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Visual book review: Conscious Millionaire: Grow your business by making a difference (JV Crum III)

I don’t sketchnote every book I read or receive, but sometimes it’s good to take some time to think about a book even if I don’t agree with everything in it.

2014-03-26 Book - Conscious Millionaire - JV Crum III

2014-03-26 Book – Conscious Millionaire – JV Crum III

This sketch (like practically everything else on my blog) is available under the Creative Commons Attribution License, so feel free to download, share, remix or reuse it. =)

From the title (“Conscious” and “Millionaire,” oh dear), to the name-dropping of quantum physics as a way of justifying a “Law of Attraction,” to the membership site that will be $97/month ($9.97/month if you sign up early), this book clearly belongs to a genre of books I tend to avoid. Those kinds of books are great for a lot of people who need inspiration and push. I’m happy for them. Me, I prefer my business advice delivered with a different approach. But I agree with many things in this book, and I’m looking forward to going through the reflection exercises in depth.

I like how Conscious Millionaire focuses on building a business for profit and purpose. I’ve been thinking about this because of my experiment with semi-retirement. People want to pay me for things like sketchnotes, book notes, visual coaching, consulting, programming, writing, sharing, illustration… It would be easy to say yes, but that often distracts me from the things I want to explore. One way I compromise is through buying back all the time that I spend earning. My experiments with delegation are paying off. In many cases, these systems let me do more than I could do on my own. And in the rest of my discretionary time, I really like this casual, minimal-commitment, flow-based life. I work on whatever I want to whenever I want to, and I still get stuff done.

My expenses are covered by savings and investments, and I live generally unambitious sort of life. Or a differently-ambitious one, at least–I wanted freedom, so I got it. I actively avoid the hedonic treadmill of consumption. I’m not particularly interested in business for the sake of earning more. I am, however, interested in building systems for leverage so that I can make the world a little better. I think of building businesses as taking the kinds of results that people want from me and packaging the processes so that other people can benefit: customers, team members, other stakeholders, and so on. That would be worth spending time on.

So that’s what I’m getting out of this book: thinking about building businesses like those would be like, visualizing larger scales, and moving towards those visions with conscious, focused actions.

Before I dig into those reflections, there’s a section in here about people who don’t charge enough for their services. I want to explore that a little further.

Unfortunately, some amazingly talented and good-hearted people erroneously think they should not charge when they use their passion, purpose, and strengths to help others. … It results from thinking or believing that it is wrong to charge money whenever your actions express your purpose.

I have no qualms about charging high rates for my consulting. For everything else–especially things that can scale up over years, like books–I like using a free/pay-what-you-want strategy. It always pleasantly boggles me when people happily pay $15 for something they could get for free. Don’t worry, it’s all part of my evil plan. Mwahahaha. It means ideas spread and tribes grow. I figure that if people like all the free awesomeness, we can harness that good karma for something. In the meantime, I’m learning a lot from people in the process of sharing, and I love the feeling of interacting based on abundance instead of transactions.

Besides, the bottleneck for my scaling up isn’t time, or even money. If I earned a hundred times as much from online publishing, or scaled up my consulting to have a higher rate or more hours, what would change? I would probably delegate more so that I could help more people create opportunities for themselves. I can already do that with what I have. So I think the real bottleneck is understanding: learning more about what people need, learning more about what I want to share. You can’t throw money at that bottleneck. You can only get through by paying attention.

And that, I guess, is why Conscious Millionare might be worth reading. It’s peppered with lots of reflection topics and practical advice. If the community and the coaching takes off, that might be worthwhile as a way to compare notes with other people. Like all self-help books, you gotta get out and push. The one-page summary I put together (see the top of this post) might be handy for remembering key points, but you’ll get even further if you do the work. I’m looking forward to starting with those three-year visualizations, and then we’ll see where this goes from there. If you pick this up, tell me what you think too.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy from the author, who is an actual millionaire from things that are not books about how to become a millionaire. He started with a trucking company, so that’s a point in his favour.

Thinking about how virtual assistants can help me with learning and writing

I’ve been challenging my assumptions about what I have to do myself and what could be better with help. It would be a waste of time and talent to limit virtual assistants to just data entry or transcription. People can do so much, and they can learn even more.

2014-02-26 Thinking about delegation and projects

2014-02-26 Thinking about delegation and projects

Writing is one of those tricky tasks. I can’t stand generic link-building, keyword-stuffing articles. You know, the ones bashed out by SEO robots or humans doing a reasonable simulation thereof. Hasty writers hodgepodge snippets from various places. They may change words just enough to avoid plagiarism, but how can they add anything to the conversation? They don’t have the experience you have. They can’t tell the stories you can. They have a surface understanding of your field.

