September 13, 2016
Perhaps it’s due to moving so much in my childhood, but I don’t like feeling tied down. To me, freedom means being able to pick up and move on to the next thing at a moment’s notice.
This mentality permeates my real life, but it also governs the way I run my online business.
Is there such a thing as a minimalist business approach? I have no idea, but it’s the way I’d describe mine. It’s not superior to the way others run their businesses, it’s what works for me. There are pros and cons to every method.
The following questions are the filters through which I make choices in my everyday life and business.
1. How do I want to spend my days?
The question “What’s your goal?” is popular and I’ve been known to ask it, but lately I prefer to ask, “How do you want to spend your days?” because it makes getting there more concrete.
Related: The Problem With Goals
Real life example: College
My daughter is approaching the end of high school. There are many options afterward, but one of the obvious is college, which she’s decided she wants to do.
She encounters all the usual questions: Where will you go? What will you study? What will you major in? Will you go to a 2-year college or a 4-year university? Do you want to go to graduate school eventually?
Understandably, the question bombardment was starting to stress her out. In my opinion, these questions are unhelpful, so I said to her, “Peanut, forget all those questions. The majority of your life will be lived after college. How do you want to spend your days? Answer that and then work backward from there.”
If someone says, “I want to be an English major,” what does that look like? It could mean a whole bunch of things. Do you want to be an English major so you can spend your days writing? Do you want to spend your days in a classroom teaching high schoolers? Or maybe in a university teaching college students? Do you want to spend your days in the field, crafting documentaries? Working in a library? At home grading SAT essays? At a community center tutoring English learners?
Choosing a college major based on what high school looked like is the wrong approach. Your previous experience will inform your decision of course, but choose a college major based on what your want your future to look like instead. If you know what you want your days to look like, you can tailor your path to get there.
Online business example: Type of business
Just as the typical questions about college aren’t always helpful, the question, “What’s your business goal?” is not always helpful either. Most people will say, “My goal is to make money.” That’s find, but vague.
So I’ll ask: How do you want to spend your days?
Do you want to spend your days building a corporation? Or running a startup? Will you work full-time hours? Part-time hours? Are you interested in a side hustle because you like what you’re currently doing? There are so many options.
In this season of life (it could change later), I don’t want to run a corporation or work full time. I don’t want to manage a large team or a large customer base. I don’t want a lot of overhead, inventory, office space or infrastructure. For me, right now, I want to spend my days preparing my kids to launch into adulthood (I don’t have much time left, my first leaves in 2018!), traveling and serving with my family and working online as a side hustle.
Ruth Soukup of Elite Blog Academy is a good example of a blogger who spends her days differently than I do. She is building a corporation. She has a dedicated office with full-time employees, she’s published multiple books, she’s created several products, both digital and physical, and she always seems to be launching something new. No doubt her yearly revenue numbers far exceed mine. I have a lot of respect for what she’s built. In fact, sometimes I’m so inspired I entertain thoughts of doing something similar, but I have to remind myself where I’m going. That path isn’t for me right now, like the path I’m on isn’t for her. Neither is wrong, they’re just different.
2. Is there an easier or faster way to do this?
This is pretty straightforward, but I’m constantly trying to figure out an easier or faster way to do things.
Also, I ask myself this question about things that work smoothly probably as much as I ask it about things that don’t work smoothly. I like simple processes, tools and routines. The less thinking the better.
Real life example: Personal uniforms & photos
I do not have a personal uniform, mostly because I haven’t found one that fits yet (I’m 6′ 2″ and finding clothes is not super easy). I think the idea is brilliant though. It’s my dream to find something that fits well, looks decent and is comfortable.
Another real life example are photos. I mentioned in my Useletter recently how I organized all my photos in one spot. This is precisely because my previous system of collecting, keeping and finding photos was hodgepodge and not fast.
Online example: Workflowy
I’m a list girl. I like to make lists and cross things off my lists. I take notes in lists and my brain thinks in lists.
Sidenote: Have you read The Checklist Manifesto (referral link) by Atul Gawande? I really liked that book.
One of my favorite apps is Workflowy. It’s all lists and it works for me. It’s not fancy or pretty, it’s fast (so fast) and clean.
3. Is there a way to do this with fewer moving parts?
The more moving parts there are, the more potential problem points down the road. That’s why I’m drawn to things with few moving parts.
Real life example: Sunroofs
When I was old enough to buy my own car, my dad advised me to avoid cars with sunroofs. He said they look cool, but they have more seams which increase the risk of leaks, more mechanics which increase the risk of broken parts, more electrical wiring which increase the chance of things going haywire and more glass which increases the chance of cracks.
Let’s be real, they do look cool, and for some people the cool factor outweighs the potential problems, but for me, I stick with sunroofless cars. (Ironically, we’ve owned two cars with sunroofs, not because we chose them, but because they happened to come with a car that was given to us and a car we could pay cash for.)
Online example: Plugins & list building
Fewer moving parts is exactly the reason I recommend using as few plugins as possible. Every time you install a plugin, you install more moving parts and therefore increase the number of potential problem points on your site.
Another example in online business is list building. The more opt-in forms, content upgrades, sales funnels and autoresponders you have, the more potential points of failure in your system.
4. Is this sustainable?
Sometimes you’re faced with an opportunity or choice that may have an excellent return, but may not be realistically sustainable.
Real life example: Weight loss
P90X was quite popular a few years back, but for the average person (me for sure), it’s likely to be unsustainable. Working out 90 minutes a day is grueling, not to mention time-consuming, and for most of us, it’s not something we can do on an ongoing basis.
(“But wait,” you say, “it’s only for 90 days.” Good point. Read the next section.)
