Creator or Consumer?

I’m a great consumer. A professional.

I don’t necessarily mean that I buy too much or waste what I have, although I do that as well.

What I mean is that that I take the easy road more than not. I read and watch television much more than I write. I listen to music more than I take time to learn an instrument.

There are times to consume. Reading books from truly great authors is a key to being a great writer. Listening to great music inspires us to learn to play an instrument or write our own songs.

It’s much easier to consume than create. At some point you have to pick up the pen and write. You have to do the work. Preparation time is over.

I realized that I was consuming without creating. I was preparing to create without picking up the pen or setting aside the time to write.

I no longer want my life’s body of work to include the books I read, the music I listened to, and the movies I watched.

I want to create.

I started writing and learning to play piano. If I read for an hour, I ensure I spend an hour or more writing. I earn the right to read by writing. I block of time at the end of the day to spend time learning piano before turning on the record player.

I now measure my days by whether or not I created more than I consumed. It doesn’t even have to be good, just done.

Did I take more time to write than read or watch a screen? Did I spend my energy giving back rather than taking?

My hope is that over time my identity moves from being a consumer to a creator. Maybe someday, with enough time and practice, I’ll be a great writer worth reading.

21 Things I Did Last Year to Simplify My Life and Improve My Well Being

For years, I’ve been driven by the idea that I need to say yes to every opportunity.

At the end of the day, if my life fell apart, I wanted to be able to say that I did everything I possibly could to prevent that from happening. I never wanted to be accused of laziness or inaction. I never wanted to fail because I said no to an opportunity.

It didn’t work out well. I ended up spinning a web that ultimately needed to be unwound. It damaged relationships from unfulfilled, partially fulfilled, or weakly fulfilled commitments. It ultimately cost me more than it benefited me.

I tried to squeeze so much into my day that I found myself spread to thin, energy levels low, stress levels high and ultimately ended up burning out.

This was all driven by a scarcity mentality and fear. If I don’t take this opportunity, there may not be another one on the other side. If I don’t say yes, I’m saying no, and I’m going to miss out on something.

Maybe you’ve felt or currently feel the same way.

Are you overwhelmed, over committed and stressed because you cannot meet everyone’s expectations, including your own?

Last year, I started getting out of the maximization mentality and began to simplify in all areas of my life. I started saying no more and eliminating things that were unproductive. I focused on the small number of things that were producing the greatest benefit.

By committing to less, I’ve been able to go deeper. My quality of work has increased. I’m less stressed. I’m not over committed. I now fill in the gaps with meaningful work and activities.

Simplifying my life has made all the difference for me, and it may for you as well. Here are the steps I took last year and will continue this year:

Defined My Top Priorities

The first step in simplifying was defining priorities. Without knowing my priorities, it was easy to say yes to anything and everything that looked remotely close to a good idea.

I would start working early and schedule time in the afternoon for working out. Suddenly, when 5 pm rolled around, grabbing a happy hour drink sounded much more enticing! By making exercise a top priority, I moved it to the morning and rarely miss a work out now.

I found myself at the end of the day with tasks checked off my list but didn’t have a sense of fulfillment. I realized I pushed the things I really cared about to the back burner for the sake of feeling productive. At the end of each day, I was physically and mentally tire and easily justify not doing important things like exercise or writing.

Defining priorities caused me to move the things I really cared about and wanted to accomplish to the beginning of the day instead of the end. I better defined the projects I was willing to accept and characteristics of clients that I worked will with (and therefore was able to get better results with much less stress).

Decide the three to five activities you value the most, the things that will bring you a sense of fulfillment at the end of the day, commit to them, and put them on your schedule.

Pruned Distractions

I started looking at the activities, projects, and clients that were taking up time and energy with the least benefit. Over time, I began to prune and eliminate these activities, project, and clients.

It isn’t always easy to prune because it means you may be giving up something with a little value to open time for something of greater value that may not be there yet. I found that when I started pruning and opened space, activities, projects, and clients of greater value started filling that space.

I also discovered a tremendous amount of free time available when I eliminated time sucks. It was shocking how much time some of these things were taking up and adding little to no value.

It became clear that they were costing me time and money. Looking back, pruning was tough but absolutely the right thing to do.

Where can you prune to free up time and mental space to contribute to your top priorities?

Said No (A Lot)

It’s easy to take on more than we can handle or say yes to a project or client even though it’s not a good fit because the money is there.

I said yes to things I could do but would have to find time and energy for it. I said yes to things that I was capable of doing but not in a position to do at that time.

As I started saying yes to everything, my days and my mind become disjointed, cluttered and unorganized. I found myself constantly switching gears between activities and projects.

I wasn’t able to put my time and attention into certain obligations that fell to the wayside and ended up becoming obligations instead of assets.

After setting my top priorities and pruning back the things that were taking up time, it became easier to identify the activities, projects and clients to which I needed to say no.

If something doesn’t match my priorities or fit my ideal project or client, I will say no. Like pruning, it’s not easy to say no to an opportunity, or to a person you really like, but it’s crucial to leave yourself space to work on your priorities.

To what do you need to start saying no?

Set Clear Expectations and Boundaries

It’s easy to say yes in order to make people happy, especially for natural people pleasers like me. Once you start saying yes, things can get out of hand quickly and stress can start piling up.It’s critical to create boundaries on our time.

For a long time, I made myself available nearly all the time to meet expectations of clients. Phone calls, text messages, and emails were coming at all times on all days. I set the expectation that I was able to answer the phone or respond quickly to a message. It was terrible.

Because of this, I often found myself getting run over and I felt taken advantage. It wasn’t anyone’s fault but my own. I created the wrong expectations and I had to learn to clearly set appropriate expectations and continue to clarify these expectations and boundaries with people and projects.

Now, I outline as specifically as possible what I’m going to do, the amount of time I anticipate spending, when I am and am not available, and the best ways and times to reach me. When things start creeping outside the lines, I am able to go back to a written outline and agreement. If something is not specifically addressed, we address it then and add it to the outline. I make sure to add it to the scope next time.

Over time, I’ve been able to clarify and become much more specific in expectations and boundaries and it’s led to better results, happier clients, and a happier me.

In what areas of your life do you need to redefine or set clear expectations and boundaries?

Turned Off Notifications

My phone became a total distraction device. I received notifications of every Facebook reaction, comment, page like for over thirty pages that I managed. I received notifications from ESPN and MLB with sports scores. I received notifications of emails, text messages, and incoming calls. There are probably twenty more notifications I could list.

Because of this, I used to check my phone constantly. Everything buzzed the same and I didn’t know if it was something that was important or not. In reality, very little of it was important, I just liked the distraction. I feared missing out, and felt both important and busy.

I turned off all notification on my phone except text messages, but I rarely check these. I now only check my phone when I’m schedule to check my email (more on that below).

You would be amazed out how much distraction is eliminated, the amount of time you free up, and how little you will miss by turning off notifications.

Scheduled Time for Checking and Responding to Email, Voicemail, Text Messages and Notifications

We love feeling busy and productive, and checking email and other messages is a big part of this feeling in today’s world. But, many times, they are just a distraction from real work.

