The real formula for marketing success

We read books that purport to uncover the techiques that will propel us to greatness. Some say how to get more followers on social media. Others say to quit social media entirely. Some advocate sending emails to influencers. Others say you should speak to an existing audience instead of trying to create your own.

But really, all of the so-called gurus want the same thing you do. They want success. They want a following. They want admiration. They want business.

There's nothing wrong with following the advice of marketing gurus. But in my experience, success in the marketplace comes down to one factor: Whether or not you add value to someone else's life.

Every single time I've found success in my career, it had little or nothing to do with my Twitter feed, drip marketing campaigns, or my email subscribers. These are all amazing tools when used properly. But at the end of the day, publishing clickbait articles with little substance or value is a waste of your time and the time of your fellow Internet citizens.

I think that instead of spending our time hacking human attention, we ought to be asking ourselves what we can do to truly help and engage others. It's the more difficult path, for sure. But I think it's the only one which ultimately results in lasting, fruitful business relationships.

Learning Elm

Elm is "a delightful language for reliable webapps."— or so its homepage says. Today, I'm going to dive in head-first to find out what all the fuss is about.

For those of you unacquainted, here are some of Elm's purported features, straight from its homepage:

  • Compiles to JavaScript: The language targets JavaScript specifically
  • No runtime exceptions: Instead of producing runtime exceptions, Elm uses type inference to detect problems during compilation.
  • Great performance: Like React, Elm uses a virtual DOM designed for simplicity and speed.

Sounds cool. Let's fire it up then, shall we?

Installing Elm

If you're on a Mac like I am, Elm has a Mac installer available here. The current stable version is 0.18. The '0' at the beginning doesn't give me much confidence in using Elm in production, but if Pivotal is doing it then maybe it's worth a try?

After completing, the installer tells us:

A bunch of useful programs were just placed in /usr/local/bin/

Installing the Vim plugin

Since I use Vim, I'm going to go ahead and install the elm.vim plugin:

  $ cd ~/.vim/bundle
  $ git clone

Easy enough.

Hello World

When learning a new language, there are two benchmarks of expertise: Hello World and Todo.

Elm appears to be no exception. Let's follow this Hello World tutorial on the site.

Create a project folder

First we create a new folder for our Hello World application. I called mine hello-elm:

  $ mkdir hello-elm

Install packages

It looks like first we need to install the package elm-lang/html. Why that's not installed by default I'm hopeful will be revealed later on...

  $ elm package install elm-lang/html
  Some new packages are needed. Here is the upgrade plan.

        elm-lang/core 5.1.1
        elm-lang/html 2.0.0
        elm-lang/virtual-dom 2.0.4

 Do you approve of this plan? [Y/n]

Ooh, do I approve? I feel like a boss. Yeah, I approve.

Starting downloads...

  ● elm-lang/virtual-dom 2.0.4
  ● elm-lang/html 2.0.0
  ● elm-lang/core 5.1.1

Packages configured successfully!

First impressions of package management: Elm is pretty freaking mature for a 0.18 release! Would be nice to see NPM/Yarn-style progress bars, but so far this feels solid.

The elm package install command seems to have created the following stuff in the directory:


Write some code

Okay, now we're going to create our first Elm module. Exciting. Here's mine:

module Hello exposing (..)

import Html exposing (text)

main =
    text "Hello"

I put that in Hello.elm. Right now it's not clear to me whether that should be in the elm-stuff directory or in the root directory. I put it in the root.

Now we run elm reactor:

  $ elm reactor

Interesting. So it looks like Elm has a sort of "dashboard" view of your files, packages, and dependencies. Clicking on our Hello.elm file takes us to our application, which at this point is just the text "Hello" in the top-left corner of the page.

Some thoughts about what I've seen so far:

  1. There's a module named Html. The fact that Elm treats the DOM as a first-class concept as opposed to relying on class-like abstractions as in standard JavaScript is a welcome change as we move toward functional UI paradigms.
  2. The compile time for a Hello World application seemed awfully long. I'm not sure if it was just a fluke on my machine, but it took 2-3 seconds before my app loaded. I could understand if we had a complex application, but this is Hello World...

Okay, let's keep going...

Rendering complex markup

So far, it looks like we can render text using the text function. I'm digging around in the documentation and found an examples page. I poked around a few of these until I found an example of rendering an unordered list.

It looks like Elm's composition syntax is Lisp-ish, but not Lisp:

import Html exposing (li, text, ul)
import Html.Attributes exposing (class)

main =
  ul [class "carbonated-beverages"]
    [ li [] [text "La Croix"]
    , li [] [text "Zevia"]
    , li [] [text "Pepsi"]

Some observations here:

  1. Because Elm is functional, even attributes need be imported. Whereas in ES6, we need only import a module in order to gain access to all its getters and setters, Elm requires explicitly importing things like class in order to use them.
  2. It is a welcome change to see a main function that returns a DOM tree. In React, there's a bunch of boilerplate to attach a component to the DOM. In Elm, all of that boilerplate is baked into the language.
  3. The slow compile time appears to have been a fluke. This new example compiled almost instantly.

A word about Elm's architecture

It looks like Elm has its own application architecture that it lovingly calls the ... Elm Architecture.

It consists of:

  • Model: the state of the application
  • Update: a way to update the state of the application
  • View: the resulting view of your state as HTML (or XML, or SVG)

From what I can tell, these roughly correspond to React/Redux concepts thusly:

  • Elm's Model layer is equivalent to Redux's store
  • Elm's Update layer is equivalent to Redux's actions
  • Elm's View layer is equivalent to React itself

These analogies are made even more convincing when you consider the fact every value in Elm is immutable, just like Redux when used with Immutable.js, and that the Elm Architecture makes use of the one-way data flow paradigm made famous by Facebook's Flux.

Responding to user input

Okay, so we've produced a Hello World example and then rendered some slightly more complex markup. That's fine, but how does Elm deal with user input? Let's try creating an example where clicking a button renders the text "Hello Elm" below the button.

According to Lucas Reis's blog, Elm supplies a function Html.App.program which automatically routes an application for the Elm Architecture:

Elm apps use a centralized state pattern, which I've written about in this blog. It's a simple "loop" described as such:

Model > View > Update > Model > View > ...

First you describe a model of your app. It is the skeleton, the data you need to render the application.

The view is then a function of the model. It takes the data and renders it.

After rendering, the application "waits" for user interaction or any other event. When that happens, it triggers the update function. The update function is a function that receives the old model and data of the event, and returns a new model. This model is then rendered, and the loop continues.

Evidently, there's a simpler version of this function supplied with Elm called beginnerProgram. I couldn't find a decent explanation anywhere for what this function does that the regular program doesn't (or vice versa). If you know, please leave a comment!

Here's the full text of the user input example I just created:

import Html exposing (Html, button, div, text, p)
import Html.Events exposing (onClick)

type alias Model =

model : Model
model = ""

type Msg = ShowGreeting

update : Msg -> Model -> Model
update msg model =
    case msg of
        ShowGreeting ->
            "Hello Elm"

view : Model -> Html Msg
view model =
    div [ ]
        [ button
            [ onClick ShowGreeting ]
            [ text "Click Me" ]
        , p [ ] [ text model ]

main =
        { model = model
        , view = view
        , update = update

Let's walk through this line by line together.

First, we import some HTML functions we'll use to render our markup and listen to the button for clicks:

import Html exposing (Html, button, div, text, p)
import Html.Events exposing (onClick)

Then we'll create a new type called Model which is an alias for a string:

type alias Model =

Next, we'll create an instance of the Model type called model and initialize it to an empty string literal:

model : Model
model = ""

Then, we'll set up our update function. This confused me at first, so maybe my explanation will help you if you come from the Redux universe.

The update function in Elm works essentially like reducers in Redux. It takes a message (an action in Redux-speak) and the model (the state in Redux-speak) and returns a newly mutated model.

Except Elm is much more suited to this paradigm for the following reasons:

  1. Elm's union types make the usage of symbolic enumerations like user actions checkable at compile time instead of relying on runtime checks.
  2. Because Elm data is always immutable, state reduction doesn't require clunky external libraries like Immutable.js.

So our update function takes a msg (in this case, only the value ShowGreeting), and returns a new model state based on whatever msg it received:

type Msg = ShowGreeting

update : Msg -> Model -> Model
update msg model =
    case msg of
        ShowGreeting ->
            "Hello Elm"

Okay, now that we've defined how our model will change in response to user actions, let's define the view. Again, Elm comes to the rescue by allowing us to pass the model directly into the view function. No complex binding a la Redux containers!

view : Model -> Html Msg
view model =
    div [ ]
        [ button
            [ onClick ShowGreeting ]
            [ text "Click Me" ]
        , p [ ] [ text model ]

Notice how we're passing model to the text function inside the p tag. When we boot the application, the model's value will be an empty string, but as soon as we click the button, we fire the ShowGreeting message and the model changes to the string "Hello Elm".

Finally, we glue everything together via the beginnerProgram function:

main =
        { model = model
        , view = view
        , update = update

My impressions

All in all, I was pretty impressed with Elm after playing with it for an hour or so. While it's clear the framework has a ways to go in terms of documentation and external library support, its philosophy removes a lot of the boilerplate that plagues modern JavaScript tooling. In addition, it takes concepts like immutability, functional programming, one-way data flow, and type safety which are must-haves in today's JavaScript development world, and makes them first-class members of the language.

Would I use Elm in a production project yet? I'm not sure if I'd subject my clients' businesses to that risk just yet. While it's impressive, the idea of relying on a small community for support on complex topics like JavaScript interoperability would make me a bit cautious. But I'll definitely consider Elm the next time I build a personal project.

How to befriend uncertainty

Yesterday I found out my biggest client will no longer need my services in a couple months.

The last 24 hours have been a bit of a whirlwind of emotions. Part of me is excited. Another part is scared. I have other sources of income and a savings. But I'm still unsure of what I'll be doing in three months' time.

The funny thing is, I've wanted to go off on my own for some time now. I've been frustrated with the monotony of working on one project for years at a time. But now that I'm faced with it, I'm scared and uncomfortable. Why is it that we're so comfortable being unhappy?

Most of us are constantly chasing certainty. We work jobs we may not enjoy so we're certain we'll have food to eat when we get home. We buy health insurance so we're certain we'll be cared for when we're ill. And we invest for the future so we're certain we won't be out in the cold during old age.

But what is certainty, really? You can't see it. You can't reach out and touch it. Maintaining certainty about tomorrow feels good today, but tomorrow it's gone, leaving us hoping for certainty the next day.

And in the face of complete certainty, we're miserable. We become bored. To know that each day will be the same as the last is the definition of a boring existence.

But there's another way. Instead of seeking certainty day to day, we can befriend uncertainty. We can invite it to sit in our corner with us and share its perspective. After all, just think of the things that wouldn't be possible if we had perfect certainty:


When we embark on an adventure—whether it's down the street to the cafe to write or to another country for a month of backpacking—the allure of doing it is that we don't know exactly what will happen. We might have a plan or itinerary, but our reason for adventuring is to see the unseen and to take a chance on something new.

Framing each uncertain moment as an adventure can help to ease the struggle of seeking certainty in an uncertain situation. And too, it can help grant meaning to ordinary everyday activities which may have seemed monotonous when framed as such.


In love, we're entering into the most profound uncertainty. We commit our hearts and minds and energy to one person. Expecting nothing in return and knowing it will end in heartbreak or death, we proceed to give ourselves to another person.

No one ever entered into a romantic relationship knowing how it would turn out.


I'm not sure there was ever once a passionate artist, businessperson, politician, or writer who knew for certain at the start of their endeavor that their efforts would be meaningful and worthwhile in the end.

The reason people do great things is because of this uncertainty—not in spite of it. We are drawn to the idea that we might achieve what others think to be impossible.

The vicious circle

In modern life we're caught in a vicious circle.

We work long hours at jobs we don't really like because we believe it will result in a better future. Our days are spent in pursuit of a tomorrow that will be oh-so-bright if we just keep our heads down and keep working for it. But then, when tomorrow finally comes, we're befuddled at how inadequate the present suddenly feels. And so we seek yet again for a brighter future, working more and more, until the day we die.

And most of the time, the bright future we're after isn't one where our basic needs are met so that we may pursue some higher artistic calling. No, our hypothetical future has shiny cars and gadgets and a big house and daycare and expensive cocktails and luxurious clothing. It's one where we don't have to deal with life's tedium and we can come and go as we please. It's a future where all our problems are solved and we can finally start living.

It's a future that will never come. It will never come because it cannot exist.

It cannot exist because even when all of life's tedium has been eradicated, more tedium emerges: the tedium of boredom.

Left with nothing to push up against, we create new problems. We continue the habit of looking outward for our gratification. And so, we suffer once more.

It's tempting, but futile to seek a hypothetical future with no problems. Because the nature of a life without problems is problematic itself.

Instead, we might strive to accept life's problems without judgment. To take each passing moment as a blessing, because this moment is the only thing we really have anyway.

The minimalist day planner

My Minimalist Day Planner

A few months ago, my partner introduced me to the Day Designer. I used their print-at-home version for a few days in an attempt to add some sanity to my busy days.

But I was finding they weren't quite what I was looking for. I wanted my day planner to help codify two habits into my day:

  • Gratitude journaling: The Five Minute Journal from Intelligent Change is all about enriching your day-to-day experience by prompting you to think of what you're grateful for each day. I really appreciated this idea, but wanted to integrate it into my daily planning routine so it would be more or less automatic. So I decided to ask myself each day three things I'm grateful for.

  • Pomodoro technique: I use the Pomodoro Technique religiously when I'm working. Not only does it improve my focus by encouraging me to stay on task for short bursts, but it also helps me frame my tasks into more tangible 25-minute blocks as opposed to the vague notion of minutes and hours. To help track my time, I added two tomato-shaped checkboxes for each hour of my day planner to track 2 25-minute pomodoros and 2 5-minute breaks.

My Minimalist Day Planner

Download the Minimalist Day Planner (PDF)

The freedom of less


For the past two years I've been devoted to the pursuit of less and fewer: Less debt. Less stuff. Fewer commitments. Less driving. Fewer expenses. Less social media. Less drinking.

And suddenly I'm finding myself with more: More money. More attention. More time. More meaning. More fitness. More freedom.

It hasn't been an easy journey, but it has been a simple one. There are just two principles that have driven me here:

  • Spend less than you earn.
  • Strive to be happy with what you have.


Rewind back to late 2014. I had just moved to Seattle with my girlfriend at the time and was living the yuppie dream. We had an apartment with a sweet view and we went out drinking a few nights each week. I didn't spend beyond my means, but I generally spent the money I earned each month. I'd buy new computer equipment, recording equipment, or clothes. And what I didn't spend went toward servicing my student loans. Our monthly rent was $2,275/mo, which was pretty standard for our neighborhood.

Then something hit me. I realized I'd been holding my student debt for almost a decade. There was haunting symbolism in that. Each month I made a $400 payment to Sallie Mae. It felt normal—as if that was the way things were and that I'd be paying the loans for another decade. My balance at the time was somewhere around $30,000. The amount was a far cry from the student loan horror stories you hear from graduates nowadays, but it still made me nauseous to think about paying them off.

I decided enough was enough. It was time to rid myself of debt once and for all. I tallied my monthly expenses. I began eliminating all non-essential spending. I told my friends I could only go out one night per week. I took on more client work to help pay down the balance. And before long I paid them down.


It's hard to describe the feeling of being free of the shackles of debt after having known it for so long. I felt like I could breathe again. I knew the money I earned was now mine to keep. I knew I was in control of my time for the first time since before college.

Or was I?


Despite my temporary hustle to pay down my debt, I realized my living expenses were out of control. My girlfriend at the time and I parted ways, and I was stuck servicing rent at our apartment. I did the math, and realized that if I suddenly lost my income I could only sustain my lifestyle for maybe two months.

For the remainder of my lease, I labored to reduce my expenses where I could. I dined out less. I found a new affinity for lentils. And I took on more client work so I could save and invest at least a little bit.

And then I met my current partner. She and I moved into an apartment in Green Lake, which is a much less expensive Seattle neighborhood than Capitol Hill. My rent dropped from $2,275/month to just $1,067, with my partner covering part of the $1,600/month total. That meant I just reduced my rent by 53% overnight. Woo-hoo!

But you get what you pay for. In Seattle, a 2-bedroom apartment for $1,600 is a steal. But it was right next to a busy street and it sounded like there was a highway in our living room. Our bedroom window faced an alleyway. We didn't have the luxury of laundry in our unit. And the appliances, while working, were outdated. The refrigerator smelled like rotting milk. The apartment had terrible ventilation problems.

All of this would have been tolerable if we had a compelling reason to stay in Seattle. If either of us had a lucrative or meaningful career that was reliant on our physical presence in Seattle, it would have been worth it to tolerate the cost. But I work from home. At the time, my partner was working a part-time retail job. What were we paying for, exactly?

We both love attending cultural events that a big city like Seattle hosts. But we're also both generally homebodies. I can't speak for my partner, but as I've gotten older I've found myself valuing a nice home. Not a big home or a flashy home or anything like that. I value a home that feels like home. A place that's comfortable. A sanctuary. And our place in Seattle was anything but that.

Then we took a trip to Eugene, Oregon. And it was right then I knew I'd found my new home. I just had to convince my partner it was the right move. After a few long discussions, we decided upon a cozy house in the hills. Rents in Eugene make me feel rich! Here's the cost breakdown for my last three apartments. Notice the precipitous drop in price per square foot:

Location Monthly Rent My Share $/sqft
Capitol Hill, Seattle $2,275 $2,275 $3.79
Green Lake, Seattle $1,600 $1,067 $1.60
Eugene $1,395 $930.00 $1.27

My partner and I cook almost every day and eat most of our meals in. We have a morning coffee and breakfast ritual. We own only one small car.

Because of all this, my mandatory monthly spend is only around $2,000. That covers rent, food, and utilities.

For every $2,000 I have in the bank, I can sustain myself comfortably for a month without working.


I'm not sure there was a specific moment when it happened, but it changed my relationship with work forever.

It was the moment when I realized the psychological power of capital. The power of money is hardly in the material things it can buy. No, the true power of money is in the way knowing you have it changes your behavior.

Because I know I'll be able to pay my bills for the foreseeable future without working, the way I treat my client work has changed dramatically.

No longer am I desperate to please clients in the short-term. I remember bending over backwards, compromising my values and my health in order to make sure I'd continue to get paid.

Now instead of engaging with clients purely to get paid, I do it to serve them and their interests. Conveniently, money tends to be a byproduct of this service.

The beauty in having capital is that you're free to walk away from toxic client relationships. And you're in a position to vet new relationships with more scrutiny before it's too late and you've made promises you cannot keep.

The irony too, is that by maintaining a low-expense lifestyle I'm able to charge more for my services because I know I don't need the work. This doesn't mean I don't respect my clients' needs and constraints. In fact, minimalism has led me to respect them more because when I work with clients, I treat them like people instead of paychecks.

My desire to make it in my career has subsided as a result. If you're ambitious you probably know what I mean by wanting to make it. It's that sense that if only you had a few more markers of success, you'd finally be happy. You know what? I've acquired a few of those markers over the past decade and none of them made me happy. I've had luxury apartments and fancy dinners and $15 cocktails. I've been lured by big salaries and bonuses. None of it made me happy. Truth is, most of the things that make me happy don't require money. So why do we keep chasing more of it?


So what do I live for now?

I live for meaning. For cups of coffee with my partner in the morning. For quiet bicycle rides. For losing myself in complex programming problems. For being a disciplined learner. For the pursuit of art. For excellence.

I live to be curious. To be valuable. To serve others. To contribute. To live each day like it's my last, but knowing what that means for me.

I live to be free. To recognize that money is important not because of the stuff it can buy but because of the freedom it can buy. The freedom to breathe. The freedom to spend an afternoon writing an article for my blog instead of working to pay off a BMW.

To me, happiness is knowing if I died tomorrow I'd die with dignity. I'd die knowing that up until this moment I spent my days in accordance with my values.

A luxurious lifestyle would be nice, but it's not necessary for a life well lived.

Feng shui for programmers

My office, in command position

I'm fascinated by the subtle changes that make a big difference. The optimizations that only take a bit of time and thought, but which fundamentally improve our lives. This weekend I stumbled upon one such change by accident.

I'd heard of feng shui through popular culture, but never really took the time to understand its principles. All I really knew is that it was "bad feng shui" to have your bed against the same wall as your bedroom door. And while the boldest claims feng shui practitioners make should be regarded as pseudoscience, it's still worth examining whether there are parts of the practice that can be appropriated in order to live a better life.

A YouTube search for "feng shui office" turned up tons of self-proclaimed feng shui consultants recommending placing your desk in the command position. For the layman, this just means that instead of putting your desk against the far wall with your back to the door, turn your workstation around so you face the door with your back against the wall:

Command Position

The theory behind this is that the wall behind you provides you some sort of energetic support and that by facing your door, you're open to new business entering your life. If that sounds woo-wooey, you're not alone. But being a bit of an interior design enthusiast, I couldn't help but spend an hour rearranging my office to see how it felt to face the other way.

When I did, I was struck. I feel more open and in control sitting at my new workstation---and yes, I'm aware how new-agey that sounds. There's just really no other way to describe it.

I do wonder though: Is part of why I feel better with my desk facing into the room that my periphery is more expansive? Rather than looking out onto a wall directly in front of me, I'm now looking at the entire room. I wonder if there's some biological response of which I'm unaware.

If you have the luxury of having a dedicated office and your desk currently faces the wall, give the "command position" a try. I'm curious whether you feel the same empowerment I do.

Things you might notice if we work together

I won't respond to emails immediately

But I will respond to them within 48 hours, and when I do I'll make sure I give them the time they deserve. I learned years ago that living inside my email inbox is a surefire way to fragment my attention throughout the day.

What this means for you is that I'll focus my full attention on your product. I'll enter a state of flow and have insights about your product I wouldn't have had if I were constantly checking and responding to my email.

I try to check my email twice per day: Once before lunch, and once before I leave the office.

I won't be available in Slack all day

Even though I built a SaaS product that loves Slack, I've found that it tends to interrupt and fragment my work.

I love Slack for what it is: A clever tool for communicating with your team about the on-goings of the day. But I've noticed that when Slack is open and active as I work, my attention gets split between the work of attending to inbound chat messages and the work of designing and programming.

That's why I usually only keep Slack open for an hour each day, and try to remain engaged with chat for that period of time. It reduces the number of times I have to switch contexts over the course of the day, which ultimately turns into cost savings for my clients and a happier mind for me.

We won't have tons of meetings

If we work together, I want to ensure you feel confident I understand your business and how software can help you.

But once I do, it's critical to your project that I get to spend long blocks of uninterrupted time deep in thought (and code) building your new product.

Some meetings are productive. If we call a meeting to define next week's block of work, and afterwards we've defined the work, then hooray! What a productive meeting.

But if we call a meeting to "discuss the status of the project," what have we accomplished that couldn't be done in a couple emails? When it comes to meetings, clear outcomes are key. If I'm not billing you for lots of meetings, that'll leave time for building your awesome product.

You'll get the best service and quality

And of course: Because my mind is freed to go off and imagine the best solutions for your project, you'll get a better product. I guarantee it.

How to position yourself to bill clients weekly instead of hourly

One of my friends asked a great question about weekly billing as a freelancer:

How do you position weekly billing with an organization that has strict accounting procedures?

In case you're unfamiliar with the benefits of weekly billing, read my previous article, Why I stopped billing hourly and you should too.

What are some strategies we can employ to help our prospective clients view a weekly billing cycle in a more positive light?

Productize your services

When a company's accounting department or project manager hears the new freelancer wants to bill a weekly rate, they'll rightly have a fit if their clients are used to receiving a bill for a rate in hours. After all, how will they bill their clients within the context of a contract that states all labor will be paid hourly?

But if instead, you position yourself as a vendor offering a product, the story changes. Now you're not a freelancer, but a vendor. Not only are you more in control of your pricing, but you de-commodify yourself in the marketplace.

You're not Joe Freelancer the Designer, easily replaced and micromanaged. You're Joe Design Product, a one-of-a-kind designer machine.

And if this approach doesn't work? Give them enough reasons, through marketing materials and brand promotion, to believe that you are the best solution to their problem. If they believe you're the saving grace for their clients, you can bet they'll find a way to make it work.

Brennan Dunn over at Double Your Freelancing has an awesome article outlining 3 great examples of productized consulting services that ought to inspire you.

Deliver value before getting paid

The surest way to build trust with another human is to give something to them without expecting anything in return.

Can you add value to your prospective client's project before you sign anything?

If you're a designer, can you make 3-5 recommendations about how you would change their current design approach?

If you're a developer, can you ask them what their biggest pain point is and do a few hours of research to help them along?

In sales, reciprocity is powerful stuff. In my day-to-day sales efforts, I make a point to be genuine and help my prospective clients unconditionally. But I'm convinced it has a profound effect on my ability to close sales. And it should! Giving is good.

Build rapport with testimonials

When it comes to building trust, social proof is huge. Craft solid testimonials that say to the reader, If you go anywhere else, you're going to lose.

