Episode #21 – James Schramko of SuperFast Business
James Schramko, SuperFast Business
In this episode number 21 of the InnovaBuzz podcast, my guest is James Schramko, internet marketing guru who is well known to most of our audience. He’s also a podcaster and owner of SuperFast Business. James tells us a little about his move from a salaried employee at Mercedes Benz to a business owner and entrepreneur – and what he’s learnt by helping business owners get the best results out of their efforts. We spent a lot of time on the interview, talking about recurring revenue business models, there is a lot of great information here.
Listen to the Podcast
Today, I’m giving away a copy of The Automatic Customer by John Warrillow. In that book John gives a lot of pointers on finding and keeping subscription customers and build an ongoing revenue model.
Leave a comment under the video and tell James what is one thing you’ve taken out of this podcast and implemented in your business or in your life that is going to make a difference for you as a result.
Some of the highlights of this episode include:
- Focus your attention on the things that give you the best result. It’s easy to say, much harder to do! It’s important to have strong “partitions” between business and personal.
- James is primarily a problems solver, and that builds trust with his customers; tools involved are recommend to those who need them.
- An online community subscription membership can be a good business model if you nurture it. It’s a great way of entrepreneurs connecting with other entrepreneurs online and generating content for your community.
- For a successful ongoing subscription model, you’ve got to really understand your customer and give them a solution that’s going to help them for the longest time possible, a solution to an ongoing problem. It needs to be sustainable for both the business and the customers.
- Testing the market is easy these days. You just need a landing page that has an offer on it and ask people to do something that will cause them to vote with an action or an inaction, helping you understand if this is relevant or not.
- The state of your email inbox is a symptom of your overall business (and life). Get systems in place to clean up your inbox – it should NOT be an action list that other people get to add to!
The Buzz – Our Innovation Round
Here are James’ answers to the questions of our Innovation round. Watch the interview to get the full scoop.
- #1 thing to be more innovative – Question everything.
- Best thing for new ideas – Be comfortable with change. Removing things and see how you manage!
- Favourite tool for innovation – SCAMPER and other techniques for creativity.
- Keep project / client on track – 12 weekly reviews of yourself so that you can measure progress.
- Differentiate – To be a leader in innovation, BE A LEADER!
You can reach out and thank James via SuperFast Business.com or his Twitter account. You can also get James’ perspective on revenue or subscription models on the website and in his latest podcast episode.
James suggested I interview John Warrillow who is the author of our book prize called “The Automatic Customer”. So, John keep an eye on your Inbox for an invitation from me, for the Innovabuzz Podcast!
Hint: To enter the competition, leave your comment underneath the video. Tell us what is that one thing that you have executed as a result of this podcast episode, in your business or in your life that is going to make a difference for you as a result.
- SuperFast Business
- SuperFast Business Podcast
- Inbox Relief
- The Twleve Week Year
James’ Beachside Home Office
Click to Read…
Hi, I’m Jürgen Strauss from Innovabiz. Welcome to Episode No 21 of the InnovaBuzz Podcast – designed to help smart businesses with an interest in innovation and the Internet of Things become even more innovative.
In this episode, my guest is internet marketing guru and entrepreneur James Schramko of SuperFast Business. James very generously shared not only an hour of his time with us today, but also his insights, particularly into the ideal subscription business model and designing your business to give the lifestyle you want. This is a fascinating episode, I learnt a lot in my hour with James and I hope you will too, so stay tuned.
This podcast is sponsored by Innovabiz, where we help smart, innovative business owners save time and money and grow their business by making their websites achieve more. Of course, at Innovabiz, we do more than just build websites – we provide solutions to our clients’ needs by leveraging the power of the internet in innovative ways. If you want to learn more, then go to innovabiz.com.au or contact me directly through the contact information there.
Before we meet James, a quick competition announcement – this week’s competition prize is a copy of The Automatic Customer by John Warrillow. These days, subscription businesses are not limited to newspapers and magazines as in the past, and Warrillow’s book talks about the secret to finding and keeping automatic customers, so stick around for details on how you can enter the draw to win that competition prize later on in the interview.
Now, let’s get into the Innovation Hive and get the Buzz from James Schramko.
Jürgen: Hi. I’m Jürgen Strauss from Innovabiz and I’m really excited to have here with me today on the InnovaBuzz podcast, I think we’re at episode 21, so officially we’ve reached adult status, James Schramko from Sydney, Australia. James is an internet marketing guru, probably well known to most of our audience. He’s also a podcaster and he’s the owner of SuperFast Business. James, welcome to the podcast. It’s a privilege to have you here.
James: Thanks for inviting me, Jürgen.
Jürgen: I’ve just been telling James, I’ve been a follower of his since probably around about early 2007 because I saw him present at an internet marketing conference that I attended very early on when I started my business. It’s been interesting to see how his business has evolved over that time. There’s certainly been massive growth in his business and he’ll tell us a little bit about that today I’m sure.
Before we learn more about James and his business I wanted to announce our competition for today. I’m going to explore a little bit with James today the recurring revenue model or the subscription model. I thought an appropriate prize would be a recent publication, a book by John Warrillow called The Automatic Customer. In that book John gives a lot of pointers on how to find and keep subscription customers and build that ongoing revenue model.
James talks a lot about that in his latest podcast, so if you go and have a look at or listen to his podcast at SuperFastBusiness.com then you’ll get James’ perspective on that as well. I hope to explore that a little bit more today.
