I scream, you scream, we all scream for…a 15-minute drive to get ice cream?

I bet this precise conversation happened 1,522 times here in Gainesville this summer:

“Have you seen the new Avengers movie yet? It’s great!”

“Nah, I just haven’t gotten around to it yet, but I plan to.”

“When you see it, make sure you go to the new theatre – it’s awesome!”

“Oh yeah? Ok, I’ll check it out!”

Other than a slowly degrading mall, we’ve never had much shopping in Gainesville. There have been rumors of a new Town Center circulating for years, but they’ve finally started building it and the buzz is building.

We all thought a Town Center was a good idea, but we weren’t sure where they would build it.

All the options seemed pretty bad because there just wasn’t space for a big development anywhere in the city. They would have to build somewhere on the outskirts of town, so people would have to drive a bit to get to it.

This is sort of a Catch-22: How do you build a big shopping center over several years if nobody is willing to drive that far to shop?

For starters, you would build at least one or two things worth driving to and use those things as anchors while the other things get built.

What would you build first?

In Gainesville, the answer was a fancy new movie theatre: a 10-screen Regal RPX theatre with comfy reclining chairs, huge screens, and great audio. It’s the first new theatre here in over 20 years and it’s lightyears ahead of our other theaters.

It didn’t take very long for all of my friends to find it and recommend it—now it’s our go-to theatre because it’s so much better than the others.

I’ve been out to “Celebration Pointe” (with a silent ‘e’ so you know it’s fancy!) several times to see new movies, but there was no way I would’ve gone out there to buy clothes or eat dinner.

But now they’re starting to open other shops around the theatre and I’m already acclimated to driving out to Celebration Pointe so it’s no big deal to drive out to shop or just hang out in the common areas.

Last week, some friends and I drove 15 minutes to get ice cream at Kilwins and then hung out and talked in a pergola for a couple hours. We never would’ve done that if they hadn’t been so intentional by opening the movie theatre first.

The big picture and overall vision matter, but so do the individual steps you take to implement your plan.

An amazing 4th of July

This 4th of July was the opposite of last 4th of July in almost every way. I won’t recap all of last year, but it was a harrowing experience.

This year, everything went swimmingly.

Getting down to Sarasota

We went down a little later this year and arrived at dinner time on the 3rd. We ate at a place called Pop’s Sunset Grill and it wasn’t bad. It was nice catching up with some friends I hadn’t seen in a while.

The view from Pop's Sunset Grill

After we dropped our stuff off at the house, we made a run to Kilwins. This is a nice tradition, but it’s not quite as special now that we finally got a Kilwins in Gainesville a few months ago.

That being said, I ended up with the largest single scoop I’ve ever had (I described it as “a pint on a waffle cone”) and it was delicious.

We wrapped things up by playing Pictionary (my team got destroyed) and then Taboo (my team won easily). Word games are my bailiwick, but I’m terrible with drawing and visual stuff.

The 4th

We took our time getting started on the 4th, hanging out and drinking coffee until 11 AM or so. We had a big group this year, so we split into two and decided to do shifts on the wakesurfer.

My group was on the beach first, and we played some bocce (my team barely won) and goofed off in the water while the first wakesurfing crew had fun in the Gulf.

After a couple hours, we did a pretty quick shift change and had to change locations because the Gulf got too choppy. We made our way to the water sports area and got to work.

Wakesurfing

The thing about water sports is I have never done them and I don’t particularly like water. I mean, I went tubing a couple times as a kid, and would occasionally find myself on a lake, but that’s about it. So I’m terrible at them and it takes me a bit to get the hang of them.

And so it is with wakesurfing. I tried for quite a while last year and could never even get up on the board, so I had a pretty clear goal for this year: Get up on the stupid wakesurfing board at least once.

I almost got up on my first try, and then failed probably eight times in a row. I was getting pretty close to just calling it quits when everything fell into place and I got it. I quickly got up four times in a row and got that monkey off my back.

Me, wakesurfing

That’s the good news. The bad news is I never really had a good run, so I still haven’t really experienced the fun part of wakesurfing. But I guess that’s a goal for next year.

The festivities

When our shift ended, we headed back to the house for a traditional 4th of July cookout. There’s something comforting about grilling burgers and hotdogs on the 4th. And the desserts this year were phenomenal—some kind of frozen lemon pie and a delicious blueberry cobbler.

The skies looked pretty good before we got on the boat to head out into the Gulf, but they looked ok last year too. I think we were all a little nervous that we’d get caught in another lightning monsoon even though all signs pointed to good weather.