When we check emails, texts, and messages, we get a little hit of dopamine. Over time, it’s easily to become addicted to checking because we unknowingly love this very small high.

After realizing that I was really addicted to checking, I started scheduling time for checking emails, voicemails, text messages, and any other notifications that were important. It was extremely stressful at first. I constantly felt like I was missing out on something.

I never missed anything important and I’ve only had a couple of people ask me why I haven’t responded to their email within the hour. They got pruned. I started getting more and better work done and my stress levels dropped as well as the fear of missing out.

There was also an unintended consequence. As I started checking my email less, and therefore responding less, I started seeing a drop in the total number of emails in my inbox each day. As I was checking and responding to emails frequently, I was inviting people to treat email as a form of instant messenger and set an expectation that I would respond quickly.

Also, if you set a schedule to respond in the evening, I recommend scheduling your emails to go out the next morning or at another time during the day. Again, this helps to set expectations that you are not available at all times. Check and respond on your schedule, but don’t create expectations of your availability.

Our ego may say otherwise, but we are not that important that we are needed immediately all the time. Generally, the world is not going to fall apart if we go three hours between the time we check emails. Give it a shot. See what happens.

Took Email Off My Phone

Once I took notifications off my phone, I started checking my email more on my phone because I wasn’t getting notifications each time I received an email and wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. The urge to take a quick peek was extremely strong and I was anxious about not checking email frequently.

I moved to checking email only on my computer and only on a schedule as discussed above. It’s reduced distraction and the number of emails I process daily.

Also, I really didn’t like responding to emails on my phone. So, when I would check them, I would sometimes have that email on my mind for hours before I could respond. It took up a lot of mental space and wasn’t productive.

If you can, take email off your phone.

Put More Thought In My Email Responses

By checking email on a schedule and only on my computer, I was able to send more thoughtful responses.

When checking and responding frequently, emails that were coming and going were short and lacked details and clarity. By sending fewer emails, and being much more clear, detailed, and thoughtful in my responses, I invited much better responses. Better responses equal a decrease in the number of emails needed to get a point across.

I think we should treat emails more like handwritten letters than Twitter messages. If you had to send a letter, and expected a response by letter, you would make sure your letter was clear, contained all information that you need to convey, and would make sure you requested the exact response you needed. This process could take days or weeks.

You could not afford to send, or receive, the train of thought rambling emails we send and receive today.

I also found I was receiving a lot of short emails that ended with the question, “Thoughts?” or What do you think?” I received one today!

These are unfair questions that take a minute to write and a novel to answer appropriately. I still answered them, but every time I did, I got another email with another question. By answering the questions, I invited more similar questions and they were driving me crazy.

Now, rather than answer these questions via email, I let them know that this is best answered on a schedule phone call and save the questions for that call. It substantially reduced the number of email questions I received in a day.

Unsubscribed Like Crazy

As I batched processed email, I started seeing which emails I deleted every time. I started unsubscribing from as many lists as possible. For those that I still wanted to see, I used the tool at Unroll.me to send my emails into a daily digest that is emailed to me once daily.

I can now check my daily digest when I want to see what emails I wanted to read.

It saved a ton of time and I receive a fifth of the emails that I used to receive.

Scheduled Calls

Rather than taking every call that comes my way, I now request that we schedule calls. This way, I could start batching calls during the day and leave the rest of the time available for doing work. It also avoids constantly playing phone tag.

If I got a voicemail, I typically respond, if appropriate, with an email to schedule a time to talk.

Like with email, I found that scheduling calls significantly reduced the number of calls I received. I also prefer to send out an agenda for the call when appropriate to stay on task. A prepared, organized, scheduled call can easily cut the time you spend on the phone in half while being just as, if not more, productive.

How much time could you free up in your day if batched your calls and cut your call time in half?

Reduced Text Messaging

Text messages got out of control for me. I was receiving many text messages all throughout the day. Now, I receive very few text messages and only from my wife, family, and friends.

Texts, especially for business purposes, are a poor form of communication in my opinion. Most of the time, they are misspelled, rambling, train of thought messages that are unclear. The worst is when they are a question that requires a long, detailed response that is beyond the scope of a phone keyboard.

I also disliked the intention to interrupt represented by text messages are meant to be an interruption. The thought is that you didn’t respond to my email, but I assume you always have your phone on you and are always available, so I’ll send you a text message to interrupt whatever you are doing. I especially hated getting texts letting me know that somebody just sent me an email and asked if I received it or requested that I immediately review it.

For me, another major downside to text message is the lack of ability to send an auto responder message. If I’m unavailable, I’m not going to respond, and it seems like I’m ignoring somebody. When an email is sent or phone call is made, you can at least leave an autoresponder or voice mail that sets the expectation that you are unavailable.

To eliminate text messages on my phone, I took my cell phone number and switched it over to a Google Voice number that I then used for business purposes. Any text messages show up now in my email account and I can respond when I check my email, just like an email. I also request, for the most part, that we communicate via email so I can save and store messages in a folder.

I then obtained a new, private, personal cell phone number that only a handful of people have.

Reducing the number of text messages, especially for business purposes, has increased productivity, removed distraction, and created channels for much clearer communication.

Fasted From Traditional and Social Media Fast

I have never been a frequent consumer of traditional news. Occasionally, I would turn on the news or read news sites to see what was happening locally or check the weather.

Most of the news I read came from social media, which is basically an outlet many times for articles and other news to be posted. It became worse than watching the news on television or reading the newspaper. I would end up in a black hole of articles and news sites. Checking Facebook would end up in thirty minutes to an hour of distraction in reading posts and watching videos.

Not only was it a huge distraction and provided very little value, it produced negativity and anxiety.

Instead of checking Facebook now, I use Flipboard and subscribe to the types of blogs and sites that I want to read. I can quickly read articles or save them to Pocket to read later.

It has saved a ton of time, improved my mood, and kept me from falling into the black hole of distraction.

Spent Time Alone and Took a Personal Retreat

As an introvert, spending time alone is recharging for me. For the two-thirds of you that are extroverted, solitude can be extremely uncomfortable. But, with practice and over time, when we slow down we see more clearly what’s going on inside. For all of us, introverts and extroverts alike, solitude is scary because we aren’t sure what we will find on the other side of distraction.

Anxieties, fears, and desires start to surface when they aren’t constantly being drowned by noise or stuffed inward with activity. As they surface, you can begin to listen to what’s going on, process them, and start to deal with them.

In April of 2016, I took a personal retreat to the desert of Utah. It was one of the most powerful things I’ve done for myself.

I went for about a week and spent several days completely alone backpacking through Canyonlands National Park.

It was physically and mentally grueling and exhausting, yet extremely beautiful. It was the quietest and emptiest place I have ever been. I sat looking at sunsets in the quite forced to face and work through some internal junk. I faced boredom and loneliness. I cried. I came out of the experience much stronger, detoxed from so many negative thoughts that were holding me back. I realized how we are constantly stimulated and how damaging this can be. I found gratitude and saw the value of simplicity.

