How salary negotiation coaching is like cooking a tricky pasta recipe

My favorite Italian recipe is technically called Penne allo scarpariello, but I just call it “the penne dish”.

A couple of friends brought it back with them after they spent a year living in Salerno, Italy. I was hooked the first time I tried it, so I asked them for the recipe.

Here are all the ingredients:

  • Penne pasta
  • Campari tomatoes
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Butter
  • Salt
  • Red pepper flakes

And here’s the basic process to make it:

  • Cook the tomatoes in butter
  • Remove the peels when they break
  • Add salt and red pepper flakes
  • Add grated parmesan and a little more butter
  • Cook the pasta
  • Mix the pasta and sauce
  • Eat

The penne dish

It’s delicious! And the process to make it is pretty simple…assuming you know what you’re doing.

As you can see, there are only six ingredients, and yet I ruined it the first couple times I tried to make it on my own. Both times, I missed something small that ended up being a big problem.

So I went back to my friends and asked them to show me how they did it.

I immediately realized where I had messed up: The first time, I had the heat just a little too high, and I overcooked it; the second time, I had the heat a little too low and the cheese didn’t melt properly so it had a funky, gritty texture.

Now I can make the penne dish in my sleep and it’s perfect every time. My friends love it and I love making it.

But when I share the recipe with other people they never try to make it. Even though there are only a few ingredients, it’s too intimidating knowing that there are subtle things you have to get just right in order for it to work.

So I always offer to show them how to make it—just like my friends showed me—pointing out the subtle things along the way. Then they get it.

Salary negotiation is exactly the same way

I wrote the book on salary negotiation—it’s called Fearless Salary Negotiation and thousands of people have read it and used it to make more money.

It’s a detailed recipe with a few simple ingredients for getting paid what you’re worth. And it works for a lot of people who have used it to earn a lot more throughout their career.

But sometimes there are more nuanced situations where a subtle tweak here or there can have enormous benefits. And sometimes, people just prefer to have someone else—an expert—do the work for them.

My very first paid coaching client already had a copy of my book, but she still reached out and asked if I would help her with her salary negotiation. I was a little surprised that she reached out, but I knew I could help so we got to work.

We were able to improve her job offer by several thousand dollars, and I was really happy for her. But I couldn’t quite understand why she reached out and asked to pay a steep fee to work with me rather than just buy my book.

I had to know why she hired me instead of trying a DIY approach, so I asked her, “Why did you hire me instead of just reading my book?”

Her answer gave me everything I needed to know to build a thriving coaching business: “I just wanted you to do it for me.”

That’s why I offer one-on-one full-service salary negotiation coaching for experienced software developers. For those who just want someone to do the work for them, and for folks who can stand to make a lot more money with a subtle tweak to my salary negotiation recipe, salary negotiation coaching is an amazing value.

I recently worked with J.B., an experienced Software Engineer who had a strong offer that we turned into an amazing offer:

Testimonial from J.B., a Software Engineer

And the best part is that I love negotiating job offers, so it’s a lot of fun for me while being valuable for my clients.

If you or someone you know might benefit from salary negotiation coaching, here’s where you can learn more and apply for a 15-minute intro call:

>> Learn more about salary negotiation coaching

My first ski trip since high school was awesome

The Monte Carlo at Breck

I lay on my back, staring up at the blue sky. I assume it was beautiful, although I can’t really remember because I was desperately trying to catch my breath at 11,000 feet above sea level.

I looked past my feet, up the mountain to find my ski. My friend had already found it and was bringing it down to me.

“I. Don’t think. I’ve. Ever. Been. This tired.” was all I could say.

Our group had just accidentally gone down a Blue run, which we later found out was basically a Black, and it had not gone well. I tried my best to maintain control, but I had gone down the un-groomed part of the run, which meant I was basically skiing down a black on ice.

This moment was one of many that we would later call the #VailFail, and it was definitely a low point. But around this low point was a week of high points and a lot of fun.

Skiing for the first time in a long time

Last week, I went skiing for the first time since high school. All of my previous skiing experiences were terrible, so I wasn’t expecting to have much fun.

Fortunately, my friends insisted I try skiing on real mountains with real snow, so I went to Breck to give it a shot.

I had an amazing week and really enjoyed skiing. It was a lot easier than I expected and I picked it up faster than I thought I would.

So this will be more of an old-school day-by-day recap of my trip, mostly for posterity.

Day 1: Traveling there

A few of us rented a car and drove from Gainesville to Orlando, where we flew Southwest directly to Denver. Then we rented cars and drove from Denver to Breck. Everything was entirely uneventful, which is how I prefer to travel.

Once in Breck, I immediately felt the altitude and got winded just walking up stairs and doing other simple things. I also got a low-level headache that persisted for a couple of days despite all the water I drank.

We rented a ridiculous three-story house that slept 13 people. “The bunk room”, which I shared with three other guys, was crowded but fun.

That first night, we got our ski gear, settled in, and went out for our first crepes of the trip.

A picture of a giant crepe

These crepes are delicious and enormous.

Day 2: Lessons and getting settled

Everyone I talked to said, “You should definitely take lessons on your first day. It’s the best way to learn the basics.” This was great advice, which I think they learned to give after other training methods failed.

For example, I think they used to teach newbies how to ski using a sort of Scared Straight methodology (“This is a blue run. You will fall a lot, but by the time you make it to the bottom, you’ll be ok at skiing.”), which probably isn’t the best way to learn.

So several of us split into groups for snowboarding and skiing lessons. There were only two of us skiers, and our instructor was Dave. There were two other folks in our group, which meant Dave only had to work with four students—that was great for us.

My first ski lesson

We gradually worked through the basics, and I felt pretty good right away. Skiing was already less awful than I remembered. By lunch time, my friend and I had progressed past our two fellow students and were quite a bit more comfortable with the green runs we were doing.

Just before lunch, Dave took my friend and I on a couple runs while the other two members of our cohort took a breather (they were very tired and frustrated, and I think Dave correctly assumed the best thing was for them to rest so they didn’t get hurt). We did our first blue and it went pretty well—we could see that we were making real progress already.