It was cool and breezy the whole time and we got to see an amazing sunset.

Sunset on the Gulf

The beach and Gulf were significantly less full than last year, and there was hardly anyone on the water for the fireworks.

I think part of it was that the 4th fell on a Wednesday, and part of it was people shying away from another run-in with a lightning monsoon. The end result was basically a private fireworks display for our crew and it was amazing.

Fireworks on the Gulf

Fireworks on a boat

We didn’t make it back early enough to get Kilwins so we just jumped straight to games instead. This time, we played Mad Gab first. We only got through about half a game before we quit because it was too easy and our scores were basically identical. We audibled over to Taboo and my team pulled out the win.

Everyone turned in surprisingly early this time, probably because we were all pretty tired from the day’s festivities.

Heading home

Our return trip was pretty uneventful. We rolled out around 10 and just headed straight home. It was nice to have a super easy day after a pretty busy couple of days in Sarasota.

A great week in Boston

A couple buddies and I went to Boston and it was a ton of fun. We did exactly the right amount of stuff so we had a great time without feeling burnt out.

Day 1: Travel and dinner at Carmelina’s

Our travel there was pretty uneventful, which is always great. We got lucky in Orlando when they pulled us out of the regular back-check line and moved us to the fast lane since we were likely to miss our flight if we stayed the course in the regular line.

By the time we actually got to our apartment in Beacon Hill, it was around 5:00.

We were already hungry, so we decided to head to the North End with a hope and a dream that we could get a table at Carmelina’s. A couple of us had heard that it’s a great place to eat, but it’s typically booked out.

I actually tried calling ahead to try to get a last-minute reservation, but they were basically booked solid for the next few days. I made sure to tell the host that my buddies and I were in town for a few days and were hoping to try Carmelina’s while in Boston so he would remember us and have pity on us if we talked to him later.

Sure enough, we walked over and managed to get a table on the sidewalk because they had a no-show. It was a good meal and a great way to ease into Boston.

Our view from Carmelina'sCarmelina's meatball appetizerAll of us standing in front of Carmelina's

We all split a meatball starter and a few entrees—the carbonara was the best one.

Afterward, we walked across the street to Mike’s Pastry, which we’d heard was a must-visit place. It did not disappoint. I got a caramel pecan cannoli, and my friends had to sort of lure me out of the place because it was chalk full of delicious-looking treats.

Mike's Pastry box of treatsMy caramel pecan cannoli

We took our cannolis to a table at The Greenway to watch the sun set and enjoy the Boston weather. It was like mid-70s all week, which was a nice change of pace from the Gainesville summer.

Rick looking at something on the Greenway
We were already pretty tired and full of carbs, so we headed back to settle into our flat and call it a night.

Day 2: A whale of a time

We heard that whale watching tours are fantastic in Boston this time of year, so we got on a boat to go see the whales.

I spent the first 45 minutes feeling progressively worse until we finally got to the viewing area. Although I felt terrible, I was determined to see at least a couple whales for my trouble, so I forced myself to stand, posted up on the rail and waited for a couple whales to pop up.

Technically, I saw some whales.

Once I saw them, I sat back in my seat and didn’t move for the next two hours or so trying to keep it together until we could get back on land. I’ve never been seasick before, and I do not recommend it.

Seasick on a whale-watching boat

I don’t think I really got right again until a couple days later.

Once back on land, we made a beeline for a local market where a couple of us got lobster rolls for lunch. They were tasty.

Boston Harbor from the boat

Then we headed back to the flat to recover and get ready for the highlight of our trip…

Fenway

My buddy Rick is a lifelong Red Sox fan, but he didn’t attend his first game at Fenway until this trip. We saw a satisfying route of the Angels, including several home runs and some great defensive plays.

Fenway Park entranceRed Sox game at dusk

Aside from a random business guy loudly talking about his business behind us (we all wonder what will become of his COO Gary, who he mentioned several times), it was a fantastic game and a great time.

We did it right, dropping some coin on concessions for dinner and Rick even got a new hat to replace his old well-worn hat that probably should’ve been retired a couple years ago.

Classic Allen face

I have a lot of “Allen makes this face at a sporting event” photos

And of course we got the full experience with “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and “Sweet Caroline”.

After the game, we walked back to Beacon Hill. This was probably our best walk of the trip, clocking in at nearly an hour and taking us through several great neighborhoods.

