing it right from the start.

Watch Out for These Guys

See this blue box? I'll put one of these at the top of each following lesson. This box will always contain a quick summary of what you get in the lesson. So, if you see the lesson title and think "I've already done that", click on it anyway and read the stuff in the blue box.

You see a benefit listed in the blue box that you don't have yet: follow the lesson.

You see that you're all set already: skip to the next one.

The 3 Keys to Success

You've now heard the complete story and you've got a detailed outline of what I did to launch my first product.

In conclusion, let me summarize what I believe are the 3 most critical factors that helped my make this work, as a beginner to creating and launching products.

1) Aim First

This is really what all the market research comes down to: aim before you shoot.

Can you point out, very specifically, who the people are who need your product and where you can reach them?

If you can, you're half way to a successful product launch. If you can't, drop whatever you're doing and work on getting this information.

2) See It Through

As you can probably guess, creating a product isn't going to be the easiest thing you'll ever do. It's not going to be smooth sailing all the way from your first idea to the bank.

Be aware that there will be obstacles. There will be difficulties that you didn't plan for and sometimes, things will go a lot worse or be a lot harder than you imagined.

Whenever you encounter such obstacles, you'll feel like giving up. Sometimes, you'll question this entire thing and calling it quits will seem like the most reasonable choice you can make.

This is when you need to keep at it. You need to have the grit to see something through, past these obstacles.

For more on this, check out this post about when to give up and when to keep going.

3) Don't Make Excuses

What I hope, above all, is that you look at my story and see that I didn't do anything you can't also do. I really hope that you're not thinking: "Shane can do this, but it wouldn't work for me because XYZ".

There's really nothing extraordinary about any of the steps I laid out here. And there's no critical step I didn't tell you about. There's no secret formula to success that I'm keeping to myself.

There's nothing magical or superhuman here. It's just a bit of strategic thinking and a whole lot of hard work.

If there's some value you can and want to bring to the world as an entrepreneur, then I hope this course will help you. I want to see the value you have to offer. Me, and the rest of the world, are eagerly waiting.

All the best,

Shane's Signature

Marketing the Product

Marketing is more important than your product.

Does that sound like the opposite of everything I just went on about, regarding high quality products?

Fair enough.

The reason I say marketing is more important is a pragmatic one: even a fantastic product will rarely sell all by itself. But even a crap product can be sold with good enough marketing.

Personally, I have no interest in selling crappy products. And certainly, it's much easier to sell a good product than a crappy one.

But it's important that you don't fall for the "build it and they will come" fallacy.

Just because you've worked hard to create a great product doesn't mean anyone will ever hear about it or want to buy it. You have to put in some more work for that.

Here are the components of my newbie marketing campaign I put together at the time:

Launch Sequence

For my product launch, I created 4 videos. In 3 of those videos I shared some information about SEO and link building. The fourth was a sales video for Backlink Battleplan.

If that seems familiar it's because I blatantly copied the "Product Launch Formula" many marketers were using at the time.

Where did I get the content for my 3 content videos from? From all the research and experimentation I'd done, I actually found it quite easy to put together these videos. Also, out of a total of 21 steps in the original Backlink Battleplan, I picked two that I taught in one of the free videos.

In each of the content videos, I asked people to share and comment, in a bid to get more traffic and get people engaged.

If I had to create landing pages for a launch sequence now, I'd use Thrive Landing Pages, but that didn't exist at the time. And as you can see here, it's not even necessary to use a special landing page tool or service. I just used a simple blog for my launch sequence.

Opt-In Landing Pages

For each of the 3 content videos, I created an opt-in page. Each landing page explained the benefits of what you'd learn in the content video and after opting in, people would be sent straight to that video.

Again, I'd use Thrive Landing Pages now, but for lack of a better option, I purchased a simple HTML template and used that, for my Backlink Battleplan launch.

The main point here is that I did some extra work to create a launch sequence and opt-in pages, instead of just creating a sales page and calling it a day.