After lunch, we did a few more runs, worked on some more advanced (for us) techniques, and officially graduated to “Level 4” (of 5?), which felt pretty good.

We finished the day by meeting up with most of our other friends to ride up and do the 4 O’Clock Home run (which is mostly green with a little blue up top).

One of the nice things about the awesome house we rented was that we could almost ski in and ski out. It was super convenient to walk for three or four minutes, put our skis on, and hit the lift. And it was even more convenient to ski down the 4 O’Clock, pop our skis off, and get home in about 5 minutes.

Our only in-house group dinner

After we finished skiing, some of us headed off-site for some hot-tub time while others went shopping to get supplies for our only in-house group meal of the week. I sautéed asparagus for everyone, which meant I got to hang in the kitchen and meet new people as they passed through to see what we were up to.

This was probably my favorite meal of the week and I’m hoping we do at least two of these next year.

Body Body Body

After dinner, we played Body Body Body, which is like a live-action version of a game called Mafia. I’ve always liked Mafia and I like Body Body Body even more.

There were about 10 townspeople and 3 mafia members. Once the mafia members have identified each other, we turn the lights out, crank up spooky music, and wander around the mansion in the dark. Mafia members kill townspeople by mock-slashing their throats. Once a townsperson has been killed, they stop walking and drop to the floor. The game continues until someone finds the “body” and shouts “Body body body!” so that everyone can turn the lights on and run to see who died.

Then the game moves to the more typical “Mafia”-style game where everyone talks things through and nominates a couple people they think might be in the mafia. Eventually someone is voted out and the game resumes unless the mafia have all been discovered. The game ends when either the mafia are all voted out or there are equal numbers of townspeople and mafia remaining.

The game is a lot of fun and we played pretty much every night. My only regret is that despite playing 10+ games, I was never mafia (which is the most fun part of the game) thanks to a series of unfortunate events that culminated in our narrator tilting and skipping one game, causing some logistical snafus that caused us to redraw for spots the one time I actually drew a “Mafia” card.

C’iest la vie.

Day 3: First normal ski day

Lessons were physically and mentally exhausting, plus I was still feeling the altitude, so I was admittedly not super stoked to hit the slopes again.

Fortunately, a couple of experienced friends, who arrived later than the rest of us, were heading out for their first day on the slopes and offered to take me along and help me slowly work up from Greens to Blues. (Shout out to James and Jen for being awesome teachers.)

By lunch, we were doing Blue runs and I felt pretty comfortable. They were a little fast for me, and I didn’t quite have the control I wanted, but I was able to move down them pretty quickly, mostly maintaining control, and without falling. All in all, a pretty big win.

By the end of the day, I felt comfortable on Blues, which was pretty remarkable considering I had taken beginner lessons the previous morning. Some of the group took a short Black to finish the day, but I skipped it. I was super tired and just didn’t want to risk hurting myself with two days left to ski.

Mi Casa

We went to a local Mexican restaurant for dinner, and it was pretty good. Although… my stomach didn’t take too kindly to it. Normally, this would be no big deal, but an upset stomach plus altitude meant Day 4 at Vail would be challenging.

Assume there was hot-tubbing, Body Body Body, and probably crepes

The evening routine was pretty consistent. Here was our view from the hot-tub:

Hot Tub View

Day 4: #VailFail

This brings us full circle to the beginning of this post. We decided to make a day trip to Vail, which is about 45 minutes from Breck. At first, it was a smaller group, then it expanded to be almost everyone. In theory, the skiing is better at Vail, plus we could get an awesome group picture at a famously beautiful spot on the mountain.

But, all the best laid plans…

We arrived at Vail and easily got onto the mountain thanks to some great planning by the more experienced members of our crew. Our first order of business was to rendezvous at the top of Lift 37 for the infamous picture, and then we could all split off into groups based on experience level.

Our plan was to take a long catwalk to another catwalk that would drop us at Lift 37. But a Vail employee convinced one of our crew that there was a better way: We could cut out a lot of catwalking by taking an easy Blue after the first catwalk.

“We have a lot of beginners. Is that Blue going to be ok for beginners?”
“Definitely!”

We knew we were in trouble pretty much right away. The entrance to the first catwalk gave a lot of folks serious problems. I made it down to the catwalk without falling, but it was a dicey run.

Once we eventually got across the first catwalk, we stopped to regroup before heading to the beginner-friendly Blue we had been promised. But first, we had to wait out a pretty serious windstorm that made me thankful I brought my balaclava since the wind-driven snow felt like a sandblaster to the face.

Another ominous sign.

At last, we all get around to the entrance of the beginner-friendly Blue and we realized… this was not beginner-friendly. It was super steep and icy—not good for beginners. I tried my best to take shallow angles and control my speed, but I just wasn’t good enough to manage it. I fell over a few times—nothing serious—before heading to a part that another skier said was probably a less-steep way to get down.

Turns out I was heading for the most steep part of the run, and a more experienced skier in our group later told me, “I saw you heading over there and thought, ‘He needs to turn back the other way or this could get really ugly.'” I did not turn back the other way. Things got pretty ugly.

This is the part where I wound up sliding head-first down the mountain on my back, losing one of my skis in the process. Ironically, this may have been the best outcome for me once I chose this particular path.

We later found out from another Vail employee—a friend of the group—that this was basically a Black run and that beginners had no business being on it. There was a groomed section, which they considered a Blue, but most of us had not taken the groomed section. (This might be my only regret of the trip—if I had known about the groomed section, I may have gotten down with little trouble.)

Exhausted from accidentally attempting a Black run, I caught my breath and chugged half a bottle of blue Gatorade, then made my way down to the second catwalk. As I worked my way across the catwalk, the wind picked back up—it was getting worse.

Most of us met up at a natural stopping point before heading down to Lift 37. Bad news was waiting for us there: Lift 37 had been closed because of the wind; only Lift 36 was open; there was no way to ski down.

A few of us had made it onto Lift 37 before it closed. Some of us were stuck waiting for Lift 36. And others had been so far behind that they were blocked from the catwalk and could not even make it Lift 36. We were now scattered all over the mountain.

The lift line at Vail

They had also been slow to close the catwalk, so people continued pouring in as the line backed up. We waited there for over an hour, totally exhausted and dehydrated.

