ajmorris

AJ Morris

I was chatting with my good friend Cory Miller recently about his 30 Days of Clicking Publish. I wanted to see how it was going. It sparked too many questions and it got me thinking…

I logged into my WordPress dashboard to run some plugin updates and happened to look at how many drafts I had sitting in my posts. It was horrendous. I have so many posts in my drafts that I’ve often wondered why I never finished them.

  • Why did I spend time working on blog posts only to find myself not clicking publish.
  • What state were these drafts in? Is it just a title or is there content in them?
  • Why did I want to write these posts?
  • Why didn’t I finish them?

Well, the truth is, I think it’s because I’ve been so focused on them being perfect, that I forgot about just clicking publish.

Getting Stuck

I got so stuck into making sure they had SEO keywords: they were long enough to get ranked, they were well researched, they had images, they had quotes. Even what framework should I use to write my posts. All the items go into a good, quality blog post.

But that meant, that I never actually posted them. Because I got so stuck into the mechanics of what a good blog post was, I failed to post them. That’s right. I failed.

That’s what got me to today. Today and for the next 30 days, instead of focusing on perfect, I’m going to focus on clicking publish.

I’m not going to focus on those mechanics. Instead, I’m going to focus on spending 30 minutes every day writing about a topic. It might include revisiting some of the blog posts I have stuck in drafts. It might not.

The point though is to develop a habit. To get into the habit of clicking publish. To get into the habit of writing for myself. To get into the habit of sharing what I know.

I’ve thought this for quite a while, but SeanWes said it best.

  1. Share what I learn.

  2. Teach everything I know.

If I can look at my writing as meeting the needs of those two statements then I consider it a success.

Defining Success

While I consider my writing to meet those two statements, I think it’s worth really defining success and being held accountable for it.

There are several frameworks that you can use to help you write a blog post, but I want to focus on the single framework I’ve used for the last several years. Stu McLaren created a framework I’ll call, Teach Anything.

I’ve used this framework for webinars, videos, even presentations. I’ve never used it for blogging though. It seems to fit really well with blogging though as I start every one of those other presentation mediums with written text. So why not just move it into a blog post?

In order to be successful, I would like to make sure that I’m including these blog posts in that format. We’ll talk more about it tomorrow…


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I am a big fan of using Calendly to help schedule a wide range of meetings, from internal to external meetings. I may have been known to send out a Calendly link to a friend from time to time to have them schedule lunch or playtime with our kids. While it ends up being incredibly useful for booking meetings, one thing it’s not so good at is helping you keep from being booked from meetings.

You see Calendly has one job, book meetings to your calendar. But if you are like me, you can’t always been in meetings all day. You’ll never get any other work done. There were days were I would find myself booked from the time I got up, till the time I was done. Some days, that’s expected. But after awhile of having several days back to back to back meetings, I had to find another way to stop being in meetings all day.

That’s where some fancy work with Calendly and Zapier came in. By creating a couple of zaps to Check it out in this video.

These zaps really help keep me a little more organized when it comes to my calendar. Not only do they allow me to have meetings scheduled throughout the day with Calendly, but they also take into consideration internal meetings that get scheduled on 2 different calendars of my day job.

This process works incredibly well to help you not get your day full of meetings. Which was one thing I really wanted to make sure I could help prevent if at all possible.

Hope you enjoyed. Let me know if you have any questions.


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I love photography. In fact, I love using photography in my designs for websites I build. One thing we can all agree on is that stock photography is awful. And it’s expensive. It is generic and in some cases you see images on your site on others.

Some other folks noticed this too. So they thought that because other people might think this was a problem they needed a way to figure out if this was true. They set out to build a website where you could get photos for free.

Rather than spending weeks or months creating a website that could totally be a flop, they set up a free Tumblr blog, spent $20 on a Tumblr theme. They then worked with a local photographer to create 10 hi-resolution photos and uploaded them to the website. Within 3 hours, the first version of Unsplash was built.