It’s not easy to get away by yourself for even several days, but if you can do it, it can be life changing.

If you can, schedule a personal solitude retreat. If you can’t go for days, regularly spend time alone for an hour or two each week. It will at the same time be one of the worst and most beautiful experiences of your life. You never know what you’re going to find on the other side of the noise, but that’s the whole point.

Established a Daily Routine

I used to love, or at least thought I loved, variety and novelty. The newer the better, lest I get bored. I was so wrong.

For the past few years, I didn’t have much of a morning routine. My morning routine was wake up, grab coffee, maybe grab something to eat, and start working. In 2015, I started with a morning routine for several months after reading “The Miracle Morning” by Hal Elrod and saw amazing benefits. Then, I got away from it and went back to old bad habits.

When I was in a morning routine, I felt like I accomplished the most important things in the morning, freeing myself to move through the rest of my day. When I was out of a morning routine, I felt more stress and less clarity.

Last year, I decided to start back with my morning routine.

Here’s my general morning routine now: wake up at 5:30 am, grab water and go straight to the gym or workout outside depending on the weather, come back home and meditate with centering prayer for about 10 to 15 minutes, then grab coffee and a light breakfast before writing three pages of “morning pages” as recommended by Julia Cameron in the Artist’s Way After that, I write at least 500 words and read if there’s a little bit of time left before I need to get ready for work.

Usually, this routine takes me about an hour and a half to two hours. I could shorten the time if needed, but this provides a solid foundation for my day.

In building this routine, I’ve identified the routines and habits as the most important things for my personal growth in any given day.

It’s an incredible feeling to have them done before starting work and before commitments and expectations start flooding in. It opens me up to spend the rest of my day working without the distracting thoughts of what I need to do or guilt for what I haven’t done that day.

There are good formulas out there for starting a morning routine, but what’s important is to identify your most important three to five things in your day and do them before you start work. It will change your life.

Minimized Expenses

I started looking at expenses that I could cut out and areas where I could quit spending.

If there was something I wanted, instead of buying it, I would put it on a wish list. Over time, I would narrow down the things I really wanted or needed and ended up buying much less. I realized that i didn’t need as much as what I was used to buying.

Eliminated Debt

Over the last two years, my wife and paid down all of our debt except a mortgage on our home, which is next on the list. I haven’t had a credit card in over five years now and I haven’t missed it.

Not having debt, coupled with spending less, allowed us to save more and contribute substantially more to retirement funds this year than we have in the past.

It’s a great feeling when you can set that money aside for later instead of for a more expensive one when our paid of vehicles run just fine, even if each is more than ten years old.

Defined Enough

I am the type of person who is unsatisfied. I may or may not have heard that more than once when I was a child…thanks mom. There could always be more money. Something could always be a little better. I could have performed better. Things could be different if I made a better decision.

I would compare what I had to what others have, or appear to have and realized that I didn’t have the bigger house or newer car.

It’s brutal to live that way.

Living a simplified life is tough. Could I afford the new car? Yes. Could we sell our current house and buy a bigger one? Yes. But, at what cost? I would have to go into debt or burn through cash for something that I ultimately don’t need.

I learned that more is not the definition of enough. Figure out what’s enough for you and let’s stop mindlessly consuming, accumulating, and keeping up with the Joneses.

Meditated Daily

Meditation helped me to reduce emotional decision making, declutter my mind, identify and change thought patterns, and lower stress levels

There’s no right or wrong way to mediate. There is a right way for you and I recommend that you try several different methods to see what fits.

As we quiet or ego, we gain new perspective. We identify thoughts and thought patterns that occupy mental space and hold us back. We can start to release negative thoughts and introduce new thoughts. As we quiet ourselves, we open up to ideas and answers that were previously blocked out.

I am really good at getting wrapped up in my own little world and with my own problems. By quieting my mind, I am able to get off mental hamster wheel and find a different or larger perspective on whatever challenge I’m facing. I’m able to gain clarity where I was previously cloudy.

On the rare days now when I don’t meditate, I can tell a huge difference in my mood and distraction levels. Give meditation a try for a week or so and see what happens.

Walked

I walked. A lot. Sometimes alone, sometimes with my wife. Walking alone could be a form of meditation. Sometimes I would walk and listen to podcasts.

While walking, I’d often get answers to questions I was searching for out of the blue. I’d take a small pocket journal and write notes and jot down thoughts.

Walking has become incredible therapeutic. When done regularly, walking can be an incredible stress reliever and give you space to think.

Single-Tasked

I’m not sure that I was ever a multi-tasker where I would try to do multiple things at the same time, but I would switch between tasks frequently. I would have a thought and, instead of writing it down, I would jump over to something different and leave whatever I was working on behind.

Now, if a thought pops in my head while I’m working, I jot it down and go back to it later. I focus on a single task at a time until that task is completed. If it’s a long task, I’ll schedule breaks, but I try not to let the breaks get me too off topic.

Kept a Day of Rest

In our 24/7 world, taking a full day off with no phone, email, or work seems ridiculous.

It may be hard for us to accept, but the world doesn’t fall apart when we take a break. We were designed to take breaks.

Take a day to switch of your phone and computer and enjoy some downtime without work. It’s incredible the difference in can make in your mindset and stress levels.

This is just a list of what I’ve done. Not everything here is right for you. What are a few things from this list that struck a nerve and you can start implementing? What are other things you can do to simplify your life? Make a list and get started today.

What If We Focused on Daily Habits Instead of Resolutions?

As I reflected on 2016 and look forward to 2017, I started asking myself what would happen if I focused on daily habits and creating a consistent daily schedule rather than making traditional New Year’s resolutions.
This doesn’t mean that I don’t have goals for the year, but since most resolutions fall flat, I thought there had to be a better way to reach my goals.
Resolutions tend to be something new in our life that we need to make space for.  We try to squeeze in a resolution, like daily exercise to reach a weight loss goal, while the rest of our life remains relatively unchanged.
What really matters is how we spend our days rather than weeks, months, or whole years.
All we really have to focus on is today.  When we look too much into the past, we are remorseful or bitter about what happened or what didn’t happen.  When we focus too much on the future, we become overwhelmed.
We have to make space for the most important things in life and say no to those things that do not add value or help us benefit those around us in a meaningful way.
Reaching a goal is a function of effort multiplied by time.  Resolutions tend to fall flat because we let old habits and patterns get in the way of what’s truly important.  We have to make space in our lives for the things that will help us reach our goals.
Take a look at your goals for the year.  What is the one thing that you can do today, and every day, to work toward your goal?  Schedule it.  Once it’s scheduled, actually do it!
If you want to write a book in 2017, it’s not enough to write whenever you can or when you feel like it.  It requires daily effort of writing even when you don’t feel like it, and even when what you write is terrible.  Schedule in time to write just 500 words, or one page daily.  At the end of a year, that’s 182,500 words!  Not bad, right?
Want to lose weight in 2017?  Besides cleaning out the junk food from the pantry and the refrigerator, you will probably want to incorporate exercise.  When do you have space for exercise?  If you can, schedule 30 minutes of exercise in the morning if it’s the most important thing for you.  It may require that you get up earlier and go to sleep earlier, but it’s better than getting to the end of the day and not having the willpower or energy to hit the gym.  Plus, I found that exercising first thing in the morning is a huge win.
Want to learn a new language or an instrument?  Schedule 30 minutes of non-negotiable time to practice.
A key to this is to make this time non-negotiable.  Schedule your daily activities at times where people and commitments will not overshadow your schedule time.  Treat it like a meeting.  If somebody wants to schedule something during that time, you are booked.  If a phone call is running long, you’ve got to go to your next appointment.  It’s an appointment with yourself.  Keep it sacred.
So, this year, I set a couple of goals and then looked at my daily schedule to see where I could schedule daily habits to help me reach my goals.  Here’s an example of what I want my daily schedule for 2017 to look like.
  • Wake up by 5:30 am
  • Exercise – at least 30 minutes (outdoors or at the gym depending on weather)
  • Meditation/centering prayer
  • Morning pages
  • Writing (at least 500 words)
  • Get ready for work
  • Work and Commute
  • Family time and dinner in the evening
  • At least 30 minutes of reading before bed
Each of these correlates to some goal, whether it’s maintaining my physical and mental health, hitting writing goals, or reading a book a week this year.
If you make a resolution, make the resolution to schedule every day to include the most important things you want to accomplish.
Figure out what small things you can do every day, no matter what, and make sure it gets done.  We have to open up space for the important things in our lives and make this space nonnegotiable.

