Trying to Focus on the System, Not the Results

I recently heard Noah Kagan talk about his Proactive Dashboard.

It’s basically a way to track metrics on what you are actively doing, not the results of those actions.

For example, you track how many blog posts you write each week, instead of how much traffic you get. Or you track how much time you spent coding, versus how many product sales you had.

Too often I focus on lagging indicators like traffic and profit. These are important metrics, but they are a result of work I did in the past. They have little importance for my daily todo list.

It’s sad to admit, but when my company has good sales I feel more “successful” than a day when I just grind out a bunch of tasks. This is focusing on the wrong thing.

What is going to make me successful in the long run is creating a productivity system, and using that for my success metrics. If I create a good system and execute it, I have been successful. It may not get me more traffic or sales that day, but the system will work over time.

Noah has an awesome system in his video that uses a Google Spreadsheet. I haven’t done that, but I recently signed up for Todoist to help me stay proactive.

I created daily, weekly, and monthly tasks. I’m still refining it, but it’s helped me get better so far.

Here’s a partial screenshot:

I have daily tasks like “write/code for 2 hours,” and weekly or monthly tasks like “Send 3 guest post outreach emails.” I only put the really important tasks in here, and it helps me make sure I get them done.

Here are 3 requirements for my tasks:

  • Specific (using numbers like 3 emails)
  • Achievable (but not overwhelming)
  • Important (I leave out stuff like answer emails)

By making my tasks specific and achievable, I make sure that I don’t get overwhelmed. Tim Ferris once said that his goal is to write 2 crappy pages per day. By making your goals easy enough to get started, you always end up doing more than you planned. The hardest part is just starting.

The main point here is to focus on things you can control.

You can’t control your traffic.

You can’t control your revenue.

You CAN control how much time you spend coding, or how many blog posts you write.

Keep track of those metrics every day, and base your success on how well you execute your system.

Delayed Gratification

Most of the things you do when working on products won’t have any immediate effect.

This is good and bad, when money is coming in you can take the week off and it won’t have any significant effect on your paycheck. When money is not coming in, there’s almost nothing you can do to stimulate revenue today (with the exception of a big promotion or sale). This can be frustrating, but it’s how the game is played.

Building a new feature or writing a blog post will have very little effect on traffic or sales this month, but it may pay off 6 months from now. When new sales come in, they are the result of work that you did months, or even years ago. Everything you do today (besides answering emails) is an investment in your future. It takes a mindset of delayed gratification, and keeping a longer timeline in mind.

Delayed gratification means spending day after day writing content with no immediate increase in traffic or subscribers.

It means turning down that paying client so you have time to build a product that no one will buy for months.

It means feeling like you are wasting your time, when you should be getting paid.

It also means 6 months from now you might start seeing an uptick in your traffic.

1 year from now you might be making enough monthly sales to quit doing client work.

2 years from now you might have a small team, with multiple products and a steady stream of revenue.

Or maybe it won’t. The problem with the delay is that you just don’t know until you’ve put the work in for free, for a long time. That’s why most people don’t stick with it.

The Great Content Marketing Experiment

Since starting Holler Box, I’ve decided to make content marketing my #1 channel for customer acquisition.

I’m considering it a big experiment, and a way to learn about content marketing. My goal is to build traffic to 5 figures per month in one year.

It’s a lot of work for no money, and I don’t expect to see any organic rankings at all for 3-6 months. I’m fairly confident it will work if I stick with it, but it’s not gonna be easy.

I’ve seen some modest results so far, which I’ll share later in this post.

Content marketing as my main strategy accomplishes a few things:

  1. I can build an audience that doesn’t rely on anyone else. If changes their rules, I won’t have my legs cut out from under me.
  2. If my product fails, I will still have an audience. I can build another product. If I build my audience around a product instead, I don’t have this option.
  3. It’s easier to build an audience around content than a product. People share great articles all the time, but they only share a link to your product when there is a major update.