By the time we got off Lift 36, it was after 1:00 PM. We had been on the mountain for over three hours and had almost nothing to show for it. We finally made it down to our next rendezvous spot where we were able to regroup and get a less-spectacular version of the picture we had been chasing for the past several hours:

Our group at Vail

And here is where we coined #VailFail. We had been on the mountain for about four hours and had almost nothing to show for it. The back side of the mountain had been closed, we had done like 1.5 runs, we didn’t get the picture we were chasing, and several of our crew were wiped out from the initial “Blue” that we descended.

We split up by experience level and managed to get a few runs in before calling it quits and meeting up at The George for an early dinner. Even the Greens at Vail were pretty steep and challenging—some of them harder than the Blues I had done at Breck.

After the high of making such quick progress the day before, this was a pretty serious low for almost everyone. I was glad the day was over and that we would be back at Breck for the rest of our trip.

Day 5: Redemption

This would be our final ski day, and I was really happy to be back at Breck. I spent most of the day doing Blue runs, which all felt really easy after the runs we did at Vail.

We all met for lunch on Peak 7, where there was a food court with a fantastic view of the mountain.

The last real run I did was Monte Carlo, which is a really long, fun Blue. A friend got some photos and video of the run so I have a record of where I was skill-wise after my first real ski trip. I felt much more comfortable than I expected, but can also see that I have a lot of work to do.

The Monte Carlo at Breck

I finished the day paying it forward: A less-experienced skier in our group and I did a couple of super-slow Blue runs to get down off the mountain. This gave me a chance to help someone the same way I was helped on Day 3, and also gave me a chance to really enjoy the views and reflect on how much I had learned in just a few days.

On Wednesday, I had no idea what I was doing and felt accomplished for scooting down the bunny slope without falling over. On Saturday, I was helping another skier get down Blues to get off the mountain.

Day 6: Traveling back

After a long week, I was ready to get home. But first we had to drive back to Denver, fly east for a few hours, rent a car in Orlando, grab dinner and drive back to Gainesville. We would be lucky to get home by 11 PM.

But on our way to dinner, we passed Andretti Karting and our crew couldn’t resist. Actually, I could totally resist—I was about 5 hours past my “have fun while traveling” limit—but the other four in our little group were all about it.

So after about seven hours of traveling, we stopped off for some kart racing. My only options were to just sit around and watch them race, or to join them and hope I could compete despite how tired I was. We warmed up by playing a reaction-time game and two quick-shot basketball games (I won two of three of the games I played) while waiting for our track to be ready.

The race was really fun except we were surrounded by terrible drivers who kept puttering around the middle of the track. All of us would’ve gone much faster if we hadn’t had to work around the slower drivers. I tied for 2nd overall, and I felt pretty good about that.

Our Andretti Racing crew

Then we finally started our drive home from Orlando, talking about the Oscars most of the way.

I finally got home around 1:00 AM and immediately crashed.

Planning for next year

Before this trip, I had decided I hated skiing. Now I’m looking forward to heading back out next year. My friends were right: I hadn’t really skied before, and skiing out west is much more fun.

Hopefully I’ll be shredding Black runs by the end of our next trip.

Where was this video BEFORE my first time skiing?

I couldn’t see through all the snow spraying me in the face, so I just closed my eyes and waited for impact. Another skier was trying to stop before he ran me over, and he barely missed me. I had fallen – again – and couldn’t get up.

This was my first ski lesson. It was not going well.

Even better, the skier trying to avoid me was my good friend and instructor, Scott. He was much better than I was and he didn’t have much patience for teaching a newbie how to ski.

I would just sort of point myself down the mountain and try to maintain some control while zipping down in a straight line. When I eventually got to the bottom, I would either coast to a stop or intentionally wipe out to avoid hitting anyone.

It was awful, and I was content to never ski again.

Then my friends convinced me to give it one more shot, on powder this time. So I’m heading to Colorado next week to try again. They insist it’ll be a lot more fun than I remember.

We’ll see!

It’s a big investment—time and money—for something that could turn out to be really un-fun. So I put on my “learn a new thing, even if it might be unpleasant” hat and started doing some research.

I found this fantastic video on YouTube—it’s exactly what I needed:

How to ski | 10 beginner lessons for the first day of skiing

What impressed me most is how the instructor anticipates almost every fear that I have about skiing. “How do I turn?” “What if I fall?” “What if I accidentally end up on a slope that’s uncomfortably steep?”

He’s been teaching for so long that he’s heard all of those concerns before. His list of “10 beginner lessons” probably came directly from hundreds of terrified students who have said, “What if I fall? How do I get up again?!” as they pictured themselves stuck on the side of a mountain, people zipping by as they struggle to stand up, for hours and hours and hours.

After watching that short video, I have enough confidence to give it a shot. I’m still going to take lessons the first day, but I’m a lot less worried about embarrassing myself than I was before.

Most people feel the same way about getting a raise. Maybe they tried it once before, but it didn’t go very well. So they gave up and decided to just wait for their next raise to come along whenever it happens to come along.

Sometimes, they don’t even get that far—the idea of asking for a raise and having to defend their request may be so daunting that they never even try.

Does that sound familiar?

Now it’s February again and most companies are gearing up for performance evaluation season.

You know you’re underpaid, and you want to do something about it, but you don’t know where to start. Last time you tried, nothing came of it, so why try again?

This year can be different with Get Your Next Raise, a simple way to learn the 7 key things you need to get your next raise.

I’ll be your expert instructor showing you how to get your next raise in just 7 short video lessons with clear action items to help you make steady progress to your goal.

I’m opening up registration soon, and you can get an exclusive launch-day bonus when you join the early access list! ?Ready to finally get paid what you’re worth?

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My first 15k race didn’t go well

I ran my first 15k (9.3 miles) this weekend, and it didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. The official race results say it took me about 1 hour and 20 minutes to finish with a pace of about 8:38 per mile.

At first, I was pretty upset with myself because I hoped to be much faster. I tried to go faster, and kept telling myself, “Ok, it’s time to start moving!”… but that extra boost just never came.