There are two advantages to doing this:

  1. The free launch content can generate traffic, buzz and momentum around your product, leading to more sales once you release the final video.
  2. This whole setup makes the product and product launch look a lot more serious and professional. This made it easier to get affiliates to promote for me (more on that later).

The Sales Page

What's the secret to creating a compelling sales page that captures people's attention and and turns them into customers?

At the time, I had no idea.

Seriously, I felt completely out of my depth, when trying to create a sales page for my product. To this day, I don't consider myself a particularly good copywriter, but at the time, I was just clueless.

All I knew was:

  • You should make sure to focus on the benefits your product will bring to a customer's life, not just list the product's features.
  • You should break your content into easily digestible chunks and add headlines and sub-headings, to make it more skimmable.

That's it. The sum total of copywriting knowledge I brought to my first sales page.

The resulting sales page was made up of the following components:

Headline & Video

At the top, I had a big headline, stating the main benefit of my product. I don't have the original page anymore, but it was something like "Discover a Step-by-Step Link Building Plan (Using Free Methods Only)".

Below the headline, I placed my sales video. The content of the sales video was pretty much the same as the written content on the sales page. I just wanted to make sure that if someone preferred to watch a video, they could do that. And if they preferred to read, they could do that, instead.

Features & Benefits

I described everything I taught in Backlink Battleplan. Along with each description of a lesson or feature in the product, I made sure to explain why this is important or valuable. To me, this was the easiest way to go from features to benefits.

Testimonials

Here comes another benefit of releasing a minimum viable product before the public product launch: from my early customers, I had gotten a few testimonials. I added those to my sales page.

FAQ

Finally, I had an extensive FAQ section on my sales page. I tried to think of every objection or question someone might have before buying and added those in the FAQ.

All the research and one-on-one calls I had done were a huge help here, because I already knew how people in my target market thought and what problems and concerns they had.

After the FAQ section, I added a second buy button and with that, my sales page was complete.

Affiliate Program

So far, we've looked at all the content that I put together for my product launch. The next part is about how I got traffic to all of this content.

Affiliates played an important role in this.

The membership plugin I used was equipped with a simple affiliate program, which I made use of. In general, I don't recommend using a self-hosted script or plugin for this, though.​

There are plenty of ways to create an affiliate program for your product, though. To list just a few:

And that's just scratching the surface. The goal is simply that you have somewhere that allows you to add your product and pay a commission to affiliates who send you traffic.

Affiliate Traffic

Once you have an affiliate program set up, you have to find affiliates who will promote your product. Here, I enjoyed two advantages from all the work I'd done:

  1. Because I'd built a proper launch sequence, affiliates were more willing to get on board. They saw that I put in the work and I didn't appear like a total amateur.
  2. Because I had a limited time special offer with a clear deadline, it was easy to get a clear "yes" or "no" answer from affiliates. Without a launch, you'll get many more "maybe later" answers.

Finding potential affiliates is easy. Anyone who has an audience of your potential buyers is a potential affiliate. Look for blogs, product creators, memberships, courses, Facebook pages, Instagram accounts, YouTubers etc. in your space.

The tricky part is getting people to actually join up and promote your launch. I focused on 3 things to help me get more affiliates:

  1. My product was good: some (not all) affiliates care about promoting only good stuff to their audience. Others can only be won over by the promise of lots of money, but I wasn't going after them.
  2. My product was highly specific: if my product had been about "how to start an online business", it would have been unremarkable and I would have been everyone's competitor. But my product was about building backlinks for free, so people who already taught other aspects of how to build an online business could promote my product, have a clear reason for promoting it and not feel threatened by it as a potential competitor.
  3. I hustled: I just looked at it as a numbers game. I knew that 90%+ of people I contacted would give me a "no". So, I contacted many, many people.

In the end, only a small handful of affiliates promoted my launch, but it was enough to make a huge difference to my business (and ultimately, my life).

