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The Step-by-Step Annual Planning Guide for Overachievers – CharlesNgo.com

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I use to be a horrible annual planner. Then I read everything I could find on planning, spent thousands on workshops, and iterated my process over ten years. Now, I’m badass at this.

I’m going to teach you everything I know about annual planning. This won’t be easy. This is designed for overachievers. I’ve held nothing back.

So, why go through this process? It’s a major time commitment. I’m investing four days into mine.

First, it lets me zoom out and see the bigger picture.  It’s hard for you to see the bigger picture when you’re stuck in an endless loop of emails and zoom meetings.

I reached a crossroads last year. I was no longer excited about running affiliate marketing campaigns or creating courses. The feeling was lingering for years. So last year, I spent a significant amount of time confronting this feeling.

And then I realized I needed to move on from this industry. I wanted to move on to projects that I could be obsessed about.

Second, it helps you connect the dots. There was a lot of pain this year. None of our years went according to plan. What lessons can you learn so you don’t repeat the same mistakes again?

Finally, you’re infinitely more likely to achieve your desired outcomes. I believe that a successful life comes from doing hard things.

Talking about teamwork is easy. Firing your employee because you realize they’re not a great culture fit anymore is hard.

Declaring your goals on Facebook is easy. It’s hard to think, analyze, and reverse engineer how you’re going to achieve your goals.

That’s my mantra for 2021 – “Do hard things.” Everyone wants to take the path of least resistance. You won’t have much competition when you choose the harder path.

Many people won’t bother with annual planning because life’s too unpredictable. Look at how 2020 went for everyone. I get it.

But here’s the thing: the discipline of planning means you’ll react better. 

You know the business plan won’t survive its first encounters with reality,” he says. “But the discipline of writing the plan forces you to think through some of the issues and to get sort of mentally comfortable in the space. Then you start to understand, if you push on this knob, this will move over here and so on. So, that’s the first step.” – Jeff Bezos

Life is like jazz. There’s a score you could follow exactly, but you have permission to riff and make the music bolder.

I don’t know what 2021 has in store for us. But I promise you that your year will be better if you invest the time into annual planning.

You bring the energy – I’ll give you my exact blueprint.

Some Notes Before You Start

There are a few things you should do before you get started.

0.1 Be in the Right Environment

Don’t do this in your home office. You’re too close to the trenches. You need an environment that inspires you.

Look at how Muhammad Ali trained for his fights. His original training camps were in Miami. He had to leave Miami. Too distracting. He built a new training facility in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania. It was called “Fighter’s Heaven.”

It gave him complete focus to train for his big fights.
You need to find your “Fighter’s Heaven.”

Here’s my formula:

  • Rent an Airbnb that’s within driving distance. Around one or two hours away is good. Don’t deal with the stress of airports.
  • Be close to nature.  I want you to be able to open your door and see a forest, a mountain, or a lake. This makes a difference.
  • Don’t be too far from civilization. I like to still be 30 minutes from a town. Going out for dinner each night is my reward.
  • No outside work. You’re here for the annual planning. No meetings. No checking email. Be disciplined.

 An example of the vibes I want. Just make sure it has WIFI. Photo credit: Pixabay.

Here’s my schedule this year.

Sunday: Leave at 4pm. Settle into town.
Monday: Day 1 Reflections. Go into town for dinner.
Tuesday: Day 2 Planning. Go into town for dinner.
Wednesday: Drive home at 11am.

I know it’s tempting to try and shorten your trip to save money. But you don’t want the check-in, and check-out processes to interrupt you.

0.2. Adapting This to a Team

This guideline is for individuals doing their personal planning, but you can easily adapt this to a team.

If you have a team, then I recommend doing two separate annual plans.

For the company version,  I recommend doing this in person with your employees. It also doubles as facetime if you’re remote.

(Note: This article is meant to be evergreen. If you’re reading this in the middle of the pandemic, you can do this via Zoom)

Do your personal annual planning the weekend after. Don’t do it back to back.

I tried it once. It sucked. I had no energy after the company one.

0.3. Sweep Your Digital Dust

It’s important for Chinese people to clear their houses for the New Year. It symbolizes a wish to put the past behind, say goodbye to the past year, and welcome in the New Year.

We’re going to do a digital version of this. I want you to inbox zero everything.

  • Answer all outstanding emails.
  • Go through your Task Manager and clear out tasks.
  • Clear your laptop. I love doing a reformat of my laptop!

0.4. Do Your Homework

Annual planning can be mentally and emotionally draining. Take some time to go through this article.

Is there anything that you’re missing? You might not have a list of core values yet, or a life’s mission statement written. That’s OK. You can work on it now.

Create a checklist. Gather all your financials and documents in one place. Make everything frictionless for yourself.

You want most of your energy during the retreat to be spent on thinking.

This framework will be intimidating if it’s your first time doing it. Give it your best shot. Don’t skip any sections. It’ll get easier with practice.

And don’t feel the pressure to do all this in a few days. It’s fine if you’re still working on this after January. Focus on progress, not perfection.

Day 1: Looking Back

Ray Dalio is the most successful hedge fund manager in the world. His favorite principle is “Pain + Reflection = Progress.

He believes that every pain we go through in life contains a “gem.” But we have to spend time reflecting to uncover those gems.

We’re going to spend the entire day reflecting. I’ll give you some frameworks and questions to guide you.

1.1 What Happened This Year?

It’s been a long year. Take a walk down memory lane. Go through this year month by month.

Write down all the major events that happened each month. It can be hard to remember. Go through your calendar, emails, and task managers to help refresh your memory.

January:
February:
March:

This is easy if you have a system of doing a monthly review.

1.2 Deep Dive into the Different Departments

Life and work can be organized into departments. This helps us see in detail how we’re performing in different areas.

Your company is generating record profits. If you look at your company as a whole, you’d think that nothing’s wrong. But analyze each department. You might notice that the customer service department is lacking.

It’s taking five days on average for customers to get a response. They’re starting to leave bad reviews everywhere. Influencers are starting to trash your products. These are leading indicators. If you don’t improve this department, then it’ll affect the future of your whole company.

This applies to life, too. I’ve seen many people go “all in” on their businesses for years. Their wealth and career might be a 10/10. But what happens if their health or relationships go down to a 3?

I don’t believe someone’s life can truly be “balanced.” We’re looking out for “danger zones.” We’re making sure no areas of our lives are weak enough to hold us back.

Let’s look into the departments.

I categorize my personal life into these buckets:

  1. Work
  2. Financials
  3. Fun/Enjoyment
  4. Skills/Learning
  5. Health
  6. Relationships

You can get more granular with each area.

Health -> Mental Health, Exercise, Diet

Relationships -> Family, Significant Other, Friends, Children

Financials -> Budget, Retirement, Investing, Taxes, Robustness

Adjust accordingly for your life.

A few things that I’m looking for:

  1. Am I balanced in the way that I want? I spent too much time playing video games this year. I spent too little time studying Spanish. Seeing this lets me think about how I can adjust my systems and environment next year.
  2. Are there any areas of my life that are underperforming? I’m not doing as well in the friendship subcategory this year. Quarantine made it tough, but I could’ve called more people. I’m going to make an effort to improve next year.
  3. Did I achieve what I wanted in these areas this year? Why or why not? Identify the obstacles in your way.
  4. Give yourself a score in each area. Rank yourself out of 10. If you’re scoring high in an area, that’s a signal to keep doing whatever you’re doing. Scored low? That’s a signal you need to make some changes.
  5. What systems can I build? I didn’t understand the importance of mental health in my 20’s. So my solution is to create different systems to maintain this area. Some of these include daily meditation, journaling, seeking therapy whenever I needed it.

Let’s look at the departments in a business.

  1. Product
  2. Marketing
  3. Finance
  4. Operations

If you’re a bigger company, then you can add in departments like customer service, project management, etc.

I recommend keeping it simple. Too many departments mean you’ll start losing focus on what matters.

If you’re doing an annual review with a team, then every department head should prepare a report. Let them own it.

Here’s an example for Finance:

  • Show the numbers. Income statement, balance sheets, cash flow forecasting. Make charts and graphs where necessary.
  • Explain the numbers. Not everyone understands finances. Their job is to make it easy for the rest of us.
  • What happened this year? I don’t think Charles spending $3,000 at Spearmint Rhino in Las Vegas was the best use of our funds.
  • Recommendations for next year. Our monthly software and subscriptions expenses are at $6,000 a month on average. Here’s how we can bring it down to $4,000 a month.”

Analyzing a department is simple if you’re already using a framework such as Objective and Key Results.

Compare this year’s results to what was planned. How did the Key Performance Indicators line up?

1.3 Reflect on the Year

Now you have a clearer picture of what 2020 was like. Now it’s time to make sense of what happened.

Here are a series of questions to help you reflect.

  • What Were My Big Wins This Year?
  • What Were My Losses This Year?
  • What Happened This Year That Surprised Me?
  • What Were the Biggest Lessons I Learned?
  • If I had a time machine and could go back to one year ago, what would I have done differently?

DO NOT BREEZE THROUGH THIS QUESTIONS.

I go into thinking time mode in this section. You’ll see that the first few answers you have will come easily. Then you’ll be “stuck” for a few minutes. The next answers? That’s where the gold is.

You have to be honest with yourself. Let’s say you set a goal to lose 15lbs this year, and you gained 15lbs instead.

It’s easy to blame quarantine. The gyms were closed, and it was easy to stress eat. It’s bullshit and we both know it.

If someone had a gun to your head, you would’ve found a way to exercise. You could’ve run outside. But you didn’t. This is where you have to go deeper to understand what happened.

You can’t make improvements if you’re not aware. If you have trouble with self-awareness, then it can be helpful to ask for constructive feedback from others.

1.4 Evaluate Your Mission and Core Values

We need purpose in our lives to feel fulfilled. We need a reason to wake up in the morning besides collecting a paycheck.

This is the part where I ask myself, am I living up to my mission? Am I living according to my values?

One of my core values is to “push my comfort zone.” Everything that I want in life comes from pushing it. It’s what encouraged me to move to Asia, start speaking publicly, and even start this blog.

I didn’t do a great job this year of pushing my comfort zone. Some of my original plans weren’t possible due to quarantine.

I hold myself accountable, though. I could’ve made adjustments on a quarterly or a monthly basis. There are plenty of ways to live up this value even if I’m stuck at home.

That’s it for Day 1. It’s time to recover. I’ll go for a jog in the area. Go into town to grab some dinner. And then I’ll watch something on Netflix.

Go to bed early. Make sure to get plenty of rest for the next day.

Day 2: Planning Next Year

We did a thorough analysis of 2020. You understand what happened this year.

Now it’s time to look forward.

2.1 Review Your Long Term Goals

Before I start planning the year, I want to do a quick refresher on the bigger picture of my life. You need to know where you’re going before you start planning your trip.

Steps:

  • Review Your Life Mission
  • Review Your Core Values
  • Review Any 3- or 10-year Goals You’ve Set

You also need to evaluate if these long term goals are still relevant to you.

At one point, I wanted to write a book. Now? I have zero interest in it. The desire is still there to teach and help people. But maybe a book’s not the best method for me.

Starting a podcast sounds more fun and interesting to me than writing a book.

Don’t be afraid to change your goals if they’re no longer relevant to you. My destination is the same, I’m just taking a different road to get there.

2.2 Write Out Your One Year Vision

Most people start listing out their goals. There’s a valuable step before that called the Vision Story.

You write out what you want your life to be like a year from now.

I’ll write an imaginary example:

I will quit my job. My affiliate marketing side hustle will grow to a profit of over six figures a year. This freedom will allow me to travel the world. I’ll explore living in Asia, Eastern Europe, and South America.

I will take my fitness more seriously. I’ll drop down to 185lbs and 10% body fat. I’ll do this through a combination of CrossFit and dieting. In order to perform at my best, I will be completely sober. I won’t drink any alcohol, smoke any weed, or do any drugs.

I am single now and am fine being single next year. However, I’ll definitely date a bit when I’m in different countries.

I don’t have a great social circle where I’m at right now. I want to network with more affiliates and entrepreneurs next year. I’ll go to several conferences.”

Do you see how much easier it is to plan your future if you just write it in story format? If reading your story doesn’t excite you, then you need to think bigger.

I suggest writing out an entire page’s worth. The more detail you give, the better. The details and emotion you put in the story is what gets you excited.

2.3 Prioritizing Your Outcomes

The story was a brainstorming tool.

Chances are that you have plenty of things you want to achieve for this year. Unfortunately, your time, energy, and attention are limited.

I only set three outcomes for the entire year. 3 is easy enough to remember and keeps you focused.

Your average person is too ambitious and sets a ton of outcomes. Here’s what happens after a year.

  • Earn six figures in profit from affiliate marketing  – NOT ACHIEVED
  • Spend at least a month in three different continents – NOT ACHIEVED
  • Reach 185lbs and 10% body fat – NOT ACHIEVED
  • Read 20 books ACHIEVED
  • Journal every day – NOT ACHIEVED
  • Get scuba diving license ACHIEVED

Note: Notice how specific and measurable each outcome is. It holds you accountable.

Your resources are too spread out. Our brain tends to focus on doing what’s easiest. You’ve achieved two of your outcomes but they are the least impactful ones.

You read 20 books this year and got a scuba diving license. How much of a difference does that make to your life? Not much.

Instead, constrain yourself to the most impactful outcomes.

  • Earn six figures in profit from affiliate marketing – ACHIEVED
  • Spend at least a month in three different continents – NOT ACHIEVED
  • Reach 185lbs and 10% body fat – ACHIEVED

Now imagine how much different your life would be when you achieve these.

You know who else sets their outcomes in 3’s? Lululemon. Here is Lululemon’s strategic growth plan.

The Company’s three priorities to drive revenue growth over the next five years are:

  • Product innovation– The Company expects to more than double the size of its men’s revenues by 2023. In addition, its plans call for continued expansion in the women’s and accessories businesses. Both existing and new product categories are planned to grow, with lines supporting yoga, running and training. The Company also plans to continue its product collaborations, expand its popular Office/Travel/Commute category, and pursue new opportunities, such as self-care.
  • Omni guest experiences – The Company expects to more than double its digital revenues by 2023. The Company will focus on offering an integrated guest experience across channels which are intended to inspire, provoke and celebrate guests who live a healthy and mindful lifestyle across multiple experiences – such as events, dynamic new store formats, and its innovative membership program that fosters connections among guests.
  • Market expansion– The Company plans to quadruple its international revenues by 2023. The Company’s recent success in its international markets demonstrates that the sweat life translates across cultures and geographies and presents considerable growth potential for the brand. Expanding across China, as well as the APAC and EMEA regions, will be continued areas of focus for the Company. The Company also believes that considerable growth potential remains in both the U.S. and Canada and it plans to leverage its agile store formats, digital experience, and community connection.

What about the other goals?

Forget about them. You want to stay laser-focused. But I know not everyone thinks this way, so I’ll give you a solution.

Break them out into projects.

One of my goals was to learn how to salsa dance while living in New York City. I wanted it, but it wasn’t important enough to be one of my three main outcomes.

So I turned salsa dancing into a quarterly project. You can turn some of your goals into quarterly, monthly, or weekend projects.

2.4 Do a Strategic Gap Analysis

Anyone can set goals. The hardest part is to turn them into reality. Now is the time to think. How do you bridge the gap between now and your desire?