Then I talked to a friend of mine, and he reminded me of a pretty important detail: I was recovering from the flu, so I was probably dehydrated and of course I didn’t run a very fast race. I probably shouldn’t have run at all, so finishing with a decent time was actually a great result.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized there were a lot of positive things about the race, even if I didn’t run a great time. I ran the race with two friends, and it was fun to see them run well and to encourage each other. I ran further than I’ve ever run before, and I felt pretty good despite the flu. I even experienced my first “runner’s high”, which I previously thought was just a myth.

Plus, I went to Chick-Fil-A for my post-race meal, and I ordered enough food to feed a small family.

My post-race meal at Chick-Fil-A

There were a lot of positive things about the race, even if my time wasn’t what I had hoped for.

Sometimes the value in doing something is the thing itself.

I think this applies to our work, too. It can be tempting to look for “business value” or “promotion potential” behind every little thing we do, but that takes all the fun out of it.

Don’t forget to look for opportunities to do work that you enjoy, just for the sake of having some fun. Not only does that make it easier to finish the hard things, but you might find a whole new fun dimension that you can add to your work.

Using micro goals to achieve macro goals

Goals are my best tool for staying motivated. I have macro goals—big things I want to accomplish—and micro goals that support those macro goals—small things that give me easy wins while making progress toward my macro goals.

Before last January, I had never really been A Runner™. I had run before, but mostly as a social thing where I would join some friends for a run from time to time. I would also occasionally run for exercise, but that was rare.

That changed last January when a friend invited me to hop into a running group with a bunch of other friends. It was the New Year, and I was feeling that post-holiday sluggishness after eating everything in sight for the past couple months.

“Sure, why not?”

Running is hard, but it was especially hard when I first started. My body just wasn’t used to it, so everything hurt. The only way to keep myself motivated was to set some goals.

My first goal was pretty easy: Run and finish a 10k race with some friends in April. But as that race got closer, I realized I would need to adjust this goal to keep motivated.

I knew that if my only goal was “finish a 10k”, then I would lose motivation after I finished that race.

So I set a new macro goal: “Finish this same 10k race with a sub-8:00-per-mile pace.” Now I had one year to improve my pace by a little more than one minute per mile.

But that’s a pretty daunting macro goal, so I set some micro goals to support it:

  • MACRO: 10k (6.2 miles) – Sub-8:00 pace
  • Micro: 5k  (3.1 miles) — Sub-7:00 pace
  • Micro: 1 mile – Sub-6:00 pace
  • Micro: 400m (1 lap around a track) – Sub-60 seconds

All of these micro goals are challenging, but I don’t think any of them are out of reach—that keeps me motivated to keep training.

A couple weeks ago, I hit my macro goal, so now I need a new one. I haven’t achieved any of my micro goals yet, but training for them directly contributed to finally achieving my macro goal.

That’s the value of micro goals—you can win directly by achieving them, and you can win indirectly by achieving the macro goal they support.

So where do you start?

  1. Stop and think about your current macro goal for your career. If you have one, make sure it’s achievable. If you don’t have one, now is the time to set it. An example of a good career macro goal might be, “Become a people manager in the next two years”.
  2. Once you’ve defined your macro goal, support it with micro goals. These goals are related to your macro goal, but much smaller in scope, and thus easier to accomplish. Using that same example, some micro goals might be, “Take a leadership training course in 2018” and “Find at least one junior team member to mentor this year”.

When you set your macro goal and back it up with micro goals, then you can focus on smaller wins with those micro goals while still making progress toward your macro goal.

This isn’t working

Nick Saban did something truly remarkable on Monday night: He benched his starting quarterback and brought in a backup for the second half of the National Championship football game.

It’s hard to describe how crazy this is – it’s never happened before.

Football coaches are notoriously stubborn. They learn a system that they like, and they hold onto that system at all costs. And this often gets them fired as they start losing games to newer coaches who have figured out how to beat their go-to system.

But Nick Saban isn’t an ordinary coach. He’s probably the best college football coach ever because he’s constantly evaluating the situation and looking for opportunities to adjust.

In this game—the most important game of the season—he evaluated his game plan, said THIS ISN’T WORKING and switched to a completely different game plan at half time.

I call this “optionality” – maximizing the number of options available at any time, and having a plan to choose and execute the right option for a given situation.

This wasn’t some sort of knee-jerk reaction to falling behind: They had practiced for this, and they ran a totally different offense with their backup quarterback in the second half.

AND IT WORKED! His team, the Alabama Crimson Tide, came back and won the game!

Optionality and your career

You knew this tie-in was coming, right?

We can all learn a lot from Nick Saban’s strategy in the National Championship. If I had to sum it up in one sentence, I would say…

Always keep an eye out for new options and have a plan to take advantage of the best options when your current plan isn’t working.
An easy way to increase your career optionality is learning a new skill—a programming language, software tool, or soft skill—so you’re ready for an opportunity that might be available soon. A harder way is to earn an advanced degree (like an MBA) or certification.

This is a big shift in thinking, but it’s worth it: Instead of just waiting for new opportunities to present themselves, you can proactively look for new options to take advantage of them.

That’s how you improve the trajectory of your career.

Fearless Salary Negotiation will show you how to proactively pursue raises and promotions using methods that work. Check it out if you’re due for a raise!

>> Click here to learn more about Fearless Salary Negotiation

My 2017 Year In Review: Making a living

In May of 2017, my business was in real danger. I had finished 2016 on a high note, finally breaking even for a few months in a row. But revenue began to slow in January, and my savings account was shrinking. I cautiously began looking for day job opportunities or something to bring in a little revenue while I figured out how to bring my business back from the brink.

One night, I mentioned this to a friend, and we talked strategy for several hours. Long story short, I needed to shift my focus to coaching as quickly as possible.

The next day, I flipped some switches on FearlessSalaryNegotiation.com, updated my onboarding emails to emphasize coaching, and formally narrowed my positioning to “Salary negotiation coach who helps software developers get more high-quality job offers and negotiate higher salaries.”

June was my best month ever and I was cautiously optimistic that I had finally found a formulate that worked. July was strong and so was August. September was even better than June, and I knew I was on to something. Closing out 2017, the streak continues: Every month since May of 2017 has been better than any month through May of 2017.