Solo Ads

Because I had no traffic of my own, I was on the lookout for more ways to get external traffic to my product launch. One of the things I tried were solo ads.

A solo ad is basically a paid placement of a message to someone else's mailing list.

Solo ad traffic is generally low quality traffic. After all, if someone has a mailing list of highly engaged subscribers who tend to fall into a buying frenzy, they won't be selling access to that list for a handful of dollars.

I knew this going in, but I gave it a shot anyway. I paid for solo ads on 3 different lists and linked to my free content opt-in pages. Sending from a solo ad directly to a paid offer is a recipe for failure. I figured maybe I could warm some people up with my free content and convert them into customers later.

Even though I didn't have sophisticated tracking in place at the time, I could tell that this experiment didn't pay off. I didn't get enough extra sales from the solo ad traffic to make up for what I had spent on it.

You can learn more about the do's and don'ts of solo ad traffic here.

Viral(-ish) Traffic: Contest

In my third content video, I announced a small contest: I asked the viewers to tweet a message with a link to my pre-launch content and a specific hashtag.

I would pick 3 winners randomly and they would each get free access to Backlink Battleplan.

To do this, I simply did a Twitter search for my hastag, copied all of the usernames into a spreadsheet and used a random number generator to pick the winners.

Note that I didn't use any fancy software or services to automate my contest. I also didn't give away extravagant prizes. This was a zero budget contest.

There was also a viral traffic component to this contest, because the link I asked people to tweet went to the same piece of free content in which I explained the contest.

Of course, that doesn't mean that my launch "went viral" in the sense of snowballing traffic numbers and millions of Tweets and views. But the contest did bring more traffic to my site and got a few more subscribers onto my mailing list.

More Viral(-ish) Traffic: Share for a Lower Price

Once my product was available for sale, I added another small element to generate traffic: I offered $20 off the purchase price for people who shared a link to my sales page on social media.

I used a social locker like this one, to do this. It would automatically display a button for the lower price purchase, after someone shared.

Not surprisingly, almost everyone who saw this offer shared, to unlock the lower price. This didn't lead to a traffic explosion, but I happily took the extra trickle of traffic that came in.

Notice the Lack of Home Runs?

We always hear about the home runs. Some teenager creates a simple toy and sells millions of it. Or some daring entrepreneur saves a company from the brink of bankruptcy and ends up making billions.

This kind of stuff makes for a good story. But it's not how 99% of businesses are built.

I hope that everything you read here, including my viral contest that doesn't "go viral" shows you another side of entrepreneurship: you can build a business by accumulating small wins. Even tiny wins.

As I write this, I'm the head of a company employing more than 50 people. But what you're reading about in this case study is not just how I started but also how I got here: one tiny step after another. I've never had anything go viral. I've never had a million views on any one thing and I've never had a smash-hit overnight success product.

You won't read about me in Forbes, but that's good news for you: you don't have to do anything Forbes-worthy to build a successful business, either.

Sprint or Marathon?

A product launch is a great way to start selling a product, but after the launch, you're not done.

The way I see it, a product launch is a great way to create initial momentum for your product. It generates buzz. It gets the word out. But the goal for me was always to generate sales in the long term.

In practice, that meant:

  • After my launch special offer, I increased the price, but I didn't remove my product from the market.
  • I kept updating and improving my product, based on feedback I got from my customers.
  • I kept contacting potential affiliates, looking for ways to work together. I sent out review copies of my product, I offered to teach SEO via webinars and I offered higher commission levels to affiliates who could potentially send a lot of traffic.
  • I continued blogging about SEO and link building, so that I had a growing audience of people who'd be interested in my product, through the blog.

Like I mentioned previously, Backlink Battleplan didn't generate $100K in revenue during its launch. But it did eventually generate $100K through my continued marketing efforts. And the careful research and launch were what gave it all the initial momentum. It's what got the ball rolling.

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