Embracing the Struggle

If you’re reading this, you’re most likely a business owner or entrepreneur. You are following your dream, trying to do something you love and excel at. You care about your craft. You know most of your customers by name. You are an active and vital part of your community.

Running a business is hard work. Definitely one of the hardest things you’ve ever done. You’ve gone all in on making this succeed, because that’s how much you believe in yourself. You know you’re providing your customers something that makes their daily lives a bit better. Your product is something people want and they are willing to pay for on a regular basis.

Your business is growing, but slower than you would like. Dealing with the minutiae of business stuff leaves you tired sometimes, but you’re always ready the next day, because this is the work you were called to do. You’re embracing the struggle, even when it’s a bittersweet ride.

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Guest Blogging For SEO Is Dead

Yesterday’s news that Google is taking a dim view of guest blogging for SEO is a nuclear bomb going off in the search marketing world. No one can say this came without warning. No less than four videos posted by Google’s Matt Cutts in the past year hinted that guest blogging for backlinks was a bad idea. Yesterday’s post by Cutts was the end of beating around the bush.

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Legacy Matters

All of us have a limited time on this planet, but more than enough time to leave some sort of mark. Legacy matters to me, because I want my life to have some sort of meaning.

Healthy, honest relationships seem to be the foundation for everything fruitful. I’d like to nurture more of those. They are not always easy, and not possible with every single person we meet, but gratifying when they occur. Our experiences are one way we ripple out into the world, farther than we can see.

Our work can be meaningful, if we allow it to be. I’d like the work I do to have an impact on the people I do it for. This is another way we can affect the larger world.

The respect of our industry peers can be satisfying. Some of us have a hunger to become great—but not everyone can or will get to a point where they are satisfied with what they’ve accomplished. If I do good and meaningful work, and my clients and peers recognize that, most of the journey towards greatness has been completed.

Dreamers have to open themselves to the pain of falling short. Mediocrity is a safe place for many, but painful when you desire success, however you define it.

I’ve lived a colorful life so far. My wish is to leave this mortal plane having lived each day to its fullest and make the people around me a bit better than they were before. I hope these words resonate with you.

On Fear

Fear is tricky. It hides in the corner of your mind, holding you back or driving you towards insane goals so you can feel whole. Primitive, instinctual fear is continually trying to shout down or quietly subdue our rationality.

My fears weren’t always visible to me. I had to learn how to see them, and analyze where each of them came from.

I’m terrified of failure. I mean the type of failure where you don’t have a normal life waiting for you afterwards. I fear becoming forgotten, irrelevant—surrounded by people who have never known a life without confidence and success.

One of the things I fear the most is history repeating, despite all my foresight and effort.

I can’t hide. I wear my emotions on my sleeve. I try to approach things rationally, but I’m always reverting. A lot of my fear is tied to survival. Work/ life balance? Honestly, I’m too scared to slow down.

When we expose ourselves, we’re hoping people won’t laugh at us. Honesty is about dropping the defenses, and acknowledging our vulnerability. I’m typing these words as much to survive as anything else. What did Maslow say? Survive >> Thrive >> Self-actualize?

Legacy matters—it means our lives have purpose. Not having a purpose is an insane fear for a lot of people. We have to keep finding that purpose over and over.

Change is inevitable, you have to embrace it. We keep evolving as we go through our life. We’re never in the same place twice, never in the same situation twice.

Relationships matter. You can’t succeed unless other people want to see you succeed. I worry about living up to expectations, keeping my word. I’m just trying to be honest and not hurt anyone.

I fear rejection less than I used to. I’ve stopped fearing ridicule, but I’ve also learned to consider the sources. I have to remind myself that being criticized by a few people is a sign that you’re probably getting somewhere.

Everyone’s root fear seems to be being able to pass for normal. Not fucking up. Fitting in.