I’m finally making a living and it’s an enormous relief.

Here’s a Table of Contents so you can jump ahead if you want:

2017 Goal Review

Let’s start out with a look back at my 2017 goals.

Make fewer new products, more new sales

I did pretty well on this one. The new products I made were all versions or subsets of previous products. And all of them were designed to test my own theories about how I could best help people in their current situation.

Focus on helping developers

I did really well on this for coaching, and totally failed for products.

My business has two primary revenue streams: coaching and products. My coaching is positioned specifically for Software Developers (the headline is “Software Developers: …”), and that’s where most of my revenue comes from. I haven’t niched down products because I don’t quite know how to do it given the volume of traffic my site gets from organic search (mostly Google).

Fearless Salary Negotiation was initially written for W-2 employees who want to get paid what they’re worth. So the articles on FearlessSalaryNegotiation.com are deep dives into my strategies and tactics, which are mostly job-agnostic. That makes it tough to niche down my product focus because so many people who could be helped would think, “That’s not for me.”

I’m working on this now.

More traffic

My goal was 100,000 visits from organic search per month, and I missed this goal by quite a bit. I’m currently a little over 50,000 organic visitors per month.

It would have been a stretch to make this happen, but I think I could’ve done it if I moved it up my priority list. The reason I didn’t do that is I realized “more traffic” is meaningless if that traffic doesn’t turn into customers. So I switched my focus from “more traffic” to “more email subscribers from existing traffic” and now to “more customers from email subscribers”.

I’ll loop back on traffic some time in 2018 as a natural part of optimizing different areas of my business.

Make a decent living

Check! I’ll write more about this later on.

Finally finish my audiobook

Fail. I tried to make a push early in the year and even tried to hire someone to help me finish editing it. But that person stopped replying to emails and I lost steam editing it and just sort of let it languish. I’m not even sure how much revenue this would drive, so it’s basically a bucket list item to “Publish an audiobook” at this point. That’s not a strong motivator for me, so I’m not sure when this will get done.

2018 Goals

If 2017 was the year I made a living, I want 2018 to be the year I make a good living from what I’ve built.

Before I quit my day job, I was making a good living. I had a good job on a good team at a good company, and it was a nice life. But I wanted to know if I could build something on my own, and specifically I wondered if I could capture more of the value of my own abilities by doing my own thing.

I don’t talk about this much, but the investment I’ve made in building this business is pretty substantial, especially in terms of opportunity cost. I understood that going in, and it was a risk I wanted to take because the potential upside of learning how to build a profitable business with my skillset could be substantial.

I say all that to emphasize that I did not quit my day job to “do ok” or even “make a living”—I was already doing that. I quit my day job for a shot at making a much better living than I could as a W-2 employee capturing only a small fraction of the value I created. I’m over-explaining this because I realize this next goal may sound greedy, and shooting for even bigger goals beyond that might sound outright ridiculous. But I did not make this move—quitting my day job and starting a business from scratch—to break even. This business is an investment where I want a multiple on my return.

Make a good living

Talking about revenue is a little out of character for me. But once I get past “pay all my monthly business and personal bills with a little left over”, describing the next level of growth without using actual numbers is challenging.

So here’s a quantified goal: I want to make $10,000 per month in net revenue in 2018. More specifically, I would like to do that by selling $5k in products and booking $5k in coaching per month for the year.

This is a stretch goal because averaging those numbers for the year will be very challenging given that I’m starting below that average. But I like shooting for the average because it will incentivize me to keep pushing even if I hit those numbers for a month or two. “Yes, I hit the $10k goal two months in a row, but I need to do better if I’m going to average $10k over the entire year.”

More traffic (continued)

I would like to build my organic search traffic to 100,000 unique visitors a month. I’m currently at 50,000, so I need to double my monthly traffic to hit this goal. In nominal terms, adding 50,000 visitors a month seems like a stretch, but in relative terms, “Double my traffic in 2018” seems relatively easy compared to the growth I’ve seen over the past two years.

There’s also a risk here because almost all my traffic eggs are in the organic search basket. I will also spend some time working to add new traffic sources in 2018, but I’m not sure how I’ll do that just yet.

Improve at Sales

Selling products and services is the goal that I had in mind when I set about building the infrastructure of my business. The entire point of my book, website, outreach, and other business activities is to reach more paying customers.

My goal is that 2% of email subscribers become paying customers within the first 30 days.

This is probably my most important goal for 2018. If I hit it, a lot of other goals will be easier.

Help other businesses get more search traffic and email opt-ins

This one is less quantitative, but is something I’ve really enjoyed in 2017. Part of building a business is learning new skills, and I’ve gotten pretty good at getting organic search traffic and turning some of that traffic into email subscribers.

I can help other businesses do that. I like doing it. And it’s extremely valuable, especially for businesses with established, profitable sales funnels in place. For them, more traffic and opt-ins means more revenue.

Running goals

I set these goals after I began running earlier this year, and I’ve only gotten one of them so far.

  • 10k – Sub-8:00 pace Hit it with a week to go!
  • 5k – Sub-7:00 pace (currently 7:14)
  • Mile – Sub-6:00 pace (currently 6:08)
  • 400m – Sub-60s pace (currently 64s)

I’m confident I’ll get the 5k and mile times eventually. I’m not sure I can do a 60s 400m, but I’m so close I have to keep trying.

These posts are normally business-focused, and this one will mostly be business-y. But this year was a lot about personal growth and experience, so I’ll talk about that too.

A detailed 2017 Year In Review – Business

This year, I focused on building on the foundation I laid in 2016. Last year’s one-sentence summary was “Build infrastructure to turn the book into a business.” This year’s one-sentence summary is “Make a living.”

The real key to 2017 was focus. Early in a new business, I think it’s extremely important to try lots of things to see what works and what doesn’t. As much as we want to believe we can engineer a perfect business, that’s just not how it works.

But once things start moving—people are aware of your product or service, you have some sales, you’ve seen a few things work for you—focusing becomes extremely important. In 2017, I focused on building my traffic, building my brand, and building my business. I avoided distractions and that was key to my survival.