Focus On What You Can Control in 2017 (plus my recommended reading list)

We lived in a moment in history in 2016. It’s not totally clear how historians will write about 2016, but what is clear is that it will be written about. For many, the year was tough and contentious, and many times, it felt like the world was falling apart. In some ways it was, but, in many ways, it was like any other year, just amplified.

Now, we hopefully stare into 2017. As we do, here’s something I learned in 2016: we cannot control the external events in 2016.

The only thing we had control of was ourselves. We controlled our actions, our behaviors, and our responses.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” — Mahatma Ghandi

This quote has become cliche, but it remains a good reminder that rather than trying to change the external world around us we need to focus on ourselves in 2017.

For me, 2016 was a great year. I would rank it in the top 5 out of my last 36 years.

Things certainly weren’t perfect, and there are several things that I wish were different and areas where I can improve.

The big difference in 2016 was that I started shutting out much of the distraction and noise and started focusing on the one thing I can control…me.

This focus on me seemed really selfish at the start, but I realized that as I was working on myself I was able to be a greater blessing to those around me. My relationship with my wife and children deepened. I was more generous with my time and money. I became less stressed throughout the year. I was happier.

Here are a few things I committed to in 2016 that I highly recommend you consider for 2017:

Create a Morning Routine

For the past few years, I didn’t have much of a morning routine. My morning routine was wake up, grab coffee, maybe grab something to eat, and start working. In 2015, I started with a morning routine for several months after reading “The Miracle Morning” by Hal Elrod and saw amazing benefits. Then, I got away from it and went back to old bad habits.

When I was in a morning routine, I felt like I accomplished the most important things in the morning, freeing myself to move through the rest of my day. When I was out of a morning routine, I felt more stress and less clarity.

In 2016, I decided to start back with my morning routine.

Here’s my general morning routine now: wake up at 5:30 am, grab water and go straight to the gym or workout outside depending on the weather, come back home and meditate with centering prayer for about 10 to 15 minutes, then grab coffee and a light breakfast before writing three pages of “morning pages” as recommended by Julia Cameron in the Artist’s Way After that, I write at least 500 words and read if there’s a little bit of time left before I need to get ready for work.

Usually, this routine takes me about an hour and a half to two hours. I could shorten the time if needed, but this provides a solid foundation for my day.

In building this routine, I’ve identified the routines and habits as the most important things for my personal growth in any given day.

It’s an incredible feeling to have them done before starting work and before commitments and expectations start flooding in. It opens me up to spend the rest of my day working without the distracting thoughts of what I need to do or guilt for what I haven’t done that day.

There are good formulas out there for starting a morning routine, but what’s important is to identify your most important three to five things in your day and do them before you start work. It will change your life.

Meditate Every Day

This is a part of my morning routine, but I think it’s important that it is singled out. There are entire books on this topic, so in no way will this post do the benefits of meditation justice.

There’s no right or wrong way to mediate. There is a right way for you and I recommend that you try several different methods to see what fits.

Regardless of the style of meditation, daily practice helps you declutter your mind and change your thought patterns.

As we quiet or ego, we gain new perspective. We identify thoughts and thought patterns that occupy mental space and hold us back. We can start to release negative thoughts and introduce new thoughts. As we quiet ourselves, we open up to ideas and answers that were previously blocked out.

I am really good at getting wrapped up in my own little world and with my own problems. By quieting my mind, I am able to get off mental hamster wheel and find a different or larger perspective on whatever challenge I’m facing. I’m able to gain clarity where I was previously cloudy.

Write Morning Pages

This is also a habit in my morning routine. The idea was introduced by Julia Cameron in “The Artist’s Way.”

Simply put, write out three handwritten pages each morning. The goal is to unblock yourself and get things off your mind, quieting your mind like with meditation.

I meditate and then do morning pages. When I meditate, I usually have random thoughts and then write them out in morning pages to get them off my mind, work through a challenge, or write about something that I’m grateful for.

The beauty of morning pages is that there is no wrong way to do them. Just write three pages of whatever is on you mind.

Meditation and morning pages coupled together have been very powerful in my life.

Be Grateful

The world is full of negativity, which is one of the reasons I’m on a permanent media diet. We can easily let ourselves get caught in waves of negativity. Ultimately, we develop negative though patterns that hold us back. As simple as it is, gratitude was a radical life changer for me in 2016.

Left unchecked, I’m the kind of person who is never satisfied. Everything could always be a little bit better. I tend to look back into history and find the things that could be better or improved. I look at things I don’t have and make a plan to get them.

Then, I started writing down what I was grateful for. Rather than focusing on what I don’t have or what I haven’t accomplished, especially when comparing myself to others, I started to be grateful for what I have and what I’ve accomplished so far in my life. I started celebrating every small win.

Something incredible happened when I started writing down what I was grateful for: I realized that I pretty much have everything I need and am good enough as I am. A lot of what I was striving for didn’t matter much and would provide incremental improvements in my life at best.

When we are grateful for what we have, we attract blessing. The more you are grateful, the more you experience gratitude, and the more generous you are to those around you.

When we write down what we are grateful for, we remember it and it becomes ingrained in us.

Make gratitude a priority in 2017.

Take a Personal Solitude Retreat

In April of 2016, I took a personal retreat to the desert of Utah. It was one of the most powerful things I’ve done for myself.

It’s not easy to get away by yourself for even several days, but if you can do it, it can be life changing.

I went for about a week and spent several days completely alone backpacking through Canyonlands National Park.