I’ve written a lot of content before, and some of it has seen incredible results. My problem is that I haven’t ever been consistent. My goal is to write one amazing post each week. I’d love to do more, but I just don’t have the bandwidth right now.

I’m confident because I’ve written a couple posts in the past that have over 5,000 visits per month, even a year after the post was written. Creating content like that is definitely worth it over the long term, it’s just a lot of work.

Early Results

It’s way too early to be looking at analytics, but I need a baseline.

I’ve published 3-4 posts that I really put in a lot of effort on. The first couple fell flat, because I didn’t really have a strategy yet.

I’ve learned that creating a post I think will be useful is not enough. I need a full strategy with each piece of content, from keyword to influencer sharing.

A brief overview of my current strategy looks like this:

  1. Find a subject that will be useful for influencers I know to share.
  2. Find a keyword related to that subject I want to rank for.
  3. Write an incredible post that has quotes, data, outgoing links, examples, and actionable steps.
  4. After publishing, share with people in the post, and people who I was thinking of in step 1.
  5. Do some manual outreach to get more shares and backlinks.

I have a very small email list (60 people) and about the same amount of Twitter followers for Holler Box, so the only way for me to get exposure is by other people sharing my content. Since I realized that, I’ve written every post with sharing in mind, and it’s made a big difference.

I executed this strategy on these two posts, and the hard work paid off. I was mainly hoping for social shares from influencers, and both posts saw lots of shares.

WooCommerce Stats Post

Discounts post

The first post flopped, but I got a modest traffic bump for the next two.

It’s amazing how much work it takes to get 12 shares and 120 views when you are starting from scratch!

To make a post worth sharing, it takes me 10 hours or more, plus more time for promotion. I do a lot of manual outreach for promotion, and while it works, it takes a ton of time. I realize this is not sustainable for me, so I plan on hiring help as soon as it makes sense.

I figure that I will pick up some organic rankings in the next several months, and my traffic will grow. I will also be doing some manual link building that should help.

So far I’ve learned a few things about content marketing on a site with very little public recognition:

  1. Writing mediocre posts is a waste of my time. It makes more sense to write one mega post per week than 3 shorter ones.
  2. If I don’t know who will share the post in advance, no one will share it. I mean names of people that will share it, not general groups of people.
  3. Creating great content is hard. Really hard. That’s why I know it will work if I can stick with it.

I will be expanding on my strategy and a couple other things I’ve learned in a post on the Holler Box blog in the next week or two.

I plan on sharing my progress as I go on this site, so stay tuned. Sign up to get my emails if you want to follow along.

I’d love to hear your experience with content marketing in the comments.

Feeling Down About a Lack of Success

When you work really hard on something and you don’t see success right away, it can leave you feeling down.

Feeling like you’re not doing the right things.

Like you’re not as smart as you thought you were.

Like you’re never going to see the upside.

It’s hard to stay motivated when you’re feeling this way. You were excited at first, but now you don’t know if you should keep pushing.

This is why being an entrepreneur is hard, and why so many people fail at it. Pushing through these tough times is what separates the wheat from the chaff. (Confession, I had to look up what chaff means)

What you do in moments like this defines you.

You can choose to give up and go do something that brings you a steady paycheck. There is nothing wrong with that.

Or you can choose to push ahead. Trust your processes and your intuition that this could be something great.

Focus on grinding instead of on checking your analytics and getting depressed. Ignore the other people around you seemingly finding success so easily, and work harder.

Maybe you need to make a big change, or focus on different things. Make sure you are pointed in the right direction, then press your foot on the gas.

If you choose to keep going, you will get knocked down again. It’s inevitable. The only consolation is that getting up will be slightly easier each time you do it.

Interview with Danny Van Kooten of MailChimp for WordPress

I had the pleasure of interviewing Danny Van Kooten, author of the MailChimp for WordPress plugin.

With over 900,000 active installs, and almost 8 million downloads, it’s one of the most popular plugins of all time.

