Is there anything GOOD about Tax Day?

My salary through the first 11 years of my career

I just finished my 2016 taxes.

Tax Day is one of the few times I look backwards to measure my progress. The two big questions I always ask myself are “Was this year better than last year?” and “What can I do to make next year even better?” I still do this every year now that I’m self-employed.

Earning more isn’t just about getting a bigger paycheck—it’s about measuring progress in the areas where you’re investing.

Here’s a graph of my income through the first 11 years of my career or so. You can see that I made solid progress over the long-term, but there were short-term dips where I actually moved backwards.

Base salary over the first 11 years of my career
Base salary over the first 11 years of my career

Why did I do that?

Because I knew that making short-term sacrifices would lead to longer-term progress. Those little steps back were career changes where I moved from electrical engineering to consulting, or got my first opportunity to build a team.

This is a great illustration of the difference between strategy (my long-term plan) and tactics (the individual actions I took to execute on my long-term strategy).

Making progress requires a mix of tactics that increase your salary and increase your future potential to earn a higher salary. Sometimes, you should simply use smart tactics to ask for a raise. Sometimes, you should zoom out and take a strategic approach by looking for a position with more long-term career growth (like a managerial role, or a role that will enable you to add a new skill to your repertoire).

Here’s what this might look like for a phase of your career:

  • Tactical: Start a new job and negotiate the best salary possible (much higher salary)
  • Strategic: Learn the ropes and begin exceeding expectations (slightly higher salary)
  • Strategic: Look for opportunities to acquire new skills (higher potential, salary may be flat or even down)
  • Tactical: Ask for a promotion with a raise to compensate you for your new skills (higher salary)
  • Strategic: If you start feeling that you can’t make steady progress at your current job, you might find a new job and start that cycle over (much higher salary, much higher potential)

Strategy and tactics. Of course, most of those steps are a mix of strategy and tactics, but you can see that each step leans pretty heavily one way or the other.

The most important thing is that you have an overall career strategy so that you can deploy the right tactics at the right time to execute on your strategy.

My book Fearless Salary Negotiation is jam-packed with valuable tactics you can use to increase your salary throughout your career. Learn how to get your next raise or promotion, how to ace your job interviews, and how to negotiate a higher salary. I also offer 1-on-1 strategy sessions where we’ll dial in your long-term career strategy.

 >> Click here to learn more about Fearless Salary Negotiation

Have you ever been this excited about a couple dollars of candy?

I like movies, and I really like Oscars season. I usually try to watch all the Best Picture nominees, although I didn’t quite make it this year.

I know what you’re thinking: “He’s going to write something about how Warren Beatty messed up the Best Picture award. 🙄” I’ll be honest: I did consider that. But! I found something a little closer to my own heart 😉

Before I tell you about it, think for a minute about the people who go to the Oscars. Most of them are famous. Many of them are far more wealthy than I can even really comprehend.

These are people who fly on private jets. They own mansions. They own vacation homes in fancy-sounding places around the world. They can have pretty much whatever they want whenever they want it.

And then there’s this:

Candy drop!

I mean, look at this!

This is so cute.
“This is so cute.”

What are they so excited about? Jimmy Kimmel air-dropped free candy onto the audience and they went nuts over it.

When’s the last time you were this excited about a couple dollars of candy? Have you ever been this excited about a couple dollars of candy? I don’t think I have, and I love candy.

This is fantastic because Jimmy found a way to turn a couple dollars worth of candy into ecstasy for people who could literally buy the company that makes the candy.

So how did he get millionaires to freak out over a couple dollars worth of candy?

After the show, he said he knew people would get cranky as the show went on, but he needed the audience to be on their A-game all night because they’re such a big part of the show. So he gave them surprise snacks to keep them awake and happy. The result? Celebrities looking longingly at other celebrities’ candy.

Candy envy
Candy envy

Drop some Red Vines into your interviews

Jimmy identified a specific problem—the audience would get cranky without snacks—and provided a timely solution that was totally unexpected.

You can use this same tactic to get an outsized reaction in your job interviews. How? 

Do some basic research (Google) so you know what needs the company currently has, and think specifically about how you can help them address those needs.

For example, if the company’s Jobs page is full of listings for Sales people in the mid-west region, they’re probably trying to grow the business in that region. And you would think about how your skillset and experience could contribute—directly or indirectly—to that goal.

“It looks like you’re trying to grow your business with more sales in the mid-west. I can help improve the user experience of your software so it’s easier to demo, and so more customers buy it after they try it.”

You can do this basic research in just 10–15 minutes, but the result can be huge: Drop some Red Vines into your interview, and you’ll get more high-quality job offers and more room to negotiate those offers.

My favorite candy is either Sour Patch Kids or Mike and Ikes (depends on the day). Today, it’s Mike and Ikes 😊

I call this interview technique “positioning”, and it’s a very potent tool you can use to differentiate yourself from other similarly-qualified candidates in your interviews and even when asking for a raise.