Still, I’m curious. Can I outsource part of my writing without feeling like I’m breaking the promises of my blog? Can I use people’s strengths instead of bumping into the weaknesses of outsourcing?

I have a personal blog, not a corporate one. I have no problems filling every day with things I’m learning. People find my writing readable. I don’t need help… but maybe I can learn how to make the most of it anyway.

For example, I’ve started making myself delegate web research tasks. This is tough. I keep thinking, “It’ll take me five to fifteen minutes to do this research myself.” I read at a blistering speed, and the research process helps me reformulate questions. It’s faster. I don’t have to wait.

But it turns out that delegating research means I have to be clear about what I’m looking for and how important it is to me. I can learn from other people’s search keywords and summaries. And each little bit of knowledge leaves its traces on two people: the assistant and me. Before, I was the only one who learned from any research I didn’t capture as blog posts. With delegation, the two of us learn, and the summary becomes something I can share.

Example web research tasks:

So web research is one thing that might be worth delegating, even if I think I can do it faster myself.

What about drafting and writing? One of the challenges of writing is empathizing with people who are new. When I write while I’m learning, this is easy. I struggle with the same things people struggle with. But what about the things that people ask me about, the things that I already take for granted? This is where other people’s questions and words can help.

I’ve assigned people to write about a topic I’ve outlined or sketched. I like the way that my outline becomes something both recognizable and different. Here are a couple of examples:

I really like the way people go beyond what I might think of doing or asking on my own. For example, this Trello tutorial is funnier than I probably would have made, and I like it.

What’s beyond that? Maybe more conversation. Speaking can be faster than writing. I struggle with speaking because it feels so unstructured. I’m not used to dictation yet. Maybe I’ll grow into that, in time.

I’ve been practising through interviews and transcripts, but not a lot of people host shows. Maybe I can ask my assistants to interview me about topics. That way, we’ll get a recording out of it as well (for people who prefer to listen or watch). They may ask follow-up questions that I wouldn’t have come up with.

Writing through other people also helps me learn more about my individual style. When I edit their work and give them feedback, I get a better sense of how I say or organize things. Maybe the differences will inspire me to pick up tips from them, too.

$20-30 seems a lot for a blog post that I can write myself, especially if I also invest time to outline and revise it. Still, I’m intrigued by the possibilities of learning from other people’s perspectives. I like the way that I can assign topics of mutual interest, so that both my assistant and I grow through writing. It’s worth exploring.

What would wild success look like? During this delegation experiment, I think it would be great to get to the point where I can make a list of questions I’m curious about. Assistants dig into those questions further. They interview me and other people along the way. I review their drafts, experiment with the ideas, and enrich the drafts with stories and results. We all learn.

I think some of the promises of my blog are: I will post things that I care about. I hope some of them will be useful for you. I won’t clutter your feed reader or inbox with bland, impersonal articles that you could find everywhere else. I won’t resort to clickbait headlines. I’ll share what I’m learning.

Maybe delegation is compatible with those promises. We’ll see. Here are two posts I’ve written with some help:

What do you think? Can there be an authentic way of blogging with other people’s help?

Contemplating co-op: How can I get to the point of being able to offer a good high school co-op placement?

J-’s been looking into the co-op program at her high school. In preparation, I’ve been planning tasks that she can work on during weekends so that she can flesh out her resume and portfolio with useful skills. 

I think co-ops might be good for me to look into it too. J- can’t work for me because of rules against working directly for family members, but maybe I can give someone like her an opportunity to develop skills.

A high school co-op placement is about 4 months of afternoon work, or roughly 220 hours. It turns out that you can offer a co-op position even without an office environment. I would like to be able to give the right candidate a structured way to gain skills and apply them towards useful stuff. It’s generally unpaid, so it’s mostly low risk (although I like rewarding good work). Still, I want to make sure I have the kind of work that will attract good candidates, and I want them to be able to get a lot out of it.

What could wild success look like? Maybe I’d look for reflective self-directed learners who are interested in developing writing, tech, and design skills. I’d talk to students about their career goals and what skills they’d like to be able to demonstrate as part of their portfolio. I’d have a well-documented process library and a steady flow of tasks so that they always have something to work on. They would own a larger project, too. During the afternoons that they’re working, I’d be available in person or over Google Hangout / Skype so that they can ask quick questions. Every week, we’d discuss our progress and make a plan for what to do next.