MailChimp for WordPress Plugin

Danny has built a very successful business selling a premium version of his free plugin, and I wanted to know what his experience has been like with the freemium model. Danny’s spoken English is not as good as he’d like it to be, so we conducted the interview by email.

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The 3 Most Important Questions: Why, Who, and How

Every product owner must be able to answer these 3 questions about their product:

1. Why does it exist?
2. Who is it for?
3. How are you going to reach them?

These questions are critical to answer succinctly. Without a why, it’s difficult to tell people why they should buy your product. Without a who, it’s hard to find your ideal customer. Without how, you may never find traction in your market.

If you don’t know the answer to these questions, how do you figure it out? Let’s look at a couple examples.

I use Convertkit for my email marketing. It’s easy to use, and has a lot of advanced features like intelligent forms and customer segmenting, and automated drip email sequences.

Why does Convertkit exist? Because business owners want an easier way to do advanced email marketing, at an affordable price. MailChimp is too simple, and Infusionsoft is too complex. Convertkit found a sweet spot where they can help businesses do more advanced email marketing without paying more.

Who is Convertkit for? Well, it’s for everybody who has an email list, but that’s not a good marketing strategy. Instead, they target bloggers. Bloggers have email lists, they are easy to find, and they can tell other people about Convertkit if they like it.

How did they reach this audience? They tried a number of strategies, but the one that worked best for them was simply selling to each blogger one at a time. They targeted a niche, then found the larger blogs on Google. They contacted the bloggers in that niche with cold emails, and once they sold one person in that niche it was easier to sell the next one. They moved on to the next niche and did it all over again.

It’s important to know your why before you go on to who and how. Convertkit can target bloggers because they have a clear idea of why their product is better than MailChimp. They communicate that difference well, that’s why bloggers buy their product.

Let’s look at another example, the Easy Digital Downloads WordPress plugin.

Why does EDD exist? To make selling digital products in WordPress easy. At the time it was built, there wasn’t a better solution.

Who is it for? At first it was targeted at plugin developers, it now serves a much larger audience.

How did they reach plugin developers? By being a good plugin developer, and writing about it. Pippin Williamson, the author of EDD has a site where he writes tutorials for other developers. He became fairly well known for this, and attended live events like WordCamps as well.

EDD has been successful because they have a clear idea of who they can help and why. Do you have a clear idea of who you help and why? If you can’t communicate why your product exists, and you don’t know who to sell it to or how to reach them, you have a high chance of failure.

It’s important to know that the answer to these questions may change over time. It’s ok to start out by guessing your answers, then change them as you learn more from your customers. Convertkit didn’t know they would be targeting bloggers until they had tried other markets unsuccessfully. You may have the wrong answers right now, the important thing is to get feedback from paying customers, and adjust your strategy as you go.

Just Ship It

If you want to launch a product, build it quickly and ship it.

Too often we get caught up in perfectionism and self-doubt, and end up over-engineering our MVP. Don’t spend months in a vacuum making something perfect that nobody wants. It would be much better to release something imperfect that has potential, and iterate based on real user feedback.

Feedback you get before you release is just talk. Pre-launch advice can be helpful, and beta testing is useful, but it’s the tip of the iceberg. If you want to build a business, the only thing that really matters is if people are willing to pay you. The feedback you get from paying customers will tell you what your roadmap should be, and many times it is completely different from what you originally planned.

You need to get to the part where paying customers give you feedback as quickly as possible, which means you need to ship. It will never be as good as you want it to be, you can spend a lifetime making little tweaks and still not be satisfied. It’s better to release too early than too late.

Let go of perfection and ship.

Products Must Solve Problems

Products are a game of problem solving.

Find a problem, then build a solution. Sometimes you just want to build a cool thing, but you don’t start with the problem. If you have a perfect solution to a problem nobody has, you lose.

The sooner you lose the better, because then you can get to work solving a real problem. Products are not about perfection, or about building something cool. Building a product is about finding an imperfect solution to a real problem, and improving from there. If you hone in on that, you can change and rebuild until it’s right, and eventually you’ll win.