The Complete Bundle of Fearless Salary Negotiation includes an expert interview on exactly how to use positioning to get more high-quality job offers. Plus it has nearly three hours of video courses, email templates, worksheets, case studies and everything you need to know exactly what to say in your job interviews.

It’s your job to help them focus

I finally got to go to a basketball game at the Gators’ new Exactech Arena (most of us call it the O’Dome) here in Gainesville. It’s fantastic. The seats are more comfortable, the layout is better (not a bad seat in the house), and the overall experience is better.

But before I can tell you how awesome the renovated arena is, here’s what the old arena looked like:

The old O'Dome arena
Click to see a larger version

Not bad! I saw a lot of great games there.

Before you read anymore, consider this question: In that picture, what’s the focus? For me, the first thing I see is those bright screens up in the corners. Then I see the game on the court, but even looking at the game, I’m distracted by the floor-level screens with ads on them. And my focus also gets pulled out to all the fans.

Yes, there’s a game going on, but the scoreboards, ads, and other fans are getting much of my attention too.

Here’s my view in the renovated arena the other day:

The new O'Dome arena
Click to see a larger version

Now consider the same question I asked about the old arena: In that picture, what’s the focus?

There are still bright screens up top, but the other fans are almost invisible—I have to actively look for them. And even though there are bright screens above the game, my focus is constantly pulled toward the game on the court.

This is the same building, same type of event, and I was sitting in the same part of the arena for both pictures. But the new arena is clearly a better experience.

Why is the new O’Dome better than the old one?

I went to a lot of games in the old O’Dome, and they were a lot of fun. But my first experience in the new O’Dome felt special because the new design helps me focus on the things that really matter.

There are two things that really stand out to me about the new design, and I’ve heard lots of other people talking about them as well.

  1. The lighting is better. Before, the whole arena was lit, so watching a basketball game was sort of like watching a movie while the theatre lights were on. It was the same game, but there were lots of distractions. Now, the court is well lit, and the rest of the arena is much darker, so the floor is the focal point of the arena and other distractions are minimized. That makes it easier to focus on the game, which is why we’re there, right?
  2. The are almost 1,500 fewer seats (down from 11,548 to 10,133). This seems counterintuitive, especially in the South where arenas and stadiums have been adding capacity for decades now. But the result is fantastic: All of the seats are more comfortable and the space feels more intimate.

The new experience is so good that I’m telling you about it here, and I’m going to another game tonight.

Help them focus

When you’re moving forward in your career, help the decision makers focus on the few things that really matter. Do the work for them, just like the new O’Dome does for fans: it helps us focus completely on the game because the entire arena is designed for that purpose.

When you’re interviewing, this means learning about the company—their goals and challenges—and describing how you are uniquely qualified to help them address those things. When you’re pursuing a raise or promotion, this means focusing on the specific ways that you’re making the team or company better by either improving the business itself, driving additional revenue, or reducing costs.

Fearless Salary Negotiation is going on sale next week!

My book Fearless Salary Negotiation will show you exactly what to say to help them focus on your best attributes in your interviews and when you ask for your next raise.

I hope you didn’t notice

I studied Computer Engineering as an undergrad student at the University of Florida, and then later I went back for my MBA (Go Gators!). So it’s no surprise that I spend my days doing a mix of engineering and business administration.

Last month was a little unusual because I was almost entirely focused on a big engineering project. And although the entire project is focused on you, I hope you didn’t notice.

That’s one of the interesting things about my job: I’m here to help you get the most out of your career while staying out of your way so you can conduct your career 😊

So what have I been up to?

I’m glad you asked! It’s all about workflows like this one:

Workflow in my notebook
Customer intake workflow (click for bigger version)

This is how I send readers the most useful information as quickly as possible. Instead of making assumptions and sending generic advice, this workflow helps me to find out where you’re focused right now—interviewing, negotiating a new salary, or planning to ask for a raise—so I can send timely advice right away.

And this is just one workflow of several I’ve been working on. Here’s a bigger-picture perspective—the workflow above is the middle one in black:

Workflows on my whiteboard
I have a giant whiteboard in my office (click for bigger version)

I spend most of my day asking myself, “How can I make this better?” Sometimes that leads me to an engineering task, and sometimes it leads me to a business task. But I almost always enjoy what I do.

A big part of this project was improving the bundles I offer for my book, Fearless Salary Negotiation. If you’re ready to finally take control of your career, check it out!

I couldn’t figure it out on my own

My friends invented a game called Trashcan Ball. It’s a mash-up of soccer, lacrosse, and basketball. You score by putting the ball in the other team’s trashcan.

Trashcan ball
The equipment (they didn’t get too clever with the name)

You can carry the ball, throw it, or kick it, but if you get tagged while you’re holding the ball in your hand, it’s a turnover.

That’s basically all there is to it. But there also aren’t any boundaries and the game never stops moving. It’s my favorite way to work out.