The easiest way to do this is to do a Gap Analysis.

Here’s my version of it.

  1. Be clear on the end result.
  2. Understand where you’re at now.
  3. Figure out the obstacles in your way.
  4. Brainstorm solutions to the problem.
  5. See if you know anyone who has achieved what you’re trying to do.
  6. Design the machine and systems.
  7. Take action.
  8. Measure results.
  9. Reflect and revise.

I wrote a detailed article on how to do this.

Read: How to do a Gap Analysis

Here are some other tools that I use:

Thinking Time:

Getting the right answers to your problems requires the right questions.

COVID-19 is affecting everything right now. As of me writing this article, a vaccine has been approved and everyone’s excited. What if there is a COVID-20 and it’s worse than COVID-19? What can I do now to prepare my business for that possibility?

How about a sales question?

My customers aren’t buying my product because of perceived risk or uncertainty. What are those risks and how can I mitigate them?

You can’t come up with good answers in a few minutes. But having the discipline to answer these questions means you’ll know your business better.

Here’s an article I wrote on Thinking Time. If you want a ton of thinking time questions, read The Road Less Stupid.

SWOT analysis: This stands for strength, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. This gives a high level overview of your business.

I.C.E. analysis: You’ve brainstormed several project ideas by now. You can use the I.C.E. framework to see which ones are the best opportunities.

You score each project according to Impact, Confidence, and Ease.

Impact: How much of an impact can this project have on your business?
Confidence: How confident are you that you can pull it off?
Ease: How easy is it to implement?

Charles writes a book:

Impact: 6
Confidence: 4
Ease: 3

Average = 4.33

Charles starts a podcast:

Impact: 9
Confidence: 9
Ease: 8

Average = 8.67

This scoring system lets me know that starting a podcast would be a better project for me, than writing a book. It’s a great way to figure out WHAT to prioritize.

2.5 Critical Drivers and KPIs

Finished with your analysis? Now it’s time to understand what activities lead to the desired outcomes. These are called critical drivers.

Desired Outcome: Lose 15lbs

Everyone tracks weight. The problem? It’s a lagging indicator.

We want to track the activities that lead to losing weight. Samantha wants to focus on exercising and dieting.

Critical Driver #1: Go to OrangeTheory class three times a week.
Critical Driver #2: Eat 1500 calories a day.

She can create a simple spreadsheet to track. Is she performing the activities consistently? And if she is, are they making her lose weight? If not, then she needs to adjust.

Look at your three outcomes for the year.

What are the critical drivers, and how are you planning to track them? 

2.6 Map Out Your Year

Next, we’re going to map out your year in a spreadsheet. I did a quick example.

You’re not going to fill it out completely. You’re going to fill things out the best you can. You’re going to revisit this sheet on a quarterly, and a monthly basis.

Let’s look at my December 2021. One year from now.

I don’t know what my work projects or personal projects will be. I do know some of the anchor events.

It’ll be my birthday and Christmas, we’re planning a trip to Peru, and I’ll need to block out a few days to do my 2022 annual plan.

This map helps you reverse engineer your projects. Let’s say you’re manufacturing a physical product. You want it to be ready for Black Friday.

Draw out a quick project timeline.

Quarter 1: Conduct customer research. Make a decision.
Quarter 2: Work with the manufacturers to finalize the design.
Quarter 3: Buffer period. A million things can go wrong.
Quarter 4: Prepare marketing.

People tend to underestimate how much effort a major project takes. Think about how many people are late to an event. They can’t even get that right!

Creating a project map for the year can make your predictions more accurate.

Keeping the Momentum Going

We’re not putting in all this work to feel good about ourselves. We’re here to achieve outcomes. We need to implement and create different systems.

I don’t do this section during my trip. I rather devote more energy to thinking. This next section can be done over the next few weeks when you have more energy.

3.1 Set Reminders

You have to remind yourself of your outcomes every day.

Some ways I’ve done it:

1. Create a desktop or mobile wallpaper. Hire a designer on Fiverr to make it visually appealing.

2. Sticky notes. Write your outcomes down on sticky notes. Put one on the bottom of your monitor, and another on your bathroom mirror.

3. Accountability partner. I had a goal a few years ago to enter a BJJ tournament. Me and my friend made a $1,000 USD wager. If we didn’t compete, then the other person would get $1,000 USD. I would not have competed if I didn’t have that pressure.

This works amazingly for the gym.

We’re going to the gym Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Whoever misses a workout owes the other person $20.”

3.2 Quarterly, Monthly, and Weekly Reviews

Your annual review is a blueprint. You need to establish a regular rhythm to make sure you’re on track.

  • Quarterly Review – It’s similar to my annual review, but on a smaller scale. I do the same thing where I take two days off and spend it in nature.
  • Monthly Review – Last Friday of the month. Takes me around four hours.
  • Weekly Review – Every Sunday. It takes around an hour.

Think of it like a waterfall.

Take your annual plan and break it into a 3-month plan.

3.3 Building Systems to Achieve Your Outcomes

It’s hard to keep track of everything. The easiest way for me is to establish habits, routines, and systems in my life.

Let’s look at relationships. Most people just say they want to have better relationships in their lives, and then they leave it to chance.

When I want something, I establish a system for improvement.

Here are some of the systems in my relationship department:

  1. Me and my fiancé go on a date every Friday night.
  2. I make sure to see my mom at least once every two weeks.
  3. On Sundays, I set aside an hour to do a catch-up call with a friend.
  4. Before COVID-19 hit, I hosted a board game night at my home every month for my friends.

I know this can seem too robotic for some people. I get it. But I have way too much shit in my head.

Creating systems eases the cognitive load on my mind.

Sometimes I get too hardcore into work and Brazilian Jiujitsu. Having calendar event to see my mom is my insurance to make sure I do it.

Let’s look at financials:

My fiancé reconciles our finances every Sunday using a program called YNAB.

Every month, I spend an hour updating our financial spreadsheet. I also have a journal where I list what happened and reflect.

We have a one-hour call every month with a personal finance coach. He keeps me accountable and helps me from making dumb decisions.

Everything in your life can be systemized.

The Plan is Useless, but Planning is Essential

I’m pretty sure that my love of planning and strategy came from playing Starcraft as a kid.

I learned the value of prioritization. I couldn’t have a strong military and a booming economy within the first few minutes. I was constrained by my minerals and gas. I had to choose which one was more important. Most people plan goals as if they had unlimited resources. Too many desires mean nothing’s going to get achieve.

I learned how to analyze and reflect on my own games. Most people just play games over and over again. It’s fun. But you’re just turning your bad habits into muscle memory. We don’t have unlimited lives in the game of life. So reflecting lets us get more juice from the lemons.

And finally, thinking ahead made me more prepared. I was a Terran main. I loved investing in my economy early on, so I could attack during the mid-game. But I knew I’d always be vulnerable to be attacked early. So I made sure to scout the enemy well. I’d create a bunker if I knew they were preparing for a “rush.”

So now I think often in terms of what if’s?

  • What if I die? I’ve already prepared a trust and will. My family will be taken care of, and they won’t have to suffer through probate court.
  • What if someone hacks into my computers and servers? I have 2FA on everything. Everything’s automatically backed up.
  • What if another Pandemic happens? We bought a deep freezer in the garage. The freezer’s full, and our pantry’s full. We have extra masks.

All these make me more robust.

I don’t know what’s in store for 2021, but investing this time into planning will make you more robust.

Please rate this article – it helps me know what to write!

Business and Life Lessons From Tony Hsieh, former CEO of Zappos – CharlesNgo.com

 4.7/5 (38)

I had a “holy shit” moment when I ordered from Zappos for the first time.

This happened over a decade ago. I chose the slowest shipping option to save money.

I expected the shoes to arrive in 7 to 10 business days.
My shoes arrived the next morning.

Keep in mind that this was years before Amazon made 2-day shipping the standard.

There were other little things I noticed about Zappos as a customer.

  • Other companies hid their customer service phone number to save on costs. Their phone number was boldly on the top of every page.
  • I called their customer service and expected the agent to be overseas. Nope. She was located in Las Vegas.
  • Most companies had a 30-day money-back guarantee. They had a 365-day money-back guarantee.

Zappos set the standard for customer service on the internet. Because of their initiatives, the rest of the eCommerce world had to step their game up.

Their former CEO, Tony Hsieh, was the heart and soul of the company.

For those of you that don’t know, Tony Hsieh passed away last week at the age of 46.

I usually don’t pay too much attention when a celebrity passes away. But Tony’s death felt different. I lost a big brother that I never had a chance to meet.

I read Delivering Happiness in 2010. It was the first biography I’ve ever read. While I researched and went over my notes, I didn’t realize how many of my personal philosophies were based on his.

I didn’t want to just share a picture of him on social media. Tony spent so much of his life sharing his wisdom. The best way to honor him would be to keep his teachings alive.

The following are some of the best lessons that I learned from Tony Hsieh.

The Value of Customer Service

“To WOW, you must differentiate yourself, which means do something a little unconventional and innovative. You must do something that’s above and beyond what’s expected. And whatever you do must have an emotional impact on the receiver. We are not an average company, our service is not average, and we don’t want our people to be average. We expect every employee to deliver WOW.” – Tony Hsieh, CEO @ Zappos

Every company wants to have great customer service, but none of them are willing to do what it takes.

Zappo’s is known for their customer service. That wasn’t a deliberate strategy at first. They were broke and couldn’t afford marketing.

The levers to business growth are simple:

  • Increase new customers
  • Increase average order value
  • Increase repeat purchases

They couldn’t afford to market to get new customers. Their inventory was limited, so it was difficult to increase the average order value.

They realized that improving their customer service would encourage existing customers to come back.

Now “good” customer service isn’t simply answering emails faster.

Tony’s goal was something called the “wow effect.

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It’s when there’s a huge difference between what the customer expects and what actually happens. This difference causes a flood of positive emotions. The positive emotions lead to word of mouth advertising and repeat purchases.

Here are several ways that they “wow’ed” their customers:

  • They’d upgrade people to free overnight shipping.
  • They staffed warehouses 24/7. This isn’t cost-efficient from a logistics perspective. But this meant they could fulfill orders a few hours earlier.
  • They put their customer’s happiness over their own profits. If the customer wanted a shoe where their size was out of stock, the agent would stop and research. If they found it available on a competitor’s website, they’d tell the customer to buy it there.
  • One woman had ailing feet. She ordered 6 different pairs of shoes and returned them all. Zappos sent “get well” flowers to her.

Yes, these things cost money. But it worked so well that they didn’t need to spend as much money on marketing as their competitors did.

75% of their orders came from repeat purchases. Great experience means people are more likely to refer their friends.

A few years ago, I went to a workshop for some business training. The material was good, but I couldn’t help but think about how little effort they put into it. I spent several thousand dollars for the workshop, and they didn’t hook us up with lunch.

Later on, I launched my Super Affiliate Intensive workshop. I was motivated by Zappo’s philosophy of the “wow” effect. I sat down and brainstormed all the little things we could do to give people a “wow” experience.

This lead to:

  • I figure everyone’s nervous when they’re flying in the first night. We had a welcome party at the hotel bar. We also had a goodbye party on the final night.
  • The events were held at a nice hotel. Every lunch and dinner was catered.
  • We had goody bags that included copies of Cashvertising, USB sticks, etc.
  • A binder full of slides, notes, etc.

We calculated that giving the “wow effect” cost me an extra five figures for each event. I didn’t care. I did it because I wanted to elevate from a workshop to an unforgettable weekend experience for people.

You don’t have to spend a ton of money to deliver the wow effect. Here’s a story from this weekend.

I ordered a succulent from Etsy the other day and had a wow experience.

The plant was carefully wrapped. She included a handwritten note thanking me for supporting her business. She threw in a few stickers of succulents.

I’m going to buy all my succulents from her from now on.

My fiance is into Korean skincare. One of her favorite websites, Sokoglam, offered her a Zoom consultation with a skincare expert. She learned so much about her skin, and is now a loyal fan of their website.

The online shopping experience is becoming more commoditized. We go online and 1 click whatever we want from Amazon.

Going the extra mile for your customer is one way to stand out in a crowded world.

The Similarities Between Poker and Business.

After selling LinkExchange to Microsoft for $265 million, Tony started getting heavy into poker. He spent an entire summer diving deep into poker strategy and analysis. What he found fascinating was the similarities between good poker strategy and good business strategy.

Here are some of the highlights he shared:

1. Don’t confuse the right decision with the individual outcome.

It’s possible to make the wrong decision and have a good outcome.
It’s possible to make the right decision and lose.

Imagine if you were dealt AA pre-flop. This is the strongest pre-flop hand in poker. The guy has 10 10. The outcome? He got lucky with a 10 on the river giving him Triple 10’s.

You would win 81% of the time.

You made the right decision, but it was the wrong outcome. The worst thing you can do is to change your future behavior based on that.

This happens all the time in the real world. It reminds me of survivorship bias or anecdotal evidence.

I used to work in a gas station. Every day people would come in to buy scratch off tickets. One of my regular customers paid $1 and won $100.

That’s an example of a wrong decision with a good outcome. You think he walked away with his winnings? Nope. That’s how they get you. That encouraged him to play the lottery even more. He thought he was lucky.

He eventually spent several thousand dollars over the summer before he stopped. He didn’t make his money back.

2. Table Selection

Table selection is choosing which table you’re going to sit down and play it. This is the most important decision you can make in poker.

Would you rather play at a table with 9 mediocre tourists who are drunk or play at a table with 9 fresh aspiring poker pros?

This applies to choosing which markets you want to be in.

Think about Goldilocks…it has to be just right.

You want to make a pet training program focused on raising tigers. The market is too small.

You want to compete with Amazon and Walmart by offering the lowest prices. That might be too competitive. That’s like voluntarily sitting at a table with Phil Ivey and Daniel Negreanu when you don’t have to. And on top of that, you don’t have the right bankroll for that table.

Tony realized that business had several advantages when it came to table selection. He could create his own table aka create his own market. It reminds me of what Cameo did.

A poker table has ten seats. In business, you can increase the size of the table. He entered the existing shoe market and made the table even bigger. Poker is a zero-sum game.

3. Don’t play games that you don’t understand, even if you see lots of other people making money from them.

Tony dabbled for a bit in day trading and stocks. He hated it because he didn’t understand it. He didn’t have an edge. And he realized that with trading, he wasn’t building anything.

An example from my own life is real estate. I’ve been getting pressured to buy real estate from my parents and other people for the past few years.

Are people making money from real estate? Yep. It’s a great investment for the right person.

Not me though. I’m not “handy.” I don’t have an edge in it.

Could I learn it? Sure. At what cost, though? I rather spend that time and energy getting stronger at the things that I’m already good at.

I could invest $150,000 in a house with the goal of renting it out. A better option? I could invest that money into online businesses where my skills can contribute to growing it.

This reminds me of bright shiny object syndrome. When you’re jumping around from one business to another, you’re not going deep.

Going deep is how you build unique knowledge. 

Don’t Outsource Your Core Competency

Zappos started off by drop shipping from brands in America.

A customer would make an order.
Zappos would send a message to the shoe company.
The shoe company would send the shoes directly to the customer.

The problem? This was the late 1990’s. Not many retailers had the ability or the desire to dropship.

This meant Zappos didn’t have a complete selection of shoes. They certainly didn’t have many shoes that customers actually wanted.