Online example: Posting
Neil Patel is a very successful online entrepreneur. He credits a lot of his success to his frequently published posts. I’m a big fan of his posts and I’m convinced he has elves writing for him 24/7. For many of us, keeping up an intense posting schedule may work for a while, but isn’t sustainable for the long haul.
5. What’s the real cost?
Sometimes the upfront cost in time or money looks doable. But how will you pay in the long run. Really?
Real life example: Weight loss (again)
When I gave the example of P90X above, did you think to yourself, Well, but P90X is only intense for 90 days. By that time you should be at a good weight so going forward you only have to maintain.
It’s a valid point. However, consider what some contestants on the popular TV show The Biggest Loser have really paid for their radical weight loss. They lost tons of weight and some even got the glory of winning the contest, complete with confetti and TV interviews. However, most found the intensity of their diet & exercise regimen (hello 800 calories and 8 hours of working out a day!) was unsustainable once they got home. To me, the biggest and totally unexpected cost they’ve paid is that their metabolisms have not recovered which has led to more weight gain, plus a serious inability to maintain a healthy weight going forward.
Online example: Hiring employees
There’s no doubt getting help is a great idea in many circumstances, but the true cost of hiring employees is a lot more than some expect. There’s the salary of course, but then you have to think about time and money related to recruiting, taxes, benefits, onboarding, vacations, illnesses, replacing employees if they leave, equipment, ongoing training, morale, legal fees, hiring people to manage the people (if you don’t want to do it yourself), etc.
It’s not that doing P90X or hiring employees are bad ideas, the costs just need to be counted and understood before you dive in.
6. Is this a good idea for me?
Everyone has things they love. This is what makes the world go round. It also makes life interesting.
It’s not uncommon to hear a friend, guru or expert suggest X, Y or Z. If you’re like me, it’s tempting to jump right in, because if it worked for them, maybe it’ll work for me too.
It’s valuable to learn from people who are a few steps ahead of us, but before I jump into something, I ask myself, Is this a good idea for me? Do I really want to do this? Is this in line with how I want to spend my days?
Doing something “because it will make money” or “because so-and-so is doing it” is not a good answer to the question.
Real life example: Essential oils
I have nothing against essential oils. In fact, I have a half dozen bottles in my nightstand drawer at this very moment. I’m personally inclined to believe they do have some health benefits, but this blurb is not about their effectiveness, it’s about whether they are right for me.
My family has tried them in a variety of ways—in recipes, as a sleep aid, for back pain, etc.—but the bottom line is, the improvement in our lives as a result of using them is not much. I’m not making a judgement, I’m saying what is. So, while we cheer for those who love them, we’ve decided it’s not a good idea for us.
Online example: ConvertKit
I like ConvertKit. In fact, I like it so much, I paid for it. I’m a geek, so I had all kinds of fun getting in there, uploading my email list and building my first autoresponders. I could see all kinds of potential.
But then I started asking myself questions about my situation. Do I really want all these autoresponders? (Not really, too much to write & keep updated.) Do I really want a content upgrade on every post? (No, too much to keep track of.) Will I really use all the tagging and segmenting options? (No, I don’t have a huge suite of products to justify it.) Do I really want to send out so many emails? (No, I don’t like tons of emails as a subscriber myself.)
So, I stopped using it and got a refund. Have some people seen huge growth with ConvertKit and tools like it? Yes! And maybe at some point it will work for me, but in this season, my life is simpler without it.
7. What’s my exit strategy?
Again, maybe I have issue because of my always-moving childhood, but with few exceptions (marriage comes to mind), I don’t expect much to last. That’s an Eeyore-ish way of saying it, I suppose. Said differently, as a rule, I genuinely like change and I’m constantly bopping on to the next thing.
Things change around us of course, but I change my mind on a regular basis too. It’s always possible I’ll get bored, I’ll move on or I’ll find something new.
We all know how quickly things change online. Strategies come and go—blogs & comments, ebooks, email marketing, social media, ecourses, webinars, podcasts, the list goes on. Chances are, next year there will be something new we’ll all be doing.
That’s why, when faced with a decision, I always ask myself, How easily can I undo this?
Real life example: Buying a house
We’ve never bought a house without giving serious thought to how easy it would be to sell, even when we assumed we’d live there for a decade or more.
We thought we’d be in our first house at least 5 years. An unexpected job change caused us to sell it a little over one year later. We thought we’d be in our second house at least 15-20 years. My unexpected bout with depression caused us to sell it less than five years later. We thought we’d be in our current house 2-3 years, but we’ve been there eight. That doesn’t prove anything except to say life is funny. (Although, I am actively looking for a farm with no animals except chickens and a run-down shack we can bulldoze, but that’s another story.)
We are very grateful to have made a profit on both the houses we’ve sold (even the one we sold right when the market was tanking). I’m convinced it was largely because we had thought about selling even before buying.
Online example: Infusionsoft
I have nothing against Infusionsoft. I’ve never bought it as I did ConvertKit, but I certainly looked into it when a number of people I follow online were making the switch. It didn’t take me long to realize one can do a whole lot of cool stuff with it. Likewise, it didn’t take me long to realize it’s pretty complicated, especially to set up. When I was considering Infusionsoft for me, the answer to How easily can I undo this? became clear: Not easy at all. So, I passed.
There is not one right way to do things. My goal here has not been to criticize strategies used by others, but simply to explain the strategy that works for me, at this time in my life.
So, once again, the questions:
- How do I want to spend my days?
- Is there an easier or faster way to do this?
- Is there a way to do this with fewer moving parts?
- Is this sustainable?
- What’s the real cost?
- Is this a good idea for me?
- What’s my exit strategy?
I’d love to hear what works for you!