James: You’ll also get an interview with John Warrillow on my podcast.
Jürgen: Yes, so I believe. I haven’t caught up with that one, but you did refer to it in the latest episode. That’s great. All right, so before we start talking about all things internet marketing and what you’ve been doing in business, I am fascinated by the transition you’ve made. You were a senior executive in a Mercedes Benz dealership in Sydney in your previous life. The transition from that to an internet marketer, tell us a little bit about that and also what were the lessons you brought from that and learned along the way?
James: It was really quite a big move to go from a salaried employee to a business owner and entrepreneur. There were many lessons, still learning lessons. I more or less replicated the role that I was doing, which was the General Manager’s role except this time for my own business and without some of the headaches of a traditional business, which is having land, staff in one building, logistical issues and stock. Of course we had tens of millions of dollars worth of stock.
By opening up the geographic landscape, being able to source employees from anywhere and to sell to anywhere, that was a big change. Owning a business meant that I was now getting paid by thousands of different people. Which is way better than getting paid by one person. The ownership aspect is a lot more fulfilling. I feel like I’m building something for myself that lasts beyond the next paycheck.
It was a good transition. It was very ambitious transition. I had set a break- even point of being able to match my salary before I stepped away. It was fairly difficult because my salary was high and my obligations in terms of financial commitments and family to support were also very high. I had to really make my business online work well. As a result I think it helped me get a lot of the vital skills that I needed that translate in either offline or the online world. I was able to sort of prove which things work best and refine as I go.
Jürgen: Okay. Yeah, I’d like to explore that a little bit later too when we talk about how much work you put in in terms of exploring what worked and launching products. Then getting customers on board before you did this huge investment and figured out what worked. How long did you actually do the two roles?
James: I think it was about two and a half years.
Jürgen: Okay, that’s …
James: I registered my first domain in the end of 2005 and I think I quit in about 2008. I probably saw you in 2009 more likely.
Jürgen: Yeah, could be.
James: Once I swapped over then that was really a big change because I was really burning the midnight oil at home, 9:30 till 3:00AM shift. Then running a 70-something staff, 50 million dollar a year business by day. You can only burn the candle so bright for so long before it starts to get burnt out. I theorized that by getting rid of 50 or 60 hours a week of working in someone else’s business, it might let me focus better on my own business.
One of the big lessons in that is focusing your attention in the one spot you undoubtedly get a better result. One of the first things I did was replace going to work with sleeping in. Just resting. I was pretty much still working every night, but I just didn’t work as much during the day anymore.
Jürgen: Yeah. I’m sure that the work you did do on your own business then was a lot more effective as a result.
James: That’s true even today. The work that I do on my business is extremely effective. I select how many hours I want to allocate to my business in a week and in those times when I’m focused on my business, like right now, then that’s all I do. I fully invest in it and I’m not doing anything else. I think having strong partitions is actually something that took me a little while to figure out, especially when I first became an entrepreneur. I thought that that meant I don’t have to have partitions or barriers. It does tend to consume every aspect of your life because it’s an unlimited business model.
There’s absolutely no defining barrier. It’s not like working in a government department where you clock off. You are on 24/7. It takes a lot of discipline to craft a routine and to maximize how effective you can be in the time that you want to spend on a business. That’s a big part of what I’m helping business owners with these days is helping them transition from their raw creativity and their energy and their aspirations and their goals and their requirements to support families, but to get the best possible result out of the effort that they’re putting into that without losing it all on the sides.
Jürgen: Yeah. That’s a really good point, isn’t it? I think you talk somewhere about crafting the life that you want, which is like you say, it’s about finding that balance of business and personal life.
James: Yeah, I think you can definitely design the outcome you want if you know what that is. Time to put some thought into it is well reciprocated with a reflective situation that you’ve created. I think some people don’t realize they can create their own situation. They feel beholden to a machine or layers and layers of compromise whether it’s mortgage debt, whether it’s family values that have been pushed upon them.
In some cultures they still tell you who you have to marry and stuff. A lot of cultures, they tell the kids with a good outcomes in mind, they’re trying to tell the kids how they’re going to be educated and what job they’ll do and what the … They’re selling them this idea of what a good life is, but I highly doubt that that is a good life and I think we have a lot more ability to create what we want than what people would have us believe.
Jürgen: All right. That’s a good segue. You mentioned how you help business owners with that work life balance type of thing. Tell us briefly what do you do or what do your businesses do.
James: There’s a few different categories. The one that I started with and that I still do today is I recommend things to people that I think are good solutions. I consider myself a problem solver. When I solve a problem then people around me trust me and they’d like to know how I solved it. If there’s tools involved then I’ll recommend those. That’s classified as the affiliate marketing business.
A lot of businesses can make affiliate revenue as a side business. That’s really what it is for me now. My side business still generates hundreds of thousands of dollars in profit. My core business is split between two major divisions. One is done for you services and specifically we build WordPress websites for people and we do search engine optimization and content marketing for customers.
That’s people who want to spend the money and get the result. The other side of the business is more of a consulting, do it yourself side of the business. I have two forums that I am actively engaged in. Let’s call it a low price one which is called SuperFast Business. In there there’s hundreds and hundreds of members who are helping each other and I’m helping. They share information and they increase their combined intelligence. They have that support network to help each other.