Trashcan ball in action
That’s me in the gray shirt

I like trashcan ball so much because it’s a very simple game to learn—I told you all the rules in one sentence—but it’s really hard to play well.

Fast-broke

One day I made a mistake on a fast-break in a really tight game. James—one of my teammates—told me I messed it up, but I didn’t quite understand how I messed it up. I thought about that mistake a lot over the next couple days, and just couldn’t figure out the right way to run that particular play. I was stumped.

So I called James and asked him: “What am I supposed to do on that fast break?” He immediately knew the play I was talking about: “I’m ahead of the play, so you should pass it up to me as early as possible. You held it too long, and that allowed the defense to adjust and challenge our shot.”

Then I got it. I knew where I messed up and I understood fast-breaks better so I wouldn’t make similar mistakes in the future.

I couldn’t figure it out on my own, but it only took James a couple sentences to set me straight because he’s a good coach. Good coaches understand their subject and have a unique ability to help people understand the subject and get results.

My readers get results

I just finished a coaching engagement with a client who had job offers from a couple of big-name companies. He really had his eye on one of those companies, but their offer just wasn’t all that great. “How can we get them to improve this offer?”, he wanted to know.

So we went back to them and—are you ready for this?—asked them for a better offer. They improved the base salary and target bonus components by about $3,000 each, but we felt like he could still do better. So we worked together on a counter offer.

In the end, they threw in a $10,000 signing bonus to help convince him to take the job. We worked together to improve his original offer by over $16,000! He’s going to use most of it to help pay down student loans, and he and his wife could take a nice vacation this year, too. 

Expecting a job offer soon?

Don’t try to figure out salary negotiation on your own. My book Fearless Salary Negotiation will be your guide.

How to get a raise on purpose

My first job out of high school was a summer gig at a mortgage lender. They paid me $8.50 an hour to do “t-patching”, which was basically organizing boxes of mortage files so they could be scanned onto microfiche. (Yeah, this was a little while ago, but not that long ago. Even when I was doing this, I remember thinking it seemed pretty old school.)

Image
The 90s version of Google image search

ANYWAY, that job was awful. But I figured that if I just worked hard enough, I would eventually finish all of the t-patching and they would have to give me something better to do.

So I flew through that t-patching. My boss brought me a box, and I finished it in a few hours. Then she brought me another box and I finished that one even faster, so she brought me two boxes the next time. I knocked them out really quickly.

My big break

I did this for about two weeks, figuring I had to be just about finished with all the t-patching so I could do something better. But before I could finish all the boxes, my boss came to me and said, “Hey, you’ve been doing a great job here. What do you think of moving up to customer service? We need help there and it pays better, but you’ll have to talk to customers on the phone.”

FINALLY! Of course I accepted, and they sent me to three weeks of training and gave me a raise to $10.25 an hour. My first raise and promotion only two weeks in!

My boss took me to meet the new team I would be working with and we passed a big closet that was full of boxes that looked just like the ones I had been working with. “What’s that?”, I asked. “Oh, those are the boxes that need t-patching.”

Then I understood. There was practically an infinite amount of t-patching to be done—I was never going to finish, even if I kept up my pace for the entire summer. If I had known that, I never would’ve worked as hard as I did. But I didn’t know that, so I worked as hard as I could to get it over with.

My boss perceived that level of work as my tyipcal output and figured I would be well suited for the grind-it-out world of the call center, where there’s a never-ending supply of work and everything is measured down to the minute. If I could get through t-patching that quickly, she figured I would be a shoe-in for the call center. (She was right!)

I got lucky

This is a fun story, but the truth is that I got very lucky, experiencing the dream that everyone has when they start working: “I’ll work hard, my boss will notice, and I’ll get a big promotion.”

It took me several more years to realize that’s not how it usually works. After that job, I had several others where I did great work and rarely got promoted. I eventually realized there’s more to it than working really hard—there are two steps to getting a raise.

  1. Do valuable work that wasn’t anticipated last time your salary was set.
  2. Ask to be compensated for that valuable work.

Most bosses are just too busy to keep close tabs on your work and adjust your salary over time, so in addition to doing valuable work, you also have to help them out by keeping track of that work and presenting a strong case along with a specific request when you’re ready for a raise.

That second step—asking to be compensated for that unanticipated value—is the one I didn’t learn until later on. But it’s just as important!

You have to proactively manage your career—no one else is going to do it for you.

My book Fearless Salary Negotiation is a great next step to take control of your career. You can’t afford to NOT check it out! 😉

Your career isn’t a jog or a sprint

Are you familiar with “interval training”? I’ve been doing a lot more of it lately.

Basically, instead of exercising at one pace for a long time, I work really hard for shorter amounts of time, then rest in between bursts.

I like it because it keeps me from getting bored and there’s some evidence that it’s better than traditional “cardio” for building endurance.