It would take years to build some of these relationships with the shoe companies. They figured out a “hack.” They could buy a local shoe store that wasn’t doing too well. Doing that would mean they “grandfathered” into many of the relationships with larger brands.

Their office lobby pretty much became a shoe store to make it official.

Next, they pivoted from a dropshipping model to holding inventory. They partnered up with a company called eLogistics to handle their warehousing.

It was a disaster.

They were losing 5-figures a day because the salesmen oversold what their company could actually do. Tony and several employees moved to Kentucky for several months to build their own warehouse.

“We learned that we should never outsource our core competency. As an e-commerce company, we should have considered warehousing to be our core competency from the beginning. Outsourcing that to a third party and trusting that they would care about our customers as much as we would was one of our biggest mistakes.”

So many companies want to outsource different parts of their business. You can work with a 3PL to handle your fulfillment. You can work with different agencies to handle your marketing. You can hire headhunters to recruit your employees for you.

Figure out what your core competency is and keep it in house.

Getting the Culture Right

Culture’s such a buzzword in the tech world.

It’s not a set of values that the top executives brainstorm on a company retreat. Culture isn’t catered lunches, and bring your dog to work day.

It’s a set of shared values, goals, and attitudes of an organization. It’s how you treat each other on a daily basis.

Tony realized the importance of culture when he was building LinkExchange. They hired the smartest people they could find. Not all of them were a great culture fit. It was obvious that some people were only there for the money.

It created a toxic environment for him, where he dreaded coming to work. He knew there was a problem when he hit the snooze button seven times one morning.

At Zappos, he wanted to develop and protect the culture at all costs.

One thing that Zappos is amazing at is filtering out people who aren’t a great culture fit.

You have to pass both a technical test and a culture test. They don’t want assholes working at the company. Zappos is based in Las Vegas. They have a lot of people flying in to interview, and they’ll get picked up at the airport.

Everyone thinks that the hiring test starts once you sit down in the office. What actually happens is the chauffeur is taking notes on how you’re treating them. Someone that treats a driver like shit isn’t someone that they want to hire.

Everyone that gets hired at Zappos goes through the same 4-week training program. This involves two weeks of customer service at the phones. This means helping pack the boxes. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Vice president!

And finally, there’s the famous $2,000 test.

Every potential employee goes through 4 weeks of intense training. After that, they get the offer.

The offer is $2,000. They’ll pay you $2,000 to quit.

Tony believed this is the best way to filter people out. If someone is overwhelmed by the experience, then this gives them an easy way out.

It reminds me of dating. Some people have “tests” to see if the person is a suitable mate. Tony had this because he wanted to find a suitable employee.

Resumes and interviews can only go so far. You can see how competent they are during the training.

But an offer like this? It’s the final test to see if you’re a good culture fit.

So my question is, what kind of culture do you want to build at your company?

How are you going to filter for it?

Are You Willing to Do What it Takes?

You can’t be good at everything. Strategy is about making deliberate decisions on what you’ll be great at, and what you’re willing to sacrifice.

Zappos has some of the best customer service in the world. Can you name a single memorable ad from them? I can’t. Not investing in marketing allows them to put more resources into customer service.

Costco’s strategy is low prices. That means their warehouses are ugly. Their website is horrible. Those decisions contribute to low prices.

Noma was awarded the best restaurant in the world 4 times. They had 2 Michelin stars. They had a waitlist for months. Then he shut the restaurant down.

Why would the owner do such a crazy thing?

“Routine can be comforting, but it’s also a killer for your creativity,” Redzepi says over lunch at Restaurant Barr, which now occupies the original Noma site. “It was time to change, not just the physical address but shedding off the old routine, moving into something new, building a small urban farm.”

In Remembrance of Tony Hsieh

I did a lot of research for this article. I skimmed through Delivering Happiness again, read a dozen articles, and watched every speech of his that I could find on YouTube.

It didn’t occur to me how much of an impact he had on my thinking. I read Delivering Happiness when it first released back in 2010.

I looked up to Tony because I didn’t have a lot of Asian-American role models. Yes, there are Asians in technology, but most of them tend to be behind the scenes as developers.

Here was Tony as the face of a billion-dollar company. To me, he was the Bruce Lee of entrepreneurship.

For the longest time, I believed becoming wealthy was the key to happiness. That’s how society trained me to think. It’s that mentality that pushed me so hard to succeed in affiliate marketing.

And then I became a millionaire at 24. I was slightly happier because I didn’t have to worry about debt anymore. But it wasn’t this life-changing thing I expected it to be. Then I read up Delivering Happiness.

Whoa, here’s something who went through the same thing. Obviously with way more money though.

That led me to a journey to studying happiness itself. Reading the book gave me the courage to pursue my dream of living in Asia for a few years.

Thank you Tony. Thanks for being unapologetically weird. Thanks for showing me you can build a brand while remaining humble. Thanks for showing everyone the need to find a higher purpose in life than just making money.

Photo by Web Donut from Pexels.

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Real Examples and Best Practices – CharlesNgo.com

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I hate the “hustle” culture that’s embedded in modern entrepreneurship.

What is it? It’s the feeling that we should constantly be working. There’s pressure to work while you’re on vacation. In the back of an Uber for 30 minutes? That’s time for a catchup call or to reply to emails.

Can you relate to this feeling?

I grew up with this mindset surrounding me. My parents were refugees who came to the USA with literally $0. The only thing they had was their work ethics. Having two jobs was normal. I only saw my parents on the weekends growing up.

Entrepreneurship is cool now. But the biggest influencers guilt people for vacations. You can’t sleep without hearing a voice in the back of your head telling you to hustle harder.

What’s the problem with this? Everyone’s burned out and less effective.

The formal definition is: Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged stress.

I know what burnout feels like:

  • I’d get easily triggered. I remember snapping at some of my ex-girlfriends and employees for no reason over the smallest things.
  • I wouldn’t feel any motivation to work. I’d just want to get it over with, so I could distract myself with video games instead.
  • My mind wouldn’t be as sharp. I’d forget things. It’d be hard for me to work without wanting to distract myself every 10 minutes.
  • Exhaustion. Not just my mind and my body, it felt like my soul itself was tired.

This is a major societal problem. A recent survey showed that 69% of employees are experiencing burnout symptoms. Japan has one of the longest working hours in the world. They also have one of the highest suicide rates in the world. There’s a correlation.

I suffered through burnouts throughout my career. I thought it was normal. All my peers would post updates at 2 am about how they’re “grinding.” They’d mention they’ll sleep when they’re dead.

But then I’d find out some of the consequences behind the scenes. Some people would turn to alcohol and drugs to cope. Depression is rampant in this space.

I knew this lifestyle wasn’t sustainable, but I couldn’t escape the guilt that I had to keep pushing the gas pedal harder. 

One thing that really helped me was hearing an interview with Jeff Bezos.

Eight hours of sleep makes a big difference for me, and I try hard to make that a priority. For me, that’s the needed amount to feel energized and excited.

Mostly, as any of us go through our lives, we don’t need to maximize the number of decisions we make per day. Making a small number of key decisions well is more important than making a large number of decisions. If you shortchange your sleep, you might get a couple of extra “productive” hours, but that productivity might be an illusion. When you’re talking about decisions and interactions, quality is usually more important than quantity.”

Jeff Bezos is the richest man on the planet. Here he is telling me it’s OK to sleep 8 hours a night. You have to optimize your life so you can make the best decisions possible.

Over the next few years, I learned that I wasn’t alone. Books such as Deep Work, The One Thing, and Essentialism showed me that there was a better, and more effective way to work.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It’s better to start with a mindset of preventing burnout than using more energy to cure it.

I’m going to share with you 5 strategies for preventing burnout and making you a more effective worker.

Note: This is written from my current experience. You might not be in a position to cut back on hours at work, or you can’t afford to delegate now. It’s ok – I couldn’t either at the beginning. My goal is to share with you my philosophy, and give you something to work

Photo by Tim Gouw from Pexels

5 Ways to Reduce and Prevent Burnout

1. Your Health Comes First, Always

I remember going on my first airplane ride. There was an announcement.

“In case of an emergency, you should put your oxygen mask on first, and then your child’s.”

That’s weird; shouldn’t the child get the mask first since they’re the weakest? I didn’t have a laptop to distract me back then, so I stewed on this question for the next hour.

Then, it hit me. By attending to your own needs first, it makes sure that you’re in a position to take care of your child. If you become incapacitated due to no oxygen, then you’re useless.

I’ve ingrained this lesson in me that health comes first. You can’t be an effective boss, husband, or parent if you’re unhealthy and sleep-deprived.

The easiest way to have good health is to maintain standards for yourself. Create habits and track them using a Personal KPI dashboard.

My Weekly Health Standards:

  1. In bed by 9 pm. I don’t wake up to an alarm.
  2. Stretch 20 minutes a day.
  3. Intermittent fasting. I cook almost daily. Low sugar. Lots of veggies. Avoid processed foods. I have an avocado, kimchi, and bone broth daily.
  4. Meditate 20 minutes every morning.
  5. Jiujitsu 3x a week. Full body workout 1x a week.
  6. Spend 1 hour a week in nature every Sunday.

Life’s unpredictable. It’s kinda like riding a boat in the ocean. I can’t predict the weather or the waves.

I can control the type of ship that I’m on. Being in peak physical/mental health means I’m on a sturdy ship.

Health comes first isn’t a saying. I always meditate and run every morning. If I wake up late, I have to meditate and run first.

Sometimes I’ll have to work throughout the weekend. I’ll take Monday or Tuesday off to recuperate, even if work’s piling up.

That’s what it means when health comes first. If I’m not at my best, I’ll end up making bad decision that’ll hurt me long term.

2. Set Upper Boundaries Around Your Work

My college professors would tell us that we had two weeks to write a paper. It took exactly two weeks for me to write that paper.

If they told me I had three days to write a paper, then I’d find a way to get it done in three days.

That’s Parkinson’s Law: “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

Set boundaries around your work.

Train yourself to think in terms of outcomes, not time. No one gives a shit how hard you work. The world rewards results.

I work around 40-55 hours a week. This is where I’m the most effective because I’m consistent. I don’t get burned out at this rate.

Having a constraint makes me creative. I’m not throwing more effort or hours at my problems. The constraint forces me to use leverage. It forces me to delegate and systemize, rather than attacking my problems with brute force.

Here’s what a typical day looks like for me.

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Most people think of “work” as what they do on the laptop.

I view “work” as anything that contributes to me getting results.

Going to the gym is work. That’s why I don’t skip workouts. It’s essential. Same with me getting 8 hours of sleep.

They make me more effective when I’m actually doing what’s important.

You might be wondering about weekends.

Saturday is where I refuel my gas tank. I don’t do any work on Saturdays. I go to BJJ. I try to see my parents. I watch Netflix with the lady. I play my PS4. We’ll eat out at a restaurant. I work my ass off the entire week so that I can enjoy my Saturday guilt-free.

Sunday is where I sharpen the axe. I’ll do some planning for the week. We’ll run some errands. I’ll occasionally work on Sundays, but only on tasks that I’m excited about.
A key to the process is to actually work when it’s time.

I don’t think that many people actually “work” 16 hours a day. First, a lot of it is virtue signaling. They’re trying to signal that they’re hard-working.

Second, have you actually seen how some people “work?”

They’re working with distracting tabs open. They’re interrupted every few minutes by email or Slack. There are useless meetings throughout the day (meetings to discuss the agenda for the next meeting).

It’s more like twelve hours of work. Three hours actually working, and the rest of the 9 hours fucking around.

3. Find The One Thing

Priority is a singular word. It means “The first thing.” It wasn’t until the 1900’s that managers started using the term “Priorities.”

You can’t have multiple first things.

So most of us have this endless to do list. I don’t know about you, but I get anxiety whenever I see a list that’s too big.

I’m going to show you how to tackle it.

Let’s say you’re starting a new e-commerce store. Kids are staying at home doing virtual learning. The chances are that they’re working on the kitchen table. You want to start creating ergonomic desks for kids.

Let’s generate a to-do list:

  1. Design a logo for the business
  2. Build a landing page
  3. Interview different parents about their children’s virtual learning setups
  4. Sketch out different desk designs
  5. Start trying to find manufacturers on Alibaba.com

Which one should you do first?

I’d start with #3 because it’s the most impactful. Doing these interviews will let you know whether or not there even is a demand. Perhaps you’ll find an even better opportunity.

Yet, most people would focus on the low impact work such as designing a logo or sketching out desks.

Designing a logo is fun. You can upload it online, poll people, and get that dopamine fix. Interviewing people is hard.

We’re programmed to seek out what’s comfortable.

Fight this temptation.

Burnout happens when we’re constantly working and not making progress. We don’t make progress because we tend to work on low impact tasks, rather than the ones that make a difference.

Try this:

  1. Decide Your 1 Thing for tomorrow. The one task that will make the biggest impact.
  2. Do your morning routine. DO NOT check social media, email, or anything distracting. Let your distracting monkey stay sleeping.
  3. Block off 4 hours to work on that one task.
  4. Block ANYTHING distracting. I use ColdTurkey for websites. My phone is OFF in a different room.
  5. Work. You might feel uncomfortable being so focused. That’s good. You’re stretching your focus muscles. Keep at it.

Marvel at the results.

Less, but better.

4. Understand Leverage: Automate and Delegate

Leverage is the mechanism you use to amplify results.

A musician spends 3 hours playing at a local coffee shop. 20 people hear it.

Another musician spends 3 hours playing a song and editing a video. They upload it on YouTube. 55,000 people see it.

The same amount of “effort” went into both, but the leverage of YouTube gave different results.

Leverage is a concept. It comes in different forms.

The easiest to understand is people/labor.

I love:

  • Strategy and planning.
  • Writing blog posts/newsletters
  • Copywriting
  • Marketing angles
  • Optimizing anything
  • Looking at data

I hate:

  • Meetings
  • Uploading ads to a platform
  • Anything dealing with finances
  • Emails and customer service

Imagine if my day was full of meetings, uploading ads, doing my taxes, and doing customer service emails. Fuck my life. I’d be miserable, and I’d burn out easily.

Here’s something interesting.

I would rather spend 10 hours a day doing things I love than 5 hours a day doing things I hate. For every task that I hate doing, I can find someone else that loves doing it.

I love how the Founder and CEO of GymShark stepped down. Being a CEO meant he had to do a ton of things he didn’t love, and that he wasn’t the best at. He hired Reebook’s former head of Europea sales to become the CEO of Gymshark. He decided to create a role for himself as the Chief Brand Officer. Ben spends his day doing all the activities that he loves.

If the role of a CEO can be delegated / outsourced, that means you’re able to delegate more tasks than you realize.

I’m always thinking about leverage.

  • I could spend 2 hours every week doing a task, or I can spend 4 hours once to train someone else to do it. We can create an SOP and/or a screencast so the process stays even if the employee leaves.
  • I could learn how to do my own bookkeeping and save $200 a month. But that time I’ll invest in bookkeeping means I’m not focusing on my strengths. I can save $200, but at what cost?
  • Finally, think about business models. There’s no leverage or scale in anything that’s a 1 on 1 service. That’s why I’m seeing a trend where people are switching from agencies to productized services.

It’s weird, but you have to develop this mentality of being “lazy.” Don’t bulldoze your way into a task. Think about how you can get a good outcome with minimal effort.