We got back pretty late, so we turned in to make sure we were ready for a big hiking day on Wednesday.

Day 3: The Freedom Trail and un-split lobster tails

The main event for Wednesday was the Freedom Trail. But before we got started, we spent some time at Boston Common and the Public Garden.

It took some searching around the Frog Pond , but we eventually found the bench from Good Will Hunting. It was surprisingly hard to find—we all expected some sort of memorial for Robin Williams or something—but it was just a bench by a pond.

Good Will Hunting Bench at the Frog PondThe Freedom Trail

Then we set off for The Freedom Trail.

This was the hike that everyone told us we had to do. We found a podcast that had little two-minute blurbs about several of the stops on the Trail, but I was jealous of the tourists with guides telling them all about each stop.

The Freedom Trail

If I did it again, I would get a tour guide or an audio tour or something to make sure I learned a lot along the way. Visiting the sites was great and seeing so much of Boston was fantastic, but I didn’t learn as much about the history as I would’ve liked.

Paul Revere

Still, it was a fantastic hike that took us all over Boston and lasted about five hours. There’s something really cool about standing in spots that are well-known pieces of American history while looking around to see the hustle and bustle of the modern world—a fun juxtaposition.

The USS Constitution

After we finished the Freedom Trail, we walked over to the USS Constitution, which is the world’s oldest commissioned naval vessel that’s still afloat.

The USS Constitution (and a random dude)

Although it’s called Old Ironsides, its hull is entirely made of wood, which makes it a really beautiful boat. Some of the crew told us about its history and pointed out some of the unique characteristics of the ship while we bobbed and weaved between the low-slung beams and around the columns below deck.

It was really neat to actually walk around and feel what it was like to be below deck surrounded by cannons in such a tight space.

Below deck on the USS Constitution

We were all pretty much exhausted by this point (we had been walking for six hours or so), and we headed back to the flat to recover before heading out to dinner.

Lobsters

For dinner, we made our way to Yankee Lobster in South Boston. Rick and I got the twin lobster and it was really good. This was my first time breaking down a whole lobster and it was quite an experience.

They didn’t split the tails for us, so we had to do some work to get to the good stuff. I prefer to work as little as possible when I eat my food, but all the work was worth it in this case.

Lobsters from Yankee Lobster

As an added bonus, Joan Jett, Styx and Tesla did a show right next door while we ate. So we got to eat delicious lobster and take in a free show to boot. (I’m pretty sure we also helped some people sneak in through a back gate near our table.)

Drink

After lobsters, we walked to Drink, which is a small bar where the bartenders make you whatever they think you’ll like. It was a great place to relax and catch up since we hadn’t all hung out in a long time.

Back to the flat!

Day 4: A small excursion

By Thursday, we were all starting to get a little tired. We had been walking everywhere pand I still hadn’t quite recovered from being seasick, so I was happy to take it easy all day.

Night Shift Brewing

We got a late start and headed to Night Shift Brewing out in Everett. We each got a flight and then just hung out talking for several hours.

It was a really cool space and surprisingly cozy for such an industrial building.

Although this his probably the easiest possible tourist activity, I struggled to stay awake and was pretty happy when we decided to head straight back to the flat and chill until dinner.

Trattoria Il Panino

For our final dinner in Boston, we found our way to Trattoria Il Panino, which was amazing. This was my favorite meal in Boston by far.

We started with a charcuterie board (who doesn’t love a good charcuterie board?) and again split a few entrees. All three entrees were fantastic: Veal Saltimbocca (veal medallions), Ziti alla Amatriciana, and Ravioli con Aragosta (lobster ravioli in crab sauce).

Charcuterie board

Entrees at Trattoria Il PaninoThis would’ve been the ideal time for a final stop at Mike’s, but we were all so full we couldn’t drag ourselves over there. I regret this now.

It was starting to get late and we all needed to pack up for our travel day on Friday, so we walked back to the flat.

Day 5: Heading home

Our flight wasn’t until around 3:00, so we had time to see a little more of Boston before we took off. One of my favorite parts of this trip was that we were in Beacon Hill, a beautiful neighborhood where everything is very walkable.

Beacon Hill

The view from Starbucks

We decided to head back to Boston Common and split up for a couple hours so we could each do our own thing.

I found a shaded bench by the Frog Pond and spent a couple hours reading and listening to music to decompress and take it easy after a good week.