Here’s the workout my friends and I did yesterday:

  • Warm-up: Slow jog of 800m (half a mile)
  • Stretch: Active stretching
  • Run 3 laps (400m or a quarter mile each) at a one-mile pace with a one-minute rest after each lap
  • Run 2 laps (800m or a half mile) at a one-mile pace, rest for one minute
  • Run 3 more laps at a one-mile pace with a one-minute rest after each lap
  • Cool down: A slow jog of 800m
  • Core and hip-strength exercises to finish up

As interval workouts go, this one is pretty mild because most of our group is just starting to get in shape (myself included). But it’s still an interval workout where we work hard for a short time, then take short breaks to rest before the next interval.

In fact, the breaks between intervals aren’t just for rest—I also use them to plan for the next interval. “How hard can I push myself on this next one? How many do I have left?” I want to get the most out of each interval while saving enough energy to do all of the intervals for that workout.

Your career is an interval workout

As you move through your career, you’ll spend most of your time moving along at a regular pace, planning for your next big push.

Then you’ll do a short sprint to go after a raise or change jobs. That’s when things can get crazy.

Use the breaks to plan for the next push

It’s important to have a plan and a goal before each big push. If you’re going for a raise, what’s your goal? What do you have to do to give yourself the best chance of getting that raise? If you’re changing jobs, it’s important to invest some time in preparing for your interviews and steeling yourself for your negotiations.

“I got a raise six months ago. I want to get my next raise one year from now. How do I make sure I’m ready?” or “I think it’s time to find a new role where I’ll be challenged and valued. How do I find the best opportunity possible?”

If you see your career as an interval workout, then you’ll always either be planning your next move or pushing to get there. This strategy will help you make more progress at a faster rate so you get more opportunities and earn more income over your career.

My book Fearless Salary Negotiation will help you get paid what you’re worth at every phase of the career cycle. It’s written to be as useful two years from now as it is today. If you’re changing jobs now, Fearless Salary Negotiation will help you prepare for your job interviews and negotiate your salary without leaving anything on the table. Looking for a raise? Fearless Salary Negotiation will show you exactly how to do it.

Plan your menu ahead of time

My Mom recently started a baking business. I’m pretty excited about that because every time I visit, she has lots of new treats for me to try.

I’ve been the beneficiary of her great baking ability all my life (she still makes me a hummingbird cake for my birthday almost every year), and I’m glad others can now experience it as well.

Here’s something from her Christmas menu:

Mom's Christmas cookie menu

Clockwise from the top-left: Party butter, Cowboy, Gingerbread, White chocolate cherry chunk. They’re all amazing.

What’s your point? I’m trying to get through my last week of Whole 30 over here!

Sorry about that, but I do have a point!

That picture above is from her Christmas menu, but that’s old news now. When I saw her this past weekend, she was already working on her Valentine’s Day menu. Next she’ll make her Mother’s Day menu. Then Father’s Day and on and on.

Most people don’t think about those holidays until they’re a day or so away and they suddenly need a last-minute gift. But since Mom is planning her menu ahead of time, she’ll have just the thing for each of those last-minute shoppers.

You should do the same thing with your career.

Want a raise? Find the next time when there will be budget available and start planning about 90 days out so you have time to get everything in order before it’s time to ask.

Want a promotion? You can start planning right now. Find the next job in your career path, and start thinking about how you can demonstrate that you’re ready for the role. It typically takes about 6 months to make your plan and do the work to show you’re ready for a promotion, so the sooner you start, the better!

My Mom says you should plan ahead to avoid making mistakes. My book Fearless Salary Negotiation has everything you need to plan ahead and be prepared to get paid what you’re worth. Check it out!

My 2016 Year In Review: From zero to profitable

University of Florida College of Engineering Interview Preparation Workshop

In September 2015, I quit my job (again) to publish Fearless Salary Negotiation and start bootstrapping a business. So the one-sentence summary for 2015 would’ve been: Write and publish my book.

My one-sentence summary for 2016 is: Build infrastructure to turn the book into a business.

As usual, this is a long post, so here’s a table of contents in case there’s something you want to jump to:

Here we go!

How did I do in 2016?

For 2016, I thought I would just publish the book, build some products to augment the book (video courses), ramp up to enough revenue to cover all my bills and then return my focus to TaskBook. I hoped to do that early in 2016.

If you’ve built a business, you know how silly this plan was, especially considering I was more or less starting from scratch. Yes, I had published a book. But that was it. I had something like 700 people on my mailing list when I launched the book, and somehow I thought I was heading to enough monthly revenue to pay all my bills from digital products early in 2016? Who was going to buy all these products?

On average, I made about half of what I would’ve needed to pay all my bills in 2016. That’s the bad news. The good news is that I finished the year on a five-month stretch of basically paying all my personal and business expenses. So it took me almost a year, but I am paying my bills, and my business is profitable.

Of course, the ultimate goal is to make multiples of my previous day-job salary. But that’s going to take a while, so I need smaller goals in between. The first one was “Pay all my bills”. The next one is “Make a decent living”.

What I now realize is that 2016 was another foundational year. If 2015 was “Write and publish my book.”, then 2016 was: Build infrastructure to turn the book into a business.

Looking ahead to 2017

For 2017 I have a more strategic focus, supported by tactics, to build on the infrastructure I created in 2016.

It feels like this is the difference between working in the business and working on the business. I’m not exactly sure what that means, but I think that’s what’s going on. I’m moving out one level from working in the business—building products, building a web site—to working on it by growing it.

Fewer new products, more new sales

I’ve built a lot of great things in 2016, and now it’s time to grow my business and revenue. Building new products is extremely challenging and time consuming. But now that those things are built, I can reallocate that time to growing my business.

So I don’t plan to create many products in 2017, and will turn my focus to finding my niche and finding the right customers to benefit from the products I have built. I’m sure I’ll build something new, but I’m planning to resist the urge to make make make.

Focus on helping software developers

I think “the right customers” for my business are software developers. I like working with devs and they are generally positioned to gain a lot from my expertise. In many ways 2016 was just a series of experiments with different markets, and every time I worked with devs, or made something specifically for devs, the response was tremendous. For example, this article on How software developers can get a raise without changing jobs has been viewed over 30,000 times so far.

It’s pretty obvious that this is where I should focus, so that’s what I’ll do in 2017.

More traffic (continued)

By the end of 2017, I would like to have 100,000 visits from organic search per month. That’s about 15 times what I’m getting right now. There was a time when this goal would’ve seemed totally unattainable, but I know what I need to do, and I just need to execute.

The problem with this goal is that much of this is out of my control. An algorithm change or something else could wipe me out. The good news is that if I do the right things to drive this number, lots of other numbers will improve. As I’ll talk about in my detailed recap below, organic traffic has been a lagging indicator that I’m doing the right things, and I’m really interested in this stat as a proxy for other things going well. If those things go well and this stat tanks, then so be it.

What’s interesting is I have no idea if this is a stretch goal, or low-hanging fruit. One one hand, 100,000 organic visits per month seems like a huge number. On the other hand, I’ve consistently tripled organic traffic every 60 days for a year. I don’t think that’s sustainable, but I also didn’t think it was sustainable a few months ago and here I am.

If I keep up that pace (again, it sure seems like this is totally unsustainable), I’ll hit 100,000 organic monthly visits in July or August 2017—plenty of time to spare.

Make a decent living

I’m basically breaking even right now—my savings account is no longer shrinking, but it’s also not growing. And I’m living very lean to make that happen. “Make a decent living” would mean replacing about half of my previous day job income, starting to re-grow my savings account, and opening up my personal budget a little bit.

I’m not really swinging for the fences here, but that’s because I’ve learned that this is likely to be a slow, steady grind forward. Hopefully I blow this goal out of the water, but I’m not counting on it. Maybe “Make good money” will be a goal for 2018.

Finally finish my audiobook

I managed to re-record about 70% of my audiobook after learning some tough lessons earlier this year, but then I ran out of steam. I would like to get this project finished, and I’m hoping to get back to it early in 2017. We’ll see.

A detailed 2016 Year In Review

Here’s a look back at what I built in 2016.

Products and services

Most of these things are new things I built in 2016. Plus there’s a TaskBook update for those who are curious.

Video courses

I started the year by building video courses to accompany Fearless Salary Negotiation. I know a lot of people learn visually and need action items and next steps, and I wanted to give them a way to learn and apply my strategies and tactics.

This was the hardest part of 2016 by far. Not only did I have to create all the content (about 400 slides, each one scripted word-for-word), but I had to learn how to record and edit audio, video and screencasts. Meanwhile, my monthly revenue was close to zero and I had to spend about $2,000 on my car.

It took me about 10 weeks of non-stop work, but I got everything done and I’m very happy with the result. The result is over three hours of quality screencasts that augment the book and visually illustrate key concepts so they’re easier to understand and use.

FearlessSalaryNegotiation.com

I started out here on JoshDoody.com. Once I picked a title for my book, I registered FearlessSalaryNegotiation.com and published a few sales pages, but I still kept writing and pointing everything to JoshDoody.com.

In March this year, I realized that Fearless Salary Negotiation was its own brand and that I needed to start treating it that way. So I redesigned the site, moved to a new platform, and started publishing new content there. At the time, FearlessSalaryNegotiation.com had about 10 pages total. Now it has over 150 pages, and I’ve built every single one.

About 60 of those pages are the online version of the book. The rest are a mix of articles, landing pages, and sales pages.

Coaching

I’ve been coaching people since I started writing my book because I needed to know exactly what was happening in interviews, salary negotiations, and raise and promotion discussions. At first I didn’t charge anything and I worked with friends and family, then friends of friends. I did that for over a year.