But trying too hard to fit in is also a path of compromise. I know this, but it doesn’t stop the irrational fear that people won’t like me, that they’re waiting for me to do something wrong, so they can just move on.

This fear comes from the knowledge that you can’t ever do it alone. Help is something you have to accept. Admitting you can᾿t do everything is the beginning of humility—knowing your limits.
Is humility a blessing or a curse? Success is something that I’ve always had to struggle and work my ass off for. I’m not sure I’ll ever be in a position to be anything but humble.

Would I be able to handle Big Success? I don’t know—I’m not at that level yet. Would I change? Would I start doing things just for the sake of having people continue to like me? I want to say “No”.

Being able to handle anxiety comes from hindsight and experience. I know I’ve lived a full, well-rounded, multi-faceted life, and that gives me a lot of experience to draw from.

We have a tendency to cover up fear with bravado, making it seem like we’re always in control. We accentuate the attributes we want people to notice and never talk about our failure, our pain or our difficult choices. We seldom talk about having to battle our inner doubts. When someone has achieved success, then it’s okay to talk about it. When we’re relatively safe, then we can spin it as a success story. The real trick is calling it a success story when you’re still in the middle of writing it.

Finding Your Target Audience Online

If you’ve already figured out how your business stands out from the crowd and defined who your target audience is, you’re probably working hard creating content that tells the unique story of your business. You also need to get busy finding your target audience online, so you can tell them your awesome story, deliver great content to them, and demonstrate why your service is the best choice for them.

Finding warm leads who are already looking for your particular service is more efficient than firing random marketing efforts out into the void. The better you know your target audience, the better chance you have of delivering your message to them.

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Steal Your Education

Very few people are going to say this to you, so I figure it’s up to me. If you want to make a change in your life, you have to grab it, because the world owes each of us nothing. You’re going to have to go and steal your education.

I’m not talking strictly about school or college, that’s only the beginning of the path. College is okay for getting started (if you’re lucky), but your education lasts an entire lifetime. Stealing your education involves a lot of work, discipline, and desire. You’ll have to ask questions that have might have uncomfortable or cryptic answers, you’ll have to find mentors, and read a lot of books.

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Create A One Year Plan For Your Business

Since 2007, I’ve been doing something simple yet powerful at the end of each year. I believe this task has improved my way of life and has helped pave the way for my future endeavors. I’m talking about creating a one year plan. I’m constantly thinking of how I can improve, and defining those thoughts on paper gives me something to focus on. I begin by writing everything down I can think of. Then I start refining my yearly goals. The more specific you can make your goals, and the more details you can envision, the more likely your goals are to occur.

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Lessons From My First Full Year Of Freelancing

In November of 2012, after a couple of years of building sites for myself and friends, the time had come to make the plunge to building websites full-time and start freelancing. These are the things that I learned from my own experiences.

Community matters. This rule applies not only to the web industry, but all business. You can’t do it all alone. People have to want to see you succeed. Establishing connections within the web community when you’re freelancing, is critical. Attending conferences to network is not always practical for those just starting out, but attending local Meetups or even helping others in forums can help. For some odd reason, face-time is always better, but Skype or a phone call can help people feel connected to you. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people.

Helping others whenever you can is important. Be genuinely interested in other people and how you can help them.

Share what you know. Sharing what you have learned, either through repos or a blog is a way that you can give back to the community and establish yourself as a voice of authority. The best way to learn is to teach others, and even if you feel you do not know that much, you will know more than someone else out there. Learning to write effectively is the #1 thing that you can do to help establish what makes you different from everyone else.

It matters what types of gigs you accept. Ideally, you’ll begin your freelancing career with a few paying gigs lined up already. After that, you may be able to get referrals from people who are familiar with your work. Be wary of sites like Elance or ODesk. My own experience is that people shopping for services there are primarily concerned with finding the lowest price. The same applies for sites that make you pay a fee to apply to a gig, such as Thumbtack. I don’t like these sites because discovering what the clients needs are is very difficult. I experimented with these sorts of sites in the first few months of freelancing, but I quickly found them to consume a lot of time for very little return.

You won’t always have the luxury of being picky. There will be times you just need to earn some cheddar for your bills. Designing full websites is far superior to fix-it or maintenance gigs; you can quantify what you did and the effect it had on the business. Consultants are more valuable than mechanics, so putting case studies in your portfolio should be your goal. The case studies you put in your portfolio should be similar to the type of work you want to do in the future.

Spend some time figuring out what sort of clients you want. This takes a little time, but it is vital. Defining your ideal client will keep you from chasing clients that are not a good fit for you. In the long run, this will save you a lot of time, and generate a client base that is best suited to your skills and expertise. In a related note: you sometimes have to say no to good things to make room for better things.

NEVER work without a contract. Although hundreds of respected web professionals have already said this, freelancers still get caught in this trap. Even if you think the job is so small that you won’t need a contract, please use one. I ignored this rule once, I won’t ever do it again. If the client balks at signing a contract, then feel free to run for the hills. A web project cannot succeed without trust between the designer and client. Unwillingness to sign a contract is a huge red flag.

Don’t do spec work. Fortunately, this has never happened to me, but I have seen it happen to others. Your time is valuable, and you must respect it before anyone else does. Also avoid any client who states that “if this job goes well, there will be more work for you in the future”. SPOILER ALERT: There won’t be any more work in the future.

Projects you can share are better than ones you can’t. Whenever possible, work on projects that you can write about in the form of a case study. If a client makes you sign an NDA, charge accordingly, because that work will likely never go in your portfolio.

Don’t undervalue your work. Freelancing is a feast and famine cycle. You don’t always know when gigs will line up, so you have to charge enough for those lean months. Things seem to slow down around the holidays, so keep that in mind. Be sure to charge enough to cover taxes and business expenses. If you can, find a good accountant who has handled web consultants before, who will understand your particular needs. Remember that clients are paying not just for your time, but also your expertise.

Avoid client blaming. I realize that sites like Clients From Hell have popularized the notion that the designer is always right, and the client is always at fault, but I find the Clients from Hell attitude to be repulsive. Clients come to us because they need our expertise and guidance. If there is a problem with client expectations, the first place we should look is within our own process. Refining our client onboarding, discovery, and design experience is the key to our survival as freelancers. Learn from your past mistakes, and provide professionalism not only in your design work, but in the overall experience.

Always be learning. Always be expanding your skills not only in design and code, but in business and presentation. I learn something new from every freelancing project and every client. You are always a work in progress.

Remember what’s important. Give yourself time to spend with family and loved ones. You cannot be on call 24/7. Set reasonable expectations and stick to them. Your family is who will keep you strong through the hard times (and there will likely be some dark times). You need them in your corner. If they aren’t in your corner, you aren’t going to make it. Remember why you are doing what you are doing and always be grateful. Peace.

How I Set and Achieve Personal Goals

Everyone wants to take control their life. Everyone wants to be successful, and every person has a unique definition of what that success is. We cannot control every circumstance, or every other person in the world, but we can control ourselves. In fact, that is the only thing that we do have control over.

There is no magic formula that will enable you to get rich quick, master a skill, or make people notice you. You will always have to do the work. You will always have to build the foundation and build layers on top of it. Luck is a factor, but you have to be prepared beforehand when that opportunity present itself.

I have found it is more important to be happy with how you live day-to-day than anything else. The journey is the part that determines who you are, because the journey never stops.

Below is a system I have been using for about five years now. It’s one that I put together from many books I’e read and my own personal philosophy. I’ve honed it down to these bullet points, which I will explain afterwards.

  1. Words are powerful
  2. Think about what you want and why
  3. Write it down
  4. Be specific as possible
  5. Believe it
  6. Surround yourself with people who also believe
  7. Do the work
  8. Reassess regularly

Words Are Powerful

Whatever you think, you will speak. Whatever you speak, you are asking the Universe to do to you. Have you ever wondered why every creation story involves the deity speaking the world into existence? It’s because our words have power. Use your words to create your future, and not destroy it. By this I mean, do not be negative about your circumstances or your plans. Speak of your plans as something that can, and will eventually exist. Stay grounded in reality, but safeguard your own thoughts and words so that you do not sabotage yourself with negativity.

Think About What You Want, and Why?

If your goal is to earn a million dollars, there has to be a reason for it. The better the reason, the more complete your image of this goal will be, and the more likely it is that Fate will listen to reason. Think of all the people who amassed fortune and blew it all (MC Hammer, Kenneth Lay, etc.). Their reason for achieving the dream was not well-defined, or built on shaky ground, and when they fulfilled their goal, there was no reason behind it. Avarice and greed are not a good enough reason for achieving your goal. Personal pride or revenge are not much better. Spending more time with your family, being able to give back to the community or charity, or even living a lifestyle that you want to are reasons that the Universe seems to listen to. Choosing a strong reason is important, because the path to your goal will not always be easy, and you need something worth fighting for.

Write It Down

Remember when I said words are powerful? Writing your goals down makes everything concrete. It shows you’re serious, and that you’re going to keep track of what happens. Make sure to include a time-frame of when these goals are supposed to happen. I recommend a 1 year plan, and you may include longer and shorter timeframes as well (6 months, 3 years, 5 years are good milestones to include). I like a one year plan, because it gives a time limit, and it gives you enough time to act on your goals, and for outside factors to come into play.

Be Specific As Possible

I can’t stress this enough: the more specific you get, the more likely you are to reach your goal. Numbers are good, specific circumstances are good. It gives you something well-defined to aim at. If we are the creators of our own destiny, then the better we can define it, the more likely it is to come about. Your mind likes a detailed story better than it does a very vague one.

Believe It

You have to believe your goals are going to happen. No one else can do this part for you. If you don’t have faith that you’re moving closer to your goals every single day, you are going to become disheartened and give up.

If you do believe in yourself and your goals, eventually other people will too. This is key, because we all need other people on our side.

Surround Yourself With Other People Who Believe

Successful people talk about this one a lot. Just like it’s important to keep your own negativity at bay, you also need to surround yourself with people who believe in and support your efforts. Words are powerful; other people’s negativity can affect you, and doubt can seep in. You need people who believe in the path you are building in your corner, for those times when you feel low and close to defeat. They will help you stay focused, and be your biggest allies on this difficult road.

Do The Work

This one is easy. Most of the time, this is the part we are most passionate about. You have to put in the work at perfecting your craft, science, or endeavor to reach the goal. Show up every day and give it your all. Learn as much as you can, and put it into practice. There is no shortcut to this step. Some people have a natural aptitude for your path, but they had to do the work too. Don’t long for someone else’s path; embrace the path you have for yourself and make the absolute most out of it.

Reassess Regularly

Come back periodically and chart how you are progressing on your goal timelines. I just recently checked my 2013 goal sheet–I am definitely surprised at how many of these goals I’ve reached. This means I can be more ambitious for my 2014 goal sheet and feel pretty confident that I can reach those new goals. Believing you can reach the goals you write down is pretty important. You have to buy in all the way.

Another thing I am noticing is that my goals at the beginning of last year were coming from a different mentality than I am at now. Last year, I was more concerned with broad career goals. I didn’t understand where I wanted to fit in as well as I do now. This year, I can write more specific goals, focused on this better understanding of how I fit in currently, and what I want my role to be in the future. Some of my goals from last year won’t be as high of a priority this coming year. This is also something I can adjust, as my life continues to evolve.

Conclusion

I hope this articles offers some new ideas for you on how to set your personal goals and achieve them.