We could work on open source or community contributions together, or I might go and look for client work so that students get the experience of working with other businesses.

I want them to feel great about the diversity of experiences they get to try, to work on things that have value, and to feel supported and guided (versus being left to their own devices, or being exploited for cheap labour, or feeling lost).

It would be an investment of time and attention on my part. I’m at about 1 hour management : 3.5 hours of delegation for my virtual team, and supervising a high school student will probably require even more attention and thought. What would I want to get out of it? I’d make more progress on projects I want to support. We’d flesh out more documents, tutorials and blog posts along the way, too. Anyway, if things shape up well and I get better at managing other people, it might be worth looking into.

Do you offer a high school co-op position (or did you have one)? What has your experience been like?

How much does it cost to start with virtual assistance?

If you’re not used to delegation, hiring a virtual assistant can be daunting. It’s a concept that’s hard to grasp. How can I outsource my tasks? What kind of assistant should I hire? Where can I set up my virtual workplace? And this big question: Does it cost a lot to get started?

2014-02-13 How much does it cost to start with virtual assistance

2014-02-13 How much does it cost to start with virtual assistance

1. It takes less money than you think.

Hiring a virtual assistant will cost you money, but it’s not as expensive as you think.

How can hiring another living, breathing, employee to do tasks that you could have done yourself be cheaper? Let’s look at an economic concept called comparative advantage.

Comparative advantage refers to any entity’s ability to produce services or goods at a much lower cost. Imagine that you’re a blogger with several hours of interviews to transcribe. Yes, you may be a fast typist. Still, this task can eat up a lot of your precious time. You could spend that time writing or consulting instead. Hire an assistant. Even if he or she works slower than you, it can mean that you’ll be able to focus on tasks that have more value to you. Besides, with the right tools and a lot of experience, your assistant might even be faster.

You don’t have to make a full-time commitment or even a part-time commitment. You’ll find many freelancers open to one-off projects. For example, you can try data entry, editing, or basic bookkeeping. Take a look at Fiverr for ideas. For $5, you can get customized logo, proofreading for over 3,000 words of text, or a one-minute voiceover. I’ve used Fiverr to find people who can summarize my blog posts in tweets, type the text in my sketches,

If you want more supervision, you can hire your own assistant through a marketplace like oDesk. These sites have work trackers where you can check on your assistants’ progress. Whether you’re looking for the best skills or the best rates, you can work with people from all over the world. I outsource the most through oDesk. I like the management tools there, and I’m happy with the people I’ve found. There are many places to find freelancers, so look around.

2. It takes less training than you think.

You don’t have to spend hours on training. Most of the people that you’ll find on Fiverr or oDesk are already experienced freelancers. Just think about it – would they succeed selling their services if they weren’t?

Start with something simple, such as transcription and data entry. These kinds of tasks are pretty straightforward and simple enough to do with minimal instruction. Make sure that your instructions are clear and easy to follow. You don’t have to write detailed training manuals, either. You might start by demonstrating a task, and then have your assistant document the process along the way.

2014-02-02 A path for learning to delegate or outsource

2014-02-02 A path for learning to delegate or outsource

2014-02-10 Delegation as programming

2014-02-10 Delegation as programming – also mentioned at What the LEGO Movie and programming are helping me learn about delegation

If you want to get a head start, check out my process library and my delegation board for examples. I’d love to hear what you do with this!

3. It takes less risk than you think.

Trust takes time to develop. I can understand why you might hesitate at the idea of hiring an unseen assistant (a complete stranger!) to do work for you. No matter how small the task may be, it’s still your money and your time at stake here. Goodness knows I’ve had some interviewees and even virtual team members who gave me the heebie-jeebies. You can limit your risk by starting with tasks that don’t require a lot of access, and you can share more as you get to know your team.

2013-11-27 Trust and assistants

2013-11-27 Trust and assistants

Many job marketplaces have safety systems and guarantees. For example, on Fiverr, you can dispute orders or get a credit refund if it doesn’t work out. One time, I paid for a Fiverr gig for transcription, and then the provider stopped communicating. Since the transcript was very late, Fiverr reminded me that I could cancel the order, and I did. oDesk gives you tools to resolve issues too. I hired a web developer and it turned out that he didn’t have the skills I needed. Because he was one of the contractors covered by the new oDesk guarantee, it was easy to get a refund.

Delegation is something you learn through constant practice. Like anything else, you’re going to make mistakes along the way. Protect yourself from big mistakes and learn from small ones. It’s all part of the learning process. Start small. Let your virtual assistants work with small tasks first before trying bigger ones.