Ultimately, shifting my focus from “build a robust sales funnel for my products” to “leverage my skillset and knowledge in the most valuable way possible (coaching)” was the one thing that saved my business and unlocked real growth for the first time since I started.

Products and Services

Ultimately, my business is all about offering the right products and services to the right people at the right time.

In 2017, my coaching revenue more than doubled; my product revenue more than quadrupled. When I step back and look at my business, those are both extremely encouraging signs, especially considering I feel there’s a lot of untapped potential within the infrastructure I’ve built.

Coaching

In June, I turned my focus to booking coaching clients and it paid off in a big way. I’ve worked with clients negotiating with the Big Five (Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft) and many other big names. My portfolio speaks for itself, and I’m learning how specific in-demand firms negotiate their job offers. This knowledge is extremely valuable and I am starting to capture the value of the knowledge base I’m building.

I have also begun working with a new niche: graduating physicians. I initially started doing research to write a book for them, but I think the best way to start is to offer coaching. The common wisdom is “doctors’ contracts aren’t negotiable”, but that’s simply not true. Not only are they negotiable, but the value of negotiation is tremendous—even more than software developers in some cases.

The 15-Minute Counter Offer

I’m pretty sure I only created one new product in 2017: The 15-Minute Counter Offer. It was a companion product for the free email templates I give away on my site. I was curious if people would pay a little bit for more help writing their counter offer email, and it turns out they would.

This is slightly different than products I’ve created in the past. Those products were explicitly designed to make money. This product was designed as an experiment to learn more about how I can best help my audience. It’s subtle, but this shift belies a move from “try to make some money” to “optimize my business”.

The Salary Negotiation Crash Course

The Salary Negotiation Crash Course is a focused version of Fearless Salary Negotiation that is designed to help folks who already have a job offer become effective salary negotiators in less than 90 minutes. This is a good product, and it’s also an experiment as I learn more about the best way to offer valuable help to people who are looking for salary negotiation advice.

Stats!

It’s useful to track stats over time, so I’m going to look back at most of the stats I tracked last year and add a few new ones.

Traffic

This was a huge focus for me in 2016. I kept working on it in 2017, but not as intensely as last year. The reason is that I realized I had enough traffic that I should be able to do something productive with it if I would just optimize some things.

Before we look at 2017’s traffic, let’s look back at 2016:

2016 weekly organic traffic on FearlessSalaryNegotiation.com

Not bad! Now let’s look at 2016–2017 for perspective:

2016–2017 organic traffic

First, you can see that things are still improving pretty quickly. Second, you can see that I took it easy mid-year because I was focusing on other business priorities.

As an aside, I’m finding that building a business as a solo founder is really just focusing on one thing at a time until it’s time to focus on something else.

In my case, I got to a level of traffic where I thought, “It’s worth my time to focus on turning traffic into email subscribers. If I can make a meaningful improvement to my opt-in rate, I can grow my email list really quickly.”

So I turned to optimizing my site to turn all that traffic into more email subscribers. This was a wise move.

My email list

Subscriber growth really picked up this year as I got more traffic and increased the opt-in rate for my site. Here are the subscriber counts at the end of the last three years:

  • December 2015: ~700
  • December 2016: ~2,500
  • December 2017: ~11,500

Here’s a graph of my subscriber growth for 2017:

2017 email list subscriber growth

You can see the hockey stick in September. That was the result of finally making a change I had been thinking about for months: I moved my free email templates behind an email opt-in form. That one-hour change quadrupled my site-wide opt-in rate.

I’m getting about 2,000 new subscribers a month now.

I want to pause on that number for a minute to put it into perspective.

The entire year of 2015, I got 700 email subscribers. SEVEN HUNDRED. I typically get that many new subscribers every 10 days now. I remember the first month where I had at least one new subscriber a day (October 2015), and that was a huge milestone for me. Now my slow days are around 30.

Conversion rate

This is a new stat, which logically follows the email list stats. By conversion rate, I mean, “How many of my email subscribers become paying customers in the first 30 days?” For me, the answer is embarrassingly low: Around .7%.

And it’s actually not even that good because that number is propped up by a couple experiments I did with extremely low-priced products. It’s probably more like .4%.

My 2018 goal is to improve conversion rate to 2% within the first 30 days.

Overall funnel

If you haven’t already noticed, I just described my “funnel”:

Traffic -> Email opt-ins -> Conversions
50,000/mo -> 2,000/mo (4% or so) -> .4%

Here’s where I would like my funnel to be by the end of 2018:

Traffic -> Email opt-ins -> Conversions
100,000/mo -> 5,000/mo (5% or so) -> 2%

If I hit those stats by the end of 2018, I should be able to hit my revenue goals.

Leveling up my credibility and profile

This year was huge in terms of publicity. I published several articles on Glassdoor.com and was interviewed live on international TV for the BBC News. The tick-tock of my BBC interview is pretty interesting as it was less than two hours from start to finish.

My work was published or syndicated on Business Insider, Fast Company, The Motley Fool, CNBC, MSN, Yahoo! Finance, AOL, The Telegraph, Forbes, Quartz, The Muse, Monster.com and lots of other sites.

You can see a running list on the FearlessSalaryNegotiation.com media page.

These opportunities have significantly raised my profile and given me a credibility boost that is paying off for my business.

A detailed 2017 Year In Review – Personal

This may sound crazy, but it’s true: Starting in 2009, I basically worked 7 days a week until the end of 2016. I got into that routine because I was working full time while also studying for my MBA. I would work at my day job during the week, then use weekends to do whatever needed to be done for my MBA.

That lasted until I finished my MBA in 2011. As soon as I finished my MBA, I quite my day job for 8 months. Ironically, I worked more during that 8 months because I was playing a lot of poker, writing my first book, and learning how to build web apps. It was a busy year and I worked some very, very long days and weeks in 2011.

I went back to work full-time in 2012, but I was building ShareAppeal (my first web app) and finishing Heads-Up Tournament Poker while I worked full time. We published Heads-Up Tournament Poker in 2013, but then I started working on TaskBook, which was a nights and weekends project.