It was physically and mentally grueling, and yet extremely beautiful. It was the quietest and emptiest place I have ever been. I sat looking at sunsets in the quite forced to face and work through some internal junk. I faced boredom and loneliness. I cried. I came out of the experience much stronger, detoxed from so many negative thoughts that were holding me back. I realized how we are constantly stimulated and how damaging this can be. I found gratitude and saw the value of simplicity.

If you can, schedule a personal solitude retreat. It will at the same time be one of the worst and most beautiful experiences of your life.

Go on a Media Diet

I went on a media diet, traditional and social in 2016. I stopped watching and reading news. I stopped checking and posting on personal social media accounts.

I didn’t miss anything. When you get off the wheel, you start seeing it spinning and going nowhere.

I found myself not caring nearly as much about what others were doing and how my life compared. If I walked in somewhere that the news was on in the background, it became irritating and frustrating.

There was less stress, less comparison, and less negativity.

Read Books

In 2016, I set a goal to read a book a week. I got so close. According to the list I kept, I read a total of 46, maybe give a few that I forgot to write down.

Here are my top six books from 2016 that I highly recommend for you in 2017.

Tools of Titans by Tim Ferris: This is my top book of 2016. A 704 page monster, it was released just in time to make the 2016 que. The book is a collection of Tim Ferris’ notes from his podcast interviews. Personally, I think it’s brilliant to distill these notes into a book. The book is divided into three sections: healthy, wealthy, and wise. Not everything in the book will be interesting to you, but certain parts of it you may want to experiment with and adopt. Take these concepts, distill them for yourself and apply them to your life. This is sure to be my top gifted book in 2017.

Deep Work by Cal Newport: We live in a world of constant distraction and noise. As I wrote those words, my watch buzzed to let me know that there is something I’m missing. Time to turn the phone on airplane mode. Media consumption, especially social media consumption, is way up. This generally means that our happiness is down. The more we consume media, the less real work we actually get done. If you want to push through the noise and distraction and do work (or even a hobby) that truly makes you happy and brings real value to this world, read Deep Work. It’s a great reminder of what distraction and noise costs us. Implement the principles in the book in 2017 to get meaningful work done avoid being drowned in a sea of email, social media, false expectations, and negativity.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKown: When somebody asks you how things are going, does your default answer contain the word “busy?” Do you feel like you are constantly trying to meet the expectations of others? The book Essentialism isn’t about getting more things done for the sake of productivity. It’s about getting the right things done. It’s about eliminating the demands in our life that aren’t important to focus on the things that are. It’s about setting expectations for ourselves and boundaries for others. Where we spend our time and energy is within our control. For 2017, we need to remember that we are in control of our time and resources.

The Art of Learning by Josh Waitkins: Josh Waitkinz become famous as the subject of the movie “Searching for Bobby Fischer” based on the book written by his father. No doubt Waitkinz is a phenom and carries intelligence far beyond average. The Art of Learning is a memoir about his time studying and playing chess and Thai Chi Push Hands. He distills his experience into life principles and takeaways you can apply to your life. The book encourages us to dive deep to be at the top of our game, no matter the game.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain: As an introvert this was the most validating book I read in 2016. About a third of us are introverted. It doesn’t mean that we are trying to be jerks, but we sure can come across that way at times when we get low on energy. Introversion really means that we fill ourselves with energy by alone time. The book isn’t just a tool of validation for introverts. It’s a great tool for extroverts. I made my wife, a staunch extrovert, read it and it helped us to communicate better in our marriage. Quiet has the power to change the way we as introverts see ourselves in this world and can help the extroverted majority understand us a little better. The facts in the book are well researched and the personal stories told are excellent.

Choose Yourself by James Altucher: This is really what this post is all about, choosing yourself, investing in yourself. The world around us is changing, and you are the only thing you can truly control. This book is painfully honest. We live in an entitled world. This breaks through the entitlement and teaches us that we aren’t owed anything and that we are responsible for ourselves. It’s practical and actionable. It’s a quick read that has the power to create change in your life.

Desert Solitare: A Season in the Wilderness by Edward Abbey: I read this before going on my personal retreat to Utah and while I was actually in the desert. Abbey wrote this after spending time as a park ranger in Arches National Park in the 1960’s and chronicles Abbey’s journey of spending time in raw nature and long stretches of solitude. As we spend more time in concrete cities and immersed in technology, we lose out on time in nature that we desperately need. The message of this book is more relevant today than it was in 1968 when first published. It’s a reminder that sometimes the simplest things in life are the greatest beauty we experience.

Give Away Your Time and Money

It feels like we are stretched thin these days doesn’t it? We have so many time commitments from work to school to children to church to activities. We can’t fit it all in! We have rent and mortgages, car payments, insurance payments, medical expenses, and on and on and on. Most of us do well enough to get by with the income we make and twenty-four hours in a day, much less save or give.

Here’s the truth: giving blesses the giver.

If you are in a position to give, do it, even if you think it’s a small amount or won’t matter much. Giving will change your life.

Give to your church. Give to a local inner city organization. If you aren’t sure where to give, I recommend giving to charity: water, which brings clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations. Access to clean water is a gateway to greater incomes, levels of health, and education, especially for women an children. Visit charitywater.org for more details.

Say No

I used to say yes to nearly everything for fear of missing out on opportunity or upsetting someone. It was stressing me out and making me miserable.

If we say yes to everything, we often say no to the things that are most important. We put aside things that we see as optional, even though they may be more important, and start saying yes.

If you want to add important habits in your life, start saying not to the things that aren’t valuable and aren’t priorities. You will probably frustrate a few people. That’s on them, not you.

Most of what happens in 2017 will be out of your control: the economy, our president, neighbors, children and spouses.

What is within your control in 2017 is you. Make an investment this year in yourself.

Start a morning routine and build daily habits. Go on a news diet. Start writing, even if it’s just for yourself. Stop obsessing over social media and quit worrying about what everyone else is doing or buying or the trips they are taking. Read and study great authors. Listen to the top 500 albums of all time. Take time to focus on yourself this year.

I hope 2017 is the year that you become the change you want to see in this world.

The Most Valuable Marketing Tool You Possess

How to grow your business’s email list.

The No. 1 asset in your marketing toolbox is your email list, not your website or Facebook page.

According to a study by eMarketer, 69.7 percent of Internet users prefer to receive communications from businesses via email. And they buy from offers in email. I’ve seen effective emails conservatively generate between $2 and $5 per month per subscriber. This means that an engaged list of only 1,000 people could be worth between $24,000 and $60,000 annually.

We’re not talking about buying lists of email addresses and cold-emailing that list. We’re talking about building your own list of leads and customers. These are people who have given you permission to email them with updates, promotions and other interesting information from time to time.

Many business owners tend to put too much attention, time and money into their website and social media presence without a thought of how to use these tools to increase the number of email subscribers on their list and, ultimately, number of customers.

How Do I Build My List?

Building an email list may sound like a daunting task, but it’s not. You just have to get started. Nobody with a 100,000-person subscriber list started with 100,000 people.