If worrying about the cost was getting in your way, I hope this helps you get started!

I wrote this post with a little help from Marie Alexis Miravite, who spent maybe 2 hours on this. (See the task in Trello.) I spent half an hour editing it and adding more stories, sketches, and links. =) What do you think?

Delegation update

Since February 17, 2012 (the beginning of my experiment with self-directed work):

  • 1,976 hours spent earning by working on other people’s stuff – time I want to buy back
  • 300 hours delegated through oDesk
  • $50 spent delegating outside oDesk (so let’s say that’s ~4 hours)
  • 87 hours managing delegation (started tracking in October) – includes interviewing, documenting processes, giving feedback

I was at a 1 hour managed : 4 hours worked ratio when I started, but I’ve been spending a lot more time documenting processes and training people. It’s now at about 1:3.5. I think it will be worth it later on.

One of the questions I ask in order to push myself to delegate more is:

If I had spent the last two years focused on making my own things happen instead of working on interesting client projects part-time, what should I have accomplished already?

Similarly: What outcomes do I want to work on? If I work on other things, how can I fill in the gaps? For example, a visual guide to Emacs is eminently doable in two years of focused work. Ditto a more organized blog posts, lots of packaged PDFs and e-books, maybe even a paper book or two – and there are projects beyond those, and even more beyond those. I can’t do much to affect my lifespan, but I can learn how to make up for those hours.

Things I’m learning

I like this system of adding lots of tasks to my Trello board and leaving it up to my assistants to choose the tasks and workload they want. That way, I don’t have to feel guilty about underloading or overloading people, and they can choose things they’re interested in. I’m experimenting with different ways to share resources, too – Dropbox, Google Drive, Trello attachments…

I’m building up a respectable process library. There are, of course, small bugs in the instructions I write (sigh!), but every run makes things better. Feel free to build on what I’ve shared.

This week, I trusted someone with my Google account, and the world did not end. This is promising.

Things to improve

I want to make sure there are plenty of tasks in the pipeline so that people can build up their skills and fill up their workload. It’s a little challenging because I have to think and plan. The more types of tasks I identify and document, the easier it is to recognize delegation opportunities.

This probably means I need to make sure my assistants know how to read the due dates and filter Trello for tasks they’re interested in (task assigned!). Maybe at some point I’ll consider moving to something more structured. I remember liking Redmine. Hmm, it might be interesting to get stats on the kinds of tasks that end up languishing in the list and why. If I get this working smoothly, I should have just enough backlog to accommodate bursts of work, so I shouldn’t have a really long list. Hmm…

I want to fill in more process gaps so that things move towards completion. I don’t want to be the bottleneck. There’s little point in delegating a task if I’m going to sit on the results. I want to prioritize tasks whose deliverables don’t require a lot of extra work from me. It may mean writing tasks so that their outcomes can be published and shared easily (working out loud), and keeping track of what additional work can be done to push it forward. I really like the way that the podcast process has gotten condensed to just “Post show notes,” although transcripts are still a separate step at the moment. I’d like to get to that level of abstraction with other processes, while still being able to break it down into lower levels of abstraction in case I’m training an assistant with less experience.

On a related note, I want to show the big pictures for skill building. I want my assistants to be able to confidently justify higher rates for me and other employers. Oh! Maybe I can draw those process maps and find out where my assistants are in terms of skills. They can tell me what they’re interested in, and we can map out sequences of tasks to help them grow. This helps me grow, too.

2014-02-27 Thinking of tasks I can assign to J- to help her build her skills #delegation

2014-02-27 Thinking of tasks I can assign to J- to help her build her skills #delegation

2014-02-26 Thinking about delegation and projects #delegation

2014-02-26 Thinking about delegation and projects #delegation


So, what’s next for me?

  • Slant my tasks towards publishing. Share intermediate results, keep track of the next steps and the big goals.
  • Show the big picture in terms of processes and skills. Fill in the gaps.

Getting the hang of this!

Reflections on infopreneurship

There’s a lot of information on how you can build an online business by selling what you know. Many people are looking for that dream. It feels a little weird to me, and I want to figure out why. I guess one of the things that rubs me the wrong way is that a lot of people talk about becoming an expert in some crowded topic, and building an audience somehow. I don’t want an audience. I don’t want students. I want peers and confederates: people who learn, act, reflect, and share.