Anything that doesn’t involve creativity needs to be delegated ASAP.

Software can automate so much these days. I’ve invested time in using Zapier and IFTTT to automate as much as I can.

It’s hard for me to burn out if I’m doing the tasks I love.

I’m also delegating as much of my personal life as possible.

We hired someone that cleans my home every week for $100. My mom thinks it’s a waste of money. I don’t. She saves me 5 hours every Saturday. That’s 5 hours I can use to recover. I can use that energy to make way more than $100.

Read: The Complete Guide to Creating Systems and SOP’s in Your Business.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels.

5. Does this Spark Joy? If Not, then the Answer’s No.

“The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.” – Warren Buffett

As you become successful and build a reputation, you’ll start becoming a magnet for opportunities.

Everyone will want a piece of you. It’s going to be tempting for you to say yes to everything. Resist this temptation.

Saying yes to every opportunity that comes your way is like eating everything at a buffet. You’ll spread yourself too thin.

I understand if it’s hard to say no. Some of us are natural people pleasers. We don’t want to disappoint someone.

Time is the most valuable thing I have. Every time I say yes to someone, it means I’m saying no to some of my own goals.

Be greedy with your time and mental energy.

Here’s a rule that I adapted from Marie Kondo (author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up).

If any item in her home doesn’t “spark joy,” she throws it out. So if an opportunity doesn’t “spark joy,” then the answer’s no.

I had a lot of trouble learning how to say no. Here’s a simple script to help you:

Thanks so much for this opportunity. I’m sorry, but I can’t commit to this. My plate’s completely full right now, and I have to focus.

Simple as that.

Use the spark joy mentality everywhere in your life.

I’ve written on this blog consistently since 2012. There were times where I burned out from writing and wanted to quit. What helped me was being more selective about what I choose to write about.

I could get more SEO traffic if I started writing more of what Google wants.
I could earn more affiliate commission if I started reviewing different internet marketing tools.

But those don’t “spark joy.” I rather write about topics that I’m curious and excited about. And hopefully, that attracts a tribe of like-minded me. That’s how I’ll be able to write for the next decade.

What are the Terms?

There’s a concept I learned from Shaan on the My First Million podcast.

You tell me the deal, and I’ll tell you the terms.

So many of us are focused on the deal that we don’t think about the bigger picture.

You want to make $500,000 a year. Ok, awesome. Well, what are the terms?

You work 90+ hours a week. You’re obese. You end up divorced. You’re miserable and depressed.

Do you still want that? I wouldn’t.

Think about the life you want, and then reverse engineer it.

 

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels.

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The Hidden Concept to Get More Work Done – CharlesNgo.com

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Everyone is approaching productivity wrong. Tactics such as Pomodoros and blocking distractions only scratch the surface. A more effective approach is to improve your workflows.

My career exploded starting in 2009.

The money was great, but my soul was taking a beating. I couldn’t keep up with the countless emails. I thought employees were the answer, but managing them took time away from me actually making money.

I’d work seven days a week for several months. Inevitably, I’d burn out and head to the Caribbean for a week to recover.

This wasn’t sustainable, but I didn’t know what else to do.

One day, I was walking my dog and overhead my neighbors chatting about weeds in their yards.

Neighbor #1: I’m tired of these weeds. I just ordered a weed whacker to help me kill them faster.

Neighbor #2: A weed whacker? They’re just going to grow back no matter how fast you kill them. Buy yourself some Roundup, and you’ll kill the weeds forever. Do you wanna spend every Saturday cutting weeds?

Something clicked in my brain.

I had an efficiency approach to conquering the endless amount of work. That meant I kept trying to find new techniques to do the work faster and faster.

I’d keep trying out new productivity apps trying to find that “magic bullet.” But I never took the time to zoom out and analyze my systems for accomplishing work.

My research led me to discover a far more effective approach called Workflows. (Credit goes to Cal Newport for this phrase)

Workflows ask WHAT you should be working on, and HOW you decide to do them. It’s about analyzing problems and creating systems that get rid of certain work permanently.

I’m going to share some examples of optimizing workflows and some ideas on how to approach your problems.

These upfront investments in workflows will pay dividends.


Photo by 
Startup Stock Photos from Pexels.

Optimizing Customer Service Emails Through Workflows

A pain point for e-commerce stores is dealing with customer emails.

Let’s say you’re getting 100 customer service emails a day.

If you’re using the efficiency approach, you’ll be asking, “How can I answer those 100 emails a day faster?

Some solutions are:

  1. Every day at 2 p.m., you’re going to block out one hour to answer C.S. emails.
  2. You hire a new customer service representative to help out.
  3. You create different templates to respond faster.

The results?

You’re able to cut down the customer service response time from three days down to two.

This is a win for most people, but is it the best solution?

Let’s tackle the same problem from a workflow perspective.

Remember, workflows tackle the WHAT and the HOW.

The first WHAT is… “What do the customers want?

Do the customers want faster responses to their emails? Sure. But they’d be happier if they never had problems in the first place, or never had to contact you.

Next, get clarity on where you are right now. Categorize all the emails you get over the span of a week. Create some graphs to help you visually analyze the most common problems.

Remember, you want to take an 80 / 20 approach and focus on the most common problems.

Most Common Email #1: People Keep Asking Where Their Order Is

This is one of those problems that can be automated with the right software.

You do some research and install the AfterShip Order Tracking system into your store.

People automatically get updates through email or text on where their order is. There’s now a huge tracking link on your navigation bar.

Most Common Email #2: Instructions for Using the Product Aren’t Clear

People receive your widget, but they have no idea how to use it.

You can create an instructional booklet and put it in the packaging.

Your team creates a detailed video on how to use the widget. The video is emailed a few days after the person makes a purchase.

For other common questions, you build a Frequently Asked Questions page. People have to scroll through the FAQ before they reach the Contact Us form on your website.

I remember one example from The 4 Hour Work Week. Tim Ferris was frustrated with the number of questions his customer service reps would ask him on what to do.

He created a rule. The customer service reps could spend up $100 to make the customers happy. This one rule eliminated so many back and forth questions from his staff.

Taking an Efficiency approach means you’re still going to have 100 emails a day. You’ll be able to answer them within two days instead of three.

Taking a Workflow approach means you’ve put an infrastructure in place to cut down on the work. Instead of getting 100 emails a day, now you’re getting 25 emails. The customers are happier, and you free up resources to focus on bigger issues.

Other Workflow Examples

Here are some other examples of workflows I’ve implemented in my life.

Dealing with Co-Workers: You get your best work done when you’re not being interrupted. I have a 15-minute meeting every day at 12 p.m. called the Daily Huddle.

It asks what we’re working on and what bottlenecks we’re facing. If anyone has any questions for me, they can ask me then. Any other issues can be left as a comment in our Project Management software.

This gives me several hours a day to do “deep work” instead of getting interrupted with Slack messages.

Booking a Flight: I started working with Executive Assistants several years ago. One of the most common tasks was booking flights. The biggest issue was that they’d keep asking me for different information.

That’s when we worked on creating a Standard Operating Procedure just for travel.

pasted image 0

There was an upfront time investment in creating this document, but it has saved us endless hours of back and forth.

Three Ideas to Help You Create Workflows

1. Ask the 5 Whys

Most people focus on the symptoms, but it’s far more effective to figure out the root cause.

Let’s say that you’re experiencing headaches every day. You could take an Advil every day, but that’s not great for your long-term health.

You do some research on the potential causes, and you see that poor posture is one. You realize that you’re hunched over your desk to use your laptop.

You decide to invest in a proper ergonomic work setup. Your headaches magically go away!

It’s not easy to figure out what the root causes are. I use a tool called the 5 Whys:

  1. Because I keep oversleeping. Why?
  2. Because I keep hitting snooze on the alarm clock. Why?
  3. Because I’m not getting enough sleep. Why?
  4. Because I’m staying up late watching Netflix. Why?
  5. Because I hate my life and watching Netflix at night is the only thing that makes me happy. Why?

The root cause of oversleeping for this person is depression. That’s the lead domino that will fix all other issues.

2. What would things look like if they were easy?

People tend to overcomplicate success.

I like to ask myself, “What would this look like if it were easy?”

In 2016, I wanted to gain muscle. It was a pain in the ass for me to keep up with my macros and workout programs. So, I asked myself what would it look like if it were easy?

1. I’d have a personal trainer. He’d monitor my metrics and design workouts for me every day.

2. I’d used a meal planning service. Every day, I’d get my daily meals delivered in the morning. Those 3 meals + 2 Scoops of protein would hit my macros easily.

Think about how much mental space I freed up by not thinking about this anymore. It wasn’t cheap to create this setup.

Good health is a force multiplier, and I’m sure I made back my money through better focus and energy.

Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels.

3. Touch it as Few Times as Possible

It’s mentally draining to keep revisiting the same tasks.

The less you revisit a task, the better.

If you delegate work and there’s a ton of back and forth, often it’s because you didn’t explain it well enough.

Let’s go back to the example of booking a flight.

In the early days, I would delegate it, such as:

“Can you book me a flight?

Depart: from ATL to SLC October 10th Morning

Return: SLC to ATL October 14th Afternoon”

Slack: Is this a business or personal trip? Which credit card should I use?

WhatsApp: Hey, I found the flight on Delta. Do you have a SkyMiles number?

Email: The flights are typically $300, but I see right now it’s $500’ish. Did you still want to book it?

Do you see how much time is wasted?

Let’s use the touch it once mentality. How can I delegate this as best as possible, so I don’t have to keep dealing with it?

I use a framework called Vision / Resources / Definition of Done.

Vision:

I’m going on a business trip with my friend. I need you to book a flight.

Depart: from ATL to SLC October 10th Morning

Return: SLC to ATL October 14th Afternoon

Resources:

You can find all the information you need in the Travel SOP.

Definition of Done:

I want the flight booked as soon as possible.

We’ll figure out the accommodations and research things to do later.

Once booked, please make sure it’s in both TripIt and my Google Calendar.

If you have any questions, please ping me in the comments section of this task.

By investing all this upfront time in delegating, there are fewer questions. Fewer questions mean that I’m not interrupted when I’m trying to do more valuable work.

Where to Go From Here

It’s not easy to create these Workflows. There’s an upfront investment in both time and thinking capacity.

Yet, focusing on building these workflows can increase your outputs.

I want you to develop a workflow approach to any problems that you encounter. Having a workflow approach will lead to you working on bigger problems

Photo by Startup Stock Photos from Pexels.

Please rate this article – it helps me know what to write!

How to Easiest Way to Think of Million Dollar Ideas – CharlesNgo.com

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So often, we feel as if we have to grind it out for years to get results.

If you work hard and persistent enough, then the results will come. Well, what about all the outliers who defy this rule?

  • Charlie D’amelio has the biggest following on TikTok. She has 80+ million followers now, and she started her account in June 2019. She wasn’t known prior to this and didn’t have any unfair advantages.
  • Billion-dollar companies are created at a faster and faster rate. ForHims.com is a telehealth company that’s valued at over a billion dollars. It was founded in 2017.

I loved reverse engineering success, and I’ve come to the conclusion that we’re living in the age of leverage.

Here’s the truth: If you find and ride the right “wave”, then you can achieve astronomical growth without having to grind it out for years.

It’s everywhere.

When I look back on the history of affiliate marketing, so many super-affiliates can credit their success to riding the right wave.

Whether it was utilizing traffic sources before they became too competitive, or the ability to create angles that reflect the current pain points in the customer’s mind.

Hard work was involved of course, but we’ve underestimated how important timing can be.

So, how do we spot these “waves” before they happen?

The key is to understand market inflection points and their effects.

Inflection points are key events which lead to significant changes, or “disruptions” as people love to call it.

I’ll list out some inflection points, and I want you to think about how what kind of businesses took advantage of them.

  • Everyone starts using a smartphone, and these smartphones have GPS tracking enabled.
  • Amazon.com allows 3rd parties to sell on its website. Now everyone can get easy access to Amazon’s massive audience.
  • 9/11 causes the TSA to create new regulations. Now everyone needs to take off their jacket, shoes, and laptop.
  • COVID-19 changes the world. Some schools and universities implement virtual learning. Everyone’s required to wear a masks.

As marketers, we’re always trying to figure out what’s “trending” or “what’s hot”, right?

We’ll use tools such as AdSpy to scout the competition on Facebook, or we’ll see what keywords are hot on Google Trends.

The problem is you’re always going to be a few steps behind. Instead of trying to figure out what’s hot now, why not train yourself to see what’s going to be hot?

The easiest way to do this is through a market inflection framework. I’ll show you different types of market inflections and share stories of how different companies capitalized on them.

After reading this article, you’ll be able to spot opportunities everywhere.

The 6 Types of Market Inflections

I’ve organized market inflections into six different categories and provided different examples.

You should go through each point and think about what companies took advantage of market inflections.

1. Accessibility Inflection

I can have a new e-commerce brand up and running within a few hours in 2020.

The website would be up, I’d have access to inventory, and I’d be able to process your credit card.

Now imagine if this was 1998.

I would’ve had to invest thousands of dollars to hire people to build the technology. And I would’ve suffered brain damage trying to delegate tasks via AOL Instant Messenger.

If third-party payment processors are this shitty in 2020, I can’t imagine what kind of scumbags were around in the ’90s.

What changed?

Well, e-commerce is now more accessible because of different tools.

What other industries have boomed because the barriers to entry have lowered?

I can’t imagine what a pain in the ass it must have been to create a monthly subscription box a decade ago. Now Cratejoy has made it simple for anyone to enter that industry.

Subscription-based newsletters have been around for decades. Now it feels like everyone’s launching a paid newsletter because of SubStack.

These technologies don’t create new markets from scratch. But they do lower the barriers and increase the number of players in the game.

Accessibility also means democratization. If I want to be a rapper I can drop my next mixtape on SoundCloud. (But I’m not a rapper.)

If you’re funny, you can upload videos on YouTube with your phone. We don’t need permission anymore.

Here’s one thing I’ve learned about business, if something becomes too accessible then sooner or later it’s going to feel too “saturated.

We tend to run away from difficulty or pain. We bitch that something is “too hard” or takes too much time.

But that friction and headache is what keeps the competition away. In a way, the early e-commerce sites had a competitive advantage because the Shopifys of the world didn’t exist.

Photo by LED Supermarket from Pexels.

2. Societal Shift Inflection

Ten years ago I had no idea what “gluten” was.

Now every single grocery store has many “Gluten-free” bread and cookies to accommodate the Karens.

We’re always adopting new beliefs as a society. Remember when doctors were promoting cigarettes as being healthy back in the 1950’s? Yeahhh….

So what society shifts are happening right now?

  1. Well, the Black Lives Matter movement is going on. What’s an effect because of that?
  2. More companies want diversity in their workforce. OK, what are some solutions?
  3. There will be a demand for tools to help both of these. For example, diversity recruiting software to analyze your existing workforce. Or transparency software to report racial discrimination.

COVID-19 is unleashing societal shift after societal shift. Seriously–it’s like we had two decades worth of them in one year.

What are some societal shifts happening now?

  • People want larger homes
  • More and more companies are becoming remote
  • Everyone’s wearing face masks.
  • Children are doing virtual learning
  • Survival Prep
  • Hygiene

Think:

  1. What societal shifts are happening right now?
  2. What problems are being created because of those?
  3. What are some solutions?