Then I got a call from a friend who said, “I have a big job opportunity and I don’t want to mess up this negotiation. What’s your consulting rate?” I…didn’t have a rate, but I knew she was a freelancer, so I said, “Whatever your rate is.” She charged $75 an hour, so that’s what I charged. Then another friend reached out and since my first client didn’t flinch, I charged $120 an hour. Again, no hesitation, so I knew I needed to raise my rate again.

Fortunately, I went to BaconBiz Conf during this $120/hr engagement, and I talked to my pals Josh Kaufman and Jim Gay. I was pretty proud of myself for getting up to $120 an hour and planning to “Charge more!”, but they had other ideas:

“Why are you charging hourly?”

After a 30-minute conversation, I was planning to charge $1,500 for a fixed-fee engagement with a money-back guarantee. I would promise to increase my clients’ base salary by at least $10,000, so this would be a slam dunk ROI calculation.

Looking back, I’m not sure I actually believed I could find clients who would pay me $1,500 to coach them. (This was classic Imposter Syndrome at work.) Sure, I had made people tens of thousands of dollars. Sure, I knew what I was doing and my previous clients (paid and pro bono) had loved working with me. But would strangers really pay me $1,500 to help them bump their salary by $10,000?

You bet they would! But they didn’t much care about the $10,000 promise and I think it actually worked against me early on. $10,000 is a lot of money to some people, but it’s not much money to other people. For those other people, a $10,000 promise just wasn’t compelling (if you’re making $150,000 a year and I promise to help you get to $160,000…that’s not an exceptional jump for you). So I dropped the $10k promise and stuck with the money-back guarantee.

Since then, I’ve worked with folks negotiating at Google, Amazon, Tesla, Samsung, Verizon, and other companies you’ve heard of. And I’ve raised my rate to $2,000 with a plan to raise it again soon.

I was obviously nervous about offering a money-back guarantee, so I mitigate this risk by holding the money aside until my client tells me they’re satisfied. But so far, none of my clients have asked for a refund. (I’m sure this will happen eventually—it’s just a part of doing business. But it’s nice to have a perfect record in 2016.)

My coaching offering has been a huge boon to my business this year. About one-third of my revenue was from coaching.

The Interview Cheat Sheet

Initially, I made The Interview Cheat Sheet for my coaching clients. I found that I always gave them the same homework before their job interviews, so I figured I would make a nice cheat sheet for them. I hadn’t launched any tiny products, so this was a good chance to try that.

It only made a few hundred dollars, but that was just gravy since I made it for my coaching clients anyway. And now I include it with all my eBook and video course bundles as well.

Get Your Next Raise

Any time someone buys Fearless Salary Negotiation, I ask them “Are you negotiating an offer for a new job or looking to increase your salary at your current job?” The responses are pretty evenly split.

Then I ask some followup questions to see where they might be stuck. I found that I had a really good offering for people who were stuck on interviewing and negotiating and wanted more help from me, but I didn’t have much to offer for those who were hoping for a raise.

So I built Get Your Next Raise. It’s a pretty unique self-paced and guided course that walks students through step-by-step process to ask for a raise while I get them feedback along the way. I launched it at the end of November and I plan to promote it heavily in 2017.

This is also the first product I have built by working backwards from the specific need I saw to a solution (the course) to a free offering that offers value and helps potential students determine if the course is right for them.

Shutting down TaskBook

I’ve decided to focus 100% of my time and energy on growing my business around Fearless Salary Negotiation, which means I’m sunsetting TaskBook in 2017. This is tough because I still have people reaching out who say, “Why can’t I sign up for TaskBook?”, and I know it would help them. But I simply don’t have the resources to grow two businesses.

There’s an alternate timeline where my first big project is Fearless Salary Negotiation, and it fizzles out because I don’t know how to sell or market. Then I take what I learned and build TaskBook, which takes off like a rocket. But instead, I started with a SaaS (pro tip: Don’t do this!), didn’t know how to find customers, and got distracted by a shiny new thing, which is growing into a business.

Stats!

I mentioned this was a foundational year, and I think that will show through in this section. Here are my high-level stats from 2016.

My email list

A big metric for businesses like mine is “How many subscribers do you have on your list?”

  • December 2015: ~700
  • December 2016: ~2,500

That’s a decent growth rate considering I haven’t done any meaningful paid acquisition (Facebook ads, etc.). One thing I need to work on is learning more about what folks need when they join my list or download a free guide from me. And I need to provide more value and build a better connection with everyone on my list.

In September, switched to a new Email Service Provider (ESP) called Drip. ConvertKit was great for getting from zero to almost 2,000 subscribers. But as I tried to do more with my list, engage more effectively, learn about people, I kept bumping into limitations. Drip seemed like the best way to get to the next level, so I switched. To ConvertKit’s credit, many of the things that I left for are starting to show up in their product, so it seems I was just a few months ahead of them.