Reading by the Frog Pond

Our travel home was pretty uneventful except that the Chick-Fil-A we built our homeward route around ended up being closed for renovations. This was easily the saddest moment of our trip. But we all managed to overcome the adversity on the field by enduring a trip to a futuristic Wendy’s run by giant iPads.

Our drive back to Gainesville from Orlando went by quickly as we listened to NBA podcasts and talked basketball most of the time.

All in all, this was an amazing trip with great friends and I think we did it right.

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.

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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.

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.

I bought this painting

My friend Rick is a an artist who I met in Charleston earlier this year when I went up there to run a 10k race. I was running the race with Rick’s son, so we all stayed at his house in Charleston while we were in town.

While we were staying at Rick’s house, I saw a painting that I really liked. I didn’t say much at the time because I wasn’t sure if it was ok to ask about buying art from an artists’ house.

But then Rick brought several of his pieces down to Gainesville for an art show, and that piece was among them. It was for sale, so I made an offer, which eventually turned into an agreement. I’m now the proud owner of this original piece:

Here’s the weird thing: It’s a mystery why I like this piece. Rick had lots of great pieces at the show, but this particular piece really speaks to me.

Why? Who knows!

All I know is that I saw it, liked it, and eventually bought it.

I used to think hiring managers felt this way about job candidates. They had a job to fill, they posted a job opening online, they got a stack of resumes, they talked to a few candidates, and one of the candidates just seemed like the right fit.

It seemed mysterious, almost magical.

But then I spent a year building a team of 25 Support Engineers, which meant reviewing scores of resumes and interviewing lots and lots of candidates.

The team we built was very good at what they did, and I learned there’s a very concrete, tactical side to interviewing, which is unlike evaluating a piece of art.

Let’s go back to something I said earlier:

“They had a job to fill, they posted a job description online, they got a stack of resumes…”

Did you catch that?

The hiring manager isn’t hoping for a mysterious connection with a piece of art. They’re hoping to find a candidate with attributes clearly articulated in their job description. They want a candidate who can help the company or team meet its goals and overcome challenges they’re experiencing.

With a job description and a little research, you can position yourself as the candidate for a specific job. It’s almost like you can peer into their mind to figure out what sort of art they’ll like so you can present it right back to them.

Interviewing can be intimidating, but it isn’t mysterious. Your goal in your interviews is to make sure they know that you are that person they’re looking for.

My comprehensive guide to answering interview questions shows you how to position yourself as the candidate they want to hire. Even if you’re not interviewing right now, you should bookmark this for later. And if you know someone who has job interviews coming up, do them a favor and send them this link:

>> Click here to read my guide to crushing your job interviews

Take advantage of the Summer lull

I live in Gainesville, FL, which is a college town featuring the University of Florida. And I would be remiss if I didn’t include this to celebrate our first College World Series National Championship: Go Gators!

But enough about how great it is to be a Florida Gator. Let me tell you about my #SummerOfFun.

Gainesville is a strange place because more than half of the city disappears every summer as students head home for summer break. All of a sudden the traffic dissipates, restaurant wait times collapse, and we locals have free reign for a few months.

This also means that most organized activities stop during the summer, and we’re left to our own devices when it comes to leisure time.

Fortunately, a few of my friends have pretty serious FOMO, which means we do something pretty much every night. Here are a few of the things we’ve done so far this summer:

  • Watched the NBA finals
  • Watched the NHL finals
  • Played Spades (we only got through like half a game before we…)
  • Played King of Tokyo, which is extremely fun and you should play it although I can’t ever seem to win (UPDATE: Winnar!)
  • Watched John Wick 2 (exactly what you’d expect)
  • Played Scattergories (Winnar!)
  • Played Cranium (Two-time Winnar!)

It’s a lot of fun. And that’s just a partial list from the past couple weeks—we’re only about half way home.

I realize your summer probably doesn’t quite look like my #SummerOfFun. But I do have a point!

Summers are different

There’s a distinct shift in tone and energy during the summer. Personally, this means #SummerOfFun ramps up for me. Professionally, I’ve noticed a similar lull as things just move more slowly.

People go on vacation. Deadlines become malleable. The office gets quieter.

It’s the perfect time to slow down and recuperate, and it’s a great time think about your plan for the rest of the year.

It’s hard to stop and take time to think about your career and what you’ll accomplish next. But the summer lull makes it a little easier to step back and make a plan.

Take advantage of the summer lull

This summer, take some time to do a little market research to see if your salary is in line for your industry. Maybe it’s time to start planning to ask for your next raise. Or consider the next move on your career path. Maybe it’s time to start planning for a promotion.