Here’s a video I made a few months ago where I brainstormed Pandemic Business Ideas.

3. Platform Inflection

A platform is a business model that creates value by facilitating exchanges between two or more groups, usually consumers and producers” – Alex Moazed, Modern Monopolies.

Platforms are where billions are made.

Some platforms that you might’ve heard of: The Apple App Store, Airbnb, Amazon, Wayfair, Uber, Doordash, Facebook, Udemy, YouTube, etc.

The platforms themselves are billion-dollar businesses. But each platform also hosts million-dollar businesses created on the platform itself.

(Ok…maybe the Uber Drivers and Doordash Delivery drivers aren’t getting wealthy.)

But think about all the businesses built off of YouTube, Facebook, the Apple App store, and Amazon.

A big takeaway here is timing.

It’s much harder now to build a YouTube audience than 10 years ago.
It’s much harder now to build an Instagram audience than 10 years ago.

Take a look and research what emerging platforms there are because there’s always an advantage in being a first mover.

When Facebook Pages was first opened, you could get massive organic reach. Now my posts probably reach around 20% of my Facebook fans.

In the early days of Instagram, posts displayed chronologically. Anything you posted would be broadcasted to your followers. Now it’s all based on an algorithm and it’s hard to even reach the following that you built.

Charli D’amelio is talented and attractive. She would’ve been successful if she did dancing videos on any platform.

But she was able to become a huge celebrity in under a year because she spotted and rode a rising platform–TikTok.

4. Technology Inflection:

How many companies have tried to be the “Uber of Blank?”

All these companies are taking advantage of a technology inflection.

People adopted smartphones, and these devices came with GPS tracking technology.

These inflections allowed new companies to be built utilizing these technologies.

When people think about drones they imagine military drones or the kind that takes awkward videos of you on your balcony.

There are now window cleaning drones. Amazon is working on delivering packages with drones. Disney is using drones to help in their light and firework shows.

The technology that I’m most excited about right now is augmented reality. There will be new billion-dollar companies created once Apple releases their Apple Glasses.

5. Rules and Regulations Inflection:

9/11 happened.

And because of that terrorist attack, new rules and regulations were passed. These new rules and regulations created new pain in the asses for us by forcing us to take off our shoes and laptops.

A new business emerged from those new rules. For $179 a year, Clear allows you to skip the lines without taking off your shoes and laptops.

There’s also an opportunity when you remove rules and regulations.

The Telehealth space is booming right now with players such as Hims, Roman, and Lemonaid.

These companies weren’t legally possible over a decade ago.

First, the patents of some drugs such as Viagra expired.

Second, now you could legally get a prescription without having to go to the doctor’s visit.
You can imagine how much growth these companies have done because of COVID-19.

So whenever there are new regulations added or regulations removed, think about what businesses can emerge.

Photo by Luca Nardone from Pexels.

6. Influencer Inflection

I remember being a part of a mastermind group a decade ago.

We were a group of affiliate marketers, all 20-somethings. Besides talking about campaigns, we had one weird ritual every day.

We liked to watch Oprah. It wasn’t because we were interested in getting advice meant for middle-aged women.

We watched her because she has big dick energy over middle-aged women.

She could recommend anything and it’d become an instant bestseller.

So we kept our eyes glued to her show hoping that she’d recommend something in regards to dieting.

There are some people out there who have so much influence. They can create million-dollar industries from casual conversations.

Some of these God Influencers Include:

  • The Kardashians
  • Kanye West
  • Oprah
  • Joe Rogan

If Kanye West were to start wearing a fanny pack every time he’s out, I guarantee you there’s going to be millions made from people starting fanny pack stores.

These are the titans. But realize that there are these titan influencers in every little niche out there.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Conclusion

Understanding these frameworks helps me reverse engineer companies, but it also helps me think of new ideas.

Let’s say you’re not interested in building one of these million, or billion-dollar companies.

You just want to make your first $1,000 online.

Alright, let me think of an idea real quick.

A societal shift = face masks.
An accessibility shift = I saw that Printify now lets you print custom masks.

If you combine these two on the right platform (Amazon, Facebook, or Etsy seem great), then that’s a great money maker.

What’s your biggest takeaway from this article?

Cover image: Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Please rate this article – it helps me know what to write!

The Complete Guide to Creating Systems and SOPs in Your Business – CharlesNgo.com

4.4/5 (1)

The following is a guest post by my friend Aaron Lynn. I’ve been getting emails requests over the years about how to implement systems into businesses. He’s one of the best at explaining this topic.

Everyone likes to talk about standard operating procedures (SOPs) and systems, but going from the idea of having them to actually working on them is different.

As Charles put it to me:

“My readers LOVE the idea of adding systems to their businesses. They know that they’re their own bottleneck to growth. However, there’s a huge gap between knowing what systems are, and being able to implement them.

Most books on systems thinking are too theoretical. I’m wondering if we can create a framework that’s simple enough for people to put into action.”

One of my past businesses was a consulting firm with about 30 staff. They had zero systems when I arrived. There had always been a desire to systemize things, but they lacked the know-how and a specific process for doing so.

Over the span of a couple of years, we systemized everything — daily operations, marketing, accounting and everything in-between.

And more importantly, we put in place a systemization machine for creating, maintaining and updating SOPs and systems in perpetuity.

After this guide, you will be able do the same in your own business.

What Are Systems and Why Bother With Them?

Most businesses start with just you. You’re the marketing department, finance, and the person dealing with customer complaints.

As the business grows, you’re going to face growing pains because you can’t do everything yourself. And hiring employees isn’t automatically going to be the perfect solution.

Let’s say you’re building an e-commerce store. You’re going to need a customer service (CS) representative at some point to answer emails.

No systems:

  • The CS rep is scared of making decisions. They’re constantly bothering you questions on what to do.
  • The CS rep answers 50+ emails a day individually. It takes them 2.5 hours.
  • You have constant turnover. Every time you hire a new CS rep, you have to spend two weeks training them.

With systems:

  • The CS Rep knows your decision-making process. In the 4 Hour Work Week, Tim Ferriss told his reps they could make any decision that costs under $100.
  • All of your reps know what the most common questions are. The company has created templates to speed up the process. The 2.5 hours to answer emails goes down to one hour.
  • You have a constant turnover. However, now it only takes days to train new CS reps. The previous CS reps created SOP’s and screencasts for your new employee to study.

Can you see the difference that systems and SOP’s can make in your business?

Think of them as steroids for your employees.

Building a Systemization Machine

As Charles mentioned, most people lack a simple framework for implementing systems and SOPs in their business.

I call this framework the Systemization Machine and it looks like this:

systemisation machine

The Systemization Machine

The five parts are:

  1. The Systemization Mindset.
  2. SOP List.
  3. Infrastructure.
  4. SOP Creation Process.
  5. Fuel and Maintenance.

Let’s deconstruct each of these parts and see how you can implement them in your business.

1. The Systemization Mindset

01 systemisation mindset

Photo by Dollar Gill.

As with almost everything in your business, systemization begins with you.

Your mindset and attitude skew the probability of actually implementing systems in your business… or not.

This is 90% of the battle and process. The rest is just technical implementation.

By sorting out your mindset first, you are shifting from desire mode into implementation mode.

Making the decision to systemize

Making the decision to systemize your business is like any other decision. You decide to make a change, then back it up with adequate reasons and enough emotional content until that change happens.

Systemizing your business is working on your business rather than simply working in your business.

It is as close as you will ever get to having a “once and done” business. You set up a system, put in place an SOP, and then let your technology and team run it for you.

The simplest way to build enough reasons to go from desiring systemization to implementing it is to draw up a list of benefits, such as:

  • Getting all the small technical things right all the time — for example, specific pixel sizes or file formats.
  • Reducing errors.
  • Increasing accuracy.
  • Speeding up processes.
  • Eliminating unnecessary processes.
  • Automating manual processes.
  • Everything is running better.
  • Less stress.
  • More personal time.
  • More money.

Realizing what is possible with systemization

If you need more reasons to back up your decision to systemize, here are some from my own experience and that of clients over the years.

The first is that it just makes rational sense. (If there’s any human endeavor where rationality matters, it’s business.) You want a better, faster, and stronger business, and systems are how you get there.

The second is that once you have turned something into a system and created an SOP for it, you can improve it and outsource it.

The third is that you are building the capacity to scale.

You’re reading this on Charles Ngo’s blog which means that you are already a marketing badass.

You’ve optimized your campaigns and creatives and copy, and you’re likely working harder than a teenager trying to get his first makeout session.

You’ve put in the hours and effort, but the ever-elusive “scaling” seems just out of reach like there’s some invisible ceiling impeding your progress.

This invisible ceiling is the capacity to scale — you simply lack the systems to progress.

Wherever your business currently is, ask yourself — if I threw 10x the ad spend, traffic or inputs into it, would the system be able to cope?

If not, you need to systemize.

The fourth reason is that by systemizing you will have a baseline for implementing new things that you learn.

I’ve always considered this one of the coolest things about systems. You get to read about the amazing tools, techniques, and strategies that someone like Charles Ngo or Dan Kennedy uses… and then you can see exactly how they will fit into your existing systems.

If you have no systems, this doesn’t work. You end up struggling to work out what you’re currently doing, and if this new thing replaces it or doubles up or otherwise.

The last reason is that systemization is fun.

OK, maybe that’s just me.

But if you take this framework and implement it in your business, you’ll build a competitive advantage over time.

Now that we have our mindset sorted out, everything else in the framework is just technicalities and practical implementation. Let’s get started.

2. Your SOP List: Working Out What You Need to Systemize and Write SOPs For

02 what sops

Photo by Todd Quackenbush.

In order to systemize, we need to know what we want to systemize. We can do this by:

  1. Drawing up a list of things to systemize.
  2. Filtering this list.
  3. Prioritizing this list.

Drawing up a list of things to systemize

You can start drawing up your list of things to systemize by starting with you.

Write down all the business-related things that you do for every day of the week — everything you do on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc.

And then remove any duplicates, and group together your list.

Have your staff do the same.

Next, think of all the things that you do regularly to run the business that doesn’t happen on a weekly basis. This could be things like monthly reporting or reviewing the income statement (P&L).

For example, you may end up with a daily list of:

  • Check stats.
  • Campaign optimization.
  • Development work for new campaigns.
  • Reporting.
  • Communicate with staff.
  • Communicate with affiliate managers and partners.

And a monthly/irregular list of:

Filtering your list

Once you have a list similar to the above, you need to filter it, because not everything needs to be systemized right away.

When we create efficient systems, we usually do one of four things with them:

  1. Eliminate.
  2. Simplify.
  3. Automate.
  4. Delegate.

Eliminate, means if you’re doing something you don’t need to be doing, you simply stop — and save yourself time and resources.

Simplify, means you create an SOP and then streamline and remove redundant steps from it.

Automate, means you turn a manual process (SOP) into an automated process done by software, rather than humans.

Delegate, means you turn a process (SOP) over to your staff and have them do it for you.

Systemization begins with simplifying things. Things that can be eliminated don’t need to be systemized, you just need to stop doing them.

So take your list and filter it. For your initial creation of SOPs and systems, you will focus on things that can be simplified.

Prioritizing your SOP list

Now you have a filtered list of things that you want to turn into SOPs.

So what do you do first?

If we think about efficiency, we want to systemize the things that will give us the most “bang for buck” in order to gain momentum in our efforts.

Your high priority SOPs will be:

  • The things you hate doing the most.
  • The things you can easily systemize (within 1 day).
    • SOPs can get complex and some of them can take days or even a week to put together.
  • The things you can teach your existing team to do immediately based on their current skill sets.
    • i.e., minimal time spent on training.

Your medium priority SOPs will be:

  • Anything leftover that you have to do daily.
    • So that you can speed up the execution of those daily things, thus saving you time.
  • Anything that’s urgent on a regular basis.

Your low priority SOPS will be:

  • Anything not urgent.
  • Anything leftover.

When you start creating your SOPs, you will start and clear all the highs first, then the mediums, then the lows.

3. Infrastructure for SOPs: Apps and tools

03 sop spacetree

Now that you’re ready to systemize and you know what to systemize, you need to set up some basic infrastructure.

Introducing wikis

Many business people who are new to systems (and some who are not-so-new) make the mistake of trying to manage it all in Word documents or Google Docs.

This is a mistake.

You need to use a proper tool for the purpose and that tool is a corporate wiki or knowledge management system.

And the great news is, at a basic tier all the major wikis available today are free.

They are:

All the options are basically the same, it’s just a matter of preference for the interface and look-and-feel.

Wikis can be used for many things, but for the purposes of this guide, we’ll look at how to use them for managing our SOPs.

Recording and capture apps

Beyond just a wiki, you will also need some recording and capture apps for screenshots, annotation and screen recordings.

You need a screen recording tool like:

You also need a static screenshot tool like:

  • The built-in MacOS screenshot tool or Windows snipping tool.
  • Cleanshot X.

SOP organization

Now that you have a wiki and some capture tools, you need to prepare a folder structure for storing your SOPs.

I recommend creating a singular space called Standard Operating Procedures in your wiki.

Note: Different wikis call their top-level containers different things:

  • Confluence = space.
  • Tettra = category.
  • GetGuru = collection.

Within this space you want the following pages or sub-categories:

  • Administration.
  • Accounting/Finance.
  • Legal.
  • Marketing.
  • Training. This includes basic company procedures and how to use specific apps.
  • Organizational Data. This is a place for your culture, mission and strategic planning documents.
  • Business-specific areas.

Business-specific areas are, well, business-specific.

If you are an affiliate marketer, you may have one area per traffic source (e.g., Facebook Ads or Google Ads) and one area for reporting procedures.

If you are a consultant, you may have one area for consulting and another for customer service.

If you are an e-commerce store, you may have one area for product design and one for fulfillment procedures.

4. Step-By-Step SOP Creation

04 sop creation

Step 4 is the meat of the process — how to actually write standard operating procedures (SOPs).

This can be daunting for anyone unfamiliar with the process, but it is not meant to be complicated.

Writing SOPs is really just about sitting down and thinking about it and writing. Often you’ll get to the end and think “… that’s it?”

And most of the time, it is.

A template for SOPS

Here is a template you can use:

  • Title. Give your SOP a name, e.g., “Daily adjustments in Facebook Ads”.
  • Who. Specify who can perform the SOP.
  • What. Give a high-level 1-2 sentence description of the SOP. This is for the benefit of other people who will read it.
  • When. Specify if the process is to be done daily, weekly, monthly, or based around some trigger.
  • Process. Give the numbered, sequential steps needed to complete the process. This should include both the mindset and the actual actions to be performed.
  • Results. Provide a checklist of things a reviewer should look at to make sure the process has been done correctly.

Some tips for writing the process:

  • Use bullets and numbered lists.
  • Use both text and screenshots, with annotations.
  • You can include a video if you want, but also write out the steps in text so you don’t have to watch the video every time.
  • Don’t use audio.
  • Use headings and subheadings liberally.
  • Link to other SOPs is your wiki if relevant.
  • Link to external training sources if applicable.

I highly recommend creating this as a global template in your wiki system, so you can quickly select and populate your SOP.

An example SOP

Here’s an example SOP to show you how the template works:

Title

Handling incoming chat or phone inquiries.

Who

Whoever answers the phone. This will usually be a sales rep.

What

This process describes how to handle an incoming customer inquiry via phone or a direct messaging channel (WeChat, Whatsapp, Facebook, etc).