Traffic

After BaconBiz Conf, I spent an extra day in Philly. I decided to walk to a little coffee shop and found myself crashing a post-conference work session attended by many of the conference’s speakers (many of whom are already my friends). Not one to let a good opportunity go to waste, I coaxed a little advice from the group (this was not difficult), and the main message was:

You’re doing the right things, you just need to do more of them and get more traffic.

At the time, I really didn’t know what that meant, but I started doing things I thought would help. I was already doing a podcast tour, inspired by Kai Davis among others, and had begun looking for opportunities to write guest blog posts. (See a summary of my podcast appearances and guest posts here.)

I also began writing and promoting more content at FearlessSalaryNegotiation.com so I would have more content to point people to when they asked questions, and so Google would have a greater surface area of things to find and suggest for search queries.

My focus has been on Organic traffic (when people Google things and click through to find the answer) because I think that’s a lagging indicator of all other types of traffic. If I get lots of traction with my content, podcasts, guest posts, social media, etc., that will eventually translate into Organic traffic.

Here’s my 2016 weekly organic traffic:

2016 weekly organic traffic on FearlessSalaryNegotiation.com

As you can see, it’s growing pretty steadily and quickly. I have basically tripled traffic every 60 days this year, so I went from almost zero traffic in January to almost 2,000 visits a week now.

Book sales

I’ve sold almost 1,200 copies of Fearless Salary Negotiation so far. Most of those sales were on Amazon, which is why I launched on Amazon. One cool thing is that I have steadily raised my price and sales continue to improve. So I’m making more sales and getting more revenue per sale. This has been a nice surprise.

One concern I had about launching and selling on Amazon was “You don’t know who your customers are!” (this is a common thing I hear in the self-publishing community). This is partially true—I technically don’t know who buys my book because Amazon doesn’t tell me.

But! 10–15% of Amazon buyers subscribe to my email list because I point back to my site, where I offer free worksheets and email templates to accompany the book. Some of those folks have eventually become coaching clients, so I see the Amazon version of my book as a sort of combo product/marketing tool/calling card.

Coaching

I worked with about a dozen different clients this year. Not bad considering I didn’t launch my coaching offering until mid-year. I’ve intentionally grown this part of the business slowly because I want to make sure my clients get great value for the price, and because I wanted to iterate on the offering as I got to know more clients.

I’ve found that the folks who benefit the most from working with me are experienced software developers moving to larger companies like Amazon, Google, and Tesla, so that’s who I’ve been working with lately.

Talks

University of Florida College of Engineering

I had a chance to do about 10 talks this year, and they were a lot of fun. As I write this, I realize that all but one of those talks were to engineers or software developers—another sign that focusing my efforts on helping software developers is a good idea.

This talk on salary negotiation for software developers for Orlando Devs and The Iron Yard, Orlando was my first of the year and it has almost 7,000 views on YouTube. I also gave several talks at a local code school called Gainesville Dev Academy, where they buy a copy of my paperback for every student.

The really fun thing is that talks are easy for me to do—I’m extremely comfortable with public speaking. And they give me a chance to meet developers and see what they’re struggling with.

Podcasts, webinars, quotes, and guest posts

Here’s a one-page summary of my podcast appearances, webinars, quotes, and guest posts.

I was on more than 20 podcasts this year. Most of them were software developer podcasts (yes yes, another checkmark for “focus on helping software developers”), and the response was fantastic.

I think the highlight for me was talking with my pal Patrick McKenzie on his Kalzumeus podcast. Patrick’s detailed blog post Salary Negotiation: Make More Money, Be More Valued was an early inspiration for me to learn more about salary negotiation, try it for myself, and eventually write Fearless Salary Negotiation.

I also participated in three or four webinars, which was great practice. I’m extremely comfortable in the podcast format (probably more comfortable than public speaking), but not as comfortable with webinars where I sometimes need to be on camera, and where the audience is live but invisible.

I did four guest posts and was quoted in a Forbes.com article, so that’s pretty nifty.

Revenue

I’ve decided not to share my revenue numbers publicly because there are some drawbacks and I can’t think of any real benefits.

That said, I’m basically paying all of my personal and business expenses each month. That’s a big deal for me because it means I’m not spending my savings anymore. Hopefully in 2017 I can replenish the savings I burned through earlier this year.

Wrapping up 2016

It was a good year. It started slow and stressful, but things turned around mid-year and most of the important graphs are moving up and to the right.

I am learning a lot about building and running a business—this experience is invaluable. I’ve spent the past several years getting to know some very smart people, and their guidance has helped me keep focused on the right things and ignore the things that don’t matter.

I’m really looking forward to seeing how this business grows in 2017.

Business lessons learned recording my audiobook

Home studio

I’ve been recording the Fearless Salary Negotiation audiobook and boy-oh-boy is it a lot of work! Some of it has been a lot of fun, and some has been miserable. Along the way, I’ve made lots of mistakes and learned several good business lessons. I thought I should share a few of them here.