Take advantage of the summer lull to recuperate and make a plan as you head into the into the second half of 2017.

Not sure where to start when it comes to asking for a raise or promotion? Fearless Salary Negotiation will show you how to estimate your market value, and has a step-by-step process you can use to get your next raise or promotion.

3D Printing will change everything

The tech world is buzzing about “3D printing” (for some examples, see the links at the bottom of this piece.). I first heard about it a few years ago in the context of printing replacement organs (kidneys, hearts, etc.) for people. More recently, there’s talk about how it could upend the manufacturing world, offer “personal manufacturing”, and shrink the costs associating with prototyping new devices. All these things are true, but the whole way people talk about 3D printing seems short-sighted to me.

The bigger picture is that 3D printing will not only upend manufacturing, but also packaging and distribution. It’ll change how we consume things by drastically increasing the scope of what’s available for consumption 1, and removing almost all of the friction between the creator and the consumer of those things.

There are obviously many potential applications for 3D printing, but the game changer is how 3D printers will impact regular old consumers. I think the best way to illustrate this is with a simple story:

Little Tommy is getting ready for his first day of second grade. The family just finished dinner, and it’s time to start getting ready for bed. But first, mom and dad let him know they need to get all his things together for his first day of school. He needs his uniform (a polo shirt with his school’s logo on it, a pair of kakis, a brown belt, brown shoes), a ruler, some pencils and pens, paper, a notebook, and a messenger bag to carry all of his gear. So they all head to the living room to use the biggest screen (suitable for family-style shopping). They spend some time picking out the stuff he’ll need on (surprisingly agile and still-profitable) Amazon, choosing the “Buy now with 1-Click” option for everything.

Tommy heads off to brush his teeth while they wait on all his new school equipment to be delivered. Once he finishes brushing his teeth, he heads back to the living room, where all his new gear is sitting next to the family’s 3D printer. He puts the ruler, pencils, pens, paper and notebook in his new messenger bag and leaves it by the front door. He doesn’t need to try on his clothes because they were printed to his current specifications 2, so he takes those in his room and drops them on the floor next to his bed.

The next morning, Tommy wakes up, ready for his big day. But his mom won’t let him leave without a healthy breakfast. She tells the house to make Tommy a couple scrambled eggs with cheddar cheese on them, and a piece of wheat toast with strawberry jelly. A few minutes later, Tommy’s breakfast is ready and waiting under the hood of the family’s food printer. Tommy eats up, and then heads off for his big day at school.

This example raises a lot of questions, so I’ll finish this post off with a sort of self-Q&A.

  • Why is Tommy using paper and pencil at school? Shouldn’t he be using tablets or something? He should definitely be using a tablet, or a “smart desk” or something, but I had to come up with stuff for Tommy to take to school and I didn’t want to spend a lot of time thinking about it.
  • Ah, but where’d the materials used in the printers come from?! Well, at first I think 3D printers will be stocked similarly to 2D printers–we’ll buy buckets of a few basic materials and load them into the printer. Eventually, maybe that stuff will be piped into our homes so we don’t have to go get it. And ultimately, the printers will be materials-free like tele porters in StarTrek. I have no idea how this would work, but it seems like this is an application for a mature understanding of quantum entanglement or home-sized particle accelerators or something.
  • How is the stuff “delivered” from Amazon? Digitally, just like pictures, music and movies are delivered online today. Amazon would just send a digital file (“TommysMessengerBag.3DP”) to the printer, and the printer takes it from there. The product is a one-time-use, DRM-protected digital file, which is created by Amazon or another vendor. This will be true for almost everything – companies (brands) will sell digital downloads of their products. In this story, the pencils Tommy bought would be Paper Mate pencils.
  • Why wouldn’t Tommy just design his own pants and print them off? The same reason I don’t grow my own strawberries. But the bigger reason is that brands and styles will still exist, and Tommy has better things to do than try to ape those brands and styles with his own homemade version. This is sort of like asking why I buy Levi’s 514s when I could just make my own at home. I have better things to do.

I’m curious what other questions people might have about this, and I think it’s fun to think about. This is not sci-fi, it will happen. The question is really how long it will take before the story above is totally plausible. I have no idea, but I’m thinking something like 2030. How fast this happens really depends on how well Moore’s law will apply to 3D printing. My guess is it will apply pretty well, so things should start ramping up here in the next decade.

Links to cool stuff about 3D printing

FOOTNOTES: