Imagining Wild Success: 2017

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So where do I want to be on February 19, 2017, the 5th anniversary of starting my own business? What do I want to be able to say? What do I want to have done? Let me fast-forward to my future 34-year-old self and think about what that blog post might look like.

Here we are, five years after we started. I’ve learned a ton in the last five years. It turned out that making things happen isn’t anywhere nearly as scary as I thought it might be. I’m looking forward to bringing even more awesome ideas to life.

I’ve been so lucky to start with something that people immediately wanted and needed. Through consulting, I was able to help people take their businesses to the next level. I worked with amazing people who not only helped me take advantage of my skills and experiences, but also helped me develop new skills. We successfully transitioned all of my responsibilities, and they’ve turned that work into wild successes of their own.

Consulting allowed me to self-fund further experiments. I shared opportunities with other people, working with virtual assistants and other team members in order to get even more out of each day. In the course of training them to take over many of my processes, we built an operations manual that makes it even easier to bring new people on board. Many entrepreneurs’ growth is limited by their ability to trust and delegate, and by the network of people they have. Although I’ve also had my share of rough relationships, I’ve had the pleasure of building an amazing team with skills and passions that complement my own, and I reached out to an even wider network of people I can help and who can help me. Many of the people I’ve worked with have grown their own businesses into something they love doing.

Although I was tempted to continue consulting because it was familiar and comfortable, I eventually pushed myself to try other business models. I learned how to validate business ideas by talking to people and prototyping concepts, instead of simply building something and hoping people will come. It was also tempting to continue with the first new business as a job, but I pushed myself to grow out of it, bringing other people in so that they could make the most of those opportunities when I learned even more about creating businesses.

I learned so much along the way, and I’m glad I’ve been able to put them together in different books – at least one for every year of my experiment. I’ve shared what I learned about networking, productivity, delegation and automation, visual communication, entrepreneurship, business, and making things happen. Taking notes along the way really helped, and so did pushing myself to have interesting and novel experiences. I’m glad that so many people have found the books useful, and I’m sure my parents get a kick out of seeing me in print.

I’m now much more comfortable with reaching out to people and inviting them for lunch or coffee. I always learn lots of things in the conversations, and following up has become its own pleasure. I even host events so that I can bring people together.

In terms of paperwork, my attention to detail and comfort with numbers really paid off. The accountant helped me keep all of my books in order, and the CRA auditor found it easy to verify my records.

In my personal life, I continue to be the luckiest person in the world. W- is fantastic, and home life has somehow managed to keep getting better and better. We’ve got a solid financial foundation, and are excited about the possibilities.

What do the next five years hold for us? I’m not sure yet, but I’m sure it will be a good adventure.

My future 34-year-old self on Feb 19, 2017

Business: Social business consulting

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Pricing: Time and materials
Positioning: Premium

This is the business I started right at the beginning of my experiment because clients immediately wanted to engage me. As of 2012, it’s still difficult to find people with deep experience in enterprise collaboration systems.

Among other things, I:

  • Prototype communities to make it easier for people to adopt the collaboration platform because they know what to do and the communities are well-structured
  • Develop HTML, CSS, and Javascript for the site theme
  • Develop various graphical elements such as standard buttons, and teach community managers on how to use them
  • Provide training and build documentation
  • Plan, script, narrate, animate, and produce short teaser videos
  • Support community owners and users by answering questions, sharing resources, and investigating issues
  • Coordinate with the enterprise vendor
  • Develop tools to help people get custom reports and save time doing administrative tasks
  • Prepare presentations, spreadsheets, and documents
  • Migrate websites from Sharepoint and the intranet to the collaboration platform
  • Develop resources for community managers and users
  • Troubleshoot

 

Imagining wild success: Delegation

Posted by & filed under Plans.

Imagine that I have fulltime amazing assistants. What am I doing with those capabilities?

Two days a week, I’m focused on talking to people. I’m booked efficiently; tea, lunch, tea, second tea. Some of these meetings involve walks instead of food. The meetings cluster in various locations in order to minimize travel time. I might have one day for face-to-face meetings and one day for virtual meetings.

After each meeting, I have at least half an hour to define next actions and get the ball rolling. It’s easy to prioritize based on time and importance. We get the first actions out right away, impressing people, and then we follow up with depth. My assistant fills in the time with other tasks from the next actions list. I have at least 20 hours of work for people, so it’s easy for them to focus.

Types of things I delegate:

  • Scheduling – I forward them emails and get back neatly formatted calendar entries
  • Email response handling – they read my mail, prioritize, send me action items, and work on tasks.
  • Web research – I send them questions and get back summaries of the top ten resources I should read. I suggest search queries, and they add their own.
  • Illustration – I have backup illustrators who can sketchnote things that I can’t get to, or who can share different styles and metaphors.
  • Development – When I have an idea about Rails or WordPress, I can work with someone to make it happen.
  • Web design – themes, tweaks, beautifully HTMLized pages…
  • Copywriting and copyediting – I send things over and get polished, engaging content
  • Calls – Assistants can take care of calling businesses when they’re open and following up if needed, such as when setting appointments or making reservations.
  • Layout – I share a Dropbox folder with a bunch of graphics or documents. The assistant lays things out so that they’re well-balanced in terms of whitespace and size.
  • Transcription – I save webinars and interviews (or set people up to record) into a Dropbox shared folder, and I send an email. I get a well-formatted blog post or document with the cleaned-up transcript.
  • Outlining and writing – someone helps me brainstorm blog post topics and outlines, fleshing them out with research, and organizing the topics into books
  • Video – editing, synchronizing sound, adding transitions, etc.

I have this lovely web-based process manual and a visual overview of tasks. I also have recurring tasks for projects and initiatives I care about. Things just work smoothly. I get confirmations, so I know things are being worked on. If people are busy, I can send the task to someone else.

I regularly appreciate the work that people do. I know what their career goals are, and I shape the tasks to fit them. I’m always collecting people for my pipeline. Hiring is not stressful – I have good onboarding and offboarding processes. I hire shortly before I really need to, so that I can ramp up people.

Process: Using Trello to track tasks

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I’ll be sending you a lot of tasks by email, and it can be a challenge to keep track of what you need to work on and what the priorities and due dates are. It’s important to me that we have a clear picture of what you’re working on, what you’re waiting for, and what you’ve done so that I can pick things up again if needed.

Trello is a web-based system for tracking tasks and other information. When I add you to the team, I’ll create a delegation board for you and invite you to it. I’ll also add a task to help you learn. Please accept the invitation and review the Trello board.

Here’s how we’re going to use it:

  • You’ll receive many of your tasks through email because that’s the easiest for me to work with when I’m in the subway or processing my mail. When you get a task, add a card with the information and the due date. You can prioritize this according to its due date unless I indicate another priority.
  • Sometimes, I’ll create the task in Trello so that I can indicate priority and due date. I will email or message you to notify you.
  • If you are waiting for something (clarification from me, response from someone), move the card to the “Waiting For” list and add a comment. Periodically review the items here and follow up as needed.
  • If you’re done, move the appropriate card to the Done list. If there is no card for the task, add one anyway, so that it’s easy to see all the great work you’ve done.
  • I’ll archive the done tasks after I review them.
I’ll work on building a habit of reviewing Trello regularly. If we can talk for 5-10 minutes each day to sync up, that would be great.

Process: Summarize tweetchat

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Problem: Tweetchats are a way to connect with lots of people and discuss interesting things, but they’re chaotic and hard to follow, especially after the event. In addition, it’s hard to go back and review a tweetchat because Twitter hides older search results.
Goals:
  • Share a more organized summary by compiling questions and answers into a document.
  • Make it easy to review insights that were shared.
  • Possibly identify contributors and influencers for future conversations.
  • Support bloggers who want to post a recap.
Time: ~1h for a 1-hour Tweetchat
This is a manual process involving rapidly categorizing tweets after the event and then sorting them into summaries. For real-time curation, see Storify.

SETUP: Install Tweet Archivist.

SAMPLE OUTPUT: https://t.co/Us88hlO5

PROCESS

  1. In Tweet Archivist, search for the tweetchat hashtag.
  2. Click on Export to Excel.Save the text file to your computer.
  3. In Microsoft Excel or another spreadsheet program, open the text file. (Tab-delimited.)
  4. Sort the tweets by date and delete any tweets before the start date.
  5. Move the username column to the left of the tweet text.
  6. Sort the tweets by title.
  7. Above the first category of question (ex: A1), insert a row and merge those cells. Do that for each category.
  8. Copy the questions (ex: Q1) into the merged cells.
  9. Copy the Q1, A1, … tweets into Microsoft Word.
  10. Click on Table Design and unchec Header Row. Choose the light blue striped table.
  11. Select each question (Q1, etc) and give them the Heading 1 style.
  12. Add a header and footer (see sample).
  13. Upload to Scribd and tweet the link.

Process: Follow up after ENT101 sketchnotes

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After I post the Entrepreneurship 101 sketchnotes at http://sachachua.com/blog/tag/ent101:
  1. Pin it to my “My sketchnotes” pinboard.
  2. E-mail the short link to the people in the group ENT101 Sketchnotes.
  3. Add it to my ENT101 sketchnotes presentation and reupload the PDF.
  4. Post a LinkedIn status update with a link to the sketchnotes.
  5. Use FutureTweet to schedule a series of tweets.
    • Tomorrow at 10am: “Sketchnotes from last night’s #ent101 session on <topic>: <shorturl>”
    • Next Wednesday at 4pm: “Missed last week’s #ent101 lecture on <topic>? Catch up with these sketchnotes: <shorturl>”
  6. Check http://www.marsdd.com/tag/ent101/ for the recap from the previous week. Find the relevant blog post, embed the video, and link to the recap.

Process: Set up freephoneline.ca

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Purpose:Be able to contact Sacha on her cellphone in case Skype or data is unreliable

Prerequisites:Java >= 1.6, logged in with LastPass; Sacha has shared freephoneline.ca password with you through LastPass.

Instructions

  1. Go to freephoneline.ca and click on Account Login.
  2. Log in with the provided credentials.
  3. Click on Settings.
  4. Click on Downloads.
  5. Download and install the version appropriate to your system.
  6. Use LastPass to view your LastPass Vault and edit the freephoneline.ca account. Click on Show password.
  7. Log into the Freephoneline application with the e-mail address and password provided.
  8. Test by calling Sacha on her cellphone. (Please call when she’s likely to be awake!)

Process: Provisioning a new account

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Prerequisites: Name, preferred e-mail address

  1. Log on to mail.sachachua.comwith the master account credentials.
  2. Click on the gear icon > Manage.
  3. Log in again if needed.
  4. Click on Organization & users.
  5. Click on Create a new user and fill in the form.

After setting up the person, delegate calendar access (if appropriate) and send an e-mail of the form:

Hello, ____!

You can set this up to forward to your main account, or you can keep the mails there and check it every day or so. If you use a desktop mail client or have a smartphone, it’s probably a good idea to set up the account there as well so that you can get notifications instead of checking it regularly. E-mail me if you need more help.Thanks!

You’ll also want to create accounts for Evernote and LastPass so that I can share notes and passwords with you as needed. Free accounts for both are fine. Tell me which e-mail address you use for both so that I can make sure to share appropriately. The desktop client and browser extension for Evernote is useful for organizing/browsing/searching notes and clipping webpages, and the browser extensions for LastPass are good too.

If you have any questions about any tasks, feel free to Skype me at sachachua, call or text me on my cellphone at +1 416 823 2669, or e-mail me. I’ll pass along whatever tasks I can think of, and we’ll see which ones work out well in terms of your skills and interests. Don’t be afraid to nudge me in case I forget or I’m not making the most of your skills! If you can’t work on something that day, I’d appreciate getting quick e-mails back to confirm that you’ve received something and when you think you’ll be able to work on it; that will allow me to take the task back if I need it done before then.

Some other tools that you might find useful to try out or explore in the future (see below):

  • Boomerang for Gmail
  • ScheduleOnce for scheduling meetings
  • AutoHotkey for automating repetitive tasks (Windows; there are probably equivalents on other OSes)

I’m a firm believer in giving people time to grow their skills or delight me with their initiative. If you think it’s worthwhile to learn something new in the process of doing a task (or even in general when it comes to things you think might help me with my goals), you have my permission to invest 20% of your time (ex: 1-2 hours/week if you work 10 hours a week) in learning provided you write about what you learn (doesn’t have to be really long, just tell what you’ve been up to). Feel free to take that time and brainstorm ways you can help me, or take the initiative in tasks you think may be useful for me. Again, please write me (before or afterwards is fine) so that I can appreciate all the good things you’re working on! If you think more time will pay off well, talk to me and we’ll make something happen.

I also care about documenting processes. I’ll be sharing some processes and thoughts with you using Evernote, and we’ll probably come up with even more along the way as we try out delegation. Please update the notes based on how you do things, and flesh notes out if they’re unclear. Imagine this as a way to train your replacement and to also get things organized – checklists, step-by-step instructions, and tracking spreadsheets are good.

Ideally, you’ll spend 10-25% of your working time on this project improving processes and sharing what you learn along the way. If something takes you an hour to do, it’s okay to spend fifteen minutes researching/writing about how you did it and/or how to do it better. Planning ahead works, too – it often helps to spend some time thinking about a good way to do something or making sure you understand what needs to be done so that you can work more effectively.

I’m learning about delegation at the same time you are, so don’t hesitate to help me learn the best ways of working with you, and ask if things are unclear. If things could be even better, say so! =)

My goals for delegation are:

  • Make sure I don’t drop the ball on important things – success: stuff gets taken care of, and I don’t have to worry so much about it!
  • Do more than I can do on my own – success: taking advantage of other people’s skills and interests!
  • Build a process manual that documents how to do things – success: lots of processes and exception-handling!
  • Learn how to give good instructions – success: clear instructions that I can also help people learn how to use
  • Learn how to build a good team – success: people and processes I can rely on!

Looking forward to seeing how this works out!

Process: Scheduling an in-person meeting

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QUICK REFERENCE:

  • Location: Yelp: 3.5 or more stars, $-$$, noise level: average or quiet, accepts credit cards, wifi: free (if possible), accepts reservations if possible. (Make reservations under “Sacha Chua”)
  • Please create “Travel” appointments 1h before and 2h after lunches and 1h before / 1h after coffee.
  • Make sure calendar entries have location and backup contact info.
  • Cc: me on all correspondence. If you need action/input from me, add Sacha: <message> near the top of the e-mail.
DETAILS

Scheduling stresses me out. I’ve had several calendar hiccups before: wrong dates, ambiguous locations, no contact information (or incorrect ones!), and so on. I want to fix that so that I can get better at meeting people and following up.

What would success look like? I think it would be awesome to get to the point where I can easily set lunches, coffees, and calls with people. This is how that process might look like:

  1. I bump into people in person or get an email from them. If I meet them in person, I scan in or take a picture of their business card and add it to my file.
  2. I introduce my assistant through e-mail and ask him/her to schedule lunch/coffee/a call. I use an e-mail template on my computer or a snippet on my phone to make sure that I include all the information necessary. My assistant also refers to a note with my preferences and processes.
  3. My assistant contacts the person and negotiates schedule / location usinghttp://scheduleonce.com or manual scheduling through e-mail, following up in case people don’t respond. If possible, we’ll suggest a venue with good WiFi near the person’s office or location. He or she would create a calendar entry for the meeting as well as travel/preparation time around it.
  4. We have a task board where I could see where people are in the process, so I can be sure that nothing slips through the cracks. My assistant updates it, and we review it periodically.

It’s important to me that the process doesn’t make people feel like I’m standoffish or self-important. I also want to make sure that we don’t drop the ball even if I change assistants or take tasks back, so I want to use something like Trello to track scheduling status.

PROCESS

STEP 1. Find a time that works for people.

In Toronto? Offer lunch or coffee/tea, my treat. I prefer 60 minutes for lunch or coffee/tea, and 30 minutes for a phone call. I’ll take 30 minutes for coffee/tea if needed.
Days: I prefer to meet on Monday or Friday, usually afternoons. I have consulting from Tue-Thu in January/February and I prefer to not have any interruptions then. I  can take appointments from Mon-Fri after February. Ask me before offering mornings or anything that conflicts with something else on my calendar.
Buffer time: Around lunch appointments, I prefer to have at least 1 hour free before lunch and 2 hours free after (-1h/+2h). For coffee, I prefer to have 1 hour free before and 1 hour free after (-1h/+1h). Please create “Travel” appointments blocking off the time once the time is confirmed.
Suggest three times on different dates. In the same email, ask them to check http://meetme.so/sachac for other times if the times don’t work. If meeting them in person, ask them where they’ll be on that day.

Check my address book to see if I have a cellphone number for them. If not, ask them for a cellphone number I can reach them at just in case something comes up, and add that to their address book entry. You can use http://connectedhq.com to update contacts in my address book.

Negotiate time if needed. If they respond by email, check that the times still work with my schedule, create calendar entries, and invite them.

STEP 2: SUGGEST A LOCATION

If they suggest a place, go with their suggestion.

If they don’t suggest a specific place, just a neighbourhood or intersection, use yelp.ca and suggest something (or see my preferences below). Criteria for Yelp: 3.5 or more stars, $-$$, noise level: average or quiet, accepts credit cards, wifi: free (if possible), accepts reservations if possible. If the place accepts reservations, please use freephoneline.ca to reserve – pick a different place if you can’t get a reservation on that date.

If they don’t suggest a location, or they want us to suggest:

Coffee:

  • Monday: Near High Park – Red Bean Espresso
  • Friday: Near High Park – Cafe Novo (7am-7pm)
  • Near Yonge and Bloor: Crema (53 Bloor Street East, 7am-8pm)
  • Downtown: Cafe Crêpe

Lunch:

  • Kensington Market or downtown: Pho Hung, Urban Herbivore
  • Downtown: Arepa Cafe

STEP 3: CREATE CALENDAR ENTRY, OR UPDATE IT IF SCHEDULEONCE HAS CREATED ONE (I’ll forward you the e-mails)

Add to Google Calendar: Sacha / Main
Title: Person’s name – Sacha Chua: Discuss <topic>
Location: Name of restaurant, address
Attendees: invite them
Description:
Sacha Chua’s cellphone: 416-823-2669
Link to Yelp page for restaurant
<agenda or body of email>

(Happy to reschedule or move – introduce me to your favourite place!)


If the place accepts reservations, please call and make them under the name “Sacha Chua”, and add a note to the calendar entry.

STEP 4. FOLLOW UP

Check the calendar entry two business days before the event. Follow up with email confirming the date and time, asking them to edit the calendar entry or email me at [email protected] if they need to reschedule.

TEMPLATES

Sample e-mail introducing the assistant and asking her to set things up

Hello, John!

I’d love to meet with you for lunch to discuss sketchnoting – my treat. Criselda (cc’d here) will be helping us set up something that works with your schedule. Criselda: Could you please organize lunch for maybe the second week of December? Thank you!

Sacha Chua

Sample e-mail from assistant

Hello, John!

I’m Criselda, and I’m looking forward to helping you and Sacha get together for a great conversation about sketchnotes. For lunch, would either Dec 10 (Mon), Dec 11 (Tue), or Dec 13 (Thu) work for you? 12pm usually works, but she’s happy to meet earlier or later if needed. Alternatively, if none of those dates work for you, you can check her availability at http://meetme.so/sachac or send me a few dates and times that fit your schedule.

Also, where will you be at that time? If you’ll be near your office at 123 Anywhere Street, I can find a restaurant nearby. If you’ll be elsewhere, tell me and I’ll look for somewhere close – anywhere near the subway line would be fantastic. Got a favourite? We’d love to find out about it!

What phone number would be the best to reach you at in case something comes up?

Best regards,
Criselda Hernandez

Sample calendar entry

Subject: Lunch: John / Sacha – sketchnotes
Attendees: [email protected]
Location: Restaurant Name (123 Restaurant Address St., Toronto)
Sacha’s phone: 416-823-2669
Your phone: 123-456-7890
Restaurant website: http://www.example.com
On Yelp: http://www.example.com

To reschedule, please contact Criselda at ______ . Need to reschedule on the day of the event? Please call Sacha.

<agenda / notes from e-mail>

Sample confirmation

Hello, John!

This is Criselda again. I’ve set up the calendar invitation for your meeting with Sacha for 12pm on Dec 13 at Restaurant Name. Please tell me if you’re having problems adding it to your calendar. If you need to reschedule, please feel free to get in touch with me. You can check http://meetme.so/sachac for Sacha’s updated availability. If you’re rescheduling on the same day, please call Sacha at 416-823-2669. Thank you, and I hope you have a great conversation!

Criselda Hernandez