I switched jobs in 2014 while I was still working on TaskBook, and then I started writing Fearless Salary Negotiation in December 2014 while still developing TaskBook (my second web app).

I quit my day job (again) in September 2015 to focus on publishing Fearless Salary Negotiation, and then began building that business in 2016 after the book was published. Throughout 2016, I was doing the hard work of building underlying infrastructure to run the business, and that work is pretty much a “volume of effort in correlates directly with results out” situation, so I worked long days all year.

2017 had to be different

But moving into 2017, something had to give. I had chosen to invest my time to learn how to build businesses and eventually become independent. But what was the point of being independent if I spent literally all of my time working? Yes, hustle is necessary to get something up and running, but eventually the hustle has to give way to something better than a 9 to 5.

So as 2016 wound down, I made a conscious decision to stop working so much and start enjoying the freedom I had earned by going independent. What did that look like in 2017?

I began working less and started leaving my laptop in my office at the end of the day. I had more energy because I was working less, so I got off my couch. I went from sporadically attending church to consistently attending. I joined a community group. I started spending more time with my friends just for the sake of spending time with them. I made new friends. I joined a running club and found a new hobby.

Am I a runner now?

My diet is typically pretty awful around the holidays. There’s like six weeks of non-stop snacks and big meals, and then I almost always get a truckload of candy for Christmas. I take on the truckload of candy as a personal challenge, so I eat even more candy than normal for the month of January.

And, uh… well the point is I typically gain a few pounds between like Halloween and February 1. This year, someone said, “Hey, we have a running club that meets once a week to do track workouts. You should come!”

Normally, I would’ve said, “I don’t run.” But the Florida winter was unusually mild and I had a few pounds to shed, so why not?

I’ve never been a runner. The longest I had ever run before this was six miles and that was an awful experience that took me over an hour. I had also run a few miles here and there in college, but it never became a real thing.

There were four to eight of us of us at most of the track workouts. I did not have fun at first—those workouts were extremely difficult for me. I had never done a track workout before, and it took some time to adjust.

But by April, I ran my first 10k race at a 9:00 pace and I actually kind of liked running.

Now I consistently train three days a week, mixing up track workouts (sprints) and medium-distance runs (3–5 miles). A few days ago, I finally achieved the first goal I set this year—I ran a sub-50:00 10k. It felt really good. (Emotionally, I mean. Physically, it was pretty awful.)

I’m also lifting weights three days a week. I’m in the best shape of my life and I can eat a lot more junk with all this running.

Time with people

I’m naturally pretty “introverted”. (Those air quotes are to acknowledge that this term may or may not have any real meaning.) I like to sit on my couch and watch TV or read. It’s pretty draining for me to hang out in groups.

Before this year, I had been working so much that sitting on my couch was my go-to down-time activity. While it was comfortable, it wasn’t healthy, and I decided to change that. Spending less time at work meant I had more energy for hanging out, and hang out I did.

I made a ton of new friends this year and sort of re-entered the social world. I went to Charleston to run a 10k race in April. Spoke at MicroConf later that month. Had a pretty good #SummerOfFun to take advantage of the Gainesville Summer Lull. Split my 4th of July time between a boat and the beach and barely survived a crazy storm. Carved a pumpkin and dressed up like Charlie from Wonder Woman for Halloween. Went to some Gator football, basketball, and volleyball games. Had lots of great dinners with friends. And finished the year off by watching a dozen Christmas movies with friends.

I also spent a lot more time with my family this year, and it was fantastic. No big trips or anything, just small opportunities to have a meal or catch a movie every now and then.

It was a good year.

How I get into the Christmas spirit every year

Every year, my friends and I watch as many Christmas movies as we can between Thanksgiving and Christmas. We have an elaborate system to nominate and veto movies until we have three movies to choose from, then we vote for our favorite.

It gets pretty crazy with people forming alliances and using complicated strategies to watch the movie they want, and we spend a lot of time arguing about what constitutes a “Christmas movie” (Die Hard is a Christmas movie, Die Hard 2 is not).

Here’s how it works…

The group nominates three movies. Each person can nominate one movie. Each person also gets one veto—they can veto any movie that’s already been nominated, and they must replace that movie with another nomination.

Once there are three nominations and no more vetos, we all vote for our favorite. The movie with the most votes wins. If there’s a tie, then there’s usually some campaigning before we re-vote for the movies that tied. If there’s still a tie, I think we flip a coin or something.

If it sounds complicated, that’s because it is: Sometimes the nomination process is as long as the movie we choose.

We’ve already had four movie nights and my guess is we’ll have five or six more before Christmas. Here are the movies we’ve watched so far this year:

  1. Better Watch Out – Is this a Christmas movie? There were…disagreements.
  2. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York – One of the best Christmas movies.
  3. Trading Places – Yes, the one about trading pork bellies. No, this isn’t really a Christmas movie—turns out the TV version is quite a bit different than the full version.
  4. Jingle all the Way – What’s not to like about a Christmas movie starring The Governator?
  5. Christmas Vacation – Chevy Chase at his best, and a timeless movie that gets better with time.
  6. Home Alone – The quintessential Christmas movie.
  7. The Santa Clause – A solid Christmas movie with one of my favorite Christmas movie characters: Neil.

A pretty good lineup, but we still haven’t watched my favorite…

Christmas Vacation

There’s just something about Clark Griswold’s dogged determination to have a Merry Christmas despite the universe conspiring against him at every turn. Hopefully I’ll get this one on the list while there’s still time.

And I’m still hoping for It’s a Wonderful Life and Home Alone this year.

UPDATE (12/19/2017): We have watched a few more movies since I originally posted this, so I’ve added them to the list above. We’ve had a really solid lineup so far this year!

Speaking of Christmas…

Give them a lifetime of bigger paychecks

If you’re looking for a great Christmas gift, Fearless Salary Negotiation is the gift that keeps on giving – literally.

For the rest of their career, they’ll know how to ace job interviews, get more job offers, negotiate a higher salary, and get raises and promotions rather than just waiting for them to happen. All because of your thoughtful gift.

Just click the little gift box icon at checkout and I’ll take care of the rest. You can even set a future delivery date to make sure their gift arrives on Christmas Day!

Give the gift of bigger paychecks

My current business challenge: Providing the right solution at exactly the right time

It’s Thanksgiving, so this post will be a little different. I’m going to tell you all about what I’ve been up to with my business. If you’re curious about how I do things behind the scenes, this is for you 🙂

How my business works

My income comes from two primary sources: Salary Negotiation Coaching and product sales (Fearless Salary Negotiation books and courses). The coaching business is doing well—I’m happy with both the volume and quality of clients I get to work with. The product business has been doing alright, but I would like to grow that side of the business.

Obviously, selling more products means more revenue. That’s important since this is how I make my living.

But selling more products also means providing a valuable solution to an expensive problem (“How do I negotiate my salary without leaving anything on the table?” or “How do I get more job offers?”) at the right time. I like helping people, and it’s frustrating that lots of people get some of the help I have to offer while never knowing about other ways I can help from 1-on-1 coaching to a full-on step-by-step DIY guide to negotiating a job offer.

Slow and steady progress

My newsletter will cross 10,000 subscribers by the end of the week. I can hardly believe I just wrote that number. It seems crazy to me, especially considering my newsletter had only about 2,400 subscribers at the beginning of 2017.

The business-y way to describe that is, “My marketing efforts have been effective.” I mostly focus on content marketing—writing long, detailed articles designed to teach people how to do difficult things by following a process. Most of my newsletter subscribers found me through an article I wrote.

That’s the thing I’m best at, so that’s where I focus.

Where I need to get better is at articulating the value of salary negotiation and giving folks the the opportunity to buy products and services to help them negotiate higher salaries and get more job offers.

The business-y way to describe that is, “I need to get better at Sales.” On one hand, I feel a little uncomfortable saying that. On the other hand, “Sales” is a key part of any business.

The timing problem

My primary Sales challenge is that most of the people who find me are looking for a specific tool to negotiate their salary and they are on a very tight timeline to respond to a job offer.

I call this “The timing problem” because there’s such a small window between “job offer in hand” and “compensation package finalized”. For a long time, the challenge was simply enabling those people to find me when they need help. Over the past year or so, I’ve gotten pretty good at that part as I write better articles on salary negotiation and related topics (this is how I know my Marketing efforts are paying off).

The issue is that the folks who find my articles and other tools are in such a hurry to respond to their job offer that most of my advice gets to them after they’ve already finished negotiating. They may not even know that they could have purchased products or services to help with all other aspects of their negotiation and done even better (this is how I know I need to work on Sales).

My current focus

So once a new person finds Fearless Salary Negotiation by searching for help on a specific topic, I need to find a way to make it crystal clear that there’s a lot more help available, and I have to convey that message very quickly (in 24-48 hours or less).

I haven’t worked out the details, but I need to move faster and communicate more when new people find me. This is tough for me because I don’t want to bother people—I want to help them. I realize this sounds cheesy, but it’s true: If I were just trying to make money, I never would’ve quit my day job two years ago.

Instead of saying, “Here is a free thing to help a little bit, good luck!” and then waiting a day and saying, “Here’s a tip to help negotiate your salary” and then another day and “Here’s another tip!”, I need to do something more like:

Here is a free tool to help negotiate your salary – we’re going to move quickly because you probably have an offer in hand and there’s a lot I need to share with you. If you want help right now, here’s where to get it and here’s the monetary value of that help.

These are the key things to consider when negotiating your salary. I’m going to share insight into each of those things over the next few days. We’re going to move fast, so buckle up!

If I can figure this out, I’ll be able to help a lot more people get paid what they’re worth and my business will grow. This is the kind of challenge I love, and it’s why I do what I do.

So that’s where I’m at with my business. Now I’m off to bake a couple of pecan pies for Thanksgiving 🙂


UPDATE: My first attempt at solving this problem is The Salary Negotiation Crash Course. It’s a focused course to help folks respond to a job offer in less than 90 minutes. My intuition is that this could be exactly what people are looking for and it could be a turning point for my business. Only time will tell.

Tough career advice over lunch at a cheap BBQ joint

“What are you doing for lunch today? Wanna go to Sonny’s?”

I was a Project Manager on a team of about 8 people at a company of about 30 people.

Still, it was a pretty big surprise that my boss wanted to go get cheap BBQ for lunch.

I had been doing pretty well, impressing clients and even winning some awards. My co-workers seemed to like working with me. I tried to give good input and share my opinions in the right situations.

But I could sense this wasn’t a back-patting sort of lunch—Humble Pie would probably be on the menu.

Sure enough, my boss had one central message for me:

“Your input in our team meetings is often critical but thoughtful. And that’s good—we need that kind of input to keep improving as a team. But the way you share your input and accept feedback could be more collaborative and less harsh.”

He told me my body language was negative. I didn’t seem to be engaging to find solutions so much as simply venting about my frustrations. When my work was scrutinized, I wasn’t open to suggestions that could help me improve.

This was pretty hard to hear, and I didn’t take it well at first (reinforcing his reason for sharing this feedback).

But the more we talked, the more I understood that the actual words I spoke were only part of the equation. We work with people, not robots, so our facial expressions, body language, and tone all contribute to how others perceive us.

I began to see that he was simply advising me to get out of my own way. By seeming standoffish and resisting input, I was making others less likely to offer feedback that could be valuable for me and our team.

I made two major adjustments that I still use today:

  • I forced myself to actively listen to all feedback without passing judgement in the moment.
  • I decided that I would not criticize something without having at least one thoughtful solution to the problem.

If you’ve sat in a meeting with someone who has no idea what they’re talking about, then you know how hard these things are to do in practice.

So it took a while to make these adjustments, but they paid off in spades.

It became easier to solve difficult business problems because I really listened when my colleagues identified things we could improve.

I also found that I had access to more unique opportunities because I became known as a thoughtful collaborator who could work with a team to solve difficult problems. Those opportunities helped me get promoted faster and get better paying jobs with more responsibility.

I’m glad my boss took me to lunch and shared difficult feedback over cheap BBQ that day. My career has been much better for it.

Something to think about

If you took yourself to lunch to share one piece of career advice, what would it be? That might be a good place to focus your energy as we head into the home stretch of 2017.