What is an MVP?

This story highlights what we call MVP or Minimum Viable Product. So what is an MVP? An MVP is first and foremost the race to deliver customer value. A Minimum Viable Product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least amount of effort.

An MWP is the first version of the product you are building that solved your grand problem. In other words, it’s really on the core feature set to make the product work. It can be a website or an app, but the goal here is to keep it simple.

Development

At this stage in your development process, you are saving time and money by building an MVP. That doesn’t mean you can use it as an excuse to build a bad product. You still have a goal of making sure it fits the value proposition you put forward. What it means is that with each feature, each potential page your product could have, it should have the essential things to prove people want what you are building.

A good question to ask yourself is, “What could we make at a minimum to get our product functions to prove it is a solution to a problem?” By thinking about this question, and being able to answer it, you help to spend too much time building lower priority things early on.

Let’s go back Unsplash for a moment and analyze it.

  • The Unsplash MVP took just 3 hours to build.
  • They used Tumblr, a free blogging tool, and a $20 theme.
  • They hired a local photographer to take 10 hi-resolution photos.
  • They uploaded their 10 photos to the site for people to download them for free.

I don’t think I’ve seen another MVP built in such a short time that has become such a wild success. Now what’s even better is that when they were finished with their MVP product, they submitted Unsplash to Hacker News. Hackers News is a place where they felt people might be interested in what they were doing and the problem they were trying to solve.

Within hours of the post, over 20,000 photos were downloaded. Even though the first version of Unsplash was primitive and barely worked, it was enough to provide that it was solving the problem they set out to solve.

I think what’s even more credible is that today over 2 million photos are downloaded a month. And that simplicity of Unsplash is what made it special.

The story of how Unsplash got started is inspiring. It teaches us that sometimes you don’t need to design or code anything to prove that your solution is useful. But how do we determine what an MVP of your product will look like? Is there a framework that we can use to help us better understand what we’re going to build? Almost like putting a box around our MVP.

Keep It Simple

Thankfully, I’ve found over the years of building products that you can use the following process to help you build your MVP.

  1. Start with a single, simple product solving a tiny subset of your grand problem.

  2. Keep iterating, while constantly solving bigger, related problems en route to solving the grand problem.

  3. Constantly communicate the vision of the grand problem that your product is solving.

Wrapping Up

My experience with building products is to build your MVP first and continually add more to it. The most important aspect is to get out your product quickly to test your assumptions. This allows you to not spent a lot of time up front building our product while letting you start to get feedback on your product.


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Most products are built because they aim too solve a problem. It could be a problem that you, yourself encountered, or something a friend encountered. But it’s a problem that started us on the journey of developing a solution to.

Now like other product developers out there, I have made a career solving problems. Problems in the educational sector, public sector, even for myself. And what most technology businesses start out with these days are digital products that are aiming to solve a problem. But what makes your product noticeable? Why would someone buy your product?

Your product needs to have a vision. A vision of what the future will hold. It


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We all have an idea to solve particular problems we encounter regularly. Good or bad we sometimes tend to get emotionally invested in those ideas. We then go and talk to our immediate network about it and decide to put all our savings on the line. Sometimes we even start raising money from family and friends to start building an app or website without validating whether the idea is sustainable or actually solves a problem.

Instead of jumping right in to solving the problem, you


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You just spent the last 3 months building a product that solves a problem you encountered. All the spent your time working hard, putting in long hours, setting up a website, even getting all your social media accounts setup. It is likely youu might have even put together a marketing plan, starting blogging, and got a small email list.

With all this hard work done, you are likely starting to see sales. But are you getting the growth you thought you’d get? Have you thought about how you can increase your sales? Do you know what you your customers think of the product? Take some time before you continue building your product and consider getting some customer feedback.