First, make sure you have a service that allows you to manage your list and send messages to large numbers of people. Some will allow you to start with a free account and upgrade as you need more functionality and as your list grows. You have several options: MailChimp, emfluence, Constant Contact, InfusionSoft and more.

Some people spend months looking for the perfect mail application for their business. Those are months wasted in not building a list. Pick an email client and move forward.

Start by adding customers that have given you permission to communicate via email to a list. These are the people who are most likely to buy from you again and refer others to your business.

Add a Subscription Form to Your Website

Next, focus on your website. You probably already have traffic coming to your website, and this is the best place for you to start finding subscribers.

Set a goal of how many email subscribers you want to add to your list. To determine a number that is reasonable, look at your website traffic and make a conservative estimate that 2 percent of your traffic will convert to being subscribers if you just have a simple form that says “Subscribe to Receive Updates.”

So, if you have 100 visitors to your site a day, two people will opt in to your list with even a simple addition like this.

Install an Exit Pop-Up

An exit pop-up appears when somebody is already getting ready to leave a page or your website. (As soon as visitors mouse over their browser’s address bar or navigation bars, the pop-up will appear.) Visitors have looked at something on your page, and hopefully found something interesting or appealing. Now is your time to attempt to capture their email without interrupting them.

A properly done exit pop-up has conversion rates that typically range between 5 percent and 30 percent depending on the value you provide in the pop-up.

You need to figure out something you can give them in return for their email address.  Preferably, this needs to be something you can email to them. Videos, guides, product discounts and free consultations are just a handful of examples of what you can offer.

To set up an exit pop-up, check out tools like LeadPages that allow you to quickly and easily install these on your site, or talk to your Web developer.

Add Subscribe Links Strategically

If your website has a blog, consider putting a subscription link at the bottom of your blog posts. For example, your call to action may be “Like what you’ve read? Subscribe to have articles like these delivered directly to your inbox weekly.”

Although there are certainly better calls to action and more to offer, this is a place to start.

Get Started

The important thing is that you start and refine over time. If you make your plan too complex, you will never execute.

To increase the numbers on your list, you can either increase your website’s traffic or increase your conversion rate. Increasing your traffic is the more difficult route. The better option is to work to increase your conversion rate.

Over the next seven days, I challenge you to maintain an intense focus on building your email list. Put in the foundation above and watch your business grow.

This article was originally published on iThinkBigger.com at  https://ithinkbigger.com/valuable-marketing-tool-possess/.

Failure is not Fatal. What Happens When Your Crowdfunding Campaign Fails?

Don’t consider a failed crowdfunding campaign fatal.

Trust me when I say that a filed campaign is not fatal.  There are many stories of failed campaigns that ended up in success.

For example, the first campaign for Ryan Grepper and Coolest resulted in failure to reach his $125,000 goal.  Six months later, the second Coolest campaign raised more than $13 million out of Grepper’s $50,000 goal from over 62,000 backers, beating the previous Kickstarter record set by Pebble smart watch in 2012.

If you were to look at the two Coolest campaigns, they don’t look much different.

So, how did Grepper go from a failed campaign to the biggest success on Kickstarter to date?  He made several small changes that made a major impact…roughly a $13 million impact!

So many variables exist in a campaign that it’s hard to put a finger on any single thing that might of gone wrong the first time around with your campaign.

But, now that you have a campaign under your belt, you have something very important.  You now have the attention of a group of people who backed your campaign and want it to be successful.  You also have data and information you can use to make your next campaign an overwhelming success.

Below are seven areas you need to review after a failed campaign.

1.  Revisit the Product Itself

The first thing you need to look at is your product itself.

Sometimes the product is just not a good product.  Sometimes, the product is not exactly what people were looking for.  Sometimes the benefits of the product were not conveyed in a way that potential backers would have a clear picture as to how the product could benefit them.

Now that you have an audience of people, it’s time to ask them what might have gone wrong and what they think you can do better the next time around.

You can find out a lot of information by surveying your backers.  Through the use of campaign updates in either Kickstarter or Indiegogo, you can solicit feedback from your backers.

If you have an email list, you can send emails requesting feedback, or surveys through tools like Survey Monkey.  You can start asking questions on social media that may lead you to the potential problem.

The key here is to ask open questions to get honest feedback.

In Grepper’s case, the prototype he featured on Kickstarter didn’t have all of the features promised.  Without all the features, it was difficult for people to make the leap to envision what could be.  Plus, it took away a lot of credibility with the prototype not fully developed.

When he launched the second campaign, he had a full prototype.  People were able to see exactly what they were getting.

It’s tough to get funding without being able to demonstrate a full prototype for potential backers.  Make sure your prototype is to a point where potential backers can see what the product is going to do rather than imagine what it might be like.  It’s hard to make the leap to what your product could be.  Having a fully functioning prototype substantially boosts your credibility and your backing.

2.  Make Sure Your Video is Short and Focused on Benefits

If you look at videos of failed campaigns, the videos either focus too much on the inventor or founder’s story and the idea or the videos are vague.  Failed campaign videos also leave out product demonstrations.  I’ve also seen videos that were vague commercials about what they were doing.  These tend to fail miserably.  The story of the inventor or founder and the story of the idea is important, but it should be brief in relation to the benefits of the product.

If you analyze Kickstarter videos of successful campaigns, you will notice that the videos are more focused on the benefits to the end user, not focused on the founder and the idea.

To showcase these benefits, successful videos give a full product demonstration within the video.  Think back to infomercials, and how the product is demonstrated.  They take the product to the extreme, showing just how amazing it is.  Infomercial guys show their product removing wine stains from white linen shirts within seconds.  They have even been known to blend bowling balls in supercharged blenders.  Many of these demonstrations show the power of the product in a way that is more extreme than everyday use.  The thought then becomes “Well, if it can blend a bowling ball, it can probably handle whatever I put in there!”  Your video doesn’t have to be cheesy, but it should dramatically demonstrate how your product works and give people a reason to back your campaign.

I also find that you should focus on what I call use cases.  Your product can likely be used by people with different interests for various uses.  For example, when Pebble watch came out, without use cases nobody knew exactly how you could use it no matter how great of a product it was.  But, when you see that it can measure yardage to the pin for a golfer, golfers suddenly saw the value in the product.  When runners saw that it could display their time, pace, and mileage directly on the watch for them to easily see, it has more value to runners.

When you showcase specific features that might entice a certain audience, make sure you are speaking directly that audience.  Don’t assume they can make the leap and imagine how the product might work for them.  Show them exactly how your project benefits them.

3.  How Large Was Your Audience When You Started

So much of the success of a campaign happens before a campaign is launched.  I teach that successful campaigns have audiences built that are interested in backing your campaign long before they are launched.

You need to build a social media following, and most importantly, an email list of people who are interested in your campaign.  You need to reach out to influencers and have them promote your project to their list to tap into their audience in an effective way.

Failed campaigns go buy email lists or try to build a large audience of people who are widely uninterested on the cheap, expecting people to naturally love what they are doing and hand over their money.  This doesn’t happen.