2014-02-14 Reflections on infopreneurship and alternatives

2014-02-14 Reflections on infopreneurship and alternatives

Another thing that makes me uncomfortable is that there seems to be very little expectation of action. There’s a lot of talk about it. But when I go and follow up with people on the results of the advice I applied from them, they’re boggled that I actually did something. One person I talked to said that 80% of the people he talked to don’t end up doing anything. 20% is still a good number, but still…  Steve Salerno wrote in Sham: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless that the people who buy new self-help books tend to be people who bought a similar self-help book in the past 18 months. I don’t want to give people something that just makes them feel like they’ve made progress instead of helping them actually do things.

I think part of my hesitation comes from this: People get stuck for lots of different reasons, but it’s rarely for lack of reading. I don’t want to pitch information as the magic pill, the silver bullet, the shortcut to making things happen.

When I read, I skip platitudes but dig into reflections and lessons learned. I like processes and workflows. I want what I share to be similarly useful. The stuff that helps me get unstuck tends to result in thoughts like this:

  • “Oh! That’s the name of what I’m looking for. Now I can dig into the details.”
  • “Hmm, what I’m dealing with turns out to be fairly common. I can try what other people have done.”
  • “Oh, I see, I was missing that particular piece. Let me try this now.”
  • “Interesting question! Let me explore that…”
  • “Okay, that’s less intimidating than I thought. I should just go for it.”
  • “I had no idea you could do that! Oooh…”

What can I write or draw to help people get those moments? How do I help people get unstuck – or better yet, how can I help them accelerate or expand their learning? And since I can code and tinker and dream… What can I make? Ideas are one thing, but tools are another. I’ll keep an eye out for places where people are consistently getting stuck, and I’ll see which ones lend themselves to automation.

2014-02-14 Building systems to help people do things

2014-02-14 Building systems to help people do things

As I explore packaging and publishing more, I want to focus on stuff that people can’t find in a gazillion other blogs and e-books out there. Keep me honest. =) I like making things free/pay-what-you-want, since it helps me act from abundance, widen the conversation, and make room for people’s generosity. I’ll also share the processes and tools I’m building for myself. If you find them interesting, tell me, and maybe we can find ways to tweak and expand them to accommodate your idiosyncrasies as well as mine. I like the conversations that grow out of this, too.

Some of my technical role models have published books (both self-published and traditional). I can see how that saves a lot of people time and helps people learn. They work on open source projects and commercial systems too. I think that’s the sort of information work I want: stuff that helps people do things.

Hmm… Aha! Maybe that’s it. If I focus on helping fellow geeks solve problems or try interesting things (mostly tech, some lifestyle?), then I don’t have to worry as much about wasting people’s attention. We’re used to trying things out and testing them against our own experience, and we’re used to telling people “Hey, that didn’t quite work for me” or “That saved me a few hours of figuring things out! Here’s something to make it even better.” =)

2014-02-24 Aha, a plan for the things I want to write #experiment

2014-02-24 Aha, a plan for the things I want to write #experiment

(No offense to life coaches, motivational speakers, and self-help authors. Hey, if it works for you, great. =) I don’t have the experience to give good, well-tested advice in that area yet.)

Technical guides, I think. My long-postponed book about Emacs. Short guides about Org Mode or automation or Evernote or information management. There’s a lot to write. These aren’t books people read for inspiration and the vague desire to do something someday; they address what people want to improve now. (Well, maybe Emacs is a little on the inspirational side. ;) )

It’s easy for me to connect with people who are already travelling similar paths. I can share my notes. I can reach out and ask questions. What about helping people who are just starting down those paths? Maybe that’s where packaging what I know can be useful, especially if I can help people accelerate their learning and diverge to follow their own questions. My selfish desire is to learn from other people’s perspectives. I don’t want to make people dependent on me, the way that people seem to become fans of one motivational speaker or another. I want people to learn from what I’ve learned, but I also want them to translate it to their contexts, test it against their lives, and add their own insights. I’m happy to spend extra time helping beginners who do stuff, think about it, and then go on to ask different questions.

2014-02-09 How do I want to manage my learn-share pipeline

2014-02-09 How do I want to manage my learn-share pipeline

So, what would the processes look like if I figured this out? I’d have a good balance of thinking, learning, doing, and sharing. I’d be able to work top-down from outlines, anticipating the questions people might have. I could work bottom-up from questions and blog posts, too. I might not notice that I have enough to publish, so I could establish triggers to check whether enough has accumulated that it needs to be chunked at a higher level of abstraction: Q&A or sketches into blog posts, blog posts into series, series into short books, short books into longer ones. I’d harvest all the generally useful Q&A from e-mail and conversations to make sure they’re captured in the pipeline somewhere, even if it’s an item in my Someday list.

Onward!