When

Whenever a prospect or customer contacts us first.

Process

  1. Answer the phone/message.
  2. Ask how we can help them.
  3. Record the details and what we can help them within shorthand on paper, in a notebook, on a post-it or otherwise.
    1. If they are a new prospect, get their full name, phone number, and email.
  4. Tell the prospect/customer exactly what we are going to do for them and what they need to do next (if anything). e.g.,
    1. Call them back with the information.
    2. Follow up in a week’s time.
    3. Update their information for them.
  5. Record the interaction in the CRM.
    1. Create a new prospect record if necessary.
    2. Create a file note against the customer record.
    3. Create a next action and task.
    4. Assign that next action and task to the relevant person

Results

  • Client record created or updated in CRM. If it isn’t written down, it didn’t happen.
  • Next action noted and assigned.

As you can see, there is nothing complicated about creating SOPs. Most people overthink and overcomplicate them. All you really need to do is write them out.

Advanced: Creating SOPs like a boss

Once you’ve gotten the hang of creating SOPs, you can step it up a level.

There are two ways to do this:

Record and assign

The first variation is where you perform the process you are systemizing yourself, and screen record it with audio narration.

You then assign this to a staff member to listen to and write an SOP from.

Train and assign

The second variation is to do a training session for the staff who will be doing the process and to record it on camera or via screen recording.

You then assign this to a staff member and have them watch it and write an SOP from.

This is my preferred method as it forces me to think a bit about the process before teaching it, which usually results in a better quality SOP.

I did this a lot in my prior business — schedule a training session, read off a mind map, record the whole thing on camera and then hand the mind map and recording to a team member to write the SOP.

5. Fuel and maintenance

05 fuel maintenance

Photo by Vincent Ghilione.

How much time the initial run-through of your SOP List takes, will depend on the complexity of your business. It could be a few weeks, months, or even up to a year.

But once that’s done and out of the way, then what?

What you need to do is to fuel and maintain your Systemization Machine.

And this is very simply about:

  1. Repeating Step 4 (SOP Creation) for any new processes that come up.
  2. Keeping your SOP space organized.
  3. Having team members update processes with new information and explanations as they do them. This is the main mechanism for improving and streamlining your SOPs over time.

You don’t need to regularly clean out your SOP space unless you want to. If your team members are working properly, then each SOP update is timestamped and versioned by your wiki software automatically, so you know what changes have been made.

What To Do Next

I like to end my guides with some actionable steps that you can use right away in your business.

The first is to actually use the Systemization Machine — it’s effective and tested, and it works.

The second is to learn from the SOPs of others. Here are a couple of SOPs that Charles has shared on his site before:

  1. 10-Step Blueprint for Profitable Campaigns.
  2. Profitable Headline Formulas.

The third is to download my Standard Operating Procedure SOP and upload it into your wiki.

DOWNLOAD SOP TEMPLATE

This is something I give to my consulting clients and it describes how to write an SOP. You can refer to it yourself or use it to train your team.

And for readers of Charles’ blog, I’m giving it away 100% free.

The last is if you have any questions about systemization, SOPs or anything else, ask away in the comments — I’ll be around to answer them.

About the Guest Author

Aaron Lynn is a writer and thinker. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand, and writes about using systems and strategies to live a better life.

You can connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Cover Photo by Denys Nevozhai.

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4 Ways You Can Compete With a Smaller Budget – CharlesNgo.com

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Running a business is like going to war.

Think about how many analogies in business came from the military: price wars, guerrilla marketing, strategic alliances, subordinates, chain of command, and much more.

I started studying military strategy for fun in college. I wish I could tell you some grandiose reason why, but the truth is I wanted to get better at playing StarCraft.

And through all that studying, one strategy has stuck with me throughout the years. And it’s one that I’ve used in business over and over the past decade.

It’s called the Beachhead Strategy.

Here’s where it comes from.

France was occupied by Nazi Germany in the 1940s.

On June 6, 1944, more than 176,000 American, British, and Canadian soldiers stormed the beaches of Normandy, France.

You might recognize that operation as D-Day.

They didn’t do a multi-pronged attack on different areas of France. No, the Allied forces focused all their strength on winning a small area.

Once they won the beaches of Normandy, they established it as a stronghold. They defended the beaches and it allowed more troops to safely land in what used to be dangerous territory.

From there, they slowly took over the rest of Europe.

 

We tend to forget that most billion (or even trillion) dollar companies started out small. We hear about all the strategies that they’re using today, but it’s far more useful to study how companies started.

Amazon.com started by using a beachhead strategy. Jeff Bezos saw the growth of the internet in the early ’90s and he wanted a piece of it.

His goal was to build an online store that could sell nearly every type of product in this world. But that wasn’t his goal at first – it was too big of a goal and too unrealistic.

Instead, he evaluated twenty+ categories to sell.

The winner? Books.

  • He didn’t have to invest any money on product development.
  • All books are the same so the customers know what they’re getting.
  • He had an advantage over the in-store bookstores. He could offer more titles than any physical location.
  • Getting the inventory was easy since there were only two major book distributors in the 90’s. He didn’t have to waste time negotiating hundreds of deals.

So in the beginning, Amazon only sold books for the first few years. They dominated.

Those few years allowed them to generate sales, build their brand, and perfect their processes.

Books were their stronghold, and they started expanding into more and more categories.

If you’re starting affiliate marketing or starting a new business, you don’t have the experience or resources yet to compete against the established players.

That’s OK.

If that’s the case, then you should use different beachhead strategies. Let’s talk about some ways you can apply it.

The Benefits of Beachhead Strategies in Affiliate Marketing

Whenever I compete in a Brazilian Jiujitsu tournament, I’m going to be evenly matched.

I can compete with someone under 155lb, between 30-35 years old, and they’re a blue belt. I’m not going to get Hulk smashed by a 19-year-old Black Belt.

There’s no amateur league when it comes to business or campaigns.

You’re competing against everyone the second you launch a campaign. You’re not competing against another newbie who just signed up for STM and has a $10 a day budget.

Nope, you could be bidding against a team with $10k+ a day budget, and 5+ media buyers.

There’s no “safe space” for you to practice your skills on.

That’s why it’s important for you to use beachhead strategies. It’s a way for you to maximize your resources.

How to use Beachhead Strategies in Your Marketing Campaigns

Alright, enough theory. Let’s get into some practical examples on how you can apply these concepts to your campaigns.

map atlas south america 52502

1. What Countries Aren’t People Targeting?

This is one of the easiest, and most reliable strategies in affiliate marketing.

Affiliate marketers love to launch campaigns in Tier 1 English speaking countries such as the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

There’s plenty of traffic in these countries and there’s less work involved because they don’t have to translate any languages.

Their laziness is your gain.

You can use a spy tool to see what ads, angles, and landing pages are working in the English speaking countries. You can take these same creatives, translate them with One Hour Translation, and start running them in countries they’re not targeting.

At one point, I had a policy where I wouldn’t target English speaking countries. Why enter a red ocean full of competitors in the U.S., when there were so many blue oceans?

People underestimated the amount of money you can generate from locations like the Nordic countries, Turkey, South Africa, and Latin America.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can simply translate someone else’s creatives and profit. It may work sometimes, but you can dominate if you put in more effort.

Think about McDonald’s.

Do they feature the same menu in every single McDonald’s in the world? No, they don’t.

They research the local cuisine and create a menu suited for local tastes.

  • In India, they have a McAloo Tikki which features a vegetarian patty made of potatoes.
  • Japan features a panko-battered shrimp patty
  • Americans have apple pie. In China, they feature a Taro pie.

It’s a strategy that I call Hyperlocalization.

Instead of just translating your creatives, create new marketing angles, and landing page copy that integrates the country’s culture.

2. Niche Down the Product

Lemonade is an insurance company that started in 2015. They’re backed by Softbank and worth $2 billion.

Imagine trying to break into the insurance industry. How can you compete against giants like Prudential and Berkshire Hathaway?

The founders knew that they’d bleed money if they went after the biggest segments like home and auto insurance.

The cost of acquisition of too damn high.

Instead, they used a beachhead strategy by focusing only on rental insurance. There’s a method to the madness. By focusing on rental insurance, their main demographic are millennials.

Soon, their primary customers will get older and start looking at other insurance needs such as home and life insurance. By focusing on the rental insurance space, it gave Lemonade time to establish their brand, processes, and technology.

Another example is ConvertKit. There are unlimited choices when it comes to choosing an email service provider. They established themselves by focusing on the needs of bloggers.

Brainstorm how you can segment down.

  • Adult dating. I’m blown away by how many niches there are in this space. Instead of going for the generic “hot mom next door”, you can laser-target different niches like Hentai.
  • Dog products. Most dog products have a machine gun approach and target all dog owners. Niche it down with specific breeds. There’s dynamite when you target German Shepherd owners and feature German Shepherds in your ads.
  • Nootropics. So many guys are trying to create the next Onnit. It’s a great brand, but they’re mainly focused on bros. Niche down. Mental supplements for older women. Mental supplements for chess players. Mental supplements for entrepreneurs.

3. Niche Down the Audience / Demographics

Certain companies benefit from the “network effect”. The more people who use the service, then the more useful that service becomes.

Ironically, Facebook started by narrowing down their audience on purpose.

When Facebook first launched, it was only available to the students at Harvard.

  • Then Ivy Leagues
  • Then University Students within the U.S.
  • Then University Students outside the U.S.
  • Then employees of companies such as Apple and Microsoft
  • Then finally, anyone over the age of 13 with a valid email address.

Narrowing down the audience allowed them to build their own “sandbox” to improve the product.

Another example is life insurance. Demographics have a different pain points.

Someone who’s a new parent wants life insurance to protect their children.

I don’t have any kids yet. I bought life insurance in my 20’s to make sure that my parents would be taken care of in case I passed away young.

4. Do the Opposite of the Market Leaders

Whenever a company has a strength, it also has a weakness.

Facebook’s strength was how all your memories would be stored. What’s the opposite of that? Not storing anything.

That’s how Snapchat got established.

Facebook’s other weakness is it has become increasingly “older” demographic wise. No teenage girl wants to Twerk in a place where her parents and their friends are going to see. That’s how TikTok has an audience.

There’s a growing movement of using 100% organic ingredients only when it comes to skincare.

What’s the opposite? Using synthetic ingredients. Drunk Elephant is a skincare line that uses synthetic ingredients and embraces it.

Their messaging is they don’t care if an ingredient is organic or synthetic, they only care if it works or not. They’re saying that organic products have limitations.

It can be intimidating to see an established company, but realize that their strength is also a weakness.

man hit by boxing glove 3586873

Photo by Musa Ortaç from Pexels.

Don’t be Scared of Competition

If someone were to punch you in the face, your instinct is to close your eyes and flinch.

Floyd Mayweather is considered one of the best boxers in history. One of his secrets is that he trained himself NOT to flinch. When someone’s throwing a punch at him, his eyes are always open.

This allows him to block and dodge at all times, even if someone’s swinging at him.

How many times have you thought of a business idea, but you stop yourself because you found a “competitor”?

That feeling is as natural as closing your eyes when someone’s about to punch you.

But I want you to retrain the way you think about the competition.

Competition means there’s market validation. But you can’t compete against them head on.

Instead, use the beachhead strategy to effectively enter the market.

All other photos courtesy of Pixabay via Pexels.

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Increase Your Product’s Price and Conversion Rates with Value Stacking – CharlesNgo.com

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“Competition is for losers” – Peter Thiel

I love studying strategy and competition.

I’ve learned that it’s rarely a good idea to compete on having the lowest price.

Imagine that you have a product or a service, and your only advantage is that you’re cheaper than the competition.

What happens if you have the lowest price, but then a competitor is able to set their price lower than you?

What if you’re selling Yoga mats and Amazon comes out with their version, or your supplier decides to start selling the products themselves?

There’s no advantage to being the second cheapest in the market. Being too cheap can also hurt conversion rates since people associate the product with being low quality.

Being the cheapest works if you have the volume to support it like IKEA or McDonald’s.

For most companies, it’s much, much better to compete on value. Value means to keep increasing the usefulness of your products to your customers.

Offering more value means customers are willing to pay a higher price. Charging more means you have more margins when you’re trying to acquire a customer.

There isn’t much differentiation in the e-commerce space these days. Most supplements and beauty products are from the same factories. Most physical products are coming from the same factories in China.

You can kinda differentiate by having pretty packaging or adding a logo to the product.

But there’s one way you can substantially add more value to your product that not many people are using.

You can do it by turning your product into an offer.

Doing this will increase your conversion rates, offer more value to your customers, and you’ll be overall more profitable. And the best part? It doesn’t take much effort.

Note: Hat Tip to Russell Brunson for elaborating on this concept. 

What’s the Difference Between a Product and an Offer?

A product is a single item.

An offer is a product plus additional items that create value.

Here’s an example.

You’re shopping for a brand new BMW 3 series.

To keep it simple, we’re going to assume that the cars are exactly the same.

If two car dealerships are offering the same BMW, your decision is going to boil down to the price, reviews of the dealership, and maybe your relationship with the salesmen.

What if one car dealership increased the value by turning it into an offer? What if they added additional items that didn’t cost them much?

If everything else is equal, which dealership are you going to buy it from?

Car Dealership B.

It’s a win for the customer because they’re getting more bang for their buck with free car washes and servicing.

It’s a win for the Car Dealership because they got the sale. Not only do they immediately profit, but getting the sale gets their foot in the door for future sales.

That’s a real-life example.

But how does this apply in the world of e-commerce?

Sarah is interested in purchasing protein powder. She specifically wants to purchase the ones designed for females

She does a few searches and has narrowed it down to two choices: Fitmiss or Ladyboss.

Let’s take a look at what Fitmiss is offering.

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It’s a straight forward purchase. 2lbs of protein for $27.99.

The large majority of e-commerce transactions are done like this.

Now let’s see what LadyBoss is offering.

If Sarah is making a direct comparison, then she’ll compare the reviews and ingredients to see which Protein is better.

But wait…it’s NOT a direct comparison.

download 1 1

LadyBoss has created an offer.

Sarah could go with FitMiss and get the protein.

Or Sarah could go with LadyBoss and get the protein + Recipe book + 28 Day Challenge Access + Workout Plan eBook + Facebook Group Access + Free Shipping.

Which offer helps Sarah solve her problem more? LadyBoss.

It’s no longer a fair comparison. FitMiss is offering only protein while The LadyBoss is offering protein plus a ton of free goodies.

Turning something into an offer means:

  • Higher conversion rates.
  • You can charge a higher price point.
  • Higher customer satisfaction because you’re solving their problem better.
  • You’re going to start building a tribe.
  • You’re no longer directly competing against other people.

Does this make sense?

Your biggest competition isn’t other marketers. Your biggest competition is going to be Amazon.

People like to comparison shop, and chances are they can find a similar product on Amazon for half the price.

But when you turn your product into an offer, it’s no longer a direct comparison. You can charge whatever you want.

Simple Ideas for Value Addition

First of all, I would not launch a campaign with the value additions in place.

Your goal is to test to see if the product is profitable or not first. Only after it proves profitable should you invest your time and money into creating value adds.

You want to keep everything as cheap and simple as possible in the beginning.

As you generate more profits, then you can re-invest into bigger value adds.

Some cheap and easy ideas are:

1. A cheap, physical product.

Let’s say you’re selling one of those lose weight drinking tea products that Instagram “models” love to promote.

What’s a cheap item you can include that would help them?

I did a search on Aliexpress and found a tea infuser. It’s useful, and it looks valuable. It’s also cheap for you, and light to ship.

Now our tea product has this value add: Our Bad Bitch Star Tea Infuser (Value: $15)

It costs me $1 to include this, but can increase the value by a ton.

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2. An eBook or a Guidebook

What information or knowledge can help my customer solve their pain point? You can turn this information into an eBook or a Guidebook.

Remember that design and presentation matters.

Take a look at these two companies that are both offering free guides.

The first one looks like a throwaway eBook.

It’s only a value add if the customer wants it.

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The second one has a much better design and presentation. It legitimately feels like an eBook that could be sold on Amazon.

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Creating an eBook is easier than you think.

  • Content: you can write it yourself, hire someone to write it, or find free content using private label rights (PLR) articles.
  • Design: Hire a professional. If I want something good enough I’ll go to Fiverr. If I want something epic I’ll find a professional on UpWork.

3. Printables

People love things that they can print out.

These include:

  • Cheatsheets
  • Templates
  • Charts

These don’t cost you much, but it helps the customer reach their goals faster.

Putting it All Together

Let’s say you want a Pore Cleaner device.

I’ve seen these being sold everywhere on Facebook these days.

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Most entrepreneurs would probably buy it for $9 and sell it for $30. It can work, but the margins are going to be tight with paid traffic.

Let’s turn this product into an offer.

How can we help the customer get rid of their blackhead problems?

1. A Cheap Physical Product

I found a blackhead extractor tool for like $.50

download 1 3

2. eBook – The Clear Skin Diet

What the customer really wants is clear skin. What else can help them? How about an eBook that gives them diet tips on how to have clearer skin.

The content + design is probably $100.

3. The Clear Skin Daily Cheat Sheet

What if we created a PDF that gave someone a daily checklist on clear skin habits?

Wash your face, change your pillowcase once a week, use this device twice a day, etc.

You can either:

1. Increase your price.
2. Keep the price the same, and get a higher conversion rate.
3. Do both 😈

Does this make sense?

Traffic costs are going to keep increasing.

If you can’t lower your costs, then focus on increasing your value.

Now is a great time to start implementing that tactic because not many others are doing it.

As far as implementation, keep it simple.

When someone orders something from you, automatically send an email with “Here’s Your Free Goodies”

Bam. The email links directly to the ebooks. No login bullshit.

For Inspiration:

download 9.48.45 AMdownload

Here’s another idea.

Instead of creating a value stack on the front end, you can offer bonuses if the customer performs a specific action.

The classic is free shipping when you order $50+ or more.

Order $50 or more and you get a free item.

Here’s the reward program from TigerFitness

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How to Compete

Online marketing is going to become more competitive over time.

Traffic costs are going to increase.

The barriers to entry have never been lower for someone to come in.

How can you compete in an increasingly competitive world?

It’s simple – offer more value to the customer.

Solve their problems better than your competitor can.

A strong value proposition is more powerful than the best marketing angles.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels.

Please rate this article – it helps me know what to write!

Where to Cut Costs and Where to Invest – CharlesNgo.com

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“You can’t buy it – it’s not on sale.”

I put the shirt back on the rack in disappointment.

I wanted some back to school clothes from Polo Ralph Lauren. 13-year-old me wanted to look cool with one of those tiny horse logos on my shirt.

My mom wasn’t on board.

“Is it on sale?”

No, Polo was never on sale at Macy’s. I knew that already, but a boy can dream, right?

My parents and my culture always focused on saving money.

It’s not cool to talk about how much money you spent on something. Instead, you get more props talking about how much money you saved.

Saving money is virtuous. Waiting for a sale or negotiating shows that you’re able to outsmart the system.

This belief isn’t terrible considering how wasteful most people are. But having this as your only metric is limiting.

Have you ever heard of the phrase, “Penny rich, and pound foolish?

(Note: I had trouble understanding this phrase at first because I’m an American, and this is a British phrase. Pound doesn’t refer to weight like lbs. Pound in this context refers to British currency. 100 pennies = 1 pound.)

It means that you’re thrifty at saving small amounts of money, and you’re foolish when it comes to bigger decisions with money.

Photo credit Pixabay from Pexels.

Here’s an example:

A mom spends an average of 5 hours a week clipping coupons to save money. She saves around $30 a week doing that.

She’s penny rich.

It’s time for her to buy a car.

She doesn’t do any research and ends up being hustled by the car dealership. They add in extended warranties, give her a low trade-in value, she has a high APR%, etc.

She ends up paying $12,000 more than if she would have if she was prepared. She could’ve spent 5 hours in one day doing some research, and that would’ve saved her more money than clipping coupons that year.

She’s pound foolish.

This penny rich and pound foolish mentality has harmed me over the years.

I remember in 2009, I spent close to six figures on my dream car. That same year I insisted on trying to do my own bookkeeping to save money.

I’ve tried studying personal finance, but most of the mindset is centered around being frugal. Your average person doesn’t have a lot of leverage. 

It has taken me a lot of experience and mistakes to figure out my perfect balance.

For this week I’m going to tell you some stories from my past. I’ll share with you what I’ve found worth spending money on, and what isn’t worth spending money on.

What’s Not Worth It

There are some things that I’ve spent money on over the years that I’ve felt weren’t worth it.

Maybe they’re worth it to you. We have different value systems and goals. The stories are meant for you to see different perspectives.

1. Any Luxury Designed to Show Off

We’re all playing the status game to some degree. One of the Life-Force 8, according to Ca$hvertising, is “To be superior, winning, keeping up with the Joneses.”

It’s in our DNA to flex.

Here’s the issue: trying to play the status game is a losing battle.

Do you have seven figures in your retirement account? Try showing off a screenshot of it on social media. It’s not socially acceptable. You’re a douchebag if you do that.

Photo credit by Szelei Robert from Pexels.

But post a picture of a luxury car and talk about your “struggles” to get here. Or post a picture of a luxury vacation with a cute caption. You’ll get hundreds of likes. Praise and admiration.

Your brain gets flooded with dopamine and so many feel-good chemicals.

Isn’t that ironic? Social media rewards us the more financially irresponsible we are.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with luxury. You should reward yourself once a while.

It boils down to purpose. Are you buying it because you want it, or because you want to prove something or impress someone?

It’s a losing battle trying to impress others because the haters won’t let you win.

Got a Lamborghini Huracan? Ah man, means you can’t afford a Lamborghini Aventador? Ohhh you got that new Aventador? It must be leased.

You win the status game by not playing it. Instead, focus on building true wealth.

2. Spending the Most Efficient Way Possible

There’s a popular quote that says “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

What IS company culture then? It’s hard to define, but you can imagine that working at Pixar is different than working at Uber or WeWork.

Culture is a set of shared values.
It’s the personality of a company.

Culture is a huge buzzword these days and it seems like the cool thing to try to build or buy a company culture.

So that’s where I got inspired to do team-building trips for my companies. I’ve always operated as a remote team, and some of my team members were scattered around the world.

Let’s spend a week together and get to know each other better!

I’d fly everyone into a central location like Belize. We’d rent an Airbnb mansion. And we’d have so many different activities and excursions planned.

You can imagine that the costs added up quickly. I’d estimate a typical trip was around $10k – $20k depending on the location.

Here’s what I’ve learned about Culture:

Culture isn’t free lunches.
Culture isn’t bringing your dog to work.
Culture isn’t doing “team-building” exercises.

Culture is:

Culture is how you treat each other.
Culture is feeling comfortable enough to bring up issues.
Culture is employees feeling appreciated.

All these don’t cost anything.

Is there value in doing a company trip? Sure there is.

But what’s the goal, and what are the alternatives?

What is the most efficient way to reach that goal?

For example, one of my goals with it was to “reward” my team with experience. I wanted to show them how much I appreciated them.

What if I sat back and brainstormed all the options of doing that?

What if we skipped the trip and distributed $10k cash as bonuses. And then I could re-invest $10k into growth?

3. Find the Point of Diminishing Returns in Every Purchase

You can spend $10 on a pair of dress shoes from Payless. Or you can spend $1,000 on a pair of handcrafted Italian shoes.

What do you do?

Here’s some of my philosophy.

Be careful with going too cheap on anything. “Buy nice or buy twice.

I bought an electric kettle for around $10 a few months ago. It broke a few days after the warranty expired. I’ve spent more on another one so that it can last longer.

I’m always looking for the “sweet spot” whenever I’m purchasing things.

With every purchase, there’s a point of diminishing returns. It’s where more money doesn’t necessarily mean higher quality.

  • $100 dress shoes won’t last. You’ll have to keep buying new ones every year.
  • In my opinion, $300’ish is the sweet spot for dress shoes. You can get them repaired anytime.
  • After $300’ish you’re mainly paying for the brand name. Pay for the quality and not the brand name.

I’m addicted to Costco. I love their Kirkland Signature products. I’m paying for the quality and not paying for their marketing or branding.

Gucci dress shoes cost around $1,000. I guarantee you can find much higher quality shoes for half the price. The other $500 goes towards Gucci’s marketing and retail stores.

I’m never going to buy a new car ever again. As soon as that car goes off the lot it loses 30% of its value.

The “sweet spot” for me is a car that’s two to three years old. Depreciation has taken a chunk off of it, and it’s still within warranty.

I rather buy a used car and invest that 40% difference in making more money.

I remember talking to my Chemistry partner back in Ga Tech one day. We were chatting and she brought up that she was accepted into MIT.

I asked her why she chose to go to Ga Tech?

Her: Ga Tech offered me a full ride. MIT would cost me $40,000 a year at least. Twenty years from now it won’t matter where I got my undergrad at, but I’ll probably still be paying those MIT student loans.

Damn, I wish I was that smart at 18.

What IS Worth the Money

You should read about my Productivity Flywheel philosophy to understand my spending philosophy more.

The best use of money is to invest it. Invest it into assets to make more money, or invest it into getting more resources like time or health.

1. Good Employees and Contractors

When you hire someone, you hire them to do work. It’s easy to underestimate the value of their knowledge and decision making.

Let’s say you hire a virtual assistant for $5 an hour to book a trip for you. I’ve made that mistake before.

You spend so much time delegating. It’s a back and forth on every little decision. It’s death by a thousand papercuts.

Versus hiring someone more qualified.

You tell them the vision and they execute.

Let’s say I want to hire someone to build me a funnel.

I don’t want to hire someone who just executes. That means I have to sit down, research what funnels I want to build, and give them specific directions. Then they execute.

I’d rather spend more money to find someone that knows more about funnels than I do. I want them to tell me that my shit sucks, and that they’ll build one better than me.

When you hire someone, you hire them to do work. It’s easy to underestimate the value of their knowledge and decision making.

There’s a limit to how much you can save, but there are huge upsides when it comes to value creation.

I’ll give you a real-life example when it comes to virtual assistants. A few years ago I started with cheaper virtual assistants.

They weren’t that experienced, and they were scared to make decisions.

I’d tell them to book a flight to Asia for me. I’d have to break down the project and delegate every little detail. I’d have to take a screenshot of the exact flight I wanted. I had to tell them I needed a visa to certain countries.

The delegation was exhausting. It was death by a thousand papercuts.

Eventually, I brought on a much higher skilled assistant.

I’d tell her I want to book a flight to Asia.

She’d gone ahead and created timelines for me. She researched different flights to business class, and sent me YouTube videos of the passenger cabins.

She gave me choices, and I simply said yes. Over time, she started making certain decisions for me because she knew my preferences already.

She was more expensive, but how much time, energy, and frustration did she end up saving me?

And those resources were allocated towards making more money.

You can only make so many good decisions a day.

Don’t just hire someone because they can work for you. Hire someone who you can trust to THINK and make DECISIONS for you.

If you’re interested in more information about this topic, the founder of Trello has a great article about the case for hiring the best programmers

2. Buying Your Way In

There’s a philosophy that I love called earning your way in versus buying your way in.

Anytime you want to learn something, you have to pay somehow.

Do you want to learn how to become a better chess player? You have to pay with your time and energy to become more skilled.

Buying your way in means you hire a coach. Someone who has put in their 10,000 hours. An hour with them could save you hundreds of hours as a result.

This is powerful because it can be difficult to unlearn bad habits.

Imagine that you learned how to shoot basketball the wrong way your entire life. It’ll be hard to fix that muscle memory that you’ve developed.

I’ve taken many private lessons in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I’ve observed that “you don’t know what you don’t know”. A coach corrected me once where I’d always let the opponent get an advantageous grip on me.

I had no idea that this was a problem. But because we caught it early, I’ve now developed the habit of grip fighting.

Do you know how much your time is worth?

Sit down and calculate it.

Let’s say you make $60,000 USD a year. That’s around $30 an hour. You should outsource everything under $30 an hour.

Don’t mow your lawn. Give it to the neighbor’s kid for $20.

You could spend 10 hours learning how to set up a WordPress website. Your 10 hours is worth $300. Someone overseas can set up your WordPress website for $50.

Value your time more. You can always make more money but you can’t get back more time.

3. Improving Your Health

Photo by Chevanon Photography from Pexels.

I don’t need to dive into this area too much but health is everything.

Don’t be an obese millionaire.

Sitting at your desk all day as an Internet marketer wrecks havoc on your body.

A few things I spend on health:

  • Therapy
  • Float tanks
  • Higher quality food
  • Higher quality supplements.
  • Tracking devices such as an Oura ring and a badass scale.
  • Things that help me sleep better. Higher quality thread sheets. Bedjet device.
  • Tests. Blood Tests. Genetic Tests. Testosterone tests.
  • Gyms. I have a BJJ gym membership and have a gym for weight lifting.
  • Yoga classes.
  • Prehab: I see a physical therapist once a while to fix things to prevent injuries.
  • Etc.

You get the point.

I don’t care how you spend your money on health, but it should be a huge priority.

Health is a force multiplier. 

It’s one of the biggest levers you have.

Bad health eventually catches up to you.

If you have children then you have a moral obligation to be in peak physical condition.

4. Making Your Financials More Robust

We’re facing a health and an economic crisis with this pandemic.

The future is unpredictable.

What is worth it to me is being financially robust. The world is unpredictable. Are your finances strong enough to handle the unknown?

Some ways include:

  • Having a solid emergency fund.
    • We have a six months emergency fund in an online savings account.
    • It’s tempting for me to want to invest it or spend it. But having an emergency fund means that we can handle any small emergencies.
  • Strong insurance.
    • Most people get the minimum requirement on their car insurance. We go higher. Probably because Atlanta is full of dumbass drivers.
    • We have coverage in case we’re in an accident with an uninsured motorist.
    • We have higher than normal property damage. It does suck to pay more for insurance than other people. But I know I can handle a black swan of a $250,000 worth of damage.
  • Diversify Your Income.
    • Not many people saw this pandemic coming. It’s still unbelievable to me. The people that are the hardest hit are the ones who relied on one source of income. That’s a single point of failure. You should always work on having multiple sources of income.
    • One question I ask myself is… “if I couldn’t physically work for six months, how much money would I have coming in?”
    • Just make sure to strike the right balance.
    • Some people out there have too many sources of active incomes. Would you rather have one business that makes $25,000 a month or 5 businesses that make $1,000 a month each?
    • You have limited time and energy. There are tradeoffs.
    • My philosophy is to have 1 – 2 forms of active income. Stay focused. Put your excess capital into passive forms of income: index funds, managed property, commodities, etc.

5. If You Own a Business, Re-Invest into Creating Competitive Advantages

It’s never been easier to start a business.
It’s never been easier to research and see what’s profitable.

IF you do become profitable, you’re going to have to deal with other people trying to take what’s yours.

Are you making $50k a month profit dropshipping something from Aliexpress? That’s great, but what’s stopping someone from seeing your ads on AdSpy and competing against you?

Once you start making money, then it’s time to start re-investing in creating some moats.

  • Create better-branded content and creatives instead of remixing the videos from the Vendor.
  • Improve your fulfillment so customers can get it in three days, and not a month.
  • Work with the manufacturer to create some product improvements
  • Hire influencers to increase your perceived value

I don’t believe in “passive income.

Every day is a competition and you should always be trying to move up the ladder.

Spend to Reach Your Dreams

Figure out what you value.

Some of you will value a brand new iPhone 11. I think it’s a waste of money and barely any better than an iPhone X.

I’m willing to spend several hundred dollars on a new Chef’s knife. Some of you think it’s a waste of money.

We’re not wrong—we just value different things.

Allocate your resources in the most efficient way possible.

Think about it like this:

You have $5,000 in disposable income. You want to go on a vacation, and you want to start a side business.

You COULD spend $5,000 and have an Instagram-worthy vacation. You have no money leftover for your side business so you have to use your labor, and focus on “free.”

Or you can allocate the money better.

Spend $1,000 on a cheap vacation. You still get a great vacation. Now you have $4,000 in your side business.

Hustle for a few years.

Your side business has grown.

You can now spend that $5,000 on your dream vacation.

But the difference is you didn’t sacrifice your dreams for it. You have your dream life AND your dream vacation.

I use the term sacrifice a lot.

It’s because you have scarce resources.

You can have anything you want, but you can’t have everything you want.

The people who can’t control their spending are the ones who become slaves to debt.

You’re always making trade-offs each day.

Some people will spend their $1,200 stimulus check on a new iPhone. They’re choosing that over $1,200 in their emergency funds or $1,200 worth of groceries for a few months.

I want a nice wedding whenever that happens. I could do a courthouse wedding and save a ton of money. But I’m choosing to have a nice wedding, and I understand the opportunity cost of that decision.

Choose wisely.

Photo credit by Maurice Lustig from Pexels.

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a System For You to Exponentially Get More Done – CharlesNgo.com

4.7/5 (48)

Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day, but we all have different results in life.

This imbalance fascinated me growing up.

I remember everyone telling me that hard work was the secret to success. But my mom worked two jobs when I was growing up, and we didn’t grow up rich.

And then, later on, everyone told me that the secret was education. If I studied hard and got into a good university, then I would be successful.

I knew that wasn’t true. Why are there people with doctorates who are struggling to find jobs?

Something wasn’t adding up.  

I didn’t know any wealthy people growing up, so I started tons of books. Each one would give me a little gem.

Those gems from reading weren’t enough. I had to gain some first-hand experience for the past 13 years to understand.

I haven’t figured everything out yet. I have developed specific frameworks to help me understand more about success and wealth creation.

Do you know what’s ironic? My parents told me that if I kept playing video games, then it’d harm my future. It’s from playing games like Starcraft and Age of empires that gave me an “Ah-ha!” moment.

Winning at those video means meant you have to develop the skill of managing your resources.

The same concept applies in real life.

Think back to high school. Some kids wasted their time partying. Others studied and did extracurricular activities.
I know there are exceptions, but in general, the ones who studied hard are more successful.

They managed their resources better. 

Today I want to share with you one framework that I call the Productivity Flywheel.



The Flywheel effect is a concept from the book Good to Great. It’s an analogy about getting a huge, massive flywheel to move. It takes a ton of effort at first, but over time, the wheel gains enough momentum to spin on its own.

Ever heard the phrase, “The Rich Keep Getting Richer?”

I studied the Flywheel Effect. I then combined it with the resources that we have: time, energy, attention, and money. The resources are a way for us to gain leverage, which then gives us more resources than before.

The Productivity flywheel is a way for you to maximize your leverage in life.

Understanding and Using the Productivity Flywheel

I’m going to explain how this system works.

Step 1: Using Your Time / Energy / Attention Better

Every one of us has the following resources.

  1. Time. You have 24 hours each day. 
  2. Energy. This is your capacity to do work. Ever tried going through the day with zero sleep? That’s what it’s like to be low on energy. 
  3. Attention. Your ability to focus and concentrate at all. This is an underrated resource that we’re giving away too freely. It’s hard to get any meaningful work done if you feel the need to check social media every few minutes. 

All three resources are vital if you want to get anything done.

It’s fashionable to say that we all have the same 24 hours in a day, but that isn’t true.

You might spend three hours stuck in traffic. I work from home. That’s an extra three hours I have over you.

I plan to have kids in the next few years. I’m not going to have as many free resources as I do now.

It helps to visualize your resources as if they’re status bars in an RPG video game. Instead of health and mana, we have time, energy, and focus.

And just like a video game, certain activities can level up our statistics.

Let’s take a look at two people.

Sarah is a single mom who spends three hours a day in traffic. You can imagine how exhausted she is every day.

John finished university, and his parents are subsidizing his expenses. What a nice life. 

John has a higher capacity to get shit done.

Here’s a fact: Life isn’t fair. 

Someone could be born into a horrible family situation and grow up in poverty. Someone else could’ve been born into a life of privilege.

Life is like a game of poker: you can’t control the hand that you’re dealt with, but you can control how you play it.  

Don’t put yourself at a disadvantage at an early age.

If you get into six figures worth of student loans by the age of 22, and you can’t find a job, you’re playing the game on hard mode. If you become a single parent when you’re 16, then you’re playing life on hard mode. 

Each day you make dozens of decisions on whether to invest or spend your resources.

What does wasting your resources look like? Drinking a ton of alcohol. Wasting hours a day on social media. You get the picture.

Sure they’re fun, but they sap away at your resources.

What does it mean to invest your resources? It means you’re using your time, energy, and attention towards activities that help replenish or generate more resources.

These are the “quests” in an RPG that help you level up.

Time:

  1. Using your calendar
  2. You use an app that blocks distracting websites while you’re working
  3. You spend time meal prepping and cooking in bulk. 

Energy:

  1. Getting eight hours of sleep a night
  2. Exercising at least three times a week
  3. Eating a healthy diet

Attention:

  1. Meditating at least ten minutes a day
  2. Managing Your Phone and Social Media Usage
  3. Using timeboxing or pomodoros when you’re working

Sarah the single mom doesn’t have a lot of free resources. But she can practice some better habits and build some systems to put her in a better position.

This is Productivity 101 and requires some discipline.

I’ll be the first to tell you that it’s not easy.

Sometimes I want to skip the gym and play video games instead. Sometimes I want to stay up late watching Netflix, instead of getting a good night’s sleep.

What keeps me disciplined is to keep my eyes on my goals. I realize that certain behaviors and habits are robbing me of the future that I want for me and my family.

The first step is to maximize existing resources.

What do you do with all this time, energy, and attention?

You transform them into the 4th resource: money

Step 2: Use Your Resources and Job to Generate Money

You put your resources (time, energy, and attention) into a Machine (a Job or business), and that outputs money.

Not all jobs pay the same. Two people can put in the same amount of effort but paid different amounts. 


One consultant can charge $100 an hour, while another one can charge $10,000 an hour. 

Getting paid more isn’t something that can happen overnight. Here are some strategies off the top of my head.

  • Invest in more education such as an MBA (Hey, I didn’t say this was the best way)
  • Negotiate for higher pay at your current job
  • Jump to a different company that will pay more
  • Invest time on the side improving your skill sets. 
  • Get a piece of the upside (commissions, equity in the company, etc.)
  • Etc. 

Once again, life’s not fair.

I work with a programmer from Romania and I pay him around $25 an hour. This guy is fucking smart.

I can’t help but think that if he was born and raised in the USA, he could earn $200k+ a year plus stock options at a FAANG company.

Step 3: Use Your Money Better

I hate when people say money doesn’t buy happiness, or that money isn’t important. It’s virtue signaling and a sign of someone insecure with their situation.

Money is neither good or evil, it’s a resource.

Unfortunately, no one teaches us how to manage money. It’s not as simple as running numbers on a spreadsheet.

Money means different things.

  • Money could mean opportunity.
  • Money could mean a way to brag.
  • Money could serve as a way of safeguarding your future. 

Being responsible with money boils down to living below your means

It doesn’t matter how much income you generate if you can’t control your spending. It’s cliched to hear about a broke rapper, athlete, or lawyer. They have a high income, but it doesn’t matter if their expenses are higher. 

Being able to save money means you get to access something that I called “The Difference.



It’s income – expenses.

Here’s an example from my life.

2008 Charles Ngo

  • Monthly Income after taxes: $2400
  • Monthly Expenses: $1800
  • The Difference: $600 a month 

I had an extra $600 a month as a 22-year-old.

I could’ve spent that $600 a month on clubbing, new clothes, a new iPhone 1, video games, or a nice apartment.

Instead, I chose to invest that extra $600 into affiliate marketing. 

This is hard for a lot of people because they can’t think long term easily. Why invest for retirement 40 years from now when you can use that $100 for a nice dinner?

The people who think long term, win.

Most people do not have any leverage. They trade their time, energy, and attention for money. They then spend that money.

And most end up in this cycle forever, and unable to retire with dignity.

Step 4: Invest Your Money into Creating More Leverage

Leverage is a superpower – it’s a way to get more done using the same or a lesser amount of effort.

Think about how much effort it would take for you to move a 300lb box. But if you can put the box on a Dolly with wheels, you can move it with so much less effort.

The Dolly with Wheels is leverage.

You can use money to create leverage.

The three main ways are investments, systems, and people.

Investments:

You know what an investment is.

Various investments can include the stock market, real estate, cryptocurrency, bonds, gold, starting your own business.

(Money) x (Time) x (Investment Method) x (Risk) = More Money

Whenever you’re making an investment, don’t forget to think about how much resources you’ll need to pour into it.

I love investing in Vanguard index funds.

I spent an hour several years ago building a system that invests money for me. I check my performance once a month when I calculate my net worth.

(If anyone’s curious, I’m 100% stocks. 70% usa, 30% international. Vanguard Admiral funds with the lowest expense ratios)

I don’t think about it. I don’t waste time on it. It frees up my resources to focus on my strengths and my businesses.

However, I’ve seen other people invest in things that they don’t know much about and it’s disastrous.

For some reason, a buddy of mine invested in a nightclub. I guess he wanted the “status” of being part owner of a nightclub.

It was a horrible investment financially. Not only that, but he wasted resources working on the night club. It took time away from his main business!

Systems and Technology:

We’re living in the age of technology. You can invest your money into machines/technology which frees up more resources for you!

Some examples:

  • People use to wash their clothes by hand. Now you can buy a washer and dryer.
  • If you have a business, you can invest in different technology for automation. Think about how much money a restaurant saves because of a reservation system like OpenTable.
  • Self-driving cars. I don’t own a Tesla, and I’m not sure how their autopilot technology is these days. But I imagine soon, a self-driving car can be a tremendous resource saver.

    You can be in the backseat taking a nap or answering emails while your car drives you everywhere. 

Other People’s Resources:

You have finite resources.

The good news is you can spend money to borrow the resources of other people.

Some examples from my life.

  • House Cleaning: My maid comes every Sunday for four hours. The $100 investment I make directly frees up four hours from our cleaning and lets us spend that time on higher leverage activities such as planning or just taking the day off.  
  • Future Live in Nanny / Daycares: I want to have kids one day, and I’m fully aware of how much effort it’ll take to raise kids. We’re already planning and thinking about how hiring different people can help with our responsibilities.
  • Employees: Employees are enormous leverage. Imagine that you hire someone for $40,000 a year. Now you’re getting their time, energy, attention, and specialized knowledge.

Step 5: Utilize Your Leverage into Generating More Resources

The before is a visual of me a decade ago.

I worked a 9 to 5 job and pretty much traded time for money. The only resources that I had were the ones that I generated for myself.

The after is a “rough” look at where I am today. I have more resources than I had over a decade ago.

It’s because I leveraged my money into creating systems and borrowing other people’s resources.

Now imagine what this looks like for a billionaire. Holy shit.

Think about what’s going on when Jeff Bezos is hanging out with his new Mamacita.

He is leveraging the resources and knowledge of over 750,000+ people.

He has thousands of nerds working in Seattle, thousands of UPS drivers are delivering his packages, and you have people like us who are making his asset more valuable by leaving Amazon reviews.

There are plenty of businesses where you can trade your time for money, like being a consultant or a lawyer. You can get rich from doing this, of course.

But your resources are finite. You have to go to sleep.

There are no limits to the outputs of machines, technology, and systems. And there’s always going to be a weakness because you could get hit by a bus or catch the Coronavirus. 

The final step of the flywheel is where you have all these additional resources compared to before.

Now you’re able to operate on another level:

  • You’ll have time to plan, strategize, and think. 
  • You’re more robust as a human because you’re healthier and getting more sleep 
  • You have time for other vital areas of your life, such as spending time with your family and spending time with your hobbies. 

There are levels to leverage.

Each additional level unlocks more power.

Level 1 maid is someone coming once a month to clean.
Level 5 maid is someone coming every week to clean.
Level 10 maid is multiple maids living in your home.

Level 1 coder is hiring someone on Fiver for a task.
Level 5 coder is hiring a great coder on your team.
Level 10 coder is hiring a top talent who heads a team, and they own the project.

The rich get richer.

Where the Flywheel Effect Breaks

Let’s talk about how where this can go wrong.

You can lose if you’re playing the status game

Status is where you’re showing off to the world how well you’re doing. You know what I’m talking about, the guys who are always showing off their cars or dream vacations.

Listen, it’s ok as long as you can afford it. But the majority of people playing the status games are people with $100k net worth, buying $70,000 cars. 

You could invest that $70k into creating more leverage. They could buy the car years later when they are in a better position.

Playing the status game distracts you from building wealth.

Don’t try to look wealthy…be wealthy.

The next trap to be careful of is over-investing, and it is not paying off. 

You spend $65k year on an assistant. They save you a tremendous amount of time and energy.

But you’re not doing anything productive with this time and energy that you’re saving.

It’s a waste of money.
The job or business isn’t compensation you well enough
You’re devoting 14 hours a day to your job. You’re giving your blood, sweat, and tears to it. But you’re stuck at a $50k salary for years.

Or you’re devoting all these resources to your business, but it’s bleeding money year after year.

The flywheel doesn’t work if the resources and job are not outputting enough money. 

Understand and Using the Productivity Flywheel

It’s not going to be easy to understand some of these concepts at first.

I grew up with a frugal mentality that discouraged me from spending. Hire a maid? I can already hear some family asking me why I’m wasting my money. Why is my fiance not cleaning the house every day?

If you’re an entrepreneur, then you’re going to be used to operating as a lone wolf. It’ll be hard to trust employees with your baby. But there’s a limit to how much you can do as a single individual.

Sometimes I look at people like The Rock or Elon Musk. I wonder, how is it possible that they’re able to do so much?

I then step back and look at this framework and realize how much leverage they have that we don’t see.

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