If your campaign was not successful, your true audience of interested backers may not have been large enough.  Only a fraction of your social media followers and email list will back your campaign.

Look at the number of people from your social media following and email list that actually backed your campaign.  The number of people divided by the number of people on your list is called your conversion rate.  Take your conversion rate, and back into the number of people you need on your list at that same conversion rate to reach your goal.  That is your new goal for the size of your audience.

4.  How Engaged Was Your Audience During the Campaign?

Not only do you need a large audience, but you need them to be engaged.  If you collect email addresses and never send an email leading up to your launch, them you let them know your project is live out of the blue, you will get very little engagement.  Not only do you want people to be aware of your campaign and on your list, it’s critical that you engage your audience to get them excited about your campaign.

If you’ve done a great job engaging your audience leading up to the campaign, but didn’t get the backing you thought you would, it may be that your product or pricing didn’t line up with the expectations of your audience.  If this is the case, you need to survey your audience to find out what the issue might be.  You are likely to receive excellent information that you can use to tweak your product for  your next campaign.

When you launch your project the second time around, you will have a larger, more engage group of supporters that will not only back your campaign, but promote your campaign for you.  This multiplier effect helps you get early momentum, which will ultimately lead to a successful campaign.

Engaging your audience can dramatically increase your conversion rate from your audience, resulting in a successful campaign with a smaller audience.

5.  Was Your Initial Goal Too High?

One change that can significantly change the trajectory of your campaign is the campaign goal.  I’ve written about the importance of the size of your goal previously, and I can’t stress that enough.

With the Coolest campaign, his initial goal for the failed campaign was $125,000.  The second time around, his goal was $50,000.  He achieved the $50,000 goal in the first day, largely through his initial audience.  Once the campaign reached 100% of the funding needed, it took off and grew exponentially.

Smaller goals allow you to fund your campaign quickly.  I recommend attempting to fund your campaign within the first 48 hours.  From there, your campaign is an attractive story for media and influencers and boosts your credibility with potential backers.

Consider lowering your goal in order to raise more in funding.

6.  The Timing of Your Campaign Matters

When Coolest launched the first time, the project was launched in December, thinking that people were in the buying mood around the holiday season.

Launching in December is a common mistake.  I have never recommended launching in December.  Holiday shoppers are shopping for products as gifts that can be given now, not in the coming months.

December is typically the worst month to launch a campaign for a consumer product.  If you are launching a campaign with the idea of capturing holiday shoppers, the campaign needs to be launched in October with delivery of the product in November or early December.

Even if December was a good time for campaigns, it was not a good time to launch a campaign for a cooler designed for the summer.  People are not thinking about coolers in December.  Coolest relaunched in June of 2012 when people are thinking about coolers.

I recommend to launch in months where your product makes sense.  If you are launching a seasonal product, find a time to launch that makes the most sense.  Don’t rush into a campaign when the timing isn’t right.

7.  How Well Did You Market Your Campaign

Launching a project on Kickstart isn’t enough.  Many failed campaigns did not marketing their project throughout the duration of the campaign.  You can’t expect everyone to love what you are doing and back your project.  Your campaign is the ultimate direct marketing and sales test for your project.

Focus your marketing on sales channels that are getting the most traction.  When you first launch a campaign, you want to blanket social media channels, blogs, and email with news of your campaign.  As you move along, you will find that one or two channels are producing the most backers.

I personally find that campaigns marketing on Facebook are the most successful.  If you need to focus your marketing on one channel, my bet would be on Facebook.

Treat your campaign like a full time job for 30 days, and spend at least 80% of your time on marketing.  You will see the results if you do.

And Finally…

A failed campaign is not fatal.  If your campaign failed, you can fold up and move on, or you can look at data, get feedback, learn from your mistakes, and build a bigger and better campaign.

If you can put the pain of failure aside, you may realize that this is a great opportunity.  If you’ve had a failed campaign, my hope is that your campaign will be the next Coolest.

Take a look at the seven factors above.  You may only be a few feet away from striking gold.

A New Way to Look at Challenges

No matter what we do, life is full of challenges. We all know this, and yet we would prefer that things be easy and smooth.

This is especially true in my own life. If I’m being honest with myself I would prefer that things be easy and I not have to deal with challenges.

When things don’t go our way (surprise!) we get frustrated, or at least I do.

I read something last night about the concept of Mini Successes that helped reshape my frame of mind regarding challenges.

These Mini Successes are things we often overlook.

A Mini Success is pretty simple.  Every time we fail, or hit a road block, or face some challenge, we have the opportunity to get back up and do it better.

We often miss out on these opportunities because we view them as a setback.  We get frustrated.  Sometimes we quit.  When we look at these challenges as pain, we miss the lesson we learn.

Solving problems and overcoming these challenges provides us with the opportunity to learn what to do differently and to move forward.

When you think about it, this looks a lot like growth.

We learn we can move through obstacles.

My challenge to all of us, especially myself, is that we learn to change our mindset about challenges, roadblocks, setbacks, and failures. Your mindset determines whether they are setbacks or will take you to the next level of success.

We face challenges every day. Let’s frame our mind to make them opportunities for success.

Focus on the Inputs

As entrepreneurs, we have to be mentally strong. I believe that mental strength and mindset are what set successful entrepreneurs a part from the rest.

If you let your emotions get to you, you’ll crack as an entrepreneur.

There are days where I just want to quit. Then, there are days I’m on top of the world.

When your job is to create results, there are definitely ups and downs. The frustrating part is that, as an entrepreneur you can do something that causes great results. Then, the very next day, you can do the same thing and get a greatly varied result.

One thing I’ve learned is that we can only control the inputs, not the outputs. Results are necessary, but if we focus too much on the output, we will drive ourselves crazy.

We have to know what inputs are most likely to create the desired outcome and stick with them. If we lose faith, we may start putting in the wrong inputs and things feel like the are spiraling out of control.

Know what works, trust in yourself and trust the process, and persevere with the right inputs.

What do you think? Do you have anything to add?

Direct Versus Indirect Offers

In the last step, you probably noticed that I talked about direct and indirect offers.

I want to take a second to talk about the difference between direct and indirect offers. This is important to know and understand as you setup your offers. lead magnets, and ads.

Direct Offers

Most of us are used to direct offers in advertising. A gym promotes a $1 enrollment fee. A dentist office promotes a $19 initial exam that includes exams, x-rays, and a cleaning.

These are direct offers as the offers are designed for you to take an action, which is to make a phone call to schedule an appointment or buy something within a close proximity of time to seeing that ad.

A direct offer is generally more intimidating than an indirect offer. With a direct offer, you are asking that person to pick up the phone and make an appointment with a person or a business that they don’t know. In order to do this, there typically has to be great value given in an advertisement to get somebody to take this action.

You will hear people talk about how these offers are no longer effective, but they are wrong, at least for a lot of businesses. Direct offers work for certain services and certain industries to certain demographics. If you are looking to reach seniors, direct offers work much better than indirect offers. If you are looking to reach millennials, your offer will either not be noticed or will be laughed at.