How do you get these awesome testimonials? In The Brain Audit, Sean D'Souza shares six questions that changed my consulting career forever. They're questions you can send in a polite email to your past clients which, if answered, almost guarantee you'll be able to extract a high-impact testimonial for your marketing page:

  1. What was the obstacle that would have prevented you from buying this product?
  2. What did you find as a result of buying this product?
  3. What specific feature did you like most about this product?
  4. What are three other benefits of this product?
  5. Would you recommend this product? If so, why?
  6. Is there anything you’d like to add?

Read his analysis of the questionaire to understand the theory behind each question, but I can attest that this works. In fact, the testimonials on my homepage are derived from answers to these very questions.

Explain that hourly billing incentivizes tedious, low-value work

Attorney Matthew Hickey discusses his transition from billing hourly to billing at a fixed rate for services.

One of the key takeaways from his article is that the billable hour incentivizes working less efficiently. After all, if you can squeeze out another half hour, your brain is going to be more likely to take the long path to the same destination. With weekly billing, this could become a problem on a macro scale, but it's much less likely you'll sit on your thumbs for a whole week and your client won't notice.

Not only does the billable hour incentivize working at less-than-maximum capacity, but it gives you permission to split your attention between several different client projects at a time, nickel-and-diming them for each. This lack of focus will translate into poorer quality.

Give your clients reassurance that when you bill them weekly, they're receiving your full attention for the time allotted. They'll be better able to estimate their overall cost, and be armed with the confidence you're putting their best interest at heart.

Get into a position where you can turn down the work

What if, when your prospective client insisted that they'll only work with you if you bill them hourly, you cold tell them that you only bill weekly and that the engagement wouldn't be a good fit?

Sometimes, we're responsible for feeding our family and paying rent with the next check our clients write us. But if we're able to get our cashflow in line, our expenses in check, and our debt eliminated, we can have enough in the bank so that we have the leverage to say no.

I can say first hand that I'm able to charge more now that I spend less and have no debt. It's a bit counterintuitive: I'm making way more money and I'm spending way less! But when you think of the psychology of making a sale, desperation will lead you to undercut your own value.

Save a year's worth of household expenses and soon you'll find yourself willing and able to turn down work arrangements that don't suit you. You'll find that if you deliver enough value, soon enough your clients will come around to realize they can't afford not to hire you.

How do we know when we've arrived?

I've had a fire under my ass the past couple months.

I think in part it's my fear that I'm getting older and too comfortable. If you're over 30 and in the tech industry, I'm sure you can identify with this fear. It's crippling to think you might be rendered irrelevant, and even worse when faced with the irony that it's because you're too experienced.

And really, all of this stems from our tendency to compare ourselves to others. To think that if we're not running a big company or sitting on millions (or billions) of dollars from an exit, we might not have fully self-actualized.

But something struck me last night as I was getting ready for bed. I tried to imagine my ideal future. Have you ever tried to do that? For me, the canvas was blank. Or at least out of focus. I couldn't really define what it was I was after.

Is it money we're after? Sure, financial independence and certainty would be better than not having it. I don't know about you, but I love to work and often find myself restless on days I'm supposed to be relaxing. How is money going to fix any of that?

Do we want recognition? I love to foster connection and think it would be fun to speak at big events, to autograph books, or to have a cult following on Twitter. But when I close my eyes and imagine myself in those shoes, I'm actually more stressed out and feel under tremendous scrutiny. I think we tend to idealize being culturally significant, but fail to recognize the tradeoffs.

So what is it?! I've been leafing through Tony Robbins' Awaken the Giant Within. For me, the most illuminating point he makes is that material wealth and cultural significance don't create lasting contentment. It's actually our contributions that give us lasting joy.

It bears repeating: The investment with the greatest existential returns is a gift given unconditionally.

Granted, Tony Robbins is the king of pop psychoanalysis and if you want to hold his statements to the fire of more rigorous inquiry, I don't blame you. But when I inquire about my own life, chasing fame or fortune has never made me contented. And my tiny brushes with both have left me feeling hollow and unfulfilled.

Gratitude and charity, on the other hand, have always, 100% of the time, left me feeling energized and capable. What's even more striking is the irony that gratitude and charity inevitably lead to fame and fortune. Who doesn't appreciate and honor someone who gives to others without asking for something in return?

I'm writing this as a reminder to myself, but I hope it's helpful for your journey as well. The path to contentment and wealth is paved with kindness, gratitude, generosity, and contribution. These are difficult to enact each day because we're constantly bombarded with messages that lead us to believe the contrary.