The high level one, I’m much more like a silent partner in the business where I’m more like the Board of Directors and helping with strategic decisions and habit forming and taking people through the stages of growth that invariably happen between making your first hundred or $200,000, taking that up past seven figures and often into the eight figure mark. I particularly help people go from say half a million dollars a year to a couple of million dollars a year in sales revenue.
Because a lot of things change from the first hundred or 200,000 to making a few million dollars. A lot has to be different than what got you to that first stage. It often involves capacity.
Jürgen: That’s fascinating. I’m interested to explore a little bit more the idea, because I know you talk about it in some of your blog posts and podcasts, the idea of community and the forum that you have, the concept of Mastermind, people helping one another and basically them producing the content on there. Also giving you the feedback to what problems or issues that they might have where you can then produce new products or new information that adds more value to them.
James: Yeah, so a community subscription membership is a good business model if you have a nurturing sort of an attitude. As a parent of four kids I would consider having a membership community like being a parent. You have to bring it into the world. It’s a lot of work up front, it can be messy in the beginning. It’s demanding on you. You really have to be omnipresent until you can get it matured enough with established culture and some support mechanisms in place to take some of the heavy load off.
Then as it grows up you can change with it. You can watch your community or cohort upgrade. Then you can upgrade with them. The stuff we’re doing now, it’s very different from what we were doing six or seven years ago in the community. It’s great to see it grow up and adapt to the market. You really have to be extremely comfortable with change, you have to be fair and strong and you have to be responsible to run a community.
If you can do it though, it’s a very profitable business model and the idea that you can have people who want to stick around much like your internet service provider, whatever you’re using to broadcast this on, you’re probably paying a recurring subscription and maybe Netflix on your TV, if you want to keep those services on board and you’re happy with them, then it’s profitable for whoever supplies them. I like the business model. It makes a lot of sense to deliver information.
If you are an information marketer or an author or an expert in your field then it’s a great place to put your information in video or audio or text format. Then to let people in there where they can ask questions around it and develop their execution of that information with your help in real time. You’re combining content. You’re combining coaching and of course the community. Which people don’t really value when they come in, but if you’ve ever been to a school camp or you go to church on Sundays or you’re a member of an association or a club, you know what that community aspect is like. This is one where you don’t have to break up. You don’t have to have that last day of summer camp where everyone goes back home. It can last forever if you want.
Being an entrepreneur could be isolating for some people. If you’re not used to being by yourself or making tough decisions or you don’t know where all the good resources are then a community is going to be very helpful for you. The strange aspect of this is that I’ve posted more than anyone in the community and no doubt I’ve learnt the most of any of the students just from being there everyday, answering questions and observing the conversations.
I usually find out stuff that’s happening from my own members. This idea of user generated content is phenomenal. If you were to think of it like a paid CRM campaign. Imagine you could have your best customers pay you to stay in touch with them every day.
Jürgen: Yeah, that’s a fascinating analogy. I like the idea also of you as the person posting the most is the person who, the father of it if you like to use your family, children analogy, are learning the most because you’re actually helping people. I think that whole concept of Masterminds is if you get involved and you contribute to other people’s problems and you give advice to other people you actually learn a lot. Because what you find is that that problem is not all that far removed from one that you might be facing yourself.
James: You get people asking questions that help people answer a question that they didn’t know to ask. That’s good. That really comes from the Johari window of the quadrant of what others know, but you don’t know. That’s a good thing from a membership. I think we have to define the word Mastermind because I would see it as something slightly different.
That is because when it was originally coined and I think it was Andrew Carnegie it was really around him assembling a group of people to help him with his problems. The most power of a Mastermind is when everyone’s directed all of their resources at one person. The silver circle program that I have is a lot more like that. It’s more of a small group. It’s one person at a time having their challenge addressed not just by me, but by other members.
You get peer to peer leverage in that scenario because you’ve got high level people who are very well filtered all being exposed to high level contacts and high level solutions. They can rapidly share them between each other. We do run a monthly live Mastermind in SuperFast Business as well where we field questions that members put up. I answer every single question that they ask me on that call.
It’s a category-based training delivery where we do cover the core things that we should be covering. I usually give one good example or tip in each category. I also field every question that can be thrown at it so someone can insert their own problem related to that category in the appropriate section.
Jürgen: Okay. That’s fascinating. I take your point on the Mastermind. It is focused on one person’s issue or problems and I guess the experience I’ve had in groups is where you share it around like it sounds like you’re doing in SuperFast Business.
James: It’s fascinating to me when someone asks a question and they’ll get a flood of responses very quickly from people who know the answers. It’s kind of like a magic box where you can just put any challenge in there and someone will know the answer. It can be anything online related. It could be here’s a good supply for Google AdWords or where do I get graphic designs done? Or which shopping cart system should I use if I’m doing eCommerce with 1,000 plus SKU items and I need to have SEO flexibility for the item descriptor?
Someone will know the answer because there’s hundreds and hundreds of members from all around the world. It’s happening 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When we’re asleep in Australia, the UK might be very active. The US, the North America scene is good. We’ve got members in Dubai and New Zealand and Europe as well. It’s really a global forum which is fantastic.
Jürgen: Yeah. That’s one of the big things, isn’t it, the power of the internet today. I’m talking to some people in Poland right now in terms of a partnership and the idea of doing work, a project can actually be actively worked on 24 hours because you’re cycling it through different time zones, just fascinating.
James: It is.
James: It’s like a giant jigsaw puzzle.
Jürgen: That’s right, yeah. All right. What would you see as some of the keys to running a successful subscription business model?
James: I think when you make your offer you have to think of something that people would miss if they don’t have it anymore. A lot of people sell their subscriptions the wrong way and say that they are sort of hoping for a one time sale and someone might forget they’re a member and keep paying accidentally. You’ve got to think about what is an ongoing challenge that your audience has that you could solve, because that’s really the key to it.
Matching the expectations that when people come in that they’re going to be actually surprised when they get there that it’s even better than what they thought. I tend to undersell a little bit. I’m a conservative offer maker. Don’t do any wild or outrageous triple your money back guarantees and stuff. I’m not trying to hook people in on a excitement and hope they stick around.
You’ve just got to try and really understand your customer and give them a solution that’s going to help them for the longest time possible. Then you have to set it up in a way that makes sense for you and for the customer. Sometimes these things are a bit out of whack. If it’s too good for the customer it’s going to really grind you to the bone. If it’s too good for you then the customer is not going to stick around because they don’t see the value.
You’ve got to come up with the way that you deliver your solutions. A lot of people think that a membership is all about having a lot of content, but most of the memberships I’ve started, there’s no content. If you don’t fall for that red flag you’re off to a good start. Don’t think of it just as content. Think of it more as a subscription that solves an ongoing problem.
That could be anything from a software service provision to a box of fruit coming to your house once a week. There are subscription business models everywhere you look. Just think about what do people do often and how could you organize that into a better deal for them where they can have predictable and reliable delivery of that solution for an agreed upon amount and you get predictable and reliable income in exchange for that.
Jürgen: Yeah. That’s great advice. Like you say probably most people fall into the trap of trying to load content first and then saying okay …
James: It’s the number one question I get. How much stuff do I have to put in there before I can open? I say you don’t need any stuff. Then they scratch their head. Okay, explain that. That’s not why people are joining. Because let’s face it, if I mailed you my back catalog of the last 10 events that I’ve run which is say 30 days worth of recordings, when would you actually watch that?
Jürgen: That’s right.
James: You could have the same information that I am aware of by selectively picking the things that are relevant to you. I give someone access to my entire back catalog of recordings in the community. That doesn’t mean that they need to then watch all of them. I use the supermarket analogy for this. When we go to the supermarket we don’t buy everything that’s in the supermarket. We just get the things we need today or for the next few days.
We need to teach people how to help themselves better and how to get the better value from the subscription, so that would be another reason that your subscription will be successful is that you’re onboarding people properly and helping them know how to get the best value from the solution that you provide.
Jürgen: That’s fascinating, yeah. Also there’s an element there, isn’t there, of the lean startup philosophy. Rather than build an entire structure that may be off the mark, build the minimal framework and get some customers and test it out.
James: Yeah. It’s so easy to do these days. You can have a landing page with an offer on it asking people to vote with their wallet or even prior to that a waiting list. You don’t need to build anything else. You don’t even need to own a domain. Literally you just need a landing page that any number of suppliers can provide that has an offer on it and ask people to do something that will cause them to vote with an action or an inaction, helping you understand if this is relevant or not.
Most of the things I start are minimum buy-able products because I don’t like waste and I don’t want to put an enormous amount of effort into something that I just think is a good idea. I want to have something that people think is a good solution and that they’re prepared to pay for.
Jürgen: Yeah. Yeah, that’s really good advice. I probably signed up for three things today that were announcements about some pending launch or something and it was basically give us your email and we’ll keep you posted as to when we launch. That clearly builds a list of people that are interested in whatever the offer is before they might even have the product.
James: Yeah and you might be part of a launch campaign which is another problem that a subscription business solves. These info marketers who sell their once a year $2,000 product, they get tired. Their income spikes, they have a lot of refunds, they have to give a lot of prizes, they hype people up, they’ve got to be on the phone convincing people to mail for them.
It’s hard work. Whereas if they just set up their delivery system as a subscription service, they could have the same customer for the next six or seven years without having to keep reselling them.
Jürgen: Yeah, that’s great advice. Now I know that you’re very strong on systems and processes, so can you tell us a little bit about that? Because with these sort of businesses it’s really important to make sure that you’ve got systems and processes in place that mean you’re not burning out as you put it before. The demand on you as the business owner is not too onerous.
James: Yeah. If you need to be present for everything to happen, there’s no leverage in the business at all. The SYSTEM I like the acronym, it saves you stress, time, energy and money. That being the case it makes sense to have systems. When you have teams it’s very easy to have standard operating procedures or checklists that people follow so that you have flawless delivery of services and reducing errors, that you can automate many things that people do manually, just have recurring reminders. You can have scheduling tools. You can have all sorts of things. Email systems that send particular emails based on behavioral actions. When someone is in a certain part of your website.
These things are all great systems that free up you so that you’re not manually having to do everything. Because it gets tiring. We probably all start like that where we do everything in the company. The faster you can get a mindset around outsourcing things to systems or deleting them or not even doing the things is the best one. That’s my favorite one of all. It’s just crossing something off a list because it’s not even that important.
There are only a few things that are important and the rest of it is not important. We should just like Peter Drukker said, “Nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” Something to that effect. I really like that one. You sort of come across the idea of a greater principle and the 80/20. Of all the things that are going on in a business, probably a lot of them aren’t important anyway. The ones that are important you’ll want to map them out into a linear step by step process and then you’ll get rid of it off your plate to either a machine or a person who can human automate something.
Then you step back into the layer of checking and auditing that process. Then you hire for that role. Then you step back into the layer of business owner and that’s where the real value is for you and for the business.
Jürgen: Yeah, and of course like you said earlier, getting involved in that forum and doing the personal relationships and your premium service where obviously your personal contribution is a lot more important.
James: I think it’s definitely a source of value for the members and I believe it could be actually outsourced or leveraged. I’ve done it before as a test in Silver Circle actually. Several years ago I closed it for six months and had two Master Classes instead with other experts who I featured as the expert. I just stepped back and I had someone else on my team recording the webinars. My role was really just to sell tickets and to split the profits.
I was able to leverage the business that way. If you do want to participate in it, which I do, because I get a lot of good information from participating in my own forum. Spending a half an hour or an hour a day in there is a better use of my time than editing a podcast or transcribing an audio or illustrating something. They’re all skills that anyone else could do better than I can. I mean just about anyone else.
Big waste of my time. Learning to let go of stuff that we’re not great at is pretty tough for people, especially when they proffer excuses like they don’t have any money or no one else can do it as good as I can.
Jürgen: I was just going to say that. That’s a common one.
James: They’re all silly excuses when you think about it. I’ve found many talented people who are extremely good at things that I’m pretty ordinary at.
Jürgen: I’ve actually just before we came on this podcast I just recorded a video of doing something for one of my clients and I thought I should actually record this because I’ve actually got a rule that says I’ll do something once or twice so I understand how it’s done and then I’ll record a video and do it the third time to give to one of my people to transcribe it into a full documented process. Then get somebody else to it.
I realized that I had a backlog of tasks built up that I hadn’t done the task myself because it’s kind of below the importance level, but also hadn’t documented anything so that they could actually get done. I put under my action list daily recurring task now of documenting two process per day, every day. It’s just going to be a short five minute video of something. Over time that’s going to start to get tasks into our system and off my plate, but they’ll still get done.
James: The easiest way to solve this is to book a six week holiday around Europe or somewhere in the tropics and just see what breaks while you’re away. What doesn’t happen, what fails, what falls over, what emerges to the surface. That there are all the things you don’t ever want to have to do again.
Jürgen: Yeah, that’s right. Yeah. In fact I’ve just come back from a four week holiday in San Francisco and more or less was hands-off the business for the entire time. It is surprising, we do have a lot of systems and processes in place and we’ve done a lot of homework to get to that point, but even so, it was still a scary thought. It’s surprising how little actually broke. In fact, nothing really broke.
James: That kind of backs up my point that a lot of the things we think are important probably aren’t.
Jürgen: That’s right, yeah. I see my role in my business really as building the relationships with my clients and doing the research. Like you said earlier, research and I love doing the research, solving problems, finding innovative solutions to problems and then getting those into systems so that other people can do them. Either my clients can do them or my team can then do them by the process.
James: I’m looking for a poster of W. Edwards Deming on your back wall there.
Jürgen: Yeah, I’ve pulled down the blinds in front of the messy bookshelf! All right, so what do you say is the biggest challenge then in running your group of businesses and what are you doing about that?
James: I don’t really have any challenges at the moment. I’ve specialized in helping other people with theirs. I lead by example. I think a lot of my highest level group customers are attracted to my program because they see that I’m actually doing it. I’m living the life on my terms with less compromise. For example I surf everyday, I have no debt, my business is seven figure profit per year. I have good relationships with my customers and my team. I’m doing the things I enjoy.
They want that too in their business. I would say if I find challenges, I’m pretty quick to address them. I’ll like sledgehammer them. I’ve built the business to a point now and with the benefit of time I am coming up near 10 years to that first domain registration, I’ve been able to knock a lot of chinks out of the armor and build in redundancy and drop off things that I don’t like and only keep the things that I love. I don’t really have any big challenges. My next event in March next year has already covered its costs. I’m feeling in a good spot business-wise and life-wise so.
Jürgen: I know you talk a lot in your blog posts and your podcasts about focus and paring things away that might be distracting even to the point of parts of the business.
James: Definitely. Yeah, you want to … Sometimes we go broad. Greg McCann talks about the paradox of success. It’s quite true. If you systematize and sort out one part of your business or your life, then you’ve created this new sort of neutral factor. Then it’s very tempting to start getting busy again and to take on more stuff. I think one of the great disciplines is actually keeping simple and streamlining things and resisting that urge to fatten them up again.
Like if we pare back our wardrobe it’s not long until we start buying new clothes and get it back. What we need to really do is adjust or temper our habit or our routine around how that happened. A classic example of that for most people that they can relate to is their inbox. I would say your inbox is a good reflection on your approach to acquiring, sorting, sifting, storing, analyzing and prioritizing things in general. Most people are out of control with their inbox.
Jürgen: That’s right.
James: Because they don’t realize that it’s a to do list that other people get to add items to. You’ve got to be very careful who you let in your inbox. I’ve created a lot of systems around keeping that one empty. I don’t think most entrepreneurs are tapping their full potential because they’re stuck in their inbox. You’d alarmed at how many hours a week … I would tell you, it would be extremely rare for someone to be spending any less than 10 hours a week in their inbox. It’s more likely they’re spending 15 to 20 if they’re out of control. That’s alarming.
Jürgen: It is, yeah.
James: There’s no reason for that to be the case. That will reflect across their life. I bet you go into the same person’s wardrobe, garage, tax returns, paperwork, it’s all going to be reflective of that state. I think that’s the real skill. It’s where I help people with the basic stuff like getting enough sleep, eating properly, clearing their inbox and getting all the tasks off their desk that they’re just feeling overwhelmed with is really the key to progress in the business.
Jürgen: Yeah. That’s fascinating and it’s great advice obviously, because there are so many people that complain about email taking over. In fact I met with a guy today that said, “Can you set me up with a different email system because I’ve got all these emails in spam and half of them are important? Then my inbox is full of emails and I miss emails that are important. There’s all this other stuff in there that’s not important.” I said, “Yeah, well we can build a system to help that.” There’s a whole philosophy around it as well.
James: It’s definitely a mindset.
Jürgen: It is, yeah.
James: It’s really like a lottery winner who will blow all the cash because they’re not used to having all the money. When you’re declaring bankruptcy, that’s not the end of the problem because you’ll recreate the problem again unless you adjust the reason why it happened in the first place.
Jürgen: Yeah. I have this fabulous thing. I don’t know if you know Sanebox? It’s a really neat tool to put into your email system. You can train over time which folder emails go to so you don’t have to actually sort them yourself. I’ve trained 90% of my emails to go into a read later folder. I’ve just increased that system a little bit. I’ve added a not important folder to that. In that not important folder, I go in there once a day and I select all delete.
Once a week I go in there and I figure out okay, which ones … I’ve got a black hole folder which is kind of a bulk unsubscribe. Once a week I go into that not important one and start to dump them into the unsubscribe. That sort of gets rid of a lot of that stuff. My inbox itself maybe gets 20 emails a day, new ones and a lot of those are from my team giving me my daily reports, daily update of what they’ve done. I’ve got to answer those.
Usually 20 is one I can manage within about a half an hour. I can usually go back and either … I follow the philosophy of I either delete it, delegate it, do it if it’s less than a couple of minutes work or I defer it to a time when I choose. I’ll turn it into an action and get it out of the inbox.
James: You’re farting. File it, Action it, Reply or Terminate it.
James: Yeah. I think you used the magic word, train. Whatever system you use. Unfortunately a lot of people are hooked onto Outlook which really sucks because of the folder system. Got to get onto Gmail or Google Apps because of the labels and the rules are so powerful. The searchability means you don’t have to worry about folders. Oh yeah I know something about those folders.
Jürgen: When I first started my business we used to use Lotus Notes in my corporate life and that sucked really badly. When I got to Outlook I thought oh, this is great. I had this complicated folder structure set up and so I’d read an email and I thought I want to hang onto that email. I want to keep that for later reference. It’s been 30 seconds, 60 seconds, maybe 90 seconds thinking now where should I file that so I can find it later on?
Made a decision, filed it away and then of course inevitably a week later or so when I went to search for that I could never remember where I’d filed it and so I spent five minutes, 10 minutes, sometimes half an hour trying to find it. The search function in Outlook is horrible. Eventually I gave up and I went to Gmail. I don’t have any folders now except the automatic ones that are set up. Everything else just gets archived and I do a search. Like you say, it’s …
James: The search algorithm is pretty good.
Jürgen: That’s right.
James: Yeah, you don’t need any tools or add-ons once you’ve got it trained and once you’ve got a good system around it. I actually created a course and put it in my membership for members called Inbox Relief. Another one of my Mastermind students did another inbox course as well and he’s like a Google Apps trainer and specialist so …
Jürgen: Okay. Yeah, I’ll have to post links to those.
James: Today I have no emails in my inbox. Very importantly too you can get your team’s emails out of your inbox by using Slack. That also gets you off Skype. That’s why I didn’t find your invitation until just prior to the call because I don’t have Skype on. Having Skype on is a massive distraction, as is having your inbox bombarded. If you can move your team to Slack then you don’t have to have your inbox or your Skype on anymore, which is huge.
Jürgen: I’m finding a little bit of resistance with the team to going to Slack. I haven’t quite worked out the real reason for that. I don’t have Skype always on, I only turn it on when I use it. I don’t have it on all the time. Yeah, Slack, I need to push a little bit more on that.
James: I gave them all an account. I said let’s try this and then we just switched off Skype and email and now they send their reports in Slack. They love it. I love it and the best thing is, we have 40, say about 43 people in our business, so that’s 43 people not being hit up by birthday notifications and crap everyday. Even though in some of their Skype things it says I’m on Slack now. It is good to get off the grid so to speak.
Jürgen: Yup. Yeah, that’s great advice. I love Slack actually. I’ve just participated in a global Genesis Camp Conference with the WordPress community over this weekend and the whole thing was organized through Slack and all the speakers were coordinated through Slack, the links to jump on when you were doing your presentations and everything. The whole thing was through Slack. There was a whole community there now which is great.
Jürgen: All right, well it might be time to go onto our Buzz round as I call it, which is the innovation round designed to help our audience who primarily are innovators and leaders in their field. Hopefully they’ll get some really inspiring tips from your experience. I’ll ask a series of five questions and hopefully you’ll have a real snappy answer for us.
James: It feels like a game show. Go for it. Got my buzzer ready.
Jürgen: What do you think the number one thing is anyone needs to do to be more innovative?
James: Question everything.
Jürgen: Question everything. Yeah, that’s great advice. Yeah. Curiosity. What’s the best thing you’ve done to develop new ideas or new products?
James: Be comfortable with change. I use the SCAMPER technique as well.
Jürgen: Can you outline that for us? I have heard of it. It’s sort of not front of mind at the moment.
James: I don’t remember what the acronym stands for, but it’s pretty much you reverse things, you replace things, you mutate.
Jürgen: Okay. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
James: Morph. You can look it up. It’s on Wikipedia. I first heard of that …
Jürgen: A little bit like the creativity tools – I heard about that.
James: Yeah, I heard about it a long time ago. The other one I like is LA Goldratt’s theory of constraint. The main exercise is removing assumptions. Not far related from question everything, but if you’re single source dependent on something then I put a line through it and I say, “You can no longer have it.” Now what do you do? It’s removing things and seeing what would you do then? Quite often you could do the second and third answer as well as the first thing without having to miss out on it. That’s how I protected my business from massive failure.
Jürgen: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, that’s great advice. Do you have a favorite tool or a system for, well we talked a little bit on email, but improving productivity and allowing you to be more innovative?
James: Yup. Just to spend time away from the computer. I know that sounds so obvious, but I think people are just sitting on Facebook all day. It’s sad. I go analog. When I go to the coffee shop I don’t take my computer or my phone. When I go surfing I don’t even wear a watch. Partly because it looks like a fish scale and I’ll get eaten, but also I don’t want to be beholden to time. I think the more time I’ve had away from the computer, the more acuity I’ve built from my time on the computer.
Jürgen: Yeah, that’s great advice. Yeah.
James: Don’t take tech to the bedroom. Just have a stop time as well. No matter what, when you reach that time walk away from the computer. You’re done for the day. No amount of justification of having a late night will fix tomorrow morning’s hangover. You’re better to park it where you’re at, write down your latest thing where your mind was at on a white board or something and then pick it up in the morning when you’re fresh.
Jürgen: Yeah, that’s fabulous advice. I’ve just, well actually probably six months ago I started doing this. I run three computers in my office. I’ve programmed them to shut down at a certain time.
James: You should get rid of two of them.
Jürgen: Yeah. I like a lot of screens.
James: I’ve done that. Nothing like having one computer and one screen. I just got a 30 inch MacBook Pro on an air stand and a mouse and a keyboard. Much more effective having a single screen now.
Jürgen: All right. I’ll have to think about that. Yeah, but I’ve got mine programmed to automatically shut down at a certain time. They give me five minutes notice. I’ll do basically what you say, I make quick notes about where I’m at. Save the things that need to be saved and then it will shut down. As you say, there’s no excuse at that time. That’s the end of the day.
James: It’s like operating a forklift drunk. Who hasn’t bought domains at two in the morning? They’re shockers. We can learn from that.
Jürgen: Yeah. All right, now what’s the best way to, actually normally I ask what’s the best way to keep a project or a client on track, but I might switch this one around. What’s the best way to keep yourself as a business owner on track?
James: I think have 12 weekly reviews of yourself so that you can measure progress. What have you done well? What wins have you had? Make sure that you celebrate them to give yourself some gratitude. Then think about what challenges are present in the business that you’d like to focus on for the next 12 weeks and then write them down basically. Revisit them in 12 weeks time.
Put a plan in place of course, but I would say just keep it to one or two things as well. If you just achieve one thing that moves your business forward more than anything else, then that’s more important to focus on than a to do list of 370 items. I don’t even have a to do list. It’s not important. I just work on one thing at a time. I create systems to deal with anything else.
Jürgen: Yeah. That’s great advice, yeah. My business coach would love you too. Quarterly plans and reviews.
James: We don’t call them quarterly. I think it’s important to make them 12 weeks.
Jürgen: Twelve weeks, all right.
James: Because quarterly still implies that it’s annual and it’s too long. I think 12 weeklies, and there’s a book about it as well, 12 Week Year. It gives you four opportunities a year to get yourself in tune. It’s like feedback.
Jürgen: Okay. Thanks for that. Great advice, yeah. What do you see is the future for you and all of your businesses?
James: More of the same. I think just doing more of what I’m doing now. I’m always refining. I want better quality posts. I want to be more impactful with my audience. Better solutions. I think those things, the creative side now, it’s sort of like the challenge, how much more can I optimize what I’m doing and how can I feel better? How can I feel good about what I’m doing at an even higher level? I think it would be great, it may be idealistic, but it would be good to not have anyone ever leave a subscription because they’re getting what they want. Considering all things aside like correct customer filtering or whatever, it’s just tuning the machine more to the next stage.
Jürgen: Yeah, okay. Obviously you’re in a place that you’re really happy and going out surfing each day. That’s fabulous. I know I’m a keen bike rider so I’d love to go out riding each day. In fact I try to.
James: Why don’t you?
Jürgen: I do. Normally I do. This week I haven’t because it’s been too cold every morning.
James: That’s a self-inflicted reason so that’s fine. Yeah, no it started off as a snowflake and I’ve rolled it into a snowball. It’s gathering momentum. I think even just doing what I’m doing it’s still going to be different by the time it gets to the bottom of that mountain.
Jürgen: Yeah. Of course things are changing all the time on the internet, so there’s going to be new stuff coming along that will be new tools or force you to change the way you do things on the internet so that you’ll be able to help people with those.
James: Yeah, I’d say so.
Jürgen: All right, well let’s get back to the competition. As I mentioned I’m going to give away a prize, a copy of the book The Automatic Customer by John Warrillow. I think I mentioned earlier, he does run a podcast called Built To Sell Radio which is quite well worth listening to. I’ve heard a couple of those. They’re really good.
James: You know why he set that up, right?
James: Because he enjoyed being on my podcast so much.
Jürgen: Oh okay, yeah.
James: Then he asked me how to do it and what resources and I helped him out. I’m really thrilled to see him getting into the podcasting.
Jürgen: There you go. Something I didn’t know. Well done, James. Yeah, so John wrote this book The Automatic Customer which I’ve just finished reading. I’m going through it again, actually. He describes, I can’t remember how many, I think there’s about 18 or so different models of subscription business and he breaks them down and looks at their strengths and their weaknesses and looks at how you might set them up and where they might be applicable. It’s a really good read.
James. What would you like? I ask the audience to contribute something in the comments of the blog posts, so what would you like them to tell you or is there something that you can learn from their experience?
James: They could ask me anything they want, but also it would be good to know what one thing they would do as a result of listening to this podcast. Just one thing. What one thing would they commit to executing that will put them in a better position than they are at before they started listening to this podcast.
Jürgen: Okay, that’s a really good one. Yeah, excellent. Yeah, leave a comment underneath the video and tell James what one thing you’ve taken out of this podcast that you’re going to execute in your business or in your life that is going to make a difference for you as a result …
James: Even better, one thing they have executed as a result of this.
Jürgen: Okay. Yeah, that’s right, even better.
James: Because they could weasel out of the promise to do it. It’s easy to talk. Show us your actions!
Jürgen: Yeah. Okay, so we need you to post what you have executed and if you can even post a screenshot or a video of whatever it is.
James: I’ll take your word for it! I love that. One of my podcasts, the whole thing is case studies. It’s what people actually did and it’s so great to see ideas get executed because that’s the real value in it is the execution. I’d love to see what positive change came from the episode. That would be a good investment of your time and our time.
Jürgen: Okay. That’s great. I’ll get James to come back in a couple of weeks and have a look at the responses here. We might have to give it a little bit longer in terms of the execution part, but maybe I’ll even throw in a couple of copies of the book.
James: You might write down that you rode your bike once a day for a whole week.
Jürgen: Yeah. That wouldn’t really be a stretch for me! All right, well James it’s been fabulous to have you on the podcast. I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve learned a lot. I hope the audience has as well. Before we go, a couple of final questions. What’s the number one piece of advice you’d give anyone in business that wants to be a leader in innovation and be more productive in what they’re doing?
James: To be a leader my advice would be, be a leader! A lot of people seem to take a following role too easily. If you want to lead, then lead. Put out the best information in your marketplace. Have good pricing. Attend the most important trade fairs and be a leader in your arena. Get on the top 10 shows in your marketplace. Have content published in the right journals. If you want to be a leader, be a leader. What was the second part of that?
Jürgen: Yeah. That’s it, leader in innovation and productivity.
James: Yeah, then lead.
Jürgen: That’s great advice. All right, finally who would you like to see me interview on the podcast and why?
James: It’s really not up to me. Interview whoever you want. I would say I’d like you to interview someone that would make you happy, that would be good value for your customers, whoever that would be.
Jürgen: Okay. We’ve got a list. We’re working on that list.
James: You should ask John Warrillow on. He’s a good interview guest.
Jürgen: Ok. John, I’ll contact you and see if we can get you on the podcast. That would be great. Yeah. Thanks James. All right, so where can people reach out and say thank you for all that you’ve shared with us today? It’s been almost an hour and it’s been fabulous.
James: As you know I’m on Twitter @JamesSchramko. I’ve also got SuperFastBusiness.com. On any of the podcasts and posts there’s comments section if someone wants to get involved. Plus I’d love them to come into membership where I’d be helping them on their own business.
Jürgen: All right, we’ll post all those links underneath this video on the blog post so that people can follow up on that. James, again thanks so much for sharing your time and your insights with us today. It’s been absolutely fascinating. As I said, I’ve learned a lot and I hope the audience learns a lot too from this and we look forward to publishing this. Thanks.
James: Thanks Jürgen
Well, what an fascinating interview full of valuable insight, ideas and lessons for all of us! I hope you enjoyed meeting James as much as I enjoyed interviewing him, and learnt lots from this interview.
All the show notes for this episode will be at innovabiz.com.au/jamesschramko, that is J-A-M-E-S-S-C-H-R-A-M-K-O, all lowercase, all one word, innovabiz.com.au/jamesschramko, for all of the links and everything we spoke about in this episode . Remember, leave your comments underneath the video for your chance to win a copy of “The Automatic Customer” by John Warrillow.
Leave your comments and tell James (and me) about the one thing that you HAVE changed or executed as a result of something you’ve learnt on this podcast. I’ll get James to swing by in a few weeks’ time and award those prizes.
James suggested I interview John Warrillow, the author of the Automatic Customer and host of the Built to Sell Radio podcast. So, John keep an eye on your Inbox for an invitation from me, for the Innovabuzz Podcast, courtesy of James Schramko!
Thank you for listening or viewing the InnovaBuzz podcast. We’d love you to review this podcast, because reviews help us get found and your feedback helps us improve. You can review us at iTunes or Stitcher and while you’re there, please subscribe so you’ll never miss a future episode.
Until next time, I’m Jürgen Strauss from Innovabiz.
Remember, if you don’t innovate, you stagnate, so think big, be adventurous and keep innovating!