There are also personalities who want to make a decision quickly. They don’t want all of the information. They don’t want to fret over making the best decision. They want to make a good, yet quick, decision that will help them solve their problem.

In Facebook marketing, there are times to use direct offers. Direct offers can be used to sell services and products, but you have to carefully watch your conversion numbers to make sure you are making a profit from your conversion ads.

Indirect Offers

But, because of how most people behave on Facebook, and because we are trying to build an email list, we are focusing more on indirect offers. An indirect offer is where we are giving something of value in return for contact information typically. In return for receiving something, the potential customer or client is willing to allow you to send them additional information and additional offers. At some point, this potential customer may turn into an actual customer.

Indirect offers are typically less intimidating. With an indirect offer, you are giving something that is both relevant and valuable in order to gain trust and credibility with the prospective customer. There is an exchange of value. You provide them with information that solves their problem, or maybe a significant discount that they can use within a certain timeframe, to make a purchase.

A great example of indirect offers that you see in television commercials, and one of the first forms of indirect offers as far as I’m aware, are for reverse mortgage companies. Instead of asking somebody to make an appointment with a broker or representative that they do not know, the offer is to call a phone number to receive an information packet by mail. It’s extremely impersonal. They call and leave a message with their contact information, and a couple of weeks later a packet arrives by mail. They can also go online and fill out a form with their information to receive the packet via email or mail. The prospective customer doesn’t have to talk to another person. They don’t have to make an appointment. They receive information that they can read on their own terms to help them make a decision.

Response levels initially on indirect offers are higher than direct offers. With indirect offers, there has to be a follow up to have people take action. You can reach out to them by phone, mail, or email depending on how that person prefers to be contacted. Very few people will take action on their own without a follow up.

My recommendation is that you focus on indirect offers for the purpose of building your email list. Your initial goal is to convert somebody to an email address. Making an appointment isn’t necessarily the best way to do that.

With an indirect offer, you are adding three steps to the sales process: 1) giving something of value, 2) gathering an emails address and 3) follow up.

These extra steps create a true marketing funnel.

If you are ready to take your Facebook advertising to a whole new level, check out this course I put together.  Get 90% off through April 24, 2015!

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What the Heck is a Lead Magnet?

In order to collect email addresses, you want to create a lead magnet. A lead magnet is something of value that you exchange in return for something like an email address, to attract your ideal target marketing. Generally, a lead magnet is something that offers a solution to a problem.

The first step in developing a lead magnet is to define a problem that your market has. One way to do this is to look for other lead magnets that are being offered to your market and put your own spin on it. The better way is to ask. Spend some time asking your target audience what they struggle with, what they want to know or learn about, and what you can do to help them. You will be amazed, because they will give you the answer, and it typically doesn’t take that long for you to key in on the problem.

A lead magnet works because you are able to give them something before you ever ask for money. You are building value and, hopefully, building a relationship of trust with your prospects.

The lead magnet attracts your ideal prospect to you and allows you to create a lead. It allows you to capture an email list. Building an email list is the backbone of building a sustainable business. With an email list, you have a pipeline of potential buyers at all times. You are constantly adding to your email list as well.

Lead magnets come in all forms. Here are a few examples to choose from:

Free in-person consultation

Free phone consultation

Webinar

Video training

Coupon

Free report

Contest entry

EBook

Depending on your audience, these will convert at different levels. In my experience, webinars and video training convert well because they seem to carry the most value to a prospective customer.

Free phone consultations work sometimes, but these are much more similar to direct offers than indirect offers because it is requiring somebody to step out of their comfort zone a little more than they are potentially willing.

I would rather provide something they can watch or read before offering an consultation and then

In-Person Consultation or Phone Consultation

If you are providing a service, you may want to advertise on Facebook that you offer a free, in-person or phone consultations. This strategy gives you the ability to add value in person and then make an offer for a sale of your services.

In my opinion, you may have a lower initial conversion rate from your Facebook ad because this is a direct offer, but it’s definitely worth testing. You will want to track the cost to convert somebody into an in-person consultation and then convert that lead into a sale. The highest likelihood of converting somebody into a sale is when you are in person.

I also recommend offering a free in-person consultation as a second step in the process. You could offer a free video or downloadable guide. The offer at the end of the video, guide, and in subsequent email follow up could be to make a free appointment. From there, you can meet and propose a sale of services. This allows you a little time to build trust with a giveaway. Again, the data will tell.

Webinar

A live webinar through something like Google Hangouts gives you the ability to build rapport live, or even through a recorded session. Your attendees can hear your voice and see you over the camera. This is a great way to scale and create versions. It is much more scalable than in-personal consultations. If you are selling information or even services, you can make your offer at the end of the webinar and track your conversions.

I like webinars more than in-person consultations because it is impersonal and takes away the intimidation in registering for a webinar.

For most product based businesses, webinars don’t work that well unless your audience would actually attend a webinar for whatever reason. If you are selling a product to distributors and they need to know the features and benefits of a product, then this may work. If you are selling a higher priced item and want to show people the case studies, etc., this may work. But, a lot of the times, this can be accomplished just as easily in a video, and your likelihood of somebody downloading or watching a video is much better than somebody joining a webinar.

A webinar is best for topics where people want to learn something that they can take and use themselves.

Videos

Videos are great lead magnets but not always as effective as webinars fell more personal and typically performed live. A quick video showing a solution to a specific problem can work well, but a video series tends to work better. If you are going to offer videos as lead magnets, I recommend sending several videos over the course of a few days to build value into the video series. Otherwise, somebody may feel like they can search on YouTube and find the same information.

Audio Recording

Depending on your target audience, you could send somebody an audio recording. I find that audio recordings don’t convert as well as webinars and videos into leads, and they don’t always convert into sales. Ultimately, you are trying to sell. My recommendation is to spend the time on the webinar instead of the audio recording. You will likely yield better conversions to leads and leads to sales.

Free Reports and eBooks

I like free reports and eBooks because they are fairly simple to create and convert well. It is extremely impersonal, but it allows you to present your expertise and credibility in written format. Free reports and eBooks are great tools to use as an initial lead magnet that can lead to another free offer or small offer that leads to a bigger sale. With reports and eBooks, you can generally set it and forget it. You can easily automate the process and track results.

Coupons

If you are selling physical products, a coupon works really well. The coupon could be for something free with a first order, a percentage or dollar discount off a first order, free shipping, or a bonus item with an order. When I run coupons, my goal is to generate leads and convert those leads into buyers. It is both a lead generation and customer acquisition strategy.

Develop Your Lead Magnet

Start making a list of lead magnets you can create. Start with finding one problem that you can solve for your target market and create a lead magnet surrounding that solves that problem.

If you scroll through your feed long enough, you will start seeing ads for lead magnets from webinars, to eBooks to coupons. To see the lead magnets that are working, look for comments where somebody is mentioning somebody else’s name along with the number of likes and shares. The more comments, likes and shares, the more engagement they are likely receiving on that lead magnet.

This is a great place to start with creation of your lead magnet. Look at what’s working for others in your industry and put your own personal spin on the lead magnet.

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