I recently saw an ad for a water filtration system. They were describing the merits of the product, how it worked so much better than other filters. They could have told me until they were blue in the face about how great their system is, I don’t care because I don’t have a water filtration problem. I will never buy this product, no matter how great the marketing is, unless they convince me I have a water filtration problem I wasn’t aware of.

Do you know what your customer’s problems are? Do you know which one specifically you are solving? Is that clear in your marketing copy?

Find out what your customer’s problem is, articulate it clearly, and provide the solution. Then you win.

A Brief History of the WordPress Product Business

In January of 1848, James W. Marshall discovered a shiny piece of metal in his Sacramento lumber mill. He showed the metal to his boss John Sutter, and the two discovered that it was gold.

Sutter tried to keep the discovery a secret in order to avoid endangering his agriculture business. He failed.

In the coming years about 300,000 forty niners came to California with high hopes of finding gold in the American River. One of the places they came was a small settlement called San Francisco, which at the time had less than 1,000 residents. Within 2 years it would have 25 times that.

Fast forward 150 years or so, and that small settlement now has over 830,000 residents. One of those residents is named Matt Mullenweg.

In 2003, this San Francisco resident, along with Mike Little, forked a piece of software called b2. In doing so, they created their own little nugget of gold that would be called WordPress. Little did they know they were laying the foundations for another gold rush, a digital, open-source kind of gold rush.

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Announcing Holler Box: A Better Way to Communicate With Your Audience

I built a new thing, it’s called Holler Box.

It’s a WordPress plugin I built for myself, because I wanted a better way to communicate with my site visitors. For example, I did a webinar a couple weeks ago, and I was trying to figure out how to announce it to people on my website so they could register.

I’m a developer, and even adding a simple banner or popup to my site is not easy. I have to write the code, test locally, push to staging, test there, then push to production and do a final test. When I want to remove the message, I have to reverse the process. I’m busy, and that takes time.

I looked at other options, like complex popup plugins, but that was totally overkill for what I needed. I could add a banner or a blog post, but what I really wanted was to create a subtle notification quickly, and then move on to other tasks.

I didn’t know a good way to do it, so I created Holler Box.

What is Holler Box?

It’s a smart, non-intrusive notification box to help you convert more visitors into customers.

Announce a webinar, collect email optins, show sale notifications, (fake) live chat with email capture, forms, and lots more.

Choose where and when you show it, and to which visitors. For example, show your sale announcement only on the pricing page to returning visitors. Show your email optin only on your blog posts.

It’s fully customizable and you can put just about anything you want in it.


Personalization filters are really important, because I don’t want to show everyone the same thing. I want to show potential customers one thing, and first time visitors something totally different. My checkout page should not show the same message as my blog page.

For example, I want to show an invitation to a webinar to a first time visitor, or an email opt-in. If someone else is a returning visitor on my pricing page, I can show them a notification that someone just purchased, or ask if they have any questions.

I also want to track how well those messages are doing, so I can optimize and improve them over time. All that and make it beautifully designed and easy to use.


There’s a Holler Box on this page at the bottom right, you can also see examples at the Holler Box website.

Simple message

Email opt-in

Sale notifications

Faux Live Chat

Why not real live chat? I’ve used several live chat providers, and I hate it. It’s distracting, time-consuming, and customers use it for technical support even if you explicitly tell them not to. I just want a way to capture emails so I can follow up with customers later. Faux chat FTW!

You can put whatever you want in the notification, including video, your latest blog post, a feedback form, and lots more.

I think this would work great for membership sites, to show members only messages to logged in users, then a different message for potential new members. The possibilities are endless.

How much is it?

You can download it free on here.

There will be a Pro version out very soon that includes the Holler Banner, better filtering, automatic message deactivation, more conversion data, support, and more. That will be announced soon on the Holler Box website.

Sign up for our email list if you’d like to be notified about Holler Box updates.

Don’t forget to give Holler Box a 5 star rating!