Customer Feedback

One of the most valuable things you can do for your product or business is to spend time getting customer feedback. What’s great about building digital products (and most of us are building these now) is that we can take the feedback we get from customers and iterate on our products, giving them to our customers for free. In fact, if you are continually adding value to what you provide your customers, they are far more likely to buy from you again.

You can get customer feedback in a multitude of ways. While there are lots of ways to get feedback, here are 5 ways I get customer feedback.

  1. Surveys

  2. Feedback boxes

  3. Reaching out directly

  4. User activity

  5. Usability Tests

Surveys

One of the most common and easiest ways to get feedback from your customers is by sending out surveys. Think about it. They are easy to setup. Easy to send out. Easy to Analyze. And they scale really really well. I suppose that’s why many people think of survey’s as the bread and butter for getting feedback.

When I’m going to use a survey to gather customer feedback, I look at them at two angles: long surveys and short surveys.

Long Surveys

Survey Monkey

Long Surveys are what most of us are familiar with so let’s cover these first. Long surveys are what we are most familiar with. You go into a tool like Survey Monkey where you create all sorts of questions and then you send out a link to your customer list and anyone that uses your product.

Then you give it a few days, check back on your survey and have all sorts of feedback. Hopefully.

If you have ever sent out a long survey but didn’t get a lot of responses, there’s a few reasons why.

How many questions did you send?


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After spending a decade as a web developer, I was finding that I wanted another challenge. I felt that I was getting comfortable in my position and I wanted to find a way make a change. I wasn’t sure what that change was. But it was going to be something.

I spent several weeks doing those personality tests. I ended up looking at what traits and skills I had and based off the results of those tests, I decided that what I was going to be was someone that was responsible for the strategic direction of a product.

That has led me to spending the last two and a half years as a product manager for Liquid Web. During the holiday season I found it fitting to reflect on what traits make a good product manager.

I personally struggle at juggling all of these, all of the time. But I think that over time you always try to continually improve how you do your job.

Strategic Thinking and Decisiveness

Some people like to call a product manager the mini-CEO of sorts. I hate this analogy. I don’t think that it really speaks to what you are currently doing. A product manager needs to understand and develop the product strategy and how it aligns with the overall company strategy, especially if the company has multiple products. The product manager is responsible for the overall product vision and thus needs to understand the competitive landscape and understand how to go to market to attract the customers they are building the product for.

A product manager typically doesn’t have the authority to tell people what do to. So it’s important that you collaborate and help various teams make the decisions they need to make. Generally you need to invite key stakeholders to join workshops, review meetings and actively listen to their ideas to concerns, and see consensus on important decisions. Sometimes that means you even need to have the courage to make the decision. You shouldn’t be afraid to shy away from the tough calls that you may need to make.

Passion for Building Solutions

Many product managers were perviously creative types, either from the development/engineering teams or design teams. Most creatives realized where pain points were for their customers and enjoyed finding solutions to those pain points. I remember laying awake late at night thinking up how to tackle certain problems.

You should be able to recognize and respect great products. You like to try new products and provide feedback. As long as you have a passion for innovation and the love of whiteboards, you’ll be a great product manager.

Visual Communication

As developers, you might lack in this department from your designer counterparts. But that’s not what I’m getting at here. You don’t need to draw well (I make really rad stick figures sometimes!). I’m talking about the ability to draw well enough to explore and communicate your idea to the team.

Often it can be some chicken scratch in your favorite moleskin of an idea you came up with on your ride home. Sometimes it’s even transposing those notes and images to the whiteboard for your whole team to see.

The most important part of all of this is that you want to provide as much clarity to your team as possible and a lot of that comes from your visual communication skills.

Empathy for Customers

Customers are what pays your salary. Someone in the leadership position needs to understand be provide empathy to your customers. You want to have deep empathy for your target customer. So how does one get that? Well the easiest is to hire someone that fully understands your target customer.

If you can’t find someone in your target customer segment, then you want to find someone that can find empathy and they recognize the importance of talking to customers. You want someone that is able to strike up a conversation with them and gather insights into their needs through the conversation. A good product manager is always prepared.

Active Listening / Interviewing

Like Empathy, active listening is a big requirement of the job. It’s important to understand how to persuade and influence the stakeholders and to really get to the root of the problem. In the product team, it’s easy to be ego-driven. But remember, it’s more less about you and more about the customers that use the product.

Data-informed / Analytical

There is this famous saying by Edwards Deming, “In God we trust; all others must bring data.” If you want to succeed as a product manager, you need to use the data you have available to test assumptions and generate new insights rather than believes and opinions.

Data can only go so far though. In the end you may need to use your intuition and imagination to come up with new ideas; test them and then collect relevant data to see if they hold true. This really goes along with the idea of a MVP, Minimum Viable Product. We’ll talk about that in a future post.

Are there others?

Are you a product manager or part of a product team and think that there are other skills or traits that a good product manager has? I’d love to hear what you think I missed. Leave them in the comments.


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Entrepreneurship can be a challenge. And no challenge is fun going alone. If you are running a successful business, chances are you aren’t alone, you have employees. But you may be alone in how you make some of the decisions.

Masterminds are a great way to get honest feedback, help refine your ideas, and share insights and experience. They can also help to inspire you with their successes and support you when you face setbacks.

I haven’t been involved with a Mastermind, but what I do find is that they are similar to accountability groups. I have been in those on and off for most of my life. If you are looking to get start your own mastermind, here’s some ideas to help you out.

Prep work for your Mastermind

Identify your ideal group makeup. Make a list of the people you’d most like to have in your group. Depending on your preferences, it can be a mix of people in the same industry or it could be a mix of people in different industries but perhaps the same professions.

Choose members wisely. In a mastermind, you are going to be sharing a lot of intimate details of your business. Finances, product roadmaps, marketing plans, everything. It’s important that you take time to get to know people that you are going to share these details with. Make sure that you take time to fully vet the people you are thinking about including in your mastermind.

Create ground rules. Once you’ve identified the group of people that are going to join your mastermind, it’s important to set some ground rules. You want to make sure that everyone knows exactly what they are getting into. If as a group you have specific goals and values, that will enable people to make an informed decisions about whether they want to participate or not.

Set a frequency and structure. That last thing that your group needs to decide on is what the structure of the group is going to look like. How often are you going to meet? Will it be in person? Will it be on the phone or a video call? How long will you meet for? What does the structure of your meeting look like?

A Mastermind Framework

I was having dinner a couple of months ago with some friends and throughout our dinner, they explained how their masterminds were structured. What I found interesting was that none of them were in a mastermind together. And yet, the structure of their mastermind groups were very similar.

Simple Framework

When I’m putting together the idea of how you should structure a mastermind, I think of 9 key components to building out the structure of your group. Now for the most part, these are high-level, with an exception of the first one.

  • Have regular meetings. Weekly.
  • Hold the meetings on the same day, at the same time.
  • Expect each person to attend the meeting unless they tell you ahead of time that they are not going to be there.
  • Meeting in person is awesome, but with technology, a video call works as well.
  • Set specific goals at the end of each meeting and write them down. Share them with the group.
  • Spend the first few minutes going around the group, letting each person give an update on their progress of their goals.
  • Respect each other’s time and be on time, prepared and ready to discuss. At the end of the time, be conscious of everyone’s time. If you are really crushing it as they say, feel free to go over the time a bit. But otherwise try to end on time as well.
  • One person is going to be in the “hot seat” each week, where the rest of the group is actively listening and engainge with help to reach their goals.
  • The person that is in the “hot seat” should make sure that they everything is in order prior to the meeting. Meaning that if there’s any documents you want to share with the group, you’ve sent them out ahead of time so others can use the meeting time to ask questions.

When you use this framework and put this type of structure in place from the first meeting, you’ll help the group be more successful. Be sure to ask for feedback from the group though. You never want to just dictate what the group should be doing. It should be inclusive.

Conquer

As simple as this framework sounds, it’s often a team effort to get you in the place that you want to be. You are in control of what you get out of the group. It’s important that you put in just as much as you want to get out of it.

Are you already in a mastermind? Share some of your best practices or tips and lessons learned in the comments.


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I read a statistic recently that 71% of people quit their New Years Resolutions after the second week. If you are like me, and just recently set some goals (or new years resolutions), then it’s time to start getting things into high gear.

I had the opportunity to attend WooConf back in October. Over dinner one night, some friends and I were discussing the topic of Masterminds.

I’ve heard of masterminds before, but never really did a lot of research into them. I was fortunate to join some friends for dinner one night. We went to a greek restaurant and spent much of the time talking about masterminds.

Being a CaboPress alumni, I understood the basic concepts of masterminds, but always thought they were more conference styled. I didn’t think people would do them virtually. I thought they were something people would do regularly. I was impressed that this group of friends had been involved with a mastermind for over 4 years!

What is a Mastermind?

A Mastermind is a small group of likeminded people looking to grow their businesses. The group meets regularly to talk about the tasks they are working on in their business. They discuss everything from finances, sales, marketing plans, development plans, purchasing, and so on. It’s very personal and in your face.

The great thing about masterminds is that you don’t all have to be in the same industry. And it might be best to not be in the same industry. The purpose of the group is to discuss the challenges that are going on in your business.

After all, if you want to be successful, you have to talk about the challenges.

How Do I Get Involved with One?

Facebook groups

If you are a part of any type of business facebook group, you can ask there if any one has an opening. You could even ask if anyone wants to join you and start your own.

Forums

These are a little older, but they still exist. There are a ton of forums out there that for small business owners or freelancers. Post in a forum that you’re looking at creating a small mastermind and anyone that’s interested will get in touch.

Twitter

Connect with small business owners and freelancers on Twitter. Create a tweet that says you’re looking at creating a mastermind and see what happens.

Your Website

Create a blog post on your site talking about creating a mastermind. You can use this on the other channels you’re sending messages out on and your readers can see that you’re looking for a mastermind as well.

Local Network

And don’t count out the value of doing some local networking. I’ve often found that some of my first customers came from the local community. Depending on your community you might have small businesses or freelancers that are looking to join a mastermind as well.

Get At It!

Working on your business is just as important as working in your business. So just as it’s important to set goals or milestones, you need the opportunity to talk about the challenges that you are facing with others, for example in a Mastermind.

There’s a saying that when you get too focused on your business, that’s it’s often harder for you to see things clearly. A Mastermind can help with that. As you share your goals and challenges with others, you’re able to get different perspectives that you wouldn’t otherwise get.

As you continue to strategize, set goals, and start executing on those goals, consider looking at getting into a Mastermind to help you accelerate. I’m currently considering several options for Masterminds right now.


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Throughout the year I spend a lot of time by myself. Between traveling, commuting, and grocery shopping, I have a lot of down time. I used to hate it, but then I realized that I could use that time to learn new things. And as a perpetual learning, I thought it was a great idea to turn that down time into time I could spend learning about new things, how to further myself, my businesses, even the company I work for. That’s when I came across podcasts.

Podcasts have been around for quite some time. When I lived in DC, they were really just getting started and I listened to a lot of them. But at the time, I was single and my commute was long. Somewhere along the way, I stopped listening to podcasts. I’m not sure why. I enjoyed listening to them.

About 6 months ago though, I started listening to podcasts again. I started working more from the road or from home instead of an office these past few years. The amount of silence I’ve had in my life required me to find some sort of background noise. That’s when podcasts came into the picture. Sure, I could have watched reruns of The West Wing


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