Not everything is about ROI

The standard way to think about business stuff is “What’s the ROI on that?” And I think that’s fine most of the time. But sometimes ROI just isn’t as important as other factors.

In my case, I have no idea what the ROI on the Fearless Salary Negotiation audiobook will be. I’m recording it because I don’t feel like it’s complete without an audiobook version. Audiobooks are very popular—I’ve been listening to them more and more—and a lot of people primarily read books that way. I want to make sure those people can benefit from Fearless Salary Negotiation as well.

Beyond the decision to even do an audiobook, there are lots of ROI-type calculations that I’m ignoring. For example, I’m not a professional voiceover actor, but I do know a few. And it would be easy to reach out, negotiate a rate and have them read my book.

But I’m doing it myself because I think it’s better for my readers to hear me read my book in my own amateur voice.

I need to trust my gut

I’ve been planning to record my audiobook for many months now. I finally had a window on my calendar, so I found a local studio online and booked some time. When I talked to the audio engineer, he told me that his studio space had been acquired by a bigger firm, but that he kept the equipment and moved it to his home studio.

This made me a little nervous, but I know a lot of home studio setups are great for audiobooks, so I didn’t think much of it.

There were several red flags when I got to the studio on the first day. It was a small house with three dogs and tile floors. The studio itself had no sound proofing/dampening, and my ears told me right away that the audio in the headphones was “wet” (echo-y).

But I figured I was already there, and I had been planning this for months, and the audio engineer claimed he knew how to get great results with audiobooks, so I just went with it.

Fast forward to the following evening. We finally finished recording the book and I asked for the files so I could review them over the weekend.

The audio was…not great. I sent it to a couple of friends and said, “This sounds pretty bad to me. Can it be turned into an audiobook I would be proud to sell?” The answer was universally “No. You can’t use this.” I had wasted 14 hours over two days.

The thing is I think I knew that pretty early on, but I didn’t trust my instincts. I should’ve stopped after the first day.

I made several mistakes

Here’s a list of mistakes I made, ordered so the ones that could’ve saved me the most time and money are first:

  1. I didn’t ask for a sample of his previous work. If I had heard other audio from that studio, I probably would’ve just kept looking for something better.
  2. I immediately recognized the studio wasn’t set up to do voiceover work (tile floors, no sound dampening, dogs walking around with their nails clickity-clacking everywhere). I probably should’ve just parted ways as soon as I saw the studio.
  3. I didn’t ask for a sample of our work product after the first day. This could’ve saved me eight or nine hours of studio time if I had skipped the second day.
  4. The morning of the second day, I had concerns and thought about cancelling the session. I should’ve gone with my instincts. I even texted a friend about the situation, and he agreed. But I went in for the second day anyway.
  5. I still could’ve left a few hours into the second day. As we began the second day in the studio, I was thinking, “This isn’t going to be usable. I should just leave and save this time and money.” I should’ve trusted my gut.

So I made some pretty big mistakes. But! I did avoid one very common mistake that would’ve cost me a lot more time and money…

Fighting the Sunk Cost Fallacy

It’s hard to describe how exhausting this whole process was, but I was totally spent. I literally stood in a room, held an iPad and read aloud for about 14 hours over two days.

The second studio day was a Friday. So that meant I had the weekend to listen to the audio files we had produced, send them to some friends, and determine if they were worth editing or not.

I wanted to believe that those two days and hundreds of dollars weren’t totally wasted. But when I sent samples to my friends, I said, “Do not sugar coat this. If these files are unusable, tell me. I need to know and I don’t want to produce a bad product.” It was all unusable. I had literally wasted hundreds of dollars and two full days for nothing. I would have to start over.

But this is actually a great result, and I finally went with my gut and saved a lot of time and money. The editing and mastering process would take even longer (more studio hours) than the recording process, and would cost hundreds more dollars. Even worse, the result would’ve been a terrible audiobook. So by finally trusting my gut and getting help from my friends, I saved a lot of time and money.

This was the hardest decision of all because of the sunk cost fallacy: I didn’t want to waste all that hard work and all those hours. I wanted to get something useful from all that effort. And this happens constantly in business. It’s often called “Throwing good money after bad” or “Chasing your losses”. In my case, I didn’t succumb to the sunk cost fallacy and I saved a lot of time and money.

Starting over from scratch

The good news is I had seen the recording process in action, and heard the (bad) results. And I knew I could do better with my own equipment. So I set up a home studio in my hallway using equipment I already had, and started over from scratch.

It’s not much, but it doesn’t take much. And I’m able to get “dry” (no echo) audio, which is ideal for audiobook narration. I’ve already started editing some of the early chapters and it sounds much better. I’m proud of the product I’m creating and that’s not something that shows up in ROI calculations.

I hope to release the audiobook in the next few weeks, and I’m glad I decided to put the extra work in to make sure it’s a product I’m proud of.